Wednesday, 29 January 2014

International Festivals

Festivals are fun.

Sure, I know I'm not exactly blowing anybody's mind with that statement, but it's a fact. Back in Australia, they've just had the annual “should we be celebrating Australia Day” debate. While the origins of Australia Day may well be far from ideal for celebrating, I think festivals and celebrations in general can sometimes surpass their origins.

And while a festival in your own country can be a great weekend escape from you daily life, there's nothing quite as good as going to a festival in another country.

These days, people often plan their overseas trip to coincide with at least one. Whether it's a full moon party in Thailand, running with the Bulls in Pamplona, drinking far too much at Oktoberfest in Germany or listening to music at Glastonbury, you can bet there will be a load of travellers there that have set their international travel plans around being there on the day.

Downing one of many Steins of beer in Munich in 2005 (haven't changed a bit huh?)

There is an entire industry around devoted only to get tourists to all these festivals. I remember being one of hundreds (thousands?) of Aussies piling on to buses in London and setting off for Munich for a few days of beer and bratwurst at Oktoberfest. None of us could wait to get to one of the world's great cultural festivals – first we just needed to indulge in some Australian culture and get drunk on the way there.

With my travel leading me ever closer to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, I've planned my trip around the world's biggest sporting festival, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Sometimes, however, the best festivals to be a part of are those that you didn't plan. The past week or so I spent time in the Mexican state of Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border. The town of Chiapa de Corzo was having it's annual Fiesta Grande de Enero or Great January Feast. I came across this festival purely by accident. In fact, had I not lost my debit card in Mexico City, I would have travelled through the region before it even happened. 

Parachicos doing their thing

The festival revolves around parachicos, who are dancers dressed up as colonial Spaniards and who, along with representations of the local patron saints, parade through the city. The story as to why they do this varies but seems to come back to a boy who was brought to the town when he was sick and somehow cured there, while being entertained by the parachicos. The boy's wealthy Spanish mother later thanking the town by assisting the residents with food during a particularly rough drought.

Hangin with the Parachicos

Whatever the specifics, the festival has all of the characteristics required of a good festival; food, music, a joyous atmosphere and plenty of quirks. Oh and of course, fireworks.  

I don't think a festival has to have a clear reason for being, just people who want to celebrate with each other and have a good time. And of course, fireworks. 

Have you ever planned an international trip just to see a festival? What was you favourite festival experience? 

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