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Probably the greatest event I’ve ever witnessed was the Pan American Surf Championship and bikini contest in Montañita, Ecuador. And it was great not for what you might imagine—the beauty pageant or murderously talented surfers from Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama—but the way the town transformed, creating something original without really trying.
Solid head-high swell and sunny days led up to the event (which coincided with Semana Santa), and over the course of the week the town’s youth waged a continuous, take-no-prisoners water battle across the plazas and over the seawall, launching from rooftops and behind buses and mule-drawn carts. Although members of the opposite sex (of approximately your own age) appeared to be the prize targets, shopkeepers, stoned artisans, basically anyone/anything caught in the crossfire was fair game and only added to the hilarity.
For those few days Montañita behaved less like a town and more like an organism, simply giving in to the anarchy of the water war, the influx of visitors, the long global arc of Carnaval with its roots somewhere in the past but manifesting now as something spontaneous and new, which didn’t cost anything to participate in or exclude any participation. If you were there, you were just part of it.
There are all kinds of events. But true blowouts are visceral, participational; they shatter your ideas of how things fit together. As one author described Burning Man, “If you did it right, it’s going to take you at least a week to feel normal again. And if you did it right, normality will feel slightly unwelcome.” With every blowout event there’s a before and after. In between, you have the chance to lose and find yourself all over again.
1. Burning Man
LOCATION: Black Rock City, Nevada
SEASON: First week of September.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Scorching hot and bone dry with a 75 percent chance of dust storms.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Recreational Vehicle (for the 1 percent), pup tent, camper van, random flat surface, or better yet—don’t sleep.
INGESTIBLES: You’re the kid, this is the candy store.…
Burning Man is the event. Black Rock City is the place. Burning Man is the art, the music, the people, the party, the intention, the tower of flames that lights the Nevada desert. Black Rock City (BRC) is the flat expanse of barren playa that supports this unlikely and otherworldly happening. Got it? Good.
This is the type of scene that you could parachute into stark naked and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and upon landing you would be absorbed by the great fifty thousand–person organism—clothed, fed, and imbibed before your ’chute touched the desert ground. It is that kind of party. In fact, fuck that. It’s not a party—it’s an experiment in living and a radical expression of life-as-art that is so fucking fun that it feels like the best memory of your best birthday party, only ninety-nine times better.
Enter the playa (no doubt in a creeping procession of thousands of eager burners in dusty vehicles snaking for miles) and see the arch of BRC stretch out toward desert heat nothingness. A semicircle of a silly pseudo-civilization that only exists for a week or so, BRC is itself a work of art.
Art. You will hear that word a lot at Burning Man. Everything is art, sometimes even when it isn’t. But who cares? You don’t trek out to the middle of the Black Rock desert to argue the finer foibles of artistic meaning; you come to experience, to interact, to consume, to dabble, and maybe to completely fucking lose yourself.
Find your camp and hug everyone. If you are solo or traveling with a group of friends but have no camp, find a place to park and set up. Set up your tent (or whatever you will pass out in), set up your table with water and a shitty little iPod dock, and set up whatever shade structure you can manage. Start to wander—you should get used to it. BRC is a place for aimless wandering.
Wander past a scraggle of gyrating day drunks and accept a Dixie cup full of pink “jungle juice” that goes down like sugary kerosene. Wander up to a bar and order whatever they are pouring but keep an eye on the bartender if you don’t fancy a sneaker dose of ketamine. Wander past a merry gathering of burners wearing tighty-whitey underwear over their clothes who are enjoying a full Thanksgiving spread and would like you to join. Don the underpants and grab some dark meat and gravy. Wander past BassNectar, Distrikt, or any of the thumping, big sound camps attracting dancers like thousands of dubstepping human amoebas.
Get dirty, you don’t care. Watch the sunrise. Cuddle with strangers. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not all about drugs and buggery, but of course it’s there if you want it. It’s mostly a matter of going somewhere completely different to allow yourself to shed the robe of predictable, well-behaved banality and reveal yourself as something much more spontaneous. Or just reveal yourself.
Eat some freeze-dried camping food and pineapple chunks from your stash and accept gratefully the hard-boiled eggs, whiskey, psychedelics, pancakes, and coffee people offer gladly. Help cook some communal tamales.
Of course The Man will burn—that’s why they call it you-know-what. The Man is a few hundred feet tall, made of wood, and is torched with an orgiastic display of pyrotechnics the penultimate night of the event.
When The Man burns it is the beginning of the end. You will have one more epic descent down the rabbit hole of communal delirium, sober up, and start the process of transition all over again—this time to go home.
NOTES FROM A VETERAN
As you enter Black Rock City you are welcomed Home by a team of grinning greeters. It doesn’t matter if you are a veteran or virgin, when you set foot in Black Rock City you’re Home—where you belong: where you are accepted, loved, and free to be. Come Home once and you are a local for life.
FUCKED UP FIRSTHAND
I shoot whiskey to mitigate the sobriety gap that eating magic mushrooms sometimes creates—you never know when the funky fungus is going to kick you in the brain and so you nervously wait, drinking whiskey. Suddenly I am dancing in a crowd of Santa Clauses and a mostly naked mad scientist is spraying champagne down my throat from a five-gallon tank he wears on his back. The shrooms kick in as a golf cart converted into a mobile bar and decorated with dildos swings by and I am on a stool introducing myself as The Last Human while accepting a concoction of not-strictly-alcohol from a yellow-and-red McDonald’s cooler. “What’s in it?” I ask. “I don’t know!” he squeals.
If you really want to know, just go.
LOCATION: Indio, California
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Hot as hell in the day, warm at night.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Camping out at the festival keeps the FOMO away.
INGESTIBLES: Acid, shrooms, ecstasy, and weed are the drugs of choice. Festival food that will have you making spicy pies of your own later.
Ordinarily, getting messed up and listening to emotionally stirring music in your grandparents’ retirement community is reserved for going to their funeral receptions. But for two weekends in April every year, Indio turns itself from a Palm Springs satellite where retired CEOs go to avoid their wives into one of the world’s greatest gatherings for drugged-out hippies running away from the responsibilities thrust upon them by “having a job” and “being an adult.” Few places in the world allow for dropping acid and following a seven-foot man in a yellow tutu anywhere, but at Coachella that man may just lead you to a stage where Florence and the Machine perform right before Snoop Lion and a resurrected Tupac.
