Just landed after the incredible Tribal Gathering, a unique festival and maybe the only one of its kind. Below you will find a review of festival, music highlights from both of the stages, our experience as first-time goers, tips and tricks for the new people, an important message from the elders of the tribes and lots of pictures.
“18 days on the most beautiful Caribbean beach. Over 150 international music acts on three stages. Cabaret, circus & carnival curiosities to delight your senses. 60 tribes from the farthest reaches of the globe.”
Tribal Gathering Location: The festival takes place on Playa Chiquita, Colon in Panama and it’s about 4 hours drive from Panama City. The road to get there is not entirely on the map, not many signs but if you take the shuttle is really easy. Out of sight and a bit out of reach lies the beautiful location of the festival: a picturesque beach with soft sand and clear blue water margined by the lush green jungle, tall palm trees that provide the perfect shade and lots coconuts to drink. The sun is burning hot but there’s a nice refreshing sea breeze that makes the temperature just perfect. The scenery is absolutely stunning and to top it all, there’s a fresh water river meeting the ocean, creating a beautiful shaded lagoon that thrives with wildlife: birds, lizards, iguanas and the occasional naked hippies.
Geo-Paradise, indeed. With about 1000 people attending, together with the crew and the tribes, it’s the perfect size so you can find everyone pretty easy. The festival is a little gem with an abundance of diversity in traditions, cultures and people, where the differences are celebrated and the common language is love. Endless smiles that filled the mornings with joy, secrets of the dark hours next to the Sacred Fires, you will find yourself longing for this place in an unexpected way. It’s impossible not to. Three weeks is enough time for your skin to change so by the end of it, you will be a new person. If you set the right intentions, whatever needs to be changed, will change. So, let go. Here you are in the hands of loving tribe that will embrace you for who you are, in the hands of the wise that will council you. It is the perfect place for learning and growing, for expanding your consciousness or for healing. From accepting the darkness within us to allowing the light to come through, we all learned something here. Be aware – the most important lesson comes from within.
in endless gratitude.
“Nowhere on earth you can experience the collective wisdom of over 60 tribes from 30 countries in one place. From the deepest jungles, mountains, inaccessible savannahs and remote islands. This is the most international gathering of tribes.”
Supporting Inter-Cultural Dialogue
The parent organisation – GeoParadise – develops various projects throughout the year helping the tribes whenever possible, sharing resources with them, encouraging them to preserve their cultural identity and finally inviting them for inter-cultural dialogue.
The team works tirelessly raising the funds to cover the travel expenses while dealing with a host of governments and agencies to bring all these amazing people to Tribal Gathering.
The tribes are brought in to share their knowledge, their ancestral rituals, their cultural heritage, their music, dances and crafts. Festival attendees could learn and interact with them and all this was very easy with the help of the translators that were around.
A deep sense of community was present from the moment you arrived on the festival grounds, honouring the people working together for the benefit of everyone. Even the wristbands were made by one of the indigenous communities and they were beautiful.
During the first two weeks there was a lot going on: a beautiful opening ceremony in which all the tribes participated, an introduction for each tribe and their cultural heritage; there were dance presentations & workshops, many tribal rituals and shamanic ceremonies, sweat lodges, chicha celebrations, ancient games & crafts, theatre, interactive games for kids, women’s circle, yoga, body movement, meditation, sound healing, traditional foods, cocoa & chocolate making, indigenous jewellery, traditional instruments, drumming circles, a lot of good music, presentations & talks in permaculture, plants & medicinal herbs, shamanism, ancient wisdom, tribal culture, bio-construction, sustainable development, social awareness.. And you had time for all of it.
The most important aspect of the gathering though, beyond the music and the beautiful celebration of cultures is supporting the inter-cultural dialogue and working towards creating “a global tribe”. There are many reasons for this but perhaps one of the most (non)-surprising ones is because we desperately need it. There were a lot of talks and presentations out of which some of the information needs to be passed on.
A Message From The Elders
So here it is, coming from the elders of the tribes: every couple of years a big monster shows up and only by uniting the tribes and working together, this monster can be defeated. Although there have been many big threats and monsters around, nothing compares to what humanity is facing in the present day. The biggest monster of all, one that will not be so easily defeated, is – and you could probably guess it – consumerism. The elders say that uniting all the tribes on earth will not be enough to fight it and that we are facing the biggest threat of all times. Consumerism will eat us. What we are doing to our planet has consequences that reach far into the galaxy and we are not aware of it. We need to work for our planet and not against it, as she is the nurturing mother that gives us life. We need warriors and enlightened minds. We need to be strong and we need to fight a long battle.. and it will take a long time to recover. And only if we really unite, if we really fight, only if we become a global tribe and build a strategy together – we will be able to defeat this monster.
