It was a Sunday afternoon. Crowds began to gather in the centre of the old town and gradually teams arrived from three local areas. I was about to witness an unusual spectacle: they have a strange competition in the region.
The idea is to create 'human towers' and compete to see which team can get the highest. As far as I could gather, despite the promised acrobatics, they were just ordinary people, and all ages too.
A base was created by a massive rugby-scrum of people, all pushing in to stabilise the core. Then one at the time, the other team members climbed up over them, balancing on each other's shoulders. A small child was the last to go up, light enough to perch at the top.
This was the first tower. They paraded through the crowds in the square, the scrum shuffling along beneath:
But this was just a warm-up. After that, the competition started in earnest and the teams took it in turns to do much higher towers, first with two people on each layer, then four...
The higher they were, the bigger the bases needed to be to support them. They began forming a second scrum on the shoulders of the first! As they got really high, competing teams would help, adding extra people to each other's scrums, so the towers would be surrounded by a massive crowd of people, all leaning forward on each other's shoulders.
People at the centre of the second scrum, reached up their arms and supported the bottoms of the people on the next layer up:
The little children at the top were called the 'monkeys'. That's a monkey in the sketch above, standing on the top scrum in her helmet, about to scramble up over the adults. On the big towers, two or three children would climb up at once. In order to fulfil the competition rules, the monkeys had to not only get to the top, but then circle the pinnacle, clambering over and round the top tier of people, before climbing down again.
Each team did three towers, getting taller and wider each time. I was just wondering what would happen if one collapsed, when one began to crumble before my eyes!
It was very shocking to see. One older man in particular was very upset afterwards (I wondered if it was him who had first given way) but, amazing, nobody seem to get harmed. Talking to a local in the crowd, I learnt that they give a signal if collapse is a possibility, to allow them to do it in a controlled manner, bending their knees and crumpling inwards, rather than falling sideways. The scrum braces to take the impact and nobody hits the ground.
At the end of the competition, there was a clear winner. There was a tense hush during the building of their final tower. The other two groups both got involved on the ground level and the team were very excited when they were done, so their tower was obviously pushing the boundaries.
The event finished with the three teams making lots of smaller towers again, all at once:
Then there was a fantastic celebratory dance:
The children rode on the adult's shoulders as they danced around the square while everyone sang and chanted and waved.