Tag Archives: festival

Total solar eclipse: the power of the universe puts things into perspective

I’ve been putting off writing this up for some time. Why? Because everything I put down on paper feels empty compared to the actual experience, because each moment and emotion described feels shallower than the reality, an indignity, an untruth.

Sunrise, clear skies

Sunrise, clear skies

Yet, I was one of those fortunate enough to witness the universe lock in to a moment of perfection and the experience touched me. Deeply.

During the days following the event I did little other than describe it as ‘amazing’, which is pretty nondescript, bland even. I couldn’t come up with anything better. My senses were pricked and I was filled with awe for the universe, and yet I was somewhat dumbed.

So what happened? Time to start finding my words.

Wrapping up the pre-eclipse party just as dawn breaks

Wrapping up the pre-eclipse party just as dawn breaks

At around 5.30AM on 14th November 2012 I made my way from base camp at the Eclipse 2012 festival up in Far North Queensland Australia, back past music stages where I’d recently bounced to Fat Freddy’s Drop and later stomped about to a DJ I can’t recall, stages that were now winding down. It was the first break from beats we would have in a whole week of celebrations. Respect the moment and the magic. Instead, birdsong was the gathering call.

Ravers, families and a man dressed in a mask and gown gathered on the hill by the Moon Stage as the sun rose, warming the dusty ground and the bones of people who had not stayed up to party, sleepy bodies re-awaking for this unique moment in time. Against a pinky orange sky, a little girl of maybe two snuggled into her father’s cuddle whilst the man in the mask started to sing out in monotone. He raised his face and stretched out his arms to the rising golden orb.

People start to make their way to the viewing spots

People start to make their way to the viewing spots

Sun worshipper

Sun worshipper

Crowds start to gather for the eclipse

Crowds start to gather for the eclipse

And then came the moon, crossing in front of the sun, starting at the top left, a creeping blackness.

The first quarter passed quickly but then time slowed down and the moon seemed to stick on a partial cover up. I took off my glasses and looked around at everyone else. Hoards of people, crowded up against makeshift fencing, creating silhouettes on the hillside. A raft of upturned faces standing, sitting, lying on a sea of festival dust, eyes protected by paper solar safe shades. Some people headed away from the crowds in search of a private observation spot.

By now all festival stages had hushed, completely, and other than quieting birdsong, an occasional charged ‘whoop’ or a monotone ‘ooooh’ from the sun god worshipper, the world started to silence.

Each minute that the moon moved closer to total cover-up brought with it a drop in temperature. I shivered and wrapped myself up in a jumper. I put my safety glasses back on and stood still with this collective of people who all seemingly had the same intention to watch this process unfold. Occasionally someone shuffled about but mostly people, having found places to perch,  were still, some having resigned themselves to the fact that they would probably not be sharing the eclipse experience with their closest buddies. Finding anyone in these crowds would be a considerable mission, one that might take away from actually taking in the event. No, sit still, let things unfold. Observe. (And be glad that you weren’t one of the ones that woke up mid-morning and wondered ‘Have I missed the eclipse?’).

It became dark. The moon was now firmly between us and the sun and the birds fell silent.

And then, in a flash of sunny brilliance, it all locked into place.  Light shone out of the sides, bright rays crowning a ball of the deepest black. We took our glasses off.  I started with my limited ‘amazing’ exclamations and listened to equally immature and breathy responses that only awe can generate. And lots of cheering. This wasn’t a film, hell no! How does life do this? How is our world so damn beautiful?

Lock in

Lock in

I felt comforted by this vivid reminder that there are far bigger things going on in our world, forces that we try to understand yet still contain mystery, patterns that can be predicted but only up to a point, beauty that generates a moment of wonder shared, appreciated by a humanity hotchpotch.

So much was going through my mind – my life events, choices and hopes – passing through in a moment of clarity and understanding. It all made sense: it didn’t really matter. And, yet somehow, in relation to everything else and everyone else, it did.