You will say that one person alone cannot change the world but we were quickly reminded during the festival that not only this is false but promotes an ignorant attitude towards the monster that concerns all of us. It is exactly that one person who will change the world and there are hundred of examples of people who were crazy enough to believe it’s possible and succeeded. Thank you for this reminder. It only takes the determination of one and the rest will follow, the rest will help. Not all of us will be leaders, but all of us can be warriors. So do whatever you can to fight it, create social awareness, make a fuss or just start with small changes in your life. There’s a couple of things you can change right now like bringing your own shopping bag and always carrying a reusable water bottle, bringing your own cup at the coffee shop, packing your lunch in re-usable containers, skipping the plastic produce bags, using natural soaps or even better – making your own, eating more fruit & vegetable – having 2-3 days a week with no meat if you can’t go on a complete plant-based diet, eating locally sourced food and helping sustain small businesses rather than mass produce, growing your own food where possible, etc, etc.. Remember to promote a positive change. And most importantly: Allow yourselves to be part of the change ! post your pictures and tag #plasticinparadise to create awareness.
Main Areas And Getting Around
There are a few main areas of the festival and everything is really close and handy.
The Geohaven & The Tribal Village with its beautiful natural huts build mostly with materials available from nature. All the tribes were here and all the presentations were held in the Geohaven. Occasionally there would be a workshop here but this area was entirely dedicated to the tribes.
Just next to the Tribal Village there was also an Art Hub – a space dedicated for art & crafts and the Wellness area, a quiet area for massages & therapy. Most of the other workshops were held in the open space close to the beach and next to the Lotus Stage which had no music in the first weeks. It was shaded everywhere, the perfect space for workshops. A lot of smily faces in the interactive games workshop! Thank you, it was magic!
The Global Stage Area is the heart of the festival and it contains the hub, the pirate bar and the food court and is right in the middle of everything. In between the Global Stage and the Tribal Village there is an indigenous market, and if you would go further you would end up in the public camping that reaches far out on the beach.
The Carny area is perfectly positioned right on beach and it is like a little village build by the pirates. There were a lot of performers and there was a show almost every day: circus, vaudeville and burlesque shows, pirates, mermaids and daredevil trapeze artists flying over your head, fire shows, a small theatre and many other curiosities and secret treasures. The story of Captain Morgan was a must and we really enjoyed being part of it.
Launching the trebouche was so cool !
The Shamanic Realm stretched along the other side of the beach, but hidden inside the jungle. It was a quiet place filled with very powerful energy. A lot of ceremonies were held in this space and in the Sweat Lodge. Some of the discussions that happened in the Shamanic Realm were absolutely inspiring and you could learn a lot about different things that the shamans were doing. Many people participated in these ceremonies: some for the first time and others that simply wanted to dive deeper. With lots of possibilities: Aya, Bufo, Rape, San Pedro, Peyote, Iboga, Sananga and many other unusual medicines (ex: a frog poison that was put in your eyes to help with your eyesight and overall focus, it seemed very painful). If you were up for a powerful life-changing experience, all was done in the good hands of the shamans taking care of you. Many people said it was one of the reasons why they’ve tried things – so they can have the experience and safety of a ceremony conducted by a master.
The Ceremonies begin around Day 4 and last about 5-6 days? If you wanted to participate in these ceremonies, you had to sign up and pay for it (for the medicines). Signing up is done just before and the places fill up fast. There were queues here ! If you’re interested, keep in mind that you have to come early. You could choose your shaman accordingly to what you were interested in, different shamans were doing different things. One important thing – something they would all say: a person needs time before and after any medicine: a diet and a preparation time is needed and some time to digest it all after. In one way or another they all agreed that coming out of the Shamanic Realm and straight into the music festival isn’t ideal. Though people seem to have worked it out – there was a way to escape it: you could go far away from it all and there was beautiful nature around and a lot of wildlife. Alternatively, you could go to all the other ceremonies that didn’t involve taking in powerful medicines. Maybe you don’t need it. The most powerful shaman is inside yourself.
