Con­verg­ing as one is great fun for an old fes­ti­val hip­pie

Nelson Mail - - Opinion -

What a great ex­cuse, To go out on the lash, Coz mate, it’s al­ways epic, When­ever we get smashed. The ‘‘birth­day drink­ing’’ card in a shop is a crude re-en­try to our booze­soaked cul­ture. Every De­cem­ber I talk about go­ing bush at New Year to es­cape boof­heads. Some­one sug­gested the Con­ver­gence fes­ti­val.

A vague im­age of hip­pies in out­door baths sprang to mind. When the web­site men­tioned al­co­hol- and drug-free, I signed up. War­ily. Peo­ple who can en­joy them­selves sober are my idyl­lic tribe, but a non-trippy hip­pie? Pull the other one.

The decades-old fes­ti­val takes place in the boonies near Ran­giora. All meals catered, though strictly ve­gan or veg­e­tar­ian. Think moun­tains of mung beans.

I ar­rived on my lone­some, con­fi­dent there’d be friendly faces from Nel­son. The Wel­come tent was staffed by a pal from my old book read­ing group. An­other friend pitched her tent in the space be­hind my car­a­van.

Around the big mar­quee, tie-dyed T-shirts min­gled with para­chute pants. A naked man wan­dered through, hair­less from toe to top.

OK – I wanted dif­fer­ent. Buckle up ...

What fol­lowed was a sen­sory rush so con­sum­ing I still can’t make sense of it. My jour­nal is a scat­ter­gun mess.

Each dawn found me sweat­ing in the Hob­bit-hole sauna, built in­side a buried cul­vert pipe, with log burner down one end and thick wooden door across the other. Nordic types add a brac­ing skinny dip in the river.

Max­i­mum ca­pac­ity, eight bod­ies, thank­fully cloaked in dark­ness.

Notes: ‘‘Sauna dis­cus­sion eti­quette ...

‘‘No dis­cus­sion at all is prefer­able. After pro­longed si­lence and rhyth­mi­cal gasp­ing for air, a Ti­betan­like group chant has spine-tin­gling charm, so per­mis­si­ble.

‘‘No swap­ping of tips for ger­mi­nat­ing your kaf­fir. What the heck is kaf­fir?

‘‘Mind­less chat­ter banned, es­pe­cially in­vok­ing the devil, ie Face­book. The fes­ti­val site has no cell­phone or wifi cover. Take this op­por­tu­nity to purge the F word from your life.

‘‘If the morn­ing muster is just two naked males, po­si­tion your­selves at op­po­site ends of op­pos­ing benches and deepen voices for the oblig­a­tory ‘Gid­day’ greet­ing and ‘Have a good one’ farewell. Other dis­course is re­dun­dant.’’

I went in at 6am on New Year’s Day, fig­ur­ing I’d have it to my­self after the night’s fre­netic danceathon. No, the Guardian of the Sauna was stretched out on a bench. He takes his du­ties as main­te­nance team leader se­ri­ously, but this seemed ex­treme.

He hadn’t been to bed yet, he con­fessed, and had let the fire die down.

I joked that it would be ap­pro­pri­ate for him to croak here.

‘‘Yeah. They’d just find this pool of liq­uid with a bead neck­lace in it.’’

Ev­ery­one pitches in with jobs. Ap­par­ently, even man­age­ment of the event has lit­tle struc­ture, chang­ing hands from year to year. At­ten­dance was up at 400-ish this time, though the ‘‘Con­ver­gence fam­ily’’ never felt crowded.

And the fes­ti­val is com­merce-free – once in­side the gate, you never touch your wal­let.

Notes: ‘‘Men’s Dance eti­quette.’’ Shed­ding a few cen­turies of starched-col­lar so­cial mores is en­tirely per­mis­si­ble. DJ Jaime How­ell (from Motueka) had al­ready es­tab­lished him­self as a slide gui­tar mae­stro at an evening con­cert, and proved no less adept as a Mind­ful­ness guru.

The ses­sion drew about 30 blokes, from teens to pearly-gates doorstop­pers. Jaime spun slow beats, coax­ing us to com­mune with the earth be­neath our feet.

The pace quick­ened as we em­braced fire, then wa­ter and air. T-shirts came off. This self-con­fessed ‘‘tuckie’’ was soon thump­ing bare chest while howl­ing to the sun gods.

After two hours of pri­mal frenzy, Jaime’s hyp­notic com­men­tary brought us down to a new seren­ity. Vis­ceral, mind-blow­ing fun.

My ‘‘camp­ground sashay’’ had al­ready kicked in: up­tight white guy morphs into fly black dude whose bone sock­ets have just been lubed.

The days be­came a rou­tine of skinny dips, read­ing, cruis­ing the ’hood for friendly chats, and de­li­cious meals where chick­peas usurped mung beans.

I mostly avoided the work­shops – Celtic Druid Light Ex­er­cise clashed with Re­birthing while on Shaman­tic Drum Jour­neys. After the Man-dance, my cyn­i­cism had mel­lowed, but in New Age ter­ri­tory, more than a few shys­ters coat-tail with shamans.

Notes: ‘‘Two French men in­tro­duce a young Kiwi lad to boules on a rut­ted path. He learns how to swear in an­other lan­guage.

‘‘Les­bian love­birds cud­dle in the shade.

‘‘A woman pours out her trou­bles to friends at a river­side cathar­sis. Grass­roots com­pas­sion is part of the deal here. At Con­ver­gence, few places are free of some­one bar­ing their soul.’’

Or their dainty bits. On the fourth day, I re­trieved my togs. Nu­dity might be hon­est, but hon­esty can be bru­tal. A clothed per­son en­joys the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

You might dis­miss all this as daft hip­pies stuck in a time warp, but here’s the thing: those 400 ‘‘throw­backs’’ had a blast for five days, and the only in­tox­i­cant in their sys­tem was hap­pi­ness – if frag­ile in some cases.

Boof­heads don’t even rate. A Cana­dian sauna mate hailed his dance floor heave as the best New Year’s ever. ‘‘I didn’t have to check over my shoul­der con­stantly for some drunken thug about to deck me be­cause he thinks I looked at his girl­friend.’’

I never smelled dope or saw booze the en­tire fes­ti­val. It was ‘‘epic’’. Sure, my T-shirt is tucked in again, but the smile re­mains on my dial.

The days be­came a rou­tine of skinny dips, read­ing, cruis­ing the ’hood for friendly chats, and de­li­cious meals.

Hun­dreds of ‘‘throw­backs’’ at the Con­ver­gence fes­ti­val had a blast for five days – and the only in­tox­i­cant in their sys­tem was hap­pi­ness.

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