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Published: September 21st 2008
I was picked up in San Francisco by the lovely Rocio who I met at camp, her and her boyfriend said I could sleep on the couch at their place for a couple of nights before I left for the hardcore dust party in the desert of nearby Nevada. They were so nice that they drove me to the local Target and to hippie Haight Street to get various survival items from the tent to the tutu. Bikes were scarce, all the wallmarts were out, Burning Man had affected all of San Francisco but these wonderful locals were also bike enthusiasts and they pulled strings, made phonecalls and got me a bike, woohoo. It really was rather a nice bike too, antique and English and red.
The morning I left to get to my Green Tortoise bus stop with my tent and sleeping bag and bags.Eventually I got a cab and it was here that I met the most insane person I think I have ever met in my American travels. At first I thought he was German, then I wasn't sure if he was maybe French as he babbled, possibly trying to be comedic, it did sound funny but I
didn't actually know what he was talking about. During my cab ride I realised he was American, he would do a sentance or two of reasonable conversation and then would go off into a babbling tangent in a series of accents, and sometimes a childish voice, like he was having some kind of flashback, kept saying something about donking him on the head then 'help me help me'. So this is taxi drivers in San Francisco..huh..I wondered if he escaped from a mental institution or was let out by accident, I survived and felt it a fitting beginning to my week at Burning Man.
Green Tortoise is totally rad, the bus looks relatively normal on the outside but inside it is somewhat like a big camper with a really large bed area at the back to sit or lie on and booth style dinettes with a table to sit at and play cards or put your beers or whatever. The average age would have been about 40, many were from San Francisco, all but a few were travelling alone. On the way there people shared beers and pretzels and rolled joints for the pee stops. By the time we
arrived 10 hours later, quite a few people were hazed and expressive and the bus was pretty trashed. Dave who had done 9 Burns and who did a lot of drugs told me that if you didn't wear shoes the alkaline dust would make your feet blister and burn on the soles, so you gotta look after them. I wore sneakers and socks the entire week.
The first night, myself and a couple of guys formed 'Aussie Camp and made a nice little triangle around my Mansion tent (it was the cheapest one left) After pitching our tents, the Aussie clan went out to explore. We ventured through the tents to the wonderful playa, which is like a big oval but it's several kilometres in diamiter. We were stone cold sober but I feel like my jaw was on the ground the whole time, huge mutant vehicles like a pirate ship the size of a semi trailor would slowly float past us, magnificently lit and thumping a party as people in costumes danced on the balconys, there were incredible lit up sculptures of fire or neon lights or both, some moving as vehicles, some stationary and interactive. Above us
the most incredible lazer lights beamed to each other like a dome roof, the 'ohh my godd lookk we areinn a dooome' You don't need drugs at burning man, its already surreal enough.
During the day it was warm, my tent was way too large and expensive and very summery with air con, so while others began to bake in a plastic oven I could rest with a breeze in the window. I slept a lot in the day because it was very hot to go out adventuring. Others chose to lay in our campsite tent structure, drink, smoke and talk about nothing intelligent. At night I would venture with various groups, although didn't seem to really go all out, sometimes the nights just never really took off on me, but I have had many many a big night in real life so I wasn't overly worried. Besides I can imagine being violently hungover in the desert would NOT have been kind.
Because I didn't go so hard at night I managed to go to some of the maaany workshops and events that were happening all the time, I went to meditation style things in sweet tents, some
were very full on, some not so much. I tried to push myself as hard as I could to do things I felt uncomfortable with for the liberation it would bring, I did leave one workshop because we had to go around a circle and hug, kiss random people, which I would have been more ok with if the entire room wasn't full of old sweaty people who looked like serial killers, one of them was also a transvestite, a casual one though, he wanted to be a pony tailed housewife not an on stage bonanza. I tried my best with this activity but it was not for me.
I went to a workshop at the Byron Bay tent (yes the Aussie place) which was interesting, we closed our eyes and he went through each of our senses. While sitting on a persian rug under the sarong shadecloth we had a few mutants go past and one mooed violently like a cow, (I guess a cow just drove past) another was heavy metal music, all good for meditation. With our eyes closed, he fed us fruit to awaken our taste buds and then moved us around to pair us
with someone in the group, we then had to meet them by touch. Still with our eyes closed, my man had nice hands, and masculine arms and a stubbled face, he was good. We shared a moment.
Then there was the day of the dust storm, oh god.
In the afternoon the wind was picking up and more until it became strong gusts, and then it was full on crazy. Tents were flattening and dust was rising in the air. The afternoon was a whiteout of dust, and it's a very very fine alkaline substance that gets right down into the lungs, noses are absolutely clogged with snot and hardened by dirt and it lined the teeth and taste buds. Goggles and dust mask over the mouth and nose were essential. I tried to hide in the shade of the centre camp and watch some musicians play, the poor musicians, they would get waves of dust pelt on them mid song, if you sat in a chair long enough you would be pale white with the dust and if you opened your arm you would see the colour of skin again, it was extreme and there was no escape
(unless you had an RV - Bloody RV people)
By about 6pm I went back to our camp and sat despondent, dusty and deflated. Wheen was thiis going too eennd?...All of me and parts I didn't know existed were filled with dust. There was nothing I could do to be any more comfortable or to avoid or alleviate the situation. Dinner was full of dust, so decided to get drunk. Or was I drunk before the dusty dinner? I can't remember.
This is the night the effigy of the man was going to be burned. It was soon dark and I was clad with some precariously placed tattoos and not much else, I went out with a clan of people from the campsite. One of my friendships at the campsite became significantly stronger on the night and this was boosted by the generosity of some other random burner. Thanks man, whoever you were. I had a wonderful night and the next morning when I managed to shuffle out of my tent I needed two hands to hold my coffee. I spent the majority of the next day in my bed, it was nice.
The last night was the
Temple burn, and we had another sandstorm, I decided to remain in the cosy arms of my tent instead of venturing out into hell. My goggles were tinted so I had the choice of being blinded by sand or blinded by darkness. The fatal flaw with my lovely Taj Mahal air con tent is that with air also comes dust. I had a very decent layer of it on my floor and all over all of my stuff. I think the air inside my tent was possibly more dust polluted than if I were outside my tent. Anyway as I huddled in my bed gusts would send my tent almost flat on its side on top of its inhabitants, I'd feel tempted to come out from under the covers and see if the top of my tent was still there and DUMP - another handful dust in my face, up my nose, in my eyes in the ears and the hair hah don't even want to get started on the hair. Did I mention there were no showers or taps at burning man? Just wet ones. Oh I bet we smelled fiine.
In the morning we had to pack
the bus and leave by 9am, there were some very weary people packing up their tents. My friend came to help me pack my tent and it wasn't fitting into the bag it came in,(pff they never do) he asked to help and I felt like I was just winging, 'I am just having a tantrum' , the guy next to me piped in with 'Tentrum' ...I loved it ..haaah!
I was a bit worried that Carl from Aussie camp hadn't come back but he did return finally, he had avoided the whole storm because he hooked up with a chick who lived in an RV, Damn you! that was my idea! We helped tidy and a few people were still MIA, thats what happens when you party like there is no tomorrow and there is an 8.30am bus the next day. I think we got everyone in the end though, even if we did leave late.
Our bus driver was one of the most beautiful hippies I have ever seen, open shirted and finely muscular, he had an lovely face and the sweetest blue eyes with just getting shaggy brown hair that was covered in dust, .
He handed out our individually packed breakfast bags for us to munch on the bus. Before he left he thanked us for coming with the Green Tortoise to Burning Man 'You gotta be tough to party out here' will be a phrase I will always remember. And the dreadlocked, dusty people half dead collapsed on the bus in blankets and outrages clothing they had accumulated along the way. In my breakfast bag I had a few edible things and a ..cucumber...? Carl had lollipops..just lollipops. I loved the guys from Green Tortoise, I wondered who this random trashed guy was on the bus, he was a bit like a weirdo on a train, turns out he was the cook.
Yet another reason it was great to go to Burning Man with Green Tortoise was getting out. If one goes the normal civillian way they will wait approx 5 hours of traffic to get in or out, there was a certain part that took about 9hours. We drove straight out in about 10 mins. Back onto tarmac, back into reality, past Reno, back to sleeping on the bus, I changed seats and slept on my friends shoulder.
Finally, late at
Compost on the phone
Yes his actual legal name is Compost.
night we arrived back in San Francisco behind the Greyhound terminal where we left from, it felt like we had returned from the moon. I managed to find a home for my bike and all of my camping gear so all I carried through the streets of the clean city was my small dusty backpack. We were trying to help some other burners figure out the bus to get home and the homeless people looked at us differently, as did clean people, we had crossed the lines of social classes.
My friend walked me to my hostel and I said goodbye before I clambered up the 5 flights of stairs to check into my hostel.
The girl at reception said that if it made me feel any better, I didn't smell any worse than any of the other Burners that had arrived that night. I fumbled around and got my pre planned pack o shower and turned the water on, running water oh my god, shampoo in my stiffened hair..oh my god. It was wonderful.
Going to Burning Man was one of the most incredible, liberating, interesting, testing things I have ever done. It's like the extremes of
America expressed in an artistic from, overwhelming and amazing. I will do everything in my power to attend as many Burning Man Festivals as I can in my life. I am no longer a virgin. Woohoo.Next time I want bigger and better costumes and swirly things and even more eccentric.
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