Ma, Please Don’t Make Me Go to AfrikaBurn

africa burn pic

I am of the firm and growing conviction that the world is divided into two distinct types of people: those who Burn and those who don’t. And it’s with no small measure of regret that I have to place myself, without question, into the latter group. While there are times when, after enough wine, I get momentarily bamboozled by the enthusiastic superlatives Burners throw out to convince me of how much I’m missing, I think, well, maybe I could do this… maybe I should just give it a try, the second I open my eyes the following morning I know for a fact the very notion is tomfoolery of the most delusional kind.

You see, while I nurture a self-image of being cool and chilled and even a little bit of a hippie, the truth is, over and above some nice wedges and a peasant top or two, I’m probably the least chilled person you’ll ever meet in your life. My super not-chilled-ness is somewhat disguised by my warm, over-share-y personality. But, dig a little deeper by putting me in a lift which looks like it might stop between floors, wake me up in the middle of the night for no good reason or give me bad Wifi when I have low blood sugar and you’ll see the truth emerge.

It’s not that I don’t get the appeal of AfrikaBurn. Art is great, and art installations in the middle of the desert are greater, still. Also, drugs are fun. And drugs, when everyone around you is dressed in sequins and has flashing lights attached to their heads and all the world is a disco, must be the biggest fun ever. The trouble is, morning. Hungover mornings wrapped in your own duvet where you can reach for the Ibuprofen, swallow it with water from a tap, take a long, hot shower and eat bacon on the couch all day are bad enough.

But waking up on stones with dust matting your eyelashes, a stinking long-drop seven kilometers away, wet wipes your only grooming tools and nothing to eat but Chakalaka… The thought alone makes me shudder. How? How do you people do it? When the first thing you see as you venture out your tent of death and squint at the unkind position of the bright sun is a naked couple on a tandem bicycle waving wands and looking happy and fabulous? How do you not crawl out and slap them senseless? How, with a pounding head and a mouth that’s drier than the Tankwa terrain, do you gather yourself sufficiently to get back into your sequined bra and face all that madness?

Do you swallow magic mushrooms with vodka to anaesthetize yourself enough to cope, and if so, isn’t that just a lot of hard work? Wouldn’t it be much easier to go to the National Gallery in the afternoon and then on to Galaxy for a dance? I’m sure nobody would protest if you wore crotchless panties and insisted on handing out free things. That way you could have a nice Banting salad beforehand and be happily tucked into your clean, quiet bed by 2am (or 11, if you’re me).

See, I wasn’t joking when I said I was a Mother Grundy. And yet, so many people love it and take months preparing for it and never want to leave, so clearly there are some important parts I’m just not getting. And I know, I’ll be inundated with comments about the community spirit and how everyone shares and how awesome the installations are… ja ja. But, wet wipes. And the small issue which seems to bother nobody but me of getting no sleep at all for the duration of your stay because apparently the music never stops ever and you can never get far enough away for it to be quiet. To me, it just sounds like so much torture and suffering.

Maybe one day the FOMO will get bad enough that I’ll cough up for a helicopter which can deliver me in my ball gown and overnight bag and I’ll have meaningful conversations with strangers and ride fire-spewing rhinos and dance till the sun comes up and then, just as my hair starts getting unmanageable, pick me up and whisk me away before I have time to get grumpy. I hope so. Because it really looks like something you want to experience once in your life.

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69 thoughts on “Ma, Please Don’t Make Me Go to AfrikaBurn

  1. I am so with you on this. I have wished that I were the type of person to be a Burner but, in the end, have decided I too would have to be helipcoptered in and out, just staying long enough for me to experience it but not get dusty, thirsty, dirty, irritated or drunk.

  2. I was sad to see you are a “nonBurner” purely based on the assumption that everyone who goes gets horrendously drunk or high. Having been once and wishing to go again, as a nondruggie and small amount drinker my partner and I had a wonderful time that involved lots of laughter, bizarre experiences, laughing at the drunk and high people and enjoying mountain swims and desert warmth. The hospitality music and people were awesome and it shouldn’t be crossed off your list purely due to hangover reasons!

