Man Friday

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THE couple wandering down the dusty road called Binnekring were older than most, perhaps in their mid-sixties, Afrikaans by the look of it. She was wearing sensible farm clothes, he was wearing boots, bush shorts, a bush hat and a T-shirt that read “Normale mense maak my bang” (Normal people scare me).

Just behind them was a buxom lass wearing a pair of gold bikini pants, a gold gauzy scarf and nothing else. Just then, a big guy, stark naked except for some tin foil (shiny side out) wrapped around his penis, buzzed by on a motorised surfboard.

At the mass wedding presided over by the Reverend Mike Hunt Loon, a man claiming to be Jesus (and who’s to say he wasn’t?) popped up and urged all those assembled to “Go forth and sin, otherwise I’ll have died for nothing”.

A carnival barker – a young woman with a fabulous patter – was urging passers-by to enter Dr Wung’s Leery Pranksters and visit the Poetry Brothel. In the background, a pianist was playing a piece by Schubert I couldn’t immediately identify.

An angel-faced little blond boy of four or five earnestly offered me a gift from his box of orange wedges, but by now my friends’ Summers Memorial Deadwood Pop-Up Whisky Bar and the promise of a Scotch on the rocks were calling. Especially after a hard morning’s surfing at our own Surf Camp in the middle of the semi-desert fastness of the Tankwa Karoo (check out our epic surfing break on www.wavescape.co.za).

Hunter S Thompson would have dug this party. After all, it was he who said “life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’” (I know he also opened Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold”, but as far as I know, I hadn’t taken any drugs, and still I was seeing all these things. As Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.”)

And this thing was looking very, very professional, but also very, very anarchic, pagan, artistic, wacky, wonderful, gorgeous and just, well, absolutely fabulous. But, as they say, if you weren’t there, you weren’t there. And, what goes down at AfrikaBurn stays at AfrikaBurn.

So I can tell you only some of the stories from four of the most joyous, fun-filled days I have had in years. Because that’s what AfrikaBurn is all about – joy and fun, and a whole lot of love. There must have been well over 8 000 people there (6 500 adult tickets were sold, but there were at least a thousand or more children running about) and nobody in our party ever encountered any anger, or an attitude that said, “What’s a bunch of old farts like you doing here?” Just love and friendliness.

We were, in the parlance of the Tankwa Karoo, AfrikaBurn Virgins. This was our first time at this rambunctious, free-wheeling, anything-goes (well, just about anything) arts, drama, music, and, actually, art-of-living festival one hundred and something kilometres down the longest stretch of dirt road with nothing in between in South Africa, the Ceres to Calvinia R355. For some, it was the road to hell. Cars with shredded tyres lined the route. A vast cloud of dust hung over the semi-desert from the stream of vehicles.

Some of the Burners clearly had no dirt road driving experience, and went thundering past us at high speed, throwing up scatterlings of stones in their wake, as we trundled sedately along in our Land Rover.

We arrived in the dark, dusty and tired, and set up camp in an icy wind out near the corner of 10ish and Scorpion Road, looking out to a distant westerly horizon. It is a place of ethereal beauty, the Tankwa, and each night, the Binnekring became even more beautiful as intricate, huge sculptures burned, fire dancers cavorted doing impossible things with flame, thousands of bicycles lit with flashing LED lights weaved across the vast inner circle and, as the sculptures burned, scores of naked and semi-naked people cavorted around the flames in a wonderful pagan celebration of the ephemeral nature of art.

An American standing next to us as we watched the flames and the dancing, and who had been to the original Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, said: “You South Africans are so conservative, at Burning Man they have orgy tents.”

Ja, broer, but local is mos lekker.

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