It’s like a treasure hunt. The van bumps and grinds her way over cracked and potholed roads, chugs and grumbles up the mountainside. We’re looking for a “conspicuous large blue pipe with a right turning…”
Wait, was that it? – Nope, just a drinking pump. What about that? – Nope, no right turn here. That must be it! The van swings right. We follow the ever-shrinking road to where it stops abruptly, or rather continues into a creek… tire tracks and mud continue on the other side. No way will this van make it up there. An old man with a hat on steps out of his gate to our left. We read the names of the two people we have written down on a scrap of paper, unsure of the pronounciation. He knods silently and opens the gate for us. Here? Really? We follow him through his own garden and into another that leads on from his. A dreadlocked man with a German accent appears smiling with a great big hug. “Welcome home!” he says.
Now, if you read the last piece I wrote about Rainbow Gatherings during my Spanish adventures, you will know why I am a little suspiscious of these sorts of things and the people they attract. You may even wonder why I have decided to come to a Rainbow Gathering at all. Well, during my travels I have met a number of people that frequent these gatherings and most of them have been jolly nice, so I decided to give it another go. I hide my skepticism under my hat and give the man my best hug and smile.
This house is the Welcome House. The dreadlocked man doesn’t live here, but he and a Turkish woman with a baby welcome us warmly and so do their friends when they wake from their siestas and find us packing our bags in the van behind their house. We still have a long way to travel on foot before we get to the site of the gathering itself. Actually we’ve arrived very late. The gathering has been going on for a few weeks already and will finish in not so many days. Although tired, we refuse the offer of a night in the Welcome House and it’s not long before we’re clambering up the mountain at the back of the house, puffing and panting, loaded down with backpacks.
The walk up is stunning, but we’re racing to get up before the sun comes down. Dogs shout excitedly at us as we pass. I manage to get a few photos during rest stops. It really is a long way and three hours have passed before we hear the sound of drumming and head toward it.
Two people at a time get up from where they’re sitting and welcome us warmly like old friends. I try to commit each name to memory, but each new one seems to erase one I already programmed in. No matter, I’ll just have to ask again later. Fortunately there are left-overs from dinner and we scoff fire-baked potatoes and salad while asking and answering questions of the others round the fire. One man shows us a place to put our tent and it’s not long before we’re slipping off to bed, promising to be more interesting the following day.
We wake up late and revel in the beautiful view, the calm and peace. It’s almost midday before a shout goes out from the fire: “Fooooood ciiiiiiiiiirrrcllle!” Food. Yes!
This is my first ever Rainbow Food Circle. We’re encircling the fire, holding hands and singing, “We are a cir-cle…ne-ver bro-ken…with no begin-ning and ne-ver e-en-ding…” I hold the hands of the people either side of me and repeatedly swallow the scathing cynicism that rises in me. Gosh, where did that come from? I’m sure I used to be just as much a hippy as this bunch! Well, almost…
I scoff up the polenta, veggies and other food that’s been cooked. There’s only one other vegan here, besides me and Pete, but so far all the food seems perfectly edible.
We know perfectly well to avoid the Romanian-Hungarian issue, but Pete can’t help bringing it up. Soon we’re caught in a nationalist argument. You see, Transylvania was a part of Hungary until after the second World War, when Hungary lost about a third of it’s land overnight and the Transylvanian part was given to Romania. So now we have a situation where a large Hungarian minority feels increasingly isolated, with the state allegedly “moving in” Romanians to historically (at least within living memory) Hungarian villages, changing the names of those villages to Romanian ones and teaching the Romanian language in schools. Of course, before World War II, Transylvania had already been part of Romania, as well as being part of Hungary before that as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and also as an autonomous principality, but nobody alive today will remember any of that. You can read more about all this confusion here.
Having arrived so late there’s not a lot going on. People seem to mostly sit around the fire chatting and drumming, go off for walks or (presumably) just stay in their tents. There is, fairly predictably, a Mayan Calender workshop, but Knackered from the day before all I feel like doing is lying around lazily reading my book, so that’s what I do.
Pete and I, hungry and unfamiliar with the times and habits of these rainbow types, are selfishly scoffing chocolate in our tent. It’s the strong stuff: 85% cacao. Finally the food circle shout comes. Dessert involves… cacao! – fairly strong cacao cooked up with sugar and some other bits and bobs. Pete polishes off his, then seconds, then starts licking out the bowl. Then a woman brings a cake out. It’s a chocolate cake. Oh god, this is our punishment for scoffing the chocolate ourselves alone in our tent. Now Pete is really high, banging his drum and repeatedly looking at me and saying “I’m rushing!” with wide eyes. Yes, I can see that!
It’s later that evening and we’re in bed already when Pete starts feeling funny. He goes out for a piss and then wakes up, dazed with wet grass stuck to his face. He’s fainted! Later on he goes out again and is violently sick. Poor Pete – who would have thought you could get cacao poisoning?!
It turns out we’ve come even nearer to the end of the gathering than we thought. We’ve only been up here a day and a night when we find out everyone is leaving the following day. Apparently the man that takes the tat up and down in his horse and cart won’t be here at the weekend as he’s going to a wedding, so the whole thing is ending earlier than expected so he can get all the stuff down before he goes.
Well, I’m not sure this would clarify as a proper taster of a Rainbow Gathering, but it’s enough for me to tentatively try again another time. I’ll just have to be sure to keep my cynicism under my hat and my mouth closed when it comes to long-standing politcal arguments.
We have a final night and morning and take a far easier two hour stroll back down the mountain, although Pete is still suffering from his cacao-induced sickness. We all join together at the Welcome House for a night before returning to the road and “Babylon” – the world outside.