Our Uber driver looked at the large metal gate in front of us, a large cursive B in the center. “You sure this is it?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “The directions said by the circular trees.” Behind us a stood a row of trees that had somehow each had their trunks made to grow into an upright circle. Everything was perfectly quiet in the dark. It was 9 pm. We were supposed to arrive the day before, but a thunderstorm system all up and down the East Coast had meant ours and many other flights had been cancelled. We had – by some grace from the universe and extreme kindness to some airline employees – been able to rebook the next afternoon, and now we were here. We texted our contacts, but they didn’t respond. I peered through the gate and saw a warm light maybe a 100 yards away flickering through the trees. I felt like we were in a scene from Mulholland Drive or Eyes Wide Shut. All was mystery and expectation.
Finally we got a text with a code. We punched it in and the gates swung open. We said goodbye to the driver and walked inside into the darkness.
It’s hard to describe what Habitas is, exactly. You could call it a music festival, but that brings to mind thousands of raucous college students and recent grads banging into each other in front of several huge stages. Habitas is small, about 100 people, and it travels, from LA to Tulum to Ibiza. It is celebratory, yet soothing. There is music from several high profile DJs in a small DJ booth tucked under some trees, three organic and sustainably sourced meals a day prepared by a chef who is eager to tell you the provenance of your meal. There is yoga and a couple of workshops. There are glamping accommodations: canvas safari tents complete with beds, rugs, a mirror, a coat rack, and electricity. In short, it marries my love for electronic music to my passion for living consciously.
Always when I’ve written up reviews of events and festivals, it’s been because I was invited to. But this time I was there as my fiancé’s plus one, since he had been invited to play by the co-organizer, Eduardo Castillo, and his wife, Misty. (Kfir Levy is the other main organizer.) But I loved it so much, I’m moved to share my experience with you.
That first night, we followed the lights and came upon a long empty table underneath a tent, flickering with candles. Then we saw a figure walking through the dark and saw it was Eduardo himself. “This was supposed to be a surprise!” he said as he hugged us both hello. “Drop your stuff here, it will be safe,” he said, motioning to a spot besides the pop-up kitchen. Then he picked up a Moroccan-style lantern with an LED light inside and led us down a winding path.
My heart swelled with contentment: The sound of the babbling creek we walked alongside, the spicy-sweet smell of California desert potpourri (eucalyptus and pine, among other things), the stars splashed overhead in the clear sky, trees silhouetted black against the far-away glow of LA, and Eduardo’s familiar Venezuelan accent as he talked about his vision for Habitas washed over me. I could barely stand it, it was all so beautiful.
We skirted the lake and arrived to the main tent, and a figure jumped up from a pile of cushions. It was our friend, Laura, who had decided to come last minute and surprise us. “What??” I gasped and squeezed her tight in a hug. “What are you doing here?”
“I had to stay off social media all weekend. Everyone was asking if I had imaginary friends when you didn’t arrive yesterday!” she said.
Eduardo called everyone together, and we picked up more lanterns to light our way back up to the dinner table, finding our seats underneath hanging lights and tied branches. Beautiful women dressed in white togas (one looked almost exactly like Daenerys from Game of Thrones) brought large hammered bronze bowls of spicy cauliflower and potatoes, and platters of dry-aged beef from pasture-raised Marin County cows. We chatted with the people around us – a Spanish couple, a Thai-Mexican women. The chef passed around the table of 100, speaking to all the guests about the food, which was all sourced from farms that use permaculture and carbon sequestration techniques.
A throaty growl pierced the dinner and everyone craned to see the source. A figure dressed in a white toga and headdress with beads obscuring her face emerged from the darkness. Lit by a red light, she danced and writhed for us, then receded back into the night, leaving us astonished.
We plucked the remaining wine from the tables and the lamps and wound our way back to the tents, accompanied by a chorus of ribbiting frogs. We left the crowd to take our stuff to our tent. A slow music swelled from across the lake, and we hurried back to find DJ Goldcap playing Middle Eastern melodic House music. We went to the dance floor – Persian rugs laid out in front of a DJ booth made of wood and burlap, and kicked off our shoes to dance. The women had wool blankets draped over their shoulders for coats, the men wore multicultural coats collected on their travels. We swigged from white bottles of Gem and Bolt mezcal, which tasted sweet and pure. Illich got on to play and everyone whooped with delight.
