As we scoured the globe yet again for a selection of "best of" for summer 2006, we came across some intriguing and truly unique festivals and events. Some are open and accessible to all, but others, are not for the faint hearted.
Corpus Christi Devil Dancers, San Francisco de Paula de Yare, Venezuela - June 14 to 15, 2006
In honor of Corpus Christi Day, the church squares of regional villages along the coastline of Venezuela are filled with a colorful display of dancers dressed up as the devil. Los Diablos Danzantes take over the street and public areas through towns on both the eve and day of Corpus Christi. On the night before Corpus Christi the devils hold a candlelit mass called the Velorio de los Diablos Danzantes. Early in the morning on Corpus Christi day, the devils dressed in bright colored costumes and ornate paper mache. On the way they beat drums and toll; bells creating a spectacular sight. After mass the devils visit houses and shops, ridding them of evil and receiving gifts in exchange. Although San Francisco de Paula de Yare (in Estado Miranda) is known as the most exciting display of this tradition, the devils can also be seen in the towns of NaiguatÂ¿, Ocumare de la Costa, Chuao and Turiamo also celebrate spectacularly. In NaiguatÂ¿ women join in the celebrations and dancing whereas in other towns, it remains a male dominated activity.
Bali Arts Festival, Denpasar Indonesia - June 18 to July 16, 2006
Most people know Denpasar as the chaotic city that you fly into (and quickly drive through) when you fly to Bali. But a mere six miles from the beautiful beaches that Bali is known for, Denpasar is also home to Indonesia's most important cultural event. Featuring the most recognized musicians and dancers in the country, the festival attracts thousands of visitors who flock to the city to watch dozens of performances. Known locally as, Pesta Kesenian Bali, the Bali Arts Festival features a spectacular opening procession with traditional Balinese musical acts, dance, ornate costume, floats and giant ogoh-ogoh dolls. For the following four weeks, entertainment is provided both day and night, with diverse programs including traditional and modern music, dance, theatre, puppet shows, parades, floral and food competitions. Most events are held at the Werdi Budaya Arts Centre, a classic example of traditional Balinese architecture that includes a 6,000-seat amphitheatre. The website features detailed programming information (www.baliartsfestival.com).
Inti Raymi (Winter Solstice), Cuzco, Peru - June 24, 2006
Civilizations have celebrated the seasonal solstices for thousands of years. The festival of Inti Raymi takes place at the zigzagging rampart fortress-city of Sachsayhuaman near Cuzco to commemorate the Southern Hemisphere's Winter Solstice. The festival pays homage to Inca ancestral gods and is dedicated to the remembering of the cultural origins of the Inca civilization. Inti Raymi means "the solemn resurrection of the sun" and historically during the Inca Empire the festival lasted nine days, from sunrise to sunset and featured sacrifices, drinking rituals, dancing and feasts. Obviously the sacrifices have been removed from the festival program and the schedule reduced from nine days to one, but it is still performed at the same historic location and has been produced by historians and archaeologists to retain its authenticity. Drinking and feasting still features prominently. More than 150,000 colorfully dressed Peruvians and tourists assemble in the morning at the fabled Coricancha, or Sun Temple, where an Inca official delivers an invocation of praise to Father Sun and then the royal entourage moves to the city's main plaza, formerly the Incas' great civic square. This is truly a unique cultural spectacle that doesn't have any of the usual tackiness of historic re-enactments.
Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset, Hovsgol Lake, Mongolia - June 28, 2006
In the north of remote Mongolia, near the Russian Siberian border lies Hovsgol Lake and if you are a marathon runner with an interest in alternative locations, then this annual event could have your name written all over it. Participants in Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset can combine serious trail running or hiking with remote and exotic eco-tourism. Up to 100 competitors take part in this grueling event, so if you're not up to the task, perhaps being a spectator would be more in order. Participants have the option to complete a marathon (42 km) distance or the 100 km course. A detailed itinerary and travel plan is laid out on the website and event entry as well as transportation, accommodations and meals based at Camp Toilogt is included in the price for a six-day package (with money going back into the local Mongolian community). The prices from Ulaanbaatar is $1,280 or from Beijing, $1,680. Six days allows enough time to transport from the Mongolian capital, acclimatization to the altitude (1,650 meters), becoming acquainted with the course and of course the post race feasting and partying . For those interested, horseback riding, fishing, hiking and visiting local families (including Tsaatan reindeer herders) will also be possible. For more information about this endurance event visit www.ultramongolia.com.
Pamplona Bull Run, Pamplona Spain - July 6 to 14, 2006
Everyone has heard of the "Running of the Bulls" and been shocked and awed by watching it on television. Although I personally have not visited Pamplona during this event, I know many people who have and from all accounts, it is a once in a lifetime experience that anyone game enough to participate in it, should. Of course it also makes a wonderful spectator opportunity, so whether you choose to run with the bulls or not, Pamplona during Bull Run week is a fascinating destination. The Fiesta de San FermÂ¿n is a week long traditional event, of which the encierro (Bull Run) is one part. Each morning of the fiesta, hundreds of courageous, perhaps crazy locals and visitors risk their lives to get out of the way of dozens of fast moving and scary bulls as they run down the narrow streets leading to the bull ring. Best vantage points for photography are on the hotel balconies above street level that line the route. As this is a dangerous pursuit, you need to be aware that even those running behind the bulls face injury or even death as the bulls have been known to suddenly change direction and aim. Last year local authorities painted the streets with anti-slip paint in an attempt to prevent more accidents but I think slipping is the least of the runners' worries. For an interesting variation on the theme, if you arrive in Pamplona two days before the fiesta you can take part in or observe the Running of the Nudes (www.runningofthenudes.com), a PETA sponsored anti-Bull Run event, where participants, you guessed it, only wear a red scarf and fake bull horns. For more information about the real Bull Run, visit http://184.108.40.206/VerPag.asp?IdPag=763&Idioma=5.
Brussels Flower Carpet, Brussels,Belgium - August 14-18, 2006
Held every two years, this event is as much for lovers of historic architecture as it is for flower fanatics. The Grand Place is one of the Europe's most beautiful public squares and for a few days this summer, it will be transformed into a sea of color and fragrance with a carpet of flowers. Covering ground space of more than 3,000 square feet are 800,000 fresh begonias (Belgium is the world's largest producer and exporter of Begonias). To keep the flowers fresh, fountains and sprinklers are incorporated within the pattern of the carpet. The Flower Carpet display is officially opened on the evening of August 14 and is followed by fireworks, as well as a "Music and Light" show. Seeing the carpet at ground level is free but you can pay €3 ($3.85) for a better view from the second floor of the Town Hall (European first floor) each night for August 15 -- free for children under 12. Using symmetrical and floral motifs, the carpet is now in its 13th year and is created by "Tapis de Fleurs Â¿ Bruxelles", a not-for-profit association in cooperation with the City of Brussels, the Brussels-Capital Region and many sponsors. For more information, visit the website at www.dreamit.be/flowercarpet.
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