Sometimes it’s good to just disappear into the horizon, on your own, with only the patchiest of plans. This is what I did the weekend past. A few months ago, I saw the Greenpop Platbos Reforest Fest advertised in one of their newsletters, and decided to buy a ticket. Simple as that.
It turns out it is one of the best things I’ve done for myself in quite some time. Somehow, I ended up in the right place at the right time without even knowing it.
Despite inviting a few friends along, I ended up going to the event on my own. The little feedback I’d heard from last year’s event didn’t quite add up, but I decided to go anyway. If it was rubbish, I could always just pack up my tiny tent and leave. I had a very slight idea of what to expect barring that the whole idea seemed to be that we were going to plant some trees, there would be a few artists performing the two evenings and on the last day, a few talks and demos to end things off.
So, I was not prepared for what I got for my scant R360 ticket. It was so much more than what was on my makeshift list.
I decided to put in half a day’s leave so that I could avoid having to pitch my tent in the dark. This made it possible for me to take the route to Platbos through Hermanus, as I had plenty of time to sit and wait in the road works past Bot River. In Hermanus, I stopped for an ice cream and a solid sea stare to rid my mind of work-related matters.
Arriving early at Platbos, I managed to get a good spot for my tent, close to the stage and food court. The food was vegan and vegetarian, but we had been forewarned, so I had my droë wors in my backpack, just in case. I set up camp and went exploring, only to discover the trash police first. They handed me a rubbish bag (which I returned to them, empty, on the Sunday) and an empty plastic bottle with a string tied to it. This was to be my receptacle for any trash that could not be recycled on site. Just stuff it in the bottle and poke it right down with a stick. It would then, once filled, become an eco-brick that would help local people to build low-cost housing. I managed to almost fill my bottle, so it was interesting to see what I had used over the weekend since it was visible to me in my tent all the time. Other notables were the loos (composting toilets), the open showers facing the forest, the bonfire area with the tiny bar and their jars of wine, and the Heart Space.
In the evening we were treated to some live acts and a DJ at the stretch tent stage. I saw Paige Mac for the first time and hope to be able to see her again soon. She has an incredible voice! Next was Majozi, and he opened with my favourite song of his, ‘The River’. Then the DJ took over, and I stood there, happy to just observe my fellow festival-goers dancing. There was a massive screen under the stretch tent showing the most beautiful footage from National Geographic and Greenpeace in a perpetual loop. It had started raining during the evening, so after about an hour of people and footage gazing, I decided to find my tent for some shut-eye to prepare for the big day ahead.
The whole tree planting experience was quite intense and exhausting, but we worked in teams and rotated tasks, so that helped a lot. Before we started, we were shown exactly what to do every step of the way, from raking away the grass to throwing down the last layer of mulch. Everything was explained in thorough detail. It was made quite clear that it was vital to be intentional when planting every tree, in order to give each tree the best opportunity to grow.
For those who don’t know, Platbos is an ancient indigenous forest that has to a degree been invaded by alien species. The mission is to rid the forest of these aliens and then to fill these newly created open areas with local, indigenous trees. All the trees planted have been grown from seeds of the trees already in the forest, and the cleared alien species thrown into a wood chipper and used as food for the new trees, and as mulch.
What stood out during the day was how easily everyone worked together. There were people of different races and cultures, and many visitors from overseas. I was only later in the day struck by the profound thing we were doing. We were replanting a forest that would probably only grow to natural density once we were gone. As in, for good.
After shoveling and planting and walking up and down all day, I took a short, well-deserved shower and went to get some vegetarian fare. Let’s just say I still prefer beef patties over chickpea and beetroot patties. At least I tried! I gave some of the organic wine on offer a swirl, and also had a few other snacks that you won’t find at other festivals. Which makes it sound like I had space cakes, but no, they consisted mostly of oats, peanut butter and other stuff that gets stuck to the palate.
Festivities at the stage started at about 7pm with Sound Journey, made up of Riaan Malan, Nhoza Sitsholwana, Jimi Curve on bass and a super-friendly chap on percussion (I forgot his name). They created some fantastic songs fitting to the day and then ended off with their beautiful rendition of ‘Shelter from the Storm’.
Next up was Jeremy Loops, who is one of the people who started Greenpop (bet you didn’t know that) and he regaled us with some stories in between his songs. It was quite a treat to hear a song he had written the day before, and then have Jimi gatecrash to jam in some bass. Earth hour was next, so the generator was switched off and Wild Lettuce and The Psychedelic Theatre did a dazzling show with drums, didgeridoo and fire dances! By now I was getting tired of standing, so when the performance ended, I went to sit by the bonfire in the forest canopy space. Highlight of the festival, besides the planting. Here I realised that strangers are sometimes the kindest people you will meet, and surely, I was shown much love and kindness by a new friend. She suggested I go to the Heart Space the next day, so after about two hours of talking, I bid her farewell and crashed in my tent, falling asleep to the sound of the DJ.
The next day, I decided to go and see the ancient milkwood tree. It’s believed to be older than a thousand years. Walking through the forest on my own in complete silence was almost surreal and certainly magical! I was reluctant to leave, but had an appointment in the Heart Space that I didn’t want to miss.
I left Platbos at noon and drove all the way home in complete silence. I wanted to replay every moment and let the wonderful things I had experienced and seen just sink in. Things like strangers being kind, like how easy it is to do good things, and how destructive stereotyping can be, and that all charities and start-ups are not born equal. And that we can realise that there is no Planet B, despite all the optimistic space expeditions envisioned to create new communities elsewhere. Surely if we can’t get it right here on Earth, what makes us think we’ll do it better there?
And surely, once you’ve shoved your hands into soil all day, and stood there with nothing but yourself and others with one mission, and 5 500 trees that you’ve planted, you come to realise that you’re not doing nature a favour, but you’re doing yourself a favour. Including those around you.
I’d even go as far as to say it’s an act of love. Some vague type of selflessness that we’ve forgotten to access and use.
We are not part of nature, standing on the side looking in at this peculiar phenomenon. No, we are nature. And I know it may sound like I’m going all she-wow here, but those who know me know I’m not. I’m just crazy about nature. I love the way it always astounds me. I would like to see it thrive and the more I can help with that, the more I am bound to thrive, and others too. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance it will rub off. What’s not to like about that?
I’m well chuffed to know that what happened in Platbos is that roughly 500 people planted about 5 500 trees. They’re not going anywhere, they’re staying. And everything else that came home with me? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.