“I’m afraid the grand plan has gone pie shaped”.
The message is from the Oracle of the Tankwa. The visit to the Cape has been months in the making. Designed to stop me from going bosbevok from overexposure to lockdown. What now?
Let me introduce you to The Tim. Yes, all capital letters because he is the only one ever made. He is the Oracle because he knows how everything works at Burn HQ and repairs everything from computers to broken hearts. And as a side line to avoid getting bored runs the CIA. The computer brains of AfrikaBurn.
The Oracle with the author
I have planned a week to visit my Cape Burn family before the Christmas rush. And to buy cheap air tickets. Foolishly the Oracle has accepted full responsibility to make it all work. As my Burn brother he has never failed in any task he has undertaken for me.
So we go to Plan B. Which is no plan at all. It is simply a brilliant idea. That way nothing further can go wrong. Provided the plane does not crash and the pilot finds Cape Town nothing else matters. The perfect application of the Burn principle of Immediacy. And (spoiler alert) it works perfectly all week. My stories come looking for me.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Burn HQ is our first stop. Seriously stripped down by COVID and cancellation of the event the headcount is way down. Nevertheless the indomitable Bongi greets me with my first warm hug after hand sanitizing and temperature recording. Then more magic from Robert, (Original Recipe) Jeremy, Shannon, Esme, Isa, Travis and (Spicy) Jeremy. The Monz is working from home but invites us over for coffee. More pixie dust. She lives in an architectural masterpiece. And we enjoy far more than coffee. The house is a wonderful collection of art and Burn artefacts and we get the guided tour by the Goddess. I am so blown away I forget to take our selfie. Drat.
Then we head for Riebeeck Kasteel to the home of the Doyle matriarch Bridget. Coffee is served and I wonder what surprise is coming next. I do not have long to wait. Dave arrives and announces that band practice for an upcoming gig starts in 15 minutes. Musicians seem to arrive out of the woodwork. Most turn out to be neighbours and what amazing talent. (Another) Dave on electric guitar, Robin on trumpet, Dave on steel drums, Donald on guitar and vocals, Bridget on bongo drums, cymbals, and congas, and Luke on drums. I’m entranced by my very own jam session. The no plan pixie dust is working perfectly.
Dave and team
The Doyle matriarch Bridget
Ilse pops in for a visit. She has been busy with music, modeling and an illustrated childs’ book. And looks after a horse farm. Busy girl who gives me a warm hug.
Ilse and happy Santa
Tired I head for bed. Another giant surprise. Bridget runs a guest house and has gifted me a stunning suite. Before I fall asleep I wonder if I’m dreaming.
Being an early bird I awake before the sun arrives. I walk to a high vantage point overlooking the vast grape orchards. The sun takes its time behind the ragged mountains on the horizon but when it arrives it is blinding. No smog in this Kasteel air.
Sunrise over Kasteel mountain
The Oracle has organized more magic. We tootle off to Kettle’s new grow shop. To my delight it is totally solar powered. And his shop fittings are beautiful repurposed Ephemeropoly materials. Kayla and Cri are busy next door setting up their art shop The Arteri. Then the surprise. Kayla is the project lead on the Stone Circle Project. An art project by the artist Emma Willemse built on the amphitheater at the Royal Hotel. Kayla agrees to meet later to give us the guided tour.
Kayla and her oldest fan.
We get there early. We find a grand labyrinth and 16 amazing art pieces created out of nothing but locally collected stones of different shapes and colours. Each piece has a theme and is the result of terrific collaboration by Kayla, Jon, Mariana, Jay, Sebastian, Burton and Erynne. Go there if you can before it is all swept away.
Kayla, Kettles and a weird looking creature with goggles, mask and his hair on fire arrive. When I tell you he reveals his genitals as a greeting all true Burners will know immediately who this is. Scheepers is at his wacky best. Then he produces his piece de resistance. He will be taking The Tim and I to Quaggafontein in his bakkie!!! I failed to bore you earlier on why our plan had fallen apart. The key ingredient was the HQ bakkie to get there. And it was broken. Like my heart at the time. Now we were green for go. And Kayla did a masterful job of holding my hand through the labyrinth and explaining its purpose then detailing the incredible work poured lovingly into every art piece. A great COVID lethargy breaker.