          1. Our campsite has warm showers, in individual shower tents. Generators, Water JoJo Tank, Deep Freezer (to keep ice) and a stretch bedouin tent covering all our individual tents makes it incredibly livable, even for 8 days!

            The experience of being totally immersed in your environment, without any digital distractions or concerns over money is one of the most liberating feelings ever.

            As for the drugs, booze, nudity, freakiness, etc… Be whatever you want to, without judgement!

            Try it, trust me!

      1. My daughter went to the last one. I was impressed as she is a “princess who needs a shower” of note but survived with wet wipes. I laugh every time I see one now! Nothing can convince me and I am with you on this that I need “facilities” to camp! As in my own personal bathroom!

    1. I haven’t been due to children but would love to experience some time. My 13 year old’s dad has been going for years and begging me to take her. I know kids have gone and had a fabulous time with responsible parents, but what if they decide to party? I’d love to know your thoughts on letting teenagers go? Tx

      1. I think that would be hard to say without knowing the kids or the parents… Completely depends on you and your kids but when I was there there were a lot of kids of all different ages. I don’t expect what is at Afrika Burn is much different to Long street Cape Town on a Saturday night, but it’s what you and they look for and how you prioritize your time and the experience.

  3. Ha ha very funny indeed . Im suggesting that Burners just might lie a lot to their friends about how cool it is .. you forgot to mention the dust storm that occurred last time .. I have friends who havent yet found all the grit in their various cracks yet……

  4. Thank you Susan – Love you and your blog – feel like it was written for me! lets club together and get a large old army chopper – there are a few of us out there you share your thoughts!!!

    1. LOL I am with you on that one….it takes a certain kind of mentality. I thinbk they are all so stoned that they dont even notice what is going on around them.

  5. LOL Michael Henning, you “cracked” me up !!!!
    I’m so with you Susan … I think via helicopter it should be, with a tiara on your head

  6. Seems you have missed the one alternative, unless you cant NOT have the self indulgence, its a waste of time with people looking for an excuse to do what they cant/wont in real life, burn or not, get a grip, if you cant do it every day, you are lying to yourelf

  7. This is hilarious. And so Me. I can relate on every level. I told my friends I would come, but only if I could stay in a hotel. Not.

  8. Oh live a little l.o.l It is like nothing on earth. You can hire a glamping tent with bedstead, duvet, bedside table and shower… the loos are meticulously maintained and have to die for views of the desert… there are massages and yoga classes and if the noise gets too much you can cycle into the desert….don’t knock it till you’ve been….oh, and just exercise a little moderation and dance all night if you can’t get into the rhythm of the doof-doof… it’s an experience not to be missed for anything.

  9. Sounds like littlegig might just be for you. 24 hours of fun n spitting distance of home (assuming you’re from Cape Town). Google it. Save for the fact that you will use wet wipes, endure port-a-Loos and sleeping in a pre pitched tent.

    1. Spitting distance? Isn’t it 7 hours from CT, the last being a very rough ride? :-) Last year my friends took 3 hours just to get out of the burn area with all the traffic. They don’t party lightly either, so they were practically crying the whole 10 hours’ drive home. Oh, and they were towing a rhino that spews fire :-DDD

  10. Very funny! I laugh as I hear your dilemma! But I must admit nothing beats a dose of Afrikaburn every 2nd year or so! Last year we took our kids and we all had a ball! It’s like stepping on another planet where everything goes! Great fun and a treat for the visual senses!
    We all loved it and are keen to go back. I can do 3 days MAX though before I really need a shower!

    Give it a go one year! Helicopter in sounds like a good plan

    Ps I enjoy your blogs
    Cheers Yael

  11. I am so relived it’s not just me! Susan your thoughts summed me up to a T!
    Am eager to join the dinner (Banting sends perfect), then catch the chopper (we can all chip in from a community spirit point of view :) and then head off for a quick looksee… And home the next morning for a shower! Perfect.

