The Blooming of the Tisza – A Stunning Natural Phenomenon

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Named after the river on which it takes place every year from late spring to early summer, the Blooming of the Tisza is an incredible natural phenomenon that attracts tourists from all around the world to Hungary. As millions of long-tailed mayflies reach sexual maturity, they shed their larvae skin and burst from the river in search of a mate before dying just a few hours later.

There are around 2,000 species of mayfly worldwide. Measuring up to five inches from their head to the end of their appendages, Tisza’s Palingenia longicauda, also known as the long-tailed mayfly, is Europe’s largest. Mayflies live most of their lives as larvae in large colonies on the bottom of rivers. After three years, they shed their larvae skins and emerge from the water as sexual mature adults. Because they have a limited amount of time to reproduce -about three hours – as soon as they are able to fly, they prowl for potential mates. Males try to pass on their genes to the next generation at any cost, often forcing themselves on the females, and even clinging to them when they are still in larvae form. This mating frenzy lasts for three or four days, during which time the whole area around the Tizsa river becomes engulfed in a seemingly impenetrable humming fog.

Tisza-mayflowers

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Guy Runs 26-Mile Marathon Backward While Juggling

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Most people couldn’t run a marathon if their life depended on it, but world-record juggler Joe Salter ran the whole 26.2-mile Quad-Cities Marathon backward, while doing what he does best, juggling.

32-year old Joe Salter can practice his juggling skills pretty much anywhere. In the past, he swam a half-mile in the Gulf of Mexico, doing the backstroke while juggling three balls, juggled for 16.2 miles on a bike and ran and juggled for four miles. He also holds the world records for the fastest time to run a mile backward while juggling (7 minutes, 32 seconds) and fastest juggling triathlon (1 hour, 57 minutes), but he was hungry for a Guinness World Record, so he challenged himself to run the entire Quad-Cities Marathon, in Illinois, backward, while juggling. Unfortunately, Guinness rules are very strict and for Joe’s unique feat to qualify as a record, every second of the race had to be recorded, which was impossible as videotaping is prohibited along several miles of the course that run through the Rock Island Arsenal. Although slightly disappointed, Salter found an upside to the whole situation. ”I actually feel better, not having the stress,” he said before the race, and indeed the lack of added pressure helped him finish the entire 26.2-mile marathon in just 5 hours and 51 minutes.

Joe-Salter-juggling

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Poland’s Knight Fighting League Looks Like a Brutal Medieval Version of Fight Club

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The awesome-looking Polish Knight Fighting League has medieval enthusiasts put on full body armor and do battle in one-one duels or team matches, using actual (although blunt) weapons like swords, axes and spears.

The Polish Knight Fighting League is no scripted medieval battle reenactment. It’s more like a Dark-Ages-themed tournament for people who share a passion for shiny helmets and medieval martial arts. Participants put on full protective armor and try to land as many hits on their opponents as possible. They can strike with their metal weapons and shields, or simply use punches, kicks or headbutts. Matches are judged on points, like fencing, where the knight with he most connected hits wins the game, or by knockdown, where the first man to touch the ground with more than a third of their body loses. Would-be knights can participate in one-on-one duels, or team matches where the ultimate goal is to knock-down as many opponents as possible. The team with the most people left standing when time is called wins the day. Sounds like a fun time if you’re into this sort of thing, but judging by the promo video below, it can get pretty brutal. Apart from hitting an unarmored opponent and landing hits to the spine, neck and back of the knees, everything else is apparently permitted.

knight-fighting-league

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Armored Sports – Russia Holds World’s First Ever Tank Biathlon

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Probably bored with the usual sporting event, the Russian Military decided to introduce tanks into the mix as a way of spicing things up. Tank Biathlon is a mechanized sport in which tank crews have to guide their vehicles across an obstacle course and prove their accuracy by shooting various targets, in as little time as possible.

