If you’ve heard about AfrikaBurn or seen images of people in the desert dressed up in post-apocalyptic getups pop up on your Facebook feed, but never actually been yourself, you might have some questions. Whether you love or hate the look of the event, you literally have no idea what it’s really like until you’ve been. Here’s my Ultimate AfrikaBurn Survival Guide to help you get an idea of what its about and plan your trip.
My Ultimate AfrikaBurn Survival Guide
So maybe you’ve decided that you’d like to try AfrikaBurn at least once before you make up your mind about it, and you’re ready to start investigating and planning. I’ve only been twice, but I’ve learned some really valuable lessons and helpful tips that can help make your first time easier and more comfortable. If you’re ready to make 2018 your first AfrikaBurn experience, it’s never too early to start planning. (Seriously, start planning and saving right now)
For the nitty gritty, there’s loads of incredibly useful info on the AfrikaBurn website. I recommend signing up for (and then actually reading) their newsletter, which is super comprehensive and very helpful throughout the year. My Ultimate AfrikaBurn Survival Guide is about the stuff you learn on the dry, cracked ground of the Tankwa Karoo and could be forgiven for not knowing if you’ve never been.
What is AfrikaBurn?
AfrikaBurn is the official African chapter of Burning Man. It’s not a party or a festival. It’s “a radical experiment in self-reliance“. That means that everything you need for survival and comfort in the Karoo desert (from water to shelter) needs to come with you, and more importantly, leave with you. There’s no organised entertainment and there’s nothing but ice for sale. The entire event is run on the effort of volunteers, so your experience is going to be what you make of it.
What happens there?
Although there’s no set schedule for entertainment, there’s music playing from themed camps and stages that people have brought out to the desert all day and all night. There’s incredible art scattered all over the Karoo and thousands of colourful lights are wrapped around bicycles and people twinkling in the pitch dark.
You spend most of the day walking around, checking out art, stopping at themed camps, looking for shade, riding your bicycle and generally just being in awe. It takes a lot longer than normal to do things out there, so you spend a fair amount of time preparing meals, cleaning yourself and your stuff, trying to repair bicycle punctures and walking to and from the toilet.
At sunset, everyone heads to a party at what feels like the edge of the world and watches the sky change colour. When the sun finally dips behind the horizon, the crowd erupts in cheers and sometimes tears. At night, you fill your backpack with drinks, dress up warm, wrap yourself in fairy lights from head to toe and venture out into the desert to find a party, of which there are many.
Do you really trade stuff?
It’s a surreal experience of participation and inclusion. It’s not a barter economy, but rather a gifting economy – and people gift everything from ice cream cones in the midday heat to lifts on the back of mutant vehicles in the dead of night. You don’t walk up to someone and say “I’ll trade you this potato for a cigarette. Rather, you walk around with some extra treats to give to people you encounter on your adventures and others do the same.
What kind of gifts should I take?
They don’t have to be big or expensive, and sometimes the most random things can make the best gifts. Think about what you would really really want if you were out in the desert for a week. This year there was a camp that set up a big water fountain where anyone could cool off in the heat of the day and it was a hit. I took a load of face and body paint and invited people who walked past our camp to stop and be painted. Our friend Max had a huge Bluetooth speaker that he was carrying around the desert, bringing a moveable party to the night. Our camp spent Saturday morning cooking over 100 boerewors (and veggie sausage) rolls for passersby. The smell brought people from all over the campsite and really made people’s day. Our friend Kiersten brought two industrial-sized cans of pickles. Another camp hosted a gin and juice party, making freshly-squeezed orange juice in the midday heat. Here are some ideas for gifts:
- Batteries (you can never have enough out there)
- Lighters or matches
- Water guns to cool people down with
- A good-quality portable speaker – check out this list of the loudest portable speakers if you need to find one.
- Good music that you can play from portable speakers
- Cocktails that you hand out from your camp
- Coffee that you hand out from your camp in the morning
- Steri Stumpies (a hit!)
What kind of food should I take?