Lie back, watch the sun re-emerge, choose whether to join the post-eclipse party or finally go to bed

Lie back… watch the sun re-emerge… choose whether to join the post-eclipse party or retreat to camp and finally go to sleep

Just over two minutes later and the moment of magic was broken as the sun and moon moved out of alignment, and we were back to reality. The light and warmth returned, the birds started to sing once again and the doof doof of the party started afresh.

Days later I still carried the magic with me, and months later the memory can still evoke a stomach flip and an utterance of ‘amazing’. Because it truly was amazing. Even the dismissiveness of a self-proclaimed eclipse king has done little to dampen my wonder.

And so I may yet become an eclipse chaser. But, would I get that same sense of awe, that absolute natural high from repeating the experience in another setting? Would it not, like any repeat experience, lack the magic of the first time? I’m hesitant.

The next total solar eclipse takes place in 2015 and is visible from Iceland, Europe, North Africa and Northern Asia whereas if I’m still Oz-side, I’ll have to wait until 2028. Might I see you there?


Filed under australia, culture, festivals, natural wonders, nature, oceania, travel, wow!

What to pack for a festival in the outback


Mid day water spray

Outback or bush, call it what you like, this would be the remotest, driest, hottest festival that I’d ever been to and unlike some travels where spontaneity keeps the magic alive, this needed planning.  At least a little.

Event organisers emailed out a survival guide a few weeks before the start date of 10th November 2012, warning of bugs and beasties and dangerous drop access roads, of shrivel-inducing temperatures and complete communication cut-off.


This wasn’t a festival for pussycats.

Instead it would be a moment for thousands of wiry revellers, eclipse chasers, festival die-hards, musicians, DJs and artisans to unite. A seven day festival of music and workshops, of crafting and consciousness building, of stomping feet, raised hands and banging heads, a seven day festival created around the total solar eclipse visible within Far North Queensland, Australia.

Me and my crew were nearly ready. One final stock up and then we’d start the journey inland from Cairns, away from city structure into a landscape of termite mounds and tracks that led to houses a million miles from anywhere else.

So what did we bring? What might work for you next time the eclipse festival fever grips Australia again in 2028? Or whatever hot and humid festival that might be coming up shortly?


  1. Drinking water. Lots. We each got through about 4 litres a day. Onsite water was not considered safe to drink so we brought what looked like a ridiculous amount and it only just lasted.
  2. Water sprayers/misters. Handheld are fine but the full on backpack, gardening maintenance style were best. And fun. And in demand. Spray and dance and stay safe and hydated.
  3. Sunscreen. Far North Queensland heat and full on rays need a little thought.
  4. Sunglasses. Super bright light. Some hangovers. Sensitivity.
  5. Longlasting snacks. Nuts and other nutritious, energy giving nibbles.
  6. First aid kit with all the basics including antiseptic cream and plasters/bandaids. Obvious.
  7. Ear plugs. The music never stops (apart from during the actual eclipse, so that’s maybe an hour of quiet in a whole week).
  8. Eye mask. Days and nights get a little mixed up and who knows when you want or need some shut-eye?
  9. Tent, sleeping mat and a sleeping bag liner/sheet. Make sure your tent has plenty of ventilation, or do as some people did and only set up the inner tent.


  1. Tarpaulin. A friend lent this to us and it provided an extra layer of amazing sun protection over both tents whilst also marking our tenting territory.
  2. Cool box/Eski. Ice available on site meant cold drinks and a longer life for fresh food. And every Aussie seems to travel with an Eski. Maybe if I was Australian this would be up there as an essential item.
  3. Face/dust mask/scarf of some sort. Dust got everywhere. You learnt to live with the constant dirty taste it in your mouth, of a layer coating your teeth (and everything else).
  4. Alcohol/cigarettes. Both could be bought at the festival but prices were a little inflated and most people came suitably stocked. The same was true for all other poisons.
  5. Baby/wet wipes. Crawling in to bed having wiped off some of the dust layers was more than a luxury.
  6. Electrolytes. We brought a big tub of GatorAid and although I can’t stand the stuff, I needed it to replace all those salts lost through dancing and dehydration. We stuck it in water bottles and brought it along on daytime missions into the festival.


