8 reasons I’ll keep going back to… Burning Man
Burning Man Festival? We have already published a post about the reasons why every Travelette should attend this absurd event, held annually in the Black Rock Desert (Nevada), at least once in her life. Once did not cut it for me though, and after completing my third burn (which still makes me a baby Burner, as many people have been coming for fifteen years or more!), I have no intention to stop — and keep being asked why.
It’s true that this annual week-long escape to the Nevada desert is pretty far from what most people would consider a vacation. Weather conditions are extremely harsh; your body — and brain — gets pushed to the very limits of what it can handle; and relaxing is not exactly on the agenda. Some people even joke that Burning Man is a bootcamp that trains us to survive the end of the world…
Moreover, for people who fly in from abroad like I do, a week on the Playa means months of stressful planning, a serious toll taken on one’s bank account, and long unpleasant hours spent at Walmart to gear up — there is no food, water or shelter available on site, and you have to bring with you everything that you need to survive in the desert for seven days.
So why keep putting, year after year, this kind of time, energy and money into a festival? I guess because Burning Man is a little bit more than that. What do I mean? Well, as hard as it is to put anything that has to do with Burning Man into words, I did my best to write up eight reasons why the dust keeps calling me back.
Note: Playa dust being particularly harsh on electronics, I usually ride around with my plastic Diana Mini (deceased after its second burn) or a disposable, rather than an SLR — hence the sometimes low quality of the pictures. I still really wanted to share them with you.
1. The feeling of home
Okay, I’ll admit it: the first time someone said “Welcome home” to me as I got through the Burning Man gate, I thought: “What a dirty hippy”. But, on my second year, as our RV entered the 5-hour arrival line and I set foot on the white, abrasive, unwelcoming Playa ground again, I got it: I was where I needed to be. Things felt right. So I licked my palm and high-fived the dust: I was home!
Homouroboros by Peter Hudson, a much-loved installation back on Playa this year;
Early morning ride (2013)
2. I’ll never have seen it all
Burning Man is not as much a festival as it is a city. A wild, vibrant, never-sleeping city of 68,000 inhabitants — the 2013 population count — where there is as much going on at 5 is a morning as at noon, and as many exciting things happening on the busy Esplanade as in the backstreets — and even far out, in the wide spaces of the Deep Playa. A city where art, music, performances, insane mutant vehicles and unexplainable out-of-the-blue magical moments are constantly fighting for your attention.
Just when you start thinking that you got what Burning Man is about, a three-meters-high mechanically-animated metal octopus and a brightly lit-up pirate ship suddenly engage into an explosive fire-bursting competition right in front of your eyes. Or someone spontaneously gifts you a delicacy that seems out of a 5-star restaurant’s kitchen, although you’re in the middle of the desert. Hell, last year, I even saw Jesus: a tall, bearded, long-haired man wearing a white robe and a crown of thorns was staggering towards the empty Playa, bending under the weight of the monumental wooden cross that he was dragging out by himself. It’s fairly safe to claim Burning Man is the one place on this planet where you just cannot get bored.
3. It’s the greatest social experiment of our time
What if we banned the use of money and replaced it with a gifting economy? What if we forgot about cars and ran a whole city to the pace of cyclists and pedestrians? What if we lived with no other time markers than sunrise and sunset? What if we gave artists infinite space to create, without the limitations of gallery walls? What would happen then?
The answer is to be found, for one week every year, in the Black Rock Desert. There isn’t, to my knowledge, another community experimenting with these radical ideas on that kind of scale anywhere else on earth — and it’s fascinating to be a part of it.
4. The music
For me, Burning Man is rarely about going to see *this DJ* on *this stage* at *this time*. When I try, I generally end up reaching my destination six hours later than I intended, because I got distracted by something bright and shiny, went for a ride on the Disco Fish, got given a shot of 20-year-old scotch whisky at a saloon bar that popped out of nowhere, and forgot what I was doing altogether.
I am however fascinated with the ability of Burning Man to provide just the right soundtrack to every experience. You know when you become aware that it’s one of those rare moments, when time stands still… and then, someone puts on the tune which elevates that moment towards absolute perfection? Well, it keeps happening. All week. Every year.
Burning Man is always the occasion to stock up on amazing tracks to listen to throughout the year and try and remember those moments — if you can find those tracks again, that is. Here is generally a good place to start.
Robot Heart, the biggest sound-system on Playa and the best morning tunes;
Saturday morning dance at Disco Knights (2013)
5. I get to wear COSTUMES
My love for dressing up did not fade when I got past the age of 10. Sadly, there are few occasions to wear costumes and face-paint in adult life — apart from the occasional annoyingly-themed housewarming party.
At Burning Man, the sheer joy of dressing up is not only accepted, but strongly encouraged: for one week, you can choose to become an Arabian Nights princess (and there actually is a magic carpet for you to ride), wear colourful tutus, transform into a leather-and-feather creature right out of Mad Max — or wear nothing at all, and cover yourself in body-paint.
Some people search thrift shops from top to bottom all year to put together the most outrageous outfits. Others use their own hands to build light-up marvels that resemble architectures more than clothes. Others simply slip on their favourite glittery leotard. Whatever you choose to do, dressing up is always half the fun!
6. It’s a little bit magical
When the sun rises, it looks like a ball of red fire and hundreds of people run towards it. The moons are enormous, perfectly round and bright orange: the elements sure conspire to show that if there’s a place where magic can happen, it’s definitely at Burning Man.
And, in fact, it does: “The Playa provides” is a sentence you often hear out there. It means that, whenever you’re in desperate need of an ice-cold beer, a cigarette or a hug, someone always, somehow, materialises and hands it to you. But also, in a bit of a deeper sense, that Burning Man manages to provides you with just the experience you needed — although you didn’t know you did.
My three burns were as different from one another as they could be: my first year was a wild week of partying that was a welcome relief from the outside world; my second was a cathartic shock; and this year was a much more peaceful experience that helped me simmer down. Looking back on these three years, each one offered just what I needed to move forward at that particular point — even when it was not pleasant. Thank you for providing, Playa!
7. It has become a bit of a milestone
For one week every year, I leave this world. No phone, no internet, no schedule. No obligation to sleep. Nobody saying “you have to“. Complete freedom. There is definitely a therapeutic side to Burning Man, and for me it has now become something like a yearly release.
I also love what have now become traditions. Cheering the sunrise at Robot Heart. Dancing the afternoon away at Distrikt. Enjoying a warm, dusty beer with breakfast. Riding my bike around, stopping wherever I hear some good beats. Having a good cry at the Temple — then watching it burn, sitting in a crowd of thousands of people, in complete silence. And of course, shouting as loud as I can as the fireworks explode and the Man goes up in flames! What can I say — there is something very cleansing about building very big things, then setting them on fire.
Distrikt and its raging afternoon parties (2013)
8. I’ve got a major case of FOMO (fear of missing out)
Which, in the case of Burning Man, should be renamed awareness of missing out, because we all know for a fact that the most extraordinary things are, indeed, going to happen during that particular week.
Seeing everybody pack and knowing that it’s the first Monday of Burning Man without being there, in the dust, with them: that would truly break my heart. I’m not letting that happen anytime soon!
All pictures by Marie Colinet