The world’s first ever tank biathlon was held at the Alabino proving ground,Russia, on 2013 August 11–17 and pitted tank crews from several of Russia’s Military Districts against teams from three ex-Soviet countries: Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus. All teams competed in T-72Bs tanks, an iconic weapon for all post-Soviet armies, and had to complete three 6,100 meters-long laps across a large racing field while completing different objectives. During the first round, crews had to use the tank’s main gun to hit targets at distances of up to 2,200 meters, which is close to their maximum range, while racing across the field in minimal time. Failure to miss a target cost the teams a 500-meter penalty lap. In the second round, teams had to use the tanks’  7.62mm coaxial machine gun to hit targets imitating anti-tank mortar (RPG) squads and infantry units, placed at distances of between 600 and 700 meters. During the final round, crews had to maneuver their tanks across an obstacle course that included a scarp, ford, minefield, bridge and roadblocks, as fast as possible. Missed or crashed obstacles added a 10-seconds increment to the teams’ final timing. Russia’s team won the competition, followed by Kazakhstan, with Belarus third and Armenia last.

tank-biathlon

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Snowshoe Baseball – A Taste of Winter in the Summer Months

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What do you get when you combine a winter pastime like snowshoe running with a summer sport like baseball. The answer would be snowshoe baseball, a unique sport played every year in Lake Tomahawk, Winsconsin.

With its beautiful lakes and gorgeous scenery, Lake Tomahawk has always been one of Wisconsin’s most popular tourist attractions, but in 1961, Town Chairman, Ray Sloan, decided to give summer tourists yet another source of entertainment. His idea was to cover the local baseball field with sawdust and woodchips, and invite other other area teams to challenge the hometown squad in a unique series of baseball games where the players had to wear snowshoes. Sloan strategy worked and the wacky games have become a local tradition that attracts spectators from all around the globe and earned Lake Tomahawk the title of “Snowshoe Baseball Capital of the World”. The rules of the game are very similar to baseball, but the snowshoes really make it interesting by forging players to waddle and scuffle rather than sprint to bases. There’s a lot of falling, especially early in the match, as everyone tries to get used to the snowshoes, but the sawdust and woodchips act as a soft mattress, so injuries are rare.

snowshoe-baseball

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Bambu Gila – The Crazy Bamboo Dance of Maluku

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Bambu Gila is a mystical ritual performed in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, where a group of strong men struggle to control a piece of bamboo from moving around like crazy as if it were possessed by an unseen power.

The origins of Bambu Gila, or Crazy Bamboo, are unknown, but it is believed the ancient ritual was once used to induce a fearless fighting mentality before going to war. Today, the once warring tribes of Maluku live in piece and this unique tradition has been reduced to a popular tourist attraction. Preparations for Bambu Gila start with a special ceremony in which the local shamans ask permission from the spirits that still dwell in the nearby bamboo forests to cut down a log for the famous dance. Crazy bamboos are  brought from Mount Gamalama, the volcanic mountain in Ternate, Northern Maluku, where the spirits are believed to be the strongest, cut to a specific size, cleaned and rubbed with coconut oil. During the actual ritual, seven of the strongest villagers are selected to handle the bamboo which supposedly starts to move by itself and becomes increasingly heavier and more difficult to control, after a ginger-chewing shaman recites strange mantras and blows incense into it. Although it’s hard to believe there are supernatural forces at work, the performers put on quite a show that attracts thousands of visitors from all over Indonesia and beyond.

Bambu-Gila

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The Game of Gostra – Running Up a Greasy Wooden Pole in Malta

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Every year, on the afternoon of the last Sunday in August, brave young men from all over Malta compete in the traditional game of “gostra”, trying to run all the way to the top of a long greasy pole and snatch one of the three prizes.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the game of gostra was practiced all through the festive summer months, in various locations around the islands of Malta and Gozo. A wooden pole measuring about 10 meters long was mounted on a coal barge and towed to harbor towns and seaside villages around the Maltese coast, where it was smeared with grease and animal fat. Brave local men would try to run up the pole and reach one of the symbolic flags at the top in order to claim a prize. Today, the traditional game is only held in the towns of Msida and Spinola Bay, in honor of St. Joseph and St. Julian. The pole stretches out into the water, and only half of it is covered in grease, but in order to have a higher chance of reaching the flags before slipping off the slippery wood, most competitors prefer to run up the pole, hoping they can maintain their balance long enough to snatch one of the coveted prizes. This sometimes causes them to fall awkwardly hitting the log on their way down into the sea, and injure themselves.

Gostra-game

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Indonesian Villagers Beat Each Other with Rattan Brooms in the Name of Brotherhood and Friendship

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Every year, a week after the end of Ramadan, the Indonesian villages of Morella and Mamala hold Pukul Sapu, a unique ritual that has men from the two villages beating each other across their bare backs with rattan broomsticks.

