Afrikaburn 2014 – a post for newbies

Is Afrikaburn just one big parade? a hedonistic selfish over indulgence? So what if it is. Who says life is all about good deeds and giving to those in need. We are in need to... in need of fun... of an alternative reality... of a non-sensical experience...

Let me start by saying I am not an outdoorsy person. My idea of camping is in a luxury hutted camp. My amazing friend Danielle told me about their experience at Afrikaburn last year and said it’s a photographer’s delight.  I read up about Afrikaburn on their website, and browsed through numerous blog posts. Still unconvinced that it would be something I would enjoy. My awesome friend Claudia also wanted to experience Afrikaburn. Some time at the beginning of the year I decided that I wanted to go, if only just once.  We bought tickets the hour it went on sale. The plan was to go with Danielle and co.  Unfortunately Danielle was not able to make it.

A few weeks before AB, we started prepping. We met up with JHB burners who’ve been before, we read the survival guide, made our lists and started shopping. Our first big purchase was a tent. After looking at various tents at all budgets, we decided to go for a Campmaster 500 dome tent on special at Makro.  Second big purchase were 2 inflatable mattresses

*Tip, if you don’t have a huge tent you can buy 6″inch steel nails from a hardware store with washers to use as your tent pegs. This is an alternative to rebar. (thanks to Rian Brand for this handy tip)

6" steel nails with a washer
6″ steel nails with a washer. Photo by Rian Brand

One of our constraints was that we flew to Cape Town. This made things tricky – carrying all this heavy gear on the plane.

Closer to the time, my main concern really was having adequate shade. The first shade structure we bought from Outdoor Warehouse R650 was junk and would have failed, seeing that we couldn’t get it to stand up on it’s own in our garden. Returned that and bought something with a decent frame and guy ropes R750. This served us well even when there was a relatively strong wind. This shade structure was small but provided us some respite from the blistering heat of the day.

Boot of our car serving as a kitchen, 2 tents and our shade in the middle
Boot of our car serving as a kitchen, 2 tents and our light blue shade in the middle

We arrived in Cape Town, rented a Hyundai IX35, drove to friend’s house and borrowed a camping table, 2 chairs and a skottle braai (these items were so so very useful!) After shopping for supplies and groceries, we were ready.

The next morning (my birthday) we left early for the burn, fetched our friend in Melkbosstrand (who had the 12 x 5L of water and some extra supplies) and we were on our way. We took the route through Ceres which was just beautiful.

Ceres
Ceres
Packed to the max
Packed to the max

We were warned and warned again about the 120km stretch of gravel road that ‘ate tyres for breakfast’ and where one had zero cellphone signal. I took it easy on this road, staying between 60-80km/hr. We passed at least 4 cars with punctures. After about 2 hours on this road, we arrived at the Afrikaburn gate at 3pm, on the Stonehenge property which is alongside the Tankwa Karoo National Park and were greeted by friendly burners, had our tickets validated, rang the newbies gong and took the MOOP (Matter out of place) oath.

All AB newbies bang/ring the gong
All AB newbies bang/ring the gong

Unfortunately we were not able to find the Now Now Tribe friends that we arranged to meet up with. It took us some time to find a camp site as it was really crowded and people kept ‘shooing’ us away saying they were holding the available site for a friend. Not a very nice welcome.  However we did find a camp spot (without a view but at least not next to the ‘NO CAMPING BEYOND THIS POINT’ signs.)  By the end of this day, there were campers all over those signs and way beyond as there really was not enough space demarcated for camping.

Walking around the camp, I was blown away by people’s creativity and sheer ingenuity when it came to theme camp sites, personal camps, individual’s costumes, the means used to light themselves and their vehicles (mutant or bicycle) at night. The land art was grand, spread out over a massive space. I can only imagine the time and committment it took to build these structures in this hard landscape.

On one walkabout it took us 3 hours to make a round trip trying to take in as much as we could. Walking around the camp at night, I loved the sense of community of the tented city.

