AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April

The Great Vlam Trek – Part I


                                                       (words: Graeme Allan, images: John Curley, Edwin Angless)

Here it is, at last, ladies and gents – the first installment of the tale of how our ambitious team of artists, blacksmiths and AfrikaBurners managed to take a massive show to Burning Man. Told by project leader Graeme Allan, it’s a great read – and this is just Part I. Enjoy the read!
A crazy 7 months of preparation and wrangling saw a diverse bunch of mad Burners put their faith in a cockamamie plan to visit the mecca of Burner culture and show what we can do here in Africa. After heartbreak when swindled purchasing a container, a hurried dress rehearsal of our conceived show at AfrikaBurn, and much worry, sleepless nights and with a wing and a prayer, I jumped onto a Boeing 747 (not one but 4), leaving a cold winter’s day in Cape Town, and arrived 39 hours later sleep-deprived in a very hot Reno, Nevada, United States of America.
This entire endeavor had led me here. Hailing a taxi, I made my way to our cheap hotel, where the AfrikaBurn Fire Collective build team, affectionately known as the Vlamsters, was to gather before heading into Black Rock City, a 2 hour drive away.
First we needed to get our transport. There was no time for recovery, or sleep. We had shit to do and we had very little time to do it in: 22 of us had to get personal provisions into Black Rock City with only 2 vehicles. The U-Haul vehicle we had booked was no longer available – the fine print reads ‘we may not be able to accommodate your request at time of pick up’. The suggested replacements would not suit our requirements, but after searching high and low we traveled deep into the desert to get the only suitable available U-Haul left in the state of Nevada. Shit, that was a close one!
Back on track, the Vlamsters scoured the city of Reno for alcoholic beverages, snacks, some more alcohol, some nautical flares and oh – some gunpowder! Some of the team were hell bent on blowing some anvils, which they’ve been doing since the inception of AfrikaBurn and every year thereafter. Camp Anvil (one of the 4 core teams that make up the AfrikaBurn Fire Collective) were not going to take Burning Man’s sanction that no anvils could be blown at the event. No bloody ways!

Kayden Kleinhans
had arrived in Reno and rode 20 miles across the city that evening to pay us a visit as we were tucking into the hard-earned booze already. It was such a pleasure to meet the intrepid journeyman who had just arrived after leaving AfrikaBurn with a leather bound journal populated by AfrikaBurner musings, written in the AfrikaBurn Temple, 15 months earlier. Traveling on bike for 20 000 km he now only had the last 140 miles to pedal to his intended final destination. Two days later Kayden would be welcomed by us and the regional team of Burning Man at the Pearly Gates as he rode into Black Rock City. He’d also camp with us and become an integral part of our team.
Early the next morning we relayed the 22 Vlamsters into Burning Man, core builders and camp managers first. We also needed to retrieve our uniquely painted container, sporting images of anvils and our very dear San Clan, which had arrived safely at Black Rock City.
The last we had seen it was when it was picked up by a crane – fully laden – off the streets of Woodstock in Cape Town and transported to the harbour, where it was placed on a container ship and set sail for New York City. On arrival, the container needed to clear Customs – I would have loved to have seen the X-ray of the container as it passed through that giant machine at the port authority! The people manning it must have for some moments thought they were looking at a potential weapon of mass destruction!
Our greatest worry was that if the container wasn’t cleared to enter the States, not only would we have no show or art to build, but we would have no home available to us. Our 25m by 20m Bedouin tent, which was to provide the shade structure for the 49 people to camp with us, was in it. For many we would have no tents, no bikes, and no sleeping bags. We truly were at the mercy of providence. Upon clearing Customs she was moved by crane onto a train and shunted to Sparks, a suburb of Reno. Here she was put onto a flatbed trailer and a large truck pulled her to Gerlach, a one horse town on the outskirts of the salt pan that is home to Black Rock City. The trailer was unhitched and unceremoniously dumped behind the Shell gas station. This hauling company was not going onto that salt pan. They were worried their machinery would be damaged with exposure to the alkaline salt content.
We were the first artist group to transport a container from another continent to Burning Man. I can remember my first sighting of the container standing on that blank canvas as we rode onto Playa. All our efforts to that date were contained within, the many hurdles that had to be leaped – her very own story of her travels without us seemed to be held within her form, shimmering, mirage-like on the salt pan. She was a beautiful sight that set joy in one’s heart. Needless to say we collectively whooped and the excitement in the van was electric, full of anticipation for what lay before us.
Burning Man’s art support was magnificent in the way they helped us.  Not only did they give us access to heavy machinery to make the placement of our container on the Playa surface possible, we got to drive and play with scissor lifts, cradle lifts and more – never has building been more easy and fun!
Except for the DUST.
(Want to know what happened next? Part II of The Great Vlam Trek is here)

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