The stench of vinegar fills my nose as I leave the noisy bar, beer in hand, ready to investigate what’s happening in the dirt smeared streets. I hear the familiar sound of bells clanging as the Peliqueiros, clown-like entertainers who are characteristic of Ourense’s festivals, run through the crowd, ready to whip anyone who gets in their way. People stand around, nervously awaiting what’s about to come next. The ant toss.
I’ve lost my friends and start to search the porch frantically for a trace of someone familiar. A stocky man in the corner wearing a ski mask notices and introduces himself. A local who has been living in Barcelona for the past few years, he looks forward to the chance to come back to his homeland and enjoy this sloppy celebration each year. Don’t worry, they don’t bite too much. He assures me. I still don’t feel at ease.
I hear the buzz of a snow blower and I start to cough as a white powdery dust fills the air. Flour, I’ve been told. I try to run away through the dense crowd of people donning sweats and full- length bodysuits, but I am too weak. I start to feel myself being pushed towards the front of the porch, slightly skidding as my hiking boots slide on the new coat of flour on the wooden floor beams.
Men in grey body suits, complete with matching antennae, march through the narrow street, blasting more flour at us. Instinctively, I put my hood up and put my head down, fighting the urge to watch. Suddenly, people start panicking and shouting. Formigas! Ants! I do not speak much Galician, but I know that at this point I really need to get away.
As soon as I start making a run for it, one of the men in the street parade catches my eye. I try to look away, but he comes closer and that’s when I notice he has a small yellow shopping bag that’s squirming around in his hand. No no no! I plead.
He extends his free hand towards me and quickly pulls my hood down. Before I notice his other hand is gone, I feel a quick pat on the top of my head and my scalp starts to itch. I have at least a dozen angry ants that have been soaked in vinegar crawling through my hair. I scream as the kind people around me help brush them off my head. Poor foreigner. I hear them whispering in Spanish.
I find the man from Barcelona standing in the same corner where I saw him before. The man threw ants on my head! I cry.
Congratulations. He says. You are officially an honorary Galician.
And that’s how I survived my first Luns Borralleiro in Laza.