What the Fuck is Burning Man?
Trip Start Jul 31, 2009
85Trip End Feb 27, 2010
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Sunday 29th August, 2010, Day 575
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
So what exactly is Burning Man. I didn't know before I went, and now that I’ve been, I know even less. It is a lot of things, but my most basic conclusion is that it’s 50 000 people heading out into the desert where, in one week, they build a little city, interact with one another, then pack up and remove all traces of the city. Over the next seven days of this blog I will try and analyse and work what the festival is. I’ll try not to criticise it, but it is full of my judgemental rants, so I strongly advise not read this if you are a true 'burner’. It’ll be a viewpoint that is not shared by everyone else. My experience seemed very different and more cynical than that of most ‘burners’, so please don’t read this if you are a true fan of Burning Man (I have already offended so many people, as you can see by the comments and star rating of my blogs). As you’ll read however, I still thought Burning Man was an amazing event, just probably not the right event for me.
It’s a strange thing the Burning Man Festival, and as far as I know, there is nothing else like it in the world.
I can’t remember the first time I ever heard the name Burning Man, but I remember the first time someone ever explained anything about it to me. When I first went to Spanish School in Guadalajara Mexico there was an old man in my class. Him and I would go to the pub to enjoy cocktails, and I told him of the wonder that is Glastonbury. He replied by telling me about this party in the Nevada Desert. His described it as a place where people from all walks of life go and have a good, free, loose time. He said he’d never been but he knew that rich old couples would go in their flash Winnebago’s as would poor lonely hippies who would camp in the cheapest of tents, and everyone in town between would be there to. He then told me how everyone just shares the party. So, if you were a poor hippy who’d run out of beer you could just wonder over to this rich old man’s Winnebago where you’d find him giving out beer and maybe a steak. The hippy would in turn sit around sharing his weed with the rich old business man and his wife. He said it was place where class and social scene is unimportant and everyone shares with each other. At the end of the party he explained that they set fire to a big wooden man. I didn’t think too much of it, this old man probably didn’t know a whole lot about what sort parties I liked.
I next heard about Burning Man when I was aboard the Tropic Bird, sailing through the Caribbean with Captain Fucktard, a heartbroke Canadian, a fellow Australian, and five wild Irish men and women. The Irish couple said they’d been to Burning Man ten times or something. They spoke about it with the same sparkle in their eyes as I knew I got when I spoke about Glastonbury. I could see that they had found the same thing in this festival that Joss and I had found in Glastonbury, so I listened. They described it as a big party in the desert that is nothing like a music festival. They said there was music, but no signed bands, a lot of DJ’s just go and play gigs in their own camp or camps of their friends. They explained that it was a place where money is banned and that the concept is for everyone to bring enough supplies (food, water, shelter) to be self-sufficient, but also to give things to other people. So many camps have a theme, such as coffee or nachos, where a few days a week you just give out free nachos or coffee, or beer. They said that everyone camped in the shape of a horse shoe, and in the middle was a huge dessert dotted with large pieces of art. Kealan and Carol were cool folks, and I figured that Burning Man would be worth checking out.
Through my travels I heard about Burning Man several more times, one person explained it to me as a makeshift city that appears and then disappears out in the dessert. They said that like any city, it has it’s dangerous area and it’s safe areas. Another way I had the festival explained to me was the ultimate hallucinogenic festival in the world "there is all this trippy art everywhere" explained the Dutchman. Another person had told me how they were at the festival and saw this giant black box out in the middle of the dessert, they went to it, found a door, opened it up, and discovered they were in a Jazz Club.
The organisers define Burning Man on their website as a ‘social experiment’.
It did sound pretty cool. So in the last months of my time in South America I decided to buy a ticket. It would be my send-off, the last party before I’d go home to Australia. And what a fitting end it would be. I’d moved to England to go to Glastonbury, visited Scotland only for T – In the Park, Scandinavia solely for Roskilde, and I only went to Brazil because I wanted to go to Rio Carnival, and now, the only reason I’d be spending time in the USA was to visit what sounded like one of the most interesting festivals in the world.
My experience at Burning Man was an interesting one, but a disappointing one. It’s hard to say exactly why. It can’t solely be because my expectations were high, they were higher for Glastonbury, and Glastonbury surpassed my expectations, they were also very high for Rio Carnival which also exceed them. For reasons I will explain in the following pages, I just don’t think I could really get involved in the vibe, but I’m very happy I’ve been to this festival, it is something very… well…. very much unlike anything else I have ever heard of.
I had just been picked up from Reno, I was in the car with two girls and two guys, at first I thought they were all couples, but later realised two were brothers and sisters. I didn’t know any of these people. But I had met one of their friends for about five minutes in Peru. I came home smashed on one of my many nights out in Cuzco, there was this guy sitting out on one of the seats. I had a small drunken chat to him, he mentioned he was DJ in San Francisco. I already knew a lot of DJ’s went to Burning Man, and that a majority of people who went to the festival were from San Francisco, so I asked if he knew of it. He told me he went every year, we exchanged emails and then I went to bed. A while later I emailed him, and he said I was welcome to come along with his camp, it’d save me from having to organise too much food and water. To be fair I’d have to put $100 into the camp, but that was really nothing considering the shower, food, water, lounges and tent they provided me. I was grateful for their help.
We stopped off at a petrol station where we met up with the rest of the Convoy. The guy who I met in Peru was already at the festival; he had early-bird tickets so he could set up the camp before the masses arrived.
