The stars finally aligned. After having Burning Man (BM) on my “bucket list” since I was 18 years old, all it took to make it happen was:
1. A week at Shambhala, and an encounter with the “Festival Guy”.
2. Finding the perfect partner-in-crime.
3. A birthday party in my prom dress.
In a matter of four days tickets were accumulated, a serious tickle-trunk was packed – among all the other major necessities for such an adventure – and I was off to Burning Man for my very first time.
Every year people from around the world gather for Burning Man – South Africa, France, Germany, and Lebanon. Those are just a few examples of the extreme distances traveled for the Nevada desert’s dusty Black Rock City cultural experiment turned phenomenon. It wasn’t until I arrived at Black Rock City that I finally understood that what I had imagined for nearly a decade was exceeded and confirmed.
On approach to Black Rock City, at the pace of a snail (so as not to stir up the dust,) you can feel the energy. You see the glowing lights of the bustling “city” (yes that’s right they actually build an entire city in the desert for one week,) when suddenly you’re greeted at the front gate by a magical being with a big smile and a great costume. You’re then met with a GIANT hug and a “Welcome Home.” We rang the ceremonious gong and we’re then considered a “citizen” of Burning Man.
Who doesn’t want to be greeted like that?
Then it happened… For the first time in my life I had finally come to find the reason why Burning Man saw 60,000+ people journey back each year, to one of the most hostile environments on the planet, and still call it home.
“Some people like to take vacations to other countries, I like to take vacations to other planets” – (Mez, Beirut, Lebanon)
If you’ve heard anyone talk about BM you’ve likely heard them refer to “The Playa”. This temporary “metropolis” is spread out over two miles of desert known as “The Playa”. “The Man” (a wooden structure of man glowing with neon lights sitting atop a massive wooden space ship) is used as a major landmark for navigation around “The Playa”. Everything is laid out in a circle with “The Man” being your centre-point. Centre camp is considered 6:00 and “The Temple of Whollyness is 12:00. Everything else correlates to a position on a clock. Now you know how to get around BM. Yeah, real talk.
“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” (www.burningman.com). There is no monetary exchange at BM, simply the act of “gifting”. I had always told myself I wasn’t allowed to go to BM until I found the perfect “gift” to give. Although she couldn’t actually make the journey, I have to give a shout-out to my co-blogger Betty for coming up with the brilliant idea to present “Official Licenses For Being Cool” to those who deemed worthy (www.bettyandkora.com).
After experiencing BM I realized that a tangible gift wasn’t necessary and that gifts come in many different forms: a smile, a high-five – or high-kick if your me – or any kind of gesture really, or best of all, a hug.
(Although I must say that LED necklace I received from my favorite bartender “Randy” at the Wide Awake Oasis, did come in handy several times. The last thing you want to be is “invisible” on the playa at night!)
Theme camps and the masterminds behind them are an integral part of what makes Burning Man so distinct, fascinating, and straight-up FUN. The amount of thought that goes into these camps is UN-F******-REAL! Spread the love at the “Slut Garden”, or find your “spirit animal” at the “Shamandome Camp”. You can indulge in an icy root beer float than dance the calories away at “Mudskippers Urban Decay Café”. Once there, grab some miso soup and late night sake at “Miso Horny”. After bevs, stretch out with some Grrrrr-animal yoga at the “Primate Playground”. Or just join in on a Tina Turner interpretive dance slash sing-a-long at the “Death Guild Thunderdome”. (Burning Man Guide) There is literally something for everyone at BM. The above mentioned does not even begin to scratch the surface to the amount of different experiences that exist. I don’t think you could visit all the camps in a week, even if teleportation existed.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
The Sun Rise:
If you’ve just driven 18 hours straight to arrive at this majestic place, why not kick off your BM experience with a sunrise? There is nothing else quite like jumping on your cruiser bike and riding (with a shit-eating grin across your face) for your first time deep into “The Playa.” Watching the brilliant bohemian sunshine rise and then slowly touch its rays all across “The Playa” is truly spectacular. Taking part in this ceremonious soul-gratifying experience is the perfect way to begin any adventure at BM.
Fancy a good-ol-fashion day party? How about happy hour? Happy hour is every hour at BM, and day parties are going off at every given moment. Hit up “District”, “Pink Mammoth” or go get down at “Funky Town” with Fort Knox Five and Ali B (love). Get “higher” on the swings of the camp “Neighbourhood”, or stop by “The 7 Deadly Gins” and enjoy sipping on gin & juice in a shady oasis lounge. Happy hours and day parties not your cup of tea? Perhaps you’d like to chase parachutes falling from the sky on your bike through a sandstorm so you can be the first person to give any wayward party-hopper a hug and an official “License For Being Cool”.
