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Our Guelaguetza competition winner jets off to Mexico

Those of you who have been reading our blog over the last few months will have seen the competition that we ran to send one festival loving author to Mexico to report back on the Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca. Last month we chose a winner and right now Mark Weir, is getting stuck into a few tacos and (hopefully) donning an elaborate headdress whilst joining the carnival atmosphere as the parade winds through the streets.

This is not Mark Weir

We had loads of entries in the competition and were truly impressed with the quality of the reports we received. It made it really difficult to choose a winner, but it was Mark’s descriptive style and ability to get himself into and out of various scrapes whilst exploring the back end of the Czech Republic that singled him out as a man who should be jumping on that plane to Mexico. Have a look and let us know what you think:

Language, lyrics and getting lost at the ‘Rock for People’ music festival in the Czech Republic.
By Mark Weir

It’s tough asking for directions when you can’t pronounce the destination. ‘Hradec Kralové’ may look like a sorcerer’s spell in JK Rowling’s book of magic, but here, on the outskirts of Prague, it’s a name on a bus that I need to catch. 6 months of German lessons at Uni and a handful of friends from the Czech Republic haven’t given me the ability to wrap my western tongue around that eastern dialect. The girl behind the counter of the tiny coffee shop looks at me disconsolately and probably mutters the same word that I use many times when stuck behind people on escalators in London – tourist.

Good detective work saves the day though, as I figure out that following people with backpacks, Muse t-shirts and sleeping bags will get me to the bus on time. We’re off to ‘Rock for People’, the Czech Republic’s best musical celebration. And like any foreign festival it seems to be living up to the expectations we always have when venturing abroad for a musical experience. It’s scorchingly hot. Anything with the shadow profile larger than a VW Golf has huddled masses of bodies cowering from the sun’s rays. It’s cheap, as I spend five euros for three nights camping, and grab a pint of beer for a single euro. And it feels exotic, foreign, a world apart from being stuck in traffic on the M6. This is a festival erected in the remnants of an abandoned Soviet airfield. Pitching your tent next to a rusted helicopter before seeing bands perform in converted bunkers certainly doesn’t say ‘Clapham Common.’

I do feel slightly guilty though. Usually when travelling to another country I learn at least a few phrases. A polite ‘hello’, a casual ‘your football team is rubbish.’ Anything to avoid behaving like that American tourist who marches up to the locals and starts bellowing in English about the price of gas. But here, I feel I can get away with it. Seeing a local gypsy act bounce energetically around the stage to a packed house isn’t diminished by the fact that I have no idea what they’re talking about. That death metal band that has me banging heads with the locals can’t really be accused of singing in any language at all. Music transcends the boundaries, making friends of everyone. Or at least until The Prodigy comes out onto the main stage and begins clubbing people about the head with beats.

It’s quite a beautiful feeling. That you can still experience a foreign land without having to download an app for it, surviving on a big smile, a polite nod and plenty of hand gestures instead. It’s humbling too, wandering from stage to stage like a mute, relying on the patience of others, the fortune of getting someone at the bar who takes the time to talk in broken English. I’ll return again soon, Hradec Kralové. You won’t be any easier to pronounce, but at least I’ll know where to find you.

Watch out for more of Mark’s writing coming your way as he takes up the position of our roving reporter telling us all about his trip to Oaxaca in the next edition of OLA LONDON, which will be ready for you to ogle at in October.

Thanks once again to The Mexican and Oaxacan Tourist Board, British Airways and Hostal de la Noria for helping us send Mark to Mexico.