  12. Ugh. I am not enough of a “free spirit with the wind in her sun-bleached hair and the sun on her tanned shoulders” to go to AfrikaBurn. I like showers and working toilets and a bed to rest my fat ass upon at night. Please don’t EVER make me go to AfrikaBurn unless I can go for a few hours and then leave again because heaven knows, I prefer peace and quiet way too much.

    I’m not NEARLY Mad-Max-slash-Kylie-Jenner-at-Coachella enough for this.

  13. It is the camping. And the constant loud music. And no sleep. And dust. And long drops. Nooooo! Even a helicopter would not be enough. I am just not a festival fan. Splashy Fen, Oppiekoppie, Daisies, Afrika Burn. Not gonna happen.

  14. I live next door to you and suggest that we build something hairy and huge in our adjoining yards tomorrow and set this artful dodgy creature alight on Sunday whilst smoking magic mushrooms ? .. I mean why not ? .. I am all out of sequined bras [being close to 80 ] but you do look the type to have a drawer full of them ? ..

  15. Well written and funny. I still haven’t been, although I’d love to go. I just worry about how exhausted I’ll be when I return home to work, kids etc.

  16. Hahaha! It’s not nearly as dusty as the original Burning Man in Nevada, if that’s any help. Plus I dare you to try give away margaritas for free in a commercial venue :P we managed to eat amazing home cooked meals every day but that’s not really the point. It’s more about the fun you have with your friends, the man that comes over suddenly with a trail of massive balloons going up into the sky, the beauty of the art… that gets burnt to signify that everything is transient, motivating you to appreciate everything while it’s here. And trust me wet wipes are amazing and may become your best friend out there :) I would say try it once and then decide whether or not it’s for you…

  17. I never really understood what the fuss was about especially out there in the desert until one day a very good friend of mine told me that it’s his annual relaxing time. He started a project whereby Burners could purchase a bike to use during the festival. Afterwards they donate it to the local communities. So he takes his whole family including his kids and bike team. There is a family section with showers! They then transport the bike parts up, assemble the bikes when they get there and when the bikes are returned fix it up and then go out to the local schools, communities, etc. All the empty boxes then gets added to the Burn at the end. This has given me the extra motivation of wanting to attend one year.

  18. Dude… is this a Cape Town thang or else who on earth are your friends who are giving you FOMO? Not sure I am going to be able to move back to CT in my late thirties anymore… Thankfully, no-one in Sandton looks at you askance if you aren’t packing for Oppikoppi. Rule of thumb: if it’s not five star we don’t sleep under it :)

  19. Oh yes, and don’t be hating on wet wipes – the modern mother’s ultimate survival tool. I swear they could remove make-up from pure silk :)

  20. I’m not deser moth – I camped in a camp site where the music played for 4 days straight, I dealt with a boyfriend who had concerning gastro that not even a drip at the medics would help with, I puked a full day lying in a scorching hot tent Feeling too ill to get up, I struggled to deal with the idea that even my clean clothes were dirty because DUST. EVERYWHERE! I did however manage to shower at least twice a day through 5 days & still managed to have drinking water & about a litre+ of my water supply left (& that included washing my hair) because I don’t do wet wipes. I was pretty sober most of my 5 days & although my life was pretty unchanged upon my return home, it was an experience and one (regardless of all the crappy dirt & stepping out of your comfort zone points you made) you should definitely consider taking on :) I would most certainly go again that’s for sure.

  21. It’s not for me either. I need my shower and at least a comfortable mattress and peace and quiet to sleep – I love those comforts too much. We used to go out there 15-16 years ago when my dad owned the farm (before he sold it to the current owner) and camped out and enjoyed the beauty and peacefulness of the Tankwa Karoo (there is a certain beauty to that desert, even though you had to always have two spare tyres as the dirt road north of Ceres was notorious for sharp stones and flat tyres). I struggle to imagine the place any other way.

  22. Oh hell no! I have no intention of ever going. Camps Bay beach for a few hours once a year is bad enough (and that includes sun lounger, the occasional free massage, and products from Woolies, not to mention a hot – or cold – shower at the end of it)!

