July 29, 2009

Wanderlust: What was it all about anyway?

wWhile spending time at the Wanderlust festival in Squaw Valley, it certainly felt a bit more like “wander lost” than anything else. On Day 3 I finally figured out how to read my map, though by that time changes in the yoga schedule and the musical guests had rendered my “travel guidebook” (aka program) obsolete. I don’t want to give the impression that the festival was disorganized, but with so many things happening at once and so much to see, it was certainly disorienting.

The German word ‘Wanderlust’ means something like the desire to move oneself. It has come to mean a love of travel, but this is perhaps only the most obvious, and therefore derivative, meaning. I think the word indicates what we all feel: that internal impulse to become something more, to change, to grow, to reach beyond our comfort zone.

This is why I think the title of this first annual yoga and music festival in Squaw Valley was aptly chosen. Like so much else I experienced over the weekend, the parts really did come together to make a greater whole.

squawTo begin with, Squaw Valley is a complete gem. It is perhaps the most dramatic of the many glacier-formed valleys fingering along the Sierra range north of Lake Tahoe. In the summer, the valley is green and lush. There is a links-style golf course along Squaw Creek and the village sits at the foot of a large rock outcropping. The festival took full advantage of these surroundings: from yoga at High Camp, where you can center yourself while gazing at Lake Tahoe in the distance, to music at the Gold Coast, where you look up into the high bowls and permanent snow fields at the top of Squaw, to the village scene, the parking-lot camping, and the mountain lifestyle. You can chill out and relax at the Play Lounge at the base of the gondola or enter the frenzy of the Globetrotter stage.

If you go to Wanderlust, take your time. On Day 2, when I hiked from Gold Coast to High Camp, I heard some disgruntled wanderers complain that they were short of provisions and lost. Truth be told, there were ample vendors available even on the mountaintop and plenty of helpful staff, but self-sufficiency is definitely a virtue at Wanderlust. Pack your sunscreen, your water bottles (which have to be emptied before your ride up the mountain), some snacks, and something to sit on. Once you get up the mountain, you are in the wild. But as Jeff Krasno proclaimed, this is the spirit of Wanderlust: there are no fences. That means that you can swim in the high mountain lake behind the Gold Coast stage, you can spread your blanket under any tree you find, you can climb the ridge or the peak if you like, but precautions are necessary.

massyogaThe business model for the festival seems diverse and layered. You can go as a “VIP,” paying in excess of $500 for an all-inclusive, go-anywhere, rub-shoulders-with-famous-people experience. Or you can purchase the more moderately priced “Seeker” package with four yoga classes and all the music a person could want. This is the ideal package for my money. Yoga in the morning, break for lunch and siesta, then music all afternoon and evening up to partying late into the night. The yoga classes are organized in cycles with most venues hosting two classes, 15 minutes apart. That means that after you finish your first yoga class of the day, you can head over to another location and catch the second round. Start with something vigorous, and then do something more meditative or restorative. Or do it the other way around. Locals can purchase “Daytripper” passes with access to events on a given day. Sunday night, we gave a ride home to a local who had received a free pass for Friday and then bought the rest of the weekend from some people who had won their tickets from a radio contest. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Volunteers that I talked to claimed to have gotten the sweetest deal. In exchange for some work hours, they got the VIP package: all-access passes to do yoga or see music. It was great to see so many volunteers happy to hang out the day after to clean and break down the weekend’s events. Certainly a mark of the good festival is keeping the workers happy.
Local retailers also got a boost by leaving their doors open to the party traffic. One favorite was certainly Alice’s Mountain Market & Video where health-food snacks and beverages can be found along with cold beer. If you arrive early in the morning and need coffee and breakfast, wait in line for Mountain Nectar and get the breakfast bagel sandwich. Well worth the wait. And check out all the regional yoga studios and LOHAS retailers that strut their stuff around the village.

Accommodations vary from camping to first-class lodges and hotels. (Beware of the mileage posting for campsites on the website, distances are much farther than they appear.) Choose what suits you best; there are options for all preferences and styles. This a fact that resonated with me many times over the weekend: from the many different bodies and poses at the large yoga sessions, to the vendors, families, children playing all around the music, to the revelers and partiers, variety was the theme. Wanderlust is a rare place where you can watch a line of people doing the hula-hoop on a mountainside while listening to Broken Social Social Scene rock out: everyone from the four-year-old boy trying to figure out how to work the thing to the freakishly talented 30-something man with a scarf on his head.

varietyAbove all, Wanderlust is about finding your own adventure, your own peace of mind, and your own bliss. This is the deeply yogic aspect of the festival: each person has to step into her own balance, her own sense of self, while at the same time reaching out beyond to something bigger, something more than the self. The trip, I believe, is a microcosm of life. When we venture out of our comfort zone, we may feel lost, disoriented, unsure of ourselves, but in that place we learn what it means to exist, to simply be here, to let time pass and allow the rhythms of a place, the colors, sounds, textures, and smells inhabit our consciousness.

Riding down the gondola from a night of music, someone posed the question of whether Wanderlust was the music festival’s answer to Burning Man. It seems to me that Wanderlust is like the anti-Burning Man. It takes that same spirit of communal and self-expression through artistry, performance, and music, but it attempts to integrate that spirit into the commercial, media-driven frenzy of our world. Burning Man exists in a place entirely outside the normal. Wanderlust is just up the road. But it can offer a taste of what it is like to step out, beyond, into a space of real communion with people, music, art, dance, wherever your desire moves you.


by Nathan Smith

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