  1. Solar shower. Yep. Although they offered $5 showers on site (outdoor but with privacy), having our own rig meant that once a day I had about five minutes of feeling dust free and clean. It was wonderful.
  2. Cooking gear. The festival didn’t actually allow open flames and the discovery of our cooking gear could have led to us being kicked off site, yet it saved us some money and meant mornings could still start with a percolated coffee. What we soon realised was that there were so many great eating spots serving great quality feeds at decent prices that cooking at camp wasn’t actually quite as desirable as we expected.
  3. Parasol. I carried mine with me everywhere, a plain green thing. Other’s carried theirs everywhere and I realised my idea of a parasol was entirely unoriginal and everyone else’s were much more beautiful and decorative. But functionwise? They all did the job.
  4. Light sabers, wigs and glow masks. And face paints. Even if we transported a broken light saber all the way from New South Wales to Far North Queensland, it still formed part of an essential festival fancy dress kit. Okay, maybe not essential. But adds to the fun.
  5. Fairy lights and decorations to create home. I’m a Cancerian so maybe my want to nest wherever I base myself was realised through these little camp set-up pleasures. Others clearly have this down to an art.
  6. Proper pillow. Some people would scoff but few people complain when they get to lay their head down on a comfy pillow rather than a squished together, hard pile of clothes. I slept beautifully, through doof and human traffic. I’m sure the pillow helped some.
  7. Change of clothes and pillow cases. Clean, dust free stuff saved for near the end would have been amazing. Instead we slept in our own dirt and dust. Ah well.

Anything I’ve forgotten to mention? That I should know about for next time?


Filed under activity & sport, australia, culture, festivals, oceania, travel

I should be at a trance party, so what am I doing here?


Some day time revellers keep going at the rave (photo: Carl Maybry©)

IT’S FRIDAY AND I SHOULD be in Uyuni with new friends partying at a windpowered goa-trance festival on the Salt Flats outside of Uyuni in Bolivia, but I’m ill. Another bout of food poisoning has crippled me.

I let my friends know that I can’t come. A day on the bus followed by a weekend of all-nighter hedonism when I’m spinning out and have only just stopped puking? Not a great idea. But I’m gutted.

My day comprises of sleeping and Skype chats. It’s taking me ages to do anything. My eyes are heavy so after my lunchtime snack of cough medicine and probiotics, I end up snoozing some more.

One of my friends drops me a message to say that a local told him ‘the raves out on the Salar de Uyuni aren’t all that great anyway’. Momentarily I feel better but then I look at pictures of the salt flats, imagine 180° of starry sky and I’m back to frustrated envy.

I venture out of the hostel for the first time in a couple of days. Destination: pharmacy.  I need to stock up on potent cough syrup. Two more bottles, the doctor reckons, that’s at least another week of codeine stupor. I walk slowly with consideration; I am spinning out and not totally sure that I won’t faint.

The doctor has banned me from eating out, despite it often being cheaper, so I make myself a package soup and tart it up with some vegetables. Hopefully this time the food will stay down. It doesn’t.

I don’t have the energy to be my social self and initiate conversation with all the new people in the hostel, but I chat a little with the owner’s son. Spanish practise. He’s not feeling well either, although it’s definitely something different. His Bolivian belly is resistant to the food and water bugs. Tourists, he says, always get sick at some point.

I watch a movie but I can’t focus. I keep imagining a mass of bodies bouncing to a beat. I’ve never been to a trance party. Travelling for me is about trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone. This would have been perfect. I’ve never liked trance music. I don’t think.


Another whack of medication. Doped out.

I wake up on Saturday feeling pretty good considering that if you shook me, I’d rattle. I take a shower. I’m so spaced out from all the medication that I get stuck into a stare. I wonder if the way I’m feeling is anything similar to how it feels to be on ketamine. Why ketamine, I’m not sure. It must have cropped up in conversation recently. I’m tingly and dizzy and a bit numb. I’m trying to flip this on its head, trying to enjoy the feeling. I’m listening to Salmonella Dub and I wonder what genre Salmonella Dub is. I’ve never been good at classifying music. Whatever, it’s my own zone out party.  I’m sure I’m in the shower for far too long. Zombiefied.

