Category Archives: Travel Stories

At a Rave in a Moroccan Desert

A year ago today, I was thrilled about my job. I was facilitating training, enjoying every minute of work, and was considering going full time and really starting a career. Wow. If you had told me a year ago that in one year I would be dancing my heart out at a secret rave in the middle of the desert in Morocco, I would have absolutely not believed you. Absolutely not. Yet, here I was.

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Seven days earlier… January 19:

We stopped the van at a beautiful vista and made a little snack. We ate olives and tuna and avocado, and looked out the beautiful view stretched out in front of us. Another van pulled up next to us — French licence plate. A man stepped out, he looked dusty, like he had been in the desert a long time. A 3-legged dog jumped out of the van behind him and hobbled towards us. We spoked briefly about where we were coming from and where we were going. He asked if we had been to the Painted Rocks yet. The Painted Rocks is a big valley nearby, where, in the 80s, a bunch of boulders had been painted blue. Now, it is a favourite free camping spot for van travelers. We told him we had just been, but we were the only ones. He told us there was going to be a party at the Painted Rocks next weekend! Michael asked, “how do you know about this party?” The dusty Frenchman responded, “you just have to go to a party and then they tell you when the next one is going to be.” Seems legit.

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January 25:

Our three van, eight person, and one dog convoy arrived at the Painted Rocks at around 3pm. We were three of maybe 15 vans. Hmmm. Maybe the party isn’t real? I mean, we came by our party invitation from a dusty Frenchman with a 3-legged dog, so there was a slight possibility that the information wasn’t correct.

We set up camp, vans in a circle, with a fire pit in the middle and vans slowly began to file into the valley. We had our campfire roaring and we cracked open a few beers. A young Moroccan boy wandered to our fire and asked if we had any water. Sure! We gave him some to drink and he thanked us. We told him that he and his friends were all welcome to sit around our fire this evening and warm up. Soon, a whole gaggle of 17-year old Moroccan boys joined us around the flames. They were lovely. They also assured us that there will, in fact, be a party tomorrow! Yay!

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Photo captured by @a.kind.journey

January 26:

The bass was thunderous and echoed through the whole valley. The stars were bright and the moon lit our way through the valley towards where the bass was booming. I had a beer in the pocket of my jacket. We arrived and sure enough, there was a party! “Oh my gosh, this is insane,” I thought. The DJ was set up under a tent, and in front of him, a wall of HUGE speakers pulsing with bass and vibrating in the dirt. Lights and videos were projected onto the rocks behind the DJ, and strobe lights rhythmicallylit up the faces of the ravers dancing to the beats. Everybody was smiling.

If you had told me a year ago that I would be dancing my heart out at a secret rave in the middle of the desert in Morocco, I would have not believed you. Yet, here I was…

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Making our First Tagine in Morocco

She placed the huge, oven-hot ceramic dish on the table in front of us, and with just the perfect amount of flare, lifted the heavy dome to reveal the most incredible chicken and vegetable mix, yellow with turmeric and billowing steam, and in that moment I thought, “I must have one of these.” A tagine. A Moroccan ceramic cooking dish with a tall, conical lid. It is placed on hot coals and left for an hour or so to slow cook whatever deliciousness you put inside. I wanted one. We could figure out where in the van it would fit later. I had to have one.

A Moroccan friend told us when looking in the souk for a tagine, we should expect to pay about 60-80dh which is about $8-10 CAD, but we, of course, can barter the price down. I knew as well, that in the souk, there would be both functional tagines for those who want to cook with it, and decorative tagines for those who want to put it on their mantle, so we would have to make sure to buy one we could actually use. It wasn’t hard to find the man selling tagines. There were about 50 of them, all different sizes, displayed out in front of his truck. These were the real ones. Not decorative at all. In fact, the glazing was just downright sloppy! These were no-nonsense tagines. We found the right size, one bigger than the smallest one there, and asked the man how much. He offered 50dh. We didn’t barter. We just bought it.