The tribes leave after the first two weeks (on day 12, followed by a transition day). If you’re interested in any tribal activities you have to come for the first two weeks. The last 5 days are party days, and you have two music stages. You can alternatively buy a ticket for the full 18 days, or just for the beginning (tribes & ceremonies) or just for the end (music & party). In the first part the Global Stage is on just not all the time.
The beach stretched for miles and miles and you could walk on both directions until you got tired. Raw untouched places, smooth sand and clear waters. The waves and currents are quite powerful. A lot of people were dragged out, luckily there were safety measures taken prior to the beginning of the festival and you had an area that was surrounded by professional swimming ropes and life-guards around. In case you got dragged, you could grab this rope and hang on to it, until the official Tribal Gathering heroes saved you.
The scenery is outstanding and perfectly completed with the image of the tribal people. It looks and feels wild almost everywhere you go. Here, where the river meets the sea, you would indulge your eyes. This was the area where you could see the most boobs hanging out. Freedom in its purest form. #freethenipples
Wildlife and Special Encounters
Jungle walking offers you a lot of wildlife in this places. Not only once we encountered the howling monkeys with their terrifying sound. Often you could hear them or even see them and it was quite a show. Tiny dark brown monkeys with curled tails that make a sound as frightening as a gorilla, gorgeous defence mechanism. A lot of birds and the occasional eagles flying on top of you, all majestic creatures. The beach is right next to the jungle so the spiders are included in the ticket. Occasionally you could spot iguanas, scorpions getting in your shoes, or the gynormous grumpy toad getting out from the lagoon, the Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish sunbathing on the beach with its unreal purple pink colours and extremely long tentacles, huge blue crabs inhabiting your tent, black lizards with green heads, tarantulas, bugs, ant highways, and everything in between.
Some people said they’ve even seen a puma from far away, on one of the walks that you could adventure yourself on. This was maybe in the beginning when there was just the crew there. Some rumours about crocodiles as well :)) just rumours! Nothing to worry about, animals tend to run away when humans inhabit their space. You should worry more about the coconuts falling randomly. They can kill you.. or, in the best case scenario, you go coco-loco. It’s rare but it can happen. Don’t underestimate the palm leaves either.
Tribal Gathering Music: The Global Stage
A celebration of cultural diversity was felt throughout the entire festival with artists bringing their music from all corners of the world. The highlights of the festival were definitely Mad Professor (the legend!) and Dub FX – what an energy (!) it was incredible to see him live with Mr. Woodnote and his talented wife Sahida; Nanoplex – future techno sound, even the pizzas were dancing; Krumelur – exquisite techno set as always but much more intimate and connected with the people; Josko – with many amazing sets, he’s like the dj of the djs with an incredibly good selection of music; Grouch in Dub and his 3-4 hours closing set, leaving a microphone open for whoever had the courage to join him on stage – we had drumming and jew’s harp from the very talented festival crew who joined in. It was great. (we also heard a rumour about Grouch: that he’s got a full 10 people band prepared to go on tour with for this summer);
A big surprise was Mizeyesis – dj & producer from the Northeastern United States who played a Drum & Bass / Jungle set, old school and too cool; and Tim (from Tribal Gathering) who opened the festival with a beautiful world music set (would love to hear it again online – blink blink), and also blasted us with some techno in one night- it was too good. Manu was also good (before Jokso & Nanoplex, don’t know his dj name) .. super nice deep techno. Where there is good vibes, there is good people. Cheers all around ! More amazing artists to mention: Slack Baba, Kaya Project, Bayawaka, Dj Zhao, Rea and all our love for the Chicken Brothers. The morning radio show was a massive success !!
Surprisingly good tribal bands and indigenous music projects, mentioning just a few of them: Wageiralle Drummers with traditional music from Belize, Doctor Nativo with beautiful music from Guatemaya, Kombilesa Mi with folkloric rap from Colombia – such a colourful concert! If anyone knows the name of the band who played the famous “El condor pasa” in the middle of the day, please leave a comment !
Other amazing night-time concerts from: Eva Lazarus, The Hat Club -a ska-funk gypsy-jazz mash up combined with the soulful purr of the lead vocalist girl. It made everyone jumping around, great music.
There were nights with different themes and everyone was happy. And it was quite nice to know the music stopped around 12pm so you could have a rest and prepare yourself for the next day.
Psychedelic Music: The Lotus Stage
After the tribes left slowly the vibe changed more into a party scene. The nights became longer, there was more music and more dancing. The Lotus Stage was finally on.
