To Burn or not to Burn? Burning Man Festival

To Burn or not to Burn? Burning Man Festival

Burning Man is epic. Full stop. I’m finishing this long overdue post from Sydney, Australia on New Year’s Eve so festivals and fun seems much more topical than the cold I left behind in London.

In keeping with the running theme of my USA travel blog posts, this post is technically about my travel in Nevada – The Silver State. Of course Las Vegas warrants a separate post in its own right. One for another time…. Much of Nevada is desert – and what better thing to do in an endless desert than gather with almost 70,000 people for a huge festival? Burning Man started in 1986 with a revelry of just 20. I can’t vouch for how much it has changed in that time, but what it has surely retained is it’s friendliness. There are no knob heads or lairy lager louts; there’s no slutty dressing or throwing up; there’s no arguments or brawls or police. Burning Man is welcoming, unique, inspiring, exhausting, and unquestionably fun!

 

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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:

ROBOT HEART | without a doubt this mega stage is the place to finish at – every night ends at Robot Heart, and as the sun rises everyone walks towards it in varying degrees of (in)sanity. Don’t think it’s just the messy dregs clinging on to the last ounce of party though – the music at Robot Heart is amazing. Make sure you remember where you left your bike! You will struggle to enjoy Burning Man without one.

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Robot Heart welcomes sun rise with a full crowd ever morning
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Just keep an eye on your bike somehow…
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That neon sign will become a familiar icon!

COMMUNITY | I was pretty cynical about ‘Burners’ (the nicknamed proudly coined for long-term Burning Man attendees) and pictured a bunch of washed up old spiritual hippies who hadn’t had a shower in weeks festering in the Nevada desert. However I was blown away by the phenomenal sense of community and by just how much everyone CARED about the Burning Man festival, from start to finish.

The actual ‘barter’ of goods seemed to be a rumour: instead everyone took it in turns to dish out freebies or host a night. Our own camp contributions included a Sangria night, then Nachos and Margaritas. Others were far more creative, with everything from massages, yoga lessons and kissing booths, to butlers serving English tea and face-painting on offer.

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Camp Stardust was very welcoming and rustled up a great game of shot roulette
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The rules – simple hey?
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Sometimes these things get a little too involved….

DAY TIME | Burning Man is a long festival – we drove in on Tuesday August 27 and left after 5 full on nights on Sunday September 1. Come the weekend I was flagging slightly, so toned down my evenings to enjoy all the sights of the day. Try and jump on one of the many touring art trucks to see further afield than your own camp crossroads.

On Saturday (after a night off) I was up early to do the camp’s ice run (the only thing you can buy with cash at Burning Man), followed by loads of cycling to see the awesome sculptures. We went to the legendary Temple, full of positive messages to people who have passed away, which was so moving to the point I felt the need to leave. A dust storm kept blowing up so always keep your goggles and a bandana to hand.

Also check out: Distrikt – a huge day club where everyone is up and partying on the stage. Great crowd.

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There’s plenty going on at any hour in the day

3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:

FANCY DRESS | Burning Man is a full on artsy festival and pretty much everyone gets involved in the dress up, even if with some token Mad Max desert warrior gesture. Or gets naked (mainly average looking men with tiny willies). Themes seemed to evolve each day so we had tutus on Tuesday and got decked out as fairies; Wednesday was the Bang Bang Animal Party; by Thursday we were Indians. (Note: feathers are apparently frowned upon, or anything that will litter the desert).

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I discovered I had a real talent for face painting!
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At Burning Man you have to improvise – although being in an RV feels pretty luxurious
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Night of the fairies
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However naff (or brilliant) you might think glow sticks are, you will RELY on them here!

SCULPTURES | there is just SO much to take in! I can’t remember the detail and it doesn’t even really matter: we loved the moving Palm Trees stage where everyone is up and dancing; our friend’s amazing camp set up at Stardust; a huge fire breathing Octopus art truck with tentacles; the Prince Philip Tiki bar; and of course all the mega sculptures at the heart of the festival. In 2013, the Burning Man itself was an alien on a spaceship, which we watched erupt in an immense fire-ball on Saturday night, with massive fireworks beforehand.

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One of the most photographed sculptures was 55 ft tall ‘Truth is Beauty’
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These musical monkeys brought a bit of primate fun to Burning Man
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If you head out anywhere, be Dust-Ready!
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2013’s alien spaceship burnt like a fire ball
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On Saturday night everyone turns out to watch the Burning Man

THE ESSENTIALS | first and foremost: your soon to be very dearly loved bike. Pimp it to your heart’s desire – and this will help massively when it comes to actually locating it amongst the thousands of Walmart-bought beasts! You will definitely need some sandstorm proof essentials including good flat boots, ski mask or big goggles, and a jumper for at night. Also remember a bucket and bottle for vinegar washes (this helps stop this dust stinging your skin); tonnes of high factor sun cream; and water sprayers are bliss (although at Burning Man 2013 the heat really wasn’t that extreme).

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Vinegar washes are recommended to stop dust in cracked skin :/
Burning Man
You’ll need an RV and a bike and a big wodge of cash to spend in Walmart
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Don’t forget your ticket!

3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:

RENO | we picked up our RV for 6 people from Los Angeles and drove it via gambling haven Reno on to Black Rock City – the home of Burning Man. It’s tricky to get RV’s from convenient locations unless you book way in advance I assume. On Sunday we left and stayed the night in Reno itself: a shower and a night in a hotel was so, so needed! Many people choose to stay on much longer and there are all sorts of mega pool parties: personally – whilst it would have been less hectic to stay a little while purely to enjoy the hotel – I needed some Burning Man respite by this point!

ARRIVING IN THE DARK | as with any festival, queuing in (and out) goes without saying. You will have to factor in some big drive times for Burning Man, so try not to arrive in the dark! It is SO hard to find your camp (despite a very organised clock face plus alphabetical grid system), when there are other-worldly neon structures everywhere and people tearing around on bikes.

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An aerial view of the Burning Man 2013 arts and music festival. Source: Jim Urquhart/Reuters
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The beautiful Nevada desert: we left in the daylight and it proved much easier!

COMMERCIAL DJS | I loved Burning Man because it was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before. Yet despite a reputation for being an alternative festival more about art than music, there definitely are official music set lists and amazing DJs (most however far too cutting edge for me to have heard of). On Thursday they even had mega name and DJ stalwart Paul Oakenfold playing, but I wasn’t a fan: absorb the sights and sounds you would struggle to witness anywhere else, not the guys who play at the Pacha opening nights in Ibiza.

1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:

THUNDERDOME | by Friday night I was so knackered I didn’t go out and just chilled around our camp instead, but I was GUTTED to miss our crew’s visit to The Thunderdome! From what I can gather: the ‘Gladiators’ TV show crossed with Mad Max chaos.

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The crowd heckling from the edges of The Thunderdome

AND KNOW THIS:Nevada is the only U.S. state to legalise prostitution, but only in the form of regulated brothels in counties with populations under 400,000. So that means all the prostitution that does occur in bigger cities like Reno and Las Vegas is illegal… and thriving.

 

And then it was over! Burning Man was my finale, my big USA road trip last hoorah. From Reno we drove rather more solemnly back to LA having spent hours cleaning the dirty monster. I checked in to the Backpackers Paradise hostel for 1 night to enjoy their pool before flying home to London.

5 months, 30 States and God knows how many miles. But I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!

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Time to chill at the pool in Las Angeles – good to be clean again!

 

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