Monday, May 11, 2015

A Burners Journey to AfrikaBurn

A Burners Journey to AfrikaBurn

Photo by Steven Morrow 

Driving home from my first Burn in 2011, I knew I was hooked. I then immediately realized I was screwed. How was I going to make it to the Playa every August for the rest of my life? My first problem, being a teacher, is that the last week of August is possibly the hardest week of the year to request off. My next issue, the distance. Having spent half of my twenties abroad I knew making the long journey to Burning Man just wouldn’t be possible some years. I’ve been lucky enough to not miss one in the last four years, but having arrived at my new job in Istanbul two weeks late with just two days rest off the playa in 2014, I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be as lucky in 2015. So I was faced with the real possibility of missing a burn, but when you have a week long spring break that lines up perfectly with the second largest regional burn you take it as a sign and haul your dusty gear half way round the world to light some shit on fire!
If you are thinking of trading in the Playa for the Binnekring, Black Rock City for Tankwa Town and the Man for the Clan then come take a journey with me and decide for yourself ! Be warned this is just a slice of AfrikaBurn, as I can only share my perspective and my encounters. Take it as my decompression, my way of reflection and hopefully a way to offer a little insight to those who are considering something new.

The Binnekring vs. The Playa

  • The Binnekring is smaller than the Playa and everything is pretty much walkable. You can get from one side to the other within 20 -30 minutes, although bikes are still a good idea because there is actually no trash fence so you can ride as far as you dare. About half of the people have wheels out there. On the brightside, this makes finding your bike in the masses a lot easier. On the downside, there is an increased chance someone will “borrow it.” Just like at BM it’s a good idea to lock your bike. Better safe than sorry. But do not make the mistake of buying a rusty old beach cruiser, the Binnekring is no Playa. It is covered in rocks, spiky bushes, dried up river beds and sneaky sand patches that will stop you dead in your tracks. In my opinion mountain bikes are much better suited for the environment. We purchased our bikes for a little more than a hundred bucks and were thrilled to donate them to our younger neighbors on departure. There is even a camp called Pedals for Peace that sells burners bikes before the Burn and will take unwanted bikes at the end of the week. They have partnerships with local schools and charities that they donate to after the Burn. So think of a bike purchase as an investment in transportation for the week and a donation, win-win ! One more important detail is that they drive on the left, which is good to keep in mind when cruising between theme camps.

Photo by Maddy Rolison
Photo by Simon Callaghan 

  • The Burns were by far my favorite moments. They felt completely intimate and unifying. Afrikaburn is about one eighth the population of Burning Man therefore pretty much everything is one eighth the size. If you are looking to see structures like the BM temple of 2012 or the Man of 2014 you might be disappointed, however if you are not expecting grander and bigger there are benefits to a more intimate setting. I personally really enjoyed the upfront view of the Clan, Temple and Subterrafuge burns. At each burn I eagerly waited for the fire perimeter to break and everyone to move closer to the burn site. Those moments felt very primal and tribal as people danced around the flames and several drum circles sprang up. I especially enjoyed seeing the way each piece burned, how it started, how each pattern burned in the wind, and how it eventually fell to the earth. Not sure if that’s because I am a raging pyro or because of the mind altering substances,  but either way it blew my mind. The Subterrafuge (the five pillars) which was erected to protest fracking in the area, was by far my favorite burn, they were unable to burn it last year due to high winds making this years burn that much more meaningful. It was a beautiful burn, the colors were spectacular ranging from white hot to intense blues behind a backdrop of cascading stars. Fun fact: just outside Tankwa lies South Africa’s largest telescope, which due to it’s high location above sea level its one of the clearest, darkest, and best places for stargazing). The crowds cheered as every pillar crashed to the ground and relished in the burning embers for hours after the burn. This year the Clan burn was moved to Friday night along with Subterrafuge, and the Temple burned on Saturday. Organizers were a little concerned about getting people to observe silence  on a Saturday night but rangers politely walked around during the Temple burn asking people to observe silence, and in the end it was a silent crowd of 10,000 watching the flames and embracing one another. 