There’s nothing like a good beating to strengthen the bond between members of a community, at according to the people of Morella and Mamala, two villages in the Maluku province of Indonesia. Seven days after the end of Ramadan, the local young men take part in Pukul Sapu, an ancient ritual that translates as “Beating Brooms”. A fitting name, considering it involves participants hitting each other with strips of rattan across their backs until they are all covered in bloody scars. Before the actual beating begins, the men gather to receive the prayers of the village elders which are supposed to provide protection from serious injury during the proceedings. Wearing only short pants and headbands, the brave men enter the arena and split into two groups, facing each other. They then take turns in hitting each other across the back and chest with hard rattan brooms, with the one taking the beating lifting his arms into the air to proudly display his bloody wounds. This is not a mock battle, and the traces left by each lash is more than enough proof, yet the participants take the beating without so much as a flinch or cry of pain.

Pukul-Sapu

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Scala di Santa Maria del Monte – Probably the World’s Most Beautifully Decorated Staircase

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Located in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, La Scala di Santa Maria del Monte is an old 142-step staircase, each of which are decorated with a different ceramic pattern. It’s a wonder to behold, but during the Spring and Summer seasons it becomes even more breathtaking as locals adorn it with potted flowers and lanterns, creating intricate designs.

Situated 68 kilometers from Catania, the town of Caltagirone has long been famous for its production of pottery. The name of this charming settlement derives from the Arabic qal’at-al-jarar” (“Castle of [pottery] jars”) and befits its longstanding pottery-making tradition perfectly. The talent of local craftsmen can be admired everywhere in Caltagirone, as everything from the palaces, churches and monuments to the gardens and squares of this place are covered in beautiful ceramics. But it’s the splendid Scala di Santa maria del Monte, a 142-step staircase dating back to 1608 that really stands as a testament to the town’s millennial tradition of pottery making. This breathtaking work of art that connects the high part of Caltagirone to the low part, is completely covered in ceramic tiles, with each of its steps featuring a different design inspired by local culture. The Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte is the main attraction of the Sicilian town, and it’s here that locals celebrate their most important festivals, La Scala Infiorata and La Luminaria, during which they use the staircase as a canvas for floral and light masterpieces.

Scala-Infiorata-Caltaragione

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Pucker Up and Sing – The World Whistling Championship

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Every year, the world’s most passionate whistlers gather in Louisburg, North Carolina, to compete in the annual World Whistling Championship. Whistlers, young and old, are judged on resonance, intonation and stage presence as they interpret some of the most famous concertos and sonatas.

In 1970, Allen De Hart, director of public affairs at Louisburg College, founded the Franklin County and Louisburg College Festival, which focused on traditional music and dance from the southern states. Three years later, Darrel Williams, a contestant from Durham, North Carolina, requested he whistle his original composition rather than sing it. The judges accepted it and they were so impressed with his performance that the annual event soon became the National Whistlers Convention. For the last 40 years, talented whistlers from all around the world have been coming to Louisburg to show off their skills and claim the coveted title of World Whistling Champion. It might sound like a wacky contest to a lot of people, but for the dozens of participants who take part in it every it’s serious business. They spend a lot of time practicing both their whistling and their stage performance, and take special care of their “instruments”, making sure they are in perfect condition on the big day. Kissing apparently makes the lips mushy so some of them adopt a “24-hour no kissing” policy to keep their lips crisp, while others sip ice water right before the performance. The ice constricts the lip tissue, making it nice an smooth and allowing the air to flow properly.

whistling

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Danza de los Zancos – The Whirling Stilt Dancers of Anguiano

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Walking on stilts is a daunting task for most people, but for the skilled “danzatores” of Anguiano, Spain, it’s a regular walk in the park. During the annual Danza de los Zancos celebration they take to the streets on wooden stilts measuring some 50 centimeters, and spin rapidly down the town’s steepest alleyways. They risk breaking their necks or smashing their heads against the cobbled pavement to honor La Magdalena (Mary Magdalene).

Every year, on July 22, the town of Anguino hosts one of the oldest, most fascinating fiestas in Spain, the Danza de los Zancos (Stilt Dance). In honor of Mary Magdalene, one of the most popular saints in this part of the country, eight brave and morally upright boys from the oldest families in Anguiano put on brightly colored vests, white shirts and damask yellow skirts, and dance on 50-cm-high wooden stilts. And I don’t mean just bouncing from one foot to another, but whirling at high speeds on steep and narrow alleys with nothing but a human mattress of spectators to catch them if they lose their balance. Did I mention they clap their castanets at the same time?

