With two laptops down and this one heading for the doctor, I have to revise my publishing schedule for the next week. I’m reaching back into my archives and pulling out three former posts that are at least in the spirit of what I have promised. Today is on Burning Man. I’ll follow up with an historical blog on Philadelphia’s Fort Mifflin and then a backpacking tale that includes bears, lots of them.
I may be totally off the Internet for the next week. If I don’t respond immediately, that’s the case.
It’s time to buy tickets for Burning Man again, which is always a harrowing experience. At least it has been for the past several years. I made my first trip to Burning Man in 2004 and have been back numerous times since. I can’t resist. It is one of the most unique events I have ever attended. Following are some of the reasons why. Today kicks off a Friday series on Burning Man I will be running over the next couple of months during the ticket sale time that feature favorite photos from my archive of thousands. Enjoy!
I should probably name this blog Curt Mekemson’s Ten Favorite Burning Man Activities. When it comes to Burning Man, things get personal. One person’s preferences might very well be another person’s boring, with just the right teen-age emphasis followed by, “Was that guy actually there?”
For example, I don’t like loud music but there are camps at Burning Man with humongous speakers that blast out ear shattering decibels 24/7. Fine, it’s their thing and they have lots of fans, not to mention some of the best DJs in the world. Many Burners list these venues among their top choices. They joyfully dance the night away, literally. I like stopping by but my ears soon send me scooting for quieter locations— like the opposite side of the Playa.
I don’t run around naked at Burning Man, either. That would be scary— for both me and anybody looking in my direction. But I have no objection to other people being nude. Some Burners are quite attractive while others are at least, uh, colorful. I assume all are enjoying some form of liberation, or at least a bit of exhibitionism.
The thing about the Burning Man experience is that it depends on the individual. My recommendation for new participants is to come with an open mind and explore. If you want to get naked, go ahead; but you don’t have to and most don’t. Your experience can be as radical or conservative as you wish to make it.
So, having established my parameters, here is my top-ten list of things to do at Burning Man (assuming one can finagle a ticket). They aren’t in order of preference.
1. Attend the Burn: First, you will want to visit the Man during the week. There are usually a number of activities taking place that reflect the year’s theme. Plus you can often climb up into the base and enjoy some of the best views available of Black Rock City! The burning of the Man on Saturday night is the climax of the week where everything and everyone comes together. Hundreds of fire dancers and drummers kick off the event and are followed by an elaborate ceremony where the Man is set on fire. Things start with a bang, literally, as rockets explode and light up the sky. The Man then moves toward his ultimate demise, slowly. His last seconds are met by silence from 70,000 people, possibly the only time when Burning Man is quiet, followed by oohs and ahs building to a crescendo as he comes crashing down, completing his annual sacrifice. Don’t worry, like Frosty the Snowman and the Phoenix Bird, he’ll be back. The burn is only part of the show, however. Elaborate costumes, giant mutant vehicles, and total bedlam compete for attention.
2. Enjoy the People: I don’t know where one could find a more interesting cast of characters than Burning Man. But then again, there aren’t many places where you are encouraged to be yourself and pursue ‘radical self-expression’ in a region where temperatures top 100 and 60 mph windstorms kick up massive dust storms that create zero visibility. Tribes, events and volunteering create numerous situations where it is easy to meet people and make friends. While Burning Man preaches involvement, you are also totally free to wander around and simply observe.
3. Appreciate the Art: Burning Man art comes in all forms, from monumental to small, from sculpture to painting to performance. Most of the major pieces and performances take place on the Playa or along the Esplanade. But there are many smaller pieces (and performances) found throughout the camp and at the Center Camp Cafe. Much of the art is interactive. Be sure to check out the playa sculptures at different times of the day. Many of the pieces are schizophrenic with radically different day and night personalities. And many are making there way into communities around the world.
4. Save Time for the Desert: The Black Rock Desert and surrounding mountains are beautiful. Look around. Once the Playa was part of the huge Lake Lahontan, which was over 500 hundred feet deep. Mammoths wandered the lake’s shore. Early morning and late evening provide the best times for desert viewing. An early morning walk, while Burning Man more or less sleeps, is the best time to appreciate what the desert has to offer. Embrace rather than dread the weather. When else in your life will you experience a massive dust storm or see a desert rainbow?
4. Visit the Temple: The folks who build the Temple deserve a huge vote of thanks from all of us. Visiting is both an aesthetic and spiritual experience. To start with, the temples are gorgeous, with each year’s building a unique creation. Thousands of written messages are left on the walls to honor loved ones who have died or to give thanks for blessings. The messages are both sincere and touching. Take along a pen or a marker if you wish to honor or thank someone who has had a significant impact on your life. On Sunday night the temple burns, sending messages skyward in what I can only describe as a sacred experience.
5. Check out Camp Center Cafe, Often: Whether you want to perform, show off your costume, pick up the latest news, attend a show, enjoy art, have a cup of coffee, meet friends, have your fortune told, apply pasties, watch people or just hang, Camp Center Cafe is the place to go. It’s open 24 hours a day. Something is always going on. I visit two to three times daily. Be sure to watch the costume contest and the talent show.
6. Stroll or Bike The Esplanade: This is Burning Man’s other major center of action. It provides the border between the Camp and the Playa. It is a theater, circus and walkway all in one. Stop by and watch people pummel each other with foam sticks in the Thunder Dome, enjoy a troop of fire dancers, go roller-skating, play games, try out a balloon ride, hear how loud music can actually get, dance, watch a movie, become lost in a maze, meditate… etc.
7. Check out and/or Ride on Mutant Vehicles: Undecorated vehicles are restricted to camp. If you are going to drive you have to decorate. What’s not to love about a giant, wooly mammoth or a cat car with fur? Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man come in all shapes, forms and sizes. Some people spend weeks/months creating their fantasy transportation systems and even bicycles are elaborately decorated. Various vehicles become dance floors, spout fire, look ferocious and even appear friendly. A polite request may land you a ride.
8. Join a Tribe, or not: Tribes are the major social units at Burning Man and there is a tribe for almost any inclination. Many feature theme camps based on the year’s theme and welcome visitors. You can also form your own. Let’s say you are a purple alien from outer space and can’t find a tribe. Create the Purple Alien from Outer Space Tribe. Odds are there are other purple aliens who will want to join. It’s doubtful that anyone will even recognize that you are an alien. They will just think, “Oh, he’s got a neat costume,” and want to take your picture.
9. Go out into the Night: The Burning Man night is magical. Everyone and thing includes some kind of lighting system including art, people, bikes and mutant vehicles. Most blocks provide entertainment. Is it going to be pole dancing, jazz or vodka creations that capture your imagination? You will think you have entered a different universe.
10. Peruse the Catalogue: You are given a catalogue when you arrive that includes literally hundreds of things you can do at Burning Man ranging from attending a lecture on solar power to having your breasts painted. The various tribes sponsor these events for free as part of Burning Man’s gift-giving culture. You can practice yoga, learn the samba, improve your fire twirling skills, watch a show, and even improve your sex life, regardless of which way you lean. You can also drink. The catalogue lists dozens of bars featuring everything from Bloody Marys to craft beers. One year I found a casket that featured beer spouts. Drinks are free; bring your own cup. One of the first things I do after setting up camp is to go through the catalogue and check off things I might want to do. Hmmm, I wonder what bondage is like? (Just kidding… but there are opportunities to learn about it, and practice.)
If you’ve enjoyed this post, are planning on going to Burning Man for your first time, want to learn more about the event, or want to reminisce about past events, I invite you to join me on Fridays for the next couple of months.