There are a lot of places to stay around the festival, but if you buy your Car Camping Pass with your ticket in the presale, your planning is done. Camping is the authentic Coachella experience. And since the drugs usually haven’t worn off by the last set, the campgrounds blow up with small carnival rides and even a Silent Disco after hours.
For those less interested in sleeping on a patch of grass and smelling like the sweat from that fat guy who kept bumping into you during The Black Keys (heathens!), hotels and house rentals are the next best bet. Hotels near the festival are listed on the official Web site, while houses for rent can be found on Craigslist. Old people in Palm Springs don’t trust hippies, so be ready to sell your liver to afford the security deposit.
Getting to the festival isn’t an issue for campers, but for those who opted out there’s the official Coachella Shuttle Pass. Buy it with your ticket for the peace of mind that you’ll be dropped off at 2:00 A.M. nowhere near your hotel. There’s also a taxi line outside for those who want to watch other people get picked up without getting home themselves, but the best option is in the parking lot, where enterprising locals come and offer cheap rides to anyone brave enough to get in the car with them.
Once you’re in the festival, the fun really begins. The merchandise tent is located front and center to the entrance, because nothing says “a weekend escape from the trials of capitalism” like paying $40 for a T-shirt. Past that are the food stalls selling everything from Spicy Pie Pizza to Pink’s Hot Dogs. The Beer Gardens and VIP areas have some better options, but you’ll be forced to eat and drink behind the fence.
The actual music is divided between the five main stages: Main Stage, Outdoor Theatre, Gobi Tent, Mojave Tent, and Sahara Tent. The latter sticks to the electronic acts and functions as a sequester for underage teens doing ecstasy for the first time and realizing, “Man, lights are pretty.” There’s a smaller stage called The Do LaB in the center of the grounds, headed every year by a performance group called Lucent Dossier Experience, which is basically Cirque du Soleil without the classy pretense that the entire audience isn’t on shrooms.
Coachella is an art festival as well as a music festival, and it doesn’t bother pandering to the beret-and-goatee crowd. Coachella is big and loud, and usually uses art as a playground. From the giant T. rex that eats empty water bottles to the giant bugs with pedals that make the wings flap, the art is fine-tuned to gleefully entertain people who’ve reduced their cognition to that of two-year-olds. The Ferris Wheel is the one constant and the most famous image of Coachella, though it makes a shitty meeting spot when everybody uses it as one.
It’s a shame Coachella is only two weekends long, because each weekend is the best of the year. The sun, heat, palm trees, and distant mountains create a vista that would be beautiful even without the crazy hippies walking around on stilts built to look like flamingos.
NOTES FROM A VETERAN
The security around Coachella depends almost entirely on the mood of the security guard at the time. If you’re sneaking something in, hide it well just in case you get the asshole that wants everything short of a cavity search.
Will stick in your memory no matter what substances it’s been filtered through.
LOCATION: Glastonbury, United Kingdom
SEASON: The June weekend closest to summer solstice.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Sunny and dry (good luck).
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Camper van.
INGESTIBLES: Canned booze (possibly peed in), Brothers Cider, liberty caps from local cow dung, caffeine pills sold as ecstasy, tea and cake (The Crow’s Nest), meat pies (Pieminister), anything you can smuggle.
Bigger isn’t always better but in the case of Glastonbury, the world’s largest open-air music fest, it is. Run by a dairy farmer and his daughter since 1970, it somehow stays true to its hippie roots despite an attendance of 177,500. Maybe it’s the local yogis and mystics who descend each year to spread their chi. Maybe it’s King Arthur smiling down from his hilly grave. Maybe as a former hangout of Jesus’ uncle, it has good karma for all time. Whatever the case, prepare yourself for an alternate universe. Reality ends at the gate.
Start day one with a veggie breakfast in Green Fields £6 ($9 USD), the fest’s new-age hub. Enjoy in a wind-powered yurt while scouring the festival paper for secret gigs. Everyone from Fatboy Slim to Radiohead has played here unbilled. The main stages in the venue’s north end are where you’ll find the big-name acts. U2, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young—they’ve all played the iconic Pyramid Stage. It may be tempting to park here for the day, but don’t. Some of the best experiences are on the outskirts. In Dance Village, it’s never too early for amphetamines. Stop at Pussy Parlure, a 1920s saloon where drag queens spin salsa and English maids tickle you with their feather dusters. Vaudeville is alive and kicking on the fest’s eastern fringe with circus acts, tap dancers, comedians, and poets. It’s the best place to see a roaming brass band of pink elephants or join a jazzercise class. At The Park you can scramble up a ribbon tower with teetering drunks. The crowds are lighter, which means more room to dance. There’s also the famed Rabbit Hole where you wriggle through a tunnel to rave with Alice and the Queen of Hearts. The Stone Circle is a mini Stonehenge with a panoramic view of the festival. Retreat under a five-hundred-year-old king oak and watch the sunset, snog a stranger, or propose to your girlfriend (it happened to me). The Lost Picture Show (free) is a crumbling Cuban cinema with velvet throw cushions and tangy mojitos. If you want to party until breakfast, Shangri-La and the surrounding areas are after-hours central. Watch acrobats leap from a fire-breathing animatronic spider (Arcadia), sip vodka in a spaceship (seat belts required), or get down at a New York gay disco (mustache required). Once our friend went looking for us in what he thought was a club. It was actually a “decontamination facility” where a panel determined he was toxic, put him in a biohazard suit, and sent him to the “New World” via an overpass called the Skywalk.
Some final pointers for Glastonbury:
• Plan early. Tickets sell out eight months in advance … in less than two hours.
• If you’re camping, arrive early and in daylight. Nothing kills the festival spirit like trying to pitch a tent in the rainy dark while everyone around you has the time of their lives.
• Mud sliding might look fun in pictures but sticky, poo-colored trousers don’t get you laid.
• “Love the farm, leave no trace” is the official policy so pick up your shit.
