This year I managed to check off one of the top, if not number the one item, on my bucket list. Burning Man. Ever since I first came across photographs of the festival, I have been thinking about going. We were supposed to go for my 30th Birthday, but it fell through, and now two years later, we managed to get all our ducks in a row, and organised an epic trip out into the desert.
My best friend Alba lives in San Francisco, and it had always been our plan to go together, in the grandest, most epic reunion to date, we planned for months, organising lists of things to procure, and most importantly outfits to wear, each one collaborated and matching. Unicorn outfits for the stampede that we wanted to take part in, bunny rabbit hats, ridiculous sparkle, leopard African gear, and some avian inspired dress-up items. All hand sewed for the biggest desert rave we would ever attend.
It is quite hard to describe the festival, it’s certainly not what I expected, and when I compare my pre-trip imaginations to the real thing, they don’t particularly align. This is not because the photographs or videos, blog posts or personal accounts of the event are inaccurate, but because each one of those stories is someone else’s experience, none of them can quite prepare you for the real deal. Or rather, for your own personal experience of Burning Man.
I was somewhat afraid, to tell the truth, before going, I had read lists of things you need to do to prepare, and one “burner” advised not attending with any personal friends or partners.
Gosh! Well I had certainly gotten that wrong, as I planned to attend with my husband and best friend. Was I in for an ordeal? I packed my dust mask, and goggles with trepidation.
The festival tries not to label itself, but in doing so, gets labelled anyway by the tens of thousands of participants, each who attend with their own ideas, but with the common goal of having fun, living out their dreams, and then disappearing back into the world, without leaving a trace, to wait until the city opens its doors again.
If I were to try to explain it, I would have to say it’s a participation-slash-art festival, where anyone can come, and create, alone or together. But you can wikipedia it for a less nonsensical description, or you can do your own research on the official website.
It seemed, to me, to almost be the idea of a holiday town (the city of Black Rock blossoms up out of the desert into a horseshoe, settled by over 50 000 citizens, each staking out a spot for their RV or tent for a week), with many of the attendees setting up camps together in the same place along with their neighbours from festivals past. It’s a chance for them to reconnect or make new friends, as one may have done as a kid at the family holiday house during summer vacation. You get together with a gang of your holiday friends, eat a ton of ice cream, make a huge sandcastle, catch fireflies, swim, get sunburned, perhaps have a holiday crush….
Burning Man, however, is one vacation you really have to prepare for, it’s super saturated with sights, sounds, and everything is compacted into one week of, dare I say it, mayhem? And all of this takes place in a pretty harsh environment, an old lake bed in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
I think that in light of this crazy experience that I was about to undertake, I definitely wanted my best friends with me. And I certainly don’t regret this one bit. I can see how if, perhaps, you want to wander off, and have an extremely personal experience with a part of yourself, that you may not get to meet for most of the rest of the year or your life, that going with a significant other may be tricky? But honestly as a first time burner, I wasn’t really up for that, and my fears were soon allayed.
As soon as we crossed the threshold into the desert, clanging our entrance, and yelling out our newbie status, we were doused with sand, and officially welcomed to the playa, the fun began. And it was the sort of fun you co-ordinated yourself. With a back drop of rugged mountains, blue skies, and the odd tornado ripping across the blinding sand, the stage was set. So of course you want to jump right in and play! No one expects you to wander around naked if you don’t feel like it, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want. But it has to be the best excuse to dress up, and have a good time. Both of these things I was well up for, and our RV barely stopped, Alba and I dived into our unicorn outfits, unloaded the bikes and peddled off into the distance in search of the Unicorn Stampede. Which we found sometime later headed by a Charlie the Unicorn art car! Rainbows and unicorns danced across the desert.
I was astounded and amazed by the overload of visuals, and the desert landscape only added to the surreal nature of the festival. People from all walks of life, dressed or undressed in a myriad of different costumes, sparkling in the dusk, dancing to a drifting tune, admiring a massive sculpture of an ancient Egyptian God or wandering through the empty city of façades of “Burn Wall Street”. Everywhere you look, something is going on, and it’s all magical, even if it’s someone drinking a coffee in Center Camp, the chances are they are dressed up as a French maid, trying to rid you of playa dust at the same time. (You know, that probably only happens in one other place I know: Japan. Yep, I certainly haven’t seen it in France!)
I honestly felt like I had been dropped into a computer game. Or Adventure Time! It was like I was inside World of Warcraft. And my most favourite thing about that sort of game is the exploring that awaits. So you can imagine that the 4 days I was there, was filled with exploring. We explored all the art works, clambered into the man, rode out to to the perimeter and had a drink at the Last Bar. Met unusual characters, had unusual conversations, watched some battling in the Thunderdome, and danced into the deep playa at night. With the blurs of lights from zooming art cars seared into my retinas, dust in every nook and cranny, glittered, tired, after four nights of dancing days of exploring the camps, we unfortunately found ourselves packing up the camp, saying goodbye and driving back into the “default world”.
I can honestly say that Burning Man was a great experience, to be enjoyed by friends and strangers alike, and as long as you keep safe, drink enough water, the community of Burning Man, will pretty much make sure you have a fantastic time, in whichever way you like. You certainly won’t forget it! In fact the only thing I do regret, is that I was not there for longer.