Spend a night cruising “The Playa” in style hitch-hiking rides on “art-cars”. Maybe you start the night off on the “Wide Awake” art-car. This bad-boy has a Funktion-One sound system so loud you can’t even CRANK it until you’re a certain distance away from the esplanade… otherwise you’ll get an “infraction” for being too loud and too awesome so close to town (hahaha). Add the futuristic sound of the Canadian DJ duo ART DEPARTMENT and you’ve got yourself a night about “The Playa”. Perhaps at some point you decide you’d like to embark on a new adventure. No problem, and no need for sticking your thumb out! See an amazeballz, friendly looking, “art-car” driving by… jump on! You might wind up on a car called “Charlie the Unicorn” and maybe, just maybe, one of your fav DJ’s “Neighbor” might happen to be playing on it…
The thing with Burning Man is that adventure surrounds you so much that you might just close your eyes and then pop them open into a new dream each and every time
A “Church-Trap”, a telephone booth where you can “talk to god”, a 50 ft. tall dancing ballerina sculpture called: “Truth is Beauty”, “The Temple of Whollyness” or “The Man” itself. Art is being expressed through unbelievable design and radical self-expression, whether massive or minuscule, everywhere you look. Maybe your form of expression is building an “art-car” that looks like a boom box, a dragon, a yacht, or maybe you just want to walk around naked. Perhaps it’s through the complexity of a theme camp like “The Grand Hotel at Ashram Glactica” – which has a Moroccan tent lounge and a Mongolian Yurt Spa – or maybe it’s something as simple as having your face painted by the girls at “The Beauty Bar” in camp “Ego Trip” that fills your scene that night. Art and the freedom of self-expression is what make the culture and community of this “city” so unique and undeniably special.
Night Time Parties:
Snap! Where to begin… I guess my first tip about night time parties is if you hear a rumor about something extremely rad happening, chances are it’s probably true!
“Hey I just heard Major Lazer is playing at camp “Question Mark”, you wanna go?”
The answer is always yes!
Get on that bike and GO! (For the record Major Lazer WAS playing and it WAS F******* incredible!)
Example B: Arrive back to base camp, (Ego Trip) only to discover the best surprise of your life: The dreamy American ambient music DJ, Tycho just happens to be playing. Talk about a MIND BLOW!
“Hi I’m Kitty, What’s your name?”
Meeting people at BM is unlike any other experience. For starters you automatically have a bond knowing the little secret that is: this utopia actually exists for one week every year.
Second, you get to find out their “playa name”, (i.e. Tiger Pa, Prince Sid, Vana White, The Garbage Man, Chuckles, and 3 guys named “Pop Tart”) are just a few examples of the many wondrous people and beautiful souls around BM.
Third, and one of my personal favorites, you don’t shake hands, you HUG.
Fourth, give people gifts for no reason other than the fact that when you met them, you felt a ridiculously amazing connection, or perhaps you just really liked their cat tights and “playa name” “Kitty”.
“The freedom to do everything you can imagine with a massive community of people behind you to support you… There’s nothing like it” -Gravy (Oakland, California).
Burning The Man:
How do I fucking begin to describe this. There are hundreds of rumors and speculations on how and why “The Man” exists and is burned, and I can’t tell you which one of those is true, but I can tell you that it’s the core of the experience. Burning “The Man” is an explosion of energy. Every “art-car” in sight is glowing and its music blasting. Dance parties are busting out everywhere. Fireworks are exploding above “The Man” much like the love bursts from your heart. The energy builds piece-by-piece as “The Man” starts to burn. Eventually all that’s left is fiery ash blowing in the wind like millions of swirling fireflies, mixed with dust, leaving no trace behind. BM is built upon the idea of “Leave No Trace,” which means: leave the place you visit the same or better than you found it.
Let your heart bleed and your soul cry. Let go of bad energy, set an intention for the future or send a message to a lost or loved one far away through the magical flames of the temple. This experience was much different than the burning of the man. It was as if the entire “planet” had gone silent. For the first time since we had arrived there was no music and no one spoke while the temple full of dreams, tears and energy burned to the ground.
Burning Man is a difficult concept to swallow. It’s hard to explain and even harder to write about. My advice to anyone whose curiosity has ever been sparked by this euphoric phenomenon is go and experience it for yourself. My heart beacon is overwhelmed with gratitude and is bursting with love for having the opportunity to have had such an unimaginable and humbling experience.
Kora aka “ The Canadian Kitty” ❤
PS Here’s a few happy snaps!