The few days spent living in the jungle on the coast near Uvita, Costa Rica was a dream. Envision Festival brought together a group of strangers, and turned them into friends through music, dance, food (and by food, I mean Falafels), and exploration. Bonds were created and solidified as each day passed and plans were made by some to attend a second festival only a few days later near Costa de Pajaros, a few hours north up the coast. As we packed up our lives and made the long trek out of the grounds, we secured a rental car and decided to drive the five hours or so North with a group of six, rather than deal with pubic transportation. As some began to pile into the compact SUV, others used expert packing skills to pack an absurd amount of backpackers gear into the small space in the back of the Toyota. There wasn’t an inch to spare, and we didn’t dare open the rear again for fear of everything bursting out in one fell swoop. Four piled into the back, three in the seats and one squished into the floor, bags piled atop them. The tallest of the crew, Greg, took the passenger seat and I took the drivers, being one of the few who could drive stick. Greg played DJ, Jonah played navigator and the rest took turns napping, laughing, and reminiscing about our incredible time at Envision. We all bubbled with anticipation over the excitement of doing it all over at yet another unique Costa Rican festival.
There was a well known waterfall just a few minutes from the festival grounds that we knew we wanted to check out, so we made a quick little detour and I scrambled us up steep dirt roads, my first time mountain driving with a standard proving only a slight challenge. The waterfall was a $2 entrance fee and worth so much more than that. We made our way down a path into the jungle following the sounds of the waterfall, our ears pricking up as its booming sounds teased our ears, closer and closer. It’s not a huge or overly impressive waterfall, but she held another secret: you could slide down the waterfall into the cool pool below! We all clambered up the path to get to the top of the waterfall and take in the sights around us- the thick, lush green jungle closing in around us on all sides; the sun peeking through every crack of leaf and tree, splashing her bright light in speckled dots upon the ground; the fresh green blue waters of the perfectly circular pool below, with people scattered on the rocks, sunning themselves like sea lions; the water splashing over the wet cliff face, pounding into the waters below. A few of our brave tribe hiked higher up to a jumping point and made the terrifying plunge of 40 feet into the waiting pool below. The rest of us took turns flying down the waterfall slide, squealing with delight at the speed and adrenalin. It felt glorious to finally clean ourselves in fresh, cool water; to wash days of dust, mud, the salt of the ocean and the salt of our sweat from our tired bodies at last. We lingered as long as we dared in the invigorating waters, basking in the coolness of the shade, savouring the rejuvenating feel of the clean water. But daylight was fading fast and we didn’t want to drive for too long in the dark, so we bade farewell to the revitalizing waterhole, and with smiles plastered on our faces, we piled back into our tight quarters and were on our way.
The drive was beautiful and I was elated to be behind the wheel after so long, cruising through my favorite terrain- mountains on one side, ocean on the other. As night pressed on, and we blew through little tropical towns, we noticed a small carnival set up on the side of the road. The beauty of a road trip is you can stop whenever and wherever you like, for as long as you like- there are no time restraints, no one herding you back on a bus. You can crank your own music as loud as you want, drive as fast or as slow as you want, and stop anytime, anywhere. We all started yelling cries of “Carnival! “Let’s stop!” and “Yay!” at the same time. We pulled over and flew out the vehicle like a group of 8 year olds at a carnival, the bright lights and sounds drawing us in like moths to a flame. We wandered the stalls, touching everything, buying slingshots and churros, and laughing together, feeling on top of the world. We perused the rides and all decided on one that looked like the most fun and bought tickets. The ticketmaster showed us a video of the ride and it looked like a blast. Little did we know how misleading that video was…
The ride was a large enclosed circle with bench style seats all around the inside perimeter of the circle. There were no safety restraints, no seat belts, no bars- nothing at all to hold you in, not even closed in seats. The ride began to spin quickly and we felt ourselves pressed against the seats, and we all began to laugh and scream with delight, thinking we had picked a great ride. After a few moments however, the ride began to buck and jerk wildly with hydraulics, while still spinning. Losing the momentum of the fast spin however, we were no longer pinned to our seats and were left entirely to the mercy of the wild bucking beast of a ride. We all began to bounce 2 feet off of the seats and slam back down, bruising our tail bones. We all grabbed desperately for the back of the seats to hold on for dear life to something. Hysterical laughter