Tag Archives: party

Why you should skip the tourist bar and head straight for a peña instead

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Trad play

After a night out in a pretty nondescript club where the only thing unusual was a stabbing on the dance floor, I was more than happy to sample something a little more… more typically Bolivian, I guess.

My friend Max suggested a peña. ‘It’s a place for traditional music’, he said. Did I fancy it? Sure! Of course! Something different, something local. Finally.

Me and a little posse of travellers made our way along a side street in La Paz and down some stairs into the belly of a building where musicians sang and played woodwind and percussion whilst groups of friends clustered around tables, chatting, drinking and welcoming in a Friday night.

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Candlelit moodiness and music

Ojo de Agua didn’t fit with Frommer’s comments about peñas tending to be very touristy. We were pretty much the only tourists in there, and it was obvious. So we split up and mixed and merged.

By candlelight I drank te con te, a hot alcoholic drink, and chatted and danced with locals. Pan pipes, accelerating beats and spinning around and around after too many shots of warm, alcoholic tea made me deliciously dizzy.

As the music wound down, we all climbed back up and out of this high ceilinged, lightly populated dance hall and back into the cold, cold chill of La Paz. Early evening fumes had lifted and the streets were surprisingly quiet for a city on the brink of a wild weekend.

The evening finished further away from the centre in a softly lit bar bursting with Bolivians and the smell of cigarette smoke and rising heat from a huddled collective of bodies. People bent in to hear near whispers, orders were murmured at the bar. A man perched on a stool crooned away, finishing songs with a dramatic burst of strummed chords, claps and whoops exploding after the final slap.

I may have missed out on the salt flats eco rave but this low-key night out was a cosy little moment in the great city of La Paz and a lovely little reintroduction to a social drink and dance after far too long on antibiotics.

As the only tourists in both places, it was also a teeny taste of the real La Paz.

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What’s with the late night karaoke bars?

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Karaoke, baby. Just sing!

I hate karaoke but South America loves it. A slight conflict of interests, a potential deal breaker in our relationship. So when other travellers that I met in Sucre suggested that karaoke bars were the after bar choice, I can’t say that I was delighted. Hanging out with them, sure, but the singing? Really?

Ever since I was a thirteen year old girl thrown on stage with new holiday friends to sing a song I didn’t know, I have been scarred. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun came out as

Girls just Need To Have Singing Lessons,

or in my case,

Girls Just Need to Have Access to Modern Music and Listen To the Radio And The Top 40 (and Not Get Brought Up On Simon and Garfunkle, The Beatles and Beethoven) So That They Can Fit in With Other Normal Teenagers.

It’s only now that I’m grateful for the musical education of my childhood (which went beyond the aforementioned) but at the time it was crippling. I had a lot of catching up to do. Whilst I’d never be cool, I could at least work towards fitting in.

So now here I was in Sucre, a beautiful South American city sitting at an altitude of 2,750m and composed of colonial and neoclassical buildings, Bolivia’s judicial capital and a Unesco Cultural Heritage site. Somewhere, then, that I should be broadening my understanding of the country’s history and traditions.

But oh no! Instead I found myself with a great bunch of other travellers playing dice games in bars with locals and indulging in a few too many mojitos and tequila shots as evenings pushed on into early mornings. Capirinhas and coke flowed freely, propping people up for nights in the bars and the clubs… and the karaoke bars.

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Oh no! Tequila makes an appearance

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Pit stop for cow heart kebabs

Each time I ended up in Vitrolas Karaoke & Discoteque, I searched the song list for a good while. Maybe, just maybe there would be something that would jump out at me, where I’d think hell yeah, I know it so well, it’s the right pitch for my voice, I can get up and sing and not make a total tit of myself, but it never happened. Maybe I should have joined the coke crew. All I really needed was some courage. Some people had it in natural abundance. Not me, in relation to karaoke in any case.

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The terrible trio take to the stage. Not terrible singers, just terrible trouble. In a fun way.

And then after the karaoke bars I would dash back through a quiet, daybreak Sucre, back to my hostel and into a room of sleeping strangers that I knew I’d never meet because they’d pack up and leave before I awoke.

Too soon it would be midday; I’d get up and over brunch greet fellow partiers only just returning from continued hedonism. ‘Are you heading out tonight?’ they’d ask before disappearing off for some sleep. ‘Nah, need a break’, I’d say, but then night would arrive and peer pressure kicked in. Not that I tried very hard to fight it.

My will to go wild and have fun was strong, but my body wasn’t having it. It didn’t take long.

I crashed and burned.

So Sucre, time to see what else you have to offer. I sure love singing, whether it be in the shower, dancing about in my house or with friends around a campfire, but karaoke, save me the heartache.