The rain arrives. ‘I’ve never seen rain in Bolivia’, says a guy I meet in the kitchen over a cup of tea. Talking about the weather. I could do this in England. I do do this in England. Actually, I do this everywhere. My one bit of Englishness comes with me.

And the day continues pretty uneventfully. I manage to get out to buy a bus ticket to Uyuni for the following day. The rain makes me a bit soggy, which isn’t clever when I’m still sick. Bare feet weren’t the smartest move. I buy some shoes. Retail therapy, not my thing at all, but it works. If I’d gone to the rave I wouldn’t have been able to buy these lovely shoes. I’m momentarily consoled.

For the first time in a while I can focus on a screen so I watch a movie but fall asleep half way through. It’s isn’t a bad film at all, just sometimes something happens when I’m in bed watching a film, particularly when I’m drugged up to my eyeballs. I try to fight it but my body wins out.

Early Sunday morning I pay my bill and get a goodbye cuddle from my hostel hostess. She’s been worrying about me. Thinks I should stay longer. I think I need to get out of Sucre before I become yet another one of the travellers stuck here longer term. I don’t think the place is healthy for me.

Maybe Uyuni will be better? Somehow I doubt it. Sitting at an altitude of 3,669m, I know my pain isn’t over. But I’m on the bus and heading to my friends who will surely be buzzing with incredible stories of all-nighters and special connections and amazing skies and scenery.

And, probably because I’ve been so damn unwell, actually I’m not really jealous. Yet.


Filed under bolivia, culture, festivals, south america

Music, magic and the Festival of Lights

Every year, New Plymouth in New Zealand hosts the Festival of Lights for over a month during the summer period where bands play each night and the park is transformed into a magical place full of colour and light. Ferns swish in the breeze, people row on the lake under a rising full moon and kids play in a floodlit playground under the presence and sound of a scary, snoring giant.


Boating on the lake in Pukeura Park, New Plymouth


Scary, sleeping, snoring giant in Pukeura Park, New Plymouth

Together with a couple of friends, I was on my way to see the Brazilian inspired band, Zamba Flam, play with Brazilian guest musicians. Clearly still unable to let go of my ongoing romance with South America, my time in New Zealand coincidentally has often seemed to lead me back to Latin experiences. I’m not complaining. A couple of beers in our rucksacks and some plastic bags to protect our bums from the damp ground, this was a cheap evening of free entertainment with a relaxed, summertime atmosphere.

Along the walk down into the park, the plants and trees along the pathway were coloured with pink and blue and green and yellow lighting. The waterfall went through changes of projected colour sequences, and people posed for photographs and parents chatted to other parents whilst their kids manically bounced around, excitement for being up way past their bedtime. The sweetness of summer holidays.


Lights at Pukeura Park

 The band started their bossa nova rhythms accompanied by the low, silky voice of Alda Rezende. Groups of friends and families gathered around in clusters, clapping politely and chatting quietly in between songs. Couples cuddled in closely and a few uninhibited souls danced and swayed freely to the beat.


Music in Pukeura Park

By 10:00pm it was over, but there was one more thing that I really wanted to see: the glow worms. We walked by fabricated, oversized and UV lit flowers, and then tiptoed our way down a pitch dark pathway, voices to a whisper.

And suddenly I saw the earthy bank twinkling with little lights. Further along it was even denser, these little worms shining out lights so bright that I questioned whether they were in fact real or yet another part of the fictional, fantasy world created by this festival.

Back through the fernery, again drizzled with colour and light and magic, and we headed out of the park and back to normality under the gaze of the man on the moon. A midsummer night’s dream? Yes, it sure felt like it.


A midsummer night's dream?


Filed under culture, dancing, festivals, music, new zealand

Why I’m not so sure that I’ll go with ‘Happy New Year’

The countdown begins, the clock strikes midnight, we all cheer and cuddle and kiss friends and family to celebrate the start of a new year. (Or, if you’re on the road, you kiss and cuddle total strangers). But why is it such an event? The pressure, the build-up, the inevitable anti-climax? The broken resolutions, the resulting guilt and frustration? Is it really worth all the emotional bother?

