A few weeks ago I was feeling like I knew Madrid pretty well, I’d settled into my home and life with my host family, I was getting used to teaching and getting better at keeping my students from screaming and throwing things. I was remembering at least some Spanish. I´d figured out the best way from my house to the center of Madrid.
Then, while scrolling through Facebook on a lazy Sunday morning something caught my eye. An article claiming a traditional shepherd’s pass, called the Transhumancia, was going to bring a herd of sheep through the center of Madrid later the same day. I didn´t quite believe it but I wanted to, so I grabbed a camera and caught the next Cercanias train headed downtown.
I arrived at Plaza de Cibeles and found a sea of people already there, it was clear that something was happening, even if I wasn´t sure what. I found a place among the crowd where I could see and waited, for what exactly I wasn’t sure.
Twenty minutes of waiting was rewarded with the sight of people coming down the hill, some on horseback and all in traditional dress. Still no sheep but it was beautiful and interesting. I snapped some pictures and wondered if the sheep were no longer part of this tradition.
Then I saw them, a sea of them, surrounded by shepherds, and dogs and photographers. It was one of the funniest things I´ve seen since arriving in Spain. A sea of sheep marching down Gran Via. They looked completely out of place, and still, it seemed to suit Madrid.
I followed the sheep down the Paseo del Prado and back up through Plaza del Sol to Opera. Despite the scenery and location, the shepherds seemed to be operating with a single goal, and the sheep were kept packed together. There was order in the chaos.
Near Opera, the sheep continued but dancers stopped, and took command of the streets. It felt like a window back in time, it looked like something out of a movie.
This whole day came to me through sheer dumb luck, I´d stopped paying attention to the ‘This Week in Madrid’ posts, and I was fairly sure I knew about most of the city's festivals, at least the ones worth seeing. I´d forgotten one key piece of knowledge from studying abroad here. Madrid, and Spain in general, always has new surprises waiting, if you're willing to look for them.