29th National Columbus Day by the Seaside

October 9-13 in Villa Gesell.

Every year around October 12, the Spanish community of the Buenos Aires Province sea resort of Villa Gesell regales popular festival fans with an event-packed national Columbus Day festival that includes an immense paella served to 1,000 locals and tourists; processions of floats and “big-heads”; and several sporting and cultural events. Celebration of this holiday in Villa Gesell began in 1967 with a paella party and dance organized by and for the local Spanish community. Since then it has grown into a big event for all townspeople, becoming a municipal festival in 1981 and achieving provincial and finally national status in 1984 and 1993, respectively. During the four or five days the festival lasts each year, there are free concerts, films and tours of the first home of resort founder Carlos Gesell and the nursery that provided the trees with which he fixed the dunes and forested the town. On Saturday Oct. 10 a big barbecue is scheduled for 1pm and a parade of floats for 3:30pm. On Sunday Oct. 11, the morning hours will be dedicated to a kayak regatta, an inter-provincial volleyball tournament, a marathon on a 6,500 meter course, a surfing and body boarding tournament, and a jet ski championship. Before noon, people will gather around the gigantic paella pan to watch how some ingredients are added with the help of a crane, and others through nozzles in the sides of the pan. The paella will be served at 1pm. The parade of “cabezudos” is scheduled for 3:30pm.
Taken from the “gigantes y cabezudos” (giants and big-heads) procession tradition that originated in Spain in the Middle Ages and later spread to the rest of Europe, the “cabezudos” of Villa Gesell are the gigantes used in Europe, as they are hollow figures several meters tall comprising a head with flailing arms. Beneath the long skirt of each gigante is a strong man who is fitted with a harness that bears the supports of the structure, and makes the figure “dance” to the music of a marching band. In Europe the gigantes represent village archetypes, while in Villa Gesell they symbolize the different communities. The Spanish cabezudos are large head masks held in hand by disguised revelers. For the full Columbus Day festival (Fiesta Nacional de la Raza en el Mar) program, visit http://www.gesell.gov.ar/.

Other experiences nearby: In Villa Gesell, an excursion along the beach and across the dunes in a 4x4 military truck to the Querandí lighthouse. A drive around the nearby posh resorts of Mar de las Pampas (10 km), Cariló (10 km) and Pinamar (19 km). The oceanariums in Mar del Plata (103 km south) or San Clemente del Tuyú (100 km north).

PHOTO CREDITS: The cook seasons the paella with the help of a crane. A procession of “giants” posing as “cabezudos.” Both from Casa de Villa Gesell in Buenos Aires.