Wednesday, 20 May 2015

An Afrikaburn experience

It's really difficult to describe what Afrikaburn is.

Based on the original Burning Man of Nevada, it isn't a music festival. It isn't a hippy gathering either.

But it is a mass self-sufficient camping experience on the open flats of the Karoo with an arty and creative theme. It's about people and kindness and giving and friendliness and whacky outfits.

Friends have been over the years and this year was my turn to give it a try. It's a long way to 'Tankwa Town'. We left Parys on the Monday late afternoon, heading to Bloemfontein for the night. We drove through the next day to Calvinia, a town that won us over for its neat layout and litter-free streets with wide pavements.

The dirt road to Afrikaburn is just outside of town and it was a magnificent 100 kilometre drive to this pop-up town.

We arrived at Afrikaburn on the Wednesday afternoon. The event started on the Monday and apparently by the time we arrived there were only about 5,000 people there with another 6,000-odd expected to arrive over the next few days. And that they did! We found our timing to be perfect - arriving in time that most of the big art sculpture and other installations were up.

We camped in a new area (green circle on map), purposefully staying away from the loud zones. Unfortunately the whole place was actually a loud zone (more on this later) and we had a big noise maker (the ship) where the red circle is drawn.

Our direct neighbours (Australians, Capetonians - mom, daughter and daughter's friend - and a guy from the Transkei with his Dutch girlfriend) were really friendly and made for pleasant company.

This area is vast - far bigger than it looks on paper. Big and open and sandy and dusty and flat.

We cruised around on our Qhubeka bikes in the day and stayed on foot at night.

We ended up having fairly lazy days. We'd wake around 07h00 and then doze on and off before getting in another good two-hour nap once the ship stopped blasting doof-doof music at about 08h00. This was really, really irritating.

Then we'd get up, make breakfast, drink tea, chill, say hi to neighbours, get our bikes ready and then spend a few hours riding around and checking out the sights and art works and theme camps. We'd return to camp in the evening and I'd head out to run - sometimes with Celliers keeping me company on his bike and other times on my own (while he made dins). I had such lovely runs out here.

We'd be back out at night, draped in fairy lights, to see the night sights and lights and burns.

We both knew of friends also attending Afrikaburn. Neither of us bumped into a single person that we knew!

The theme of this year's Afrikaburn was "The Gift" and people randomly gift strangers with items. We were gifted a random hug from a stranger, some cold grapes, a slice of cheese on a cracker and a small plaster-sculpted head.

Face painted by our neighbours
We loved the friendliness of the people, amazingly creative outfits - during the day and night, environmental consideration (no litter, clean camps), lights at night - on people, bikes, camps and structures, the few performances we watched, mutant vehicles and the burns.

One of the very many mutant vehicles cruising the open plain
While porta loos are rarely pleasant, we appreciated the clean pit toilets. These had a c-shaped 'wall' of shade cloth for privacy, opening to a view of the Karoo. Toilet paper was provided in abundance with notes written on the bucket lids about what can and can't go into the pit (only pee, poo and toilet paper). Saw dust was also provided - a handful to be tossed into the pit when done. These were very well managed.

We were disappointed not to see (or be at the right place at the right time) more performances and acoustic jams.

We caught a fabulous jam at The Temple of Rock theme camp. Very memorable. We sat down and stayed to listen.

We also thoroughly enjoyed a sunset acrobatic performance.

We also caught a bit of a burlesque show and a dash of stand-up at another theme camp.

We also loved the sculptures and structures and interactive art things in The Binnekring.

A massive smoke ring. We heard a sound, saw a black atom bomb-like cloud of smoke from which this ring formed. Amazing! (Metamorphosis pre-burn in the background)
I can't even begin to describe the wonder of the lights at night. I'm sure there are photos out there by photographers that do justice to these.

The burns were just wonderful. These are huge, rip-roaring fires that eat up the big wooden structures that are built each year.

This year's Clan Burn structure.
This was a wonderful silent burn. No blasting music.

Metamorphosis going up in flames.
Subterrafuge didn't burn last year as conditions weren't good.
Bye-bye Subterrafuge
If there is one thing that stood out as incredibly disappointing it would be the noise. All day and all night. Doof-doof music blasting from mutant vehicles and theme camps. This was one big non-stop cacophony.

We expected the loud music to be confined to the marked loud zones with random music (from different genre) being played at camp sites and theme camps. What we didn't expect was the extent of the noise pollution with each mutant vehicle / theme camp trying to out do the next. And all playing soul-less doof-doof music.

Here's the cracker... during the day or at night there could be between 10 and 200 people 'dancing' around a noise blaster. 100-200 was certainly rare. Let's say there are 30 or even 40 noise-blasting locations. At an average of 50 people (way over what we observed), that's only 1,500 to 2,000 people 'enjoying' the noisy offering.

What were the other 10,000 people doing? Walking around, looking for other listening options, hanging at their own camps and walking far out into the open Karoo for some peace and quiet.

The burns were magnificent but definitely marred by the surrounding mutant vehicles each blasting their own foul tunes.

When we watched Subterrafuge burn, we sat in a quieter spot. From somewhere a touch of classical music played and a woman standing in front of us said something like, "Finally, a bit of classic!". It was downed out by louder doof-doof.

The Clan Burn was a silent burn. What bliss! Around us people commented how pleasant this was. We could actually hear the structure burning.

Considering the spirit of the event, which is about giving and sharing and kindness... this constant noise goes totally against what the event is.

I'm all for having the loud zones as indicated and theme camps playing an assortment of music (more live would be a winner) at a reasonable decibel level so as not to encroach on the camps next door.

There were a good number of children at Afrikaburn. They seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, racing around on bicycles and wearing funky outfits.

Although we smelled weed being smoked all over the place, it wasn't grossly abundant. We're under no illusion that there was probably a lot of recreational use going on but we didn't encounter it. I think this is probably more prevalent within the theme camps. Camped around us were generally older people (same age as me and even a good number in my parents' age bracket) and this certainly explains why we didn't see much in the way of recreational drug and alcohol abuse.

We didn't take many photos. There were lots of pros out there and you can see glorious photos through the Afrikaburn Facebook page.

Overall we enjoyed the experience. I wouldn't go back every year but I'd definitely go back in a few years.

This will give me enough time to collect cool items for outrageous outfits...

1 comment:

Conrad van den Berg said...

It is so nice to read about a place and event I know nothing about. I share your sentiment about the noise, and you are right - it is typically the minority that makes things unpleasant for the majority. Luckily this is less of a problem where trail runners gather.