Planting the seed
“We should really throw a party together one day!”, said Ben as he opened another cold bottle of Aguila for me. It was March 2017, me and my boyfriend had been travelling the Colombian Caribbean Coast for a few weeks until we got stuck at this place which I immediately found to be – it.
El Rio Hostel hugged my soul like a blanket. The dark green trees that dipped their tips into the ice cold river that runs almost through the Hostel greeted my naked skin as I swam past. The howler monkeys seemed to shout my name, so did the choir of the birds and the myriads of insects that live in this ancient jungle. My heart knew it had a found a home away from home.
“A party, huh? Sounds great, I mean, we could actually really do that!” said Guy as he sat down next to Eddy and me. Ben and Guy, the owners of El Rio, had this certain vibe, this special aura unique to people that do what they love in life. People who jumped, who face their fears – and then just did it. It took us just half an hour and half an Aguila more to become friends, and to plant the seed for what later would become one of the greatest events I ever got to plan (and trust me, there have been several).
A few month later, I was back in Colombia. I had quit my office job in Berlin and was more than ready to make it happen – our little utopia named “El Rio presenta: Bonanza”. Ben and Guy had quickly brought up the idea of the venue: Playa Bonanza. a stunnign beach, deserted, protected from the street (and nosy neighbours) by a huge banana plantation. But once I got there, I realised: this beach was by no means deserted! An old abandoned villa, built in the 90’s, was defying the strong waves that pounded against it every ten seconds. This place was not deserted… it was magic. It’s the sort of places that gives you goosebumps and that makes you feel like a child again, ready to explore.
A big family was taking care of the house, with all their primos and primas, hijos and hijas. With cute puppies and chickens running around… and, as we found out when we checked for the fuse board in a small room, a huge sow suckling it's piglets. It was literally filling the whole room, leaving us giggling – but also with a huge question in our heads: how on earth were we going to run a festival in this place?
Setting up, getting there…
As the date was coming closer, we really got moving. Ben’s friend Katja was touring Colombia at the time and agreed to bring her brother Niklas Stadler, one of the BAUM partners, and some other Munich friends. We cleaned the ground and made it safe for everyone (the sow was gently moved along), painted the house and ordered a sound system and stage (this wasn’t as simple as it sounds - this is rural Colombia after all!). Meanwhile, volunteers from all over the globe arrived at El Rio to help Eddy, Guy, Ben and me set up the festival ground. We worked in the burning heat of the day and in the cooling shades of the afternoon. We lifted and hammered, we decorated and fixed – and after a week of setup, it suddenly was the night before the party.
Working with that team was one of the greatest experiences of my 18 month trip – genuine, hard working women and men, creative souls and strong characters. It was pure human beauty, and I still get flooded with gratefulness when I think of them.
Let the show begin
The morning of the event arrived with crisp sunshine. Everything seemed to have a lot of contrast as our small group of artists, builders and travellers headed down to the Bonanza Beach to finalise the setup.
As we cleaned the venue once again, stocked the bar with ice-cold drinks and welcomed our Colombian food vendors and the Holzkopf Crew who had helped us during the setup, suddenly the Caribbean air seemed to vibrate with bass. The soundcheck made us realise that this was it: all the hard work would either pay off today… or not. Yes, of course we had our doubts: will the vibe be good? Will enough people from Santa Marta and Palomino make their way to our festival?
Luckily we had no need to worry. A great crowd of people showed up. And then more… and more. The music, the sound of the waves, the swaying palm trees, the crazy rave that it all turned into… When I look back it feels almost like something from a film. But this wasn’t fiction – for one day, we made it become a reality.
And the best thing is: we will do it again!
I still feel my feet stomping in the sand, feel the hairs on my arms standing on end in moments of bliss. And as with everything too good to let go, we decided that we would do it again. We will gather a great team. We will work hard, burn our foreheads and backs, cut our fingers and pour our hearts and souls into it. Because it’s worth it. It’s our utopia, our party, our festival, that we now want to invite you to.
We put together a killer line up already, and slowly, I can feel my pulse beating to the ticking clock as the 23rd of March comes closer. It’s happening again, ladies and gents.
See you under the palm trees