FUCKED UP FIRSTHAND
Sunday was strangely hot so my boyfriend and I took shelter in the intriguingly named “House of Fairy Tales.” Inside, a pretty woman in a child-sized chair sang a song about magpies. We grabbed a few shakers and jammed along. Storybooks were strewn everywhere and as I opened one, Goldilocks wandered in and took a nap. Later, we saw a sword swallower, a knife thrower in red heels, and a live painter doing a spot-on portrait of Joe Strummer, upside down, in five minutes. We were sprayed with disinfectant by a SWAT team fighting swine flu.
Glastonbury’s like a free pass: it’s four days off from the world.
4. Carnaval Humahuaqueño*1
LOCATION: Jujuy Province, Argentina
SEASON: Usually takes place in February.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Warm sunshine and brisk mountain air by day (nights get chilly).
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Hostel Humahuaca or El Sol Hostel in Humahuaca; Casa los Molles or Hostel Malka in Tilcara.
INGESTIBLES: Beer, empanadas, humitas, milanesas, sweet alcoholic concoction (sometimes called vacuna), asado (roasted meat), wine, coca leaves, chicha (fermented corn drink).
It starts with a spray of nieve, which from a distance soars through the air in graceful, foamy arcs, and then lands, thick and sticky, everywhere. In the end, there is nothing about Carnaval Humahuaqueño that isn’t a fog—from the memories to the chalky bursts of talco (talcum) powder. You come with friends or go it alone. Either way, it’s not long before you’re dancing in the street with grinning strangers who thrust communal drinks forward and rub talco in your face.
The scene is frenetic, carefree, blissfully messy. You’ll find no beads or extravagant floats. Even the diablo costumes—vibrant patchworks festooned with bells, mirrors, hand-painted masks, and glittery horns—sport a homespun feel befitting Quebrada de Humahuaca, with its scorched mountains and dusty villages.
In Jujuy Province, native Andean traditions mix with Christianity, making Carnaval a celebration of fertility, Pachamama (Mother Earth), and, of course, el diablo. On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, the Desentierro or “unearthing” the devil (a rag doll named pujllay, from the Quechua word “to play”), officially kicks off the festivities.
Once the devil descends, he mingles with the people and it’s unclear (and does not matter) who is who. It’s all fueled by copious amounts of beer and chicha, which is doled out on the street from giant jugs.
The celebrations of all valley towns bear the same hallmarks: bursts of water and nieve (baptism), flurries of talco (earth), the high, clear song of the quena flute against the bombo drum’s deep and joyful boom. You float along, plastic cup of chicha in hand, as nieve streams past and street vendors fry up breaded beef milanesas. There is no “standing by.” Those stopped near a passing parade are plucked from the edges and whisked into the fray.
Inside the fortines (forts), visitors are greeted with vacuna, a sweet alcoholic “vaccination” to ward off envy and sorrow, before feasting on roasted meat, cheese-coated corn, empanadas, and sweet, mealy humitas. All can attend with a small donation, but breakers of the fortinero rule (forget pain, commit to fun) “suffer” a fusilamento, “execution by firing squad,” forced to drink wine in the center of the room until they feel the love.
Start your Carnaval in Humahuaca, whose main plaza teems with people dancing under the stark white Iglesia de la Candelaria. On the terraced steps of the Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia, an imposing tribute to the men who fought in the War for Independence, fiesta-goers clump against stone walls while vendors hawk jewelry and woven fabrics. By night, the crowd here undulates to carnavalito music while the setting sun smudges the sky around blazing mountains.
In Tilcara, one can break to wander among the partially reconstructed ruins of the Pucará, a hilltop pre-Incan fortress. From this sun-drenched perch, against a backdrop of fiery mountains awash in punches of deep purple and rich sienna, the chaos below is muted. But back in town the parades meander and the drinks flow all day and night.
The Sunday following Ash Wednesday marks the end of the festival and an emotional parting ritual (cacharpaya) where the pujllay is reinterred. Revelers leave offerings of coca leaves, cigarettes, and chicha, and the diablos wail their farewells to the devil and Carnaval. Until next year …
NOTES FROM A VETERAN
Come prepared, or be careful. They say, “What happens at Carnaval stays at Carnaval,” but nine months from now there will be many more residents in this region—we call them hijos del diablo.
They’ll tell you not to go last minute. There will be no rooms. But there is always space. Be prepared to get dirty, in all forms of the word.
LOCATION: Guanajuato, Mexico
SEASON: Early October.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Clear skies, crowded.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Casa Zuniga, Alma del Sol, La Casa del Tío, Hostal del Campanero.
INGESTIBLES: Caguamas of Victoria, mezcal, Pacholas Guanajuatenses.
Guanajuato is a colonial city built atop several hills in central Mexico. It’s a few hours from Guadalajara on the highway that leads to Mexico City and is known for panoramic views and prehispanic mummies. It’s also a perfect UNESCO world heritage site to get completely freaking wasted at, especially during Cervantino, a forty-year-old festival celebrating the works of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. During Cervantino, every theater, ballet, and music hall hosts world-class performances. Meanwhile the streets are filled with drunken morons. It makes for something between Art Basel and a Philadelphia Eagles tailgate, having little to do with Cervantes and more about a quixotic good time.
You’ll have trouble finding a place to sleep, but it’s okay; people leave their unsecured construction sites available for campers. Unlike other cities in this book, there’s no need to explain places to go, because Guanajuato during Cervantino has the most parties per capita of any city in the world. Just share bottles of mezcal with everybody you meet, from the cowboy playing marimba to the mime following people around to the one-man Dead Kennedys cover band. Fall asleep in the middle of the park, wake up, and drink more.
In the morning you’ll certainly need breakfast. Roam around until you find a restaurant that’s been in operation for seventy years by an eighty-six-year-old woman sitting at the one table in the place. There you’ll be confused about the difference between different Mexican antojitos (street food). You’ll discover that a sincronizada is two tortillas that have cheese and ham in between them, and that they’re pretty good.
Drink some coffee, and another round of beers, because you’re doing this again, now.
NOTES FROM A VETERAN
We just paid a guy forty pesos to electrocute us. I dunno, it was kind of fun, a way to bring our group closer together.