immediately ensued as we all clung on, white knuckled. The ride kept bouncing and jerking us this way and that way, and we all began to bounce to one side, crushing Greg who was against the only outjetting of seating. I ended up bouncing clear off the seat and into Greg’s lap and we nearly died of laughter. The bouncing subsided and the ride began to spin quickly again, giving us all a break to catch our breath, and sit back down and scream at each other what madness this was. Before we could get our bearings entirely, the ride began bucking wildly again throwing us all into disarray. I had stupidly brought my wallet on and so only had one had to hold on to the back of the seat with. I was wearing a strapless dress with no bra, which was a mistake as my dress began to fall down in the chaos. I had to make a decision. Let go of my vice like grip that was saving my life and pull my dress up, of flash the other riders. I couldn’t tear my grip off, so I tried to use my arm to cover my now one exposed boob, all the while laughing, partly in fear and disbelief, partly in hysterics. Kajsa and Jonah fell clear off their seats and into the middle of the ride, where they scrambled, terrified, for the other side that they were heading towards with the tilt of the ride. I peeled myself off of Greg’s lap yet again as the spinning subsided. The third time the ride began it’s madness the initial excitement and ludicrousness of the ride had worn off and now we were all feeling a little worried for our lives as our muscles were sore from holding on so tightly for so long and we felt our energy and strength being sapped. Finally the ride ended and we all tumbled off, dizzy and sore with bruises, sore abdomens from laughing, and tears strolling down our cheeks. It was the absolute most terrifying, exhilarating and dangerous ride any of us had ever been on. Clearly the Latin America safety standards were not up to par with what we were all used to. But we survived and were even able to get a hilarious video of the ride, which does not do justice to how insane it was. Click here to watch it!
Feeling a little shakey, but full of adrenalin and laughs, we headed back to the car to finish our journey North to Puntarenas where we would spend two days in a small and stifling hot hotel getting ourselves clean with real showers, real food, and load up on supplies for the next festival. With bags full of fruit, yogurt, waters and bean paste, we piled back in our vehicle after two days rest and made way for Organika, a local first time Costa Rican festival centered around organic, locally sourced food from sustainable farms in the area. The music scene was primarily phsychadelic trance on one stage, chill electronic on another and local live bands on a third stage. But most of us didn’t go for the music this time, we went for the chance to bond with our tribe, meet new people, and for the experience of a local festival. They boasted an array of workshops and yoga, centered around healing with traditional knowledge, which really drew us in. We entered the festival on a Wednesday and didn’t leave until the following Monday, six glorious days in the sweltering hot, and achingly dry jungle.
Upon arrival we found two massive trees and set up our camp beneath them. After setting up camp we went to wander around the grounds and saw that there was still a lot of construction going on; one of the stages wasn’t even erected yet. This festival was clearly running on Costa Rican time! I knew going in to a first time festival that there would be lots of wrinkles to iron out, so I didn’t have high expectations; the cost for 6 days was only $80 anyhow (Envision was $315 for 4 days). The grounds were vast and spread out, allowing for loads of space and no crowding. It was on farmland, with rollings hills, scattered trees and animals. Horses, cows, goats and sheep wandered the grounds freely. On our last night, we awoke to three horses wandering through our camp, their nickering a whinnying waking us from our slumber, feeling like we were still in a dream as we looked out at them grazing next to our tent.
There was one large shaded area set up as the kitchen where all the meals were cooked and you could choose from a small array of dishes each day, all vegetarian (fish was allowed!), organic and wonderfully healthy. From fresh papaya smoothies to fish burgers on gluten free fresh bread, green coffee to fresh fruit, home made yogurt and granola, fresh pressed kale/ginger/apple juice to banana cacao oatmeal parfaits- just to name a few of the wholesome dishes that were served up daily. The food at the festival was incredible, but highly priced and portions were a little on the small side, but knowing that all the products came from close by, were completely organic, and were supporting local families, it made it worthwhile. It’s not often you can go to a festival and have only entirely healthy options for food to choose from- forcing you keep healthy which is important during festivals as you are not getting much sleep, expending huge amounts of energy dancing, and sapping your energy with the sun, ocean swims and workshops. Unfortunately the kitchen would often run out of particular dishes, only having a certain amount of ingredients, so you wanted to get there early to ensure you got first pick.