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We continued through the souk and found a man selling spices. Bright yellow turmeric, deep red paprika, and sandy brown cumin, were just a few of the big, full bags sitting on the table. I had no idea what we needed in order to create as beautiful a dish as the first tagine we had. The man started speaking to us in French and I just said, “tagine?” “Tagine!” he exclaimed, and began preparing multiple bags of spices for us. We ended up with the bright yellow turmeric, the deep red paprika, and the sandy brown cumin, and a bag of what the spice man called, “tagine mix”. Perfect!

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We took our tagine and our too many bags of spices back to the van. We had onions, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and carrots. For our first tagine we were happy to make a simple vegetarian dish, and, granted we didn’t blow the place up with our first attempt, we could graduate to meat dishes later. While Michael ‘seasoned’ our brand new tagine (boiled water in it for 20 minutes to prep the lid with steam), I took to Google to find recipes we could loosely follow. I was disappointed to discover the top hits on Google for “tagine recipes” were all people cooking in casserole dishes and frying pans, and serving their food in the decorative tagine they bought in Morocco, OR even some on Amazon. Huh?

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We would have to figure it out without Google’s help. We rubbed oil all over the bottom part of the dish, and poured a few tablespoons in. We heat the tagine and added onion, and then tomato. While they cooked, I tossed the potato, zucchini, and carrot in all our spices. All of them. When the onion and tomato began sizzling, we turned the heat right down, and stacked our other vegetables on top of each other. And that was that! We set the timer for an hour. We drank wine, played cards, ate a few olives to whet our appetites. The timer went off and our food was done!

I placed the huge, oven-hot ceramic dish on the table in the van, and with just the perfect amount of flare, I lifted the heavy dome to reveal the most incredible vegetable mix, yellow with turmeric and billowing steam. Our very first tagine!

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Date Night in Sidi Ifni, Morocco

Michael and I have been traveling now for 37 weeks, 19 of which have been living and traveling in our van. We’ve been spending a lot of time together. We eat every meal together, we plan activities together, and we spend our downtime together. We have learned a lot about each other too, how grumpy Michael gets if he’s hungry, how emotional I am when I’m tired, and which foods make us gassy. At the beginning of our trip, when we were in Italy, we went for sushi (yes, you can get something other than pizza and pasta in Italy!). That evening I wore lipstick, and we talked about everything under the sun except plans for our trip. It was lovely! We called it date night. And since then, every three or four weeks, we go on a date night. There are a few rules to date night: I wear lipstick, we go out for dinner, and we don’t talk about poop.

We were in Sidi Ifni and decided to have a date night. We were told by a friend about a restaurant called Suerte Loca, reasonably priced, with great Moroccan food. I donned my lipstick and we left the van. Suerte Loca is a cute little restaurant at the end of the main street in Sidi Ifni. It boasts a huge menu, with so many different tagines. A tagine is a ceramic dish, that one fills with vegetables and/or meat, and places on hot coals. It creates a steamy, oven-type environment and cooks the food beautifully. Suerte Loca boasts an impressive list of meat, chicken, seafood, and veggie tagines. But, even with a menu as expansive as this, they are known for the menu of the day. Today, was a Moroccan salad, an octopus tagine, and a chocolate caramel flan cake. Sounds good to us! We ordered it all, and two mint teas. Moroccan mint tea is sickenenly sweet, and if you ever order it ‘sans sucre’ you’ll understand why. It’s nickname is Berber Whiskey. They say you can’t get drunk off it, but you sure can get sugar high!

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We sat and drank our tea as the empty tables in the restaurant began to fill. Three young Moroccan boys took to the stage. By stage, I mean an empty corner of the restaurant. Two guitars and a drum. The drummer kept rhythm, the guitarist impressively picked the strings, and the one who sang had the voice of a pubescent angel. They sang Moroccan songs, they sang French songs, they sang Jason Mraz! We clapped as each song ended, they smiled and nodded and would quickly discuss amongst themselves which song to play next.

