Yesterday (19 January, 2008) we drove up the Jerte Valley to Piornal, the highest village in our region of Extremadura, to experience the centuries old festival known as "Jarramplas". Jarramplas takes place every year on the 19th & 2oth of January & is one of the most bizarre festivals around. When we arrived around 2 pm the streets of the town were already littered with bits & pieces of "nabos" which are very large turnips that the villagers throw at Jarramplas as he makes his way through the streets banging on a drum. Jarramplas is a figure who, according to local folklore, represents either something from the most profound depths of hell or a goat thief.
The two day affair basically revolves around a dozen or so villagers who take turns putting on an outfit covered with brightly colored strips of paper & a large painted wooden mask. They go out into the street, one at a time, & start beating on a large animal skin drum to announce the presence of Jarramplas. Here comes the fun part: the people of the village all come running, armed with enormous turnips which they throw with all of their strength at the poor guy in the costume, pummeling him mercilessly. It was quite a stressful day, running through the streets surrounded by hundreds of fairly drunken villagers, all eager to hit something or somebody with rock-hard turnips. I saw many young guys with black eyes, most likely caused by stray turnips.
There was a rather hectic moment at 4 pm when Jarramplas, after making his way through half the streets of the village, arrived at the church. I got swept up in the crowd & was shoved inside the main entrance. A moment later the doors were slammed shut & Jarramplas, just outside the door, was cornered & people mercilessly pounded him with turnips. The sound of the wooden church doors, as hundreds of turnips hit them, was deafening from inside the church. A few moments later the doors were opened & Jarramplas entered the church surrounded by villagers applauding him for withstanding the force of all those turnips. Then the people began singing. As traditional songs filled the church, people began carrying a wooden sculpture of San Sebastian through the aisles.
Shortly after the singing ended, the people rather excitedly filed out of the church & swarmed the square outside, again armed with more turnips (14,000 kilos of turnips were imported to Piornal for the festival, by the way). As everybody waited for Jarramplas to exit, so the madness could commence once again, a small tractor arrived with another load of turnips. The driver dumped a small mountain of them next to the fountain as people scrambled to arm themselves with the biggest turnips they could find. Jarramplas finally exited, banging on his drum, & the air was once again filled with flying turnips. People began running in all directions & I lost sight of Lola for a few minutes. (I found her crouched behind a phone booth which was covered in strips of plywood to keep the glass doors from being smashed by turnips).
We wandered off for a bit to get a break from the constant ducking & dodging & stress of wondering when, not if, we were going to get clobbered by a melon-sized turnip. As the sun began to disappear over the horizon, we took a stroll through the local Jarramplas museum (which is equipped with a bar downstairs that, at that moment, was full of drunken, singing villagers). Afterwards we got in the car, which survived the entire day without any turnip damage. Then we braved the dark, treacherous, winding mountain roads back down to the valley floor & then home.