You know the expression ‘Better late than never’?
Well I think it applies perfectly to this post.
It has been 8 months since I was at Tribal Gathering, yet my experience at the festival was so profound that I feel called to share about my time there. Also because I was surprised by the image of the festival people seemed to have when asking me about it when I returned.
Tribal Gathering, dramatically referred to as: ‘The Last Festival on Earth’ by Vice, took place from the 29th Feb until… Well, that depends who you ask; but it was supposed to end the second week of March and then the world shut down.
In this article I will try my best to share objectively about the different aspects of the festival:
- The Site, (Location and infrastructure)
- The people, (Tribes staff and festival goers)
- The Offerings (Classes, workshops & rituals and international market)
- The Music and the Food (Live music, DJs and food)
This is obviously totally based on my experience, so please don’t take this as The Truth, but as my point of view, as with anything I share.
I was volunteering as part of the medical team during the festival so my experience was also slightly impacted by that.
The Festival takes place on the Caribbean side of Panama, at Playa Chiquita in the less touristic state of Colon, a few hours away from Panama City. This less accesible, wild and luscious part of the country is astonishingly beautiful and very much exposed to the elements.
The tall palm trees cover the festival grounds, providing shade and giving it an almost surreal tropical feel; simultaneously threatening to knock you out if you are unfortunate to be under when a coconut drops to the ground. I found out this was a real threat while at the festival, but forgot all about it and spent most of my time sitting under these green giants.
The inviting warm turquoise sea is probably the only real threat at the festival; Its invisible currents can pull you in if you get in where you should not. Luckily the patient lifeguards spend their days kindly telling bathers to swim in the designated areas only.
Unfortunately, the ‘agua mala’ or jellyfish don’t seem to care about these designated areas for humans and swim around freely. These dreamlike looking creatures warn of the threat of their sting with their flamboyant attire. Their sting is known to be very painful but the medical tent (my team) knows how to deal with these stings: rinse with salt water and then vinegar and that’s pretty much it; but I only heard of one person being stung during the whole festival.
The site is a work of art. From the colourful wooden stages to the ‘restaurants’ and chilling areas everything is a feast for the eyes and it all seems to have been hand made using mostly natural materials.
The camping site is mostly shaded by big trunked trees and even at full capacity the area felt rather spacious to me. As at any festival, you have to move away from the festival centre to be further from the music at night. This meant also being a little far from the toilets, showers and water points since there are not many, but I found this to be a worthwhile decision.
The toilet technology: spacious / open wooden huts with wood shavings to cover your business were the most pleasant toilets I have EVER used at a festival! This is also largely due to the super efficient cleaning ladies who seemed to go in every half an hour to clean up whatever mess they found. And with the stomach bug that seemed to affect 20% of the crowd or more – their diligence was really needed and appreciated. GRACIAS GRACIAS GRACIAS!!!
The showers were also wooden huts, with watering cans that you had to fill. I found this system really great to limit our water wastage and actually quite pleasant, especially when looking up at the sky and the trees above. And thought it was great that the showers were free as opposed to other festivals which charge for showers; making the festival grounds more odorous, as more thrifty guests save on showers to spend on beers haha!
I got a sneak peak into the glamping area and found it a little cramped, although the yurts did look more appealing than my 2 man tent + they have the major luxury of not having to set up and unpack their home for the week.
In terms of bugs, I was pleasantly surprised by the few bites I got and later found out that they had fumigated the festival site; which I was grateful for in terms of comfort but also a little worried about the impact this has on the environment.
Last but not least, the medical tent, where I worked 4×12 hour shifts, was very basic to say the least. We didn’t have many comforts to offer the sick and injured but we did offer the essentials: a compassionate ear, wound cleaning and bandaging, comforting words and drugs to help with diarrhea and vomiting. My recommendation to anyone planning to come next year would be to pack a few things so you don’t have to go to the tent unless you really need to.
As per the name of the festival, the main objective of the event is to gather tribes from around the world. Due to the pandemic, a few tribes were not able to travel to Panama, but I was amazed by how many tribes were represented.
In my time at the festival, I met tribesmen and women from South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, Panama, Colombia, Chile and Mexico and there were many more!!!