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Our food came. The salad was fresh and delicious, but the tagine was the star of the show. The huge dish was placed in front of us, and with the perfect amount of flare, the woman lifted the top to reveal a beautiful meal. Octopus cooked with onions and tomatoes, and rubbed down with about a million spices. We took the pieces of fresh bread from the basket on the table and, using the bread like a claw, picked up bits of octopus and sauce. Oh boy, it was delicious. Our conversation ceased as we ate — that’s how you know it’s good. The chocolate cake with caramel flan on top was out of this world. We paid our bill and rolled ourselves out of Suerte Loca. By the door was a tip jar for the boys playing music. We left them a hefty tip — they deserve it.

We walked back to the van, and shared an exuberant high five — another successful date night!

 

Shopping the Sunday Souk in Sidi Ifni, Morocco

We left the van and went to the Sunday Souk in Sidi Ifni (try saying that three times fast!). The souk is a big marketplace, which boasts vendors from near and far, selling all sorts of things. There are so many stalls, and each one is very specialized; there’s the veggie guy, the olive guy, the spice guy, the clothes guy, the miscellaneous kitchenware guy, the jewellery guy… We prepared ourselves for many stops on this grocery shop.

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We stopped at a veggie man and began! The vendor handed us a plastic bin. The idea is that you fill the bin, then you pay by weight of everything together. Cool! We bought 2 potatoes, 3 zucchini, 4 beets, 2 tomatoes, and 3 carrots. Phew! Veggies, done! We continued our walk. We found a chicken man, and figured we would find eggs here, but realized that the chicken man only sells chicken — you choose one from the pen of live chickens, he weighs it, and then takes it behinda tarp, kills it, and prepares it for you. Huh. We didn’t buy any chicken today. We DID however find a fruit guy at the neighbouring stall! We bought 1 mango, 3 oranges, 4 kiwis, and 3 avocados. We walked on and found an olive guy. I like the olive guy because he lets you, nay, encourages you to taste all the different varieties of olives. We did! And we bought 250g of a beautiful preserved lemon and parsley marinated green olive, and 250g of crazy flavourful, and shrivelled up black olives.

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Next stop: the spice man. The spice man sells many spices in many forms. For example, here you can buy turmeric roots, turmeric seeds, or ground turmeric. Here, you can buy full henna leaves, henna seeds, ground henna, or henna paste. Here, you can also buy garlic bulbs! We bought 3. Then, we finally found the egg guy — that’s all he sells — and bought 12 beautiful fresh eggs.

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We found a banana man, who sells bananas by the kilo. In order to make up a kilo, we had to buy 10 bananas. They aren’t big, but 10 seems like an awful lot of bananas for two people. We walked past the preserves guy and he let us try some Moroccan figs, and natural almonds. Oh man, we just had to buy some! They sure are good salesmen at this souk. We walked past another spice man, and asked if he sold salt. A man buying spices told us we would be better off just going to a grocery store and buying a bag of saltfor 10dh. We thanked him for the advice and chatted with him a bit. He is Berber, from the mountains, and comes in every week for the souk with his friend. He insisted we come to their table. We did. His friend, an old, weathered mountain man, makes rings out of Euro coins and cedar wood. They were stunning pieces of jewellery. We asked how long it takes to drive in from the mountains. The men laughed. “It takes one day on the camel…”We laughed too. We explained to the old man we did not want to buy anything. He assured us that he was just happy to have met us, two young Canadians. He thanked us for saying hello and gave us a gracious welcome to Morocco.

I took to my spreadsheet, the beautiful one I made to keep track of our day-to-day spending (I call myself a highly organized cheapskate), input all the spending we did at the souk today, and took a look at the total. We spent 47dh, which is about €4.19, which is about $6.34 CAD. For all those veggies, fruits, eggs, and preserves, not to mention a kilo of bananas. My goodness. I do LOVE the Sunday souk!

