The Temple at Burning Man 2009
Wow. That’s really the only word that can accurately describe our first Burning Man experience. We’d been hearing about the crazy event in the temporary “Black Rock City” in the Nevada desert for years, and this year, we decided to check it out with a bunch of our good friends. What an amazing experience it was, and quite the adventure!
We decided to take the volksvegan to Burning Man, and she weathered the dust storms, heat, and the long trek quite well. However, no journey in an old VW is without its technical difficulties! On the way there, it was getting dark and we had just turned the headlights on. Suddenly we heard a crackling noise and putrid smoke started pouring out of the dashboard! We radioed to our friends ahead of us in the caravan as we pulled over and rolled down windows. Sen spent at least an hour fixing and jerry-rigging the headlight wiring, which he had just fixed a few weeks before. An entire wire in the front burned, but he managed to hotwire the headlights and get us back on the road.
We made several stops and our caravan of seven people in three cars got a late start, so we drove through the night and watched the sun rise as we got stuck in the long line leading into Black Rock City, about 2 hours northeast of Reno. Burning Man is held on a dry lakebed in the desert called the playa, which is devoid of all life and covered in a fine, silty dust. We excitedly waited in line for hours as the sun came up. At some point we decided to stop idling the van and turned it off, put it in neutral, and pushed it as the line slowly inched forward. It was quite the workout, but it was the green thing to do, so push we did!
Once we found our camp and got settled, we walked out to the man statue at the center of the playa. It was a beautiful sight – a huge man surrounded by organic flame shapes made out of wood. Later that day, we endured quite the hazing as a brutal dust storm blew through, with high winds and dust so thick we couldn’t see (goggles and dust masks are a must on the playa). Luckily, it cooled down enough during the storm to allow us to take a nap. That first day we found it pretty difficult to adjust to the harsh playa atmosphere, but we were lucky enough to camp in Martian camp with many experienced and very fun people that made our transition easier.
Over the next week, we got very little sleep but had the time of our lives! There is so much to do and see at Burning Man, there is no way we could have seen it all in a week. There are huge interactive art projects and sculptures, “mutant vehicles” pumping music to ride around on, classes and workshops, talks, activities, games like mini-golf and tetris on a giant screen, light shows, live music, dance parties, bars and clubs, performances, alternative energy in action, and countless other amazing ways to keep busy. The best part is that once we were inside, everything was free (except ice and coffee, the only things sold at the event). Free drinks, free fun, free expression and freedom in general!
The photo above shows my favorite art installation, the temple. It varies every year and serves as a memorial and sacred space. Like the man, it is a temporary masterpiece, and at the end of the week it goes up in flames, taking with it anything you want to burn and purge. We were simply blown away by the outpourings of creativity we witnessed at Burning Man.
While on the playa, we dressed up in costumes (Seneca even paired a pirate hat with a tutu and stripey socks), played in a giant drum circle (where Sen got to play a hang drum), went to a yoga class and a henna painting party, hooped and made new hula hoops, made new friends, took turns feeding our entire camp, saw live music from Beats Antique, BassNectar and many others, danced our butts off, stayed up all night to watch the sunrise (twice), biked around checking out art, played mini-golf, went to a talk on 2012, and of course, watched the man and the temple burn in extravagant pyrotechnic displays. It was a life-changing and eye-opening event, but it definitely took a lot of stamina just to endure the harsh climate and conditions out there. We had to really want to have a great time and make the best of whatever nature threw our way (which was mostly heat, insane winds, and loads of dust).
The only bad part of the entire week was that my camera did not cooperate, and I now have only a tiny handful of pictures of our experience. Sometime in the middle of the week, after I’d taken a few hundred amazing pictures, suddenly my memory card was empty and they were all deleted. Later in the week it happened again twice, deleting hundreds of pictures with no warning. Not cool! Then the screen broke, and I could no longer see what I was taking a picture of. I switched memory cards and managed to get a few crooked, blurry pictures of the last day and a half of the trip. Sad!
Perhaps the camera was just another lesson learned at Burning Man… you can’t get too wrapped up in technology or capturing memories, you just have to live fully and let go to enjoy the moment. I’m sad to lose the hundreds of beautiful photos I took, but it makes me even more determined to go back next year and prepare for the worst!
We’re finally done with our mountains of laundry and in the process of unpacking and cleaning everything. The bus is so dusty, it’s going to take days to clean it out from top to bottom! Everything we own (including us) was covered in a layer of dust, and I still don’t think I’ve gotten the playa completely out of my hair! But it was all worth it for one of the craziest parties we’ve ever been to. What an amazing journey!
Next up is Earthdance, in nearby Laytonville, September 25-27. The bus makes a perfect hangout for our favorite local event. Now, if we could just get it clean enough for the next trip!