AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April

There Are No Wrong Turns Here

Photo by Jonx Pillemer

(words: Clifford Viljoen / photos: Jonx Pillemer)

So the way I see it, AfrikaBurn isn’t a place to review. I’m also of the belief that you cannot do a review of AfrikaBurn for anyone else other than yourself. It is such an individual experience…a journey of your own. I’ve heard the saying “A journey is best measured in friends, not miles.” Nothing wrong with that, but also, “A journey should not be measured in miles, but instead, moments.” is something to consider. AfrikaBurn is indeed an individual journey to go on. But the moments shared with others on theirs, are at times so profound, so remarkable, that I now understand why, when Burners from the past had tried to explain what it was like, they merely said… “I can’t, you need to go see for yourself.”
I’ve read articles on AfrikaBurn that are of the opinion that it’s just an over-priced ticket to do fuckall, except endure some extremely harsh conditions for close to, or more than a week in the desert. Or that it’s just a place where people go with one thing in mind, and one thing only – to get absolutely obliterated, pushing the envelope as far as it can be pushed. There are articles out there that read of real-life magic, right there in the desert, connections being made with the Universe and people alike; enlightenment. These are out there to read. I don’t think anyone can fault anyone, here. It is different for everyone.
I’ve written what I had managed to write down in a little black moleskin book on my expedition, but it comes nowhere as to what had really happened to me out there in the desert. So to explain, I can’t, you need to go see for yourself. However, I would love to share with you what I can. The story ends almost abruptly due to the fact the moleskin is somewhere in the desert, now. There are messages in there from people I don’t know but shared some of the most amazing moments with. There were drawings, names, dust markings, fingerprints, kisses, the book had been lost and found again on the opposite side of the desert, there were gifts tied to the book, man…you name it. It was in there. Ja, not over-the-moon about the fact that it’s gone…but it is what it is.
“A virgin to The Burn and ready to be broke. Let’s pick stars out of the moonlit sky and kiss them softly before handing them back…” Fine. I’m going. I’m going to AfrikaBurn.
It was 13:05 on the 28th of April when the excitement kicked it. At the toll gate. Who knew what was in store for me beyond this boom that demands R29.00 in order for us to get past, otherwise stopping our journey right here, already. It’s weird those barriers.
We take the turn-off toward Ceres. I couldn’t help but think that this might not be excitement at all but in fact, maybe I was realising that I may have made a very big mistake by finally making the decision to go, just days before…if even. What’s that saying? Fail to prepare…prepare to fail. If I had to be honest with myself at this stage of the game, I should probably start preparing to fail. Toxic thoughts. Realistic, though. I needed to get out of the space that my head was in. Realistic. Fucksakes.
Photo by Jonx Pillemer
Turn right to Calvinia…The Long & Dusty Road.
We were heading toward Calvinia when Doctor saved our lives. You haven’t met Doctor yet; an exceptionally good chiropractor. He had our backs. He was driving when not even the most of 5-minutes in on that famous Dusty Road that’s claimed so many smooth rides in, out of the dust we’re faced with head-on traffic just meters in front of us. Hair-raising. The rest of the time I wasted my time, worrying. Not about traffic, though.
With everything leading up to AfrikaBurn from last year, already, it’s impossible not to create expectations as to what it’s going to be like. Admittedly, I was saying that I had no expectations of things to come…bullshit. I had plenty.
The sun was threatening to set, when there it was. You could see what looked like a giant circus, a funfair of sorts, on the horizon. I made it to AfrikaBurn. I had no idea what to expect, but I had my expectations. Doctor was definitely excited. He knew.
My knees in the dirt…I’m kneeling over…and this hell-of-a happy character throws dust all over the back of my head; a christening, but in the desert. This is definitely not what’s supposed to go down. But it did. I realise this as that same guy nonchalantly walks away, gets into a sawn-off VW Van, every square inch of it a mirror while he was wearing a pair of 1940 lookalike box-goggles, a tight-skin leather helmet with earflaps, a black leather waistcoat that had enough badges on the thing to supply each member at AfrikaBurn a badge of their own and, a tie-die scarf wrapped around his waist, wearing it as a skirt. I laughed hard. Not at him, but at the magic. This is magic. Little did I know.
