El Colacho: Life Without Gadgets

Article by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley

Thu June 06, 2013 | 00:00 AM

Given that my cell service was spotty, I made a pact with myself that I’d keep my iPhone in my backpack for the 8 hours I was in tiny Castrillo de Murcia for the El Colacho festival. What a liberating experience! Our gadgets may tell us what’s going on around the world, but they’re poor substitutes for the immediacy of experience you can have with person right in front of you. This is especially true in such a communal gathering as I found in this village that looked as if it had no telephones or running water. Without my gadget, I was able to see the sweet ambition of young boys who want to grow up to be the yellow-suited devil.


I was charmed by kids who’ve probably never heard of video games.


And able to witness the sacred community ceremony that has now been passed through twenty generations of this town.


And, I was able to have conversations with locals like Paloma who told me why she comes back to the village each year to experience El Colacho…

The one experience that all the people in this village have in common is having had the devil jump over them as an infant to expel any sins they carried with them into this lifetime. It was an honor to speak with Pancho, who was the first El Colacho of the day, as he told me why he loves dressing up like the devil and he showed what kind of damage he did to his friend Ronny’s leg:

Ronny also took a spill when he was running away from El Colacho and he had the bruises to prove his brush with the devil…


You don’t want to get to close to El Colacho’s whip, as evidenced by the cheekbone of this local…


But, Ronny and Pancho, who are best friends for life, showed that, while they may show their dark side during the run around town, their friendship rises above the devil’s work…


I really felt a bond with these folks and like they expected me to return each year. I want to come back just to learn if these two get married in the future. They told me that they’ve been close friends since age three, but there’s a romantic affection for each other that has never been exercised. It was clear she was ready for some exercise, but he was a bit of a romantic couch potato, at least while he’s away in Burgos at college.


Who has time to read emails from afar when it’s time to party? The crowd swells to maybe 500 after the first run through the village around 1:30 (truth be told, there are village runs for all four days of the festival but the most attended ones are on baby jumping Sunday, in this case, June 2).


Everyone gathers in the town square…


And the clergy and lay leadership, in their undertaker outfits, start bringing out dozens of platters of locally-cooked pastries…


And copious amounts of wine…


Next thing I know, everyone is pouring each other wine and taking swigs on this very holy day.My hospitality instincts came out and, suddenly, I’ve become the go-to guy for getting and pouring more wine, until one guy stopped me and says, “Drink, Mr. American!” He hands me this strange glass object that looks like a decanter that must have been devised by some Spanish frat boy…


So I swigged and I swigged again and was caught on video during my first swig…

They said, “You must drink more wine because you represent a bigger country.” As I downed my fourth swig, I wished I hailed from Lichtenstein.

After all the drinking in the square and in between Colacho runs, many people – who weren’t taking a siesta – headed to Bar Manso, the one and only place in town where you could find a drink, something to eat, a public bathroom, and an electrical socket to juice up one’s camera (yes, I did use that particular gadget liberally on this festive day). This is the only commercial establishment in the village and where I soaked up both bread (to counteract all the wine) and local folklore that made me love El Colacho all that much more.


In my sojourn to visit the world’s 300 best festivals, I am enchanted by some of the lovely juxtapositions. What a treat it has been to do the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll in rural England and El Colacho in remote northern Spain back-to-back since both of these are truly odd, daring, indigenous customs that have lasted for centuries. In the YouTube era, the world is finding out about these little gems as they are perfect for three-minutes of vicarious entertainment. But, no one is transformed by a three-minute video on their iPhone. Spending an actual day with these hearty, healthy folks gave me the transformative sense that I now have extended family on a hillside, just a few hours north of Madrid.


As the day came to an end, I experienced a moment of terror that may be familiar to you. I realized my iPhone wasn’t in my pocket. You all of a sudden feel empty. It’s like you’re showing up on the exam morning after months of studying and all your research was accidentally hauled away by the garbage man in the night. Somehow, I feel ill-equipped to live a functional life without this modern gadget.

Alas, I remembered I’d stored my iPhone safely away from my habitual nature to check it over and over again, so that I could have this kind of connection with the people of the fiesta. A smile came to my face as my heart felt anything but empty from my El Colacho day. And, just then, I looked up to see the priest gabbing away on his cell phone and I came to realize that, as ancient as this village looks and as this festival is, modernity has crept it’s way into Castrillo de Murcia.