My Journey to Tankwa Karoo

Words and Photos by: Arash Afshar

If Burning Man is the stuff of legend the world over, AfrikaBurn is the pinnacle’s peak to Burners who find themselves feeling nostalgic for the Burning Man of yester-year. I am not one of those burned-out Burners, by any means. And yet, here I was, at the end of the world on the other side of the planet, packing my new African family’s SUV with supplies to keep us alive for a week in the African desert for South Africa’s Regional Burning Man event.   

From Burn to Burn and person to person, every experience is distinct

When considering Burning Man as a cultural experience, most don’t realize that the community built around it is international and that there are smaller Regional Burns all over the globe. AfrikaBurn, held outside of Cape Town, South Africa,  is the largest of them all with an approximate population of 12,000, compared to Burning Man’s 70. Many of these Regionals do have some sort of main effigy that burns at the end of the week, similar to Burning Man’s The Man

At AfrikaBurn, the main effigy is the San Clan, sourced from a tens of thousands of years old ancient pictograph illustrated on cave walls by South Africa’s First Nation, the San people. It depicts a genderless entity with many legs, two heads, two arms and one body, serving as a powerful statement promoting “the unity of intent.” The founders of AfrikaBurn sought and received the support of the San elders and there is actually a San people camp presence at the event. Every year, a new take on the San Clan design is implemented into the AfrikaBurn effigy. It is beautiful, moving and inspirational. 

I attended Arizona’s Regional Burn, Saguaro Man, a couple of years back, where I learned about the previous incarnation of their regional event which was known as Toast: An Arizona Regional Burn. Toast’s primary effigy was a gigantic piece of toast. Multiple inquiries about why a giant piece of toast were met with the same reply: Because it was funny. 

Law of Attraction: you find what you are looking for

I share this to illustrate the vast spectrum of cultural differences that can exist from Burn to Burn. Burning Man is about everything and it is about nothing. It can be a desert party or a deep spiritual pilgrimage. Personally, I’ve found Burns to be like Law of Attraction amplifiers; what we focus on keeps showing up more and more in our experiences and the larger the burn, the more likely for that to occur. I was amused at a Facebook thread where an AfrikaBurn participant mused that everywhere they went, all they found was “German Techno.” I read this and laughed to myself, “wait where did you find German Techno? You know how much I would have loved to have gotten down to some dark German Techno when all I kept finding was poppy vocal tunes?” 

It is very common for people to have vastly different experiences at the exact same Burn, which is the reason I don’t feel a strong desire to review a Burn. For me, AfrikaBurn was a pretty wonderful vacation with temperate weather, excellent food and relaxing conversations with kind and wonderful new friends. I’m absolutely certain that was not many others’ experience. 

Arash Afshar at Afrika Burn photo by Arash Afshar

Finding friends and learning lessons in unexpected ways

I ended up at AfrikaBurn because a listener of Burner Podcast, of which I am the host, invited me. Paul Cowan is a programmer and standup comedian, living with his partner, Tamryn, in Muizenberg, a suburb of Cape Town. We began a running text chat on WhatsApp and didn’t meet until I landed in South Africa. I only had an idea of what his voice even sounded like because I saw a short video of him on stage. 

Along with the breathtaking countryside, the drive to AfrikaBurn includes a final stretch of unpaved road adorned with an ocean of sharp rocks which annually claim many a vehicle tires as victims. We stopped to help no less than two vehicles stuck on the side of the road, but our tires stayed intact. Our wonderful captain, Paul, did his research, and the advice he’d been given was to not grip the steering wheel too tightly. To drive gently and let the wheels and the vehicle glide along the path rather than try to dominate the road. To have patience. To trust where the tires want to be. I can’t help but take this as a lesson for life as a whole and it is, without a doubt, my favorite take away from my AfrikaBurn. 

There is plenty to be said about the event itself but I’ll let the images speak for me. I’ve done plenty of talking about it already on episodes 100 and 103 of Burner Podcast.