Head East of Reno by two hours and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the dessert, literally. Lets call this place the Black Rock Dessert.
One road runs through this point before carrying on across state for another 400 miles till it reaches the Nevada border.
Baron dessert spans endlessly here, with distant mountain ranges peering down from afar. A vast sky hangs high in the air like a huge blue canopy while a slow-passing sun scorches all that rests below. There is nowhere to hide. The only frequent visitor is a wind that creates a huge dust-storm across the Playa. In it’s build-up, mini dust-tornados chase each other around like kids at play, before zero-visibility sets in.
This place is desolate, dry and uninhabitable. That is, until something special happens once a year attracting 50,000 strangers from around the globe to converge in the middle of this desert. This is called Burning Man Festival.
It’s 2009 and I’ve decided to see what it’s all about.
If you’ve ever wondered where the world’s most bizarre, unique or eccentric people hang out, here is your answer.
In the physical sense, Burning Man is huge tent-city formed which forms in a circular formation over night. In the middle of this circle stands the Burning Man, a massive wooden art piece standing 60 metres in the air. This is why we are all here. On the seventh night this man will be set-alight for all to witness and enjoy. But whilst physicality is one thing, spirituality is another, and this is why this event is what it is.
Burning Man Festival embraces the free-spirit of life through self expression and art. For seven days at the beginning of September, people come here to be free from all of life’s normal constraints.
No power is used, no electricity, no white goods, no nothing.
There is no money used at the festival, instead you live in a temporary society that is founded on a huge sense of community and free-trade. A wishing-well that I walked past early on in the week exemplifies this the best. In it were smooth stones which people were encouraged to write their wishes on. Once dropped in the well, people would come and pick up your stone before being encouraged to go grant the wish. The first one I picked up read “I wish to talk to someone for an hour about nothing”. On the back of this stone were directions to the persons tent. Unfortunately I never found the tent, but no doubt someone else granted that wish.
I had always had plans on just turning up Burning Man by myself, however after meeting a great group of people in San Diego a few months prior, I was lucky enough to be invited as part of their camp; Camp Pep.
“You have no idea what you’re about to experience, man” Mek Mek would tell me “I love it when a virgin come with us!”
Mek Mek is of course not this guys real name, but I soon find out that all of Camp Pep have Burning Man names which are used through-out the seven days. It’s tradition.
“Are there any virgins in the car?!”
We had been slowly crawling in a traffic jam for 2 hours on approach to the entry point to Burning Man. Everyone was arriving at once. Getting closer to the actual gate, strangely dressed people could be seen darting around cars looking for tickets and also to double check that each person had enough water, food and shelter to last seven days. Camp Pep had all these bases covered.
Finally at the front of the queue, a naked middle-aged man thrust his head through the window as we made it to the front of the line and again asked;
“Welcome my brothers, are there any virgins in the car?!”
The answer was yes, and out of the car I was dragged, MekMek, Phlip and Bobby Gallo all laughing at my expense.
Before I could yell Help, the sweaty naked man had grabbed me and was hugging me tightly
“Welcome my Brother!”
This initiation was awkward yet friendly.
“Now get down on the earth my brother and roll around!”
The earth was of course dessert dust and unlike this naked man, I had clothes on, clean ones at that, but I had decided along time ago that for the next seven days I was going to embrace the spirit of anything that came my way. I dived to the ground like an excited dog wallowing in mud.
Once accustomed to dust settling in my nose, I then had to roll around for a while before again being dragged to my feet and bear-hugged by the same friendly man (who was of course still naked).
I was no longer a virgin. The hammer that was placed in the my hand confirmed this and all I had to do now was strike the old bell which sat just beyond the entry point, separating me from the world of Burning Man.
The boys started cheering as I swung whole-heartedly, creating a chime that traveled across the dessert.
We had arrived.
To be continued….
On Saturday night we witnessed 'The Burn'. Awesome!