At 4 am, we all adjourned to the lotus tent for the afterparty, 20 of us piled on top of each other, giggling and talking over one another while someone got music going on the small speaker. At 5:30 am I climbed into the fluffy white sheets and comforter in our tent while the birds started twittering outside.
The rest of the weekend was the same. We slept in (strangely without any hangover – I’m now a lifelong fan of Gem and Bolt) and had breakfast in the large tent (chia pudding, bagels with organic peanut butter and jelly, farm-fresh scrambled eggs served on real, not disposable, plates) seated on cushions around low tables. After breakfast we had absolutely nothing to do but sunbathe, kayak, swim around the lake, and talk. The day before we had missed an intense emotional workshop by Jesh De Rox, who had apparently caused strangers to bond so closely they cried.
We put away our wallets all weekend, not a cent spent. A sign asked everyone to bring back their glasses to reduce use of plastic. I drank hibiscus lemonade-mezcal cocktails, and snacked on lavender shortbread cookies. Women glided about with variations on the kimono and tunic and caftan, heads wrapped in scarves and necks draped in insignia pendants demoting their membership in various tribes of festival goers. Lunch was served. Past and future travels to Morocco, London, Israel, Greece, and Burning Man were discussed.
Then we went to yoga, led by Patty Quintero, on the island in the middle of the lake, passing over a small bridge and into a clearing in the trees where Eduardo and Goldcap sat cross legged in front of their DJ equipment. The sun was hanging low and golden as we fell into savasana. When it ended, people streamed over the bridge. “We’ve been waiting to have a dance party!” Misty cried, and the music started up again and we all danced our hearts out for an impromptu party in the sunset and then the gloam. Two musicians with handmade instruments joined in, and the whole set ended with a mind-blowing performance on the oud. He plugged it in and shredded it like an electric guitar.
Dinner was served. We gathered again for a performance: a traditional song by a Japanese couple with drums, and then 45 minutes of wild, confident dancing by five professional female dancers – our servers from the first night. Eduardo played a panoply of electronic and folk music from around the world. Afterward I talked with the Japanese woman by the fire, and she let me touch her gorgeous kimono, handmade by her mother of a white and gold cotton-hemp blend. Blond:ish went on, playing tribal, shamanic, hypnotic beats. I went to bed around 2 am, and woke at first light with a text message from my fiancé that he was on the island playing with the other DJs. It was another impromptu dance party as the morning mist spread over the lake.
It felt like we had been there forever, but we had only arrived 36 hours ago. We had another half day of swimming and lounging ahead of us. I thought about my dearest friends. I wanted them to be here with me, even though I had made many new friends, some from LA, some from New York, two from Scotland (dressed in modern takes on the traditional kilt and jacket), some nomads, always traveling. Almost everyone was in their late twenties or older, so the vibe was relaxed and sumptuous. There was no fighting, no drama, no annoyances or drunken accidents.
The price, which starts at $900 per person for three full days, is such that you can be assured everyone who attends is of some means, but no one flaunted this fact, beyond discussion of their travels. And the experience is all-inclusive. We didn’t spend any money the entire weekend, except on the Uber there, gas for our friend’s rental car on the way back, and some airport food. Compare that to a music festival in New York City, which can cast $300 just for entry for three days. Then you have to pay for accommodations ($50 per night if you’re thrifty and share a room with three other people), $15 at least for food for each meal inside the festival (more if it’s healthy or organic), and $10 per drink. That can quickly add up to at least $550 for a weekend of intense crowds and a commercial, normalized experience. Instead, we had our mind blown over and over.
I discussed this fact with my friend, and we agreed the price did not seem like a rip-off for what we got: a nourishing, magical, healthy experience with an astonishing attention to detail. It’s certainly not for everyone. You need to have a love of electronic music and be open-minded to new experiences. But if you are looking for a special vacation that allows you to play without compromising your values, it’s worth saving up for.