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The typical gringo bars in Sucre include Joy Ride, Florins and the Amsterdam Bar (all with good WiFi), which also all serve (pricy) food – like pastel de quinoa – and regularly host cinema screenings. I spent a good few evenings in Biblio Café Classico to catch up with a friend who, following a midnight session dancing on the bar, had landed himself a job there.

Clubwise, I only got to Mooy, which cost $15b. entry for females and 20b for males. Saturday night drinks there started at 18Bs. for a caipirinha and 14Bs. for a bottle of beer. In Mooy the crowd was predominantly Bolivian and the music a Western-South American mix. And the oft visited karaoke bar Vitrolas Karaoke & Discoteque is an underground, under populated place fronted by a wild man with long, rock star hair and a well-rehearsed singing voice. Maybe he used to be a rock star after all?! The crowd in there was a real mix of locals and gringos. Friday nights were busiest.

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Why you could fall in love with the Byron Bay bubble

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Stretch and surf: that which epitomises Byron Bay

Although I arrived into Ballina-Byron airport to late January sunshine, I spent the next three days a prisoner indoors, rain refusing to run out. My early impressions of Byron were therefore not great.

We live in a rainforest area’, said my good friend Sariya, ‘it rains a lot here’. And over the next weeks, her words rang true. Hot, humid days with a piercing sun and big, blue skies were interspersed with grey days of torrential downpour. It took a while to acclimatise to the heat, the spores or whatever in the air made me feel congested much of the time and I found sleeping difficult, tossing and turning, uncomfortable.

So when was I going to fall for this place? It wasn’t love at first sight (mostly because I couldn’t see a damn thing through the heavy blanket of rain). But things got better. I discovered many of the things that draw in the crowds to this small surf town.

Among other things, Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia is:

Beachy. Byron life revolves around the beaches and the surf, although surprisingly, a lot of locals don’t actually surf. There are some strong rips and some seriously dangerous areas along this stretch of coastline where swimming is not recommended, but places like The Pass are ever popular spots for people learning to surf (the first day that I went out it wasn’t so great and I smashed up my friend’s board. Not a good moment). Groups gather on the beach in matching tops, practise their pop-ups on the sand before taking to the water. Families hang out in the shade of the trees that fringe the beach and hot, young things wander by giving each other the eye. Out by Main Beach, evenings offer up regular dusk drumming sessions and the opportunity to mix, mingle and party as the hillside fills with small groups of travellers, language students, locals and musicians in the making.

Randomly eventful. Whilst I was in Byron, the place was winding down from the busy summer holiday season but there was still plenty going on including Buddhist teaching workshops, the Sex & Consciousness Conference with its Masked Lovers Ball, Tribal Fusion Belly Dancing performances, and the yoga-focused Spirit Festival. March and April promised even more with popular events such as Bluesfest and Byron Bay International Film Festival.

Aesthetic and beautiful. I sat down for a few minutes at the Sunday Byron Market with a friend whilst her kids played on a bouncy castle slide, and I did some serious people watching. I was a bit intimidated. ‘Those people’, said a local guy when I aired my insecurities, ‘are probably holiday makers and they’re in happy, confident holiday mode, far away from their usual worries’. People were slender, toned, and beautifully and stylishly clothed. They walked tall, perfect posture. Market asides, there just seemed to be so much cool and confidence in Byron, and in my experience that’s the locals and tourists alike. Maybe more so the locals, actually.

Postive-energied. I couldn’t help but feel some of that magical energy that is regularly commented on. Warm people, some pretty out-there experiences, lots of stuff about intuition and energy and vibes. And lots of genuine smiles and hellos from strangers (or friends you have yet to meet, if you subscribe to that philosophy!). People come here for all that, for the way-out opportunities, for the laid-back lifestyle and of course, for the surf (just don’t come thinking you’ll easily score a job). And some people come to find themselves and their Zen and to feed off the energy of this place.

Independently minded. This is evident by the many individual clothing, gift, craft and jewellery shops that line the main streets, the quirky coffee bars and book shops and restaurants. Whilst a few big brands have tried to muscle in, Byron has managed to maintain a feeling of individuality.

Healing and spiritual. In Byron, there are many ways to retune one’s mind, body and soul, from the expected hypnotherapy, massage, tarot, zumba, and of course every type of yoga imaginable (Byron is yoga central) right through to the more curious soul wound healing, kinesiology, iridology, happiness coaching and kahuna bodywork. There is even support for men who want ‘Wild Man’ to help guide them to live ‘a masculine life of integrity, authenticity and freedom’. I almost wish that I was a guy, just so I could try it out.

