Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Final Thoughts on our 2011 Burning Man Experience

For those of you who are not familiar with Burning Man it is a one week adventure in the Black Rock desert of Nevada.  This year was its 25th anniversary and for the first time in the event's history tickets were sold out, somewhere around 53,000.  A month before people show up the Burning Man organization and a huge contingent of volunteers go to the desert and build Black Rock City.  Like any city there are numerous departments like fire, medical, police, etc., with names such as DPW (Department of Public Works), DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles).   People who attend Burning Man must show up with their own shelter, food, and water.  It is a hot, dry, and dusty environment and a physical and mental challenge to survive.  Burning Man is a commerce free environment- a gifting community.  The only thing you can buy is coffee and ice.  Given the environment preparation is critical. You have to force yourself to drink fluids and electrolytes or you can count on becoming dehydrated.  Consequently, with that much water and electrolytes intake you end up going to the porta-potties at least every hour. It sort of became a joke about how much time you spend at the porta-potties.  The dust is everywhere and unavoidable.  It is very fine like talcum powder.   Baby wipes are essential for removal.
This was our second time to attend Burning Man so the audio-visual shock we encountered when we arrived  was not as extreme as last time.  When you enter the gates you are usually greeted by people dressed up in costumes and clothing that you have never seen in your life.  It is like you are entering some sort of science fiction movie.  So between dealing with the extreme harsh environment and the extreme audio-visual stimuli it takes a couple of days to adjust to your surroundings.  When you first arrive you have to go the area you have decided on to set up your camp.  Last time we came to Burning Man we came in a RV.  This time we built special fabric structures to sleep in and cook in and of course the all important shade structure.  We brought an outdoor shower and evaporation pond to get minimal showers.  Burning Man is a leave no trace event so you cannot dump any water or trash on the playa (desert surface).

At night Burning Man comes alive. There are no street lights or any source of light to illuminate the city so every person and moving vehicle is lit up like a Christmas tree.  Those that are not are referred to as “darkwads” and run the risk of being accidentally run over in the dark.  There are only three ways to get around Burning Man.  You walk, ride a bike, or ride on a Mutant Vehicle.  The Mutant Vehicles are some sort of vehicle that has been highly mutated to resemble another form like an animal, space craft or whatever the person building it can imagine.  Out on the open playa where the Man and the Temple have been erected there are a huge number of individual art structures. All of this art is lit up at night.  It is an unbelievable spectacle out on the playa at night. There is nothing like it in the world.

Most people are in costumes of some sort and clothes are optional at BM so that adds to visual excitement. The men try not to be too obvious about looking at the topless girls and the girls try not to be too obvious about checking out the naked men. There is loud music 24/7. Techno music prevails so if you hope to sleep at night ear plugs are a must.  Saturday night is the night the Man burns.  All 50,000 plus people gather around the Man and an incredible fireworks show starts the burn off.  The energy level is extremely high on burn night.  Sunday night the Temple burns.  It tends to be a more somber event.  Monday is the last day and the mass exodus starts on Sunday and Monday.

Looking back Sara and I realize that Burning Man is not only a test of your ability to deal with a harsh environment but an opportunity to take part in a truly unique fascinating experience like none other in the world.  Both times we have gone have changed our perspective on life.  For one week in the desert there is no Internet, no phones, no TV, no world news and no politics; just the dust, heat, great friends, the biggest party in the world, and memories that will last a lifetime.  Will we go back? Maybe but we have to finish cleaning up all the dust in our stuff first.  
Here are a few burner comments and statements we got a kick out of:
“I’ve lost my bike and friends but it sure is pretty over there" – From a burner who walked up to us Friday night – he wondered off into the night.
“Forecast- Dusty" - Written on one of the porta-potties.
"Sorry- we're open" - A sign on one of the music theme camps.
“I’m already against the next war"  - A bumper sticker on a burner's car
"Forget the mistake, remember the lesson" - Written on a porta-potty wall.
“John, what time is it?” – Asked by everyone who refused to wear their watches for the event.
“Days since last injury – 0” – Next to the Thunderdome, a large structure similar to Mad Max and the Thunderdome “

Here are two photo albums, click on the images below to start the slide show.  If you have any problems  go directly to this link: All Photo Albums

Burning Man 2011 - Playa Life
Burning Man 2011 - Camp Life

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