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Written byKlara Robertson

Illustrated bySarah Dyson

Retreat Yourself: a scene study.

The Retreat Yourself experience, or the ‘wellness festival with a twist’, is a 5-day pop-up village, where vegan yogis dance between embracing their inner Chakra and unleashing their inner ravers. We had been driving two hours on roads leading East of Cape Town. I woke up in the backseat of the Subaru and looked out the window: nestled in the Riviersonderend Mountain Range, the canopy of the Elandkloof farm was crowded with thousands of tents, colourful speckles breaking the green landscape. Driving on the elevated contour road, I could see hundreds of cars settled in the valley below, all pointing toward a clump of tents that surrounded a flowing river. The pop-up village grew bigger as we drove nearer, and I noticed teams of people parking their cars, gathering their camping gear and starting the long trek to the campsite. We drove under a large welcome sign: “Retreat Yourself Village: ‘wellness festival with a twist’”. After laboriously setting up camp, we decided to venture into the thick of it. Strolling through the festival, I noticed a group of children playing games: they could be anywhere in the world and their little game would continue to entertain them.  

They took little notice of their surroundings, weaving in between the streams of people who, though had also just arrived at the festival, seemed like they had been there days. Fit young women dressed to the nines in expensive exercise gear carried their yoga mats, on their way to the athletic Pilates class, where they would no doubt show up the instructor. A group of middle-aged men with very large stomachs tottered after their determined wives, worried about getting lost. A shirtless young man with dreadlocks and bare feet gazed awestruck at a tree that, to me, looked just like all the other trees in the area. I must have been missing something. A young couple walked arm in arm, dressed in colourful bohemian clothing. Three middle-aged ladies had left their husbands and children behind for a girl’s weekend, and decked with camping gear, seemed to be the most prepared people at the festival. People of all ages and all walks of life had let go of modern societal expectations and committed to the village life. 

“People of all ages and all walks of life had let go of modern societal expectations and committed to the village life.”

Trying to familiarize myself with the surroundings of Retreat Yourself, I studied the detailed map and the schedule of hundreds of workshops that would take place over the 5-day festival. My eyes scanned the map: ‘Yoasis’, ‘Talk Circle’, ‘Secret Stage’, ‘The Red Tent’, ‘The Roller Rink’, “Good Vibrations”, “The Soul Circle”. There were 14 distinct spaces, each haven geared toward different aspects of self and societal improvement. I turned my attention to the workshops: “The Mushroom Revolution”, “Finance for Dummies”, “Breathe into the Morning”, “The Journey of Soul Initiation”, “Egyptian Blue Lotus Tea Ceremony”, “The Art of Unschooling”.  I overheard someone next to me say: “This place feels like coming home. It’s just so intimate”. The speaker was a young girl with long brown hair and a burgundy scarf. She too, was barefoot.


As I read the map, I recognized the music playing in the Forest Stage. The experimental electronica duo from Cape Town “Haiku Haiku”. They fused electronic and classical music together, an unexpected combination. The illustrations featured in this article symbolize how they merged two worlds. That of nature, soft and light and that of the hard, edgy dark side. It’s like a push and pull which creates organic connection, a closeness, a togetherness and a feeling of letting go. I listened and thought about how they embody the duality of the festival. A symbol of light and dark, coming together to hold together Haiku Haiku. The merge of the dark and light side.

As a first-time retreater, I didn’t really know what to expect, except that I wanted to get some hard-core yoga time in. After an hour of outdoor yoga and a refreshing swim in the nearby river, I had explored most of the food stalls and couldn’t put it off much longer: I nervously ventured into the tent that had most been on my mind. Valentina Leo’s curation of The Red Tent, a designated ‘sacred’ zone for ‘divine feminine beings’, where a variety of interactive experiences are ‘designed to connect you with the ancient wisdom of sensuality and erotic pleasure held within our physical forms’. Quietly entering, the low-hanging red canvas filtered in a soft pink light, and the carpeted floor made a calm cosy escape to the otherwise busy festival.

