The Road to the Rainbow

Courtesy of Anton Orlov

This is just a small extract from part 1 of Somewhere Under the Rainbow – if you like it, feel free to support the author and buy the book!

Most Rainbow veterans know that getting to the Gatherings is all part of the fun and is sometimes more memorable than anything that happens later on. The adventure begins from the moment you make the decision to go; you fill your rucksack with a sleeping bag, a tent, some warm clothes, a hand drum, your food bowl and emergency chocolate before setting out with the directions scribbled down on a bit of paper in your shirt pocket: a treasure map to another world.

You hitchhike across three countries to get there, dumpster diving on the way to stay alive, setting up your tent each night in a field somewhere trying not to worry about the barking dogs or cows that might trample you to death at dawn, one bed closer to uniting with all the other nomads currently winging their way in from all corners of the continent. None of the drivers who pick you up have ever heard of the Rainbow and eyebrows arch as you wax lyrical about this ephemeral Utopia taking place on a hill in the middle of nowhere. You invite them to come with you. And no, you tell them, it’s not a rave, we don’t even drink alcohol, much less take drugs.

There’s scarcely a soul in the Rainbow who’s not an experienced hitchhiker and however extreme a traveler you think you might be there’s always someone more hardcore sat around the fire. One brother told me he hitched across Europe on the tiniest budget imaginable, eating only white baguettes that bakeries threw out each day. Or when he decided he needed some protein he would invest in a one kilo bag of lentils that he could cook up each night in the forest on his way.

Or what about the family I heard of who had come all the way from Australia without taking a flight? They traveled along with 2 prams, 6 kids and some 20 bags.

‘We travel slow.’ they admitted.

An Israeli brother told me about heading to his first Rainbow Gathering in France: he had just arrived in the first village marked on the map he’d downloaded from the internet and he heard someone yelling ‘Italiano! Italiano!’ and turned to face a man with a white moustache and beard down to his belly button, a mass of grey dreadlocks tucked under a mop of fuzzy white hair. His forehead was splattered with a red painted dot in the Hindu tradition and he was dressed in pink robes.

‘I’m from Israel.’ he corrected him.

‘Ah, Israel, I love Israelis! You’re going to the Rainbow, right? Well, there are no more buses today so we’ll have to camp here. Wait a minute!’ and the improbable character dropped his bag and ran off towards some trees, returning a minute late with a bullet of  charas (hand-rolled Indian hashish).

‘Now we have something good to smoke!’

‘Where did that come from?’ the Israeli asked, deciding his luck was changing for the better.

‘I just pulled it out my ass!’

Many will come to the Rainbow together, in a caravan of cars or maybe just one old camper van; a scratched, muddy veteran with too many kilometers on the dial, pots and plates falling down on everyone piled in the back, all ducking down each time they pass a police car, mattresses covered with Indian batik sheets, someone learning the chords for the Magic Hat song while another sister prepares sandwiches for everyone, ingredients falling everywhere as they’re passed around, much to the delight of the dog who then gets decidedly travel sick…

hippie van on the way to a rainbow gathering

Image by Tuli Jitka Pořízková

Whether you learn about yourself on these caravans is an open question but you certainly get to know everyone else much better than you could have imagined – or desired. Pressed into a small space with others for a week on the road, minor idiosyncrasies quickly become infuriating habits; the repetitive song that someone hums out of tune, someone’s underwear hanging to dry on a side mirror, the smell of unwashed feet, the panic of one of the less-together passengers losing their passport yet again, requiring that everyone search the van from top to bottom and then drive back to the last camping site to look for it…before discovering it was in their jacket pocket all along.

After days on the road a vehicle of love and light can turn into a pressure cooker of intolerance and bitching, where the last people you ever want to see again are precisely those sitting next to you. And there’s still a few hundred miles to go. Pulling up in the parking of the Gathering everyone grabs their bags and storms out, desperate to regain their faith in humanity by talking to someone (anyone!) halfway normal, vowing to never travel with others ever again.

But then a few days later the collective hysteria passes and when you meet each other round the fire you can’t remember what you were ever so upset about. A hug, an exchange of words from the heart and…you’re busy planning your next adventure.

A van full of hippies might be breaking any number of regulations in Western Europe but in more repressive countries they can be stopped on sight for their unorthodox appearance alone. All the vans and trucks crossing the border into the Ukraine for the 2009 European Rainbow were stopped and searched by the police who struggled to understand just what was going on.

‘Why come Ukraine?’ they asked in confusion. For all we knew it might have been the unofficial tourist slogan of the year. An open source initiative by the Ukranian authorities to discover what charms their country might have. As it was the police were mystified by all these long-haired Western gypsies streaming across the border and felt it was their duty to hold them up for a few hours at least.

Some Italian brothers had helped scout for a location earlier in the year and were pulled over by an officer who looked inside their nomadic van with obvious disgust.

‘Passports!’ he demanded, examining the pages with a pretense of close scrutiny and then, scanning the vehicle for anything of value, his eyes fell on the guitars. ‘And where are the passports for the instruments?’ he demanded to know. The driver shoved a packet of cigarettes in his hand and drove off.

The cops in the Ukraine proved to be severe with anyone not carrying ID with them and more than one brother ended up in jail until his friends could come along with his passport. Some in the Rainbow brought it upon themselves though as one brother, tall and gangly with long blonde hair that only accentuated his bony frame, tried to sneak into the country from Poland across a mountain path.

‘The police caught me and asked my nationality. I just held up my palm and told them ‘Gaia’.’

He was a world citizen of Mother Earth. What need did he have of papers?

‘They put me in jail and beat me up a bit. I’m vegan so I almost couldn’t eat any of the food they gave me. After two days I showed them my Swedish driver’s license and they took me back across the border to Poland.’

But more than the wild adventures on the road or caravans with other Rainbow souls, some of the most special encounters can be with ordinary people along the way.

One sister told me the story of how she was on her way to a Gathering in France and left her rucksack outside a public bathroom in a small town in Northern France while she went in to pee. When she stepped out she discovered that it had been stolen: her tent, her sleeping bag, warm clothes and everything else she needed to go to the Rainbow was gone. And she had to hitchhike through all France in order to get to the Rainbow by the border with Spain.

After four days of hitchhiking with just her handbag, she arrived to a small village in the south of France. She thought that she might buy there the basic things she would need to continue travelling. She walked into a few shops but once she saw the prices, she realized that she couldn’t afford to replace anything that she had lost. She had no idea what to do next, so she walked out and just sat down in a doorway and began to cry.

A middle-aged French woman came along and asked her what was wrong, switching to English when she realised she was talking to a foreigner. She heard her story and invited her to come and drink some tea at home. They drank in silence and the French woman seemed very thoughtful until finally she disclosed that she had once had a daughter who had died in her late teens in a traffic accident. Her daughter had loved to go camping whenever she could and though she had passed away some years before, her mother had not had the heart to move her belongings out of her room. Meeting the Israeli girl had reminded her of her daughter and maybe it was an opportunity to move on…

Perhaps, the French woman suggested, she would like to take her daughter’s rucksack, camping gear and some warm clothes?


book about rainbow gatherings

Photo by Joth Shakerley

This is just a small extract from part 1 of Somewhere Under the Rainbow – if you like it, feel free to support the author and buy the book!