If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for the strange and quirky. That and Chipotle. And when I heard that 2,000 sheep would be passing through Madrid today, well I just had to see for myself.
We arrived to the city center around 10:30 a.m. to find growing crowds, confused tourists, clanking bells, a stench of livestock and the start of the festival. What is the purpose of this, you’re probably wondering? Allow me to explain.
Every November, Spanish shepherds herd their cattle to warmer, more southern pastures, but they intentionally pass through the city center to demonstrate against the rapid sprawl of urban development and modern agricultural practices that have destroyed this age-old ritual.
This process is called Transhumance. Madrid has been a grazing route since 1372, but since the city became a capital, it has complicated the routes and forced most shepherds to transport their cattle via trailer.
Keeping the tradition alive by shutting down the capital is a way for the shepherds to protest these changes. The sheep are driven from Casa de Campo, through Sol, and onto Retiro Park.
Never in my life have I seen so many skittish little sheep be herded in such a way. As I watched them slip and slide across the cobblestone, spooked by the applause and people, I felt a bit torn.
I admired and appreciated the idea of sticking up for this classic ritual, but the sheep were terrified… and sometimes animals bring out really disheartening sides to people.
I saw people kick at them, try to saddle them and scream at them, which made me really irritated and upset. Maybe my heart is a couple sizes too big for animals (seriously, I’m about to block all my hunting friends from my newsfeeds), but I often found myself wondering if this process is really worth it–for the animals’ sakes. I’m curious to know your thoughts below!
Once all 2,000 sheep had passed by, the workers in traditional costumes and Lady Gaga-esque shoes danced on, singing and performing more herding rituals.
As they performed, they passed around a canteen full of red wine (at 11 a.m., mind you!) and I couldn’t believe it when one of the workers pulled me from the crowd and offered me a swig!
“¿Es buena o mala?” He asked, while dozens of Asians took my picture.
“¡Baaaa-uena!” I giddily responded (ha..ha..) after probably drinking a little more wine than he was hoping I would.
So, there you have it, Madrid’s 21st Transhumance Festival. I’ve never seen such a sheepy sight. It’ll definitely be added to my list of quirky experiences, right up there with abandoned amusement parks, airplanes that land feet above your head on the beach and churches adorned with real human bones.