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Meadows in the Mountains

[Sofia, Bulgaria]

Waking up at about 5am, I quickly and quietly packed up my gear and made for Sofia.

I walked off the mountain as the sun rose, a bloody red, baleful eye. Enormous dogs barked and snarled at me from behind their fences and I wielded my walking stick defensively, worrying at the structural integrity of what separated me from the wolves. Somehow I had completely overestimated the time it would take me to get from campsite to airport, and I ended up back in the area I had stayed on arrival with about four or five hours to kill. After getting breakfast and some journey supplies in Lidl, I spotted a luxury spa and fitness centre. Warm, low lighting and relaxing atmospheric music wafted invitingly from the slightly ajar doors, and I was struck by a plan.

Having not washed properly in several days whilst exerting myself physically in the sun and spending evenings lying in the dirt, I wasn’t exactly clean, and I was craving a rebirth before heading the Meadows in the Mountains. So I went in to the luxury spa and fitness centre, covered head to toe in mud and sweat and hiking gear, and asked them if I could have a shower. To my amazement, they said yes! I think it was my indication that I was able to pay that did it, but in any case I was soon under a hot rain shower, lathering myself in luxury spa and fitness centre. Stepping out and putting on a new set of clothes (I had kept the same one since arriving) really was a rebirth, and at this point I felt perfectly-positioned to festival myself silly.

I spent the rest of the morning walking around Sofia, which isn’t all that big. I went through a massive park listening to The Who and generally feeling like a successful con artist. Passing a stadium and picking up a stray dog on the way, I made it to the centre of town. I wandered into a beautiful Eastern Orthodox Church that was thick with darkness, incense, age, tradition, and just sat there, preparing for the light, colour, noise and energy of Meadows.

There was a Bulgarian version of 101 Dalmations’ Horace and Jasper patrolling the church, making sure no one was taking photos, talking, looking to hard, enjoying themselves or breathing – they were doing a fine job – that provided me with some good amusement. After a while, I moved off and made for the metro to take me to the airport.

At the bus shuttle, I met my first festival friends. The first was a professional body paint artist from Surrey called Lottie (check out her work here) who had been left by her entourage with all the gear. On the coach itself I met Ross, Naomi, Tea, Dmitry, Leren, Tess and several other lovely souls who confirmed all my suspicions that this festival was going to be a special experience.

I chatted mainly with these last three on the bus, and there was a real sense that I had known them for a lot longer than the few hours we had spent together. Incidentally, I was very impressed by the driver, who didn’t use any sort of map or satnav for the entire 4.5-hour journey: as I said before, I like how Bulgarians do things.

 The festival site itself was just as magnificent as the people in it, and all the structures were constructed there using local timber. From the stages to the traders’ stalls to the composting toilets (which had running water and soap!) and compost-powered showers, to the two-floor bar, the viewing platforms, lookout towers, treehouses and installations.

The installations were an incredible feature. There was (among many) a fire-breathing dragon, light-sensitive pyramid and a huge climbable beehive. Perhaps my favourite of all these, however, was disco balls suspended in trees that came alive at night. As soon as I saw them, it was obvious that this was their natural habitat, and any disco ball living in a club has been abducted, probably by poachers, and sold into slavery. Sadly I don’t have any pictures of this beautiful sight. There were running water taps placed strategically throughout the festival, handmade clay ovens selling delicious empanadas, pizza and burritos, endlessly flowing sangria and stalls selling an array of handmade things. I picked up a glazed clay bowl made locally, and my friend Leren was selling her fabulous jewellery and clothing under a tree.

I met so many amazing people at Meadows, and this was largely due to the fact that I had (inadvertently) gone on my own. The friend I had expected to spend most of my time with was busy making the pyramid, but it worked perfectly, because I ended up just wandering around, chatting with people and bumping into others I had met previously.

It was the perfect festival to be alone at as well. The size (no more than 2,500) meant that the many wonderful connections that were made didn’t have to be a one-off thing like they are at larger festivals. You’d just see them later. This contributed wonderfully to the quasi-communal feel of the place. In addition, everyone was so unbelievably loving, friendly and welcoming that it was impossible to feel lonely or isolated.

This caring approach was also directed to the land itself, and it was great to see everyone being careful not to leave any rubbish lying around. We had separated bins! The beer cans went on to be made into bricks for building projects in the area, the food waste to be used as compost for farms, and the plastic to be recycled into building materials.

There were even portable ashtrays being sold in the village to prevent people leaving their butts and roaches (in plentiful supply) lying around. To top it off, there were no disposable cups or bottles. Meadows in the Mountains enamel mugs and metal bottles were also being sold, and you always had to present your own vessel when getting a drink.

It may sound stupid, but seeing everyone with their mugs attached to their belts further contributed in a strange way to the Bohemian style that was oozing from every pore of the festival, and it just made everything feel more authentic.

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