The workshops were quite disorganized at the festival- they had a schedule but you couldn’t rely on it at all. Sometimes the workshops started at entirely different times than stated on the schedule, or more often than not, the workshops never even took place. This aspect was disappointing, as we were really interested in the workshops and were only able to take part in a few. You practically had to stumble upon the workshops by accident to take part in them. Luckily this didn’t diminish from the festival too much for us as we went in without expectations and were looking only to have a few fun days camping in the jungle with friends.
Each day started at about 7:30am when the sun snuck through the protective branches of our trees and pounded down on our tent, a rude and excruciatingly sweltering wake up call. Crawling, as if woken from the dead, we dragged ourselves from the saunas our tents become within seconds of the sun hitting them and gasp in fresh air from the outside world. Pounding back water, we trek to the compostable outhouses, still half asleep, and then to the showers to drench ourselves, serving both to wake up and cool down for the impending hot day. The weather in this area is more than scorching; the dryness sucks all moisture from you and the air around you, the heat drives under your skin, and under your patience. The only thing to do is to head to the coconut tent, order two chilled coconuts and pound them back, their cool, nourishing, hydrating juices dribbling down our chins as we gulp them down frantically. We order a couple of oranges, peel them and suck back their sweet juices and pulpy goodness, finally feeling alive. Next is the kitchen tent, to order some fresh, revitalizing food and coffee. With a full belly, the only thing left to do is seek out shade. The chill out tea lounge tent offers a perfect spot to lounge while listening to relaxed electronic music and the chance to catch a workshop as they would occasionally host them near this tent.
It was a lazy life those days in the jungle, eating the thick flesh off our coconuts, inhaling oranges, napping in the shade to the soothing sounds of slow electronic music beating in the background. You could wander the grounds, if you dared let yourself venture into the blistering sun. From stage to stage, from kitchen to showers, or wander down to one of the two beaches. You want to swim in the ocean to cool down, but the water is so tepid it’s like crawling into a warm bath on a hot day and doesn’t do much to ease the heat. On the small beach, you could walk out chest deep and if you stood still, small fish would come and nibble at the dead skin on your feet- a slightly ticklish, slightly frightening, but fun experience. People pay for this service elsewhere in the world, but at Organika, it was a gift of nature, free. You could walk along the rocky shore among the trees half submerged in the tide and search for the perfect seashells, as white flowers that smelled of bergamot fell from the trees above and landed in your hair. The larger beach was better for swimming and slightly cooler. We would make our way here each day for sunset as the sun displayed his glorious colours for us over the ocean and distant mountains across the peninsula. We swung on vines, practiced acroyoga on beached logs, built rafts from driftwood and climbed on each others shoulders in the lukewarm waters, toppling each other beneath the waves. We had sword fights with sticks on a log that acted as our plank, channeling our inner pirate, sending each other into the water with a stab left and a strike right. We laughed and played in the fading light of the coral skies as the sun sank behind the mountains, darkness settling in, as stars peeked out from their hiding place in the sky. Reluctantly we made out way out of the water and groped in the dark to find our things and head back to the festival grounds, thankful for the cool cover of night time.
Evenings were spent wandering from stage to stage, dancing to our hearts content. The beauty of this festival for us, was that we had no expectations and didn’t even look at the schedule, having learned we couldn’t trust it anyway. We simply let the flow of the festival take us where it would and thus found ourselves stumbling upon unexpected surprises like the beautiful traditional snake dance (a dance done as a prayer to the gods of the sky, a prayer for rain) that the locals were performing to the steady rhythmic beating of drums around a massive bonfire. The people held each others shoulders forming a long meandering snake like form and stomped their feet to the beat of the drums, coiling in and out of each other around the fire. For over and hour they danced, stomped and sweat to the drums, and then called the onlookers in to join them in the dance. Honoured, we quickly took the shoulders of a stranger in front of us and felt ourselves being pulled into the rhythm, the beat, and the heat of the fire. Our feet matched the drums, and our hearts too, pounded in synchronicity. We lost track of how long we marched and stomped for, our bodies and minds taken over by the hypnotic powers of the rhythms pounding all around us. As the dance and drums ended and the snake broke apart, so did the hypnosis and we stood dazed as the crowd dispersed back into the cover of the night, feeling overcome with gratitude at having been able to be a part of such a ceremony. This was the reason we came to this festival, to immerse ourselves in something more than just modern electronic music, to immerse ourselves in culture, to experience the unknown, and to learn.
