As part of the DMV and Vlam (aka AfrikaBurn Fire Collective) crews, our intrepid explorer Conrad Lattimer shares his story of prepping, packing, travelling and finally basking in the wild dusty desert glow of Burning Man 2013. Read on & enjoy!
I was invited by Wayne and Rob to join the DMV team to Burning Man, to partake in the VLAM Collective show and other malarkey, I immediately found the idea grabbed me, threw dust in my eyes and I was happy to bend to the wishes of my fellow fat bastards (thanks again!). I first saw a program in the late 90’s on the Burning Man festival on SABC 2 (at 2pm in the afternoon, nogal) , featuring a nude Goth girl dancing in the desert and people burning stuff, and it caught my interest. Since then I’ve dreamed of joining the procession, and then I am presented an opportunity to travel with a show and a group of 48 people…wow!
The DMV is invited to take part in the VLAM project, going to Burning Man, Black Rock City, in August, and we have a few weeks to prep our show for AfrikaBurn. DMV is assigned to turn our trike into a feathery Phoenix, to compliment (and tow) Lizzie the T-Rex, and partake in the show with all the other magnificent pieces. We were not hesitant to weld some metal to the trike, organise every Burner’s best friend (rebar) and some help in making up the material wings (thanks Karen) and Phoenix head (thanks Lucille and crew). “Never again after the show shall the Trike look so pretty!” declare some DMV members…lol. The show was a great success and we were proud to share it first at our home in Africa. We were on for the trip and the next few months were gloriously spent with friends and volunteers at Nansen St, prepping for the cargo shipping (in June if I remember), in the rain!
DMV in the USA
Leaving Cape Town airport, a few good gins and loads of fags…off we go, my first time travelling to the States, I’m calm and feeling very inquisitive on what to find there. Too late she cried – onto Dubai, fly over the North Pole (in the daytime, large chunks of ice, no polar bears though), and onto San Francisco. Advice: careful on booking a car at the airport – 2 hours wait is standard! Advice #2: if you liked Hillbrow in the 80’s, you’ll love 6th St Mission, it’s nostalgic…but seriously, yeah…Hillbrow in the 80’s…although I felt safe, finding a parking twisted our minds! We met up with Monique who took us out for a drink and a bite (love the Tequilas!)
Next morning was thrift stores, Wayne on the GPS and off to Reno, style capital of Nevada! Geez, everything we saw was too much like the movies, you’d think they shoot the stuff there! Walmart at 9pm, one stop for alles! Pack all our bodies (five by now) and stuff into the van, dinner with some borrowed cutlery and back to the motel, which reminded me of the motel in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’…same energy. Pack our shit in the morning, shopping, driving in circles around Reno, an urgent umbrella to be bought, struggling to pump some gas (DMV!!!), laughing at the casino at the gas station, stop for a drink in Gerlach, then on to the desert…
Black Rock City
Arrive on the Playa….total peace and awareness! I was quiet intimidated about going to Burning Man, the size and its reputation, the promise many of diverse people and customs, the size of our camp (up to 500 burners), but within 10 minutes of arriving on the playa on a Thurs afternoon, I was completely at peace with the people and the place, it was not foreign territory. We set camp under the main tent, and had some few drinks and laughs. I will never forget the beautiful full moon which greeted us, fiery red from the fires in the area…we had a burning moon to greet us!
The Show Prep
All our goods arrived in excellent condition, so the next few days were spent setting up our show site, our toys and perimeter lighting and safety. Some of my best memories are of working on the Playa with a great bunch of people, cold beer and dust storms…a unique environment! I managed to find some early mornings for a cycle around the Playa…incredible art and structures, the Gothic church made from hand painted boards and photographs, the art cars and the people, as friendly and open as our burners, I really felt at home and in a community.
The DMV crew was graciously invited to spend some time with the DMV registration on the Monday and Tuesday…they process over seven hundred art and utility vehicles in two days! Armed with the trike, we joined the queue and had a couple of hours meeting other mutant vehicle burners…the Trike (aka Phoenix) got her license, to drive at 5mph tops (yikes). We spent a lekker morning with the DMV helping to register cars and learning from them, they all come armed with an incredible sense of humor.
My most memorable evening of the trip was doing guard duty on the Playa, looking after our pieces and checking for safety, and being a midnight ambassador for AfrikaBurn. A two-hour session from midnight kinda ended with the sunrise at 5:30 in the morning. There was a group of us from the Vlam, and through the evening we had about forty people in small groups stop by, sit and chat for a while. There were burners from all over the world who were coming to visit Lizzie (at 4am), and others who were just out exploring…a beautiful evening!
Friday evening and all the goods are ready for the show. We had a great crowd, some music from one of the art cars, and all the crew on board. The show runs perfectly, until…Lizzie is stuck in her egg and already burning, I’m filming it with a friend next to me…we watched the Fata’s jump into the egg and start wrestling Lizzie free, the Burning Man people almost had a heart attack, I suppose we did it AfrikaBurn style, do what ya gotta do. I found it the most poignant part of the show, the crowd was crying and baying to see Lizzie run, it was like a great TV script (with all respect), the emotion was electric…finally Lizzie was reversed out of the egg and was taken on a run (pulled by the Phoenix trike), it was like New Year’s victory parade, the Vlam show was a huge success!
A festive evening after the show. The pressure was off, we had thrilled our audience (and ourselves), and now had a bit more time to explore and party. Sonica led the Moop from early Saturday morning, and the site was cleared by early afternoon. Tonight was the main burn of the event, the Man…a huge wooden structure, beautifully made. The show started with fireworks and performers, we were about twenty meters from the front, but the view was stunning, the burn itself a glorious symbol of our journeys both as Vlam crew and as individual people, full of passion and fire, it felt good. I spent the rest of the evening with friends walking the edge of the Playa (about a two hour walk), steadily losing and finding people all the time, and then unsteadily stumbling back into camp later.
Sunday morning, a group of us got up before sunrise for a special occasion, accompanying Kayden and the Journal to the Temple before the evening’s burn. We ran the Pendulum as the sun was rising, then strolled over to the Temple. Another very special moment for me, the Temple in the morning was crowded, but full of peace and friendly people. The time there pulled the whole journey together for me, I had made a journey with friends, and now I could appreciate what it meant for me and my soul. I walked out of the Temple a better person. The Temple burn on the Sunday was a silent burn, no music or talking, just loads of people enjoying the evening and energy.
DMV in Sierra & San Francisco
After a hectic morning of packing and breaking camp, we were all able to drive out on Tuesday afternoon…off to the Sierra Hot Springs, from the desert for two weeks, we were on our way to hot springs and some good food. Two days of relaxing with about fifteen members of the Vlam crew, we headed to San Francisco for a last few days, but that’s another days’ worth of blogging (it included street parties, a silent disco on Treasure Island, a picnic in Dolores Park and a visit to Burning Man HQ)
Back in the Republic
Arriving home after a month away was a pleasure, with some quiet days to unpack and reflect. For me, the whole trip was beautiful and subtle, the lessons learned were all positive, and I’m still unfolding the experiences and memories.
A group of us with a shared AfrikaBurn background were able to travel and work together, each as individuals, and to create magic, not just in the show but from our whole presence and sense of wonder. We were able to play and share; both as our Vlam group, part of the Vrek-til Planet and part of the worldwide Burner community…we are all the same. Thanks.
(words & pictures: Conrad Lattimer)