Got a burning itch to travel?

I sure do. Currently I’m hunting for a wild late-summer getaway. And I’ve found a weird fire festival in El Salvador that looks like an absolute blast.

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Each August, the good youths of Nejapa, El Salvador (14 kilometers north of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador) tie rags up with wire, and soak them in kerosene. Then on the evening of August 31st, the teenagers paint their faces with fierce & scary patterns, take to the streets, light up the rags, and huck balls of fire at each other. What could possibly go wrong?

The festival’s called Bolas de Fuego (Balls of Fire) and it looks like the total opposite of a snowball fight. Fire balls soar through the night sky and explode on impact, often in people’s faces. Plus people roll balls of fire along the street, making it look like there’s a superhero rolling flaming bowling balls. And by people, of course, I mean boys. This street-meat barbecue is most definitely a sausage party.

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Watch this video of the mayhem, and this one via BBC. Fun, huh? It looks like the KISS Army is practicing their castle pillaging to the beat of a terrible metal band. Either that, or a Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver.

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But Bolas de Fuego actually commemorates a violent volcanic eruption in 1917. According to the Internet, that summer a nearby volcano exploded “with deafening reports like claps of thunder,” and “columns of incandescent lava and gases shot high into the air.”

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Other Internet sources claim the festival was sparked by a different event in 1685. Apparently the “nearby volcano El Playon erupted, forcing the people of the old village of Nixapa to flee and re-establish their homes at Nejapa’s present location. During the eruption, bombs of lava and fire flew through the air, which gave rise to the commemorative ritual.”

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The result sure seems like anarchy. I mean, let’s face it: you can dress it up all you want but the result is young guys getting clocked in the head by burning balls of fire while their girlfriend shriek and scream. But on the bright side, there are safety measures. Many of the revellers soak their jeans and gloves in water.

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And considering El Salvador has some of the highest mortality and homicide rates in the world, what’s a little fire in the eyes?

What do you think…would you join a ball-of-fire fight?

— Ken Hegan

VIDEOS: Bolas de Fuego in Nejapa, El Salvador

Read more of Ken’s travel stories here and follow him to victory on Twitter

Photos courtesy Rodolfo Villeda and Mario Pleitez