“Back in 2013,” I began my tale around the warm fire of a cold South African morning, “I was at Rainbow Serpent Festival and came across a diablo stick. It was all alone on the ground. People walked past, nobody caring about this poor tossed away stick. So I picked it up and immediately it adopted me and for the next three days of that festival I couldn’t stop spinning and twirling it to the music. I had never twirled anything before that.
Sure, the mushrooms, acid and MDMA may have helped but that stick and I were inseparable.”
It was still a few hours before the Vortex Festival of Fire trance party was set to kick to a stomping start in Riviersonderend, about a two-hour drive west of Mossel Bay. I had arrived the day before, a Friday, with Mari and Tanner. On the way we passed snow-covered peaks of the high mountains.
“It’s gonna be freezing cold,” Mari said as I contemplated my chances of surviving that night in the hammock I was sponsored with by the Indonesian-based company, Ticket to the Moon.
It was dark by the time we found the property where the party was happening. I had volunteered as a Peace Marshall in exchange for a ticket. I was lucky enough to get the Friday shift when there’s nothing to do. That way, I could party for the entire weekend.
I was partnered up with Mark, an ol’ school trancer whose been doing the South African trance circuit for a few years now. He paints geometric shapes in trance format. As we shared our stories of our journey through life we reached a camp site with other Peace Marshall volunteers.
“Anyone heading to Cape Town from here?” I asked. “I’m looking for a ride on Sunday evening or Monday morning.”
Mark looked at me. “Mate, I’m driving to Somerset West on Sunday. I’m alone in the car. You can ride with me.”
“Sold,” I grinned shaking his hand.
Our quiet 6-hour shift ended at midnight where we retired to the main bonfire by the stage. A drum circle had opened up and someone brought a homemade didgeridoo made of what appeared to be a PVC pipe with a bell fitted to the bottom to amplify the sound.
I went back to my camp, set up my hammock in the freezing still of night and returned to the fire with my harmonica. It was my first time jamming at a trance party. I sat with Danielle, a student from Stellenbosch.
“Ah, the town of oaks,” I said, recalling my trip exploring the university town in warmer days.
We chatted for a while until she was summoned to her tent. I sat by the fire for another hour, succumbing to that dreaded thought of getting into a parachute silk hammock when it was about 2 degrees with snow on the mountain peaks behind us.
The hammock had collected dew and was now wet, as was the outside of my sleeping bag.
“Damn it,” I hissed in the dark, being quiet although the thing snoring in one of the nearby tents was keeping any leopards away.
I climbed into my sleeping bag and carefully hopped onto the hammock, shuddering as the bag absorbed the dew. I pulled my warm Chuyo headwear over my eyes, my hoody over my head, zipped my thermal shirt to the top, tucked in my T-shirt and long sleeved shirt into my thermal underwear under my jeans, pulled my neck warmer up to my nose, leaving only my schnoze exposed to breath the ice-pickled air while keeping my hiking boots on over thick woollen socks.
It was so cold the air I breathed out instantly froze and hailed back on me. I slept in 20-minute intervals, like a giraffe. Every time I awoke, shivering, I tried to wrap the hammock around myself.
But parachute silk in the cold feels like your hand sticking to the wall of a walk-in freezer. The only thing that made the torture worthy was seeing the clear night sky dotted with stars.
No one else is seeing this, I thought.
That’s cause no one else is stupid enough to sleep in a hammock with snow on the mountains! my subconscious screamed at me, quickly concluding that hammocks and winter don’t mix.
At 04:00 I could no longer close my eyes for fear of my eyelids freezing over. The temperature was somewhere between sub-Antarctic and a Siberian winter so I headed over to defrost by the fire by the stage.
And it was here, as the sun rose at a painfully slow pace over the snow-peaked mountains, that I was telling my Rainbow story which led me to search for a stick. I made my way over to the Rastafarian’s fire where I met Moses and Juda Crown, two super cool Rastas and there, by Moses’ feet, lay a deserted stick. It was straight, no sharp edges, just the right length. I stared at it and it stared back at me, locking onto my soul. I knew that this stick was ‘The One’.
“Moses,” I turned to the Rasta man, “Can I have this stick?”
He looked at me, puzzled. “Sure.”
I picked it up as though I were Arthur approaching Excalibur, about to pull the sword from the rock that would inaugurate me as king. I balanced it on my fingers and started to spin it.
It was made to be, love at first sight.
“This is it,” I quoted Michael Jackson.
Lise and Casey, two women who had a stall for hair wraps and clothes, sat by the fire. I was so excited about finding ‘The One’ that I repeated my Rainbow story and told them of my nomadic ways.
“Would you like us to wrap your stick? Add some colour to it?” offered Casey.
My eyebrows orbited. “Really?” I couldn’t believe it. “Yes, please!”
I sat with Casey and she wrapped some UV string on the edges, adding some beads I had chosen. I found some purple string and asked for that to be the middle piece and off I went to spin my stick.
At 10:00 I took half a tab of acid called Dolphin as the music began to draw the crowd to the dance floor like the piper of Hamlin. Danielle’s friends had the 12-18:00 shift as Peace Marshalls so we agreed to meet up and hang out at noon, just when the music and the acid kicked in.
We hit the dance floor for a couple of hours. I had dropped the stick I was spinning a few times and the purple string wasn’t taking it lightly. Danielle suggested we go rest for the evening’s dance sesh. Turns out she was camped right under my hammock. On the way we passed by Lise’s stall.
“Casey isn’t here,” Lise said, “but leave the stick and let me do something with it.”
“OK,” I said and headed off to the camp site where I promised Danielle I’d play her some guitar – another first for me at a trance party.
After what felt like half an hour the music picked up and beckoned us to the dance floor. On the way we passed by Lise’s stall to pick up my stick.
“Look what we did,” Lise presented me with a colourfully wrapped staff. Rags and woollen string added to give character to what was once a simple stick.
“Woah!” I gasped. The stick was no longer a stick. “How long was I gone for?” I hugged both Lise and Casey. “This is amazing!” I headed to the dance floor with Danielle, spinning my new customised stick.
“It’ll come to you,” she said as the music bid us to stomp.
And stomp we did, well into the night. The dolphin acid was strong. By the time the sun set I was peaking. It was warm on the dance floor and the acid helped to detract from the freezing weather. I was also barefoot and the ground slightly muddy and cold.
Gerrie, the Mossel Bay Backpackers manager, made a surprise appearance at the party and after I told him about my freezing conditions in the hammock, he offered the back of his VW Caddy to sleep in.
“Thanks, bro,” I hugged him and hit the sack for a few hours.
As it was so warm in the car, I slept in until 11:00 on the Sunday. The music was drawing me towards it, like a huge magnet in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
I spent the day dancing with Danielle and catching up with friends, saying last ‘goodbyes’ to folks I wouldn’t see for a while as I was heading off to Namibia that week.
The Sunday afternoon session, as is the case at most awesome trance parties, was the best day for music and stomping. And it was here that the stick received its name. I had pondered on it for a little bit before it hit me like the beats exploding from the speakers.
“Vortex,” I told Danielle. “That’s my stick’s name. Vortex.”
“We’ll keep in touch,” we all said. “Meet up and travel somewhere in the world.”
Mark’s headlights weren’t working so we camped the extra night. Luckily, he had a spare tent as it began to rain. The next morning, with a free avocado roll from Rosie’s food stall, Mark and I headed out to Strand.
I was Vortexted by this epic weekend. I couldn’t picture a better way to be sent off from South Africa.
Although, it could have been warmer.