Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bonfire Night Lewes Brighton

I came to Brighton, England to meet up with my English girlfriends who I had met in Peru two years ago and if you an avid reader of my blog and a long time follower you will remember the many adventures we got ourselves into, in Peru and Bolivia. The three of them ten years younger followed older wiser traveller me. Little did they know even though I was an intrepid traveller a lot of it comes down to fluke, timing, spontaneity, flexibility and the people you meet. I’m not much for planning or keeping to a plan but I made decisions, went with my gut and they trusted me. However this time around it was different I was the foreigner in their land and they were now the leaders.

I arrived to Brighton at night after a long bus ride that would have only taken 45min on the train and a lot cheaper but I couldn’t commit to a return date. The girls and I caught up with cups of tea (soooo English!). It was just like two years ago when we first met, I really didn’t know them so well but we connected then and have kept in contact. That night I was thrown right into English Uni life (I had them all fooled they thought I was 20! Wa ha ha!). We stayed up until 7:00am partying and dancing on some poor kid’s bed and then crashed till the afternoon. I met a lot of Sasha’s (English girl number 1) really lovely friends and we all arranged to meet the next day to go to Lewes for Bonfire night (Guy Fawkes)

Lewes is the most famous place in the UK for Bonfire night and has the largest celebration. There are seven bonfire societies that participate in the processions and put on the bonfires. Now these aren’t your regular roast your marshmallows on the fire bonfire. The wood piles are as big as a house. There are seven different bonfires in different parts of the city and seven sets of fireworks displays. The last one of the night is the free one and the one in which we were attending.All the processions are free and can be seen on the main street in the village. We had tried to get there early but even at 4:00pm there was a huge crowd on the streets. We had a big group with us which wasn’t good in this situation; you could very easily lose people. The night was cold but at least it wasn’t raining. There were street vendors

set up everywhere selling typical
English street fair: Curries, Pork on a bun, soup, jacket potatoes and warm beverages. I was starving so I decided to get some Indian food but while I was waiting the process
ions started and my group ran away. The couple serving me were still waiting for a few items to put in my mix bag, George and Americo, two of our group members were yelling at me as everyone took off. I eventually told them to forget it, threw money at them and took the food I had. With bits of samosa running down my arm I watched as people dressed in traditional garb carried flaming crosses, torches, barrels of fire and set off fire crackers. Flaming floats went past and from a distance the entire village looked like it was on fire. It was incredible! Processions from the different societies went past us and fire crackers going in every direction followed behind. In my mind this seemed highly dangerous but that was part of the fun!

The bonfire itself was held in a big open field, a huge pile of wood was in the centre and a rope cut us off from getting remotely close. We froze for what seemed like hours waiting for the fire to be set and the fireworks display to go off. We were at the last bonfire of the night cutting it very close to the last train of the night.

Before the damp cold took completely over huge strange looking floats in the shape of people came through the crowd, one looked like it was a woman riding a man. I'm still not sure the significance it seemed inappropriately erotic. Then came the bonfire society with their torches and barrels of fire in which they

lit the floats and the bonfire. As the woman riding the man burned to the ground fireworks set off in the air. It was an incredible display of fireworks and I have seen many throughout my travels but this one rivals any. Especially since George (one of our group members) told me it was going to be shit.

As soon as the last explosion erupted in the air and trickled down to the ground we were off and it was a race against time. The crowds were moving out and we were all running. We had to get that last train back to Brighton as it stood we could have

already missed it. I was so out of shape huffing and puffing behind the fit 20 year olds, if they didn’t think I was old, then they would now. We were slowly dropping group members some lagged behind and some ran for the bus. There was a huge crowd around the bus and in a split second we had to make the decision to try for it or continue running for the train. We rushed on; Americo, George and Sasha were way ahead of me and Shiloh. I could barely run and I was out of breath but I pushed on. We caught up and found ourselves at a dead end. I realized my group didn’t really know where the station was. Why the heck were we running if we had no idea where we were going? The group asked directions and we were off again running. We came back through the village where the processions were still continuing but more of a tangled aftermath of processions. There was fire everywhere and fire crackers going

off. It felt like a war zone. I got a burst of energy and zipped through the people carrying torches but something caught my foot and I went flying. I skidded across the ground through burnt out fire crackers and rubbish as I landed I looked up to see a crowd of people looking at me and in the same second a woman ran through the street yelling, “he’s got my wallet, he’s got my wallet!” holding a stick in her hand. I got up and started running again. Shiloh was beside me and it was him who accidentally tripped me. We caught up with the others and made it to the train station where there was a huge queue of people pushing and shoving to get on the train. As the line moved and shoved we lost more of our group be it was every man for themselves we continued with the mob and squeezed our way onto the train. We had made it, we had saved 2.50pounds. That’s right I found out we could have just hopped on

the bus like the others did and gotten back to Brighton but instead they wanted to save two pound fifty. It sounds absolutely ridiculous but it’s wonderful.

It was an adrenaline pumping adventure the kind you only have when you are a poor student or a poor traveler. I wasn’t traveling this time as a poor traveller but I had for many years and I admired these kids for it. Plus they brought that type of adventure back to me. The adventure you have when you are fighting against principle and budget.

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