An arid, dry landscape completely ringed by mountains far in the distance and inhabited here and there by a few dry, grassy patches of foliage. A sprinkling of empty settlement houses. No water for miles. Just beautifully flat, empty, desert.
As the sun sets, it seems like someone is painting the sky in front of your eyes. Bright, golden yellows and shades of orange fade as your view pans into purples and pinks, deep blues and back to soft yellows spreading to a burst of orange in 360 degrees of the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen.
So far I've tried to be as poncy and "paint with my wordsy" as I possibly could. But the truth is, absolutely nothing I can say, no matter how many descriptives I use, can really, fully get across what a beautiful experience Afrikaburn was.
After savouring our last shower for what would be four very dirty dirty days, our journey started on Thursday morning in Hout Bay at 6:30am. I slept through a lot of it, and woke up just in time for a brief stop in Ceres for fuel and ice. 30km's out of Ceres, coffee and Wimpy burgers in hand, we realised that we had remembered to get everything on our shopping list of fuel and ice...except the fuel. So a few minutes later we were back in Ceres to fill up, before heading back the way we had come.
After the Ceres split, the last 100km's of the drive is spent on a dirt road, and thanks to the bakkie we had borrowed, it only took us an hour (rather than the recommended 2 hours in "city cars"). Upon our arrival around 2pm, we were welcomed by the friendliest fairy/hippy I've ever met, who enthusiastically told us to get ready to have our minds blown, and to ring the first-timers bell.
Driving through the gates of Afrikaburn is like driving through the gates into another universe. Imagine From Dusk Till Dawn, but without George Clooney and nobody turns into Vampires and the doorman isn't screaming a string of vulgar nicknames for female body parts into your face. Other than that, it's pretty much exactly the same.
People dressed in the most absurdly wonderful outfits, stretch tents everywhere, flags, balloons stretching 100m into the sky, cars that look like something from Mad Max (so says Nash-I've never seen Mad Max myself), circus tents on wheels, moving pirate ships, bands playing on the back of trucks with the sunset as their backdrop, wooden sheep strategically placed in the desert, a tiny bit of nakedness, and hundreds and hundreds of bicycles.
Afrikaburn is modelled on the American festival "Burning Man" where the basic breakdown of how it works is this: an Arts Festival based on the principals of self expression, self reliance, and sharing. The entire event is in the hands of the participants. Events, music, art and entertainment are all supplied by those who join in. Festival goers are encouraged to express themselves and share their art in any way possible, from painting their bodies, to providing chill tents and music, to art pieces and "art cars". Participants can apply for a grant from the organisers in order to set up their contribution (grants are made up of money from ticket sales) .
It's all about being self sufficient, and "leaving no trace". Nothing is for sale at the event so we had to take all our own food, water, drinks and sleeping stuff. The climate is harsh, with hot days and freezing nights-apparently one night dropped down to -8 degrees! Long drop toilets are set up, and only 1ply paper is allowed. Fire pits are encouraged, but you are asked to be mindful not to "scar the earth".
As this was our first year, we had no idea what to expect so we didn't plan any art or gifting. We basically just wanted to make sure we survived. We did however, take bicycles and man, did we use them. If there is one miscellaneous item you absolutely must have at Afrikaburn-this is it. The festival is BIG and the earth is perfectly flat, which makes riding ideal. Bikes are also a great way to do a moving art piece-as we accidentally discovered on our first night there.
Puma had kindly hooked Nash up with this badboy,
|WHOA! Nice cruiser Puma|
and I took along Lady Marmaduke, so we were set as far as bikes were concerned. We'd brought along a box of dress-up gear and playthings from China Town, and Nash found some extra tent poles that he's always had- and never used- and with two clicks of his heels and half a roll of duct tape, he'd fashioned us the most amazing little tails for out bikes. Throw together with that a couple of strings of battery operated fairy lights...and you have an art piece.
|Art pieces: Johnny Loco bike, Puma bike, China Town toys, duct tape|
The fact that bands and DJ's head all the way out there and give of their own words and music without stage managers and band managers and booze tabs...is what I love. I love thats's its all about doing what you love, purely for the sake of doing what you love.
I think that's the one main thing that sets Afrikaburn apart. The thing that makes it seem so magical and mystical. So incredibly fantastical. Its the spirit of giving...without the expectation of anything in return. Yet, that is exactly what inevitably ends up happening. Giving of your time, money (for a ticket) or talent at Afrikaburn, could never amount to the life-changing experience Afrikaburn gives back to you.
To me personally, Afrikaburn is a Festival Of Freedom. Freedom of expression. Freedom from ego. Freedom from phones and internets, holding us back from eye contact and body language. Freedom to get naked around a fire if that's what you desire. Freedom to leave your bicycle unattended and come back to find it untouched. Freedom to ask your neighbour if you could use their outdoor shower. Freedom to celebrate the talents of others.
I can't imagine ever missing a year. One day my kids will be riding through the desert in their own bike gangs. Feathers in their hair and freedom on the soles of their feet.