I got out of the car at the petrol station, and there was my friend Tim. Tim was another friend I met in Cusco. He was an anarchist who lived in a squat in Sydney. In a separate incident to me, he’d met the same San Francico-ien in the hostel. And we’d both told him about the Burning Man Festival. In the five days Tim and I spent together, telling each other that it was ok not to go to Matchu Pitchu, we decided to meet up again in Burning Man. He’d also been in touch with the San Fransisco-ien and was paying $100 to stay with them just like me. Tim and I were about to become two Aussies in an ocean of Burning Man.
At the service station I had this disgusting burger, the only bad fast food I had in the USA. Then we were off again. We hit traffic, and stayed in traffic for the next four or five hours. When we neared the gate Tim and I had to get out to get our tickets from the box office. There was a strong alternative vibe, even at the ticket office. We walked back through the traffic jam and figured we’d lost the car. It was a bit sad, because we had absolutely no way of ever finding our camp again. After a while of walking through the traffic jam we found our car. All was well. By the time we got to the gates it was dawn. A hippy checked our tickets, asked us if we had anyone hidden in the boot, we told him we didn’t, he said “cool man, have a sick time”. We had to do some sort of initiation to enter the festival as it was our first time. The initiations involved rolling around on the desert floor.
Then we entered the festival. The festival was layed out in the shape of a horseshoe, with people camping in layers. The layers were separated by streets, so the festival could be driven or rode around easily. In the middle of the horseshoe was an epic field of dessert, probably 4 times the size of a football field, this area was known as The Playa. At the opening of the horseshoe was more dessert as far as the eye could see and scattered out in the desert was big pieces of art. But I’ll get to them later.
The dessert was pretty at dawn.
We found our camp and I was introduced to like 10 people, over the next few days I felt like I was introduced to about 30 more. I make friends pretty easy, but when thirty people all know each other, it’s hard for me to get involved quickly, but I put in a decent amount of effort.
Tim and I set up our tents and then I felt a bit lost. I think I had a nap in my tent, I was very tired and a bit overwhelmed by all the people. Having a nap is a good defence mechanism I suppose.
When I woke up it was still daytime and I went with a bunch of the people in my camp for a walk out into the Playa. I was informed that it would be best to wear my goggles and mask, so I did. I did find them useful, but rarely wore them again as they were more hassle than they were worth. It was uncomfortable wearing goggles and masks. The dessert conditions were harsh, but on a whole I didn’t find Burning Man to have much more toll on the body than any other festival, I think it was all a bit exaggerated. I suppose it was like everyone saying I had to wear gumboots to Glastonbury, you could still survive without them.
On the walk to The Man I witnessed my first dust storm. It was pretty wild, the wind was blowing the dust everywhere, like in Tatooine. We climbed up the stairs bellow the big man where we had a viewpoint of the whole festival. It looked pretty cool. It was a city of people of camping, but there seemed like almost as many Winnebago’ss as tents.
Next we went to examine some of the artworks amongst The Playa. There was this huge metal tower that was a sort of obstacle course to climb up, the main obstacle was the people coming down. Everyone was obviously liable for themselves if they got hurt. Then we went to the main arena. It was at the midpoint of the festival and full of folks juggling and doing acrobats and lifting each other up in yoga-ish ways. Seemed like a lot of people here would have been into tantric sex. I don’t really have any idea what any of that acrobatic stuff was, because it is just stuff I don’t care about. It was impressive what they could do, but a lot of the people oozed wankyness, so I struggled to really appreciate their art. And there is only so much I can watch of a man rolling a crystal ball over his arms and shoulders. I’d seen enough of that sort of stuff from those traveller hippies around South America, and every other festival I’d ever been to in Europe or Australia. But I decided to stick around with the people in my camp and they were loving the circus tricks, so I sat and watched. I didn’t want to hang out alone and they were very friendly people.
On the walk home we stopped off at a camp that was serving out bacon and bloody marries. Then we went home. I think we just drank all day.
Come evening we warmed up the art car. Burning Man is a big festival, and if you don’t have a bike, the best way to get around is to hitch a ride on an art car. Art cars are the only vehicles given permission to drive in the festival. Like almost everything in Burning Man they were created and brought into the festival by the ticket holders, not the organisers. The rules of the cars were that they were not to drive more than five miles per hour as not to run over pedestrians, and, more awesome and more importantly, they all had to be unrecognisable as cars. To make them unrecognisable each vehicle had been completely modified or decorated and was turned into a piece of art (hence the name Art Car). This meant that there were giant butterflies driving around, a lead zeppelin, an open air hippy bus, a flamingo that had a cherry picker as it’s neck, an elephant with cages on the earrings, and the biggest of all, and epic ship that must have been a few busses in length. These were just a few of the hundreds of art cars driving around the festival. All were very impressive, most played music, and when they were driving everyone was welcome to jump on board. Our camp had two cars, one looked like Puff the Magic Dragon, and the other was just a long tray that sort of bounced from side to side. The bouncing made it really good for dancing on, especially to dubstep, which was a good thing, because apart from dubstep, there was not a whole lot of music to be heard.
We piled onto the bouncing art car and drove off towards The Playa. In darkness the appearance of the festival drastically changed. Everyone in our camp had covered himself or herself in glow technology that I didn’t even know existed. Back in Australia if I went to a party and someone had stringed a few glow sticks together I was impressed, but here at Burning Man, even the most basic of glowing items was above and beyond anything I’d seen before. There were the dangly glowing balls, long glowing pieces of string, entire glowing suits… I can’t remember much else but take my word for it, it was glowing madness. A few people gave me some glow sticks, they figured I’d need them because there were no lights in the festival, and if you don’t glow then people are likely to ride or drive over you. Those without glow sticks or lights were known as ‘dark tards’. One of the things I couldn’t quite get my head around was how everything and everyone at Burning Man had a Playa label. For instance, if it was your first Burning Man you were known as a “virgin” rather than just someone who was here for their first time. If you’d been three times, this was your “third burn”, there were a lot of other words used to explain things, but I’ve forgotten them all, oh well. Anyway, something about all this lingo for things didn’t sit right with me, and I don’t really understand why, maybe it just felt like people were trying way too hard, either to fit in, or separate themselves from the rest of the world, or something like that, I dunno. I suppose most people at the Burning Man Festival were from California, and California is the doosh-bag capital of the world, so doosh-bag phrases are all part of the experience.