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Update: We ate the entire kilo of bananas in three days.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Morocco

We walked along the beach towards the walled medina of Essaouira, We passed camels on the way and it reminded me I’m in Africa……! The sunset this evening was just breathtaking. To be honest, the first few days adjusting to living van life and to traveling in Morocco in general, have been difficult! A sunset like this helped me realize it will soon all settle into place. We arrived to the medina, and began looking for a place to eat. We walked by a place with a big, busy patio. All the chairs were facing the street, as if it were a stage playing an unmissable show. Here, the show was a pair of musicians, busking across the path, and the people stopping to watch. This patio really did have the ultimate people watching set up. We took a seat and ordered our meal. I had a tagine with Kefta and an egg. Kefta is ground lamb and spices. It was served with bread, so I just made it into a really decadent sandwich. The music was great! The people watching was superb. We sat after dinner for a while, enjoying our tea and coffee, and the beautiful evening. Also, we have no idea what to do this evening. Gah! It’s New Year’s Eve!

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We ended up at a party on a rooftop terrace. It was right on the main street, above the restaurant we ate dinner at. It cost 150dh to enter ($20 CAD), but then we could trade your tickets in for alcoholic drinks (a rarity in Morocco)! We walked up the steps to the terrace and man, this place was cool! There were stairs everywhere leading to a second level, and a kind of courtyard dance floor in the middle. There was a stage set up and on it were musicians playing music, and traditional Moroccan dancers dancing along. It was so fun! We bought a bottle of wine and went upstairs where we could enjoy the show and our drinks.

There were lots of tourists at this party. And lots of locals too. It was a fun mixed bag. We danced a bit, drank our wine, and enjoyed the show. A man came over, obviously a paid party promoter or something, took my wine glass out of my hand and handed it to Michael. He then dragged me onto the dance floor and made me dance with the other poor tourists. I laughed, of course, Michael took pictures, of course, and when the song changed, I left the stage to return to Michael and my wine. We laughed about it. Then the man came back and tried to drag me up again. I resisted. He told us to live in the moment, that this is the last moment of 2017, so we must enjoy it. This moment will never happen again, so enjoy this moment, have fun together. I smiled and told him, “we are, we were, leave us be!” He smiled and moved on to another group of tourists. How do you expect me to live in the moment if you keep telling me to live in the moment?! We chatted with some guys standing nearby as a new performer took the stage. The guys were from Switzerland and come to Morocco every year on a surf trip. They gave Michael some tips, where the best breaks are, how to get there, and which beaches to avoid. It was great!

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The new performer was a woman whose look screamed, “DIVA!” Her hair was huge and curly, her dress was short and hugged her body, and she talked to us like we were her biggest fans. Dang, that diva could sing too. We danced a bit, and drank our last drink. A man went up on stage between songs and whispered to the diva. She looked at the time and nodded. I looked at my phone and realized it was only one minute to midnight! Gah!

All of a sudden, she began counting, “ONE…” Wait, what? I looked at Michael. He looked as puzzled as me. We looked at the Swiss guys, they too looked confused. In fact, I looked at the faces of all the nearby tourists and they all looked just baffled. “TWO!…. THREE!… FOUR!!!… HAPPY NEW YEARS!” What?! In Canada, we count down to New Years…? I looked at my phone, sure enough, it was midnight! 2018!!! We laughed. I grabbed Michael Quick, world adventurer and van lifer extraordinaire, and gave him a big, romantic, New Years kiss. I love this man. I love this life. Happy New Year, world!

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Van Life

So, we bought a van….

The van is named Vinnie, it is a 1997 Ford Transit. Vinnie may not be much to look at on the outside, but this van does exactly what we need it to do.

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We have a solar panel on the roof to power all our gadgets. We have a gas stove with two burners, built right into the countertop. We have running water with a pump powered by the solar. We have a bed that is cozy, with a big duvet and too many pillows to know what to do with. Our bed slides up and converts into a sectional-style couch that wraps around a table that folds out from the wall. We have enough storage space in the back for two folding bikes, a table, two chairs, and all of our tools. And of course, we have fairy lights. That being said, the van is a never-ending project. I learned to sew in order to sew our blue drapes (pictured further below), we just finished building a beautiful new box over the wheel well out of a few pallets we found in an alley, and we rigged our new surf board to hang from the ceiling!

