WORDS: Kailey Seabrooke
PHOTOS: Neil McElmon
A pretty great way to start any festival is with a plan for where you are going to sleep, as well as an open mind. In the case of Costa Rica’s Envision Festival, you had better also have a water bottle and plenty of sunscreen. Participants from all over the world travel to where the jungle meets the ocean to experience this transformational festival; a four-day event that spreads its earth positive ethos via art, music, movement, and education.
When you arrive at the picturesque event site of Rancho Merced you are immediately greeted with the pleasant humidity of the February jungle. This year a bit of rain came unseasonably early enhancing the already vibrant green of the towering coconut palms and glowing hibiscus. When you enter the festival site you are met with clearly marked signs taking you wherever you want to go, all of which gravitate around the village. The village offers a diverse variety of food from wood-fired pizza to vegan ice cream with the vast majority of food and the ingredients used being locally sourced and organic.
But the village wasn’t just a place to grab grub, it was a place to try walking a slackline for the first time, to take a timeout in a hammock or be inspired by a workshop. You could shop the artisan market while taking in an intimate live set by a headlining artist on a tiny stage or discover herbal remedies from trained “witches.”
Despite Envision hosting over 7000 people this year, the way the festival spiraled out from this central hub there was no part of the site that felt too far to explore and it was common to run into familiar faces on the regular. From the village, one could wander back to general camping located in the naturally shaded banana grove and head to the tranquility of the yoga zone. You could catch your favourite live act at the massive sol stage, enjoy eclectic electronic sets at the intricately video mapped Luna stage or satisfy your craving for house music at the Lapa stage all before meandering down the tree arched path that lead offsite through a truly bustling local market on the way to the beach for a kaleidoscope sunset.
And the music! The music was as diverse as the festivals population with Matanzas sunset world beats, funky faves like Fort Knox Five and the tribal vibes of Clozee. The live music Sol stage brought the epic sounds of the Bogota Orquestra Afrobeat and Bob Moses while Xavier Rudd’s performance had one volunteer telling me that she saw God.
While different styles of music tend to attract different sorts of people, the lay of the land created a breeding ground for cross-cultural pollination. I witnessed a couple in their 80’s sharing a peace pipe with young adults at their first festival and tired ravers taking a break from the bass by joining a sacred cacao ceremony. A young man alone on the dance floor having what could only be defined as a spiritual experience with tears running down his face had his hand held by an old man in the joyful elation of ecstatic dance. And children from all walks of life played make-believe games with other kids and sometimes adults too.
Festival environments, in general, have a way of taking you to the right here and now of the place. There is no room for worries about work, bills and drama on the other side of the weekend and the fun-filled shenanigans and mind-opening connections are the proof in the pudding. But there is something about Envision that allows participants to cultivate something a little deeper and perhaps a little longer lasting. It could have something to do with what was in that peace pipe the grandparents were passing but I suspect it has more to do with the way that the place cracks you open.
By the midpoint of any festival, people begin to either breakdown or breakthrough. While a tropical jungle on the warm Pacific Ocean complete with beats, babes and birds its pretty majestic, it can also be incredibly challenging. The humidity can be so dense you are sure you can wring out the air, people and places get super smelly and sleep can be impossible. It can be stressful trying to fit it all in and through workshops and movement classes hosted by professionals in their field and seemingly casual interactions with other people on their own journey you might just learn a little about yourself. You may see yourself in a new way and all of a sudden see your surroundings with fresh eyes.
Envision festival offers participants not only ample opportunity to become more flexible in their bodies but also flexible in their perspectives. You come face to face with opportunities to hone yourself, your craft or learn something entirely new. You have the ability to be whoever you want to be for the weekend but you can also use your experiences as stepping-stones to become whoever you want to be in your life.
Envision festival poises participants to be conscious and to be curious if they so desire. It is an environment that dares seekers to explore eastern cultures and philosophies in the context of the western world through medicine, music, community, nature and art. Costa Rica may be further from home than many festival attendees are used to traveling but if anyone is wondering if the trek is worth it, the tropical juice is definitely worth the squeeze.