Make Don Quixote proud.
6. La Tomatina
LOCATION: Buñol, Spain
SEASON: Last Wednesday of August.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Sunny with 100 percent chance of tomato-pitation.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Buñol is tiny; you are better off finding lodging in Valencia, about forty minutes east.
INGESTIBLES: Just about every type of alcohol you can think of, but don’t eat the tomatoes!
La Tomatina is the now famous celebration where forty-five thousand tourists, drunkards, and tomato soldiers descend on the tiny town of Buñol wearing swim goggles and crappy clothing purely in order to hurl tomatoes at one another. Officially there are restrictions mandating things such as you must squash all tomatoes before throwing; you cannot throw anything other than tomatoes; you may not rip T-shirts, et cetera. However, once the tomatoes enter the picture, anything goes. Expect that every piece of clothing you wear will be ruined, and that you will be smacked in the face by something other than a tomato. It’s all part of the fun!
Festivities in the town run all week, but they really heat up Tuesday night, with multiple open air discotecas and bars cranking out tunes and booze into the morning hours. Don’t go too crazy the night before—you’ll want to head to the center street of town sometime around eight in the morning for two reasons: 1) around 9:00 A.M. it gets so packed you will have trouble getting anywhere near the center, and 2) the palo jabón.
The palo jabón is a twenty foot tall “palo” (stick) greased with “jabón” (soap) and lard, topped with a giant juicy ham. For the next few hours, hundreds of determined festival-goers repeatedly assault the pole in dogged attempts to dislodge the ham from the top. Of course, even with multiple people attempting the climb every second of every minute, the amount of grease used makes it nigh impossible to get anywhere near the top. The key to success is to use your fellow climbers as hand- and footholds, since nobody gets purchase on the pole itself. However, everyone wants the ham for themselves, which means everyone sabotages one another’s efforts, and sometimes they take to violently shaking the pole from side to side until the ham flies off to a thunderous roar of approval.
Afterward, a cannon goes off, and you can see the trucks—huge flatbeds loaded with tomatoes—coming from a mile away, moving about a foot a minute through the sea of people. Every twenty feet or so the trucks dump a big pile of tomatoes on the ground, which is quickly fallen upon by the surrounding hoards in a scene of utter pandemonium. Tomatoes, tomato bits, shirts, and anything else you can think of whiz through the air. Nobody stays on their feet as the ranks behind you push forward, and invariably the pile becomes full of sopping red smiling people writhing over one another and trying to get up.
After one hour flat of this madness, the second cannon shot sounds and all is theoretically over. Tomato bits continue to fly (albeit with less gusto) as the mass of red slowly traipses outward toward the nearby river or the civic center’s showers. The residents of Buñol happily pull out their hoses, sinks, and buckets to help wash the crowd, with water pouring freely from every balcony and garage in the city onto the bloodred crowd below.
You’ve never been so happy to see an ancient Spanish woman wielding a hose in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
FUCKED UP FIRSTHAND
Our chartered bus pulled up to the outskirts of Buñol somewhere around 4:00 A.M. and discharged us unceremoniously in front of a makeshift street bar with nothing more than a time and place to meet in the afternoon, both of which turned out to be erroneous. I wandered the streets with some newfound Irish drinking buddies until we decided to try to rest before the madness.
Later I got to the center right as the streets started filling up from every direction. We watched the palo jabón until the shot finally sounded, and eagerly watched the trucks make their way to us through the crowd, preceded by waves of slung tomato pulp. The next sixty minutes remain a blur of red, projectiles, and glee, followed by a quick wash in a stranger’s garage and a weary trek back to the misplaced bus. One of my new friends lost both her shoes in the pandemonium, so I graciously offered her my Tevas and hiked back across the blazing asphalt in some pieces of discarded cardboard.
7. Boryeong Mud Festival
LOCATION: Boryeong, South Korea
SEASON: Two weeks in July, hot for sure.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Sensual muddiness with your cocktail protected via Ziploc bag.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Book early, accommodations fill up months ahead. Cheaper than joining a tour group is heading back to Seoul that night.
INGESTIBLES: Soju, beer, Korean barbecue, mud.
Originally a marketing promo for the mineral-rich mud of the region, the Boryeong Mud Festival has become an internationally famous party/excuse for getting drunk and playing in mud all day long. While Koreans know how to drink (it’s not an accident that the top-selling spirit worldwide for the past eleven years—Jinro soju—is Korean), the Boryeong Mud Festival is more of a celebration of expat drinking and Koreans are outnumbered two to one by American military personnel, English teachers, and perpetual “gap yah” types.
For the equivalent of $5 USD, you get access to a carnival of mud specially trucked into Daecheon Beach. Horseplay and mud wrestling are expected in the giant pools; muddy slides are provided, and you can have buckets of mud tossed onto you in mud prison. You can paint yourself in colored mud or relax in the mud massage zone if the other options are too rowdy. There is a mudflat obstacle marathon and mudflat skiing for the athletically inclined as well as other activities (Mr. Mud contest, puppets, carnival games). The waterproof wristband allows for unlimited reentry into the mud zone. At the end, the wristband can also be traded in for a free cosmetic sample.
Outside the mud zone, beachside convenience stores are coated in muddy hand- and footprints. Tents along the beach provide food and drinks. Fried chicken, seafood, and Korean barbecue are your major options. Drinks are plentiful, with a focus on soju, beer, and cocktails. Given the no-glass rule on the beach, cocktails are served in heavy-duty Ziploc bags on a string that you hang around your neck for hands-free imbibing.
Daecheon Beach itself is a respite from the muddy crowds, where you can still listen to the music while swimming, tanning, or napping. At night, there are concerts and fireworks scheduled to continue the party. If the schedule for the night you’re there isn’t interesting (read: if it’s the mud skin-care show), save on accommodation and head back to Seoul on the bus.
• Beer and soju are cheaper than water.
• Shower facilities are cheap and worth using if you want to be allowed on any form of transportation afterward.
• Lockers are readily available to keep your worldly possessions safe and mud-free.
• It’s still possible to get a sunburn while covered in mud.