The first time I went we took masses of instant pasta, which is easy to cook but can become boring after a week. This year, we took a variety of healthier options. I cooked a veggie few stews and curries and froze them in individual portions. You can keep them frozen in a styrofoam fishing cooler box with dry ice – just make sure not to open it more than once a day. We also took a huge amount of Jungle Oats bars, which are great to keep in your backpack. Just think of stuff that is easy to prepare, will keep you full for long periods and is easy to clean. Also, leave as much packaging as you can at home because whatever you take there, has to go home with you. Here are some ideas for food:
- Jungle Oats bars
- Frozen stews and curries
- Plant-based protein shakes
- Provitas and cheese
- Cereal and long life milk
How much water should I take?
More than you think. And then more than that. At the very least, 5 litres per person per day. But take more. You need enough to clean yourself, at least once during the week, cook and clean up your meals, brush your teeth and stay hydrated.
Is everyone really naked? And what should I wear?
Everyone is not really naked. But there is a lot of nudity. And it genuinely doesn’t feel weird. AfrikaBurn is like a different, more open and accepting world, and after the first 10 minutes, the general nudity just starts to feel totally normal. In fact, by the third day, my entire camp was half naked. In terms of what to wear, I’ve written a fashion survival guide here.
Now that I’ve answered some of the questions you might have, here are some general tips to make your AfrikaBurn experience as easy and fun as possible.
- Join a camp. It’s really hard (and expensive) to set up a comfortable camp site on your own, so join up with friends and split costs and responsibilities to make things awesome.
- Start saving now. No matter what anyone says about AfrikaBurn being a hippy event, it’s not cheap. Tickets cost around R1500, you can budget on R1000 for petrol and that’s just the start. Seriously, it’s expensive but worth it.
- Don’t go in a tiny car. The 100km-plus stretch of dirt road out to Tankwa is notorious for shredding tyres and chances are you’re going to get a flat even in an off-road vehicle. Carpool with friends and rent a 4X4 to make your trip safer and easier. Then make sure to pack your spare tyre on top of everything that’s in your boot so you can reach it easily.
- Rent a stretch tent. This is one of the biggest costs of the experience, but it will make it much more enjoyable. Tankwa is a harsh environment and you need a place to escape from the sun. Most of the Cape Town stretch-tent companies are familiar with AfrikaBurn and they send teams to set up and take down the tents.
- Take a trailer. It costs a couple of hundred rand a day to rent one, but it means that you can take up extra water, a gas braai and your bicycles.
- Take bicycles. The playa is huge and you’re likely to walk over 5kms a day. You get to see so much more of it on a bike. Also, make sure to take a spare tyre or two and a tyre repair kit.
- Wear comfortable shoes. The terrain is seriously rocky and dry, so your feet take a massive beating if they’re not protected. I wore Timbaland boots for most of the trip, and sandals only once. During that time I kicked my toes, cut my foot and generally couldn’t walk as far or fast as my friends.
- Babywipes and Hand Sanitizer. Although you’re likely to be dusty, you definitely want to be as clean as possible. I carried hand sanitizer and babywipes with me wherever I went.
- Take earplugs. The party never stops, but you’re going to need to sleep sometime.
- Splash out on a shower tent. Baby wipes are your BFF, but there will come a time when you would do pretty much anything to feel water wash over your whole body. They’re not very expensive and they take up hardly any space.
- Set up a proper camp. Take a couple of trestle tables and chairs and a ground sheet. If you’re going in a group, take a generator that you can use for a couple of hours a day to power a kettle, a microwave (to heat up your pre-cooked meals) and the music.
- Take clothes for every climate. Besides for dress-up gear, take stuff that’s waterproof (it does rain in the desert, actually) stuff that’s super warm and stuff that’s super cool. The weather changes really easily out there and every year is different. The first year I went, temperatures dropped to -8 over night. There have been years where the entire place flooded. This year was boiling hot. So be prepared.
- Go with an open mind and drop your preconceptions t the entrance. You’re going to encounter all kinds of people and having your guard up or brushing people off because they’re different to you is going to detract from your whole experience. There’s a mindset of inclusion at AB, which is actually just so refreshing and wonderful to experience that it would be a pity to miss out on it.
- Make an effort to see it all. There’s so much to see and it’s different at different times of the day. Find the post office and send a postcard to your family or yourself. Explore the light installations at night. Join the moving parties. It’s all so magical!
- Get naked. If only because you never know when next you’ll have the opportunity to feel so safe in your nudity in a public space.
I hope you found my Ultimate AfrikaBurn Survival Guide helpful. If you have any other questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section. Also, if you have any useful tips, please leave them for my readers.