A couple weeks ago, I received an invitation from a friend to join him and his girlfriend for a trip to Aveiro, during which the festa of São Gonçalinho would be taking place. He explained that in addition to the dancing, music and fireworks, the main event would be the throwing of several tons of pastries - called cavacas - from the rooftop balcony of São Gonçalinho's chapel.
Now, I love all the festivals Portugal has revolving around food and drink, but this is the first I've heard of one where the food is thrown and caught instead of eaten. After arriving at Aveiro in the late afternoon (we took a car, but it would be about a 1 mile walk from the train station), we followed the crowds gathering towards the hexagonal chapel.
The crowds got thicker the closer to the chapel we got, and because I was so intent on photographing, I was quickly separated from the rest of my group. A number of individuals had brought what looked like fishing nets secured to the tops of 20+ foot poles, while others turned umbrellas upside-down to catch the flying pastries. It became obvious pretty quickly that the folks who'd prepared in advance and brought nets had a much better advantage than those using their hands.
Eventually, some of the pastry-throwers started chucking the cavacas farther out, and a few of them started to fall near to where I was standing. Hoping to snap a photo of someone actually catching one in their hands, I raised my camera to my face, only to feel what can best be described as a rock-hard baseball-type object smash in to the top of my head, inches from my lens. I turned around, somewhat stunned, to see a man and woman behind me colliding as they both threw their bodies toward the cavaca.
I'd had no idea how hard these cavacas were until they hit me, but after that I was a little more careful of the vicious pastries. I watched a poor elderly woman holding her injured nose being ushered out of the crowd and also saw a teen girl sobbing, while her mother held her and guided her away from the chapel. And not only were the pastries dangerous - certain individuals in the crowd had decided they were going to collect as many of these pastries as possible, no matter what the cost. I saw two kids lunge for a flying pastry, only to knock an older gentleman off his feet and almost into a stone wall. Several adults appeared to almost come to blows as they smashed into each other, grasping for the flying cavacas. For a religious festival, São Gonçalinho was surprisingly violent and I began to wonder how many pastry-related injuries occurred over the course of the day.
Eventually through the magic of text messaging, I was reunited with the rest of my group. The four of us agreed that this was one of the more dangerous festas we'd encountered, but that it was truly something you had to experience at least once. None of us were able to catch a cavaca, but booth after booth was selling them on the roads surrounding the chapel. I asked my friends why anyone would want to eat such hard pastries and they explained that there were hard ones for throwing and soft ones for eating.
The festival was going all night, with bands playing nearby and a short firework display around 6:00. A much longer show was planned for midnight, but because of the cold weather we decided to head back prior to that. Next year, I'd love to get one of those nets so I can collect as many rock-hard cavacas as possible and build a zombie-proof dwelling in the Portuguese countryside.