NOTES FROM A VETERAN
It’s really hard not to enjoy frolicking in giant vats of mud.
8. Saint Patrick’s Day
LOCATION: Dublin, Ireland
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Apexes of Irish drinking culture are reached during Saint Patrick’s Day and Halloween, but the alcoholic wrath of the locals can be unleashed at random on a rainy Tuesday night or before, during, and after any bank holiday.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Abigail’s and The Generator hostels.
INGESTIBLES: Deep-fried Mars bars and nearly everything else from the chippers around town. Dutch Gold, Guinness, whiskey, Buckfast, Irish breakfast.
If there were a school to learn how to get fucked up, the headmaster would be Irish. The average Irishman can drink up to two six-packs of Dutch Gold on a quiet Tuesday night while staying in watching a movie, just for the exercise. I learned this and a few other things in Dublin during my college days.
To raid Dublin Irish-style on Saint Patrick’s the trick is simple: start early. Make sure to stock up on disreputable Dutch Gold, whiskey, or Buckfast—the fortified wine invented by Benedictine monks—so you can wake up to intoxicant libations.
Drink a “few cans” (between five to twenty-five liters of beer to the average Irish) while you have your Irish breakfast and stagger to the bus stop. After showcasing your best drunken and disorderly behavior on the double decker, thank the driver as you stumble off, like a true gentleman, and go see the parade.
In the city center you will be spoiled for choice. There are over a thousand pubs in Dublin, each with its own distinctive stench, so don’t be scared to get creative. Most of them will be packed on Saint Patrick’s Day, so it is up to you to elbow your way in.
Behind every door you will find hordes of drunks in green attire with clover antennae, top hats, ginger beards, and unbelievable drinking stamina. The Temple Bar area is where you can set the gears in motion. There you will find a cluster of bars with standouts The Mezz, where you will find live music, and The Foggy Dew, home to the most diverse patrons in Dublin, also with live music on selected days.
If you are looking for an old-fashioned statement of Irish drinking culture, The Celt, not too far from O’Connell Street, is the place for you: old Irishmen singing ballads, pictures of Michael Collins hanging on the walls, and live traditional sessions accompanying your perfectly poured pints of Guinness. Meanwhile at Fibber Magees you can howl the notes of “Too Drunk to Fuck” by the Dead Kennedys, surrounded by society’s unwanted during karaoke nights.
If instead live music is really your thing head to Whelan’s on Wexford Street, the hub of Dublin’s indie music scene. The Wexford Street area also has many other options, such as Flannery’s, good for pulling, and The Village. The dark side of the clubbing scene, often involving chemicals and dubstep can be found at Twisted Pepper. Finally, to avoid bar hopping, a solid choice is The Globe, which starts off like a pub and turns into a late-night disco. No matter how you do it, if it’s Saint Patrick’s Day you’re entering a surreally drunk world, with no restriction on age, gender, or nationality.
NOTES FROM A VETERAN
Go to Copper Face Jacks if you want to meet some genuine Irish farmers and then probably end up fighting them.
Surviving drinking elbow to elbow with an Irishman on Paddy’s Day will award a thousand or more fucked-up points.
9. Full Moon Party
LOCATION: Koh Phangan, Thailand
SEASON: November through January or May through July.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Warm and sunny, sporadic lightning storms to keep it exciting.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Anywhere in the village, just off the beach—Yan’s Dormitory n Bar, Dancing Elephant, etc.
INGESTIBLES: Buckets, Chang beer, more mind-altering substances than you can shake a hallucinated stick at.
You’re here for the Full Moon Party. So is everybody else. They’ve come for the past eighteen years, waxing and waning with the lunar cycle. Full moon, half moon, black moon—there’s never a break in Koh Phangan’s culture of debauchery. Five thousand to ten thousand people flock to the island for the parties every month. Koh Phangan is littered with hostels, but it’s a big island and the Full Moon Party takes place almost entirely on the southern peninsula of Haad Rin. The best hostels are close enough to walk, but far enough away to avoid too much noise and the occasional drunken ransack. Luckily, many of these hostels offer online booking ahead of time.
Within Haad Rin Village, there’s Yan’s Dormitory n Bar. At 500 baht ($16 USD) per night, it’s cheap for the island and comes with complimentary food, laundry, and the coolest proprietor this side of an insane asylum. Nearby is the Dancing Elephant Hostel, another cheap alternative that focuses on organizing events. These and others line a “Hostel Row” and at night they merge into one giant party. For more private accommodation, Seaview Bungalows are right on the beach with quick access to the cliff-side bars, and many have their own hammocks for lazy people-watching. Paradise Bungalows is where the Full Moon Party started way back when, and it still maintains that same atmosphere and enthusiasm. These bungalows have more privacy and amenities, but usually cost significantly more than the hostels, ranging from 600 to 2,000 baht ($20 to $67 USD) per night based on size and proximity.
The best food on the island comes from the small, local Thai restaurants with names you can’t read. Try Maddy’s Kitchen on Hostel Row. Portions are always heaping, and a plate of pad Thai won’t run you more than $2 USD. Farang cuisines are readily available to the less-devoted traveler. Mama’s Schnitzel has a nice atmosphere with a quiet upper seating area when you need some late-night drunchies before bed. Om Ganesh is a bit of a trek, but offers some amazing Indian food, and Monnalisa and The Shell restaurant even have some pretty decent Italian.
The actual Full Moon Party takes place on Haad Rin Nok Beach on the east side of the peninsula, and everything can be found within a few hundred yards. The center of Haad Rin Nok, and probably the center of the Full Moon Party in general, is Cactus Bar. Its fire shows, music, and beautiful foreigners help make it one of the first stops on the beach for new arrivals. Just down the beach is Drop In Bar, another staple. Drop In Bar also features fire jump rope and a fire slide that anybody can take part in. The bar sells burn cream for the drunker patrons.
In the nights leading up to the full moon, the best parties drift away from Haad Rin Nok. Coral Bungalows hosts an incredible pool party where buckets and balloons of nitrous are the weapons of choice, though the pool is hardly sanitary by the end. The Sramanora Waterfall Party and the Jungle Experience take place farther inland. These can be difficult to get to, but it’s free admission and there’s nothing like a laser show projected on a jungle waterfall.