We piled into the back of the art car, put on some dubstep, and drove out towards the Playa. As we danced down the street other folks jumped on, and there were others riding bicycles whilst bopping along besides us. We passed another car, this one was a skeleton of a mammoth.
We drove out into the Playa and I’ll never forget the sight. It was one of the most sensational things I have ever seen. The desert was in no way lit up, so it was just an ocean of blackness. Floating along this ocean however were countless art cars, all decorated in fairy lights, neon’s, black lights and glowing decorations. These fluorescent colours were the only way the cars could be seen amongst the black. Surrounding the edge of the Playa were the camps, and most camps were lit up in a similar glowing rainbow. Plain white light was rarely used, so every camp was busy with colour. Basically, I was seeing a glowing city where everything was a vibrant colour. Of all the man made creations I’d ever seen, including the beauty of Glastonbury stretching across the hills, ruined Roman Cities, and vast jungle temples, I think this glowing city was the most sensational thing of all. And this was only the beginning, over the next seven days the festival would grow and grow and the city would burst even brighter with the vibrant multicoloured lights.
Our car turned left and we headed towards Camp Nexus. This was the camp which the guys who I met in that Motel 777 in Reno were part of, the blokes who warned me to be careful of aliens. In front of the camp was a huge sphere covered in flame throwers, the flame throwers were shooting off in set patterns. We got off the art car and walked into Nexus. Nexus was full on, another thing I’d never seen anything like. Once we walked past the epic flame thrower ball there was a small clearing full of ravers. A large number of the ravers were wearing leather clad out-fits, fancy dress costumes, or big woollen coats. It honestly looked like something out of a futuristic science fiction movie, like blade runner or the Matrix but lest gothic. Many of the people were spinning fire, juggling glowing balls or hoola-hooping with lit up hoops. At the end of the clearing was a big dome, with a dance floor inside. It was full of people dancing, and many had spilled out into the clearing. There was a DJ in the dome playing some heavy dubstep. The wildest aspect of Nexus was the jungle gym. Beside the dome and flanking the clearing, under the warmth of the erratic a enormous flamethrower sphere, was a three level jungle gym. It was an adult version of a child’s playground. There were nets, ladders and ropes for climbing up to different levels. There were platforms which were held up by chains and were swinging from side to side and from front to back. People were having sex on at least one of them. There were barely any sober folk on the jungle gym, and it was dark. Everyone was dancing, there were flashing lights and swinging platforms that you could not only fall off but that could also smash passers by in the head if they were not carefully watching all that was going on, which was pretty hard when there is darkness, shagging and a sever lack of sobriety everywhere we went. I was sure that somebody would die at Nexus before the week was out, I’m not sure if they ever did, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
I raved on the jungle gym for a bit while watching the party bounce bellow. One of the girls in my camp was a master at hoola-hooping, I could see here down there, hoola-hooping, it was actually very sexy.
Octopod, a DJ who was part of our camp (the Californian I met in Peru actually) had a gig in the Nexus dome. When he started to play I went to the dome, found the rest of the camp, and got loose with them. It was a good gig. Heavy. One of the things I love about Burning Man is the absence of liability. I think when you buy tickets you have to sign a waver saying how no one else is liable for your injuries. As a result, people are free to get as looses as they please, and no security will escort them out of the premises. So when the dance floor was really packed, I done as a few others had done, and climbed up the big dome. By the time I got to a high part of the dome the dome was covered in people. The bravest were swinging like monkeys from the bars, the rest of us were just lining the two story walls, covering the dome in dancing bodies. It was pretty mental. The whole party looked like something out of Mad Max, Beyond the Thunderdome. Days later I actually came across a Thunderdome themed from Mad Max. One camp had built a dome, which had two elastic trapezes hanging down from the roof. I think the idea was to pit people up against each other on the trapezes, like for them to fight. I don’t imagine it would ever have been as violent as Mad Max’s Thunderdome, but still pretty wild.
Once Octopod finished his gig we went for a walk through the darnkness. I think we ended up at the City Centre, the place where all the juggling and acrobats was earlier in the day. I don’t remember anything too exciting happening. At one point in the night I ended up loosing everyone and making a new friend and dancing at the duck pond. This was camp near where we camped, that gave away a lot of free alcohol and almost always had parties happening. I went there a lot.
Monday 30th August, 2010, Day 576
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
Fuck knows what happened today, or any other day really, it is all a blur. I have only a few distinct, key memories of my first few days of Burning Man. Firstly, trying to befriend the people I was camping with. They were all really lovely and hospitable people, happily taking myself and Tim (the other Australian) under their wings to show us the ways of Burning Man. It was just a shame we struggled a bit to click with each other as everyone was really nice. Like most Americans I met, for some reason that spark between them and I just didn’t exist. This makes it hard to build a friendship, when there is a lack of connection during interactions. But I can’t put it down to either them or I, we both tried to be friends with each other, there just was not a lot of common ground.
