Warning: This post contains a few NSFW photos. View only in good company 🙂
The Republic of KaZantip, the legendary Eastern European Shangri La of parties, lasts for just one month a year in a walled-off region of the Black Sea Coast near the isolated ex-military town of Popovka. And although the Republic does indeed exist for a whole month – in truth, the proper core of the event is even shorter than that. Two weeks, from the official opening party until the official closing party.
I stayed the entire time.
So how was it? In many ways, KaZantip was exactly what I expected.
It was a huge electronic music festival, going off 24 hours a day. It was a totally outrageous, lawless, energetic, do-whatever-you-want celebration of desire, without even the slightest hint of restraint, maturity, or responsibility.
Inside KaZantip, social norms simply do not apply. Couples engage in promiscuous sexual activities in broad daylight, seven-year-old bartenders pour flaming shots of absinthe for their customers, and outlandish costumes draw your attention as much as those wearing nothing at all.
During the day, people sunbathe, splash in the water, organize impromptu games of hockey, or head to one of KaZantip’s many stages for a bit of live music.
At night, the crowds thicken as earth-shattering beats beckon you from one stage to the next.
It really is an isolated little paradise of partying…and all kinds of other things you can’t possibly imagine. KaZantip makes it all too easy to forget what the real world is like, just outside of those old concrete walls.
But for as many ways as KaZantip lived up to the legend, parts of it were just as unexpected.
For one thing, it was quite a bit more expensive than I’d previously thought.
For a cramped four-bed room in hostel-like conditions, we paid $120 total – more than triple what an entire apartment cost in the center of Kiev. Beers were not 0.30c, but a couple bucks at least. I guess as the festival continues to grow so too will the prices.
Also, it was interesting to see how seriously not only the organizers, but many of the guests, take the concept of the “Republic.”
To many, KaZantip isn’t just a rave. It’s a concept. An ideal. Some of its citiZens have been coming for over a decade, they’ve got friends in the government, exhibits in the muZeum, and countless life-changing stories to tell. It really seems to mean something to them.
The demographic of the citiZens surprised me a bit, too – there were in fact many more couples than singles, straddling the whole range of ages.
(…Really, there were a lot of couples.)
While some entered the Republic from dusk until dawn, others came only during daylight. Is KaZantip their escape from a harsh daily life back in Russia? Is it just an unusual place to lounge on the beach? Are they here for the music? Is it tradition? With no common language, I really had no way to tell.
…Which brings me to yet another surprise, and undoubtedly the most pleasant: the amazing hospitality of its citiZens.
Although 99.9% Russian/Ukrainian – the vast, vast majority of whom couldn’t speak a word of English – I constantly found myself surrounded by friendly citiZens proposing a toast, inviting me to join their BBQ, offering me drinks in their room, or just coming up to say hello.
Usually – especially in places like Asia – one might attribute this to being foreign, but here it seemed to happen even before I opened my mouth. I’d just walk into the restaurant at our guesthouse and a group of Russians would immediately raise their glasses, saying something I couldn’t understand. So I’d tell them. Then, shocked to learn I’m American, one of them would retort with their few words of broken English as the others hurry to pour me a glass.
Such a language barrier was of course always a challenge, but with the help of free-flowing Ukrainian vodka, many new (and very colorful) friends were made.
Plus, the tiny foreign population had the side-effect of helping those who had come from other countries to band together.
Amongst the tens of thousands of Russians, I met a truly amazing collection of travelers – many of whom remain friends to this day.
There was Jenn, a Taiwanese-American from San Francisco (and one of only two Asians we saw there).
Shota, a solo Japanese traveler (the other) whose head nearly exploded when I greeted him in his native tongue.
Roger and Rebel, an American couple living in Bratislava (and seriously one of the coolest couples I’ve met in my life).
Julio, a late-30’s Guatemalan-American attorney who found Kazantip on YouTube, booked himself a ticket, and phoned up a Russian language tutor to prepare.
And half a dozen others, hailing from everywhere from South Africa to France.
On the other hand, there were a few disappointing aspects of KaZantip as well.
The worst was undoubtedly its general level of organization.
With so many tantalizing opportunities – ice cream fights, bodypaint competitions, foam parties, world-famous DJ’s, live bands, kitesurfing, fast marriages, and more – it’s tough to decide where to go. But not because there are too many options…because there’s no way to know when or where they’ll occur!
Even major DJs are often unannounced until just a day or two before, and smaller events – often the most interesting – sometimes aren’t announced at all. You just have to be at the right place at the right time, or you end up missing out.
The result was that time and time again, while flipping through photos with friends, I found myself exclaiming “damn – I wish I’d been there for that!!”
One last thing I might mention about KaZantip, for potential future attendees, is the living situation.
Before heading here I did a ton of research about lodgings, and the consensus seemed to be that you’re best off just showing up – online pre-booking is way more overpriced than arranging it in person.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this. Not unless you’re pretty fluent in Russian, or have very low standards or a very big budget. At least book something for a day or two, then work it out from there.
(There’s an organization called Z-Aliens – owned by two super cool English-speaking girls from Kiev – which can help you find a place once you’ve arrived and made your way inside).
So where does everyone actually live? Well, mostly in Popovka or Mirny, 10-20 minutes by foot from the republic. They buy a multiple-entry viZa and commute back and forth.
There are a few who actually do stay inside – in these “dome-tents” you can rent – though they’re outrageously more expensive than just outside the gates.
I even met a few truly hardcore partygoers crashing on the beach. They brought nothing but cash, bought single-entry viZas, and never even left. Now that’s what I call hardcore 😉
So anyway, while I could probably go on for ages about everything I saw and did at Kazantip – from early evenings predrinking with tattooed Russian mafia to the surreal opening party, with all the fireworks, confetti, flamethrowers, and over-the-top visuals you can handle – if I don’t draw the line somewhere I’ll never catch up with writing.
This post contains just a tiny sample of the thousands of photos, hours of video, and pages of blognotes I took…
…but if you really want to know what it’s like to spend a month in a legendary Utopian republic, renowned for its world-class music, perfect-ten women, carefree environment and free-for-all attitude, there’s only one piece of advice I can give:
Book yourself a ticket,
And I’ll see you at Z20! 😉
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place in August, 2011.