If I could describe Burning Man in one word it'd be "surreal." In fact, the whole festival feels a bit like stepping into a Dali painting. You're surrounded by art and costumes, and immersed into a city of bikes and lights. A lot of time is spent riding around the vast desert landscape with tons of space, attending workshops and events. Sometimes there are large events, sometimes small. But rarely are they intensely crowded, and you'll always be greeted with a hug and a smile.
My second trip to Burning Man started with a 14 hour trip from L.A. to get to “The Playa" in the middle of a dust storm at 5:30am. Luckily for us, we had trailers ready to go, although they must not have closed all the vents properly because they had about a millimeter of dust on every surface throughout. The dust at Burning Man is a bit like flour, more of a light film than just straight dirt.
Tip: Never expect things to go perfectly right at Burning Man, there will always be challenges and that’s part of the experience.
After taking some time to unpack, we settled in for a morning nap. When we woke up, it was still a white out dust storm. We decided to go poke around anyway, jumped on our bikes, and hit the playa riding around for a while. So much for trying to stay decently clean for a few days, we were immediately caked in dust. We returned, made food, took another nap. Then the festivities began.
Our friends are members of the camp “Duck Pond.” Camps are collectives of people who set up amazing things like events, art cars, shade structures, art installations and workshops. Duck Pond throws a lot of trance parties and provides free drinks for anyone who comes. We went here to start our night, danced and drank for a bit, then jumped on our bikes to ride around before our buddy DJ Ry2D2 started playing a 3am set. “The Playa” on Sunday night is mellow. Since the Burn opens at midnight Saturday night, there are less people so it’s peaceful and serene with fewer art cars, fewer lights, and less music. We rode to the Burning Man, and climbed up the structure to see all the iRobot inspired sculptures that rested below it’s tall stature. Then we biked around more and found a cabinet of curiosities containing a black light room, some interesting steam punk creatures, and a Japanese garden that triggers fire. We biked past fire dancers and dance parties, interesting bars and art cars before heading back to Duck Pond where we danced until near sunrise.
At about 5am, we left to go to Robot Heart. Robot Heart is an art car that plays music far out in the desert on the outskirts of the city at sunrise. Sunrise on “the playa” is magical. You bike to the ends of the desert landscape to watch the sunrise over the cracked white surface of nothingness, and hopefully catch a glimpse of a fire breathing dragon.
After a morning nap, we hopped on our bikes to explore. We started at a yo-yo juggling workshop, because… well, why not? Next door to the workshop they were serving up some delicious cocktails. We filled our playa cups and continued on. We passed a photographer with an analog booth, and turned around and went back to get our photo taken. The photos were pretty racy, but we just kept our fingers crossed that wasn’t a requirement. Lucky for us it wasn’t, and we took a group shot that looked more like senior yearbook than a sexy photo. lol.
It was getting late so we went back to grab dinner, then met up with our friends back at Duck Pond to go ride a Jaguar art car. The Jaguar is a massive art car that is new to Burning Man. We went to the launch site, and it was having issues so we had to scrap the idea and find some other interesting things to do, which is never hard at the Burn. We wandered into a nearby bar that was absolutely stunning, it was a massive structure with end end to end rugs draped across the floors. It felt like we’d walked into a club in New York, and not in the middle of the desert.
I don’t even know where to begin with where the night went from there… There were so many nuances to the activities we did, and the activities seemed never-ending and full of life. We were led to a place called Golden Guy, modeled after Japan’s Golden Gai District of tiny bars (I’ve been to this district in Japan and loved it). Golden Guy had completed buildings serving up noodles, whiskey and more in a pristine setting. We then biked to Opulent Temple, a massive EDM stage where the DJ mixes from inside something that looks straight out of a sci-fi movie. Opulent Temple’s energy was on fire, with thousand’s of people dancing on the floor and on art cars surrounding the stage. After dancing for a while, we left in search of the Cathedral Art Car, a gothic looking church car playing in the middle of the open playa. Next to the art car was a spider slide, and a giant polar bear with projections of an aquarium lit onto it. Yes, things like this happen at Burning Man, it’s as if your telling some mythical tale. We stayed for a while, rode the slide, danced, watched the projections, then onward to the Mayan Warrior Art Car. The Mayan Warrior is a beautiful Art Car with a laser light show, but the beats are a little heavy for my taste. We biked for a while after this then decided to head back to catch some z’s.
We woke up and went to explore again, as people do most days at Burning Man. Our first stop was going to be for coffee, but that was closed so we went across the way where they were giving out pasties and cocktails. Then we roamed to do some mural painting with was quite cathartic, it was a mural that any passerby could contribute to, so we added our own personal touches to the ever-changing colorful collage. We jumped back on our bikes and rode the center of the playa to check out the art installations. There are so many art installations on the playa it’d be impossible to see all of them. Most of them are enormous and took a great amount of effort to create and place in the middle of this no mans land.
We went searching for a snow cone camp, but they were out of ice, so we hopped off our bikes and did a little walkabout. On the way we were offered jello shots, yes please. On the return we got in line for some ice cold blended margaritas, yes please. The tequila got us in the mood for the Tacos & Tequila party nearby, so we went there next. They had a hammock village as well, perfect for relaxing after bike riding in the sun.
After a bit of T&T (Tacos & Tequila), we were riding back home when we were pulled in by a little peach iced tea stand giving out “real gold” rings. We stopped to pick out our rings to get proposed to on the playa. We have a few new friend engagements ;), it was super funny and fun. We even roped in some more people to propose.