The people in the camp were cooking gourmet food, better than I usually ate in South America, or at home in Australia for that matter. The level of organisation that had gone into the kitchen was impressive. I remember back in Australia, when getting ready to go to a festival Joss and I would take a lot of things. Air mattresses, sleeping bags, eskies full of snacks, alcohol to smuggle, a number of changes of clothes and decent speakers. My mum would see Joss and I preparing for these weekend festivals and say something like, “it’s so weird seeing you get so prepared for the festival, back in my day we just went, maybe took a can of backed beans or two and a kettle for some tea, but that was it”. I never understood why she found our effort to be comfortable weird at all, why wouldn’t we want to be as comfortable as possible? But then I came to Burning Man and finally understood what she was talking about. The level of organisation people had gone to, and the level of comfort they had reached, was far higher than anything I’d ever witnessed at other festivals. And whilst I appreciated the shower, gourmet pizzas, legs of beef, the comfortable chill out lounges and shady tarps, it can’t be denied that the comforts sort of detracted from the rawness of the experience. I finally understood what my mum was saying about “why do you need to take all that stuff to a festival”, I think going with hardly anything sounds a lot harder than it is and it can actually be refreshing. But it wasn’t just a festival, it was more of a city Burning Man, so all the organisation did fit, it was just a bit hard for me to come to term with. I was happy to have all the luxuries the people had bought to the camp and made the most of them, and am impressed by how well it all worked. Everyone was very generous, I definitely ate/drank more than $100 worth of food, and drank a lot more alcohol than the one carton and one bottle of spirits I brought with me. The citizens of the camp looked after me. And I thank them for that.
The people in my camp had hired a Budget Removals Truck so they could bring a lot of the gear (lounges, stoves, showers, big speakers, DJ decks, bar, tents for everyone, shitloads of beer) into the festival. When all the gear was out they had turned the back of the druck into a DJ booth where Octopod would play us his dubstep. I genuinely thought he was really good. When I heard his CD in the car ride to the festival I said “who’s this, it’s really good”, not knowing it was the guy who’d invited me to join his camp.
I remember many a morning lying atop the Budget Truck, catching the sun while the chill of the morning was still strong. Octopod would be playing his dubstep, Tim would be mucking around with some strange instrument that made viabration sounds when you twisted it in different directions. There would be people scattered around the camp.
I would generally wake up late, so miss most of the day.
The evening would often begin by Octopod spinning some tunes while the girl with the hoops done her sexy hoola-hoop dance and everyone else watched and talked and decorated themselves with glow sticks. I hadn’t really had a chance to talk much with Tim, so he and I decided to go for a walk by ourselves. This was really refreshing.
The biggest worry either of us had about coming to Burning Man was that it would be full of Americans. Now this might sound prejudice, but it did have some warrent. Neither of us believed American’s were ars holes or anything, but American’s really are strange people, and neither of us met many, if any, Americans we really clicked with in our entire travels. People had removed this worry, by telling me that the American’s who went to Burning Man were the coolest American’s in the country and that I wouldn’t need to worry. But to Tim and I, the whole thing was, at a basic level, sooooooooo American and I suppose we found it very hard to digest. Both of us had fairly cynical views of a lot of parts of the American culture and although Burning Man is a very liberal festival, it was still a prime example of everything we thought America would be about. Somehow, in this festival, the culture was more intensified than I saw anywhere else in the country. Tim and I had both also spent the last 6 – 14 months in South America, so the culture shock of coming into the USA was magnified. It hit us like a slap in the face. I hope I don’t sound too harsh, as it’s not a bad thing that this culture was so strong, but it has just never been a culture that I have been to fond of. Tim was feeling it even harder than I was. When we finally started hanging out together, it was just what we needed.
Tim and I walked out into the black desert. We didn’t go to the central part of the Playa, but instead just drifted out in the dark desert. It was all black. But in the distance were dotted glowing shapes. The shapes were too hard to make out, but we had all night, so walked towards them. As we got closer the dots became shapes. We didn’t realise what the first glowing structure was until we reached it. It was two crazy looking cars that looked more like moon-mobiles than anything else. Like all the cars, they were playing dubstep and surrounded by trippers all dressed in fluorescent unicorn outfits, pink fur coats or glitter. It was aesthetically very cool. It was just a little field of glow out in the black desert. Amongst the darkness the only light was emanating from the two cars and bouncing off the few ravers. The desert ground underneath them was tainted in flurecent light. However, there was not much use in Tim and I sticking around, so we continued out into the desert. The second glowing place we came across was a florescent garden. It was cute. It was nice with just Tim and I there. Looking back towards the festival, we could see these two headlights coming slowly towards us. Like everything in Burning Man, it looked trippy, sort of alien (oh oh, maybe that loony wasn’t a loony after all) creeping towards us through the desert. Soon the lights reached us, they were from a train, a train with wheels that could run without track. The train stopped and a whole bunch of people exited the two carriages and pottered around in the little garden. Tim and I walked onto the train. There was a party going on inside the train. A raging homo sat next to Tim and I. He was keen, but we weren’t. All sorts of shenangins were happening inside, but mostly it was people watching other people. After about 15 minutes people piled back onto the train, this time Tim and I were some of them, and off we went. Dubstep all the while of course.
By the time the train had stopped off at another glowing silo we’d tired of the it and took our chance to exit. We looked at more glowing artwork, a giant woman lit up, then wandered off deeper into the desert. We wandered until we reached the little fence, designed to keep us in and to keep those who didn’t have tickets out. It was a small fence, so basically just set the boundaries. At the end of the fence was some last glowing artwork. Another glowing car, this one a butterfly, playing dub step of course, was there and Tim and I hopped on for our trip home.