Healthy and active. The climate and the setting make for some great time spent outdoors doing active stuff. I swam and surfed in a warm sea and shared smiles with other joggers out on dusk runs. I often cycled into town from where I was staying in Suffolk Park along sun speckled bike tracks and through the Arakwal National Park. On my way I would pass by hoards of kids skateboarding to school and join a stream of cycling commuters as I got closer to Byron itself. There does seem to be a complete contrast between the full on healthy, non-drinking, non-smoking puritans and the party pleasure-seekers with their alcohol, drug fuelled fun. Because I don’t totally subscribe to either scene, I did at times feel a bit a bit out of the loop and looked down on. Don’t give me a label. I’ll have a bit of it all, thank you. Let me and others enjoy the healthy lifestyle options available in Byron without being judged on the odd indulgence.

Hedonistic. Alongside the healthy are the hedonists: predominantly the backpacker scene of party people. Byron may be a place of clear complexions and body awareness but it is also the place for some messy, messy nights. Whilst there are places in town to cater for all sorts of tastes, ages and people, the party crowd in the main spots is on the whole pretty young, think late teens early twenties. And they want to indulge: in alcohol, in each other, in the heady atmosphere. But there is more to Byron nightlife too, including a whole range of musicians who busk their hearts out and street performers who keep the post-pub crowds entertained (although you won’t see fire poi or juggling as flames were supposedly banned from Byron’s streets a good few years back).

Coffee loving. I hung out in comfy, cosy coffee shops making use of free WiFi. When I was looking for work, one of the main questions was ‘Can you make coffee?’ Of course I can make coffee, I thought, but until I said it with some conviction, I didn’t even get a look-in. As it turns out,  Byronians love their coffee (well, Australians in general love their coffee, I think it’s fair to say) . I met a good few self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs. Bad coffee could ruin a business. I got it. And I did have some great coffees in friendly, smiley places such as Why Not?, one of many coffee bars scattered around the town. 

Social and familiar. Compared to other places that I’ve been based, making friends in Byron was a fairly easy process, providing you made some effort. And I met people who were keen to get out and do stuff, and up for chats and beers and music and dancing. Nearly everyone that I met, local or otherwise, were welcoming, happy to share their space. And with Byron being quite small, it wasn’t long before I was bumping into people I knew, hellos on the street, that sort of thing. Felt good.  Note: Don’t park your van outside someone’s house and leave rubbish and beer bottles kicking around. You’ll make friends with no-one but the police who are doing a clampdown on ‘vanpackers’.

In short, Byron has a lot going on. ‘It’s its own little bubble’, said a local, ‘It’s not really representative of the rest of Australia’. Some things are truly bizarre, other stuff more conventional. The beauty is that there is something for every taste. And more than enough energy kicking around to soothe any lost souls.

Residents may bemoan the changes and increasing commercialisation that has taken place in the past ten years, but Byron Bay does still hold considerable charm. It’s still a bit of a hippy town, even if Subway and Sportsgirl have made an appearance. It’s small enough to be cosy, but there’s enough going on to keep it vibrant. I’ll be back before too long.

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Un party poquito: Ecuadorian style

As travellers can all too easily stick to the well-trodden backpacker trail, I considered myself fortunate to be invited to a gathering at a local’s house in Quito. The hostess – a fab, expressive Latina with a wild side – promised dancing and merriment into the early hours. She also promised me a hangover.

On arrival I was surprised to see a handful of people sitting fairly quietly in a brightly lit room. In saying my hellos I made my first faux pas, noting that subsequent guests greeted each person individually with a kiss or handshake – a rather prolonged process for late arrivals. (The same was repeated for goodbyes).

Delicious food was offered up (nothing uniquely Ecuadorian) and people chatted politely. The first batch of the sweet but highly drinkable canelazo (a hot cocktail made with boiled water, sugar cane alcohol, lemon, sugar, cinnamon and in this case passion fruit) did the rounds, followed promptly by a demand to start dancing.

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Ecuadorian, Aussie, English party mix

As a female, I had very little option but to get involved, despite my protests of being vergüenza – embarrassed. Being sober didn’t stop these guys from dancing salsa, merengue and whatever else. Everyone seemed to know the footwork, the body work. The fact that this wasn’t some major party but rather a small gathering in someone’s living room didn’t dampen the enthusiasm. More people crowded the makeshift dance floor than were sitting on the side lines. The drinking was most definitely secondary – dancing, laughter and enjoyment drove this event and the energy felt considerably different to the typical British affair.

The dancing starts

The dancing starts

German-Ecuadorian dance off

German-Ecuadorian dance off

This morning I am un poco chuchaqui – a little hungover – but more tired and well exercised than anything else. Six hours of dancing? It’s been too long since I last did that.

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