*Tip: this saved me: The pstyle It worked so well! If you’re not keen or frankly good at squatting in the bush or want to avoid sitting on the very high outdoor toilet seat, this was brilliant. You don’t even have to pull your pants down, just unzip, cup it, and pee.

During the day temperatues easily soared to over 40 degrees celcius. We were blessed with great weather, clear blue skies and a slight breeze. The early parts of the evenings were so warm that you actually were fooled into not dressing warmly for bed. Waking up at 3am freezing your ass off with temperatures in the low single digits. If you didn’t have ice, your water straight out of the bottle was HOT.

*Tip: Take food that won’t spoil or melt in the heat of the day – oranges, naartjies, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, and snacks like nuts, popcorn, crisps. ICE was the only item on SALE for CASH

Queue for ICE
Queue for ICE

If you’re driving to the burn, take a bicycle!

My wish for upcoming Afrikaburn events: that there are times of the day and evening when the DOOF DOOF music is turned OFF. When there is SILENCE, when you can appreciate the silence of the desert and the landscape. When you can sleep for a couple hours without the relentless BASS sounds that travel all over camp all the way to the outskirts of the “QUIET ZONE”. This is one big aspect that tainted my Afrikaburn experience. The trance whatever music is invasive, it invades your psyche. If you’re noise sensitive, like myself, I would think twice about going to Afrikaburn or at least limit your stay to no more than 3 nights. Even with ear plugs, you hear the BASS. When you’re closer to the music, it isn’t as bad… but still to have this music blaring 24/7 is a sick fucking joke, because once you’re there, you don’t have a choice. there is no escape, unless you take refuge in another theme camp playing other sorts of music or walk out 2km from the camp site with the puff adders and scorpions.

Overall, I loved the experience and am grateful that I decided to go. Would I go again? perhaps… if my wish above is taken into serious consideration.

Side notes:
What about the gifting? Felt a little contrived at times. But there were plently of folks with really thoughtful and selfless gifts such providing showers, baking and gifting pancakes, gifting hot dogs, yoga classes.

The hired local help didn’t know what all the ‘crazy white people’ were doing out there in the desert. They were shocked to learn of the price of the tickets as we were told, it was about the same that they were being paid. (don’t know if this is fact).

I didn’t find the actual burning of the sculptures to be very moving. The flames and sparks were beautiful but the burning itself was not moving…for me at least.

There were moments such as, when I was freezing cold at night, and hadn’t slept for 2 nights, that I thought ‘what the fuck am I doing out here’. Or when my tummy was upset and I was out walking looking at the art and had to rush back to the outdoor toilet (sometimes with a queue) or after some inconsiderate person had been without putting in sawdust and tidying up.

I appreciated that even though there were a lot of people consuming drugs and alcohol, people were respectful as in no one was in your face or in your space.

I didn’t feel that it was a hippie festival…

Almost impossible to meet up with folks you know, it was so large this year, and I’m not sure how well that notice board works.

The afrikaburn crew did an amazing job setting up the infrastructure, marking off streets, putting up street lights and street signs, building the infamous toilets.

I did see a woman OD, she fell to the ground on her back, started convulsing then vomitted. Luckily she sat up (otherwise she could have choked on her own vomit).  A ranger alerted the paramedics who were there really quickly to assist her.

Why do people have to go to these extremes and spend excessive amounts of money to be generous and gift to random folks in the desert?

Is it just one big parade? a hedonistic selfish over indulgence? So what if it is. Who says life is all about good deeds and giving to those in need. We are in need to… in need of fun… of an alternative reality… of a non-sensical experience…

I can imagine that being part of a theme camp or a larger camp with experienced burner friends would be a totally different experience, than being a newbie camping on the outskirts with the bare minimum.

Here are more Afrikaburn 2014 photos on flickr

I’d love to hear about your experience, especially if you were a newbie to Afrikaburn.