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Van life is amazing. We drove through France and did the France Passion program (read about France Passion here!), we drove through the north of Spain (read ten things to do in the north of Spain here!). We have stayed in campgrounds, on farms, in the parking lots of trailheads. My favourite though, is finding a parking lot by the beach, out of the cities. We wake up with the beach to ourselves. We can open the back doors, and enjoy our coffee looking out over a perfect ocean.

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When we just can’t find a sneaky camping spot by the beach, we use two applications on our iPhones; Camper Contact and Caramaps. These apps show us campervan parking spots where we can stay the night, and service stops for when we need to fill up with clean water, drain our waste water, or even where we can do laundry if we need it.

 

Here’s some info about driving in Germany:

If you are going to drive in Germany for longer than 6 months, or anytime after 6 months of being there, you need a German driver’s licence OR an EU driver’s licence. If you are from Canada, your International Driver’s Permit, will NOT cut it. You have to have a German one. To get this, you go to the Bürgeramt (same place you register your address), and apply. They take a photocopy of your Canadian licence and your passport. You can’t pay cash, you must pay from a German bank account! Maybe bring a German friend who can speak for you and use their card to pay. Otherwise, expect to speak German at the desk.

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We bought our van in Germany, and brought it to Berlin to be registered. We are registered in Berlin, and would have to register the car there too (for information about visas and registrations in Berlin, check this article here). In Berlin, it takes 3 weeks to register a vehicle and be able to drive it, so we left. We drove to Bavaria. We registered a new address there, and were able to register our van there too. We needed a German bank account to do so, for the taxes of driving a car come off your account automatically every month.

As Canadians we required International Driver’s Permits to drive in Spain. No other country required it as far as we know.

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Living in a van with your partner is an our of this world rewarding challenge and the trials and tribulations that we have faced and overcome have only made our love for each other and our love for van life stronger. Stay tuned for more stories and updates as we continue to drive the van to Morocco!

And as always, if you have questions or concerns, comment below or send me a message!

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Driving through France with “France Passion”

There we were, in Germany, with our newly purchased campervan, Vinnie the Van, trying to figure out the quickest, and most beautiful way to get to the north of Spain. We knew we would have to drive through France, but we couldn’t decide which way to take — do we just speed through the country on the highways, or do we take the scenic route past Switzerland and down the south of France? Well, all the super fast highways in France are tolled, the degree to which is astronomical (we paid €27 for driving 200km!*), and driving past Switzerland and through the Alps along those winding mountain roads in a 1997 Ford Transit didn’t sound like my idea of a good time.

That’s when we discovered a third option — France Passion! France Passion is a program that’s been running for 25 years. Members are able to stay for free with farmers across the country. There are thousands of farmers taking part in the program. We purchased our year-long membership for €25, and it gave us access to an online guidebook that allowed us to plan our route according to length of the drive in between, and the kind of produce they made. It was the best way we could have imagined to get across France (I proudly say this without any sort of compensation from the company).

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One of the “Golden Rules” of France Passion is that campers are not obligated to buy anything from the farm, but really, how could we not? What’s a few euros for a fresh snack from those who made it, especially when you aren’t paying for accommodation? France Passion is the ultimate cheapskate solution. As I mentioned, we mapped out our trip based on the food and goods we wanted to buy, so it wasn’t even a question if we would buy anything. We began our stops with Beaujolais wine (€12 for two bottles), enjoyed some charcuterie in Montregard (€4 for jar), and then followed the Route des Fromages (yes that’s a real thing!) to a farm that made the most delicious cheeses (€7 for two blocks!). We decided to try something new and drove to a fois gras farm (€10/ tin), and then finished our trip with a private vineyard tour of a winery in Bordeaux (€13 for two bottles).

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If you are driving across France, in an RV or campervan, the average cost of a campground is €20-€25. Do yourself a flavour (haha!) and sign up for France Passion. For the same cost, you can stay for free at thousands of farms around France, and taste the sweet, sweet goods from the farmers themselves.