When it’s time to take it easy, head down the beach to Mellow Mountain and Kangaroo Bar. These cliff-top bars have some sort of agreement with the police, and the menu has everything from joints to mushroom shakes, making it the perfect place to chill for a few hours and watch the party going on below from a distance.
The bars are where the party happens, but drinks there are expensive and trite. The real spirit of the Full Moon Party comes from the bucket stands. Buckets are pails containing around ten shots of liquor topped off with Thai Red Bull (crack, essentially) and Coke. Stands offer different kinds of liquor, but usually fill the bucket with SangSom rum regardless of the order. Stands line the beach and streets with such eloquent names as “Fuck My Bucket” and “Jack Sparrow Fuck Bucket.” The stands inland tend to be a bit cheaper (around $5 USD), but the beach stands set up earlier. If you talk to these early campers, they might stamp your hand, entitling you to discounts later.
There are, of course, other things to do on the island besides party: scuba dive, ride a Jet Ski, ride a banana boat. Hell, go visit the main bulk of the island and ride an elephant. However, Koh Phangan tends to have a premium charge added to activities compared to other islands.
Island culture is quick to understand. Every night is just as crazy as the Full Moon Party itself. Cigarettes are a backpacker’s handshake. Swimsuits are the dress code. Sleeping is not recommended. Swimming in the water at night is disgusting. Remember, the whole beach is a party. Don’t stay in one spot for too long, because there’s something fun going on right next to you at all times.
FUCKED UP FIRSTHAND
Two days before the Full Moon Party, I met some Welsh girls on the beach, and we decided to check out the mushroom shakes up at Mellow Mountain. As it turned out, the girls were burlesque dancers who perform on stage with musical acts at festivals. A mountain of a man from one table over joined us, and this guy turned out to be a paratrooper on shore leave between missions. My expanded mind was in awe of the people I was meeting.
When the sun went down, we all went to the water to swim and catch phosphorescent shrimp that come out at night. That was when an apocalyptic lightning storm broke out. We ran for cover back up to Mellow Mountain, where we watched bolts tearing across the sky and striking in the water a few hundred yards away from us. The DJ picked up on the energy crackling through the air and started spinning house music, and the dozen or so people in the bar turned it into a dance party.
LOCATION: Holi, India
SEASON: Last full moon of the lunar month Phalguna, which usually falls in March.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Semi-comatose on chocolate bhang cake.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Anywhere throwing a great party!
INGESTIBLES: Charras and bhang lassi.
From Ladakh to Kerala and Puducherry to Bengal, Holi is widely and enthusiastically celebrated across India. Actually, you don’t just “celebrate” Holi. You “play” it. The general schtick is this: children and adults run around and spray, smear, sprinkle, and douse one another with colored powder and water.
It’s also a nationwide excuse to imbibe cupfuls of bhang lassi—thick yogurt drinks laced with hash. It’s an acquired taste, but they’re strong and bring on a deep, lasting high.
Holi isn’t a polite holiday. In some ways, this is good—playing Holi relaxes India’s generally strict social norms. But it can also act as an excuse for what amounts to physical and sexual harassment. Take safety seriously—rape does occur, and in 2012 hundreds of people in Mumbai were hospitalized for exposure to poisoned color.
The combination of drugs and groping makes it a good idea to avoid the streets and play Holi among friends, in private. Usually this means a house party, but hotels, bars, and clubs will often throw their own private events. Companies like MTV India also host huge, outdoor parties in Bombay. Under the right circumstances, Holi looks like a gorgeous, otherworldly rave.
The best places to celebrate Holi are Bombay, where the biggest parties happen and it’s easy to find drugs; Rajasthan in general, and specifically Jaisalmer, where colored powder is thrown up in the air to the sound of traditional ragas; Jaipur, where you can see the yearly elephant festival; Calcutta, where Holi is combined with Vasantotsav, the festival of spring, inaugurated by Rabindranath Tagore; or finally Mathura and Vrindivan, two villages about four hours from Delhi, where Lord Krishna is said to have been raised. Celebrations there are legendary. Avoid Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where celebrations are more subdued.
Things to remember:
• Wear clothes you don’t care about ruining. Oil your hair and skin to protect them from staining.
• There are two types of Holi color: organic and chemical. Stick to the organic stuff, and make sure that’s what your hosts are using.
• Bake and get baked! Holi is a time for everyone to rediscover his or her inner child. Don’t bother showing up if you don’t want to get wet, messy, colorful, and fucked up.
FUCKED UP FIRSTHAND
The key is to get into a rickshaw and have him drive fast—fast past the young guys smeared in fuchsia, turquoise, and saffron, leering with their hooded, probing eyes and crooked, smearing smiles. If we stop, I know that they’ll crowd the rickshaw and rub their powdered hands across my breasts and thighs in the name of all things Holi. My old, pudgy driver will sigh and wave them away, world weary and apathetic.
My friends are sitting on the lawn of the Raheja mansion in Juhu, strewn about like blowsy spring blossoms. Someone knows someone who invited us here, to the second or fifth home of one of Mumbai’s premier families. I’m hugged and kissed and smeared with color, handed a beer and a sludgy, green bhang lassi.
After the lassi, everything blends together. I forget all the worries of the morning, reeling easily from the lawn to some rooftop with a raucous rickshaw ride in between. A drunken stranger comes up and covers my head with pink powder, rubbing it in deep. It’s not organic, and it never comes out. I’ve no choice but to dye my blond hair deep red, fall in love, and reinvent myself in Mumbai.
LOCATION: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
SEASON: April 29 and 30.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Wake and bake.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Hotel Brian for budget, Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark for hostel.
INGESTIBLES: Beer—Heineken, Amstel, Grolsch, and Bavaria—marijuana, hashish, krokets from FEBO, broodjes (mini sandwiches) stroopwafels (syrup-filled waffles), crepes (Pannekoekenhuis Upstairs), Indonesian “rijstaffel” or rice table (Bojo).
