Envision’s Pre-Retreat Eco-Adventure [Review]
Thousands of miles away from the United States’ saturated “EDM” festival circuit, far from the corporate sponsored, neon and plastic-infused mega festivals transpiring in the middle of our polluted, concrete cities, Envision Festival hosts a beach-front global celebration of the awakening of human consciousness in Uvita, Costa Rica. Trekking to this far corner of Central America entails a plane ride, a 4 hour drive from the San Jose airport, additional challenges in coordinating a tent and camping supplies in a foreign country defined by its rugged, jungle clad, mountainous terrain, among other obstacles. Those who go, go with real purpose, the journey is far too burdensome for someone primarily interested in raging or carelessly snacking on mystery research chemicals. I’ve been chasing a certain profound feeling of awe since I attended Electric Forest in 2012, which has since become a victim to its own growth initiatives. I’ve observed the rampant commodification of festival culture since I started paying attention in 2008. This year, I wanted something more. So I embarked on a coast to coast eco-adventure through Costa Rica, with 25 like-minded individuals, on the official Envision Festival Pre-Tour.
Envision is an alternative, experimental, and progressive festival boasting a lot more than just music. The festival consists of world class yoga, fire performances, breathtaking art, and international speakers and figureheads; all designed to create a temporary community stimulated by ceremony and motivated by our universal desire to better our lives without destroying the earth. Instead of focusing specifically on the music and activities that took place at the festival itself, this article discusses the hidden potentials in Envisions’s organized, pre-festival retreat that brings together like-minded individuals for an educational and animating tour through Costa Rica.
Wherever you’re reading this from, you’ve probably observed the increased popularity of American tourism in Costa Rica. The pre-tour made it clear to me just how many Americans are migrating to Costa Rica to pursue artistic and business objectives through different mediums (such as starting travel companies and high grade chef-led restaurants) but all linked by a common thread that embodies similar ideals. I wouldn’t have noticed the extent had I just attended the 4-day Envision festival. Why is it that so many Americans are moving, either temporarily or permanently, to this little country in Central America? I think it’s partly a reflection of that same transformation of consciousness that first manifested itself as Burning Man over a decade ago. We are amongst the first generations of human beings that can connect with each other instantaneously, with instant access to vast information and platforms for expression via the Internet. This has vividly revealed the current social order in America; the way we live and consume, the way our collective ideas and opinions are shaped by mass media. Technology has allowed us to challenge the status quo in a way never before possible. Costa Rica has seen itself become concentrated hub for these developing ideologies because it offers something so vastly different than the existing condition of American life. Immersing oneself in its raw, untouched biodiversity allows a vivid perception of mainstream society’s influence over the body and mind.
“There’s all these people striving to wake up. It’s hard to wake up when we live in this system that’s broken. It’s totally broken. And I find just this common thread – people seeking something.” – Stephen Brooks, Interview with Eventvibe
The value of Envision’s official pre-tour originates with the tour guides. Our tour guides Chad and Brooke instilled a sense of purposeful excitement from the moment we met. Both had spent years living in Costa Rica and their knowledge and organization of the day to day activities were invaluable aspects of my Costa Rica experience. With their help the group saw, felt, heard, and tasted more than any of us ever could have on our own. The tour group itself consisted of individuals coming from across the United States, the U.K., and Canada ranging in age from 22-55. From the outset there was a tangible energy; we had all come from very different walks of life but had come for the similar reasons — to witness the people and habitat of this country and connect with its natural beauty before descending upon one of the most innovative and forward thinking events on the planet. This wasn’t an ordinary vacation.
We did a lot more than relax on beautiful beaches. We swam through rivers and waterfalls, and covered our naked bodies in mud. During the course of 8 amazing days we rafted in class 4 rapids down the Pacuare River, learned about foraging and natural medicine with Bribri guides in the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, ate at amazing restaurants (Eat at Stashu’s, the passionfruit cheesecake changed my life), experienced cacao ceremonies and chocolate making, zip lined in the canopies of a rainforest outside of Puerto Viejo, and visited planned permaculture communities existing in the jungle off the grid – excursions made possible through the network and friendships of our tour guides. I could go on and on but I will focus my attention on the highlight of our trip: spending 3 days at the Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living.
“The Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design & Botanical Studies grows over 200 varieties of tropical fruits, nuts and spices. It produces all its electrical needs from solar panels and obtains methane gas from the septic system to fuel the kitchen. Thousands of students, interns and guests have been educated at Punta Mona over the past 18 years, and the site has become known as a world leader in tropical, sustainable agriculture and sustainable living techniques.” – Punta Mona website.
