Saturday, July 9, 2011

Apparently Saint John the Baptist was a pyro.

As you look at the picture above you might ask yourself, “Why Taylor, is that a flaming bull skull you’re carrying?” Well yes faithful blog reader, it is indeed.

Welcome to the Festival of San Juan.

I am not sure how the course of events in my life lead me to having the opportunity to chase children with a flaming bull skull, but I can only thank the fates for allowing it.

San Juan is a festival that is held through out late June and early July. Various schools and organizations throw San Juan parties. It’s a time to celebrate traditional Paraguayan culture. There are games, traditional dance, and lots of food. While this goes on for about a month the actual San Juan day is the 24th of June. On this day, San Juan protects those who have faith, and to prove it, they use fire. Lots of fire.

The whole party surrounds a giant bon fire in the middle of a field. Things begin innocently enough by setting some soccer balls on fire for kids to play with. From there, they burn an effigy of Judas, who strangely enough often resembles one political leader or another. We then take a break to climb a 20 plus foot greased pole to retrieve candy and about 25 dollars located at the top. First one to successfully hump their way up to the top gets the prizes. If you are asking yourself if that safe, stop. San Juan protects us, so we do not need safety precautions. So while free climbing a slippery tree trunk is all well and fun, it’s time to get back to fire.

Enter flaming bull skull.

I wasn’t paying much attention, seeing as I was trying to fight off 30 kids to be able to kick a flaming soccer ball, when all of a sudden my friend pushes me. I look up and a foot away from my face is the heifer from hell. I have never ran so fast in my life. When I finally shake him, I return to find all my friends and their host families dying of laughter. Apparently, I was set up.

Now San Juan is a family holiday, so clearly the flaming bull skull is handed over to the kids at this point. The little ones take turns chasing each other. And by “take turns” I mean one kid gets to chase until another kid pulls him to the ground to take over. Seeing as I was clearly bigger than the creatures, I decided I needed in on this action. I commandeered the demon beauvine from an 8 year old, and began my mission. I am telling you: You have not lived until you have chased your friends and small children with a flaming bull skull. But as with all good things it had to come to an end. I too was taken over by kids who grabbed on to the frame and flung me to the ground.

While it would be easy to assume that chasing people with fiery carcasses is the climax of San Juan, you are underestimating the faith of the Paraguayan people.

At this point in the night the bonfire is dying down. A small fire on a heap of red hot coals is all that’s left. You might be able to guess where I’m going with this. We all surround the fire, and a man older than time spreads out the coals with a wooden stoke to create a nice even layer. The priest enters the circle to given a benediction over the coals, and asks San Juan to protect us. Then Grandfather Time takes off his shoes, and rolls up his pants. After a quick prayer and a deep breath, he proceeds stroll across the coals like it’s sunday afternoon. He doesn’t appear to have felt anything. To prove it, he turns around and does it again.

To the cynics, feel free to hypothesize all you want about how he did it. All I know is what I saw, and I saw a man walk across fire. It was truly incredible.

The rest of the night, music is played and children run wild until the coals are no longer warm enough to stand next to. I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much fun. And no, I will never attempt to walk across the coals.