This week I returned from the Burning Man festival, and I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out how to sum it up into words. No amount of survival guides, photos, videos or articles can prepare you for the moment you step out onto the playa and witness the Black Rock City skyline, or the first time you come face to face with The Man, or ride your first art car, or survive your first sandstorm, or rave your way through your first desert sunrise.
I’ve heard a lot of negativity surrounding Burning Man recently, like “it’s just a bunch of hippies taking acid in the desert” or “it’s been taken over by the rich and privileged” or “it’s full of anti-establishment hypocrites.” Yep there are drugs, yep there are rich people with the luxury of WiFi and an unnecessarily large RV, and yep we’re all trying to say “fuck you” to “the man” in our own way. But whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your reason is for being there, it’s your burn. You can and will make it exactly what you want it to be. Nobody cares what you do or what you have in the default world. Money is nothing – you’re there in that moment and making whatever you want to out of the environment around you.
You’re part of the environment, you’re creating every moment. From the second you receive your ticket that states ‘NO SPECTATORS’, it’s up to you to participate in the burn you want to have. Whether you want to take acid and rave until noon, do yoga as the sun rises over the temple, have an orgy, be naked all week, join the circus, make art, spin fire or just chill out with new people… you can. It’s your burn. It really is a city (I was told that on Saturday we were the 5th largest city in Nevada), and like any city there is something for everyone. We were all living our own burns alongside one another, and loving everyone along the way.
What I found was a family, an appreciation for people and their stories, a love of the outdoors, a desire to create, a realisation of the things I’m capable of, 8 nights of raving and 8 days of adventure!
Platybus and The Band
After just a couple of weeks’ preparation, leaving my job and buggering off alone, I finally touched down in Reno ready to start my journey. But the second I left the airport, saw the surrounding mountains, felt the blistering heat and spoke to the hoards of veteran burners who knew exactly what they were doing, this insane fear came over me. I’d never been more terrified in my life, and for the first time I thought “Amy, what the fuck are you doing here?” I went into a shell, and lost my ability to strike up a conversation with a stranger (generally unlike me!) But I was saved; I met Frog who told me I belonged at his camp, and so a couple of days later I arrived at Platybus and The Band. I told this new group of strangers my story, and the first thing they said was “Welcome home! Take or use whatever you want and DO NOT say thank you, because we are your family now.” And we were a family, all 120 of us from all over the world and all walks of life. We cooked and cleaned together, we got smashed together, we raved together, we jammed together, we laughed, we cried, we had a wedding (the best wedding I’ve ever been to, congratulations Felipe and Matita!). I can’t thank my Platybus family enough for their unbelievable generosity and for being the most amazing people I could have possibly found out in the desert!
Deep Playa Adventures
During the week I found a loyal adventure buddy! Stef and I set out daily on our bikes with no agenda whatsoever, just to explore. One day we ventured out to the deep playa, away from the city far out in the desert. The sand was thick in the air and we couldn’t see anything around us, until we noticed some movement off in the distance. We rode over to find an art car hosting a cheese and wine party for a small handful of burners, and after hours of riding this was the best possible thing in the world! A few minutes after we arrived, another art car showed up blasting Disney songs, and so we danced with silk to the sound of Pocahontas’s Colours of The Wind, swung on giant swings and drank wine with beautiful strangers. Riding home we saw the sun setting over the mountains, we felt the harsh winds ripping through our bikes and we smelt the dust as it covered us and everything around us. It was an unforgettable afternoon.
The First Sandstorm
We were out at Robot Heart, a sunrise rave that changed location every day and the only way to find it was to cycle the desert in search of a giant metal heart. Around 9am I was low on water so jumped on a mobile bar for a quick drink. Suddenly the bar started moving with me propped up against it. “Shit” I thought “my friends and my bike are over there.” Before I had a chance to get off the first sandstorm of the week hit – complete white-out. My only option was to ride it out on this Indian style moving bar that continued around the desert for at least an hour. I couldn’t see a few feet in front of me, all I could see was the faint outline of anonymous heads wearing dust masks and goggles opposite. One of the heads turned and handed me a bottle of JD, not a word spoken, just a silent nod and we carried on through the desert passing abandoned bikes and art sculptures not visible until we were nose to nose with them. It was an incredibly surreal experience, silently surviving the elements with faceless strangers.
The Temple –
I ventured alone to The Temple, an incredibly intricate structure built for burners to express problems or remember lost loved ones. The energy hits you as soon as you walk through the arches – I don’t think I’ve ever physically felt the emotions of other people like I did that day. Reading the messages written all over the walls and seeing the hundreds of people sitting and remembering in silence, I was completely overcome with emotion and overwhelming gratitude for my life and the people around me. On Sunday we burnt The Temple, and unlike the chaotic and animalistic party atmosphere of burning The Man on Saturday, 60 to 70 thousand people sat and were silent. Completely un-prompted nobody spoke a word, there was no music, just the sound of the temple and everything in it turning to ash. In its final moments it swiftly and silently twisted into itself and was gone, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust. Along with the thousands around me I gasped. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
There is a common misconception that because no money is exchanged you need to bring something to trade. This isn’t the case – people genuinely want to make you happy, which in turn makes them happy, and the happiness just rolls on and on. I was given some really beautiful gifts by people who are now extremely special to me. I was also given things by people I’d never seen before and may never see again, but they were still so exceptional, and just knowing that someone genuinely wants you to have their handmade bracelet, their amazing green socks or their deep fried Oreo, is a beautiful feeling.
Likewise, the feeling of giving someone a gift with no expectation of getting something back is like watching your best friend open a Christmas present you’ve put all your effort into. Every bar, every food stall, every party, every workshop, every rave, every thing is a gift from someone else, and not once do you find yourself thinking “Oh score, free stuff.” Instead it’s “Wow, thank you for this gift”. And it’s not just things, sometimes your gift is just a great conversation, a hug, a smile or even your nudity. It may sound like a bunch of hippy nonsense to some – and yes, you do have to spend quite a lot of money to get there and enjoy it – but once you’re in it it makes so much sense.
A long-time Platybus camp mate called Bruce told me: “The best gift you can give is to carry this principle with you in the real world. Never stop gifting.”
Every minute of every day was a highlight – from the topless mimosa breakfast party to the naked foam party, the 300-person hug, dancing on a giant fire-breathing octopus, singing Bohemian Rhapsody a cappella at church while taking holy communion of whiskey and condoms, discussing my entire life with a complete stranger on board a giant shark for 3 hours before parting ways never to speak again, the Platybus Techno Tutu Tuesday rave, the 3D maze party, dancing in the thunderstorm, climbing on some of the best artwork in the world, watching The Man burn, the roller disco, climbing a mechanical beating heart, having a snowball fight in the middle of the desert, getting high and exploring, and every moment in between.
I love you burners, See you on the playa 2015.
With love, Teapot.
My love goes out to Alicia Cipicchio and her family following the tragic accident at this year’s event. You will be in our thoughts.
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