The festival of San Juan de la Vega is a re-enactment of a 400-year-old skirmish between a wealthy miner named Juan Aquino de la Vega and some filthy bandits who stole his gold. As the story goes, Aquino was a devoted Catholic so Saint Juan Bautista intervened, and returned the gold to its rightful owner. In return for this miracle, Juan Aquino promised that he'd help the poor. In this way he became something of a Robin Hood type; stealing from the rich to help the disadvantaged. Today the town has taken his name and holds a seriously irresponsible festival in his honor.
In a re-enactment of the moment Juan Aquino defeated the bandits, festival-goers strap packets of explosives to sledgehammers and hurl them to the ground. The explosives detonate, and represent the apparently explosive triumph over the gold thieves.
I'd been in Mexico about three days when a friend told me about the celebration. So after several hours of staring out a bus window, we got to a small town consumed by dull booms and sulphureous smoke.
The whole thing works like this: Participants split into two sides, the ladrones (bandits) and the arrieros (workers fighting for Aquino). Each side then takes turns blowing up hammer-loads of potassium chlorate fertilizer on lengths of steel rail at the local soccer field. Apparently they once celebrated in the main street, but had to move over safety concerns and broken windows.
Not that this sort of thing deters the youth. As the Spanish language site, AM, reported 25 people were injured this year, with flying shrapnel causing the most problems. Amusingly this danger didn't put anyone off. If anything, injuries seemed to add another layer of machismo to the testosterone swimming pool that is Carnaval San Juan de la Vega.