My final days in Holland arrived with the relentless speed of a Dutch train. Like everyone else I was caught, swept up in the temporal momentum and chaos of exams, last minute guests and goodbyes. What had I taken from this time? Would I ever be back to this cycle-mad place? Answers fell by the wayside as the days slipped away and then I was off for one last bike to the station, sweating under the heat of a continental sun and the sum total of my possessions.
We locked our bikes at the station and hid the keys. At the time I was hopeful my friend Adam would be able to follow my instructions to the rusting treasure but by the time he arrived they were gone, just two more victims in the junkies’ ruthless war against bike locks and property rights.
It was strange to be leaving though. For all the thoughts of transience that haunted the early days I was now faced with their converse. Shallow social experiences had been replaced by genuine friendships and the early feelings of exclusion seemed at odds with my current familiarity. For all the days of shitty rain, solitude and depression there had been equally extreme highs and I bid Utrecht farewell with a genuine melancholy. It seems as if this is one of the tragedies of perception – that you are never able to properly appreciate something until it is absent.
As we sped away from Utrecht the green pastures eventually gave way to the first semblance of a hill. We changed trains at the Belgian border, swapping the efficient blue and yellow NS for a run down carriage with open windows. Our destination for this first day back on the road was Werchter, a small town in the Flemish region of Belgium and home to Rock Werchter, one of Europe’s largest music festivals.
The sheer size of the festival meant the bus dropped us miles away and Redbeard and I tromped in with the crowd, clueless as to if we were in the right place. It was spectacularly hot and we moved slowly, not yet used to the weight of our packs. By the time we finally found a camp spot amongst the chaos of seventy thousand people arriving we were well and truly over it.
It had taken us far longer than we had expected and we hurried to throw the tents up, arriving at the actual venue just in time to raise one to Cypress Hill. Things were back on track.
In the following four days we experienced all the usual festival carnage, but with a few twists unique to the Belgian battlers. While generally restrained and content sipping plastic cups of beer, the crowd near the front was prone to bouts of unhinged hysteria. Group of glassy eyed friends (boys mostly) formed circles and pushed out into the crowd, creating intimidating vacuums of dead space. These legendary crop circles cried out for people and when the bass inevitably dropped they exploded with a maelstrom of elbows and head banging, the physical contact providing a literal kick to the bass’s visceral punch.
Despite the fury of these dubstep death circles there was a pleasant lack of aggression, and this, with the huge numbers watching made for some incredible performances as The XX, RHCP, Die Antwoord and countless others turned it on.
On the second night we mistimed Chase and Status’ set and consequently found ourselves high as fuck with no more bass to placate the pulsing energy of our Dutch-bought ecstasy. Not to worry though, because it turned out that Belgians weren’t that fond of sleep either. Their standard response to the evening’s final act was to gather all the rubbish into piles, then lighting these testaments to consumption they would stand in chanting circles throwing other bits of rubbish through the air. Fair.
This wasn’t a one-off event, and every night there were a myriad of different sized fires. At one stage we stumbled upon a large game of what can only be called “rubbish bag fire skip rope”, where a fuck up earned the participants a good natured shower of flying rubbish and hollers. Not a bad way to round out your evening, all things considered.
One particularly fun game is to have two fires quite close together and to alternate between them, jeering and throwing rubbish at the poor soul tasked with containing the blazes as he scrambles between the two, probably questioning why the fuck he bothers. Despite the defiance of the pyromaniacs the security guards were incredibly non-confrontational – a trick that seemed to do a good job of placating the sort of excitement that can quickly turn into a riot.
Eventually the fires were all extinguished and the hyped up masses gently herded to the exit. This just moved the chaos to the street and sprawling cities of tents but the focus did shift away from fire.
But the night wasn’t done with us and en route to bed (or more accurately, floor) we bumped into a gang of resiliant Dutch. Equipped with a wheelbarrow full of speaker and brains full of blow they were ready for dawn and we joined their roving party with gusto.
Redbeard made friends with some narcotic loving locals and had a huff on their Nos, his bravado in the face of exhaustion rewarded with what he swore was a trip back in time. I must remember to ask him if he remembers; things were getting a bit hazy at this stage – for all I know we all went back with him.
We fucked around with the wheelbarrow speaker until it was well and truly done, passing out just in time to get properly cooked by the sun and wonder why the fuck we hadn’t got something comfier to sleep on.
After 4 days I was exhausted and the subsequent bus-train-plane-bus-train-taxi mission to Genoa was considerably harder than it needed to be. My joints were aching, my lungs haggard and my liver probably irreparably damaged. Some locals laughed at me for brushing my teeth on the train to the airport but I was well past giving a fuck. I’d only managed one shower two days before and had to settle for a splash in the bathroom sink at the airport. This was, understandably, the low to the festival’s high and I wallowed in it accordingly.
And that was that, Holland left behind but not forgotten and the first festival out of the way. I was on the road again.