Published online at msn.ca's Travel section, May, 2010.
Some of the world’s weirdest and wackiest festivals are so outlandish we couldn’t make them up if we tried. You name it, someone, somewhere has made a sport or celebration out of it. Whether it’s racing outhouses, commemorating a frozen dead guy, or bog snorkelling, we’ve got a few international events that will make you go hmmm. And say huh?
Baby-jumping festival or El Colacho
Castrillo de Murcia, Spain
Though this festival is steeped in a tradition that dates back to 1620, to the outside observer it looks like a circus act gone horribly wrong.
Why, one might ask, is, what looks to be an Elvis impersonator running at a full gallop and leaping dangerously over rows of crying babies as though he were in an Olympic hurdling competition?
Because in fact the man in the yellow and red costume is meant to represent the devil, or El Colacho, who is actually exorcising the town’s newborns of evil spirits. The festival marks the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi and is meant to purge both the babies and the town and guard against illness and evil. Elvis really is the devil in disguise.
No, your eyes do not deceive you, you read correctly.
For 27 years, the residents of Conconully, WA — population 185 — have made a sport out of racing outhouses to wile away the long winter months. The rules of the game are strict and explicit: The outhouse must have three wooden sides, a roof and be equipped with a toilet seat and toilet paper — on a hanger. Motorized or steering devices are banned, and must be manned by three people, two pushers and one rider. While Trenary, Michigan puts on an admittedly bigger outhouse race, we laud the folks in this town for being the original outhouse racing host with 10 years over their Michigan cousins, and for flushing the competition with team names like “Butt Hutt.”
World Bog Snorkelling Championships
Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales,
In the smallest town in Britain, a strange tradition repeats itself every year as hordes of people donning snorkelling gear and flippers march down to the region’s peat bogs looking for mud and glory. Participants, some of whom come from as far as Australia to compete, must “swim” two lengths of the 55-metre trench — dug deep into a peat bog — without using conventional swimming strokes and using flipper power alone. Visibility is zero but insect ingestion very probable.
Roswell UFO Festival
Roswell, New Mexico
Every year, the site of one of the biggest conspiracy theories of the 20th century faces an alien invasion of tentacled, purple-faced, green-haired extra-terrestrials.
They come by the thousands to commemorate the incident that would forever equate Roswell with UFOs. In July, 1947, a mysterious object crashed on a ranch north of Roswell. The local military issued a statement claiming they recovered a “flying disk” a story that landed on the front page of the local newspaper. The next day, in what’s been called a massive cover-up, they retracted their statement saying it was in fact a weather balloon. Since then, believers by the thousands have made pilgrimages to Roswell to pay homage to our friends in outer space. For many, the Roswell UFO Festival is the final frontier.
Black Rock, Nevada
It started out as a small bonfire in San Francisco in 1986, when friends Larry Harvey and Jerry James burned a wooden effigy of a man and a dog on the beach in a spontaneous act of “radical self-expression.” Today, Burning Man is a weeklong event that draws 48,000 pilgrims to the Nevada desert where — in the span of one week — a new city is created. It’s billed as an “experimental community” dedicated to art, self-expression and self-reliance. In other words, the event is clothing optional and the citizens of the transient Black Rock City are encouraged to express their most peculiar eccentricities in whatever form they choose. Once the week is over, the city — by now one giant heaving art installation in itself — is dismantled, a mass exodus of people retreat to whence they came, leaving no trace that anyone was there.
Frozen Dead Guy Days
This festival’s a doozy. The frozen dead guy in question is Grandpa Bredo Morstoel who died in Norway in 1989 of a heart condition. It’s a long, circuitous story, but the short version is that Grandpa Bredo, as the locals call him, was packed in dry ice and shipped to a cryonics facility in California. From there, his frozen body was passed on through family members and then ended up in Nederland, where he now takes up residence in a shed which is cared for by a local “Ice Man.” Every month, the Ice Man and friends pack 1,600 pounds of dry ice around the dead guy’s sarcophagus and ensure that his body remains at a balmy -51 C. Grandpa Bredo has been on ice for 20 years now and is 109-years-old. No word yet on when poor gramps will finally be allowed to thaw.
Air Guitar World Championships
The mandate of this festival, now in its 15th year, reads like a beauty pageant speech.
“The purpose of the Air Guitar World Championships is to promote world peace,” the site says. “According to the ideology of the Air Guitar, wars end, climate change stops and all bad things disappear if all the people int he world played the Air Guitar.” We think President Barack Obama should heed these words carefully for his next State of the Union address. Strangely, however, we see how this absurd, normally solitary hobby of pretending you’re Jimi Hendrix in front of the mirror could bring the world together. After all, how could you not be moved by the delusionally sincere but impassioned strumming of invisible strings and the earnest, scrunched up faces of rock ‘n roll wannabes? The organizers said it best: “It’s impossible to be angry and play air guitar. Air guitar is the last pure form.”
Monkey Buffet Festival
Pra Prang Sam Yot temple, Lopburi, Thailand
There’s a lot of monkey business at this Thai festival. To thank their co-habitants for attracting tourists to the area, locals put on a lavish banquet for the area’s 2,000 macaques that includes buffet tables laden with exotic and pricey fruits, vegetables, sweets and sausages. These mischievous, long-tailed monkeys are the main attraction for the area and are given free reign to scale buildings and people, snatch glasses off faces and steal wallets out of bags. They may be cute but they’re also nimble.
Bavarian Finger Wrestling
Here’s a sport that brings new meaning to the phrase, “Pull my finger.” Issue the challenge in Austria and Bavaria, and you’ve just asked for a throw-down.
While it may sound bizarre, Bavarian men stake their honour and reputations on this brutal sport and traditionally settled disputes this way. Finger wrestling is a national sport and serious training regimes include one-finger chin-ups, push ups and finger weight training. Here’s how it works: two players sit opposite each other and loop their finger into a short leather strap before engaging in a kind of tug-of-war wrestling match as each player tries to pull their opponent over to their side of the table. The winner and champion is then able to boast of his masculinity and hands out his digits — of the cell phone kind — to fawning frauleins in the area.
World Toe Wrestling Championships
Bentley Brook Inn, Ashbourne, England
Not to be outdone by their Bavarian cousins, the Brits have their own version of digit wrestling but it’s admittedly not quite as serious, and perhaps a little less hygienic. The sport was born in the 1970s, when inventor George Burgess decided to devise a game that would give England the chance to finally be “world-beaters” in at least one sporting event. Alas — and here’s where Canada finds glory — his dreams were soon shattered when a visiting Canadian won the inaugural event. Like arm wrestling, competitors sit opposite each other with their feet on a board, lock toes and then try to force their opponent’s foot down. Twinkle toes’ need not apply, unless they’re prepared to tackle fearsome opponents like “The Toeminator.”