July 2019, Scotland. Daily ecotopian life.

It’s 8am, 9am, or sometimes 1pm, when the Ecotopians open their eyes. In this country, no stifling heat propels them out of their tent at dawn. This piece of cloth becomes a morning shelter when the soft sound of the drops striking the roof echoes tirelessly. Despite this “flic floc” melody from the clouds and the resulting temptation to stay warm; body against sleeping bag or body against body; every morning their souls find the energy to face the greyness awaiting outside.

Ziiiiip, the entrance opens, and the senses marvel. Their ears are glad to hear the voices coming from familiar and comforting faces, and even occasionally a mermaid softly whispering a song through the tent. Their eyes immerse themselves in these expanses of heather, in these Highland mountains, in these soft-grounded elves forests with a thousand green hues and imposing purple foxgloves seeping into the landscape, in these mysterious lochs, in these urban beaches, in these relics of the Caledonian forests… Their noses inhale a big breath of fresh air, reminding them how pleasant it is to get away from the putrid and murderous smell of urban pollution. And finally, their tongues savour this luxurious and daily mixture of oats and water that gives them the energy to start the day.

Butts on the tarp, everyone lives their morning with their own energy. The scouts are already preparing to leave while others are desperate to put a little more taste in their breakfast; “Do you know where the nuts are?” “I think they are finished, but we might have some fruits or raisins, or (moment of confusion) maybe we don’t even have fruits or raisins anymore, sorry.” The harsh reality of late sleepers…

So begins the ballet, long and laborious, of tidying up the camp. First: putting away the sleeping bag, rolling up the mattress, folding the tent, collecting the belongings, organizing the belongings, finding the bungees, filling the water bottles, closing the panniers, installing them on the bike. Then : looking for the sponges, finding the sponges, searching for the soap, finding the soap, scrubbing the cooking pots, storing the food, checking the rota, searching the communal tupperwares, finding the communal tupperwares, looking for the lids of these tupperwares, finding those lids (or not), packing the trailers, folding the tarps, picking up the trash, throwing away the trash, attaching the trailers, struggling to attach the trailers … and… fuck, that’s it, it is already 12pm or 1pm, and again, latecomers will arrive to the camp at the end of the day.

A gazelle’s leap for some, acrobatic shapes for others (cavallero!), or simply a foot on the pedal for most: everyone climbs onto the saddle and gives the first crank stroke, the raincoats always within easy reach, stuck under a bungee or in the outside pocket of the bag. May the travelling day begin!

Some of the Ecotopians stop only a few metres later, to drink a cup of the famous holy drink that some need to start the day properly and take the clouds out of their mind – I name it coffee. Only the clouds in their brains might disappear, but the sky remains unconditionally grey…

Then begins the first treasure hunt, the one that will gather the group to the new camp. They go forward in small groups, eyes wide open as much as possible under the helmet and hood, looking for the road markings of ‘B’ that show the way. But, damn, already at the second intersection, and the arrows become difficult to find. The dripping rain has washed them away and only a few relics are left. They need to rely on their instinct, on Osmand, or as a last resort, on the interpretative map drawn this morning by the scouts (with luck not made soggy and washed out by the enraged sky).

A bit later in the day, comes the second treasure hunt : this one is about having a well filled belly. Every little village with shops is an opportunity for Ecotopians to search in the bins, from which often pop out a thousand and one biscuits and chips – which their body, to be honest, could do without. Yum yummy,  mňam, ñam ñam, miam miam, nyam nyam, mampf mampf, אָממ אָממ, gnam gnam, nham nham, starving Ecotopians are rushing to every single new discovery, swallowing with an almost troubling hunger these millions of chocolate fingers, burgers, “smash” cakes, chocolate muffins and even chicken nuggets. We will remember this time when the chicken nuggets, graciously offered to some young Scottish children, ended up as projectiles used by the aforementioned children (and I insist : “children” not “teenagers”…) to attack the Ecotopians. Besides an opportunity to discuss the evolution of delinquency in Scottish early childhood, this episode was perhaps a message of karma telling the Ecotopians to stop abusing junk food, because, even when coming from a bin, well, it’s still junk food. Fortunately, sometimes in this mountain of sugar that would turn any (big) kid crazy, a few kilos of healthy vegetables, potatoes or broccoli, made their way out of the garbage to help the community to cook an amazing vegan delight for the communal meal.