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*Not only did we pay €27 for about two and a half hours of highway driving, but also, the highways are not picturesque, and the gas prices are crazy high! When we switched to toll-free driving using Google Maps, we saw way more of the countryside, drove past beautiful little villages and towns, and paid a solid €0.25/Litre LESS for fuel. Take it from a cheapskate, unless you are desperate to make it through France in a day or two, avoid those toll roads, they just aren’t worth it!

Hiking through the Black Forest, Germany

In the south westernmost part of Germany, cornered by France and Switzerland, is the Schwartzwäld — the Black Forest — land of fairies, gnomes, and cake! As a kid, the only Black Forest I knew was Black Forest ham, so I knew we were going into good territory. The Black Forest hassome of the longest hiking and cycling trails in Europe. We knew no matter which one we chose, we’d be in for a pleasant wander through a magical forest. We chose the Feldberg Steig, a hike around the Feldberg, the tallest point in the Black Forest. We woke up at a decent time, ate some delicious cured Black Forest ham for breakfast, and were off!

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We arrived at Feldberger Hof, at the base of the gondola whisking people to the top but instead of forking out the cash for the easy way up, we walked. The Black Forest really is magical, especially in autumn. All the changing leaves adds a level of beauty you might not see in the summer. From the hikes we have done in Europe (You can read about them here, here, and here), we’ve learned that you don’t really need to pack trail snacks because there are hüttes all along the way, serving hot meals and beer. We, total cheapskates, brought sandwiches and oranges from home.

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We continued the walk along more beautiful forest trails, beside babbling brooks, and mossy greens. I saw so many mushrooms, and wished I knew how to tell the poisonous ones from the edible ones (note to self, there’s gotta be an app for that!). We walked along the Feldsee, a beautiful, clear lake in the shadow of the Feldberg, surrounded by green, orange, and red trees.

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Our 14km hike finally came to an end with a steady climb uphill for the last 2km. When we arrived back at Feldberger Hof, we were a bit sweaty, walking on legs made of jelly. Walking back to the van, we passed a cafe advertizing Black Forest cake! How could we not? Black Forest ham for breakfast, a walk around the Black Forest all day, and a slice of Black Forest cake for dessert. Like I said, it’s pretty magical here.

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Drinking Beer at Oktoberfest!

This morning we woke up, ready for Oktoberfest! We made ourselves a hearty breakfast, knowing full well the main activity of Oktoberfest is drinking beer, and got ourselves ready for the day. I donned my bright red dirndl, a traditional Bavarian dress, Michael donned his lederhosen, basically a pair of leather shorts, and we walked to the train station. After about half an hour on a train filled with people wearing everyday clothes and not lederhosen or a dirndl, we finally arrived at the square. Oktoberfest is just a huge fair. There are rides, fair games, and big food stands. What makes this fair different than others though, are the HUGE tents, lined end to end with table and benches, in which the only size beer you can order is one litre. We chose the Augustiner Brau tent first for we heard from a Bavarian local that it’s the best beer.

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The woman who brought our beer to us was all kinds of Oktoberfest — frills and lace, tumbling cleavage, and forearms like hamhocks, carrying four, sometimes five litres of beer in each hand! Michael and I cheers’ed each other, and the other folks at our table, and drank up. People around us sang songs and danced dances that looked so silly to us, still sober folk. We just laughed and watched everyone have a good time.

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We head to another tent after we finished our first beers. On the way, we passed a stand that sold cookies. This is a weird Oktoberfest tradition, actually. It’s a gingerbread looking cookie that is in the shape of a heart, has some icing sentence written across it, and is worn around the neck. Some are small, the size of my palm, some are medium, the size of my face, and some are HUGE, bigger than my face! I had to buy one! It said something along the lines of “a sweet for a sweet,” which I thought was damn cute.

