After literally months and months of planning, and preparation my girlfriend and I did our first "burn" last week. We were there from Monday evening, until Sunday morning. My daughter and her boyfriend joined us on Wednesday. That made the trip even more special!
It is 48 hours since we got back and I'm still trying to put words around the experience. Not an easy task. BM is similar in some ways to a number of activities I have been involved with, but each similarity to those other activities shares but a limited dimension to the Burning Man experience, so none really add up to what you will experience when you are there.
For example, on our first night there Monday (day 1), as I lay in bed I considered the similarities to a very busy truck stop with a 24 hour a day festival next door. The newbie gong, what each first timer rings when they are admitted through the gate was a near constant gonging for 24 hours when it slowed down some. Big vehicles arriving in long lines for easily 24 hours. Music pounding from all directions. But 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM on Tuesday morning was a great time to arrive . . . actually no wait.
The whole Black Rock City area is something in the range of 5 square miles. The city is built on a circular basis with residential, theme camps, and most of the structures on 11 streets in rings from A to K, then bisecting streets noted by where they would be on a clock face at each half hour. So, we were at 6:15 J(akarta) street. The residential area went from about 2:30 forward through 10:30. Central camp was the inner most circle at 6:00 where a gigantic tent of maybe 8000 sq ft was placed. It had a main stage, a coffee shop and lots of space to sit and talk and interact. The Esplanade / Ring Road are the main area for a lot of the bigger tents of activity Out from the Espanade begins the Playa area. The Man was in the center of this smaller circle with a radius of about 1/2 mile to the Esplande areas. In this vastness were maybe 50 art installations, and the Temple at the 12 o'clock position. This area was full of Mutant Vehicles, Art Cars, folks on bikes, other contrivances and a few folks walking. Most vehicles had major sound systems playing loudly at all hours of the day and night.
There is tremendous exuberant life happening the closer to the center you go. It is a gifting economy, not barter, not cash. "Hey, stop on by, we're got some home brew!" as we rode down Istanbul or Detroit. In the morning, "Come on by, we're got coffee." or Ccme of to 2:30 F, we've got pancakes!" But remember to bring your own plate and fork! There was one camp, I got to figure funded by a really rich person who for 24/7 gave soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt to all comers. Seven days!!! We came by twice. Imagine, a group sitting around, "hmmm, what would Burners REALLY like to have? . . . Ice Cream!!!!! And so it was at D and 4:30.
Booze is most everywhere. As are drug free theme camps of the 12 step variety and others were also there. Many events were about connection, spiritual or educational themes. Many other camps were for fun, dancing and raving. Martial arts, yoga, chanting, drumming, local geology, face and body painting, bike fix it shop, general fix it folks who made house calls. The camp making crepes each morning always had a line. Bacon without Borders offered a variety of bacon treats throughout the week.
Getting on our bikes each time and riding around was amazing. People, colors, costumes, fancy dressed up bikes, mutant vehicles, art cars, and music. The heat, the dust, the community, the vastness of the desert, the night sky after moon set . . . the playa with the art and the festival atmosphere. Vehicles going every which way, brightly lit, music loud, small to gigantic, people overflowing off of them. The DMV was there for the cars and such. The health department was there to make sure all the food, water, booze, etc was provided in a safe manner. All manner of law enforcement were there. But mostly there were the 50,000 Burners!
Naked bodies, yes, they were there too. I suppose if I was European, where prudishness is not a major factor, the semi naked bodies would have seemed more normal. But, I am here in the US of A, and its not like that. A fair number of women were topless as were many men. A smaller number of people were totally or virtually naked . . . mostly fellows, no surprise there I suppose. I'd say maybe 5% of the women were topless, I saw only four women totally naked. But the guys were more prone to strutting their stuff as it were. The nudity is really a very small percentage of the types of "costumes" seen there . . . but I've never been at a place with this number of semi naked bodies around before.
A few guys sporting a pegged and packed penis were interesting. They had a class ( hands on, as it were) on pegging and packing. There was a class on female ejaculation (only those born anatomically female allowed). There were two groups putting on events related to cunnilingus and fellatio (only with your partner). One was also looking for judges to assess technique. Single guys not welcome.
Sorry to say we didn't make any of those.
Not a lot of little kids there, but there was a theme camp called "kids land" or something. The mean age, maybe 35-ish. Mostly a younger crowd then I am, but there were lots of aging hippies, cowboys, rednecks, and yuppies there. Digs went from a backpack only to full sized motor homes with trailers attached and large numbers of shade structures and large tents. Tents does not convey the scope and variation of these structures.
My better half and visited the Temple of Flux on five occasions. It is a complement to the Man. It is a spiritual structure made of wood and looking something like a set of waves in the vast ocean of life. The place filled up with written prayers and blessings. Most of the writings were prayers for relief, release, loss, hurt, anger, and confusion . . . one young man in all black with a mohawk cut, and a sadness was writing a note to his Mom, something like: "I miss you so much mom I'm sorry I didn't hear all your words of advice and love . . . but I do now." So many people bringing their sorrows and losses to the Temple. People crying, hugging, chanting, drawing, sleeping, watching each other and touching on the many delicate parts of their psyche searching for healing. Many receiving this, I saw from their changed faces after they completed their private rituals.
This space was deeply touching for us. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. The Temple offered a space and time for spirituality, connection on even deeper levels, and a public expression of the depths of the human soul on this journey we share.
One day at the Temple, we witnessed a joyous wedding ceremony. How beautiful that was to behold and participate vicariously in. There were two what could be called enclosed spaces, open to the sky, at the Temple. In the larger of these two, the wedding took place. Literally right at the limit of the wedding circle was a couple, young, dusty, in a deep slumber, not even responding to the events around them. Quite a contrast.
Burning Man will challenge your relationship to: dust, your idea of sexuality, community, diversity, futile attempts to keep entropy at bay (what I called sweeping our front yard of tarps) and many others limits to your comfort zone.
At heart BM is a grand intention community, organized to be self organized with a large business end. Consider that tickets range in price from 250 to 360, call it 300 dollars times 45 or 50 thousand tickets sold. This is no small venture. And yet, the thousands of individuals all share in certain values and show up, coming "home" as it is called, to do and be in ways that are not as available in the regular world.
It is a party! It is a spiritual experience. It is an educational opportunity. It is a land of gift giving for seven days. It is a city that lives and dies in that week each year for 20 years now.