International Rainbow Gathering on the Eynif Plateau, Turkey, 2022
A few weeks before the full moon of October, 2022, I found out that a friend of mine, Tamahin, and her children were going to attend the International Rainbow Festival on the Eynif Plateau an hour and a half outside of Antalya. I’d had a long time acquaintance with the ‘Rainbow Tribe’ because of my camping place I used to own and run in Kabak Valley and while not being particularly open to the ideals of Rainbow so many years ago, I was now in the mood to explore it further. I quickly got the idea to invite myself and my 6-year-old son along as well.
The Rainbow ideology is an attempt to live communally and closer to nature with sharing, as opposed to selling ones’ skills, encouraged. At the gathering technology would be discouraged, no meat would be served, alcohol and synthetic drugs wouldn’t be allowed and for hygiene the Rainbow tribe promotes the use of ash to clean as opposed to detergents and soaps (more on that later). The month-long festival follows one lunar cycle and participants are expected to share by donating cash (as much or as little as you can afford), helping out in the kitchen, carrying firewood, helping to construct, offering a workshop or in any other way they can.
As the planned departure date grew closer I had to finally broach the subject with my ex-wife, Sultan. I wasn’t sure how she would respond; school had already started, I knew ‘no alcohol’ actually meant presence of weed, and urgent medical care, though not too far, logistically, wouldn’t be as easy as at home. Though, I thought, the opportunity to spend at least a few days with a multinational group of people who lived differently and behaved differently amongst each other wouldn’t be a bad lesson in tolerance for our son (and myself). I knew that exposing him to this one, small event, was merely a tiny part in the lifelong search for peace but an important one. I also wanted to get past my own prejudice of the Rainbow people that had developed so long ago.
Over the years while I lived and ran a camping business in Kabak Valley, after every local Rainbow Festival, many of those who had attended would arrive in Kabak and havoc would ensue. Tents would pop up in the forest and on private land, fires would be lit amongst a forest parched from normal Mediterranean summer drought and the sounds of handsaws, cutting branches on privately owned land would drift up to my camp, prompting my strong reaction as one of the business owners trying to preserve the cleanliness of Kabak. People would pop up asking for fruit, vegetables and bread as if I didn’t have to carry everything we ate and drank into the Valley on my shoulders. Even after I had a vehicle, Kabak was a struggle, so why shouldn’t they? My answer to them was always, NO. Inevitably and invariably they would leave trash and dirty toilet paper around the places where they were camped. I knew there was more to them of course and now I wanted to revisit with a different mindset.
At around 1000 meters above sea level the Eynif Plateau was going to be a bit colder than what we’re used to where we live near the Mediterranean Sea and I had to plan accordingly. This meant packing a minus 33 C rated sleeping bag for my son and a slightly less warm one for myself as well as sleeping mats, tent, warm clothes, flashlights, toys that wouldn’t be used, supplemental food for my son, my coffee maker and stove ( I can be more social after I drink coffee antisocially 😊), small folding table and too many clothes that we wouldn’t wear. I realized that if we were car camping this load would be easy but since there would be one kilometer between the car and our camping area it would take a little more effort but that was ok.
Finally, the morning of our departure arrived and my son and I made our way over to Tamahin’s house in the neighboring town. There, we met Jimi again (high energy, long dreadlocks, affable and easily memorable) along with his friends, Zeynep and Burcu. Also present, Tamahin and her 3 daughters plus Alp and Jody their dog. Our convoy comprised of 3 cars and finally we embarked on our 6 hour journey to the Eynif Plateau.
The road to Fethiye is a familiar one as I’d lived in Fethiye (Kabak Valley) for 14 years and would drive both directions along the coast from Fethiye frequently. From Fethiye to Antalya though, the quickest way is up the mountains towards Korkutelli and then descending into the sprawl of Turkey’s largest Mediterranean city. This is a beautiful drive amongst high mountains clad in pine forests that mute into cedar and even Juniper in their upper reaches. You can turn the air conditioning off and roll down the windows for a nice change after a typically hot Mediterranean summer.
Outside of Antalya we followed the D400 eastwards towards the small town of Tasagil where we had our last chance of procuring any supplies. From there we embarked on a dirt road that was being turned into the D687 through heavily denuded but still beautiful mountains. It wasn’t a necessarily difficult dirt road but a confusing one because of the myriad side roads that connected to workers camps, forest logging roads, big rig parking areas and just a mass of activity and building everywhere. Finding the exact location of the gathering relies on word of mouth once you’ve arrived in the area. Fortunately for us, Jimi was taking care of this and we eventually found an unmarked turn off just before the small village of Baslar, located at the edge of the Eynif plateau. After turning right, driving southeast on a much smaller dirt road we immediately began seeing people both with backpacks and without, walking towards the festival. In the spirit of Rainbow, you don’t pass people up until your car is REALLY full. This means you have to reconsider what a full car actually means. Because Rainbow is ostensibly all about community and therefore helping each other out in any way possible we soon had 3 cars packed to the brim with family members of the greater Rainbow community.
