You’ve probably heard of La Tomatina, Spain’s annual tomato fight, but there’s plenty of other strange contests that take place around the world. Here’s five of our favourite oddball activities, all featured in Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth.
Robot riders on camels, Kuwait
A stampede of two-year-old camels tears down the racetrack, their sinewy tan bodies stirring up brown dust as they speed along, trying to outpace the other camels nearby. Crops flick across their backsides – but this is not the work of an overzealous jockey. Instead, strapped across the back of each camel ride remote-controlled robots, limbless mechanical boy-sized torsos bucking with every stride.
Keeping pace in the Kuwaiti desert just beyond the track railing, a fleet of modern “ships of the desert” – SUVs and minivans – pursues the dromedaries. In them sit the camels’ owners, expertly manoeuvring the whips by remote control. Radio-controlled jockeys are new, having spread across Kuwait and several other Arabian countries after laws banning child jockeys – some of whom were as young as four – were passed. In Kuwait, they take the form of wrapped cylinders with faceless sock monkey-heads. At some events, plastic human-shaped heads adorn the robots.
The robots and chase cars are all products of the modern world. But camel racing is part of Kuwait’s cultural heritage, and the audience, sitting atop overstuffed, black leather armchairs and comfortably ensconced in an air-conditioned glass pavilion, is still full of men dressed in traditional Kuwaiti robes and white headdresses.
Kuwait Camel Racing Club is in Kabd, an hour’s drive west of Kuwait City. Races are held most weeks Nov–May, generally on Saturdays – call ahead for the schedule (+965 539 4014 or4015).
Wine wars in La Rioja, Spain
For grape gourmets, it might seem a terrible waste of wine, but each year several villages in La Rioja spend an entire day soaking each other in the stuff. The Wine War (La Batalla del Vino) is the modern-day remnant of ancient feuds between the wine town of Haro and its Riojan neighbours.
The festival begins with what must be one of the most bizarre religious processions anywhere: the congregation – as many as five thousand people, mostly dressed in white – comes armed not with Bibles, crucifixes and rosary beads but with an ingenious array of wine-weapons, ranging from buckets, water pistols and bota bags (wine-skin bottles) to agricultural spraying equipment.
The battle is thick and fast, with warring factions drenching each other with medium-bodied Rioja. You won’t be spared as a spectator, so you may as well join in. At the very least, come armed with a water pistol, though be warned that the locals have perfected the art of the portable water cannon, and can practically blast you off your feet from five metres. But what a way to go.
Haro’s Wine War takes place on June 29; see www.haro.org for more details.
Bean feasts and orange fights, Italy
One of Italy’s biggest and most peculiar carnival celebrations takes place in Ivrea, not far from Turin. On the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday the town fills with revellers who tuck into bowls of beans ladled out from giant cauldrons in the main square before taking part in a humongous orange fight, which starts at the same time each afternoon for the next three days. Anyone and anything is fair game here, and by the end of each day everyone is covered in pulp and drenched in freshly squeezed juice; there’s nowhere to walk that’s not swimming in vitamin C, and the air is full of the bitter smell of oranges. On Shrove Tuesday it finishes with a huge procession and a celebratory bonfire in the square.
See www.storicocarnevaleivrea.it for more.
Hammer-throwing and flame-jumping in Portugal
The Festa de São João is a magnificent display of midsummer madness – one giant street party, where bands of hammer-wielding lunatics roam the town, and every available outdoor space in Porto is given over to a full night of eating, drinking and dancing to welcome in the city’s saint’s day.
By the evening of June 23, the tripeiros, as the residents of Porto are known, are already in the party mood. A tide of whistle-blowing, hammer-wielding people begins to seep down the steep streets towards the river. No one seems to know the origin of the tradition of hitting people on the head on this day, but what was traditionally a rather harmless pat with a leek has evolved into a somewhat firmer clout with a plastic hammer.
Midnight sees the inevitable climax of fireworks, but the night is far from over. As dawn approaches, the emphasis shifts further west to the beach of Praia dos Ingleses in the suburb of Foz do Douro. Here, there’s space to participate in the tradition of lighting bonfires for São João, with youths challenging each other to jump over the largest flames.
Go to www.portoturismo.pt for more on the São João festival and on Porto itself.
Oil wrestling in Edirine, Turkey
If you enjoy watching grown men dressed in leather and doused in oil grappling with each other, the Kirkpinar oil wrestling championships, held just outside Edirne every July since 1924, are definitely for you. Competitors are smeared all over with a special variety of olive oil before each bout, and the object is to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the ground or prise out a verbal submission. Over a thousand wrestlers take part in the tournament, and you can either watch the 45-minute bouts as they happen, or just enjoy the fairground atmosphere that prevails, with Gypsy bands, dancing bears and lots and lots of kebabs.
www.kirkpinar.com has everything you need to know about the Kirkpinar championships, past and present.