When I was both young and restless, before I had young of my own, I would backpack all over South East Asia.
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Some of my favourite places to visit were Thailand’s islands, and one of my favourite events was the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach, Koh Phangan; an island a little further out to sea than the more widely known Koh Samui.
The Full Moon Party is a melting pot of travellers from all over the world who intentionally make the pilgrimage there for it, not just happen upon it.
Among them are people who dance with fire. Not hired or paid performers, they were just backpackers partying on the beach, just like I was all those years ago — only with a mesmerising talent I myself did not possess.
I sat captivated for hours on the sand watching these dancers work the fire, creating beautiful flaming patterns contrasting starkly against the night sky, with such careful choreography and control.
It’s the first memory that has come to mind any time someone has mentioned the Full Moon Party in the past 20 years. Fire dancing.
But, aside from circuses, I’ve not seen much fire play since, so you can imagine my excitement when last weekend’s Flamefest in Benalla popped up on my social media as a suggested event.
I bought tickets for myself and the kids almost immediately, even though it was still a couple of months out.
At around 35 bucks for the whole family, they were so cheap it wouldn’t have mattered if something had come up and we couldn’t use them.
As it turned out, nothing came up, but when we woke on Saturday, plenty of rain was coming down, which kept revisiting throughout the morning and afternoon, so we left it until much later than originally planned to head out of town.
Judging by the hour-long waits (no exaggeration) in line at the food vendors when we arrived, I think most people had the same idea!
Because of that I feel like we missed a bunch of the entertainment on offer — including the BMX stunt displays and the main fire shows on the horse-racing track — so I’d love to see more food trucks to cater to such a huge crowd if this becomes a recurring event.
After a deliciously satisfying food truck feed, we did get up close and personal with those mystical firebenders we’d come to see, who were periodically putting on shows throughout the night.
They performed at ground-level, close enough to touch, swinging and twirling their fire sticks with an innate accuracy that must only come after countless hours of practice.
Kids watched open-mouthed, gasping at technical tricks executed with precision and reeling backwards when fire swung precariously close in their direction.
It was a freezing cold night, fog rolling about, wet asphalt and grassed areas that had turned to mud under foot, but watching fire glow and flicker distracts one from all of that.
Whether you can feel the heat from it or not, the illusion is that it’s warming just to look at anyway.
Another roving performer we came across as we wandered around the festival was swallowing fire. She dipped her hollow batons (which looked like long sticks with marshmallows on the end) into a jerry can, which she told the crowd was not filled with petrol or kerosene, but that she was not going to divulge the secrets of the trade.
Whatever they use, it’s highly flammable, so watching her suck the fire through the batons or extinguish the flames from the bulbous end of them with her mouth was another level of wonder for me.
It’s a remarkably breathtaking act to watch, but probably (definitely) not something you want the kids to try at home.
By that stage no amount of standing by a fire drum or watching flickering flames could penetrate the cold that had set into our bones, so we made our way back to the car via the big screen, just in time to see the Matildas win.
Turns out lots of things were on fire that night.