It was a strange thing Burning Man, everyone was just driving around in these crazy little cars looking at each other. There were some cool cars to look at, my favourite was this car which had a big antenna atop it with many sticks coming out from the top of the antenna. Each stick had dangly string bellow it covered in multi-coloured light bulbs, as it drove along all the strings of lights wobbled in unison and this car looked like a jellyfish. It was very very cool.
When we got back I have no idea what we did.
Tuesday 31st August, 2010, Day 576
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
Every day in a camp near us, there would be a huge rave party, there were not as many boobs out as I had expected, but still a lot of them. We didn’t do a whole lot today, but Tim and I went for a walk with some others from our camp. I think we drifted off into different art cars so in the end it was just Tim and I. To be completely honest, I can’t remember much, but I do remember Tim and I walked into one camp, asked them for beer, they gave us beer, and then we chilled out in this room where everyone could paint. I think in the evening someone made heaps of pizzas in their pizza oven the camp had brought. I also had my one shower of the seven-day festival today. One more than I was expecting to have to be honest.
Tim and I got extremely drunk and went for an evening walk around the festival. We came across many weird and wonderful things out in the dessert. The regular Burners would call these weird and wonderful things ‘Tripper Traps’, expecting that such things would capture the attention of those who had taken too much LSD and not let the attention go. I wasn’t real keen on all that Burning Man lingo, so I’ll just refer to it as cool art out in the desert. The highlights tonight were a box and a maze. The maze was made of corrugated iron and had subwoofers at the end, playing, of course, dubstep. The vibrations would bounce and wobble the corrugated iron and wherever you went in the maze the sound would change. The sound changed most drastically when we turned corners. It was very cool, especially if you like bass.
The other highlight was box, probably 1.5m x 1.5m x 1.5m and glittering in psychedelia . The box was suspended by three ropes. As we closed in on the box one of the two men standing near it told us to “step right up and try the wonderful box”. We waited our turn then the box opened, one man, looking rather disorientated came out, and I climbed in. I was handed a pair of glasses and a little flashing ball. The lid of the box was then closed. The darkness was only lit up by the multicoloured flashing ball and because all the inside walls were reflective there were multicoloured lights and sliver shimmers exploding off into every direction and into infinity. This looked extra cool because of the special glasses The box was then shaken and pushed around and I crawled about in the box loosing my senses and bearings whilst getting lost in the light. Super cool.
We took some bikes and explored the other side of the festival. We found a cylinder made of glowing, crystal-like rods that we were told to stand inside of. The cylinder then spun around us and everything outside looked ghostlike. Tim spent a good deal of time playing with a psychedelic flower which had three knobs. Each knob, when moved to different positions, would alter the spinning speed and direction of one part of the flower. Seeing as there were three knobs there seemed to be and endless number of combinations of things that could happen with this flower. That flower was beautiful and captured our attention for a long while. Another fun piece of art was large wall of hexagons, sort of like the edge of a beehive. All the hexagons were as big as people so it was fun to climb over and hang out it.
The two of us ended up in a big Asian looking temple (again only in the desert for the week) talking shit to a few people here and there. Every conversation we had with people seemed to end up in the same place. Everyone wanted to know how many ‘burns’ we’d been to, the more ‘burns’ the more respect. Whenever we told them it was our first time we were labelled ‘virgins’, and then we were told “isn’t this the best thing in the world, why can’t the world be like this”.
Wednesday 1st September, 2010, Day 577
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
Exhausted from the three previous day of hard partying, I spent the entire day sleeping in my tent. When I woke up I went with my camp, in their Art Car to see the Temple. The Temple was out in the dessert, and was the Yang to the man, which was the Ying, or something like that. It would be burnt down the day after the man was burned, and was said to be a more peaceful occasion. On the temple people had put all sorts of notes, or pictures, or symbols of things they were letting go of. The burning of the temple and the attached items would symbolise to all those who had put something on it the letting go of their item. It’s a nice concept, but subjectively I find it a whole lot of wank. Probably better for the health than my method of letting go which involves going to the bar and drinking a bottle of Canazo every night. If it works for these ‘Burners’ then who am I to criticize, good for them.
I then went solo on an Art Car that looked like an elephant. After a few conversations about how many ‘burns’ I’d ever been to and how great the whole things was I decided to walk home. People were all probably pretty interesting, but I rarely found anyone I could relate to. What I found most surprising was people’s reaction to “yeh I’m just here on my way home, have just spent the last year living in South America”, to which people pretty much replied “oh”, and that was all the interest they had showed. Tim found the same, and neither of us could believe it. We’d both just spent so much time doing cool shit, and no one was interested at all. Occasionally some people from our camp did become pretty interested in our stories and just what we were about. I can understand it though, if it is not something you could relate to, then it wouldn’t be at all interesting or fascinating. Like if someone had told me they had just spent the last year writing a book about the future of engineering in Dubi, then I wouldn’t give a fuck and have a clue what to ask, so I wouldn’t. I really do understand it, but at the time was just surprised.
