Absolutely amazing trip, worth every penny and then some. So much good music and amazing people. We are already planning our 2013 journey.
Camelbaks, dollar-store spray bottles (DIY misters), and umbrellas for shade are absolutely essential. If you are going, do not consider going without them. They are absolute lifesavers in the 35+ degree heat. If you do bring a camelbak type thing, I suggest getting one that holds more than 2L. Mine is a ~2L one and some nights I filled it 3-4 times over the course of the night. This is a pain. I think I will be buying a 4L one for next year. Ice in your water bladder also makes life much more enjoyable.
Earplugs are also non-negotiable. Spend a few extra $ and get the good re-usable ones. I got the Etymotic ER20s and they were great. They keep your ears from getting damaged or fatigued during the night. This is especially important when enjoying multi-day festivals.
Bubble making guns are always awesome.
I wish I had started going years ago. While there was an excellent vibe and everyone was extremely friendly and open, I hear from the people who have been coming for years that it was even more so in the past. Too many new people this year and last. Hopefully I will keep going long enough to see that go full-circle. I have heard that they are not going to increase the number of tickets available, so that should help keep things from going too crazy.
Smoking a hookah on the beach is a great way to meet people.
Keeping a (cheap) digital watch and schedule on you at all times is an excellent way to both make sure that you don’t miss any of those ‘must see’ sets (I saw every single set that I wanted to this year because of this) and to meet new people. It will ensure that you are extremely useful to almost everyone around you – about 20% of people have schedules, and about 10% of people have watches, but these groups almost never intersect, and there is always someone who wants to know what time it is or when the next big act starts.
There was one night where acts I wanted to see stretched from 8:30pm to 5:30am with no breaks in-between. If you don’t keep some kind of calories on you, you will fall down half way through the night. A pouch full of candy is convenient but possibly not the best idea ever. Some kind of protein/snack bars are slightly better. A camelback will make your dancing life easier.
If you see something at a vendor that you like, it is probably best to buy it immediately. While some vendors do overstock and have 25-50+% off sales on Sunday, some can run out of stock as soon as Saturday morning/afternoon. Some vendors will increase prices if their stock is going extremely fast. You are taking a chance at not getting something you like, or paying more than you originally intended if you pass it up when you first find it. Keep that in mind. This is also an excellent way to justify impulse buying. I ended up with just under $175 in cool stuff, YMMV.
Bring lots of cash with you (well-hidden!), or plan on eating a $6 ATM surcharge whenever you run out. Plan to spend about $20/day on one meal and a couple of drinks, add about $15-20 for each additional meal. We usually ended up eating two semi-full meals per day (one at camp) and a number of minor snacks. Unless you love cooking, you will probably not cook nearly as much as you think you will.
The food at the vendors is fairly expensive (though not out of line with what one would expect to pay in Kelowna for a similar meal) but usually decent portions and quite good. Too bad almost everything is breaded, wrapped, fried, or sandwiched between bread. Those of us who are gluten-intolerant/celiac are very limited in our available food choices. Plan to bring a lot of your own snacks/meals if so (though you probably already do this, just as I do.)
Waiting an hour and a half for a $5 shower that is only about 3-4 minutes and alternates between perfectly hot (65% of the time) and bone-chilling cold (35%) will be one of the best things you have ever done for yourself, and the perfect thing to shock and refresh you after long days on the beach as you get ready for a very long night of dancing.
The porta-potties weren’t nearly as disgusting as expected, except around 4am on Saturday and Sunday nights. It seemed that they were cleaned quite frequently and had excellent ventilation systems so they were always cool and never stank (in my experience anyways.)
I made an offhand comment to a group of people about having to ‘run home for a minute’ (meaning head back to my camp), and they laughed because I said it so casually and they knew exactly what I meant. One girl just smiled and said “You are home.” It felt like she was right in a way.
Waking up to the sun turning your tent into an oven at 1pm is unpleasant. Especially when you go to bed shivering and wrapped in two sleeping bags, a thick fuzzy blanket, and a fur coat.
Consider the weather/temperature when making your costume choices. A warm hood or electrofur makes pretty much anything bearable during august nights. Thick fur jackets and fur hats will keep you uncomfortably warm even during long walks between stages at 4am. Trust me. I admire and respect the women who manage to run around almost completely naked at an outdoor festival and freezing their not-balls off during the coldest part of the night. Sure, it’s easier for them to toss together costumes, but at what price? I’ll take the longer/more expensive costuming as long as it means I’m more comfortable.
An electrofur with new batteries is better than a flashlight.
