“Welcome home”, those were the words with which we were welcomed when we finally drove into Black Rock City. It was four o’clock in the morning and we had been driving for 20 hours to get at our destination: Burning Man Festival 2010. A mythical arts festival in the desert of Nevada where the 10 core values are: radical inclusion – gifting – decommodification – radical self-reliance – communal effort – civic responsibility – leaving no trace – participation – immediacy.
Burning Man was first held in 1986 on the beach in San Francisco and moved to the desert in Nevada in 1990. During most of the year this is an inhabitable nature preserve, but from August on a big group of volunteers starts bringing in the basic infrastructure to support a community. In a next phase an even bigger group of volunteers takes up the available space and starts building theme camps and villages on the circular grid that is provided. On the last Sunday of August the inhabitants of this city slowly start to move in, they mainly come from all over the States and every year a bigger group of international people is joining them.
I met up with Tom in the airport of San Francisco on Friday night. After finding out about this festival long before we started this trip, I convinced Tom this would be a great activity to add to our trip. However in the last couple of weeks I had slightly started to worry about how harsh the conditions would be for us. We would spend 8 days in the desert where during the day we would be confronted with an excruciating heat and blinding snow storms, while at night temperatures would drop to the freezing point. On top of this the festival shuns almost all commercial activity, which means that only ice and coffee are available on the playa, all the rest you have to bring along (camping gear, outfits, food, water, …). Most people spend months preparing for this trip and arrive in pimped out Rv’s, after reading the infamous survival guide I wished we had as well.
We spent Saturday in San Francisco doing most of our shopping. We went down to lovely Haight Street where we scrambled through the thrift stores looking for a great outfit, hit the local hardware store to get all the necessary camping gear and bulked up our food supply. In between we enjoyed some of the amazing food SF has to offer.
On Sunday we ticked off the last objects on our shopping list and met up with Kerri, Tamara and Xi. This international threesome met up in Thailand and had offered us a ride from San Francisco to Black Rock City the following day. We picked up two more passengers along the way and bought some more supplies in Walmart before arriving in Gerlach, this is the last little town before entering BM. From here on we spend most of the night queuing to enter and to get our tickets. Eventually sunrise was already showing when we were putting up our tent and rolled in for a short bit of sleep.
What followed were eight days of overwhelming impressions. The scene is out of this world, being located in the middle of a giant desert. The cultural agenda is so overloaded that it’s hard to pick between all the offered options. The people on the playa are incredibly sociable, helpful and generous. The parties that last till sunrise and beyond are just amazing.
Some of my favourite activities on the playa were the following:
– visiting the temple: a big wooden dune-like construction where everybody can write down a message about a loss, problem or issue they encountered in the last year and want to leave behind
– hanging around in our camp and meeting tons of interesting couchsurfers
– biking off on to the playa and looking at some amazing art, my favourite was Bliss Dance
– taking pictures with my new Lomo fisheye camera, of which you can see the results in this post
– getting body painted
– going to one of the costume shops to pick up a new outfit for the day
– taking a steam bath in the middle of the desert
– riding one of the art cars across the playa
– running behind the water cars to get a “fresh shower”
– seeing the burning of Metropolis, the Man and the temple on consecutive nights
After eight intense days, we dreaded going back to the other world. We felt like we had come home and it was hard to leave. We said goodbye to new friends and made promises to come back for a following event. From now on we were burners!