Photo by Steven Morrow 
Photo by Steven Morrow
Photo by Kane Croudace

The Art
  • The major scheduled burns were by no means the only things on fire. It seemed everywhere we looked on Saturday from sunset to midnight there was something burning. From artists burning small art pieces made of fabric and wood to the elaborate burn of 10 foot letters reading “Just Gonna Stand There And Watch Me Burn?” While I didn’t notice as many fire spinners and poi, I did witness one of the most beautiful performances by the New Moon Collective: a group of stilt walkers dressed and painted completely in white who attracted a large following as they danced across the Binnekring anchoring a huge long white balloon. The procession stopped inside of a ring of fire spinners before letting the balloon rise high in the air, leaving one woman to do an aerial performance symbolizing the birth of the new moon. I was left speechless by the elegance and beauty of the performers against the backdrop of a setting sun and a rising moon.  
Photo by New Moon Collective
The Sound

  • SOOP ! as in Sound Out Of Place.  One of my favorite concepts I took away, and one I think BM should consider adopting. The organizer put the loud theme camps at either end of the cornucopia, allowing a buffer zone for loud camping and a quiet zone in the middle. We camped in the loud zone, but I was never once bothered by sound from other camps. The music and sound stages were fewer and farther between but still offered a wide variety. One of our favorites was the Temple of Rock, which had a rocking band cranking out the hits all day long. Bubbles and Bass was a little slice of home and held down a bumping early morning party every day at sunrise that lasted into the late afternoon while (of course) they kept the champagne flowing. As mentioned before the scale of AB is smaller than BM, so obviously there are less art cars and mutant vehicles but remember AB is only in its 9th year, so people have not had decades to invest and build vehicles. There was definitely potential for the creativity and scale of art cars to grow. My favorite art car was the Spirit Train, a steampunk inspired train that was always pulling a crowd with their deep beats and sexy vibes. I often found myself dancing the night away there and running into friends we had met along the way.
Photo by Maddy Roison
Photo by 

Self Expression

  • One thing I was shocked by was the general lack of mass nudity. I didn't see a single shirt cocker! Depending on your feelings about shirt cocking that could be a good or bad thing. There was one camp that offered afternoon showers for 100% nude, and of course it was mostly old dudes. Towards the end of the week people started showing a bit more skin, but I am pretty sure I was the only one rocking the vag cleavage. I think this mostly has to do with SA being a bit more on the conservative side which is evidenced by  the absence of the orgy tents and large representation of different sexual orientations. But none of that stopped me from walking around in the buff! I think AB could use a critical tits and a few shirt cunters.
Photo by Michael Ross
The Loos 

  • Speaking of holes, long drop toilets are awesome ! They don’t smell, they have a view, there was never a line and they were always clean. If you don’t mind a little less privacy and covering your poo in sawdust, it’s a great alternative to porta potties. One downside is it that they are located on the backside of the camping and there are only a few porta potties on the Binnkering, but the general consensus is if you pee on a bush it’s all good. I mean TIA (this is Africa) not Nevada! I honestly loved having nature pees all week and never once stepped in a porta potty. Side note: gray water is not as strictly observed as a BM, especially in the camp areas. And it seemed pretty much every camp had an outdoor shower, although I personally relish the fact that it becomes socially acceptable to not shower for a week.

Photo by Maddy Rolison
  • Ethos, while AB upholds the ten principles of BM it also takes it one step further with an 11th principle that states ‘Each One Teach One.’ Meaning its the responsible of every member to take another under its wing and show them the way of the principles. This is a vital part of their community, as it is still growing with many virgins and those who have not had the opportunity to truly practice the guiding principles. Another phrase I walked away with was ‘One Burner One Shift’ which is really important in Tankwa, every person should take a volunteer shift, greeting, MOOPing, being a guardian of helping out at the DPW. With a smaller population it is even more important for everyone to participate and contribute. While this might take away from all the free shit you are used to getting at the Burn, it is an opportunity for you to provide it. This years theme was ‘the Gift’ and from the sounds of last year’s more sinister theme of Trickery, it set a good tone for the week and kept everyone is the mindset of generosity. There were only a few camps gifting hot meals like pancakes and grilled cheese, but we were offered ice cream and cold pops almost everyday. And we never‘ had to wander too far to find a hot cup of coffee or tea. Generally AB is much more accessible, especially if you have a last minute idea. It felt like there were less regulations and restrictions on theme camps and artists. The DMV and DPW both accept last minute applications for art cars and will go out of there way to help place an art project mid week and provide burn support. Artists have much more leeway to set up where they want and burn if and when they want.
Photo by Johan M Van Zyl

