Something special in a magical place

2013-08-21 00:00

I’ve made the big trek. All the way over the koppie, to a magical place called Oppikoppi, an event much bigger in stature than the town playing host to it. And even the language divide was not wide enough to keep revellers apart.

The town of Northam in Limpopo Province really doesn’t have much going for it. There’s a BP garage, a rubbish dump and an attempt at a mall, which is actually quite impressive, given the size of the place. Not that far from the Botswana border (I cannot find the exact distance due to the dorpie’s non-existent Internet presence), Northam is some two-and-a-half hours outside of Johannesburg.

If you Wikipedia Northam, you will be informed it is a town in Limpopo, and it hosts hundreds of artists and thousands of fans every August for South Africa’s biggest music festival, Oppikoppi.

Now if you’ve never been to “Koppi”, the drive can take its toll. What should be a seven-hour drive becomes significantly longer when you find yourself in a car with four guys relying on cellphone maps during the chaos of dying batteries and minimal reception. Not knowing exactly where we were going was okay. It was part of the experience.

Leaving Pietermaritzburg at 3 am meant we could enjoy the larger part of our Thursday at the festival, and the anticipation of what awaited us kept spirits high through the numerous wrong turns.

But the greeting received from Koppi was not as we had anticipated around 10 hours after departure. Already packed with thousands of happy campers, the terrain made it abundantly and immediately clear that this was not a festival for the feint-hearted. Thorn bushes, long grass and dust govern the land. And while the dust is hardly an issue when it comes to setting up camp, it quickly becomes problematic when your respiratory system is full of the stuff. After squashing a few bushes and hacking away enough grass (Bear Grills style) to make room for our four tents, we set up house and a cold one was cracked in celebration. A quick toast to the journey, and we were on our merry way.

The culture shock for the four KZN city boys hit hard. It took about half an hour before a word of English was heard outside of our quartet, and trying our best to fit in with the group of 25 000 music lovers, some interesting dialogue began doing the rounds. Once you’ve settled in and accepted that the next three days of your life will be spent gathering more dust than Bafana Bafana’s trophy cabinet, a moment to take it all in can be quite fulfilling.

The campsite and four of the six stages at Koppi are all situated at the foot of said koppie, and a quick walk up the hill will get you to two more stages and a stunning view that has the ability, momentarily, to stop the broken Afrikaans while everybody takes it in.

There is a common theme of respect and sociability that resonates throughout the weekend. Everybody shares an understanding that they are a part of something special. And they are. It became clear that, even if just for a weekend, life needed to be lived to the fullest without any of the worries that come from city living. Switching off a cellphone never felt so liberating. Television, social media, the office, money — none of it mattered. For just a second, there was the thought that this lifestyle could be lived forever.

That is until 6 am, when waking up in the freezing cold surrounded by drunken disorder, excessively loud music and dust, make things real. The dust at Oppi never sleeps. The mornings are the hardest, and getting through the day is largely dependent on braving the long walk to the communal showers. It’s difficult to fathom how the water isn’t frozen — it’s that cold — but that shower will be one of the most refreshing you’ve ever had. And then, with a clean body and warm clothes, the rest of the day becomes more manageable. And then we do it all over again.

Unless you’re the girl from the camp site next door. A beautiful poppie from up north somewhere, our dearest Bianca had, to put it mildly, caught the attention of a couple of us KZN lads. Until she openly and proudly declared on the third morning that she hadn’t showered since arriving. That changed things somewhat. With each new acquaintance, it sank in more that the Koppi bug is one that sticks. People don’t just go once. I can see why. The music, the non-stop laughter, the fresh mornings, the friendliness.

As good as it was, getting back to the Zulu kingdom was magnificent, and a hot shower and a warm bed were absolute luxuries. But with every passing day, I feel like I have washed more of Oppikoppi off of me. And it makes me long to be back.

• Lloyd Burnard is The Witness sports editor.

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