Last Thursday night, I hopped on a red eye from LAX en route to a new festival called Ondalinda in Costa Careyes, Mexico that was taking place for the first time in the days leading up to Día de los Muertos. The plan was simple: get a few hours of sleep on my flight to Mexico City, catch a short plane ride to Manzanillo, and then take an hour or so shuttle to where we were staying. That was the plan, but that’s not even close to how it all ended up going down.
Things started to get a bit hectic when I realized I was seated next to five belligerently drunk girls from the OC on their way to Cancun for a bachelorette party. I was incredibly excited about scoring the last window seat earlier in the day. This excitement had now faded. The drunkest of the bunch was seated right next to me and was the definition of a hot mess: couldn’t get her new Beats by Dre wireless headphones to connect to her phone (they weren’t on), spilling food everywhere, and passed out on my shoulder immediately after take off. Bad start, but I was determined to roll with the punches.
After getting off the plane half asleep and still attempting to acclimate to my surroundings, I took an escalator down towards customs and saw a terrible sight: about 800 people ahead of me. I got in line with the drunk OC girls, who were now my only source of something familiar, and began to wait it out. I ended up missing my flight and got stuck in the Mexico City airport for twelve incredibly long hours. Although my time in Mexico had already started from bad to worse, I was not deterred and my sights were still set on Ondalinda.
After finally landing in Manzanillo, I jumped into a shuttle with a few members of the Mayan Warrior crew, a photographer from New York Times, a self-proclaimed dancer and after a quick stop at the market, enough cervezas and snacks for the ride in. This was my first time in Mexico, so it seemed only fitting that hour one on Mexican soil (the airport doesn’t count) was spent drinking beers in the backseat of a van while watching the sunset with a group of people I had just met.
Before fully grasping the events that were now rapidly transpiring around me, I found myself surrounded by 200 dancing bodies all dressed in white with thousands of candles lighting up the polo fields I was now standing on. To my right was a lengthy table where hundreds of guests feasted on delicious fresh meats and traditional Mexican delicacies. To my left was a small stage directly underneath a lit up overhanging tree where HVOB, BLOND:ISH, and The Happy Show would perform deep into the night.
After taking a shuttle back to Casa Jungla, our magical home for the weekend, I swam for an hour under the stars and eventually passed out on a bed by our pool while enjoying the sunrise. All of this might not sound like the start to your typical music festival, but then again, Ondalinda was no typical festival.
Positioned as a “gathering to join together the fire & water elements found in all of us” and a “weekend to celebrate indigenous Mexican culture through the art and teachings of the Huichol people,” Ondalinda succeeded by allowing the event to be more of a vacation and educational experience than an actual music festival. Sure, there was a loose schedule that helped ensure guests had a grasp of how they might want to spend their time, but spontaneity was truly a major theme of Ondalinda.
Like any good vacation, it was all about choosing your own adventure. And more often than not, it was about waiting to see what adventure would choose you. Who you ended up chatting with at lunch or while getting a mud bath could determine how the rest of your weekend would be spent like some sort of festival butterfly effect. With hundreds of stunning houses in the area, three beaches, a glamp camp, a plaza filled with artisanal crafts from the local Huichol tribe, and miles of open road and jungles in between, it was really up to each guest to determine how and where they would pass the time.
And when the location of your festival is as beautiful as Costa Careyes, there really isn't much that needs to be done to ensure everyone in attendance is consistently mesmerized by their surroundings. While most festivals require significant effort and build to make sure this happens, Ondalinda instead relied on simplicity to complement the natural beauty of their destination.
The only exception to this rule was Saturday night when the Mayan Warrior of Burning Man fame took over Teopa Beach. Artists like Sabo, Audiofly, NU, Mandrake, LUM, Mendrix, and Gandalla guided revelers deep into the morning with mesmerizing lights and lasers flickering both off the spellbinding creations of Mexican artist Philippe Moellhausen, which included a jaguar and projection mapping on a large egg, and the natural wonders of Costa Careyes like a nearby rock formation. It was the opposite of minimal, but the dazzling event succeeded by being just one night of the entire journey: not a uniform experience that would allow guests to become accustomed to the idea of seeing the Mayan Warrior on a literal playa.
And while some say the journey is the reward, and others might claim the destination is more their cup of tea, in the case of Ondalinda, it was undoubtedly a combination of the two. Whether you want to call it a festival, a gathering, a networking event, a learning experience or simply a vacation, the weekend in paradise set itself apart by being tucked away to the point that you had to make an actual effort just to get there, but comfortable enough where you could actually relax once you did. That was the defining ingredient of Ondalinda’s eclectic cocktail of a weekend, and regardless of the amount of mezcal I may or may not have consumed, one that I will not soon forget.