Most costumes are not designed with usability in mind. You might want to consider some kind of utility belt thing. I got the one in the link, it was awesome and I wore it all the time when I was awake. It kept my cash, smokes/lighter, cards, candy, portable whiteboard, breath strips, butt canister (don’t litter!), earplugs, snacks, and party favors close at hand and well-organised. This meant I could get away with not having pockets on any other item of clothing, which was excellent on the beach and the dancefloor. Do beware when putting anything important in the back pockets, as it would be quite easy for someone with sticky fingers to pop them open if you are overly distracted or not paying attention. I did have one person pawing at my pouch at one point, but I’m pretty sure he was just extremely high on something and didn’t know what was going on. Too much acid or some such thing.
If you wear anything fuzzy, people will pet you. A lot. You had better be ok with this.
The whole experience is somewhat like being on the beach in Kelowna, except that everyone is smiling, happy, and friendly (and of age). I didn’t see or experience a single instance of catcalling or random macho aggressive bullshit, and we spent at least three hours per day on the beach in a high-traffic area.
You will walk a lot. Your camp is probably no more than a 15 minute meander from the main downtown type area, but you will make this walk a number of times per day, and will spend hours just wandering, checking out different stages, looking for friends, people watching, and running minor errands or showing people around or how to get somewhere.
If you are usually a power-walker, you will learn to slow down. The crowd at Shambhala moves at it’s own pace, and trying to fight it is futile. This pace is a reasonably relaxed one, and tends to slow down late at night when people are under the influence of various substances.
You will wait in line a lot. We spent a little over 6 hours in the lineup from the time we arrived on site until we were at our campsite. Apparently this is neither long nor short – some friends waited ~12 hours, some waited less than 3. It all depends on when you arrive. It took anywhere between 2 and 30 minutes to get food from the vendors, but food lines are a great place to meet new friends – you are all hungry and at Shambhala, and if it is late night, you probably just left the same set. This is enough to get the ball rolling. It took us just under 3 hours to get off the grounds when we were ready to leave.
A. Skillz is considered to be the best breaks DJs in the world for a reason. Without a doubt the best set I saw during the 4 days of music, though there were some very very excellent sets from other artists as well. Not a single one disappointed me, and most of them absolutely blew me away.
You will have a very difficult time finding/meeting up with people unless you have a plan in advance. There *is* a message board you can leave messages on, but it is very crowded and your message will most likely get lost in the mash of messages. I think next year I will print up custom paper on a specific color and give 5-10 pages to each group of people I want to get a hold of. This way we can leave messages that the whole group will be able to quickly find and read.
There are 10,000-15,000 people jammed into an area the size of a few city blocks. This means that certain areas get extremely crowded at certain times. If you want to go see a big act, and there aren’t any other competing big acts on at that time, expect to be packed into the stage tighter than the proverbial sardines in a crushed tin box. For big/popular acts, try to get there at least a half hour early if you can, otherwise you will be stuck at the back or in an otherwise undesirable or high-traffic spot. Sometimes you can sneak in behind a pillar or tree near the main stage and get a fair size clear space to dance in as everyone wants to see what is going on – you can just poke your head around if you are curious about what’s going on.
Within your first half day or so you will most likely become completely immune to the sight of extremely beautiful completely- or half-naked women (or men, if that is your thing.)
Everyone I have talked to has said that one does not “catch up” on sleep at Shambhala. These people were obviously not restaurant staff. I got the longest and most restful sleeps in weeks while I was there. Though to be honest, dancing for 4-9 hours per night probably helped with that.
If you are planning on taking anything that depletes your serotonin levels, 5-HTP before bed and in the morning will make your life a lot more bearable the next day. Take it with food if you don’t want your stomach doing backflips for a few hours. Though it may do that anyways. I also hear that melatonin is an excellent sleep-enhancer from a number of people but have not tried it myself so cannot comment one way or another.
Speaking of substances – get your shit tested, people! They do it for free there! If you don’t know or don’t really trust your supplier, get it tested. It could save you a lot of trouble in the long run. If someone offers you something, don’t assume, ask them explicitly what it is. Someone hands you a joint assuming you know what’s in it – maybe there’s DMT in it. Someone chopping up lines of white powder? Could be Ketamine or it could be Coke. If you are unsure or uncertain – just don’t.
Doing sober nights is fun too.
I went to Shambhala emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. I came back emotionally recharged. While I am still quite physically tired, it is a good and different tired, and nothing a day or two on the couch can’t fix. I am also feeling quite mentally drained, but mostly because there is so much to process. I feel like while nothing has really changed in my life, there is a good chance things just might work out for the better in the end. One can only wait and see. New chapters begin whenever an old one ends, and if a new one doesn’t start for you, it will start for someone else.