As a fairly active festival goer, I always thought of Burning Man as something that I needed to check off my bucket list. What I came to realize is that I am not the only one with that initial outlook, and it’s much more than your average gathering.
I tried to avoid learning too much about it beforehand and did as little research as possible. I had obviously heard stories, but I wanted to walk in as a “virgin” to have a fresh experience. What I did know was that there are very few rules, and everyone lives by a set of principles based around self-reliance, inclusion and participation. Needless to say, I was excited and a little scared. I was committing to be in the desert for 12 days to work hard and play hard.
I was there for early arrival to help build our 5-story camp made of scaffolding and shade structures, and the festival hadn’t even started. Five days in, I found myself working hard each day; the playa was starting to fill in and things started to heat up.
It was about 90-degrees during the day with heavy winds blowing dust so hard sometimes that you couldn’t see ten feet in front of you. We were forced to take cover until the “whiteout” subsided.
Sunday night, the gates opened and our friends starting showing up one by one at our camp to prepare for the week-long unexplainable festivities.
Exploring the different camps is like nothing else I have ever seen. It’s a journey with no end. Bring your own cup and fork to enjoy what each camp is offering to drink and snack on. Everything from bacon and bloody mary’s, to grilled cheese and martinis.
There are theme camps that offer orgy tents, swinger meet-and-greets and strap-on demos. On Wednesday, stop by Camp Playfully Yours for “An Introduction to BDSM Play” and a look at the softer more sensual side of dungeon play with demonstrations.
“Learn about Manscaping” and how to neaten up those private areas for display on the annual Naked Bike Ride or Pub Crawl.
Come by Camp Champagne Lounge for “Motorboat Monday” to give or get a motorboat.
Learn “How to Give a Great Spanking by Little Jack” at Camp School of Consensual Kink covering consent, negotiation, techniques, aftercare and more, plus a demo.
Come discover “Harem Management for Women” and how to navigate among lovers and transparency without losing your center or your good reputation.
Ride on over to the “Swinger Meet-n-Greet” and Camp PolyParadise open to all people interested in consensual non-monogamy.
“Cuddle-puddle” camps are plentiful and offer a nice shady retreat during the day to curl up with strangers and take a nap.
Go to “Bro-Fest” to do all the bro things — shotski, wine bag slapping, drinking games and jungle juice with toga theme. Dancetronauts welcome.
Stop by “Fruit & Balls Sexhibition Party” for exactly what it sounds like; eat their fruit and show them your balls.
It’s not all about sex, though. Other camps offer thai massages, hair washing, hula hooping workshops, B-boy break dancing instructions, naked yoga, margaritas musical chairs, TWERKshops, coffee tastings, beardspas, sparkle pony skate jousts, shirt cockers anonymous, and of course fire spinning, belly dancing and drum circles. There is no way to hit everything in one week.
Our camp performed “Playa Wedding” ceremonies with ordained ministers to join couples or strangers in holy matrimony. Newlyweds were allowed five minutes to “consummate” their vowels in our “yoni tent,” but ONLY five minutes.
We also offered Playa Divorces on Friday for the couples whose fire turned to ash.
The nights are unbelievable when Black Rock City really comes alive. The real characters emerge and the lights turn on to show a whole new city.
After a while, there are no words to describe what you see. Chaos, mayhem, freedom, limitless, and anarchy become the new normal, and you start to experience things on a different level. There is no small talk with strangers, and when you meet people you can learn who they are pretty quickly.
The art exists on a scale that you have to see to believe. Almost every sculpture is there for you to climb and interact with. The mutant vehicles glide through the open desert playa shooting fire and roaring house music with a DJ mounted to the top.
The sunsets and sunrises are one of the reasons I will return to Burning Man. I was fortunate enough to see the last five sunrises in a row. Just before sunrise the art cars that are still cruising around end up at the end of the trash fence for their sunrise DJ sets. The Burners emerge from the darkness on foot and by bike to stretch their frosty limbs and groove to some morning jams.
I would then stumble back to our camp as the sun started to warm up the playa and find my campmates making bacon and eggs. I would eat a couple tacos and then sleep until 3 p.m.
One of the most memorable moments was getting a free ride in a Cessna over the festival. I heard pilots were gifting flights at the airport, and I had to see for myself.
You explore and party when you want to, and you sleep when you need to.
There’s a reason this takes place in the desert. There is no water, bugs or plants. Very little can survive in the harsh environment. Life is hard out there weathering the extreme elements, but it’s difficult to not be very content. Smiling is contagious, and love is in the air.
Yes, the playa is full of “freaks” and “weirdos.” These are the people who wear leather harnesses and platform boots and paint their bodies and give free hugs. The majority of these people live for this shit. They talk about Burning Man all year and plan for their next “burn” eight months out. They use words like “manifest” and talk about “the universe.” But I’ve never seen a group of people with so much energy, so open, engaged and high on life.
Yes, there are Silicon Valley CEOs, celebrities, models and people who just go to say they were there and take Instagram photos. There are always going to be people who don’t do things for the right reasons. And really, who cares? It doesn’t matter out there. The great thing about Burning Man is that you can be exactly who you want to be and do whatever what you want to do.
There is a huge commitment necessary to work hard to build something great, and it’s exhausting. But if you follow the principles, keep an open mind and work really hard, it can be one of the most memorable experiences you’ll have.
Everyone does Burning Man his or her own way, but I dominated my first burn.
I will be back again. .