Burning Man – Rite of Passage
Now, this festival had a lot of personal significance for me. I was and probably still am in the transitional phase between teenage fun years, and having to grow up and be a man in my own eyes. The theme of the year, 2011, resonated with me in all possible ways, being that I always wanted to go, and as a semi art inclined person myself to experience this gigantic event near where I lived, I set out to make it a reality.
Dust, will be everywhere. Within seconds of arriving, your whole car will be filled with a layer of dust. It will be on your clothes, your belongings, your face, your skin. You are home now.
The first keywords every “burner” swears by are radical self-reliance and self-expression; to basically take care of yourself and not die in a hot dry desert. Of course anyone will help you if you have trouble while being there, but there are certain rules that you have to live by. Take care of your trash or MOOP – “Matter Out Of Place”, which is everything and anything you take in that could drop on the desert floor. Take it all back home with you where it belongs.
You want to take a shower? Then you collect the water in a plastic basin to let the sun evaporate it again, because that too is MOOP. It doesn’t belong there, and the organizers make a huge effort to clean the whole Playa again after everyone leaves, to insure a permit for the next year.
So needless to say, going to such a festival will require a lot of preparation to do it right. I did hours of research on the subject, visited events hosted by “Burners” to welcome newcomers and give advice on what to expect and how to act. The only thing you can buy there is coffee and ice, everything else is on a trade basis and gifting is another big thing there. Alcoholic drinks are given out for free pretty much around every corner and at each of the 50 plus music stages, just bring a bottle and fill up, they don’t expect anything in return and certainly don’t want your imaginary money.
People get together to form giant camps. Often they might have a theme like barbaric Barbie Doll slaughtering, aliens, pirates, nudist hangout or roller skate disco just to name a few.
This gigantic, temporary city is laid out with streets and addresses which are actually surprisingly easy to navigate, but if you get lost that’s actually a great thing. The view from above the city resembles a geometric pattern; a half circle with the Man in the middle and the temple further out. It’s a giant wood structure built every year. Both will be burnt in spectacular fashion at the end of the festival. You will want a bike, because on foot it will be very hard to see everything while you are there, which even then is near impossible. You can always hitch a ride with a gigantic party ship though, that drives through the Playa as a taxi service. You can hop on and off any time, or ride with any of the other hundred mutant vehicles available. The whole place is an alternative reality, a playground for adults looking to get away from the known society for a while, and they do a pretty damn good job at that.
Each sound camp has a unique group of people who set up and bring in international performances for no real gain other than giving back to the community and improving the experience for everyone. Often they will perform under fake names, so they don’t draw attention to their presence at the festival. That’s something that really shines through this event, the independent people that go there and put lots of effort into giant structures, art projects, giant complex stages and cars driving through the desert spitting fire. They don’t do it for any financial or other gain, the only thing they get are smiles and lasting impressions in the people that get to experience it.
I must admit, I went there as an observer and after it was over I actually felt guilty, that I didn’t provide anything for the community at large, an effect that first-timers often report. I haven’t returned there yet, because I know when I do, I want to be able to offer something in return.
At the temple, visitors bring and express their emotional troubles, deaths in the family, deaths of friends or any baggage that they carry with them. Some bring cremated ashes or personal items from loved ones, and the burning of the structure then is a way of letting go of the past and moving on. For me, I also contributed a significant, personal offering, and it has helped me in many ways. It’s mesmerizing, sitting in the crowd in front of the structure when it is set on fire, with its heat wave felt from a distance filling your whole body with warmth. Fire ignites something very primal in every person I believe, and watching something so beautifully planned and built just to be destroyed in the end, is amazing to see.
I think every person approaches this festival with their own unique view of what they want to experience. For me, I felt like it helped me get over a lot of fears and personal issues. I gained from it what I expected, although the whole event was a lot larger and more overwhelming than I had ever imagined.
I couldn’t help but feel sad when I left and was stuck in a traffic jam that stretched for miles and miles. Obviously, I didn’t plan my departure in the best way. I listened to the radio show hosted by the festival and slowly exited the premises. As soon as my tires touched pavement I knew I was returning back to regular life. But inside of me, an inspirational experience that changed my life forever remained.