The bakkie comes with a canopy, a portable fridge, a comfy mattress and two very social dogs. We head for the tyre shop for repairs and preparation for the desert adventure. The road is all tar to Ceres where the local economy gets a big boost as provisions are procured. Then on to the dirt road that is the major rite of passage for every true Burner. The plume of dust behind us gets the adrenaline flowing. The dream is coming alive.
Quaggafontein here we come!!!
But first a visit to a well known landmark. The Tankwa Padstal is full of 4x4s and off-road motorcycles. And the dreadlocked Hein greets us like long lost family. Clearly he is a big Burner fan. And the last commercial outpost before we are truly on our own. We do not know it but we shall encounter more fun on our way back, but that… we shall save for later dear reader.
Skippy unmasked with Hein
Over an hour later we turn off the R355. Now the action is really turning into reality. What awaits the visitor to the new site? Firstly a totally different outlook compared to the beloved Stonehenge. No big climb up the little hill until you see the site. Just a marvellous winding road down to the first container depot. And to my joy the beloved double decker bus is already there. The Tim takes me inside. The solar panels are still safely stowed. No bandits in this territory.
The bus in Quaggafontein
Then on to the mountain range destined to be remembered by every Burner for generations to come. We traverse through the future playa and on to the old farm house at the base of the mountains. Guarding a hidden valley that awaits to astound us. This is all bound to become a sacred place in the future. I’d guess that it will not form part of the Burn but will become a haven for desert junkies.
Home at Quaggafontein
Whoever lived here a very long time ago used the local rock and created a simple but very practical masterpiece of a farmhouse. Today it has the modern convenience of a solar powered borehole and The CIA has installed a solar generated 220 volt AC system complete with battery backup. I’m right at home and my cpap machine ensures I get a good nights sleep. We enjoy a pasta meal prepared by the Oracle and contemplate an early night.
Not so fast. The pixie dust never rests.
“There’s a convoy approaching”, yells Skippy.
The view from the stoep looking north stretches to the far horizon. And the lights of an approaching invasion force show we are in for unplanned visitors. I feel helpless. Only one road in and out. We are trapped.
A double cab pulls up outside followed by two large trucks. I expect armed terrorists to come tumbling out. Instead we get a very loud and mellow crowd of DPW stalwarts. They are way late having worked their arses off to complete the final day of the clean-out at Stonehenge. And not surprisingly they have celebrated a major achievement before getting to us.
I meet Kristy. A living DPW legend. If we go to war I want to be on her side. If a job needs doing with minimum resources you now know who to call. Try their last assignment as an example, just completed. We all enjoyed the new Stony toilets. Did you ever wonder what happened to the human waste generated by 12000 healthy Burners? The answer is a very large 250 000 liter storage tank. I leave it to your imagination to realize that is a serious load of shit. And it all had to be removed to a compost facility before the conclusion of the AB use of the Stonehenge site. A daunting task using Jojo tanks and trucks.
Kristy with Skippy
Enter the heroes of this story. The shit needs big pumps to drain it. Which is fine if it’s only faeces and liquid. Sadly Burners don’t follow the rules. Wet wipes, condoms, sanitary pads, tampons and their applicators all form a mighty sludge which the pumps can’t handle. Meet Stefaan and Spikkels. Mighty scrawny desert people. The finest kind you will ever meet. In gumboots and with shovels they clear the mighty mess. The smell would kill ordinary men but they treat it as just another day at the office. If you ever meet them give them a big hug. They have since showered off the offending pong.
Stefaan: King of the scrawny desert people known as DPW.
Once again I awake before sunrise. I want to see the sun come up in this special place. So I climb the mountain behind the farmhouse. Its’s shaped like a giant tit and the slope looks easy. Until you near the top when it gets steeper. But what a view!! I play Africa by Toto on my phone. The house below is silent and the world is briefly mine. The sun arrives over the crest of the mountain to the east. Blazing hot like a giant fireball. The descent down the mountain is a cautious affair but breakfast has been earned today.
