By Natalia Kapchuk
Over the years, Burning Man has become very popular, even amongst famous people from art, music, fashion and the film industry. You can spot celebrities, models, musicians, artists – like Paris Hilton, Alessandra Ambrosio, Cara Delevingne, Katy Perry, Jared Leto, P Diddy and Daft Punk, to name a few.
This year, I decided to experience Burning Man (BM) for myself and paid a two-day visit to Black Rock City. BM has always been on my bucket list but the long preparations and stories which I have heard about the organization behind it kept my trip delayed for years and years….until this year.
In September my best friends and I (all virgin Burners) decided that this was the year we were going to make it happen. I was sure nothing would go further than chit chat but I was wrong. To my great astonishment, everyone took the idea seriously and started preparations. You will need from 6 months up to 1 year prior to the event to plan the trip, unless you are joining a camp or have someone who does it all for you – personally I would take the ‘radical self-reliance’ principle seriously. People change their plans and you might just end up being homeless in the middle of the desert.
Step One: Joining a camp. It is advisable to join an existing camp via a friend’s recommendation. There is a number of different camps in BM, from big theme camps to smaller personal ones, and most of them are listed on the official BM website. Every camp is unique in their offering and ‘vibe’ – choose one that resonates with you and your interests, hobbies, music taste etc. Luckily I had a few friends from a camp called Payaskool, it is a pretty big camp with more than 420 people. I absolutely loved it! We had TED’x talks on environmental, digital and psychological themes with great speakers from around the world. Furthermore, we had a Dome, a huge space with remarkable fire and laser shows and AAA DJ’s.
BM has a strong sense of community, responsibility and teamwork. You need to take the ten principles seriously when you arrive on the playa, especially ‘Leave no trace’ – Black Rock Desert is a protected area and it must be left clean once the thousands of burners leave. Do not drop anything and do not hesitate to pick up someone else’s micro moop (matter out of place) on the playa. Camp fee may vary, we paid around $9.000 for four people. That includes parking, breakfast and dinner. When you consider how many gallons of water each individual needs, gasoline, construction, recycling and all the work that takes place behind the scenes to set up a camp, you can understand where the cost comes from. Our camp management team was supportive and always gave us great feedback, trying to solve our issues when necessary – but please understand that these people are volunteers and they want to, and deserve to, have fun themselves too. They are not there to serve you so rather only contact them in case of emergency.
Step Two: Tickets! It is not easy to get a BM ticket. You need to create a BM profile online and you must be registered and logged in to participate in online sales (dates and hours are available on www.burningman.org). Unfortunately, there is no guarantee you will get tickets at the original price. The ticket system is like a lottery. We were left with no tickets. The true essence of Burning Man is not to make any profit and commercialize on BM ticket aftersales but we had no choice other than to buy our tickets from third party companies like Vividseats or Viagogo. The tickets from these websites cost usually between $1000-$1200 each. Please verify the authenticity of the tickets and always ask for original receipt as there are many fake tickets out there. You will also need a vehicle pass if you are arriving by car.
Step Three: Where to stay? There are a few options when it comes to accommodation at the Burn. You can stay in your car, in an air-conditioned tent or in an RV. In our case the RV was the most suitable choice. Our RV had a bedroom, kitchen, shower, WC, 2 single beds and 2 sofa beds. To save costs, many people rent their RV’s from another state like California and drive it up to the playa themselves. Unfortunately, many RV renting companies would only accept US driving licenses. For one week of rental we paid $17000 for an RV, there are less expensive options out there if you book in advance.
Step Four: Outfits. When all organizational logistics are done and dusted, it is time to think about costumes. BM allows for full creative and personal expression so it is very important to wear something extraordinary, otherwise you may feel like the odd one out. I changed two or three times a day. You need to change outfits a few times for various reasons, mainly due to the weather changes which go from very hot during the daytime to very cold at night. Bring warm coats and a hat for nighttime and sunrise – a funky neon fur coat with LED lights would be perfect. Where to get costumes? Mix and match! Lots of thing I ordered online were from the Etsy website (goggles, masks, bodysuits) and from Instagram BM designers. Don’t hesitate to pass by a local sex shop and Halloween shop or upcycle your old clothes using your own imagination and fantasy. Get creative, be yourself, express who you are, it always turns out the best. The desert is very alkaline so make sure to bring boots, many socks and sunscreen, it makes your skin very, very dry. Masks and goggles are also essential. Sand storms are worse than those seen in a Mad Max movie and appear out of nowhere so always be prepared!
Ok, it is now time to tell you about how the whole system and temporary city works. The Playa is a metropolis built for 2 weeks in the middle of Nevada desert. There are streets with different names which makes it easy to move around and find things using the map. There are hundreds of camps, each camp providing different services, interactive workshops, music and all kinds of activities.You move around on a bike, it is almost impossible to walk as the distances between camps are very long. Make sure you rent a bike. Our bikes were included in the price of our RV. It is very important to decorate your bike with LED lights, the more visible you are the better as at night it helps people (and your friends) to identify you. Make sure you lock your bikes when you park as someone can take it by mistake!