Thursdays 2nd September, 2010, Day 578
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
Today was a morning I will remember forever. I woke up and Tim was already stoned. We decided it’d be grand to have some nachos. So we waddled over to the nachos camp where awesome people were giving out free nachos for an hour every day. We took our box of corn chips, had the dirties plastic liquid cheese poured over it, then added a whole lot of salsa and sour cream. What a fantastic camp. As we walked back to our camp, nachos in hand, we passed the ‘conference camp’. This was a little camp which held all sorts of conferences on all sorts of things. The blackboard outside read “On Now, Anal Probing Conference”. Now I had been boasting to those in my camp, that while at Burning Man, I wanted to see something really fucked up and figured now it was time to put my money where my mouth was. Tim didn’t think he’d ever get a chance to see this again, so we opened the plastic flap and entered the conference. We were under a little tarp surrounded by plastic walls so no one outside could look in. There were about thirty people sitting on the ground, Tim and I found a place up the front. Sitting directly in front of us, on a little chair, was a big fat man with a moustache wearing nothing but a pink ballerinas tu-tu. He was not wearing any underpants, so his massive balls and penis were hanging down between his legs. We were on the floor and he was on a chair, so his balls were in practically in our face. The conference had already started and people would put up their hands to ask questions. Questions like “I can already get two fingers up my anus, but I’d like to get a third finger up there, how do I go about doing that”. To which the man replied something like “Lube is really good, take it very slow, there is no rush, if you keep practicing you’ll fit in those extra fingers”. This went on for another five or six minutes. Then the large teticled man up front decided to show us a couple of different anal dildo. The first one was very thin and almost a foot long! It winded and twisted like a snake. Sent a shiver down my spine it did. The second dildo he pulled out was a bit of a chode (dick that is fatter than it is long), this bullet tipped cylinder was about twice the diameter of a can of backed beans and about just as long. I shivered again. Old Big Balls then got up, his balls dangling down, and walked into his caravan which was behind his chair.
A moment later he came out of his caravan and was seductively rubbing lubricant over a metal base-ball bat. “This here”, he said with a big smile, “is my personal favourite”. “Nooo way”, I silently gasped. He put the handle of the baseball bat on the ground so the big end was pointing to the sky. Then he sat on the top of it, and slowly brought himself down on the baseball bat. Further and further down he sat, until he was squatting on the ground. He stood up, turned around, and sticking out of his ars was the tip of the baseball bat. This big balled ballerina had engulfed the whole thing up his ars! Holy Fuck! He then walked back into his caravan and said “I’ll need a minute to remove this”. Tim and I had decided we’d seen enough, and didn’t want to hear the sounds of the bat coming out, so we up’d and left. It was worth going to Burning Man just to see that. Far out.
By evening Tim and I decided we needed to escape the dubstep and full on nature of the Burning Man Festival. So we stole some bikes and rode out into the desert amongst the art. We found fire that burned different colours and burned in pictures that we could draw in bowls of gravel. There was also a giant garden made of steel, and a brightly coloured number of skyscrapers. But the sound of dubstep, countless neon lights and glowing pedestrians were still everywhere we’d looked. We’d been called ‘Dark-tards’ (for not wearing any glow sticks) one too many times. So we kept riding out into the desert. We rode away from the art structures and just out into the blackness. In the darkness we came across a large black shape easily to miss in the blackness. We stopped to investigate. It was some sort of camp. But why would there be a camp way out here in the desert? In the darkness? It turend out to be just a car and a tent. It must be remembered, that like every anecdote told during this Burning Man Festival, neither Tim nor I were sober. We figured that this must be another ‘tripper trap’. Someone had obviously put a pretend camp out in the darkness to mess with the heads of the likes of Tim and I. We wandered around the small camp, admiring the detail the artists who created it had gone to. I peered into the car, and a face peered back at me! AHHHH. God that was freaky. It wasn’t a model either, this face was real, and it was just as scared to see me as I was to see it. “Sorry”, we yelled as we got on our bikes and rode hurriedly away, “thought this was a peace of art”. And then laughed and laughed as we sped out into the desert and crashed headfirst over the handlebars.
We’d rode so far from the festival that there was no longer any light. So when we didn’t see the fence that was right in front of us we obviously crashed into it and went head first over the handle bars. We were both all right. This was the festival boundry but we decided “to hell with the fence”, chucked our stolen (or borrowed) bikes over the fence and decided to keep going out into the desert. It was such an amazing feeling, to escape all the hullabaloo and just fly out into the pitch black desert. So free. After a long time of riding we looked back to The Burning Man festival. It looked like a wild carnival. There was fire breathing out from one corner. It was that glowing city which had been growing since day one. Towering above the festival was a string of lit up helium balloons that came up from the ground, and then landed in another part of the ground. This string was continuously moving. We later found that the string had been attached to a bicycle at either end. The lit up helium balloons took the wire into the sky but the bikes kept either end grounded. As the bikes moved around the festival the wire moved also, it was very cool, brilliantly executed, and one of my favourite artworks (or whatever these trippy things were) of the festival. There was also a remote control UFO buzzing about the scene, it was going very fast as it travelled up and down and around. Then there were the lasers. There were about six green lasers coming from the festival that stretched out over our heads and into the horizon. These lasers were so strong that they actually reached the horizon. When we looked up at them, we could see how the laser from the festival to the horizon was supposed to be straight, but it bent, it bent with the curve of the earth. This was SOOOOOOO COOL. I’d never seen anything like it. And to make it all even cooler, all these things, the lasers, the remote control UFO, the balloon wires (and the art cars, super-fast jet planes that had been zooming around the festival, flame thrower spheres and epic sound systems) had all been developed privately. They were toys or artworks that people had just created for there own joy, and most of it was created solely for the festival. The work that so many of the 50 000 freaks and geeks and engineers and creative minds had gone to in order to bring this festival to life was amazing. The most dedicated ‘burners’ would often dedicate a large part of every year to creating something that will stand out and add awesomeness to the Burning Man Festival. And most of them were doing it with their own money. The entry price for the festival was $300, and I am not sure where that money went. They would obviously have to hire the land, and get government approval every year, and also grants are given for some of the art, but no artists are paid, nor are an DJ’s, so I don’t really know where the money goes, because the festival is mostly just people creating their own things, that’s what I found so cool about it.
