Burning the Man – Nevada, USA

Burning the Man
Black Rock City, Nevada, USA

Holidays, by my definition, were to be enjoyed within my comfort zone and to be achieved with the least effort input. This, and the fact that I had a whole set of expectations, would be the reasons why I feel cheated – like I only had one and a half weeks ‘real’ holiday instead of three entire weeks. It took me that long to shift my mind set to start enjoying where I was.

It was a long, 22 hour journey to the western side of the USA – the well renowned city of the liberals: San Francisco. I arrived feeling disoriented and a little lost – not having researched and thought about what I wanted to get out of SF. I left this to my partner. We were there four days before venturing out to a place where no living creature would survive: Black Rock City – a dried lake bed with desert conditions. It was the chosen place of an annual event called Burning Man and to the best of my knowledge – it is defined as a festival of sorts. But it was much more.

I’ve always prided myself in being a good traveler – one with an absence of jet lag. However I think I would have to re-think this bit. How else could I explain my wanting to get my shut eye by 11pm and my reticence – in making new friends, in trying out various (night) activities. I was also unprepared for the amount of work involved in ensuring survival and fun for Burning Man; even though the bulk of the work was not done by yours truly. It was a truly slow start.

On day five of my vacation, we drove up in a huge RV. The 12-hour drive was very pleasantly interrupted by a surprise birthday cake pit stop. I have never celebrated my birthday with strangers before but it was cool because they seemed genuinely happy for me (or maybe it was the to-die-for chocolate cake) – a sign of a city girl, overly suspicious of all good. It was all-good because it was a complete surprise and I was, well, touched.

After settling ourselves in as residents of Black Rock City, realization started creeping in. I was perpetually covered in a layer of dust. I had little means of a satisfying shower as water was scarce. The extreme temperature made lethargy a constant companion during the day and the bed a haven at night. Doing the simplest things required much more effort and time – going to the potty during the day would mean slathering myself with sunscreen, getting dressed (I’ll leave that up to your imagination), packing my day bag – comprising toilet paper, water, more sun screen, chapsticks, walkie talkie and snacks, getting on my bike and cycling there. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. And at a grand old age of 29, I was utterly used to not sharing – not sharing my living space with perfect strangers, not used to not having no control of my living environment.

In order to enjoy what Burning Man had to offer, I had to get over my hang ups, shift my mental expectations, stop being tired and learn how to take naps to enjoy the nocturnal activities. Unfortunately I never managed the last bit – forays out into the late nights were few and far between – we were only there for eight days and I can only proudly say that I was out ‘properly’ for just two nights. What I’ve done was only a scratch on the surface of what could have been. Multiple interactive art installations artists had painstakingly dreamt up and built I didn’t see, theme camps which were unvisited – one which I found out on my way back to SF was created to worship women, and men volunteered to serve and carry out any requests a woman had – music in party domes which went unheard. My engine revved up only on the second weekend. And I realised that this body is no longer nubile – a night out required two days to recover.

However, I was thankful to have experienced:

  • funky costumes – they blew my mind away. These were not performers for Cirque du Soleil (well maybe some – judging by their skills), they were ordinary people who did exactly what they wanted – there was no censure.
  • art cars – crazy modes of transportation. Maybe I’ll get on one the next time.
  • warm and open people – I suspended disbelief and cynicism and accepted peoples’ gifts of food, help, hugs, free entry to entertainment and knowledge. Pass it on, not back was the motto, I believe.
  • the beauty of nature despite the starkness of it all.

Check this site out for an idea of what Burning Man can offer.

Back in the comforts of my bedroom, I revisit Burning Man and my SF encounters mentally. It didn’t seem that bad. Yes there are quite a lot of things I would have done differently, now armed with knowledge. Perhaps I could consider this trip a trial run and maybe, just maybe, do the real thing next year.