I was wearing a head light to light up my way at night, plus LED decorations that I ordered on Amazon and eBay. There is nothing you can buy at the Playa as money doesn’t exist there, you can only exchange things. People are super friendly and willing to help, even if you forgot something at home I am sure you will find it out in the desert. This is the idea of the ‘gifting’ principle and people take it seriously too. In our case we didn’t have enough wet wipes and had to trade it for tequila. There is only 2 things you can buy out there: ICE (queue to get it is insane) and coffee.
Food and Supplies. Make sure you bring with you supplies of food and drinks for the whole period of your stay. In our case we pre-ordered most of the things online and a delivery company loaded it into our RV before our arrival. The most crucial is drinking water and coconut water. You will end up drinking up to 6 litres a day as you will feel thirsty most of the time. Make sure to bring some extra gallons of water for others and some for common use in the kitchen. Pickles are a famous thing at the Playa, they retain water in your body,
pickle juice is something you will appreciate. We also got soups, tuna in cans and lots of power bars! Do not forget vinegar! You will be surprised! To wash away dust
from your feet and legs you will need to dilute vinegar in water. As I mentioned earlier, the dust is alkaline and penetrates inside your skin making your skin dry and only vinegar can help as it is acidic.
Other essentials are body butter, foot cream, lip balm and a nourishing hair mask. You don’t want cracked skin and dry hair or dreads right? Wet wipes are very handy too.
How to get to Black Rock city? Reno is the closest international airport. From there you can buy a seat or charter a whole small plane. The only problem with this plane is that you can take only 1 hand luggage with you, big suitcases are not allowed. So, if you
manage your clothing and suppliers to be delivered to the Playa, the burner express is an ideal option. The same company, Burner Express, provides bus services too. With the bus you can buy luggage space. Bus tickets go very fast though so you would need to buy in advance. The last option is to go by car. That is what we did. We then rented a huge GNC. The drive normally takes 2,5 hours but it is never this short in reality. It can be 6 or 9 or even more depending on weather conditions and the traffic.
Don’t forget – over 70000 people come and leave over this period and it is only 1 road that brings you to the Playa… The road trip to the
Playa is beautiful with amazing scenery surrounded by lakes and gorgeous mountains, breathtaking I should say, and road trips are always fun.
When we arrived our RV we booked wasn’t as cute as it looked on the pictures and our water supply was somehow finished on the first day we arrived. You will get 2 vouchers to pump out black and grey water and refill it with fresh water. So we had to stay without water for a whole day – luckily there was a public shower and WC. At this point I remembered my childhood and summer camps with outdoor showers and smelly toilets. On our first day we were woken up quite early with little sleep as our luxury RV ended up not being the 5-star hotel we were used to 😉
All the people we met on our way were super friendly which was quite shocking at first and something our society is not so used to. Many camp members gathered together for breakfast. Burners get to know each other and chit chat about their plans and life. Then you have to be registered and get a job assigned. Everyone has a job in the camp: cook, dish cleaner, security, etc. By the time I registered my favourite position as cooking was fully booked and I picked cleaning the dishes instead.
By the time breakfast was finished I was already covered with dust from head to toe. On my first day I changed 4 times!!! It takes some time getting used to the feeling of being dusty and dirty. What I saw when we began exploring the city was mind blowing – art sculptures of different forms and sizes spreading throughout the Playa. On our first day we had not even seen 5% of the city. The Man and the temple are in the center. On the last day of the Burn the man and the temple are set on fire. The fire displays are spectacular and part of the great excitement to go to Burning Man to witness such massive structures go up in flames.
It was incredible to go on a bike with no agenda, stop by different art objects, explore different camps. Here are some examples of the camp names: 17 Virgins, bike Gods, camp Bang Bang, mystic, candy land, department of peace, dusty bum, insomnia, love cow, miso horny, just to name a few. There are fantastic art cars moving around, from a fish to a boat or an emoji to a dragon on wheels. You can jump inside an art car, make new friends and enjoy the ride. Sunsets are unbelievable at the Playa, colors are spectacular and so bright. At night there is a lot of parties going on and lots of camps are offering various cocktails and drinks, free of charge. The most famous parties are Robot Heart and Mayan Warrior, which you can find on the Playa at nighttime and District and Disconnect for daytime fun. The majority of the burners are up until sunrise and I have heard that the sunrises are stunning and even more enchanting than the sunsets. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to stay up that long to enjoy it and I guess my 2 days at the Playa were not enough to experience it to the full. Now that I have experienced a teaser of the magic, I am very much looking forward to next year, which will be a full week experience.
The closest airport is Reno. From Reno you can take a card and drive. It is about a 2 hour drive, but much longer with traffic, to make it to the entrance of Black Rick City. Make sure you buy a car pass, which you have to arrange separately, for the price of 100 usd. There is is a small private plane called the Burner Express. I would consider it as the best option if you have a small amount of luggage because only 1 piece of hand luggage is allowed. This is the most costly option. Another option is a bus from the Burner Express. Remember to buy tickets well in advance because there is a limited number of seats. This is the website where you can book a tickets: