Land of feeling: Summer Peace Festival 2014

The majestic Kalawaig River

I believe that the best way to experience anything is to not have expectations, to let everything happen and submit to the thrill of being in that moment. When I decided to go to Cagayan De Oro for the Summer Peace Festival on April 11 to 13, I had no expectations at all. And quite frankly, it was the best pre-festival preparation I’ve ever done.

I was in the middle of a man-made jungle in the mountains of Cagayan, in Mindanao, without cellphone coverage or contact with my life back in Manila, and somehow, I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried that the people back home might need something from me. I thought of this trip as a real getaway, or as the festival suggests, a chance to have a “digital detox.”

The trip going to Ki Bathala Gardens seemed daunting at first, but it wasn’t. Approximately 2 hours away from Laguindingan Airport, it’s a venue that calls those with keen eyes and excited hearts. A red Carabao statue with a “tuko” perched on it was the sign to look out for at the side of the highway as I was riding a van from Carmet Market to Talakag. It was the entrance to a pocket of nature where anger or confusion has no room. Tucked beneath the highway headed to Balaon, a permaculture farm was transformed into festival grounds for free spirited adventurers and artists.

Wandering around the festival grounds, signs such as “Be Yourself” or the Om symbol are drawn everywhere, adding charm to the already majestic setting of endless greens and lush earth tones. A huge blackboard was displayed against a tree, inviting everyone to share their music using the pile of colored chalk. I wrote “Land of Feeling” by Here We Go Magic, one of my favorite songs. It had a mystical feel to it because of the layers of sound and the serenity it brings each time I listen to it. And at that moment, that was exactly how I felt: mystical and serene.


The music, the sights, and everything in between

From psytrance and drum and bass (Adadub, Esther, Mushproject) to CDO-based bands (Arthur, Lost Tribe) to hard rock (Japan’s Tits, Tats and Whiskers, Nanay Mo), there’s something for every ear. One act, KaapiN, made me think about the earliest creative surges of man, when figurines of male bodies with animal heads, believed to be created some 30,000 years ago, were found in the regions surrounding the Chauvet Cave in southern France. The electronic duo wore bird headdresses during their performance, and produced a fuzz and beat-heavy sound worthy of an astral travel. They made me stitch and realize that the past and present, though separated by technology and other forms of humanism, might happen at the same time, as long as it is depicted in the right form. For me, it was a thought to dwell upon, as insights like this can only happen in a place like Ki Bathala Gardens, where one does not have the chance to check their smart phones and social media accounts. Folk act Bullet Dumas, who’s known for his vocal stylings and passionate guitar play, laid out an exciting set that made everyone get on their feet and rush to the stage.

Lady I

Lady I and Coco Jam, two of the most celebrated reggae bands in our country, were there to make everyone remember that this was a time to celebrate living. They made the audience feel that they were experiencing personal milestones, and upbeat, reggae music is the perfect soundtrack for that epiphany.

Goods such as tie-dye shirts and accessories from Indie Green Culture were sold at the venue, and the most striking pieces of merchandise were their dream catchers. There was even one with a meerkat’s skull attached to it.  I saw one with shells and it reminded me of my love for the sea and I had to take it home with me. The food, without a doubt, was also some of the best “festival grounds food” I’ve ever tasted. It’s rare to come across delectable, home cooked meals when in festivals, but SPF had access to it. Cooked overnight, the Grandma’s stew (Php 170) from Eldora’s Kitchen was a highlight, with bits of rib eye, tenderloin and vegetables swimming in thick, mildly spicy sauce. There was also lechon served in another stall, which was transformed into lechon paksiw the next morning. Hineleban Coffee is said to be one of the best brews in the region, and was sold at Php 50 a cup. As for the booze, they sell by the cup (Php 50) or by the “grande” (php 150), forcing every buyer to share with their friends, which I thought was a great social strategy. The venue also sold wine, rhum, whiskey, and brandy by the bottle in not-so-steep prices. Where else will you find music festival that sells bottles of wine for less than Php 300?

Probably one of the most visited areas in the venue, the Tree of Thoughts allowed people to write whatever they wanted on hanging cardboards. The phrases, quotes, and sayings that were written were like little snippets of the unique personalities wandering around the jungle. “You need to know how to die before you can live,” read one, while another read “random people you meet might hold the key to your being…”


People you meet in the middle of nowhere

On the night that I arrived, I told myself “I don’t know where I am, but somehow I feel safe,” and it was true. It was impossible for any kind of harm to happen, as if every leaf in that place was looking out for me. Aside from the feeling of safety, it wasn’t hard to notice that the people looked out for one another, as they smiled at each other and sent out a welcoming vibe. It was hard to feel out of place, especially when the one’s who’s leading the gathering is Mother Nature herself.

SPF gave me a social experience unlike any other festivals I’ve been to. Instead of seeing people pay so much attention to the superficialities of life (what to wear, how to look, what to bring), those in SPF only had their glowing auras to offer without inhibitions — their souls bared — bathing under the moonlight. Without any exaggeration, I could say that I’ve had the most interesting and intellectual conversations I’ve had with strangers, who quickly became friends. Whether around a bonfire, a table, or the mushroom chairs, the people I’ve talked to offered great conversation in ways that won’t be defined as annoying or rude. I went to the festival a day after my birthday, and each time new friends find out about this little fact, they offered toasts. Some even gave spontaneous gifts they randomly found. Now, I can file this experience under “the year when I spent my birthday in the jungle.”


The dip of peace

The name of the festival, Luna Musikalawaig, is dubbed from the name of this river.  A short 10-minute trek from the festival grounds took attendees to Kalawaig River, a long stretch where the current goes from mild to strong and where anyone was welcome to take a bath in, better if the soap is organic. The river, naturally landscaped with huge boulders and little totems made by balancing rocks on top of another, has a gravitational pull on the being that urges one to take a dip and relax. The river was one of the main attractions, mainly because of the melody of the gushing waters and the inviting tone of the rustling leaves.


Postcards from the jungle

Taking this trip made me realize a lot of things. It was an introspective, sort of like a soul cleansing experience. I was in the middle of nowhere, after all, a place where music and peace were all that mattered. I went on a surreal voyage that showed me how personal peace can be achieved. For me, that’s enough to go back to this festival again.

And if there’s one thing I’m certain of and will vouch for: the journey to the river is a trip worth taking.


To find out more about Luna Musikalawaig (Summer Peace Festival), visit their site here.


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