Words: Solar Santa / Photos: as per credit
Back in 1836 the history books tell us that the Afrikaners disenchanted with British rule packed their voorlaaiers, Bibles and grannies into their ox wagons and headed into the great unknown. One hundred and eighty three years later thirteen thousand people from all over the world feel the same about city life – and head into the vast open spaces where civilisation does not reach.
For those who are brave enough to try it for the first time here are some helpful hints. Having survived one whole Burn in 2018 I’m now a battle hardened desert veteran. One of the elite scrawny desert people. Not really, but we can pretend.
Travis Lyle and his illustrious team have produced an excellent Survival Guide. It’s published on the website. I followed it religiously and it worked. So read it. The following is merely a look at my attempts to follow its excellent guidelines. It may save your life too.
What on earth is that? A low tech lifesaver is what. Get used to hammering it into the rocklike desert floor anything that can be blown away. Anyone who goes to work on a construction site with a hardhat will know what it is. It is hardened steel used to reinforce concrete buildings. Strong and cheap. Ask your friendly hardware store to cut and sharpen it for you. And buy a big hammer!
I’m not talking about your partner farting. You’ll get accustomed to that soon enough along with other body odour. We’re talking about getting blown away. Tankwa Town is surrounded by mountains twenty kilometers away. The playa and it’s mighty surrounds are flat and stretch for miles. So when the wind comes up (it will because if you haven’t survived a blow you haven’t earned your stripes) and your tent is not rebarred properly to the ground expect to find it in the mountains. With your slightly flustered partner inside. You have been warned.
It gets vrek hot in the desert. Ideal temperatures to turn your carefully prepared green salads moldy. I guarantee you your girlfriend will not sleep with you if your tent/luxury campervan smells like a compost heap. The Ice Queen sells ice which can help in a cooler box but not for long. Consider dry foods as much as possible. Including milk powder and biltong. I used apples as my fresh food. The peels smell nice and don’t go vrot. I decided to not bring the city to the desert. The salad bar at the restaurant can wait. You’re looking for contrast, right?
I’m not talking about your local politician, wherever you are from. I am horrified at the amount of rubbish we generate in the city. My granny used to bottle stuff in mason jars which got reused for years. Now it’s tins and plastic in the landfill. Tankwa Town will sharpen your mind on this topic amazingly well. Just remember to take the lessons home with you.
You will soon learn what scarcity means. And why wars will be fought over water resources in the future. I used 5 litre plastic bottles. They store easily and act as ballast to keep your tent rooted to the ground in a blow. They also gave me a good measure of my daily consumption. The empty bottles I used for storing dirty washing and toothbrushing water.
If you’re comfortable with nudity you can make friends at the Naked Shower theme camp. Just watch out for old men with telescopic lenses on their cameras. I used the excellent idea of spray bottles. One with soapy water, one clear and towels which dry very quickly.
I’m old so I need to get up for a pee in the middle of the night. When the desert is cold and the toilets miles away. Travis will scream at my solution but it is non polluting. A one liter plastic bottle with a wide opening and a lid works well. I’m lucky to be a boy so have a useful nozzle. Girls will have to be more innovative. In the morning the bottle is emptied into the wonderful new toilet, NOT the nearest desert.
Invented a hundred years ago they are perfect mobility machines. And they come apart for easy storage in your car/bakkie/helicopter. Showoffs will have the electric version. The playa is pretty flat so pedal power is more than sufficient and you need the exercise. Locks essential as is a light to see and be seen. Battery powered led lights or EL wire a bonus to beautify the desert at night.
You’re alone among 13 000 strangers? Not really. Nowhere on the planet are people more open or helpful. You need anything from a heart transplant to directions to the sex tent just ask. And this is a global audience from diverse cultures. Amazing.
Those round things on each corner of your car. Pumped hard. The wise men tell you to keep your speed well down to avoid shredding them. True. The sight of a luxury campervan with a tyre on fire or a SUV with not one but four flat tyres will soon convince you to slow down. You are not in a hurry when you hit the dirt road. There are no clocks in Tankwa Town. When the sun is up it is daytime.
Invented two billion years ago to start civilization. In spite of the title to this hit show in the desert burning is not what you want to do. The Rangers keep a beady eye on fire control and the nightly Burn extremely well orchestrated by the professional fire crews. An out of control fire with a strong wind will be devastating and I’m not talking California.
From gritty stuff to talcum powder. It will penetrate everywhere so keep your sleeping bag zipped in the daytime. And your marshmallows in a ziplock bag. When the wind blows a dust mask will help. Or a bandana buff. The good news is that there will be more quiet days than windy ones. Promise. When you arrive in your clean city clothes everyone looks grey and scruffy. Soon you will look the same. Happiness has arrived.
There are only 13 000 slots. Buy your ticket early and start getting your gear ready. Modern life is a rush and everything gets left to the last minute. Not the way to survive on the surface of what could be Mars.
Much can be talked about, written about. Pictures and videos made. But you can’t capture a vibe unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Put the Burn on your bucket list and change your life forever.
It worked for me.