Many of the Rainbow rules are for you to sort out for yourself: it’s more than likely no one is going to chase you down for breaking one of them, assuming you’re not blatantly filming or taking pictures in a communal area, and therefore we were able to circumvent the transportation of all our stuff on our shoulders by loading everything from all three cars into Tamahins’ car and driving it further into the plateau. There we offloaded everything including our two youngest kids and I drove the car back to where I believed the parking lot to be (more on that later). The rest of our group walked the one kilometer to our camping area.
The first thing I noticed about the Eynif Plateau was the vastness of it. I was relieved to see this as it meant that you could camp as close to the communal area or as far away from it as you liked. There were no limits. The southeastern side of the Plateau was at least a few kilometers long and at least two wide so there was plenty of space. There were campers one to two kilometers away from us but also just a few meters away from where we eventually put up our tents. Where we camped was on the edge of the plateau which rose into a forest of soil and trees and then eventually, on three sides of the plateau, the soil gave way and we were surrounded by granite rock mountains serrated and striated with a light cover of forest. It was stunning.
By the time we had put up our tents and were ready to explore, night had fallen. This was fine but it meant that I was just a bit worried about getting separated from my 6 year old as we hadn’t worked out the layout of everything yet. Naturally, when your visual senses are impaired you revert to touch and sound and therefore the sound of the various drums and other instruments being played from the music circle echoed from through the forest to where we were and naturally drew us there first off. The flickering light of the fire illuminated faces that belonged to people from everywhere. There were those who could have passed as both from a European Mediterranean country or Turkish. Others clearly not Turkish, Far East, Central Asia, the western world, but only two kids I met whose father must have been of African descent, the four nights I was there. The one thing most everyone had in common were alternative hair styles, tattoos, shawls and comfortable baggy pants. When I asked my son what he thought about that first night he only told me, “I didn’t like ‘their’ faces”. Go figure…
Because we arrived late we didn’t know that there was a separate area for families with kids and that there, they served dinner earlier than they did for everyone else. Therefore, eventually when they announced that it was dinner time we all made our way 500 meters away, out on the plateau to the main fire circle where everyone else would eat. Inside the circle no shoes and no dogs were allowed and although it was dinner time there would be a lengthy ceremony and singing before dinner was actually served. But alas it was getting too late and my son was succumbing to the effects of a long day of driving and excitement and he and I retreated to our tent. After reading some Curious George and assuring him that I would be right outside the tent if he needed me he promptly fell asleep and I nipped a few sips of Gentleman Jack. Well, I thought, if you’re going to break the rules make sure you do it in a quiet, non-invasive way😊
The moon was waxing, it was two days before the full moon and the climax of the festival but despite its brightness the big dipper, the north star and bits and pieces of other constellations could still be made out. The night was crisp, the encircling grey peaks around us were illuminated and comfortably reassuring. So far Rainbow was positive. People who were truly into the Rainbow spirit called each other brother and sister. One guy who saw me that first night with my son wanted to make sure I knew that they were making pizza and my son and I could go in front of the line to get some. When we’d arrived, I remembered there was a banner that said, “Welcome Home”. I reflected that this was home as long as that’s what you wanted. Everyone here was merely making you an offer and if you could overcome your inhibitions, perhaps your prejudices and own sense of reality perhaps this could be home, at least for the time that you were there.
Rhythmical music could be heard throughout the night and though we could have been camped a little further away it wasn’t overly annoying. The next morning after coffee everyone drifted away little by little to whatever and wherever it was that was pulling them. For my son and I that meant wandering around and mostly watching jugglers, long baton twirlers and slack line walkers. I was old school obviously: I just had a frisbee… We also decided to visit “the shit pit”. I wanted to get the ‘scoop’ on the pooping area before it was time to have to go and actually execute ‘the big job’. We followed signs of white strips of cloth further and further into the forest until I had to finally ask someone where the shitpit was. As he laughed and told us we were there, a young woman taking a dump looked over to us as if to say, “are you serious?”. To the side of us were a few long trenches cut into the earth and more than a few people squatting over them. We didn’t have to poop so I guided my son away as no one likes a looky loo while you’re in such a vulnerable position. Six-year-olds are not always perceptive to the goings-on around them and when I asked him if he had noticed the people squatting and pooping, he said no. The idea is to cover your crap in ash and as the Rainbow invite advises: “abstain from using toilet paper or wet napkins and instead, take a bottle of water with you and ‘try’ to clean yourself”. I love the ‘try’ part.
I was hoping there would be more children my sons’ age but given that school had started there were really only two other children amongst hundreds of people who were of his age. There were quite a few very small kids but that was it. Therefore, he was really glued to me, which is nice to a point but finally, when it came time for the first meal I decided to leave the group and my son and go to the main circle alone. He would be in good hands with our friends and he needed to learn to trust the people who his daddy trusts.