Amsterdam has been contextualized as a rite of passage for every college student or backpacking schlepper traveling through Europe: hanging out on the Leidseplein at The Bulldog drinking Heineken, hallucinating on hash and scarfing down a fried kroket (croquette) out of a FEBO vending kiosk.
But the true mayhem is on the Queen’s Birthday, Koninginnedag, celebrated every April 30. This is no day for drinking tea with your pinky in the air and waving to the Queen as she rides in a carriage through town. This is a serious shindig. The electricity and energy you feel in the air is not from the royals, but from the orange-clad ragers who flock to the Netherlands’ capital to throw down. And really, the Dutch can’t wait until the actual day, so they start celebrating April 29 on Koninginnenacht (Queen’s Night).
Revelers gather throughout the city to watch parades, listen to live music, drink, dance, sing, sit on rooftops, and spread the orange love. Dam Square, which normally is a hangout for street performers, visitors, and pigeons, is a good place to start enjoying the festivities.
Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein, the regular headquarters for most of the nightlife, will have heaps of activity since the clubs and bars host parties and live music. Also head to the Jordaan. It’s typically a more mellow part of Amsterdam (however, nothing is mellow on Koninginnedag). This area is also known for its brown cafés, such as De Prins, where you can get cheese fondue and a decent brew while you sit on a canal-side terrace. Twee Prinsen may look stuffy on the inside, but it has a young and lively scene.
You’ll find plenty of live music on the streets, but if you’d rather go to a venue in the city center, try the ultra cool Melkweg or Paradiso. For atmosphere and jazz, go to Alto in Leidseplein. If your preference is more eclectic, hit De Kroeg for alternative, funk, soul, and punk.
If you want hash of course you’re in luck. In Leidseplein or near it, you can check out The Bulldog or De Dampkring. (Hint: The Bulldog in the Red Light District is cooler than the more commercial one in Leidseplein.) Another haven is The Other Side, which attracts an LGBT crowd but is open to everyone.
The Red Light District always caters to the five senses. Coffee shop De Oude Kerk (The Old Church) plays reggae and offers hamburgers as well as other munchies. Durty Nelly’s is an Irish pub that also has an adjoining hostel if you can’t make it out.
If you want some Zen, go to The Greenhouse, which has three locations. At the main headquarters, old Indian wedding saris adorn the walls, and there’s a mini fountain made out of bat dung in a tiny alcove.
A nap may be essential for rallying on Koninginnedag, especially if you began partying the night before. You may find a spot of grass (real grass) in Vondelpark on which to chill, but more than likely there will be live music and plenty of people watching to do.
General rules about Amsterdam:
• Koninginnedag is hard enough to pronounce (ask a local), but wait until you’re well into the festivities.
• Brown cafés are not smoking coffee shops—they are really pubs or alternative dive bars, and they don’t sell weed.
• Many “hash bars” don’t sell booze since a coffee shop must be licensed to serve alcohol. Frankly, in most cases, the coffee shop products do the job on their own.
• You can wake and bake. Most coffee shops are open at about 10:00 A.M.
• Ironically, the Red Light District is relatively safe because of the police presence. However, watch out for pickpockets who target the wasted.
NOTES FROM A VETERAN
One of the biggest myths about Amsterdam is that pot is legal. Technically, it’s not. For example, if you have more than five grams in public (thirty grams in private), you can still be fined. However, police do not crack down on the legal, regulated coffee shops and smokers.
Orange hats off to the Queen.
LOCATION: Munich, Germany
SEASON: Late September through the first weekend of October (yes, Oktoberfest starts in September).
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Sunny and slightly crisp. The beer drinking is mostly indoors though.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Hotel Nymphenburg for budget. Wombat City Hostel for a hostel. The Tent for quirky—sleep in a giant, dorm-style tent, with campfire evenings and thick wool blankets—like summer camp for travelers.
INGESTIBLES: Beer, sausages of all sorts, sauerkraut, pretzels, roast pork/duck/chicken, roast wild boar and game, fish on a stick, pastries.
In 1810, the citizens of Munich celebrated the wedding of a prince and a princess. I like to think of them sitting back in their horses and carriages (or maybe stumbling home drunkenly on foot, who knows), saying “Schiesse, that was awesome. Let’s do it again.” So they did. Two hundred years later, Oktoberfest—or die Wiesn (“dee vees’n”)—is the biggest festival in the world.
Sausages. Pretzels. Roast meat. Lots of hats. Midway rides. Heart-shaped gingerbread with sweet messages. Brass oom-pah-pah bands. Giant glass steins of the six brands of Munich beer. Welcome to the Wiesn. The Fest has fourteen beer tents—long wooden structures with different tones, clientele, food, decor, and beer variety. They go from about a hundred seats to over ten thousand, inside and out. But be warned: smaller tents and popular times can fill up fast. Reserve seats in advance online.
The Hofbräu-Festzelt does have plenty of English-speaking tourists. But it ranges. Make your way directly to “the pit” (standing-room-only section) to start partying really hard. Everyone’s ready to make some international best buddies. But keep a close watch on your tighty-whities. Those scraps of fabric on the chubby, mustachioed angel hanging above the pit? Yep. Those are people’s underwear, sometimes forcibly removed by other drunken revellers. Tradition has it that there’s no underwear in the pit—if anyone asks, tell them you aren’t wearing any.
In any tent, you’ll hear a lot of traditional brass band music, plenty of toast calls (Prost!), and a few bizarre English-language songs that apparently now count as Bavarian folk songs. Beer is sold by the maß (“mass”): one whole liter of wheat beer in a glass stein. In some of the more drunken areas, such as Hofbräu’s pit, you’ll sometimes see people getting a bit overexcited with their toasts and smashing other people’s steins. Sometimes it’s accidental.
The Löwenbräu-Festhalle, Augustiner-Festhalle, and the Hacker-Festzelt are a few more examples of the big tents run by Munich breweries. Don’t miss the giant animatronic lion waving a stein at the Löwenbräu entrance. Wait for it to roar and growl “Löwenbräu!” It’s an experience. Especially if you’ve already had a maß or two.
Augustiner markets itself as friendly for the whole family, and uncorks its beer from wooden casks instead of the usual steel vats. Hacker is much of the same, but also has a rock band playing every evening if you need a break from the oom-pah.
