Spain’s traditional summer festivities are the perfect excuse for some of the craziest cultural and sporting events of the year – not content with organizing a straightforward pétanque competition, some villages prefer to hurl gas canisters, climb poles, or spit olive stones.
So never mind the Tomatina – if you’re feeling adventurous next summer, try Verne’s selection of this country’s lesser-known fiestas.
The Brutathlón. This event involves throwing tree stumps, gas canisters and concrete slabs, lifting tractor wheels and dragging railway sleepers… And these are just a few of the disciplines participants have to master in the annual Brutathlón, which is held in Los Molinos, a village located in the Guadarrama hills around 50 kilometers northwest of Madrid. The event is also staged in Aldea del Obispo, in Salamanca province. As its name suggests, here brute strength is the only requirement.
The Birratlón. There is some evidence to show that a beer after running aids recovery. In which case, why wait until the race is over to “recover”? That’s the premise underlying the Birratlón (birra is a popular word for beer), which sees participants having to complete a circuit on foot, taking in a beer at periodic check points. So far, no community has yet made the event its own, but both the Birratlón organized by Madrid’s Complutense University and the five-kilometer, six-pint race in Valladolid have attracted plenty of thirsty runners.
Olive stone spitting. This year, the event celebrated its 20th anniversary in Cieza, a small town in Murcia, although other communities throughout Spain have also taken it up. The goal is to eat an olive and then spit out the stone “without any aid.” The organizers say they have their sights set on Olympic recognition, and that the record stands at 10.43 meters. Elche, in Alicante province, stages its own version using locally grown dates.
Identity card hurling. Similar in concept to the olive stone event, but without the need to chew on said document, which can be thrown by hand. The contest began in Catalonia a couple of years ago, hitting the headlines in 2014 when one participant managed an astonishing 36 meters in Bescanó, near Girona. This year the event has spread from Catalonia and been included in the festivities organized in the Madrid suburb of Vallecas.
“World-record Spanish ID card throw: 38 meters.”
Cucaña. A classic. This event entails climbing a greased pole using only arms and legs. Held throughout Spain – Seville, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Cadiz and Orgaz have all tried it – it is also popular in much of Latin America. In coastal locations, such as Castro Urdiales in Cantabria, it is often adapted to a horizontal pole across water, which tends to hurt less when you fall off.
The cucaña in Castro Urdiales.
Rural Olympics. Añora, in Córdoba, is not just famous for its unusually high number of redheads, but also as the location of a three-day event that attracts hundreds of visitors year after year: the rural Olympics, featuring 15 traditional activities that include stilt walking, sack races, rope skipping, wheelbarrow races, and of course the greased pole or cucaña.
Viking invasion. Every year since 1960, on the first Sunday of August, Vikings invade the coastal village of Catoira, in Galicia. But these Norsemen are actually locals in disguise, and they keep the pillaging to a minimum. The disembarkation is followed by a hearty feast where diners are required to dress accordingly.
Cipotegato. At midday on August 27, the bells ring out in the village of Tarazona, in Aragon, to mark the start of one of the region’s best-known fiestas: the Cipotegato. This harlequin-esque character, elected each year, leaves the town hall while locals gather round and shout “cipote, cipote” (blockhead) while hurling tomatoes at him. He then walks round the village, and after returning to the main square, is hoisted atop the statue that pays homage to the Cipotegato.
Colacho. While in Tarazona they pelt the cipotegato with tomatoes, over in Castrillo de Murcia, in Burgos, the locals hurl insults at the colacho, who is also in disguise and who tries to snatch one of his tormentors from the crowd. Later in the day, all the babies born that year are laid out in the town square, and the colacho jumps over them. Lonely Planet has dubbed the event the baby-jumping festival.
La Gran Oca. Spain’s version of snakes and ladders is known as “the goose game,” and the version played in Dos Torres, in Córdoba, has been adapted to the entire village and surrounding area. On the first weekend of August, around 150 people divided into 20 teams play the game, rolling giant dice in the main square.
Dos Torres transforms into a huge Gran Oca board with the Gran Juego de la Oca.
The longest shout. This noisy event is held on and around August 15 during the La Paloma festivities in Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood. The winner is the person who can scream the longest and loudest. Spectators would do well to wear earplugs.
Crate climbing. As its name suggests, this event requires climbing up a tower of bottle crates. But participants have to build the tower from atop it, with volunteers first passing, then throwing up, boxes – until, inevitably, the climber falls off. The festival lacks a stable headquarters, but is held regularly in Langa, Ávila, in Miranda de Azan, Salamanca, and in Ateca, Aragon.
Seven crazy cart races are set to take place in Spain this September. Contestants must design and build their own vehicles, which they then have to steer down a steep obstacle course. Some events have been incorporated into local festivals for at least a decade; other races are held at different times of the year. Energy drink company Red Bull is sponsoring a global cart race competition, which will be held in Barcelona on October 31. Competitors are judged not just on their driving skills, but on the originality of their vehicle. Later in the year, the Sierra Nevada ski station in Granada will host its own downhill event with ski-fitted carts.