And the rest of the day, they pedal, pedal, pedal, and sing, sing, sing, and laugh, laugh, laugh, a lot, more and more. On their way, a few stops to observe the landscape, drink water, play with cows, talk to locals, make a call to the tail or the scouts, and then laugh again. But above all, dozens of stops to try and avoid the gallons of water falling from the clouds. Because when the sky turns gray and the wind speeds up, anyone familiar with the Scottish weather understands that the time has come to seek shelter. And after a couple of days cycling in this country, Ecotopians became good at using anything as a shelter : a tree first, when your great naivety still made you believe that the rain would only last 5 minutes, then a porch, or a bus stop, and … inevitably (often when they have already cycled hours in the rain) … a pub. And they wait, passing the time by playing games “I have in my trailer (or maybe trousers??!?…) … a plane ticket to take me far away from here; a voucher for a 5 star hotel tonight; a fire; an oooold looooovelyyy laaaaady […]“. And they drink beer(s…), sometimes listening to the sound of a harp. And they find joy again when it’s raining cats and dogs and everything is soaked in the magic of the group which warms their heart.

Whether there is 20km, 40km, or 60km to go, for some reason that has escaped Ecotopians for weeks, arrival at the camp is always late. It’s often the end of the afternoon or the beginning of the evening when they finally reach this carefully selected corner found by the Scouts, where the tents are pitched.

When the light starts subsiding, the druids (alias cooking team) helped by their noble assistants (sometimes enslaved when an Indian girl is cooking…) start the brewing of the magic potion. The food trailer becomes Ali Baba’s cave thanks to the valuable work of the dry and wet food teams and is an infinite source of inspiration. All the material comes out of the “pots and (non-existent) pans trailer”: knifes, peelers, rocket stoves, ladle, wooden spoon and chopping boards… Aaaaaaaaand, GO. Chop, chop, chop ; they chop everything they have to hand, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms … Clack Clack Clack, they open every can they find : chick peas, red beans, black beans, tomato sauce… Crack Crack Crack, they cut the dry wood and light the rocket stove. And plop, plop, plop, they filled the pots with water. Then all these ingredients find their place in the communal pots, in an order specific to each druid (yes for some people, onion goes before carrots). And finally, hours later, with the magic ingredient named patience, the traditional phrase “FOOD IS READY” resonates throughout the community. The Ecotopians armed with their tupperwares share this burst of flavour, with endless gratitude for Mother Nature and the cooks (“Thanks for cooking“).

This collective cooking moment is so sacred that for weeks no Ecotopian questioned the fact of carrying 3 kg of solid wood chopping boards every day, which were becoming increasingly damaged with time. It took a cold and boozy evening at the seaside where wood was scarce to finally see these boards not as an ultimate and necessary object to cut vegetables, but rather as potential fuel for a great bonfire. And they finally ended utheir life as ash in Donegal, Ireland.

Finally, when the moon is shining in the sky and the bonfire is burning on the ground, after simple discussions or heated debates and a couple of beers, the Ecotopians gradually head in the direction of their bed. They finish their day with pleasant dreams in their tents, and start again the next morning in a new direction.

And sometimes, in those busy days, Ecotopians find the time to do something that seems quite strange from the outside but yet is a founding principle of their community. It happens every few days and takes place anywhere; in visitor centers, in ferry waiting areas, in urban parks, in wood workshops or on the grass in farms. Basically, they sit in a circle and they start doing strange signs with their hands after repeating for the hundredth time their names and pronouns they use. And from there, they speak, they speak, they speak, they wave their hands, sometimes up, sometimes down, and they speak again, again, and again. And you get the feeling that they will never stop speaking, but at some point, after hours of discussions about whether or not they should eat some chicken nuggets from the bins, they do stop. And people are happy, or frustrated, or tired, but the health of the community has improved.

One day, an Ecotopian said “Ecotopia, it’s 1/3 cycling, 1/3 cooking, and 1/3 circles”, but it’s actually way more than that. It is impossible, in a few words, to properly transcribe the energy and the upheaval that this ecotopian experience can bring to someone. It’s all about sharing, challenging yourself, building a safe community (or trying to at least), questioning your habits and lifestyle, meeting amazing people from everywhere in the world, and, let’s be a bit hippie, love.

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