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Our second beer was enjoyed in the Löwenbrau tent at a table with a drunk American, a drunk British couple, and a few drunk Aussies. That second beer went down way easier than the first. Dang. We ordered our third beer. Things got a bit blurry now. All of a sudden, the silly songs and drunk people became our favourite drinking sing-a-longs, and our best friends. We sang Ain Prosit, a Bavarian drinking song that translates to something about good fortune (I think), and for some reason that song that goes, “Heyyyyyy, hey baby! HOO! HA! I wanna kno-o-o-o-o-o-ow if you’ll be my girl!” Apparently it’s a favourite sing-a-long song at Oktoberfest?

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I finally ate the cookie around my neck. It was horrible. It wasn’t even a cookie. I would say it was kind of like a dense bread. Or like a gingerbread cookie with no ginger flavour or sugar. Or like a really thick piece of cardboard with an icing sentence written across it. It really was horrible. I shared it with everyone at the table. They were thankful until they took a bite and realized why I was sharing. We were drunk. I guess three litres of beer is my limit. We said farewell to our new friends and hit the road. We were on the train and arrived home before ten. I do love an early night. Off with the dirndl, off with the lederhosen. You know, I’ll never forget my first time at Oktoberfest, except for the parts I just can’t remember…

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At La Tomatina, in Buñol, Spain.

Have you ever been in a food fight? Someone throws a spoonful of peas at someone sitting cross the table and then total chaos erupts in the school cafeteria leaving you wondering, “who the heck is going to clean that up?” At least that’s what happens in movies. Ladies and gentlemen, I, Beth, of Where the F is Beth, have never been in a food fight! I felt like I needed to check it off my never ending to do list, but I wasn’t going to settle for a spoonful of measly peas. When I do something, I like to do the best, the biggest, the MOST ridiculous. So, I journeyed to the small village of Buñol, Spain and took part in the world’s biggest food fight — La Tomatina.

Our day began at the crack of dawn. We were instructed to be at the Plaza de Tetuan at 6am, at which time the busses would leave and whisk us to Buñol! The bus ride was fast and easy, and when we arrived, we joined hoards of other busses. They say 22,000 people attend this festival, that’s a lot of busses! The crowd wandered through the village and down the hill, to the old town. We walked past the street where the fight would take place and saw that all the locals had covered their houses and balconies in tarps. To get us ready for the fight, Festivals All Around had a big pre-party with free sangria and live music.

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After a few drinks in our bellies, we left the party and walked to where some of the festivities had begun. As we walked, the locals sprayed us with water! Water dumped off balconies, hoses sticking through the holes in the tarps and men on the streets, splashing buckets of water at us! The first part of La Tomatina is when the attendees try to climb a huge pole covered in grease, and snatch the jamón (ham) from the top. We stood in the crowd and watched as multiple soaking wet, sangria drunk men and women clambered on top of each other for their chance at La Tomatina glory. They say the tomato fight doesn’t begin until the jamón is claimed, but while we stood there and watched attempt after failed attempt, a local nearby said nobody has reached it in five years. We left the crowd and moved back up to the skinny street where the tomato trucks would be driving through.

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Finally, we heard a truck horn! They’re coming! The tomatoes are coming! The trucks drove down the dangerously skinny streets and we were pushed up right against the tarps to allow them to pass. I reached into my fanny pack and took out my swim goggles. I’m ready. People stood in the backs of the trucks, throwing tomatoes down on to the streets. Chaos ensued. Pick up a tomato, squish the tomato in your hand, throw the tomato at a total stranger, repeat…until the next truck blares its horn, drives around the corner, and empties its contents onto the street. Six trucks went by. I think. Maybe seven. It’s all a blur — tomatoes flying past me, pulp showering me from all sides. The fight continued for an hour. I didn’t stop laughing for a second.

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The streets ran red with tomato juice. I stood ankle deep in the mush. Tomato puree dripped off my head, into my ears, down my back, and into unmentionable places. My throat hurt from being pelted with an unripe tomato, my knees hurt from falling onto the tomato-wet pavement, my face hurt from smiling too much. Best. Day. Ever.

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