Personally, I love New Year, not so much New Year’s Eve, but New Year itself. It symbolises a new start, a clean slate, a chance to put past hurts behind you and begin positively with the next chapter of your life. But really, why should a date matter? Even more so when the date is flawed and our whole calendar is a corrupt twisting of older methods of time telling.

When you’re travelling I believe that you’re even more likely to bump into people who open your eyes to new ideas. This whole calendar concept was only really introduced to me a week or so ago when I asked a new friend how important Christmas and New Year were to him. ‘What’s more important,’ he said, ‘is that we’ve just had the longest day of the year, the summer solstice’ (I’m in New Zealand). He argued that the modern calendar is a bastardised way of organising the year that has little to do with the circular pattern of life during a solar/lunar year and more to do with politics, religion and self-interest. I did some basic research…


The old Roman calendar was ‘originally was determined by the cycles of the moon and the seasons of the agricultural year‘ and used to be ten months in length with an extra little bit for the winter period. The first day of the year was March 1st and if you know a little Latin then it makes sense that October, for example, would be the eighth month and December the tenth. Some time around 600 B.C. a Roman ruler called Pompilius introduced January and February in order to account for the preious gap in the calendar for winter, and made January the first month of the year. It was all still a bit unpredictable: some years had twelve months, others thirteen, and a year averaged between 355 and 378 days. Pompilus is supposedly also responsible for focusing the calendar on religion rather than landwork but more surprising is that the priests of the Roman Empire are said to have ‘exploited the calendar for political ends, inserting days and even months into the calendar to keep the politicians they favored in office’. So overall, a bit of an odd system and one that was most definitely fluid and corrupt.


Julius Ceaser got a bit frustrated by this random system and decided to do a reform that was more structured: a twelve month calendar that was based somewhat on the solar year and where each month would have either 30 or 31 days, apart from February – the end of the year – which would have to be shortened to align with the solar system. Not wanting to be forgotten, in 44 B.C. Julius Ceaser changed the month Quintilis to Julius (July), a trick later employed by the emperor Augustus who changed Sextilis to, you guessed it, Augustus (August). All a bit self-indulgent. Augustus also supposedly wanted his month to be a full month, so after some shifting around, 31 days were assigned to the month of August. But there were still some problems with the Julian calendar, namely discrepancies when compared with the solar year that meant every few years everything went out of sync. Again, a bit of a flawed system.


In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII devised a calendar that was much more in tune with the solar year and had a better ‘formula for calculating leap years’, but the UK decided to be sticklers and it was only in 1752 following the British Calendar Act of 1751 that Brits finally aligned with their neighbouring countries, losing 11 days in the process. It was also here that the beginning of the legal year is said to have been moved from March to January.

So surely the Gregorian, our current system, is a good system? But why can’t we work with something a bit more solar or lunar orientated? ‘The Muslim calendar is the only purely lunar calendar in widespread use today’ with religious celebrations occurring in relation to the moon’s waxing and waning and therefore the corresponding dates on a Gregorian calendar are pretty randomised. The Chinese calendar, as another example, is lunisolar, based on the cycles of the moon where ‘the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February’. Better systems more in tune with the earth and its surroundings?

So what?

Back to the present and my travels. For New Year’s Eve I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering up near Whangerei, New Zealand, where I played beer pong and got tipsy and did a bit of bad dancing. All this discussion and research had left me a bit confused. Is it just because as human beings we crave a definite timeline as opposed to a more natural rhythm? Is counting days in such a methodical way necessary? What’s wrong with going by nature instead? Is New Year, as we know it, really New Year? March does indeed seem to make more sense to me with the onset of spring and the bursting through of plants, and lambs being born, and just that ‘new start’ feeling you get at that time of the year.

So was I going to turn down an invite to a little party because of new knowledge and a sense that our calendar was created in order to pander to political and religious and social activities rather than the natural ebb and flow of life, and as a result is a bit of a corrupt system? And that therefore New Year was a bit of a farce? No, of course not. It would have just been bad form. I went, I saw in the New Year and I conquered some time demons.

So, what the hell. Happy New Year. Really.

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Filed under culture, new zealand, random