Burning Man: A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers.
As we cycled across the playa after nightfall of the first day, the soft breeze caressing our faces, our bicycles swerving occasionally in pools of softer sand, we were immersing ourselves in a strange dream-like world. My pre-Burning Man worries were completely erased from my memory and all troubles we encountered on the way to Black Rock city were instantly forgotten.
On the first night, we encountered a world none other than a burner can imagine: a proliferations of bright lights filling the surrounding blackness as far as the eye could see like dot to dot drawings I used to adore as a child, some lights stationary, others moving in different directions; intermingled sound of loud music and exuberant crowds coming from all directions; Black Rock city a limitless galaxy of stars .
What was to come was a dizzying week of long days and late nights, or to be more precise long nights and late mornings, getting completely lost in ourselves and other-worldly surroundings. Several unforgettable days to be ingrained in our minds forever. The brief history…
The first Man burned in 1986 on a San Francisco Beach. Two friends, Larry Harvey and Jerry James, knocked together a wooden figure and dragged it down to a beach on summer solstice, then lit it up, a curious crowd gathering to watch it burn. And so, the Burning Man began…
Burning Man is not a festival. It is an event, a gathering of people, music and art every year towards to end of the summer. Burning Man is about diversity, about unleashing your inner, suppressed self. Here everything and anything goes.
There are over 5 square miles of Nevada desert that plays the part of a blank canvas to be filled by countless incredible pieces of art, big and small, hundreds of events to watch and try, and thousands of people milling about day and night. Black Rock city and the playa are huge, stretching across Black Rock desert as far as the eye can see – having a bicycle is a fundamental necessity, since you want to explore as much as possible, incessantly hopping from place to place! Walking will take up far too much of the valuable time. And at night, when you cannot tell how far you intended destination is and you are cruising on your bicycle through the pitch black, you feel like you could go on forever.
On the day of our arrival, as we approached Black Rock city, our levels of exhiliration surged to unprecedented levels: we had no idea what to expect, yet we were inexplicably unbelievably happy. Finally after days of growing anticipation and preparation, were were here: in the middle of Nevada desert under the scorching sun, landscapes around us mountainous, barren and sandy, yet breathtaking. The traffic suddenly came to a halt: due to strong sandstorms which visibility levels almost to zero, the gates had been temporarily shut. No matter how much I read about it, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming sense of silent wonderment that overcame me as we made our way through the blinding sandstorm towards Black Rock city.
Since we were Burning Man virgins, at the entrance we had to come out of our RV and be greeted with generous hugs and big love from naked veterans – I suppose we could not have asked from a warmer welcome! We were asked to roll around in the sand and make some sand angels to overcome our reluctance to get covered in dust.On the first afternoon, we donned our face scarves and goggles, and off we cycled into the storm. We were looking around us in complete awe: unending rows of tents and RVs, people everywhere, some dressed up in flamboyant and bizarre costumes, others sporting casual attire, waving and smiling at us. We finally reached the famous playa: several square miles of desert with large-scale artworks, the colossal wooden Man looming in the distance. Because of constant gusts of wind, the heat was almost unnoticeable.As we cycled, we were crossing paths with “Art Cars” are one of the most important components of Burning Man. Hundreds of vehicles of all shapes and sizes drive around, their parts moving, lights flashing, some playing music, picking up anyone and everyone, taking them on a unpredictable journey.
The Temple of Promise – a tradition of Burning Man since the millennium – rises apart from Black Rock city. Every year, this monumental structure serves as Black Rock City’s spiritual nexus – a place for celebration, bereavement, solace and reflection – and an oasis of calm. This year the Temple of Promise consisted of a skyward-reaching spire, clad entirely in shimmering copper. Moving deeper into the gently curving structure, you passed into a progression of archways, gradually descending to a human scale. After the final archway, you emerged into an encircled grove of sculptures trees. The Temple of Promise only lives for a week, and on the last night, every memento, every joyous moment, and every tear is released when the Temple, like the Man himself, is burned to ash.The burn of the colossal man on the penultimate night is the climax of Burming Man. For the duration of the event, the man loomed over the playa. As dusk fell, the burners gathered around the man to watch the ceremonial burn, the giant man went up in flames, surrounded by a halo of colourful fireworks – some of the most beautiful and impressive fireworks I have ever seen. Finally after almost an hour the man tumbled, the cheers erupted. A fitting finale for a surreal and unforgettable event.
One of the wonderful things about Burning Man is the absence of commercialism – which means no branding, sponsorships – and no money exchanges hands. Burning Man cultures consists of gifting, so there is no need to carry around neither cash nor credit cards.
Another great thing about holding an event in the middle of the dessert is the lack of cell phone reception and wi-fi, something we never experience nowadays! Instead of checking emails and messages every few minutes, you are allowed to concentrate on your immediate surroundings and wonderful people around you, for once living in a moment and completely forgetting about your life at home…
Several days prior, as I was spending a few days in Big Sur, I had a complete nervous meltdown in anticipation of venturing out into the desert. One of the biggest worries for Burning Man virgins is the lack of proper shower facilities for a week or so in the seeming hostile environment where heat and dust are prevalent. I had no idea how I would mentally handle living in the desert for several days, with unrelenting heat, scorching sun and overwhelming sandstorms in the daytime. At least I knew that the frigid nights would offer the respite from it all.
As soon as you submerge yourself in the mad and joyful ambience of Burning Man, you couldn’t care less that you are constantly covered in dust, your hair matted, your clothes somewhat grubby. Taking a shower seems pointless, since you will be just as dusty as soon as you set your foot out of the door. You stop caring since thousands of people around you are in exact same situation. My daily show consisted of a two minute cold treacle of water just to freshen up a little.
Burning Man is not something that can be understood by those who have never experienced it. No prior reading and research prepared me for what I saw or experienced. Perhaps, my description of the overall impression would be: Imagine you are in newest instalment of Mad Max, but a version of Mad Max filled with joy, a place where no one has a care in the world, and everyone lives in the moment.
Going to Burning Man is a logistical nightmare, especially if you are coming all the way from Europe: something to keep in mind, if you are ever planning on attending it. It takes places in Nevada desert, several hours drive from Reno, the closest big city. You must bring everything with you – food, water, medicine, bicycles, items you would gift to others.
We decided on staying in the RV, rather than traditional camping, which is perhaps the wisest decision we made in our planning. Many people camp in order to save some money, because RV rental companies charge extortionate amounts for renting an RV for Burning Man, knowing there is such a surge in demand in time for that particular event. But the RV provides you that much needed AC, a refuge from the scorching heat, when you are trying to rest during daytime, and at night it protects you from the freezing temperatures. It also gives reasonable protection from the sand – we had some of the strongest sandstorms ever recorded during the history of burning man.