The Long Road to Envision Festival, Costa Rica

[All photos copyright Clayton Gaar 2012]

The new year came and left me feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost.  The first week of 2012 had me cocooned in my basement wondering what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.  Some of my closest friends and Tribal Council chieftains were discussing a mystical trip to the Kalalau Valley in Hawaii, but I couldn’t swing it due to my commitment to AURA Music Festival in early March.  When I go to Hawaii, you better believe I’m buying a one way ticket! So I began eyeing Envision Festival in Costa Rica more and more seriously.  Once I discovered I had enough miles to fly one way to Central America for free, and I spoke to several friends who had decided to go, I booked all my tickets and decided to treat myself to a little vacation.

The awe-inspiring Semuc Champey. Guatemala.

I flew into Guatemala City three weeks early so I could visit my favorite spot in Central America, Lake Atitlan.  I learned last trip that it’s best to head straight to the town of San Marcos on the lake.  I spent a week in this beautiful, tranquil little town, which is known for its mystery schools where mystics from around the world come to study the whole spectrum of metaphysical knowledge, practice holistic medicine, attend energy healing retreat centers, and just plain bliss out!  I spent the week at the best hostel in San Marcos, Hostal del Lago, where you can rent a bed for $3/night right next to the lake.

View from my mat every morning. San Marcos, Guatemala

I set the intention for having my own personal meditation retreat. My routine each day: wake up, do a deliciously long yoga practice right next to the lake with the sound of the waves lapping at my feet, jump in the lake and swim around like a river otter, walk three minutes to buy a bounty of fresh organic fruits and vegetables from local indigenous women, breakfast, read book in hammock, lunch, practice spinning poi, wander around town examining acupuncture schools and merkaba meditation retreat centers, dinner, read in hammock, chat with other travelers around camp fire by lake, sleep.  I lived very well for about $10/day.

This hostal is a straight circus! Hostal del Lago, San Marcos, Guatemala.

The best thing about this hostal is the people that it attracts.  It’s not uncommon for visitors planning on spending a few days there to live in San Marcos for months or even years.  Some of my favorite people I’ve ever met I encountered here.  There is a unique circus vibe to this hostal and we joke that it is circus training camp. Maybe it’s because of the house aerial silks, which are certainly a symbol of the hostal.  We all teach each other hoop tricks, poi, aerial silks, slackline, and juggling techniques.

Oliver chilling like the circus kid he is.

The lake is surrounded by steep volcanoes, making it all the more dramatic of a back drop for anything you do.  The private rock outcropping into the lake affords a 180 degree view of water and volcanoes, and is the perfect spot for yoga, tai chi, or my personal favorite, sitting in sunbathing stillness.  With all the distractions far away (you have to take a boat to another town to use the internet), I was able to go deeper into my practice and my self than ever before.  I was in such an inward place that I rarely felt called to speak to others.  Through the combination of an almost raw diet (for the first time in my life), yoga, meditation, and sobriety, I felt cleaner, lighter, and at more peace than I can remember. It was truly inspirational!  And it helped to be surrounded by others who were eating raw food and doing yoga rather than eating hamburgers and drinking 6-packs, although there is a time and a place for that.  One thing is for certain, the more I experiment with breathwork and meditation, the more I realize that it has the potential to take you far far deeper, and to a more connected place, than any ingested substance.

Mayan Wayeb Ceremony Day 1, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

I happen to be visiting San Marcos during the five days of Wayeb, which is a special period of ceremony before the Mayan New Year.  This Wayeb was especially sacred in San Marcos as the town was blessed to have Mayan Spiritual Elders, Mamas and Tatas, come from all over to lead four ceremonies a day for whoever wanted to attend.  A sacred fire was lit the first night and kept alive for the entirety of Wayeb.  The vibrations from the prayer incantations in these ceremonies were super high, and I left feeling incredible peace.

Mashimon throwing down a warmup set at Ganesha. San Marcos, Guatemala.

Local Guatemalan Mashimon threw down a warmup set in at the headiest restaurant in San Marcos, Ganesha, and our entire hostal showed up to spin fire and get loose on the dancefloor to some sexy hip hop infused beats.  Daniel Garcia, the producer behind Mashimon, traveled with us all the way across Central America to Envision and became a dear friend.  Be sure to check his project out; it makes for a sexy dance party. He knows what he’s doing :)

Leaving the lake at sunrise, San Marcos Boat Dock.

Since there were so many of us at the hostal that were pumped for Envision, we manifested a private 15 passenger bus with our own shuttle driver to drive us from the lake in Guatemala all the way to Envision in Costa Rica.  We figured it’d be an adventure, but we had no idea.  What followed was a long five day road trip across five countries with many stops to pee and four border crossings (meaning 8 immigration offices!).

Oliver and Rei sitting atop the second broke down boat wondering what sort of omen this was.

The epicness started immediately after sunrise when our shuttle boat broke down at our dock in San Marcos.  Then, somehow, the backup boat that was sent as reinforcements shut off in the middle of the lake as well.  Finally we were rescued by a third sketchy boat, met our faithful bus driver Esteben, who we got to know quite well by the end of the trip, and loaded our shuttle bus for Costa Rica.

Mashimon producer showing he can get down organically with Megan on the violin entertaining us on day 1.

We sang and danced and beatboxed and ohmed our way through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and finally to Costa Rica.

Lost again?

This picture wraps up our navigation troubles quite nicely, as well as our numerous run-ins with the law enforcement of several Latin American nations.  For some reason, our driver Esteban insisted on using a kid’s Disney map of Central America and refused to consult anything more detailed.

Throw your love up!

We quickly adopted the name “Love Tribe” for our crew, and I promise it wasn’t my idea ;)  After all, we were 13 happy hippies on an epic Latin American road trip to the most amazing music festival ever.

It’s not a journey without some wrong turns and bumps in the road, and we handled it surprisingly well considering most of us had just recently met. It’s always great experience learning about group dynamics, as it can be applied to all areas of your life for years to come.

Birthday shots! Gotta love $7 handles of rum...sure made for a rowdy bus ride.

One major bump in the road came when we got stuck in no man’s land between the Honduran and Nicaraguan borders because of a passport complication.  It just so happened to be the night of my 25th birthday, so we made the most out of the situation by jamming tunes, hooping, and sleeping in the parking lot of the Nicaraguan immigration office.

Envision preparty at Tucan Hostal, Uvita, Costa Rica.

After splitting with the bus to take a solo day on the beach in Montezuma, Costa Rica, I finally arrived in the small town of Uvita for Envision. Despite accommodations being packed in the only hostal in town, the universe had saved an extra hammock for the night. The vibes at Tucan Hostal were stellar as Djs, fire performers, and bands were putting the final polish on their sets for the festival. Many of the people at the hostal became my go-to festival buddies on the dance floor.

Samuel Wexler, mad violinist from Ft. Collins, tests out this crazy slide, Uvita, Costa Rica.

Fortunately, mama tierra built a perfect water park for us to baptize in before the festival.  Many people took the ten minute cab ride to the waterfalls during the hot festival afternoons to cool off, too.

Pura Vida!

I couldn’t resist getting some inverted hang time.  Too purrrrfect!

You know it’s a high vibrational hostal vibe when the coffee tables are full of flutes, Hafiz poetry, and Eckhart Tolle books!

Be sure to check my next post to get the scoop on Envision Festival 2012!