From the desert we observed the festival. It was all a bit too full on for Tim and I. So many of the people at the festival had names like ‘Dolphin, Peace, Galaxy, Monkey or.. gayest of all… Sensi’. These names were not given to them because they had hippy parents, but they all gave them to themselves for the week of Burning Man, these were ‘Playa Names’. Again there was nothing wrong with doing this, but I found it really lame and was struggling to cope with being surrounded by it every day for the past four days. As far as I’m concnered changing your name to express yourself, just like everyone else in the festival is doing, makes you less yourself than you would be if you just kept your normal name. Sorry everyone who gives themselves these names, I just can’t help being a prick. What I struggled to come to terms with most was drug dealers labelling themselves as ‘Shamans’, which they weren’t. You can’t just grow hallucinogenic drugs, believe in some spiritual healing and become a shaman. I found it pretty offensive and don’t know why. Just because I put on a Snoop Dogg shirt and wished I was black when I was 15 did not make me a gangster, and I sort of offended myself with that.
This is why we needed to escape the festival for a moment, we were too judgemental for the whole thing.
Both of us had just spent our lives doing cool shit in South America. I had just spent two months in a fishing/party village on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia living next door to a family who had almost nothing but love. Tim had been out in the wilderness playing his clarinet, then working on a farm, then creating fusion music and performing it on the streets of Bolivia.
Eventually, we got sick of people at the festival asking us “well isn’t this just the best thing you’ve ever seen”, and instead of replying “yeh it’s pretty cool”, we started saying “well it’s cool, but if definitely isn’t the best thing in the world”, to which they’d look hurt and we’d say again “look it is really good, but just a bit too American for us”. To which they’d reply “well sir, I can tell you, this is not American at all, this is the way our Country should be, but isn’t”, which wasn’t true at all. On a basic level, this festival had the American Culture oozing out of every pour. For example, one of the main concepts of the festival was that it was ok to be yourself here, no one would judge you (except pricks like myself and Tim who really didn’t get the whole thing). Now that is a good concept, be yourself. I’m no expert, but a big part of the American Culture seems to be consumerism, and trends and fashion to match those trends. So everyone came here and embraced the fact that they could be themselves. And to be themselves, so many people either got naked, put on a tu-tu, wore Mad Max style utility belts or dressed in animal suits. Now, it seemed to me, like none of this was actually being yourself, like who really craves to go around dressed as a chicken, very few people. But so many people were still dressing in their outrageous gear. And I don’t believe it was expressing who they were at all, it was just another fad to buy into. Now there is nothing wrong with this at all, but it just wore me down after the 100th person had told me how this is the way the world should be, and that we were all so free here. It seemed to me, that Tim and I were actually some of the freest spirits there ( I could be soooo wrong, analysing ones self is very confronting and difficult). We’d both just spent X months doing exactly what we wanted. We were dressed in clothes we wore all the time because we liked them and because they were functional, not because we thought they said something about us. We had been a long time without all the material and social relationships we’d left at home, and might have become more in touch with ourselves because of it. But then again we might not have, I don’t know. We were just a couple of blokes trying to figure out ourselves, the world, and how it all comes together, and so was everyone else here.
I’ve never taken a drug before in my life, but I have friends who do. And I’ve seen them take acid, and spend the next 8 hours looking at a tree, watching the leaves twirl and contemplate life, the universe and everything. Good for them, a nice way to spend a Saturday. But here at Burning Man, acid seemed so much more, it was a spiritual journey and the experience needed to be written into books and shared and all that. All very new age hippy stuff. I am being a real judgemental prick, which is shame, but I can’t help it, the whole thing got to me a bit. Burning Man scored 10/10 concept, but there was just soooo much bullshit to sort through.
On the other hand, it was admirable. Almost everyone we met at Burning Man was using it as a chance to try and grow as people, better themselves, their lives, and the lives of those they came in contact with. How can I criticise such and admirable quality. It made the people there so happy, so it is a beautiful thing.
As we contemplated all this out in the desert, soaking in the fresh nothingness, a spotlight shon on us. Then a truck came driving through the desert straight towards us. It seemed as though it was going to run straight into us, but it stopped very close. It was a security truck, he demanded to see our tickets. We told him they were back in our camp. He considered our story and tried to work out wether or not we had rode our pushbikes through the desert to try and sneak into the festival. It was probably obvious by the state of us, and how we’d come on bikes, that we hadn’t rode to the festival and he escorted us back to the fence and told us not to come out again.
We went back to the camp. The poor people in our camp, those looking after us probably figured we (mostly Tim) were no longer the best guests in the world.
Friday 3rd September, 2010, Day 579
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
I don’t really know what was going on anymore. I remember Tim and I were on this bus driving through the desert. A huge dust storm hit and the bus stopped so as not to run anyone over.
We walked out into the desert and could not see even a few feet in front of us. It was a rave in a sand storm. The dubstep from the bus was pumping and we were dancing in the storm, surrounded by a cloud of sand, not seeing anything but the faintest silhouettes of those a few meters in front of us. It was really cool. We met this girl and she gave us some lollies. I’d never had any lollies like this before, I don’t think they were normal lollies. Next thing I know we were atop a roof of a building overlooking the entire festival. We were then back at camp, the girl we were with was passed out on a chair. Tim and I were on the bouncing art car which wasn’t going. Tim had his clarinet and was jamming to the dubstep. I was dancing with him on the Art Car, bouncing it in rhythm of the clarinet dubstep jam. Musicwise, this was what we felt Burning Man was missing. Again, in an effort to be themselves, everyone was playing nothing but dubstep, and a lot of it bad. Rarely was any of it as good as the stuff I’d heard in London. But it wasn’t the quality that was the issue, it was the saturation. Dubstep had recently exploded in the USA and it was all anyone wanted to play. I love dubstep as much as the next raver, but during a seven day party surely a bit of variety is good. Especially seeing as there were hundreds of cars and stages. Sometimes there was other electronic music, but only once did we find a band. There is a lot more to psychedelic music than simply electro. I would have killed for some Led Zeppelin, or Pink Floyde or even just a bloke with a guitar and a nice voice doing acoustics. What Tim did with his clarinet added so much fun. Getting creative, that’s what it’s about. Damn those lollies were good.