The smaller tents often have quirky themes or foodie specialties. Wildstuben serves up roast wild boar and other game in a hunting lodge–like tent. Try Hochreiters Haxnbraterei for barbecue pork knuckles, or Glöckle Wirt for classy decor—oil paintings, antiques, and more.
Sick of beer? (Why?). Try the wine or cocktail tents. Or do like some Bavarian women and have a Radler (half beer, half lemon soda—they also call it a girlie beer). There’s also Spezi, a German soda that’s Coke mixed with orange soda. Not really recommended by this Canadian if you’re already feeling a bit queasy though.
FUCKED UP FIRSTHAND
Hofbräu felt right. I beelined to “the pit” and met a table of Italians. Nice guys. Nearing the end of the day, I found myself wearing light-up devil horns and squeezed into a corner with Aussies, Americans, a South African, and two local Munich guys. “Motherfucking prost!” said motherfucking George W. Bush, as one of the locals had introduced himself as. That may have been the extent of their English. The motherfucking prosts kept coming, the table kept toasting, and the steins kept draining dry.
At the “very late” hour of 5:00 P.M. (long day drinking), the other travelers began pairing off and disappearing. It left me with the two Munichers, who decided to pursue other people’s steins, smashing them with an aggressive “Motherfucking prost!” Then they smashed the wrong stein and high-tailed it out of there, but not before one of them wildly drank the dripping beer out of his own broken glass.
Guys in little leather shorts and girls with healthy racks squeezed into corseted dresses. Start practicing now: Ein maß, bitte (“eye’n mass, bit-uh”). One day, it’ll get you a beautiful liter of beer.
13. Mardi Gras
LOCATION: New Orleans, Louisiana
SEASON: Mardi Gras, bro. Typically February through early March.
IDEAL CONDITIONS: Stuck to the beer-soaked floorboards of an outdoor bar, double-fisting your choice—local booze or a stranger’s breasts.
LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: It’s not about how much you’ll pay but acquiring lodging at all. Hotels and hostels sell out early, but last-minute travelers can share a pad with folks via Airbnb. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep on the street; you’ll get pissed on.
INGESTIBLES: Sazerac (wicked cocktail of whiskey, bitters, and absinthe), Hand Grenade (alcoholic Ecto-Cooler that comes in a cool fucking grenade cup), beignets, alligator sausage, King Cake (the creepy, plastic baby you’ll bite on is supposed to be baked in).
Mardifuckin’gras. Originally a celebration of feasting before fasting for Lent (aka “Fat Tuesday”), New Orleans’ Mardi Gras takes partying to epic proportions. Bourbon Street, a strip of touristy bars and cheesy restaurants, is the best place in NOLA to see titties on the regular during Mardi Gras, and let’s face it—that’s the main reason people come to New Orleans in February. But even bead-toting, fake-boobie flashers get old after a while. Less crappy bars include Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which looks like a place you’d get bombed if life were a real version of the Oregon Trail. If you’re sick of stepping in vomit, escape the Mardi Gras madness and tuck into nearby Arnaud’s French 75, where guys in white tuxes will pour you fancy-pants cocktails through thick screens of cigar smoke.
When the parades are over and the po-po close down the streets around the French Quarter, you’ll need to find some indoor spaces to continue getting schwasted. Johnny White’s Bar is a less douchey version of Bourbon Street neighbor Pat O’Brien’s; grab some booze from bartenders who are often as wasted as their customers. Cajun Mikes Pub n’ Grub is open until 2:00 A.M. (or whenever people stop getting sloppy, which is sometimes well beyond that), with its delicious, cheap ass po’ boys and $2 PBRs. Stave off a potential hangover with coffee and a beignet at Café Du Monde, which is usually filled with obese tourists during the day, but is pretty pleasant at 4:00 A.M. (open twenty-four hours a day, hollaaa!).
A hundred and twenty hours of party parades: The best thing to do is trip balls while watching the famous Mardi Gras parades, known for their elaborate floats and sometimes eccentric krewes (local organizations):
• Krewe of Muses (Thursday): hot chicks who throw girly things like sparkly shoes, jewelry, maybe birth control if you’re lucky.
• Krewe d’Etat (Friday): floats that make fun of politics, political figures, and throw glowy skull necklaces.
• Krewe of Endymion (Saturday): float riders take the slogan “Throw Until It Hurts” to heart and pelt their audiences with all kinds of plastic crap—this shit is cray.
• Krewe of Bacchus (Sunday): this is the biggest of the party parades, packed with flamboyantly decorated floats, overindulgent costumes, and drunken celebrities dressed as crazy people.
• Krewe of Orpheus (Monday): was started by local Harry Connick Jr., but if you have to miss one then this newcomer is your safest bet.
FUCKED UP FIRSTHAND
Bells rang. Whistles blew. Lights flashed and an alarm wailed. The bartender threw a handful of ice into the air and passed a drink to Patrick. The drink was some kind of clear alcohol with bright red grenadine “bleeding” into the cup. Shoved into it was a rubber shark. Patrick downed the drink, removed the shark, and stuck it through the unzipped fly of his jeans.
Tropical Isle was like a washed-up Margaritaville: loud music, obnoxious-colored décor, and a trashy drink menu. It was the perfect place to start our “Drink All Day” day. A couple of girls stood at a sticky, high-top table nearby. I’m guessing they were local, from their matching booty shorts and tank tops emblazoned with the name of a restaurant down the street. They had “butter” faces (everything sexy “but her” face); still definitely fuckable.
Patrick sauntered over to the table, slurring, “Hey there.”
“Nice shark.” The blond chick eyed the exposed floppy rubber boner.
“I’ll trade it for your underwear,” Patrick replied with a drunken smile.
The blonde looked to her friend and shrugged. She disappeared past the breathalyzer in the corner of the bar where Patrick blew a 1.8 a few minutes ago, reemerging with a tiny, silken wad. She put it on the table, and ripped the shark out from Patrick’s exposed crotch hole. “You have to give these back at the end of your drink,” she said. “But you can keep the pann’ies.”
The most glorious annual shitshow in America, Mardi Gras will be the best/worst decision of your life.
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