One night we found ourselves at the live stage where a local band was performing traditional african song and dance, 8 of them on stage, a powerful presence pounding on their massive drums, creating a frenzy of sound and dance, hypnotizing the crowd with their frantic rhythms. We all kicked off our shoes and lost ourselves to the dance, flailing wildly, freely, releasing all control, dancing subconsciously, and letting nothing but the music move our bodies. We gasped in the dusty air, unable to keep pace with the furious rhythms, sweat dribbling down our chests and backs, dripping into our eyes. Our feet pounded the dry scorched earth as the full moon showered us in her brilliant light. Oh, how we danced!
Another night, we again stumbled into the same sacred area of the Snake Dance during the height of a cacao ceremony. A huge circle was wrapped around the blazing bon fire as a Shaman danced and sung, the steady beat of too many hand drums to count pounding heavily into the night. We lay down on the blanket looking up at the stars peeking through through branches of the near by trees. The full moon had not risen yet and the stars were dazzlingly bright. As we lay there, they passed around a coconut bowl full of liquid cacao and we each took turns sipping the dark, thick drink from the bowl. The beat of the drums thumped through the ground and beat into our chests as we lay there. I was overcome with a feeling of elation and utter calm at the same time. This was magic I was feeling, I was sure. The stars, the drums, the rhythm, the song, the heat of the fire, and the energy so heavy in the air it was palpable. Yes, this was magic.
Our tribe was at the center of our time at Organika. We had bonded strongly at Envision and found a few new members our first day at Organika that fell into our tribe naturally. Each day and each night held different surprises for us. We took midnight naps in a large canoe filled with flat, smooth nuts, the most comfortable bed I’ve ever had the pleasure of resting on. We threw scorpions out of our tents, screamed as tarantulas walked through our camp, and befriended crabs on the beach. Ukulele’s were strummed, harmonicas blown and digerdoo’s played.
We made food at our camp and shared everything we had with each other, feeling a strong connection to each member of our tribe, wanting the best for each of them. One person made chickpea, tuna and bean paste wraps, another roasted plump plantains over the fire and toasted fresh coconut in the flames. One attempted banana pancakes over the fire and instead served up equally delicious scrambled banana pancakes to all. Another filled everyone’s water bottles, while another heated up raw cacao with honey and chilis and we passed the hot pot around, sharing spoonfuls of the chocolatey heaven, dribbling drops on our chin and scooping them up with our fingers, eagerly licking them clean. We sprawled out under our shade structure and napped as one unit, like a pride of lions after a heavy feast. We shared slices of mangos and abandoned cantaloups, jars of peanut butter and stories and laughter. We talked and dreamed of creating a commune where we could all live together like this, always. Grow our own food, build our own homes, and share our resources with each other. Each day we would part with some, meet with others, and always come back together at some point in our day or night to share our adventures and discoveries with each other. The generosity of this beautiful group of souls shook me to my core. How deeply we all connected, how much we all shared in such a short few days is staggering.
Organika was a mess of a festival as far as organization goes, but for us it was a magical time of bonding with a small group of remarkable people. A time of discovering self and others through new friendships. A time of learning, and of filling our bodies with wholesome foods. A time of swimming in the ocean at sunset, and dancing under a full moon until sunrise. Organika embodied that signature phrase that thrives here in Costa Rica – “Pura Vida”. It translates to ‘pure life’, but it means so much more. It means that life is wonderful, life is beautiful, and it must be lived to the utmost fullest.
We left the festival feeling so full we thought surely we would burst at the seams. We were full of life, this beautiful, wonderful, pura vida. Our legs were bruised from adventures in trees, our feet were cut up from dancing on the charred earth. Our bodies covered in a thick layer of dust, sweat and salt water, our hair matted with branches and dust. But our hearts, bellies and souls were full, overflowing with the abundance of life we found together at Organika.