In the evening we went to a camp and listened to music where the subwoofers were so big that when the music started the world literally shook. When we crouched down to the ground our eyes shook uncontrollably, it was unreal. Shame about the music though.
Satuday 4th September, 2010, Day 580
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
Today was the day of the Burning. When I first heard about Burning Man I pictured a giant wicker man, who would be set alight and everyone would celebrate as he was burned to the ground in a giant bonfire. When I first saw the man I was shocked, he looked nothing at all like I had imagined and was lit up by glow sticks. It was a few days before I realised, they were not going to burn the man down, that wasn’t the vibe of the festival… they were going to blow the son of a bitch up! In the evening all the art cars surrounded the man at a safe distance. The party was huge now, there were loads and loads of people who had come in just for the weekend to see what the festival was about and admire the art. Tim and I were mashed. It was loose, not as loose as parties I’ve seen in Ausrtalia though. Usually, in Australia, at parties like these, everyone is on so many drugs there faces are melting off, but here, for the most part people still had partial functioning of their brains. As expected, the man blew up in spectacular fashion and the party erupted. We had found a good place to party, on these front booths of an art car playing hard dubstep. It was wild. And there was so much fire. He was very creatively destroyed.
It was the last night of Burning Man but Tim and I were pretty much over it. We went to admire some more art, someone freaked out when Tim asked them for a sip of water from their water bottle, and we were just like “fuck this”, and probably went to bed.
Sunday 5th September, 2010, Day 581
Burning Man, Nevada Dessert, USA
The last day of Burning Man, we spent the day packing up. A lot of people had already packed up and left, but we were staying to watch the temple burn. The temple burn was a much more tranquil event. It was the bonfire that I at first expected the man to be. Except it was all a bit too chilled ou/gay. Seeing as all those symbols of things to let go of were being burned and people were moving on, everyone was quiet. But this culture had developed amongst the festival goers where everyone should be deadly silent during the burn. So it wasn’t a natural quietness, it was a lame (in my eyes, not in everyone elses eyes) quietness. It could have been cosy, but it wasn’t, it was too silent, a bit more wank and bullshit. But heaps of people were loving it. The pyros who orchestrated the way in which the temple would burn done a fantastic job, it looked incredibly cool as it burned, and there were green fires in there somewhere I think.
This would be as fitting a time as any to reflect on my Burning Man ‘expereince’. ‘Experience’ being the world used by everyone at Burning Man to describe the time they had. The best way for me to describe it would be a collection of people out in the dessert throwing a rave party with heaps of cool art. I liked that part of it. But on a whole I found the party to be pretty soulless. I am sure if I lived in California I would go to the party every year, with a group of my own friends, and then it would be a bit more meaningful, but I don’t, and I am not sure I’ll ever go back. The whole thing was a bit too American for me, and a bit too New Age Hippy. It was missing the realness and rawness that I was expecting. I shouldn’t have, but I constantly was, and constantly do, compare it with Glastonburry. Glastonbury, England’s mega festival, a wild archaic celebration of life, full of good vibes and organised with utter brilliance was my utopia, and it was nothing like Burning Man, and as far as I’m concerned, it is the best party ever. I suppose the difference is, Glastonbury was started up after a farmer went to and outdoor Led Zeppelin concert and wanted to throw a similar style party at his farm every year. Burning Man started as a man went to the beach with his friends and threw a party where they burned a wooden effigy of his ex girlfriend (wanky way to get over a break up if you ask me). Completely different starts, completely different festivals. So I guess in the end Burning Man just wasn’t for me. Because I could see in so many of the regular ‘Burners’ that this festival was utopia to them, it was there Glastonbury, it was everything they thought life should be about and showed them that life does not just have to be what they’ve gown up thinking it should be. It was a doorway to a different style of life for a lot of people there, and they loved it with all their heart, so much that many of them really dedicate a large portion of their lives to the festival. It’s not for me, but still, behind all the bullshit, it’s a very beautiful event.
AND, I had just been travelling of almost two years. I imagine if I had a more orthodox upbringing, had finished school, went to uni, then got a job, and thought that was what life was about, and then went to the festival, I would have found it a lot more eye opening. One guy who was there was in the army for Christ sake, it must have been such an amazing experience for him.
AND there is so much awesome stuff going on there. I haven’t even mentioned the spiritual Zen-like aspect of the festival or interpretive dance or support groups or ‘listening tent’ or ‘orgy tent’. A lot of people are helping each other and it’s so nice to witness.
AND the festival has so much cool shit to see. Every day I was in awe at the stuff people had created, this crazy little world of neon and dubstep that had evolved out in the desert.
Of all the things I could have seen in the USA, Burning Man was perfect. It was a perfect way to finish my holiday, and really put my time in London then South America in perspective. I have hardly mentioned here how it made me really consider the differences and similarities of South and North America. I’ve gone on enough tangents already so I’ll just say that Burning Man tied the holiday up nicely.
If you ever go to the USA I highly recommend checking out Burning Man for the visual sensation if nothing else. Like 50 000 other people, you might find your utopia. Just keep and open mind I suppose, and if you get caught up in all that New Age Hippy stuff, then good for you, you’ll LOVE IT.