The Greasy Pole

(Editor’s note: This post was originally an email to someone that had a very strict spam filter. I thought, instead of removing the references to work-at-home programs and erectile dysfunction pills and resending to one person, perhaps I should share with everyone. Without the spam references, of course.)

Just two weeks ago was the big celebration of San Jeronimo. The day before the big parades they erected a greasy pole that must have stood fifteen meters high…a tall, bald pole covered in automotive grease with a big bag tied to the top filled with…I will let you guess… RUM! Surely one had to already be pretty drunk to attempt to scale something like that. The area was filled with people in the street, mostly teenagers, and most of them were drinking as well. I knew this might be good, unfortunately I lent my camera to a coworker who hadn’t yet returned it. Doh!

When I arrived, a small group of shirtless twenty-somethings at the bottom of the pole were chasing each other with handfuls of sawdust and looked like they had been tarred and feathered. Most of the crowd were just milling around, chatting, laughing and drinking. It was pretty uneventful, so I moved closer to the pole to get a better look at its stature.

It had once been a long, tall tree that was now stripped free of bark and dropped into a hole in the middle of the street. At the top it was tied with two guy ropes that gave it left-right support. I was absolutely convinced there was no way anybody could climb that thing without proper climbing gear.

Then the band started.

Instantly the crowd began jumping up and down shouting to the rhythm of the bass drum. Then the snare and horns chimed in together. All the sudden the street was alive and people were dancing. The band playing was like sprinkling salt onto the meal…it was that one spice that was missing to bring everything together.The shirtless guys at the base of the pole sprung into action and filled their pockets with the sawdust that covered the ground. The four biggest guys formed a foundation around the base, locking arms, while two others climbed onto their shoulders. Then another person scaled the human pyramid to make a third level and rubbed the pole with sawdust

The human pyramid collapsed. Second level guys oozed down the pole trying to hang on while top guy rode it down, fireman style. They regrouped and changed positions. Three stories turned to four. A precarious four, since the top two were just two guys standing on each others shoulders. They were about 1/3 of the way up. Sawdust rubbing continued.

I remember thinking, there is NO WAY these guys can make it up this thing! Then someone tossed top guy a mesh fruit sack and a two-foot long stick. He wrapped the sack around the pole, pushed the stick through holes in the ends and twisted it around the pole. Just as he was lifting his knee over the stick, the pyramid fell. Top guy wiggled his butt onto the stick, wrapping his legs around the pole. And there he stayed, five meters above the ground, waving one arm as a victory salute.

The crowd cheered…apparently this was a huge step. He was a third of the way up I figured. All the sudden a bag of water whizzed past his head, hitting a guy on the opposite side of the pole. The guy’s friends retaliated, sending a barrage of plastic bottles and half-empty water bags flying in our direction. Then it turned into an all out war of our side of the pole vs. the other side of the pole using whatever trash they could find as ammunition. Most of it narrowly missing the guy sitting 5 meters up a greasy pole, the rest of it nailing him directly.

The pyramid formed again and passed him two more sacks and sticks before collapsing. Top guy, whom I will now refer to as ‘crazy guy’, quickly stood up on his makeshift step and began wrapping the second bag around the pole right about chest high. Still standing, he tied on the third bag as high as he could reach, pressing his body against the second one to keep the stick from spinning loose. Then he lifted himself up to his second step, rested, leaned down to untie his first bag and repeated the process.

BAM! I took shrapnel from a food bag that had hit the girl in front of me. I tried to wipe it off my shirt as I moved back and to the side, away from the kill zone. BAM! Crazy guy took a plastic bottle to the head. He seemed unfazed. The crowd was rowdy…one group at the top of the hill sent a barrage of who-knows-what flying into the back of the crowd, who then broke off into a large mob to chase them down the block. A group of half a dozen police, who I moved closer to thinking it might be safer, did nothing but duck and dodge incoming garbage missiles. I moved to the opposite side of the street.

As fast as Crazy Guy worked, his progress was slow. When a step in his makeshift ladder began to slide, he gave it a few more twists. He was constantly getting nailed with trash being thrown by the kids in the crowd, presumably hoping to knock him down. I kept thinking, this drunk crazy guy is about thirty feet above the ground, standing on a rice sack tied to a greasy pole with no safety gear while the crowd is trying to knock him down. What would happen if he fell??

And at one point, just as he was high enough to grasp the lowest guy rope, his feet came off.

WWHHHOOoooaaa!! groaned the crowd, but Crazy Guy held on tight to the rope and swung his feet back to his step, tied his second to last one and hoisted himself up. He was nearly within reach of the big bag holding the prize, which was actually two bags tied together and slung over a Y at the top of the pole. He grabbed the bag with one hand, the guy rope with the other and pulled himself up and over the pole, straddling the bag like he was riding a horse.

The people cheered. Sonofagun made it to the top! I cheered as well. He then communicated something in sign language to the guys below and one of them ran over to one of the guy ropes and untied it. The top of the pole shifted about two feet to the left, but Crazy Guy acted like he didn’t notice. He then began working furiously untying the bag, retying the bag, tying the rope, dodging soda bottles and bobbing his head to the sound of the drums.

Then, Crazy Guy started lowering the bag with the rope. But he didn’t lower it far before he began lowering himself, loosening his top step and sliding down the pole slowly while sitting on it. The bag came down just above him in a controlled descent…not bad for ropes, bags and sticks I thought.

It only took him about 90 seconds to reach the bottom where his shirtless, sawdust-covered friends were cheering him on. When he hit bottom, they all grabbed the sack of rum and ran through the crowd, yelling, laughing and barreling over anybody who was in their way. I stepped to the side as they made their way past, heading up the block to who knows where.

BAM! I got hit in the back with a juice box. That was enough craziness to last a while…I went home cursing my coworker for not bringing me my camera.

Greasy pole…see it during San Jeronimo, May Pole Festival and Crab Soup Day here on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

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