Burning Man – A Party on the Playa

This is the third and final part in a series of posts on my experiences at my first ever Burning Man. If you missed the first two parts you can read them here:

Part 1: Burning Man – From a First-Timer’s Perspective
Part 2: Burning Man – Art, Theme Camps and More

Parties on the Playa

Think for a moment about the best places in the world to party and I’m sure a few standouts come to mind. The top of my list would probably look something like this: Ibiza, Miami, Koh Phangan, Rio de Janeiro, Las Vegas or Cancun to name but a few. Well, take a piece of all of those places, put them in a blender, mix thoroughly and you are somewhat close to the day/ night-time party experience of Burning Man.

I don’t think I will even begin to do this explanation justice but I will give it a shot….

What you get:

– Some of the best DJ’s in the world
– Incredible venues with mind-blowing sound systems and lighting
– Genuinely nice people who are there to have a good time (not to spoil yours)
– No lining up for hours to get into a club
– No discriminative dress codes – WEAR WHATEVER YOU LIKE!
– Not feeling the music or crowd? Hop on your bike and pedal to the next one, or jump on an art car (no painful taxi line in this place)
– No wanky bouncers…. in fact, no bouncers at all
– No expensive cover charge – just wander in for free
– Free drinks at the bar! Just remember to bring your own drinking vessel (cup)
– No curfew or lockout

Ok I’m sure I have missed out on a few bullet points but seriously with benefits like these who cares!

When you consider that Burning Man is quite possibly the most epic party place you will ever visit, then realize this is only one facet of the complete experience, it is difficult to comprehend. I have a feeling this is why so many Burners return, year after year, to the desert.

One of the things I seem to get asked most since our return is about the drug culture that seems to be synonymous with Burning Man.

  • Yes, of course there are. Same as the fact there are drugs at your local nightclub.
  • No way! Your senses are on overload already and the vibe of the place is euphoric.
  • I can only speak from my experiences. We did notice a very strong police presence but never once was I, or anyone else I met, stopped or harassed by them. I did however, hear stories of people who got the shake-down and actually witnessed someone getting tackled to the ground.

My advice on drugs:

If you are going to take them, be discreet and whatever you do don’t go lighting up a joint in public. This is not San Francisco people…. the Nevada police don’t take kindly to drugs (or even open alcohol containers) in public.

So with that out-of-the-way there’s really no amount of words that can describe what a crazy, fun experience the parties are at Burning Man. So rather than try, here are some cool pics to whet your appetite instead:

Colors of the night
Colors of the night
OSIRIS Burning Man 2013
OSIRIS Burning Man 2013
Tango’d Up In Blues
Tango’d Up In Blues
KALLIOPE Art Car Burning Man 2013
KALLIOPE Art Car Burning Man 2013
Robot Heart
Robot Heart
Apres Ski
Apres Ski
Distrikt – one of the best sunset parties
Distrikt – one of the best sunset parties
There was even a pop up kiosk to brush your teeth at 4am
There was even a pop up kiosk to brush your teeth at 4am

What to Wear?

As I mentioned in my original post, knowing what clothes to pack is up there among the most challenging aspects when preparing for your first Burning Man. Sure, you can look at hundreds of pictures online and get a feeling for what others have worn in the past, but there will always be that aching feeling of “Will I fit in?” or “Are people going to be judging me based on my attire?”.

I was advised early on to steer clear of any branded clothing. One of the ideals of Burning Man is non-conformity, so try to avoid wearing the clothes that you would normally wear at home in your day-to-day life.

You don’t need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars at costume shops or specialty Op shops to try to fit in either. Go to a secondhand store, buy some crazy stuff that you think looks cool, make some adjustments if needed and you’re off.

All I can say is wear whatever you want to wear. It doesn’t matter if you wear pink striped pants with a blue polka dot shirt – if you like it wear it.

Living in San Francisco we are pretty accustomed to nudity. We see it pretty often at various festivals and events held around the city. Burning Man is like San Francisco on steroids….. everywhere you go be prepared to see a full-frontal display of someone’s package. By the end of the week, you will have seen all shapes, colors, and sizes – both male and female so leave your prudish ways at the gate.

Must Haves/Dos:

Goggles
Preferably not too tinted and with good peripheral vision

Dust Mask
A bandana doesn’t really cut it in a heavy dust storm

Good shoes
Boots are probably going to be best (flip-flops and bare feet are a no-no due to the alkaline soil)

Sunscreen
Derrr… you are in the desert

A Warm Jacket
It gets cold at night

Wearable Lighting
It also gets very dark at night and you want to be seen

A basic daytime outfit for Lisette
A basic daytime outfit for Lisette
Random blue man
Random blue man
Ready to watch the Man burn
Ready to watch the Man burn
Don’t forget to dress your bike
Don’t forget to dress your bike
Lizard Man
Lizard Man
Ready to head out
Ready to head out
Naked Cycle
Naked Cycle

Gifting

One of the 10 Principles of Burning Man is Gifting – Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.”

I was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness that went into some of the gifts people had prepared. To be honest, I feel like this is where we were the least prepared of all. That is not to say that we were takers and didn’t give….. more so that I would like to invest more into gifting next time.

