I can't believe it's been an entire week since I left Burning Man and came back to reality, or "the default world" as I heard it described there. I've been wanting to write this again and again but every time I tried I gave up because there is no way that I could ever put that experience into words, and it's frustrating. Here I am again though, sitting in front of this damn computer, and I'm going to try.
Most people have heard of Burning Man before, but it exists in their mind as an abstract concept; a strange festival in the desert where a bunch of dirty hippies run around naked and burn stuff on drugs. I'm not going to pretend that that doesn't go on, because it totally does, but Burning Man is so much more than that for most people. This was my second year, and my favorite year thus far.
Describing this chronologically would be difficult, because once you arrive at Burning Man time sort of melts into itself and ceases to be important. My friends and I left San Francisco around 9 am last Wednesday morning, endured an extremely long and arduous drive out into the desert, and still didn't manage to set up camp before dark. To make matters worse, the first place we tried to set up camp was "reserved", so we had to put everything back in the car and resume our search for an available campsite. I'm really selling you on this, aren't I...
The next place we stopped to set up camp seemed available, but just to be sure we asked two guys lounging there. They told us that someone named "Pond Scum" had saved the space for some friends, but he would probably be ok with us camping there. That was good enough for us at that point, and we pitched our tent in record time, threw on some weird clothes and headed out to the Playa. I never ended up meeting the infamous Pond Scum, but PS, if you're reading this, thanks for letting me camp on your turf.
Let me backtrack now, since after this point in my story time has no bearing anyway. Burning Man is held annually in Black Rock Desert, which is a huge, dried out lake bed from the fucking Pleistocene era. Now it's a desert of fine, white silt and it's referred to as Playa. This location is literally one of the most beautiful places I have ever been...especially at sunrise and sunset. It's freezing at night and blistering hot during the day, not to mention the dust/sand storms that randomly come without notice. And I love it. And I don't even camp in the real world.
Keep in mind that every year Burning Man, or "Black Rock City" is completely recreated from nothing...nothing is left behind from the year before because the rule is to "leave no trace". 50,000 people come to this desert in the middle of nowhere (and trust me, it is in the middle of nowhere), build a city with art and installations, party their ass off, burn shit, and then take it all with them when they leave. There is no trash disposal there, so you're responsible for anything you brought with you. These rules are actually followed year after year, which is why the party is allowed to keep happening.
My favorite part about Burning Man at night. I prefer to sleep during the day rather than brave the heat, and nighttime is also party time obviously, so most of my experiences there are nocturnal. Once the sun set each night, my friends and I would get dressed (and by dressed I mean piece together the brightest, furriest, sparkliest components of our wardrobes), fill up our Camelbaks (which constantly leak leaving you with a soaking wet back all night, by the way) and head towards the action.
The festival is set up like a clock, with all of the camping areas on the outer edge named for times (ours was 9:30), and with nightclubs and such in the center. As you get closer and closer to the middle you can hear the beat of music coming from all directions, see crazy lazers and LED lights beaming across the desert, and feel the excited energy of everyone around you. There are hundreds of things to do at any given time at Burning Man and it would be impossible to experience all of them in one trip (or even one lifetime), so I'll just name a few of the things I was lucky enough to do:
-Danced my ass off every single night at numerous "nightclubs", my favorite being the "Opulent Temple", where you party with hundreds (thousands?) of other people underneath the stars while fire spews above you in time with the music and lights. Ummmmm yeah, it was sick.
-Climbed lots of huge, amazing art installations. Everything at Burning Man is interactive, so it's essentially an enormous playground for adults.
-Stumbled into a roller disco rink in the middle of the desert and attempted to roller skate.
-Wandered around. Wandering is a big part of Burning Man actually...generally the consensus is walk until you find good music, cool art, or interesting people. You end up stopping a lot.
-Jumped on an enormous art car decorated like a boat with a dj and dance floor that drove us all out miles into the desert so we could barely see the lights of the festival any more but nobody cared and it was awesome.
-Watched in awe with thousands of people as the "man" and the temple burned. Indescribable beauty and power in those moments.
-Met some of the nicest, most generous, beautiful, interesting people existing on this planet. From all corners of the world. Partied with them like it was 1999.
-Grew even closer to my existing friends that were there. Love you guys!
If that seems like a lot, it's nothing. It doesn't even scratch the surface. Because it isn't what you do at Burning Man, it's how you feel when you're there and when you return to the real world. A lot of people actually consider Burning Man to be "home", which is why everyone is greeted upon arrival to the festival with "welcome home" and a hug. Yeah, yeah, it sounds cheesy and maybe it is but it's also real. I can't explain why, and I just tried for about ten minutes and then deleted everything I wrote, so just take my word for it. Or see for yourself.
11 hours ago