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Monday, 24th November 2014

Love Hope Strength: A night of exotic oddities

SAN DIEGO – I received a somewhat cryptic email saying that Love Hope Strength (LHS)  would like to invite me to a night of culinary oddities, exotic beasts and enigmatic strangers. They plan to transform an empty warehouse into a market inspired soiree guaranteed to test the wits and tempt senses of the attendees. The invitation also said that there will be live music, unexpected encounters and complimentary Dos Equis. An invite from a stranger about an event I know nothing about? I’m in!

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After I sent Ana’s and my RSVP, I  received further instructions. Location and entry information were only released to confirmed guests. We put the address on the navigation and eagerly drove to see what adventure awaited us. When we passed by the block, we saw a line forming in front of Block No. 16 and deduced that that must be the location of the “secret” bazaar.

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We arrived with our neon-colored clothes and wondered why the other attendees were all wearing black. I read the invite again and it said “bright colored clothing – strongly discouraged”. I totally misread it!!! It was too late to go change and after all, the party must go on.

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After getting stamped, we were given cards and were told to always keep them on hand throughout the night. We realized that each card was different when we caught a glance of the cards of the other attendees, ours said “Exotic Wildlife”. There were only a few people that were wandering around the two bars, so we decided to grab Dos Equis beers and explore.

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

There’s a band set-up on stage and a dancer on the second floor walkway above the bar. On the left, there’s an entrance to a small room with a smaller bar and a food cart. The food offering in this cart was Duck Tongue Tacos. We grabbed two and settled next to the bar to get ready for this first taste. We hesitatingly ate the tacos.  They were a tad slimy for our taste buds. “We’re not eating those again!”, we said in unison.

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

On top of the counter of the small bar, there were forms and pamphlets for bone marrow donations. Thousands of patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases need these transplants. The odds are 1 in 20,000 of identifying an unrelated compatible bone marrow donor. For patients of minority heritage, it is even higher.

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Photo by: Ana Pines

After talking to the bone marrow donation representative, we went back to the main area bar and settled in one of the booths. I’m not really fond of conversations about blood and surgery so it made me cringe a lot and, to be honest, a little dizzy. While we were talking, a few more people sat in our booth. I placed my card (the one we received when we entered the warehouse), on top of the table while we chatted away. This guy started lingering next to me. I thought he was just resting or maybe waiting for someone but he grabbed my card. He then pointed at it. I thought for sure he was doing a magic trick. So I stared at the card. But nothing happened. I was confused and asked him what he’s trying to tell me.

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Photo by: Ana Pines

He introduced himself as “The Disruptor”. He asked me why I don’t have any punches on my card. I replied that I didn’t know that it had to be punched. He said, “Why are you doing what you can do at home when you can explore?”. I agreed and asked how and where to get the card punched. “You must look at everything. Explore. When you get all four punches, I will take you to a new level”, he replied and bid us goodbye. I told the group that joined us what “The Disruptor” said and we went to explore.

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Photo by: Ana Pines

Of course, the Duck Tongue cart was one of the places that we could get our cards punched. I grabbed another taco and was going to force myself to eat it again. But Ana and I just looked at each other and I sneakily threw it out. Yuck! Just could not bear to taste the sliminess again. If only the hole puncher guy had been there the first time!

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Photo by: Ana Pines

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

We passed by the bone marrow donation area again and realized there’s a small hallway on the left side of it that led us to a back area. There were a lot more people there, exploring three carts, a tent and another bar. Ana found the second “clue”. We had to touch a HUGE snake that wrapped around this woman’s body. I can’t say that seeing a snake is one of my biggest fears but I definitely will run away if I see one on a hiking trail. Ana is braver than I am, she caressed its scaly body. I touched it with the tip of my pinky and nearly ran away.

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Photo by: Ana Pines

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

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Photo by: Ana Pines

The next one we tried was Bánh mì. It was spicy and delicious. I’m a little confused why this was considered an “exotic” treat because we’ve eaten these sandwiches often at Vietnamese Restaurants. I walked away after I grabbed my sandwich and the woman gave Ana a piece of paper with “About the Boy” handwritten on it. She told her that she had to find “The Regular”. After we ate our Bánh mì’s, we waited in line for the next cart.

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

Little did we know, we were about to eat cricket tacos. We were having too much fun waiting that it felt almost too soon when we got to the front. I actually didn’t even know the tacos were made of crickets. I took a photo of Ana’s food. “How am I supposed to eat this now that I’ve seen it”, she exclaimed after she saw the photograph on my phone. I didn’t look at the photo, grabbed hot sauce, poured it all over the taco and just ate the whole thing without thought. It was crunchy. For some reason, it reminded me of pork rinds. I glanced at the photo afterwards and all of a sudden I felt something stuck in my throat. Was it the wings of the crickets?! Holy crap! I grabbed a Dos Equis and rinsed my mouth. Thinking about it now, I still feel that feeling of their tiny  wings stuck in my throat.

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

Our next stop was a large tent which we thought the lady with the crystal ball was in.  We were supposed to go see her after we received four punches. When we entered, they told us to look through rectangular holes and handed us wireless headphones. We had to share one hole because the other ones that were available were too high for us. There was a woman inside walking around. She was wearing white lingerie that glittered in the light. She also had a pair of white wings that she used during  part of her performance. It kind of reminded me of Victoria Secret models when they walk down the runway with their wings. It was an interesting performance art with catchy music played through the headphones.

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Photo by: Ana Pines

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Photo by: Kim Rescate

After we managed to find our way out of the tent, we started looking for either “The Regular” or the woman with the crystal ball. For some reason, we thought she’d be walking around carrying a ball. When we reached the main bar near the front entrance, we noticed a woman in the corner with a crystal ball on a table. We found her! There was a short line so we decided to wait instead of looking for “The Regular”. We were able to watch the band, grab some drinks, and had a couple of lollipops with insects in them.

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Photo by: Ana Pines

What looked like a short line took forever. We saw the woman with the crystal ball grab a couple of women and disappeared into the crowd. The line did not move at all. We waited for nearly half an hour. Even though there were only three people in front of us we decided to cut our loses and just go to the bar area to watch the band. They had interesting takes on cover songs. We enjoyed watching them for a bit then we called it a night. When we were leaving we saw the people waiting for the woman with the crystal ball leave the line.. She just left without telling those people that it was over. Messed up!

We loved the experience. We look forward to more “secret” adventures. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing”.

Love Hope Strength (LHS) is an international, music-centric cancer charity dedicated to saving lives one concert at a time. Their mission is to save lives, right now, with the advances that have already been made in cancer care. To learn more about LHS, visit lovehopestrength.org.

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