  • I didn't have many expectation but the crowd felt awfully familiar. There were lots of old burner types, moms, dads, college kids, and little ones of all ages and even teenagers, which are usually absent at BM. We seemed to run into virgins of all ages at every turn, but then again I guess we were virgins ourselves. I felt the crowd was more diverse, we met people from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, England, New York, and California but the majority were definitely South African. Either way, I am comforted by the fact that I could attend a regional burn anywhere in the world and meet like-minded, open and conscious people who uphold the same principles. It has undoubtedly sparked our interest in getting out there and meeting our burner community all over the world. After hearing great tales about MidBurn in Israel we are putting that one on our calendar for next year.


  • From the reports we heard it was a good weather year. I probably would have agreed with this if it weren't for the fact our camp was completely destroyed on the first night. The high winds ripped our shade structure out of the ground, despite having half a dozen heavy duty rebars and we nearly even lost our chairs. Understandable why it had prevented burns in the past and even caused entire camps to be up heaved and sent tents soaring in the air. But after the first night the wind was hardly noticeable, the heat in the day was never unbearable but still enough to be comfortable in little clothing. Once the sun went down the temperatures dropped quite significantly but not as bad as being deep Playa before dawn.
Photo by Jonx Pillemer.
The Road

  • Po-pos! This had to be the best part of AB: No motherfucking cops!  Yes there were friendly rangers and earth guardians but no undercovers, no federal agents, no one trying to bust you and basically no fucks given about smoking a joint whenever you like. Even the drive up was cop free, apparently there have been roadblocks in the past with the police checking vehicles but we never saw any. While we are on the topic of Entry and Exodus, there was no pulsing, no hours of waiting at the gates or staring at someone’s bumper for half a day. We traded that in for over 100km of bumpy and rocky dirt road. This gnarly road is know for eating tires, so it’s a good idea to bring a spare, but if you forget there are a few tire shops along the way. The route from Cape Town was pretty straight forward, there is even a beautiful wild game reserve on the way that's definitely worth stopping at, especially since they have large all you can eat meals. The best part of the drive was seeing the gangs of wild baboons scurry across the freeway, but make sure that your windows are up, or else they might try and jump in your car!

Photo by Maddy Rolison

Photo by ?
Cape Town
  • What really made the trip worthwhile was the few days in Cape Town beforehand. Breathtaking coastline with lots of little beach towns, friendly and energetic people, Plus tasty craft beers and ciders, and not to mention delicious and cheap wine. We found Cape Town super easy to navigate and were able to buy everything we needed for the desert (minus EL wire). Camping and wilderness adventures are big activities in South Africa, so you will have no trouble finding the supplies you need to survive for a week. If you are trying to rent an RV for the week, you might not be able to find a company that is willing to hire out an RV for AfrikaBurn, however if you don't mind tell a little lie you could have better luck. We had no hassles with the truck we rented and the company didn't seem to bat an eye when we returned it covered in dust.

I image the only things keeping most people from exploring more international burns are the cost and distance. In total we spent about $1500, that includes the rental car, gas, food, booze, party favors and camping gear ranging from a full length mirror to a tent, chairs, and shade.  Although our flight from Europe was about $800 each, we felt the time we spent in Cape Town was well worth the flight cost. Generally I spent pretty much the same amount of money going to AB as I do going to BM. We were also extremely pleased that we didn't have to throw away any of our new purchases. We were able to find a home for everything we couldn’t take back with us on the plane.

In conclusion this is my advice: If you happen to be one of those unfortunate workers who only gets two weeks holiday a year and you are trying to decide between spending your vacation on the Playa or travelling or you just can’t get away for the last week of August, I would say come to Afrikaburn! You can spend a few days before and after the Burn in Cape Town but still get your week of indulgence in the desert getting weird with a bunch of open minded freaks. Your clothes and nose will still be filled with dirt and dust, you still get to dress up to your fullest self expression and you will probably have the best weeks of your year out there and get to ring the bells like you’re a virgin all over again.  

Photo by Maddy Rolison
Photo by Maddy Rolison

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