What brings the idea of a place like Punta Mona full circle is its founder. Stephen Brooks is also one of the main founders of Envision and probably the most visible representative of the festival. Brooks founded Punta Mona in 1997 amongst other eco-villages over the past few decades. In 2003, Stephen organized 24 people on 2 buses and a truck and drove from California to Costa Rica on recycled vegetable oil making many international television news programs and a front page newspaper article. He is a prime example of synchronicity developing between America, Costa Rica and transformational culture/sustainable living.
Hiking for 5 hours through the middle of the jungle, without wifi, with the nearest hospital being a helicopter ride away, yet at the same time, we were in a serene tropical paradise, home to an intentional community devoted to permaculture, alternative medicine, and healthier ways of living. Punta Mona’s isolation from outside human development provided an opportunity to register the relentless beauty of nature how much potential we have for radical self reliance. Plus, we snacked on jack fruits, gaunabanas, Australian finger limes, fresh tumeric, and discovered the endless healing properties of the noni fruit. The incredible variety of tropical fruits available at Punta Mona and Costa Rica in general shows that American supermarkets are stagnated. The possible medicinal uses of the many species of plant life would send America’s pharmaceutical companies into a panic. No workshops or other real-time festival activities can sincerely convey the visual and emotional aesthetic of an environment untouched by industrialization. Our Punta Mona immersion crystalized the initiatives that so many of the workshops at Envision and other alternative and transformational festivals integrate into their identity. Instead of a pop-up idea that lasts for one weekend; it is a permanent entity with a devoted staff who live there year-round, a true exemplification of our potential harmony and partnership with nature.
Seeing how a community like Punta Mona is operated enhanced our appreciation for Envision’s environmental objectives; the festival is 100% renewable, down to the plastic plates and cups each visitor will reuse numerous times over their stay, and it’s the only festival in Central or South America that runs entirely on biodiesel fuel. Punta Mona is a permanent manifestation of the influences that have shaped Envision. As I observed what it would be like to live in the Punta Mona Community, our tour group became more and more vulnerable towards each other as we experienced similar revelations and shared our hearts, dreams, and formative moments with each other. We were a part of something greater than just a music festival or a tropical vacation, we were witnessing an awakening of human consciousness, one that would shake the foundation of humankind, and one that illuminated a common bond between us despite only having known each other for a few days. This structured trip, an extension of Envision itself, provided us with the blueprint we needed harness these realizations and extract more meaning from the festival experience itself.
“I think there will be some breakthroughs among the initiatives going on right now by festival-based collectives (or communities) to purchase land for the purpose of becoming permanent venues.
As this milestone is achieved,we’re going to get some really interesting things happening—as communities forged through years of festival production get to take that inventive, artistic ethos and create remarkable permanent environments tailored to the cutting-edge interests of festival culture.
Within these, I would keep your eye on those coming from the ‘transformational festival’ milieu—Mainly because they usually have a strong socially-conscious drive and they will be the ones who leverage the opportunity to combine the power of the festival experience with more far-reaching experiments in regenerative culture. – Jeet-Kei Leung, Lucidity Festival Interview
Envision’s pre-tour is an innovative example of how we can leverage the opportunity to combine the power of festival experience with far-reaching experiments in regenerative culture and sustainable living. Punta Mona is a permanent environment tailored to the cutting edge interests of festival culture. Our tour group was able to connect over this common realization, desire to learn, and experience a new land and culture. Importantly, traveling to Costa Rica alone and thrusting myself into a group like this took me out of my comfort zone and provided an easy avenue for letting my guard down. Having done so, entering Envision with a group of 25 new friends going to the same festival, all thirsty to build off each others energy, was a totally different experience than the ways I have previously approached festival-going. Afterwards, we didn’t go back to our old lives. We went forth into a new paradigm, and we took what we learned with us with a desire to implement what we discovered and actually live more conscious, responsible lives.
If festivals across the U.S. and world would start sponsoring official retreats and prefatory events distinct from the festival itself, organizers could produce a forum that enhances/reinforces the /engagement/immersion of the main event by intentionally designing a separate microcosm of the better world we are striving for. Envision isn’t the only festival noticing this, similar retreats and early access activities are a part of festivals such a Lightening in a Bottle – but we are only just scraping the surface of whats possible. As our endeavors become more ambitious, our collaborative efforts will start to have a permanent, tangible impact on the evolution of our lives on this planet. It’s clear from our presidential nominees, the world has a lot more transforming to do. We are at the precipice, and our momentum is about to reach a tipping point.
Featured Image: Erine Millne Film