We sit in the relocated Cuddle Bubble. As the speed of the wind varies it plays gentle tunes to remind us we are in the company of the spirits.
Skippy announces that we will be going for a gentle hike up the valley before it gets too hot. Be warned that his definition of gentle is written in the boot camp manual of the Marines. He takes a back pack loaded with a water bag and survival gear. The Tim and I take a couple of fizzy drinks. And he wears slip slops. Uh oh.
Slip slops vs Doc Martens
The valley has been carved out by water that left the area a very, very long time ago. But it has left evidence of its passage that is mind boggling. Boulders the size of small cars that make the journey very challenging. We march on buoyed by Skippy’s constant encouragement that we are nearly there. Wherever “there” might be.
After threats of mutiny from a rapidly dehydrating crew we turn a corner an hour and a half later to the most magnificent sight. A giant amphitheater that takes your breath away. Surrounded by magnificent crags all around . Thoughts of killing Skippy and returning to base are quickly forgotten.
The evening approaches and it’s time for a site recce. With the well travelled dogs in the bakkie. We find the storage area called The Wash. In a landscape that looks flat it is hidden in a hollow. The DPW have assembled everything from Stonehenge with military precision. A job very well done.
Triple Bypass in it’s new home on the playa
Then on to Kwaggakop for the sunset at the beacon. A lady friend has gifted me a poem for the occasion. My first wolf cry on Quaggafontein at sunset. There are tears in my eyes.
It starts as a soft purr in the back of your imagination.
Then picks up a roll in your hidden store of courage.
Builds through your reservations.
And then bursts forth in a cry of liberation.
All good things come to an end. The farmhouse is cleaned to clinical standards. Even bits of broken glass left by the previous owner are removed from the exterior.
The road treats us kindly as we head back home to Cape town. Then the pixie dust kicks in again. A lone giraffe is grazing peacefully on a clump of trees in this arid wilderness!!! And on the road a sorry sight. We find Jaco in his luxury rented bakkie stranded with a shattered rear tyre. And it requires specialized tools to drop the spare which are missing.
We load the shredded tyre onto the roof of our bakkie and head for the Padstal with a lucky Jaco. He buys us a good breakfast. Hein’s specialty. The Babbelas Breakfast.
Skippy tunes into the wifi and does his Monday conference call. Amazing what technology can do.
Skippy has told me Hein has built his own home in this desolate spot. Using cactus and yoghurt in his plaster mix to prevent cracking. I do not believe him and Hein overhears. We are loaded into his kombi and another adventure ensues.
The house is an earth ship made of crushed quarry stone in bags which are plastered over with the magic mix. With walls so thick the temperature inside is a temperate cool year round. This man is an innovator.
As we are leaving he tells of his snake house. More scepticism from me produces a detour down another track. We find a small kraal surrounded by dried brush. Where the mice live. Snake food. Inside are solar panels powering a solar borehole pump. All easy targets for bandits. But wait. There are five little houses in the kraal. Each housing a cobra!! The perfect renewable security eco system.
Back in Cape Town I have another wishlist item. And the no plan works again. Sonica, the Green Queen, is available for brunch the next morning. This is my very special Burn friend who gifted me fantastic theme camp sites at the Burn when she was still Theme Camp Coordinator. But more importantly she is one of those rare creatures who always leaves you feeling better after meeting up with her. I am one of many people who love her dearly.
Then one more special visit. Nathan is busy with a complicated set for an advertisement. We track him down and share a terrific lunch delivered by the ever innovative Isa. I pinch myself to test whether this all real in the midst of the worst pandemic to hit modern man.
Isa the Queen of Art at Burn HQ.
Sitting in the plane on the way home I reflect on an amazing week. Let me share my conclusions.
We have an incredible Burn family. We are never alone no matter where we are.
In spite of all the covid restrictions incredible work has been completed moving to
Quaggafontein from Stonehenge.
And lastly the question everyone asks. Will the new site produce the same magic? My amateur observation is that it is a more spiritual place. The majestic mountains to the south crowd in a lot closer. And dear Burners the fire has not gone out. Monique and the magic makers are building the future despite the obstacles. Keep on planning for a fantastic return to our natural home.