    I would have thought that anything that is known simply as “the burn” should be treated with the scepticism and reluctance that anything burn-y warrants!

    As for the consumerist, sorry I mean community appeal of it, I don’t think I need any more self-righteousness and sanctimony in my life, thank you.

  23. A friend sent me this on FB. I laughed like a drain. I have lovely (but oh so precious) ageing hippie pals who go to these things like Upping the Daisies and Rock the Creek etc … And imagine getting all that gluten free flour and non GMO fresh produce up to the desert!

  24. I am going to AfrikaBurn when they install a 5 star hotel (burnable of course) that I can retreat to when it all get s too much, I did ask my 14 yr old if she would like to go, she said the same but added she didn’t really want to see middle aged hippies naked in the desert wearing top hats and takkies, it would end in her having to go to therapy… I guess we are not burners!

  25. Omg, this is exactly why I couldn’t go yet, even if after every burn all my friends who went came back with such great stories and I then wish I was the kind of person who can do it. But I am not. I need a real toilet, bed. I can’t sleep with any noise or lights, and I can not even imagine spending days in a drunken drugged out stupor. Love your blog!

  26. I’ve done 6 Burns, with my children, and VERY drug free!! The Burn is what you make it to be….
    If you don’t want to wake up on rocks, bring a blow up mattrass and white feather bedding (as I do), the furthest long drop toilet (with the most amazing view and toilet paper 24/7), is no more than 100m from anywhere….
    Build up an awesome camp with friends, bring solar showers, or go to Camp Sunset Oasis, who offer showers…. I am done with the Burn for various reasons and have not been for 2 years, as I am travelling other places with my sons, but you really CANNOT write an article if you haven’t been there… it is an experience that you just cannot explain …
    If you don’t enjoy camping, don’t go…if you like to sleep in 100% silence, don’t go…. simple : ) xxx
    If you wan’t to experience a little bit of a weird perfect world… just GO!!

  27. What a laugh…I have to agree…I used to be very spontaneous 10 years ago, now I require a 2 week notification, not that I mind though, Im a lot more comfortable than I was 10 years ago. Plus hang out in Brackenfell long enough and you’ll have a whole burn experience corcs an all.

  28. My 14 year daughter went with friends this year and is desperate for me to go with her next year … sigh. When I go to the Tankwa Karoo I want to go alone (or nearly alone) in spring to enjoy the space and peace of a people-free landscape with birds, flowers, koggelmannetjies, etc.

  29. For some reason my hangovers are nearly nonexistent in the desert … and trust me, I deserve them! Some milk thistle, decent earplugs, a good mattress with a white duvet (with a big tent under cover) and you’re golden. There are showers available, or take your own along with you. I think you’d love it actually…..

  30. Sleep: got a solid 8 hours every night. we were camping in the extended spots, and its pretty far away from the loud zones. If still loud enough, get some earplugs. Food: We ate like kings, protip: go with a big camp, and everyone brings their bit. That way you can get a balanced diet while you’re there, whilst bonding with your campmates while cooking communal dinner. We didnt eat anything out of a can once. Cleanliness: if you aren’t a hippie(I am, I became one with the dust) then you can always take a camping shower and be clean all the time(although honestly no-one cares if you have dust stuck in your eyebrows, or anywhere else for that matter). Hangovers: well if you’re gonna overindulge, you’re bound to have to deal with the consequences. There are two types of burners: those who go for the community and lifestyle, and those who go to get fucked on drugs and dance their asses off only to hate themselves in the mornings(which is pretty stupid IMO, the mornings are amazing: things aren’t crazy yet and you get to explore the playa whilst few people are out). There is some overlapping between these two types, but fact is if you do it responsibly and you plan your trip well, it’s wonderful. The burn is what you make of it.

    1. Thanks, Pete! I’ve been amazed looking at some friends’ pics – they were eating steak and triple-fried chips for supper! You’re right, you can make it as fabulous as you choose. Through all you guys’ comments (and intense pressure from my husband) I have had to re-consider my decision and will probably be burning sometime in the not-too-distant future! Thanks for writing, and please look out for me and hand me a wet wipe :-)

  31. lol. That’s funny Susan.