Danza-de-los-Zancos

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Physical Deformities in the Name of Tradition – The Cullatori of Nola

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La Festa dei Gigli, or The Festival of Lilies, is held every year in the Italian town of Nola. In celebration of St. Paulinus, who in 410 AD saved his people from the invading Visigoths, local man carry heavy wooden obelisks on their shoulders through the streets of Nola, which in time causes them to develop giant calluses.

Artistic photos of men sporting different-size growths on the back of their necks and shoulders have been making the rounds online for a few days now. It turns out they are the works of Italian photographer Antonio Busiello, who recently won first prize at The Royal Photographic Society’s International Print Exhibition. The men in his photos are known as “cullatori” or cradle rockers, and they are responsible with carrying large wooden obelisks on their shoulders during the annual Festa dei Gigli, in Nola, southern Italy. These decorative structures are 25-meters high and weigh around 2,500 kilograms. The cullatori carry them through the narrow streets of Nola for a day and a night without stopping, which leaves them with huge calluses on their backs and shoulders. But the most fascinating thing about these keepers of an ancient tradition is that instead of hiding their physical deformities, they display them with pride as symbols of their sacrifice and devotion to Saint Paulinus, who once gave up himself and all his possessions to save the citizens of Nola during the Visigoth invasion.

The-Cullatore

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Japan’s Hand Canon Fireworks Look Insanely Dangerous

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Out of all the impressive fireworks celebrations held annually all around Japan, Tezutsu Hanabi is by far the most eye-catching. Experienced masters hold large bamboo tubes filled with black powder in their arms as flames gush out towards the sky. Did I mention they explode at the end?

Tezutsu hand cannons are believed to have originated as a form of long-distance communication smoke devices called Noroshi. With the introduction of smokeless gun powder, these Civil War era tools started being used as fireworks and later as a form of prayer at Yoshida Shrine, in Toyohashi. The Tezutsu Hanabi fireworks display has been carried out for the last 300 years, as part of the Gion Festival, attracting tourists from all over Japan and beyond with columns of flames up to 20 meters-high piercing the night sky. Seeing dozens of men walking around nonchalantly with 80-cm-long, 10-cm-wide bamboo cylinders filled with over three kilograms of ignited black powder is indeed quite the spectacle.

Tezutsu-Hanabi

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Red Bull 400 – The Toughest 400-Meter Race in the World

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Even if you’re not a professional athlete, completing a 400-meter race doesn’t sound like that big of a challenge, right? But what if that relatively short distance had to be covered up the steepest ski jumping hill in Europe? That certainly complicates things a bit, doesn’t it?

The Red Bull 400 uphill race is the brainchild of former world-class sprinter Andreas Berger. After seeing the ski jumping hill in Kulm, Austria, he got the idea to use the venue for the world’s most extreme 400-meter track and field event. Berger and his wife were the first to run up to the very top, and decided it was difficult enough but still doable. The first ever edition of the Red Bull 400 took place in 2011, and every year since then hundreds of athletes, both male and female have signed up to push their muscles to the limit in “the hardest 400 meters in the world”. Kulm is one of the steepest slopes on Earth, with an average gradient of about 45% and an angle of ascent of 37 degrees in its toughest sections. The difference in altitude from the bottom to the top is 180 meters, but it’s not just the vertical climb runners have to worry about. The grass-covered lower part of the track is very slippery, and spike or crampon footwear is not allowed, while the second stage takes place on smooth concrete, forcing participants to change their approach.

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Death from Above – The Kite Battles of Pakistan

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Did you know you could get arrested for flying a kite in Pakistan, after the pastime was banned in 2007, for safety reasons? But as long as you stay away from power lines, where is the danger in flying a paper kite, right? Believe it or not, authorities say kites kill people.

In Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan kite fighting is a very popular sport. The goal is to bring down your opponent’s kite by using an abrasive line coated with a mixture of finely crushed glass and rice glue to cut through its line or the soft paper skin. Some cultures use metallic lines or attached metal knives  to hook and cut the opponent’s line. It takes a lot of practice and expert precision to maneuver a fighting kite, but winning a battle earns the victor the respect and praise of his peers. In Pakistan, the city of Lahore was considered the center of the kite fighting community, and even hosted the grand Basant Festival, where hundreds of thousands of kite flyers battled day and night for air supremacy. The festive event brought in people from all over Pakistan and beyond, but it all ended in 2007, when officials banned it, after several people were reportedly killed and hundreds others injured.

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