Sant Joan: Barcelona, Explosions & Beaches

My first thought was about how unbearably hot it was in the room. My second thought was where was I? I rolled over and was greeted by the back of a girl I had been fancying. We were both fully clothed and it was clear from her sleeping posture that she was irritated with me. Luckily, she was also too infatuated to do anything about it.

I woke her up asking what time we were supposed to meet her friends? It was Sant Joan in Spain and that day (or more accurately, the night) would be the biggest party I had experienced while in the celebratory country.

“Oh shoot!”, she got up and checked her cell phone. 11:30!

I had an hours time and a hang over.

Sant Joan is the annual welcoming of the summer in Spain. In the past it was centered around agriculture but the modern celebrations are focused more on an incredibly big beach party (at least in Barcelona), food and lots and lots and lots (and lots) of explosions. Imagine 4th of July, Solstice and mob rule and you have yourself Sant Joan.

We made plans to meet in an hour and I walked out into the street in the direction of the nearest subway station. During my time in Barcelona the metro had become a favorite routine of mine. It was straightforward, reliable and efficient. It was a nice anchor point during a time where I found myself constantly lost. My commute took 35 minutes and I knew I was going to be late before I had even arrived at my apartment. There wasn’t much I could do so I took a super fast shower, changed clothes, picked up my camera and started back to where I had come from.

I arrived at our meeting spot 20 minutes late (a reoccurring trait I have been infected with while traveling during this leg of my journey) and waited to see if my friend was also running late. Apparently I had only been partly right. The irritation didn’t spark action, it did however unveil inaction. She didn’t wait for me. (Danny got in trouble… :-p)

I strolled around the minipark for 45 minutes to see if my other friend would show up and eventually called it a loss.

As I strolled, I listened to the echoing of explosions. All throughout the city you could hear people detonating fireworks. While this experience is relatively common during my travels, this day stood out as the frequency of the explosions was almost constant. It was not stop boom and nether the birds nor the tourists were impressed.

Sometimes on my longer travels, I choose to go without a cell phone. I like this lifestyle because it allows me to check my messages on my own time. This was the case today so I headed out of the park and went to find Internet access. In doing so, I started out on a new adventure. I walked with a goofy smile on my face as I was now finding it difficult to find new streets. The thought of “I have been lost here before…” went through my head several times as I walked around the warm city.

I eventually found some food and Internet access (a feat that is not hard to do in Barcelona) and figured out I would be heading to a picnic with some friends from my co-working space. Excellent, the day would still be a success!

I had a few hours to kill so I decided it was time to head to the beach. I meandered the psuedo-grid of the city, avoiding fire crackers and small explosions and eventually made it to the Mediterranean. The public beaches are usually one of my favorite parts of the city (I am big fan of people watching) but the holiday and the great weather proved to foil my plans. I had never seen anything like it, the beaches were completely full. Like a parking lot of human flesh and beach towels, the beach reached capacity.

New plan, to the picnic! I was in no hurry so I decided to skip the metro and walk to the wilderness area that I assumed was about 4 miles away. I knew the general direction and had a semi-complete map. It was time to use those old Boy Scout skills.

I was heading to Montjuïc, a place I had heard a lot about but hadn’t yet visited. As soon as the massive park was in sight, I saw an impending problem. The whole area was located on a small mountain. My map however didn’t show topography. This was going to be more of an adventure than I thought.

I started at the base of the mountain and did my best to find the most efficient way to the top. I found myself enjoying a new perspective of the city. To one direction was the large port (a portion of the city I had only seen from the air) and to the other direction was the massive area of the city. The city feels small when you walk around it but one look from a high vantage point and the veil is quickly lifted.

Barcelona Port

Barcelona Cityscape

After about an hour of following winding roads, I decided to off-road it. Unfortunately, the mountain was steep.

Steep Hills

I took off my shirt, tightened my shoes and started my impromptu rock climb. It was quite fun and I shared the climb with several lizards and one ominous looking bird who was hoping I would be dinner.