Although the plain was wide open there was a designated path lined with rocks that most people used to get to the main circle. Upon arriving there were about 100 people holding hands in a circle and singing around the fire. You could join them or otherwise sit outside of the circle. As more people came the circle kept getting bigger and moving towards those of us sitting down. Of everyone in the circle one woman was bottomless. There was a perpetual chain of twirling or dipping the person next to you down and kissing them on the cheek and afterwards they would rise and do the same to the next person. Also, they passed a small twig between their toes to each other that went around and around.
After the last song everyone spread out and sat in an even larger circle and little by little the food was being served in large pots. The servers would yell out, ‘First time’, which basically meant it wasn’t time for seconds yet. After food service was done various people would walk around the circle and announce workshops that they would give after lunch. Somebody else walked around and asked if anybody had seen her power bank. (One morning, a woman came by our encampment and asked if we had any medicine for gout). Everything was open and nothing was off the table here. There was no deriding people’s needs as I had learned to do growing up. Certainly, if you needed a hug, there would be a thousand willing givers.
After lunch, I was happy to see my son follow Jimi to where he was making and serving herbal tea and feeding the fire underneath naturally built mud and stone stoves. Until he met his new friend the next day this became his calling. Jimi was good at getting people to do things and before you knew it all of us were collecting wood in the forest. Because I had literally carried all the wood for constructing my kitchen and toilet in Kabak Valley on my shoulders, down steep mountain trails, this came quite naturally to me.
Where the tea was served was actually the children’s area though this wasn’t readily apparent. Behind it was a makeshift set up of running water with a few spigots. On the third day I noticed a bucket of ash somewhere around but I didn’t see that the first or second day. The same day I saw the bucket with ash it disappeared quickly and when I finally saw another bucket it was filled with hot ash so it wouldn’t be usable for another 12 hours for sure. That night Tamahins’ youngest girl got very sick and ended up throwing up the whole night. The next day at the children’s circle we heard that something was going around and we should be extra careful with hygiene.
On the second morning as we sipped our coffee, a young man with a full beard and mustache approached us. He wore a thin robe with brown, turquoise and purple colors and stars printed over it. He carried a small tool or instrument with an oval head made of copper or brass and without greeting us (nor us to him), promptly kneeled down on the grass and apparently prayed. I assumed he was merely going from camp to camp to pray for the wellbeing of its inhabitants.
That day I saw a man on a motorcycle, riding and stopping, searching and then riding forward a bit and looking again. He must be an animal herder or coban and he was looking for his herd of sheep or cows. We started talking and he told me two of his cows were already sick from swallowing plastic bags. Apparently if there is a smell inside an empty plastic bag that the cow likes it will eat it and get sick. I asked him what he thought about the cows eating the skins, stems and leftover food in the compost area and he wasn’t happy about that either, yet his cow was standing right in the middle of it the day before because one side was left open.
On our last full day, I ended up serving tea to passersby and keeping both fires going. My son was off playing with his friend and everyone else was everywhere else. I chopped vegetables on the side of a can of olive oil because there was nowhere else to do it and helped prepare the meal for the children’s circle. Our last night was also going to be the night of the full moon. Tamahin had fallen severely ill (as both Zeynep, Alp, myself and my son would almost immediately upon leaving the gathering the next day) so neither she nor her youngest daughter would be going to the main circle later in the evening.
As there were two or three villages that were within easy driving distance to the plateau there were quite a few cars that drove in and parked on the side of the road as evening descended. The music and the fire (and apparently the people) reached a crescendo slowly but surely throughout the night. The fire reached three times the size of the people surrounding it. The whole inner circle were devoid of clothing, dancing, and I wondered what the villagers were thinking. The next day was supposed to be a morning of silence, but as the music didn’t stop until 8 am it seemed the hours of silence were negotiable.
I loved the fact that Rainbow is, more or less, sincere in its goal of brotherhood. If even for this one month a year to know that some of us are treating each other with politeness and trust was a nice thing to experience if even for 4 days. On the other hand we realized we had parked our cars in the wrong place, along with 25 other cars mind you, and therefore someone had placed large branches and lots of pine cones all over our cars. Out of our group of 10, 8 of us got sick. Ash is indeed a worthy cleaner but there were not enough visible nor cool enough buckets of ash to use. Any cleaner needs to be applied by something so how was this being done in the shitpit?
There were multiple spigots rigged up in the area for washing of some type so it wouldn’t be difficult to rig them up to makeshift toilets as well. More availability of usable ash and a logical way of applying it when it comes to using the shit pit would make a huge difference in the overall hygiene of Rainbow.
Rainbow is inclusive yet any parent has to now wonder: should I take my kid, knowing that he or she will get sick and throw for one whole night? Can the minds and hearts of Rainbow brothers and sisters change to make Rainbow more inclusive for children and their parents (and everybody)? I hope so, because what we’re missing in the outside world is what exists inside the world of Rainbow and that is lack of confrontation, lack of violence, mostly respect for others needs, lack of derision, empathy and lots and lots of tolerance.