Generosity comes in all shapes and sizes – the offer of a jalapeno tequila shot one morning…. or perhaps an iceblock on a stinking hot afternoon.

You don’t need to go all out making material items for gifting too. The gift of a heartfelt smile (to everyone you meet), a friendly massage, a helping hand or food and drinks are all perfectly acceptable when there is sincerity and warmth behind them.

Burning Man really does seem to highlight the aspects we soon forget in human nature… THERE’S GOOD IN EVERYONE!

Here are a couple of fun little trinkets that I was given. The best part for me is that someone took the time to make them.

Necklace made from colored duct tape
Necklace made from colored duct tape
Burning Man 2013 Badge
Burning Man 2013 Badge

The Man

The roots of Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986. Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco to burn a 9ft (2.7m) wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog.

Since then the annual ritual has grown each year, both in number of participants and in the size of the Man. This year was no exception as we arrived to find a mammoth alien-looking man standing atop a UFO. Inside the multi-storey structure there was all sorts of extra terrestrial paraphernalia, some zoetropes and exit slides…. not the best to attempt with a bare bottom I soon discovered.

The Man is located smack bang in the center of the city which makes it the most important landmark if you happen to get lost out on the playa. Due to this it is also a popular meeting place.

The Man stands on a UFO
The Man stands on a UFO
Another shot of the Man
Another shot of the Man
View of the playa from inside the Man
View of the playa from inside the Man

The week-long event culminates on saturday evening with the ceremonial burning of the Man. What seemed like the entire city population was out on the playa to watch the spectacle, starting with an inner circle of fire dancers and emanating out to a ring of brightly lit art cars, all circling the Man.

Before the Man burns there’s a fireworks display which is met with cheers and roars from the eager crowd. Then the man is lit, creating a frenzy of whistles and more screaming before finally the entire structure erupts into flames, the heat so intense you can feel it from a football field away.

Fireworks Light Up The Sky Burning Man 2013
Fireworks Light Up The Sky Burning Man 2013
The Man is on fire
The Man is on fire

The Temple

In addition to the burning of the Man, the burning of the Temple has become an important ritual on the sunday. Throughout the week you will find people congregating at the temple. Whether in prayer, meditation or simply leaving messages to lost loved ones, the temple is a highly personal and spiritual experience.

Every year, like with the Man, the Temple has a new theme. This year’s theme was The Temple of Whollyness – an epic central pyramid standing 64ft (19.5m) tall, designed with sacred mathematical proportions and constructed using innovative building techniques without the use of nails, glue or metal fasteners.

The Temple’s name was derived from the idea that spirituality is a balance between three states of mind – to be holy, holey or wholly present.

The temple in the daytime
The temple in the daytime
Inside the temple
Inside the temple
Temple of Whollyness
Temple of Whollyness
Sunset over the temple
Sunset over the temple

Leaving the Playa

Our arrival onto the playa was such a smooth experience with barely a que to be seen. Our exit on the other hand was not.

We had been tossing around the idea of leaving on the Sunday (either just before the temple burn or just after) ‘vs’ leaving on the Monday but it was mother nature herself that eventually decided for us. As it turned out there was a huge storm bearing down on Black Rock City that was due to hit by 12pm on the Monday.

The Burning Man committee broadcasted a message over the local radio station advising everyone to leave by 12pm Monday or face being stuck on the playa as they were locking down the city. This created somewhat of a “mass exodus” just prior to sunset (before the temple was due to burn).

At 6.30pm, we left our camping spot and joined the exit line. It wasn’t until five hours later that we reached the paved road in total darkness. By this time, I was already far too fatigued to be driving but stupidly I continued on for another 2.5hrs while the others slept in the back of the RV.

Luckily I was able to switch out with Ryan about 40 mins from Reno and we arrived there in one piece around 3am.

Mass Exodus of people trying to leave
Mass Exodus of people trying to leave

Back to Reality

It is not uncommon to experience a low after returning from a multi-day festival. As you should see by now, Burning Man is a place unlike any other and the transition back to reality can be a difficult one for some people. Luckily for us we live among Burners….. our neighbors have been more than seven times each and there are several “post Burning Man” events held in San Francisco every year.

The reality still hits you hard though. That first day back where all you can do is dream of being on the playa. For now I am happy processing and writing about this unforgettable experience that was my first Burning Man…….. anyway there’s always next year!

Watching the sunrise after the burn
Watching the sunrise after the burn

I hope that, in some way, my experiences can help you to get out there yourself. Thanks for reading all my rantings and a special thanks to my neighbors Lorna and Bertrand for your words of wisdom and everything else you have done to make our first Burn so very special.

Burning Man 2013
Burning Man 2013

More articles like this

Burning Man from a First-Timer’s Perspective

Burning Man – Art, Theme Camps & More

Preparing For My First Burning Man

4 thoughts on “Burning Man – A Party on the Playa

  1. Loved reading your post. What an amazing experience 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it Tash. You guys should try and make the trek out here for it sometime. I was surprised at how many young families were there and the kids had so much to do.

  2. Hey Michael

    Great article you really get a sense of what it might be like to be there

    • Thanks guys. I wanted to write it as soon as possible after we returned to try and preserve the memories we had for our first burn. I can always look back on these posts and cherish the experience.

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