Upon reaching the top I was sweaty, dirty and tired. I jumped over the wall at the top and landed right in the middle of a group of tourists. They all looked at me strangely (I am sure I looked exactly like a Yeti appearing from the wilderness) and one person asked me consciously if I needed help. I laughed and watch as someone took a sneaky photo of me.

I found the trail again and was happy with what I had saw.

Barcelona Park

About a half hour later I arrived at the party. I was one of the first ones there (many of the other guests got lost too.) I rehydrated and recounted my adventure to the group. The group was made up of people from all around the world who all happened to work at a user interaction design firm. (And I thought my job was hard to explain!) They were quiet interesting and quick to offer me more food.

We celebrated by drinking local beverages and eating a special cake that is only made during the holiday. (Contrary to rumors, it doesn’t have cocaine in it) We talked traveling life, romance, family, friends and food well into the night.

Picnic Chats

Throughout the entire day, the explosions continued to go off throughout the city. These ranged from small firecrackers to explosions that sounded like they must have been heavy duty dynamite. It was surreal and slightly eery as the unnatural background noise created a war-like feeling in the city. The effect was magnified once I got to the top of the mountain.

As the sun went down, the fireworks and rockets became visible. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t any central fireworks show. Instead it was a constant series of random blasts that climaxed right around midnight. With the group from the party we stared out at the massive cities as thousands of explosions filled the air like a man-made thunderstorm. It was riveting but also uncomfortably similar to large scale military attack.

Barcelona at Night

Around 1:00 in the morning we decided to get a new vantage point. Barcelona is known for its elaborate and unique architecture and this park was no different. Given the strategic high point of the park, defense focused Catalans had built a large castle at the location in order to protect their city.

Our group decided to venture over to see if we could see the huge party going on at the beaches of the city. After walking several kilometers, I think we all questioned our decision. The path was dark as we followed the walls of the castle. We were mostly alone on the path but everyone once in a while we saw the shadows of other people illuminated by explosions.

We stayed out in the park until around 5 in the morning in order to finish the massive amount of food and drinks the party goers had provided. We sang mostly 80’s American music and swapped stories about growing up in our respective countries. I was the only American in a group of Germans, Spanish, Catalans, Colombians and French. It was a great atmosphere and fantastic group of people.

At around 5 in the morning we left the park in order to go visit the beach party. The metro was packed and the atmosphere grew in intensity as the we got closer to the big beaches. I had noted that the beaches were full during the day but now the crowd had expanded to the entire area surrounding the beaches as well. People were singing, drinking, dancing and of course blowing things up. It was just the energy I needed to keep me awake and happy.

We arrived to the beach and joined one of the many outdoor clubs located on the sands. People were friendly and the drinks flowed. We randomly stumbled upon some other friends from the co-working office and together had a big party within an even bigger party.

Sant Joan Party

Despite the hour, many people were dancing in swimwear or less. It never got cold and the scene heated up an already sexy atmosphere. This was the party I had heard about when originally writing my bucket list.

Friends in Barcelona

Beach Party

Beach Party Clean Up

We ended up partying on the beach until the sun rose. It was fantastically red as it came up over the Mediterranean and cast a surreal light on the still mostly full beach.

I got back to my apartment at around 8:00 am to start packing for my return to the States. It had been my last full night in Spain and it was one of my favorites.

I am writing this while flying from London to Los Angeles. The person to my right thinks they are being sneaky while reading my screen but I can see them. If they don’t notice this comment, I am going to finish this post up and write the most graphic sex scene I can think of. Such is life flying.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • What’s with all the garbage left behind on the beach?! It would make for a good bonfire with exploding cans and all..

    • I heard they have a device (like a tractor) that goes through and can clean the beach really quickly. Supposedly, the next day it looks like nothing ever happened.

  • All the beaches and places are really seems wonderful to hang around with friends. After reading your article it seems that you had really enjoyed lot, yes that we can also see in the pic. Your article is really very nice, i really enjoyed reading it.

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