Photo by Jonx Pillemer
I hit the Gong. I’m no longer a “virgin” to AfrikaBurn. It’s only in hindsight, though, that I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t quite work like that…for me. I believe we’re all inherently Burners. We’re not virgins…we just need to find it. Crack-open that proverbial third-eye. The desert is a great place to do this.
It was breathtaking. Literally. Sat in the dust, barefoot with nothing but a pair of rose tinted sunglasses on, looking-in on the whole thing, this funfair, but really, a community of incredibly talented, remarkably creative, like-minded individuals (for the most part) simultaneously letting their playful spirits go, to mingle…I’s wrapt. It was then when I knew, the same way Doctor knew, that I needed to be there.
The desert just isn’t the same place when the sun has set. Things really do look different. So when I found Doctor…or when he found me…we’re not sure, we never finished that conversation, it was also, quite nice.
As we set off to finish what we started, an unassuming, polite Canadian man stepped into our space and said “oh, I’ve turned the wrong way…” Doctor, the old soul, a trained veteran in the art of living but loves a good mistake, immediately replied “there are no wrong turns, here…” It couldn’t have made more sense. Hands were shaken and hugs were given. The Canadian man became a friend; his name – Bob. Bob gifted to some, possibly their most precious moments to date by means of a string of floating balloons. Mind-blowing. What a privilege. We left soon after sharing a noodle salad, and the space.
Photo by Jonx Pillemer
The contents…
Leatherman wave (multi tool)
eye drops (Safyr Bleu)
pack acupuncture needles for the ear
bottle of rum
lip cream (I can’t remember but Doctor insisted it was the R90 kind…the Doctor insisted)
electronic cigarette
It was mostly funny. In fact I may have blacked-out from the laughter caused by Doctor explaining the reasoning behind his choice of essentials…the contents. Brilliant, really. Doctor was also laughing, but by this time he was donning an original, Russian soldier’s three-quarter-coat, dark grey with trimmings in soviet-red (if that’s even a colour!?…it was for me), and gold stars that looked like they were hand-crafted on the anvils of ancient times, pinned on the 4-inch high collar of the coat leading down onto the shoulders. Majestic. Fucking hilarious.
We decided to leave the contents, behind. For one, I don’t blame the man, as carrying that around as well as the Russian around on his person meant that he had an additional 14 kg’s to negotiate (the coat was that heavy) and two, well…none of us were surviving just yet, we were all living. Most definitely. In every way you can possibly imagine.
Photo by Jonx Pillemer
It was all purple…The driver and co-pilot looked like two mobsters out of one of my childhood favorites…a classic, ‘Roger Rabbit’, both of them wearing these mesh-masks while dressed to the nines. The vehicle…that was all purple, ambient purple lights inside and out, soft, pinned cushions for comfort, purple as well, was headed nowhere. Exactly where I wanted, or needed to go. I had lost Doctor, though…or he’d lost me. The driver kept driving, I kept talking and the co-pilot kept singing. This expedition in particular was so loaded that all I have is this little pearl for the cynical, unimaginative sons-of-bitches out there…I came back a changed man from that drive. God, anyone would’ve. No space to explain.
It was around this time that my little black moleskin book made an exit. Apt, though. Which probably won’t make any sense to anyone else other than myself as to why the hell it’s ‘apt’ that the book went missing in this moment, but it was and is, and I’m okay with that. You must know, I did think that I could continue with the story, but then I thought, that this was written from the pages of the book that were ripped out and stuffed in my bag that came back with the 30-tonnes of desert-sand that’s now in suburbia, so to carry on without the rest just doesn’t feel right…
This was an experience of a lifetime. So good, that right this very moment right now, I’m not sure I would be able to go again. In a strange kind of way, I wouldn’t want to ruin it. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s how it feels. We’ll see.
After that, I know that as the days go on, here in the City, the dust will settle and things will change. So, thank you for that. I needed it. Also, I wrote this song while in the desert to say thank you. It’s called ‘Mother Nature’. Hope you enjoy. It’s free. It’s a gift.

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