I decided to stay in Tuesday night to shower and recoup while the other went out. Immediately after I wet my hair the carbon monoxide alarm went off and I was startled. What does one do with wet hair, and no cell service or ways to reach friends. I got dressed quickly and asked a neighbor, they said not to worry because it happens with the dust sometimes. I was still worried, took a quick shower, opened all the vents and the front door, then promptly turned everything off once I was clean. Luckily, I never became a real “burner,” because as it turns out, we had our generator facing the gas tank which can can cause an explosion.
Wednesday I slept in, then went biking around with a few friends and found a mojito dance party. It was blazing hot, and the mojito party had misters so we stayed to literally chill for a while. Nearby we found a booth where you could try exotic flavors. A spoonful surprise taste of anything you could think of that was out of the ordinary. We got to decide. I asked for a taste of “delicious lies,” and received a sweet and savory taste of that must have been something like salted caramel. It was a fun and creative way to interact with all the people in line to see what they were tasting and how it was interpreted.
Later that evening we went on a photo tour, but it was slammed with people. We decided to depart and do our own photo journey at sunset.
We went back to Duck Pond that evening after dinner to watch our buddy DJ. Biking over to Opulent Temple afterward in the thick white dust I got T-boned by a bike that wasn’t lit up. My bike toppled over, seat turned the wrong way and I banged up my fingers. I can’t stress enough that you need lots of lights on your body and your bike when riding around. I literally never saw the guy coming my way. Burning man lingo: A person who isn’t lit up is called a darkwad. We continued on anyway to the temple, luckily my bike wasn’t inoperable after the crash. We climbed onboard a lit up one-eyed slug to see views of all the lights and people from above. The owner of the slug let me pull the lever to set up a huge burst of fire from the top! I also received acute little one-eyed necklace from the owner of the art car! Gift on the Playa are usually not exchanges, but just a nice gesture. You can just say thank you and give a hug in return.
I was exhausted Thursday morning, everyone took off to find some breakfast, and I decided to rejuvenate with a face mask while Netflix and chillin. While my room was loud with an uncomfortable bed and no air vent, the other room was cool and cozy. It was a much needed intermission.
Later that night we met up with friends at Distrikt for a while to dance, then over to Duck Pond to meet friends. We biked to the enormous Jaguar art car and hopped on to see a DJ set. We went onboard a 757 plane, the largest art installation on wheels to ever be created. We hopped on our bikes and rode to the trash fence. The trash fence is a makeshift wall they’ve built around Black Rock City to prevent any waste from escaping and littering the desert. It also serves as a great barrier for anyone who is lost in a dust storm to not wander further out, never to return. It’s quite a bike ride to get there, but on the way we saw all kinds of art cars passing, like a peacock and a fire extinguisher. Once there, you can look back at all the lights of the temporary city and understand just how grand it really is. We then went to a bar in the middle of nowhere called The Dusty Pineapple where they were serving fancy drinks. It was about 2 or 3am at this point so when 2 friends called it, I left with them while some of our other friends continued partying into the morning for another sunrise. On our bike ride home we caught the massive drone light show! Thousands of drones were synced to create wonderful fireworks like show high up in the desert night sky.
This day ended up being one of my favorites. We started off attending a bike jousting event, where fearless cyclists went head to head. We then fell upon circus themed room called the Carousel Bar complete with a fully stocked bar, water, ice, and shade. It was glorious, and we were the only ones there. We sipped margaritas and micheladas in the circus tent filled with antiques and mattresses to lounge on. Then they brought out fresh salads for everyone! I can’t really explains the magnitude of this gesture on the playa. Ice is hard to come by, water is hard to come by, and fresh food is hard to come by!
We went back to our trailer to freshen up because we were tipped off that Diplo would be playing at Duck Pond at 5:30. When we arrived there was a battle of the DJs going on. Duck Pond’s DJ Dan and Diplo on an art car. It was really strange, all were confused. Finally the art car decided to head out to the playa, so we jumped on our bikes and followed the set. It was sunset watching Diplo, with a few hundred people and one massive disco ball.
We all split after the set to bike around and view art installations.
After dinner, the most of the boys left to see a train crash which was apparently some kind fo show a camp put together. I went with 3 friends to see a circus show. It was a gorgeous clear night inside a massive circus tent set up at the playa, a la Cirque du Soleil. Aerialists and dancers took the stage performing amazing numbers one after the next. The show ended with a live jam band where everyone was invited to take the stage for a big dance party!
We met back up with our crew and headed over to Galactic Jungle, a dome with faux palm trees on either side. It was a party there, with a crowd of people and vibrant energy. We were dancing to the disco EDM set when we realized Carl Cox was DJing! We danced until the set ended.
The Carousel camp had invited us back to their camp for starting at 11pm, so we caravanned our group of 16 people on bikes over there, and what we found was 2 people listening to chilled out music, a vast difference to where we just were. We asked if we could switch out the music, and waited it out for a couple songs and they let us take over the music. We were 16 people, so it was basically our own party there for a while.
We went back out onto the Playa again. In the middle of the dusty city there was a folk band playing on what looked like a rickety old barn house surrounded by other art cars. We stopped and listened to the violin and banjo playing, a nice departure from some of the heavier beats that overtake the playa by night.
Saturday was our last day. I slept in, and packed up all our stuff into the car so we could easily leave right after the burn. I rode to the temple with some friends. Temple is a spiritual place where all can grieve the loss of loved ones. People bring photos, posters, letters to those they have loved and lost. On the last night of Burning Man, they burn the temple as well, as a symbol of letting go.
That night we watched the man burned as fireworks went off, then we got in the car and left on the long ride home. It was an amazing journey. Burning Man opens your eyes up to the imagination we once had as kids. A world where its possible to create and dream and wonder.