Spending a week in the desert at Burning Man
Back in 2008, I made a video about a very interesting event that takes place in the desert in Nevada, which you can view at the bottom of this post (you can also listen to the commentary, with subtitles for the interviews, in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Irish and Esperanto.)
Now, this is where I'm going to be (again) for the next nine days.
9 days away from civilisation
No Internet, no running water, no restaurants, no air conditioning, no power outlets, no mobile phone connectivity, no shower, no cars driving faster than 5MPH; in many ways what you'd expect from a typical camping trip (I'll be sleeping in a tent after all), but then again nothing like it.
The event brings 50,000 people together in a normally inhospitable “playa” (the name given to the Black Rock Desert), plagued by dust storms, occasional rain that turns everything to sludge, just-about bearable heat during the day and cold at night and an unforgiving sun that you really must have the maximum sun cream on considering how the 3907 ft (1191 m) altitude gives less atmosphere to absorb the UV rays.
Sound like a fun place to go on a week long vacation? 🙂 Well, it is!
Magically delicious goes “home”
While I'm not a fan of bucket lists (I prefer “fuck it” lists involving spontaneity), if you have one I'd recommend you put this event on it to experience some day. It truly is one of the most unique experiences I've had and I'm really looking forward to my second time there.
The point is actually radical self expression and radical self reliance. It isn't quite a festival, but feels like a mixture between a music and an art festival at times, and even reminds me a lot of the Brazilian Carnival. It's actually more like a city than a festival, where the city is created spontaneously from nothing and every citizen is a participant. When you arrive, those at the gates welcome you home.
It's a little hard to realise it at first, but Burning Man is actually more of a mentality and way of life than a simple one week trek to the desert. You have a different life and even a different name.
I didn't really have a name at first, but then when I sported my leprechaun hat (most people wear costumes all the time; I only did it for one day) I was given it. To non-Americans it makes no sense, but for the next nine days I will introduce myself to everyone as Magically Delicious. (It's a phrase used in advertising for Lucky Charms cereals, where the main character is a leprechaun). Hello, I'm magically delicious! Nice to meet you!
I'll be driven there in a yellow old-style school bus (all the way from San Francisco), staying at the Couchsurfing camp, and spending my day going between as many camps as I can, cycling around with my green Harley Davidson style chopper pedal bike – just enjoying the very weird experience of it all. I'll also be contributing to the Costco soulmate search camp shown in the video to try and act as cupid to set people up on the playa 😉
Most of the time I'll be wearing some strange costume, or at least a cowboy hat for more sun protection, along with goggles and a face mask against dust storms, like in this photo, with the goggles on my hat when things are clear. The new goggles you see me sometimes wear over my hat in photos on the blog (like in the top-right of the site) were bought and worn all this time inspired by Burning Man. You can even see the moment I bought it (haggling the price to 200 Baht) when getting by in Thai.
Unfortunately, the whole experience can be a bit expensive (flight over, ticket of $300+ for entrance, paying for a return trip there by car, buying the tent, bike and all accessories etc.) which is why this time and last I am in the states for several months, and buying most things second hand and selling them just after the event. Luckily though, once you get in you never use money! I'll be bringing some items to barter (I didn't have time to buy food the first time round and ate for free between camps all week long).
As you can imagine in events like this, there are drugs (drugs and drink just happen to not be my style), but when you see the very weird things you see at this place you feel like you're high anyway…
Non national culture
When I travel, I seek out interesting new cultures and new people. It's always been my priority (rather than for new foods, or architecture, or history, or scenery etc. as other travellers may prefer). In the majority of my travels (and the main basis of the blog) learning the local language is the best way to do this. But in some cases there is no “local” language.
A sense of culture is normally associated with a country, or something that has been around for a long time. But for me it's also something shared by many people from different backgrounds with something in common. I found an interesting modern-international culture among Esperanto speakers at their meetings. In going to conferences with other bloggers over the last year, I see a sort of “blogger culture” going on. And the deaf community definitely has its own culture, mannerisms, mentality, ways of interacting and way of life.
And this is one thing I get a lot out of in Burning Man. The burner culture. You can't use money at the event (with the sole exception of buying ice and coffee, neither of which I needed myself), so there is a natural sense of giving and sharing throughout it. The harsh living conditions, oddly enough, soon become second nature and you get used to being covered in dust (this is a dust desert, not a sand one), you don't think much about eating (something that caused me some problems over the summer) and material things and your focus just becomes to get to know other people and appreciate the event. All distractions are removed (I won't even be bringing a book to read).
When I get back, that first shower will be absolutely amazing (I still remember how great it was to finally get all that dust and dirt off after a week), and I'll likely have well over 2,000 emails waiting for me and the distractions of metropolitan life, but Burning Man is a sort of reset switch and I'm looking forward to an interesting new start in September!
And of course when I get back, I'll announce my next language 😉
Have a good week everyone!