The buzz of people chattering with yoga mats in hand faded, the bright sunlight of the autumn day dimmed, and I strolled in. The workshop which I had walked into: “Radical Feminine Embodiment’. My body was flooded with the intense trance music thumping from the speakers, sound I associated with ancient rituals and the 4 am techno set. I was overwhelmed with the sound of bodies expressing various animalistic cries, as I heard shouting, roaring, screaming, and grunting. Annette Müller, who was running this workshop, had just instructed the women to express their emotions by vocally releasing their pent-up passion. There were whoops and cheers, squawks, bellows, and laughs. These roars of passion, set against the methodical trance beat, were quite the playlist. I felt a chill of envy seep into me, wanting to join in the sounds of liberation. 

As I read the map, I recognized the music playing in the Forest Stage. The experimental electronica duo from Cape Town “Haiku Haiku”. They fused electronic and classical music together, an unexpected combination. The illustrations featured in this article symbolize how they merged two worlds

I entered into the mass of dancing bodies and imitated the movements of those around me. But this was not a dance where the crowd followed a beat or tried to look ‘festivally’ by daintily grooving. Everyone was doing completely different movements, listening to their bodily instincts and revealing its urges. Some had continued their yoga practice and were nobly standing in a regal tree position. Others were jumping, using quick, jerky movements to let out stress, anger or hurt. There were young girls celebrating with joyful leaps, and older women bounding across the room. To my right, a young mother openly breastfed her newborn while taking in the scene, swaying to the music and gaining energy from those around her. Each person was following the whims of their own experience, doing exactly what they pleased, in a space that gave freedom, release and celebration.

I noticed a young teenager nervously standing on the outskirts at the tent, fearful of entering the impressive and intimidating scene. Another woman took it in her stead to encourage the girl with a knowing smile that said “Don’t worry, we’re in this together”. The girl joined. These women were absolving themselves from the burdens of everyday life, sharing in and celebrating the experience of being female. Signs of competition, judgement, and conflict, were nowhere to be seen. The energy of the ‘radical feminine’ was palpable. Eventually, the music softened, and a calmer energy seeped into the room. The woman next to me looked physically relieved like she had screamed out all her tension and was left with a floaty feeling of content. I looked around the room. Many had the same expression. As we wandered out of the soft pink light and into the harsher rays of the day, Anette Muller marked our foreheads with a line of red paint. Now, throughout the festival, we would know who had been part of our Red Tent experience.

I say that I had nervously entered this tent because I recognized its rarity and power. It was an experience that was overwhelming, frightening even. Was I ‘feminine enough’? Could I embrace my ‘femininity’ as much as these other women? I was self-conscious that I wasn’t dancing right, not as free or honest as these women. But that really wasn’t what this space was about. With an emphasis on sisterhood, this was a sanctuary for people to speak about personal experiences, hear other women’s stories, express frustration, anger, and celebration. Everyone was there to learn something about themselves.

I noticed that the girl with the burgundy scarf had also participated in the workshop. Feeling her friendly energy, I walked next to her, following the curving forest path that led to the river and the main market area. I felt that we shared a secret, both having come from the mysterious Red Tent, both having been marked with red paint. I asked her what she had experienced. “The red is a space where women of all different backgrounds and ages shed our layers and simply hold each other as women. It was such a beautiful reminder of the humanity and humility that we are constantly surrounded by and that carries to every environment”. To have women of all ages and backgrounds gathered in celebration of their femininity, brought a powerful force of spirit and connectedness. These strangers were present in a shared experience. What makes Retreat Yourself unique to the many other festivals of Cape Town is its blend of unique workshops and great music. One goes there not only to party but to walk out fundamentally changed, having learnt something about a practice they were unused to or guided through an experience aimed at improving the body and mind. 


See you there next year.

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