A massive stage that measured 16 meters high between the beautiful palm trees, this was a very ambitious thing to build and it wasn’t really necessary but it was impressive. We would have loved to see something fluid or tribal with a bit more colours on this stage, but all in all the projections, the lighting and the lasers at night transformed it into a temple surrounded by huge crystals where you could easily loose yourself into dancing. The lower part of the stage looked amazing with all the leds and the little pirate totem build in front by the people. It was a nice touch.
E.V.P, Perfect Stranger, Beardy Weardy, Dirty Saffi & Dj Nuky, Earthspace, Nanoplex – all had extremely good music just as always and the people loved it. The biggest surprises were not some of the big names from whom you had expectations of delivering great, but rather some of the less-known artists like Dj Sutekh (Bom Shanka Music) – who was one of the highlights, absolutely smasher of a set!! – Dj Sutekh a.k.a Geomatrix Design is the same guy who did the light design for this stage – Compliments from everyone, because you deserve it! Another name that needs mentioning is Psykia, who played a forest set just after Sutekh. It was perfect in all the ways a night on the psychedelic dance floor should be. Thanks to all the artists mentioned for keeping it real..
It would have been nice to have a chill stage for the morning .. (next year?) We went for the tranquility of the beach instead. The festival and its environment were a true blessing.
Tribal Gathering Money: Food & Drinks: Tips for the New
There is a filtered water station very close to the Global Stage so you could re-fill your bottle every time you needed. Free, of course. The festival had it’s own catering with good food and the chef working hand in hand with the locals cooking a variety of courses from the international cuisine and the prices were quite alright (6$/medium lunch or 9$/large); there were local stalls with all sort of goodies, fruits & vegetable (4-5$ for a huge fruit bowl), smoothies, vegan burgers but also juicy salsa burgers (5$), empanadas (3$ for 2), chicken grill (2$/stick); There was delicious pizza (8$) and the pizza chefs were typical good vibe Italians, with their big smiles upfront. (top guys!). The pizza oven was build in the beginning with everyone who wanted to learn the know-how. If you were lucky enough to be there at the right time, you get to experience the pizza chef’s breakfast: salt & vinegar thin crust with olive oil and avocados. Mmm!
There was a lot of help needed for Tribal Gathering and there were many possibilities to volunteer in different areas: at the kitchen, at the pizza, at the psycare, at the bar, etc and every 5 hour shift was rewarded with 13$ credit on your wristband. Everything was centralised so you could just top up your bracelet at the hub and not worry to carry money around. One thing to keep in mind if you decide to visit this festival is the money situation: on their website they tell you that you can only pay with your bracelet – this is not entirely true – and they advice you to put money into your account prior to your arrival, online so you would avoid queues – Makes sense – But don’t put ALL your money in! You can’t get it out! In reality you need some cash here and there and the first ATM is 2 hours away! And there is no exchange. There were people who put all their money on the bracelet (as much as 700 dollars I heard) and couldn’t get goodies from some places because not all the stalls had the bracelet integrated system (you can’t buy jewellery on the bracelet that’s for sure). The queues were not that big really, with an average 5 min to a maximum of 10 minutes waiting for the top-up, sometimes no queue at all.. Like anywhere else, balance is the key. Bring dollars with you, cash. Put some in, keep some out. The average spending was about 500 dollars for all the festival, with drinks included. The bar prices were 2$ for a beer or juice or ginger ale and 2$ for a shot of rum/votca/etc. And there was ice, thanks !! There’s not much choice of drinks so don’t dream of Mojitos … The festival price is totally worth it (about 300$/3weeks if you get it early) and everything else is cheap.
The toilets were composting and cleaned every day thanks to those hard-working ladies. You had “laundry” services – for a very small fee- as everything gets dirty in a second. It often rained for about 2-3 minutes only. But you never know – it can always get nasty! There were about two days of full power torrential rain – and everything got super wet in a second. The rest was sunshine. Bring your own dry bags for electronics – it really helps!! and it feels very humid all the time, also the palm trees breathe in the night time and they are oily, so everything will get a bit oily. Some of our electronics were fucked.
Things you should keep in mind + last minute advice
Bring sun protection !! (a must) 😉 natural biodegradable soap !! (an absolute must) shades, snacks (useful) a waterproof tent (you can rent one from the hub) and waterproof dry bags (another must) + a windproof lighter (will save you lots of trouble!) and of course bring your camera 😉 Panama is pretty and if you don’t adventure yourself in the wrong places, it’s safe.
Check some of our other articles: Foli – There Is No Movement Without Rhythm
With gratitude, we say thank you.