    The essence of the Burn though, is participation. The camping is just a wee bit of it. No doubt about it, sleep is tricky but can be comfortable. It is a hardcore environment – although we had salads until oh say about the third day of seven, when I realised there were many more exciting things to be done out there than preparing food and eating!!! But then I do LOVE camping (only, not the satellite dish type camp site) and I loved the surreal dust storm day when many people left! On this day, after our group of friends and kids had a hilarious bicycle-sailing race, using our umbrellas, across the desert; we huddled (yes with dust in our hair ;-) in a theme tent (Temple of Rock) listening to live musicians of incredible talent, among whom was a beautiful electric violin player who played for the first time to an audience.

    It is not a festival; nor a place you go to watch purely as a spectator; it’s very much about making the experience for others as much as yourself. Whether it’s creating outfits, an installation/artwork, volunteering for a session of whatever is needed doing to ensure the “leave no trace” principle; and having a great sense of humour. Participants get involved. Like we do/should do in Real Life. The thing I love about it (aside from the creativity and giving spirit) is the very thing you so often speak about on your blog – that you connect with random people just because they are standing next to you. You speak to one another without inhibition, laugh with one another and share appreciation for life and art in all it’s forms. It’s so much like being a kid again. Those times that you befriended another child on the beach and they shared their bucket with you and they your spade for 10 minutes, an hour, an afternoon …it’s like that on a grander, medieval scale.

    For me (and many others) it’s not just about the partying (although it is an awesome experience to dance under the stars); it’s about living the principles of leave no trace, (hopefully) living considerately and mindfully, no cars, no focus on wealth, no judgement and it’s about connecting with other people; and bringing all that goodwill and inspiration back with you into the world.

    We’ve taken our kids for the past 2 years now. We don’t do the drugs nor alcohol (we don’t do that any more in the “Default World” anyway) and our kids weren’t ever offered any (aged 12 and 13). People are respectful about that.

    ps. you can delete the link below Susan, or share it I don’t mind. If you’d like to take a peek at our photos of the Burn with kids; we did the polar bears on the iceberg hoping to prompt more people to live mindfully as they do at the Burn –
    https://www.facebook.com/lisl.barry/media_set?set=a.864374993691622.1073741834.100003573873667&type=3&pnref=story

  32. Greetings

    Before this week, my idea of camping is if the hotel I am staying in did not have the full DSTV package. That, to me, was really roughing it.

    But I just got back from a full week at AfikaBurn, where I slept in my rented 4×4 on an air mattress. I showered almost every day (well, I got cleaned by the lovely folks at Birthday Suits, the Human Car Wash Theme Camp), I helped out at The Sanctuary, I went around and gave hugs as my share and I contributed to a standing art work (the adult sized rocking horses around 3-ish). I decided to drink the cool aid and buy into the entire experience.

    And no, it was not ALL great.

    But by the end of the week, I had a sunset poo on a long drop near The Clan installation which was a transcendent experience (and I was not even on drugs).

    I feel like my faith in humanity was (at least for the first few days) restored. From Thursday to Saturday, you could feel the energy change as the tourists came to town and the real burners became hard to recognise. But from the Monday to the Wednesday, it was a pure “Burn experience and it was amazing.

    1. Yay! :-) (I have to admit that the amount of my friends who flew in and out before their hair got matted and had a really fun experience has me reconsidering this post…)

  33. But surely the tented, serviced camps with jojo tanks and generator-driven fridges are contrary to the declared principle of radical self-reliance? I speak as one who is still trying to wash the grit out of my hair. Envious, possibly :-)

  34. My daughter and her friends went to Burning Man in the US last year – she is the ultimate princess but they hired RVs with toilets and showers. I think that could be the solution … and when you’ve had enough you can just drive off into the sunset.

  35. I find it very hard to understand that ANYONE would want to go there in the first place, but what really blows me a way is that there are people who want to go back for a SECOND time (or maybe more)? I ask you…..

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