These people were the highlight of the festival for me. Learning about ancestral practices and rituals from someone is a very unique experience that I think makes this festival unique and worth the long journey.
The tribes are usually only at the festival for the 1st week and then they go, so I recommend definitely going for the 1st week and only staying for the 2nd if you are a hardcore raver, which I am not (anymore haha!).
The people working at the festival are divided between foreign volunteers and Panamanians. The volunteers were mostly friendly and helpful despite seeming a little clueless at times and often exhausted and overworked.
The Panamanian security staff seemed to be in a general state of astonishment at this excessively naked weird group of people. A few of them took the liberty of hollering at the women whose attention they wanted to capture, myself included, but after a face to face conversation asking them not to comment every time I walked past them, they obliged and stopped catcalling, although they couldn’t seem to stop staring. I hardly blame them as they come from a country where women do not casually take their tops off in public.
The festival goers
The seemingly eclectic group is composed of mostly Europeans and North Americans and very few Panamanians and Central / South Americans. The locals describe ‘them / us’ as ‘hippies’ and I can’t really argue against them. Many women let their body hair run wild, myself proudly included, and it’s probably the place where I have seen the most dreaded heads Ever haha!
What I love about hippies is that they tend to be loving and care about each other and the planet. This is a Big generalisation of course but everyone I met at the festival was kind and many of the conversations I had were interesting and inspiring. Due to the small size of the festival a general sense of familiarity developed between us and I felt safe, loved and accepted during my time there.
Classes, Workshops, Rituals and Shows
The opening ceremony was my first glimpse into the essence of the festival and I rejoiced in seeing tribe after tribe share a dance, a song or a poem to proudly introduce its culture.
The variety and quantity of these daily events was a pleasant surprise for me. Every day there were boards at different stations with the schedule for the day. From weaving to tea making, body painting, belly dancing, drum playing and so many more activities led by people who were sharing ancestral knowledge at every opportunity.
I must admit I didn’t take many classes or workshops but the few activities I took part in were outstanding!
Every day there were also multiple yoga classes and my dear sister Elena was one of the teachers sharing Kundalini yoga with yogis of all ages and experience levels.
I decided not to sign up for anything so I could really flow with what I wanted to do in every moment and there was always something happening. Bronzed gods and goddesses practicing acrobatics, slack line and fire spinning at any time of the day. And the best part of it is that you can take part in any of these things if you just dare to ask. It’s like a big playground with very few rules… if any at all!
And at night there are official shows. A daily circus with the most talented artists exhibiting their gifts which range from the traditional contortionists and tight rope artists to acts I had never seen before like: my fellow Mexican friend and superhuman: http://Pancho Libre and my superwomen sisters: Sofia and Sarah Linnea
As well as wisdom and tradition some of the tribes brought things to sell in the little market. Crystals, tinctures, herbs, potions, jewelry and art. I had no intention of buying anything but left with quite a few special items. The items sold at the festival were high quality crafted items worth every penny so make sure to bring some cash to support the community.
During the day there always seemed to be a good live band playing. Reggae, Ska, Cumbia and the different tribal artists which the music genres I don’t know but really enjoyed. Early in the night there were also more bands playing and I was happy to see a big group of older gentlemen from Panama playing salsa. I don’t remember the names of the bands but more than once I was on my way to do something and would stop at the main stage because I couldn’t resist dancing – that’s how good the music was!
During the day there was often someone playing some type of house near the beach and at night before the late psytrance started (which I am not a fan of) there were DJ sets I really enjoyed.
I only remember the names of 2 DJs which really stood out for me:
Since I was volunteering with the medical tent I had free tokens to eat at the main kitchen which was very good most of the time but I didn’t get to try many of the other food stalls which looked great too and not too expensive.
I chose to talk about the festival’s qualities rather than my direct experience but I am happy to share that I had a truly magical and unforgettable time with an incredible group of people And I would recommend the festival to Everyone reading this.
Tribal Gathering is a unique event and I think it is exactly the kind of gathering our beautiful though somewhat disjointed humanity needs more of.
Please note that most of the photos I used are from albums that have been shared on facebook or google. If you recognise one of your photos Thank you! and please write to me if you would like me to tag you.
Thank you for reading