“By the end of the week, the walls are jam-packed with love notes to lost ones and forgiveness notes to themselves. I was moved to tears by it.”
In August 2015, I ventured into the desert to discover the magical world that is Burning Man. A group of my best friends and I flew into San Francisco and spent two of the most stressful days of my life driving from Walmart to Walmart, buying everything under the sun in preparation for life in the desert for a week.
It turns out you need to take enough water and food to survive for eight days, as there are no means of buying anything once you’re inside- everything gets done through gifting and trading.
After waiting in a queue of cars moving at 5km/h for 10 hours, we finally arrived at the entrance of the temporary city at about 1 am. We were all tired, hungry and couldn’t see past all the dust blowing around us. Greeted with flames and amazing dressed up creatures, we were instructed to get out of the car and roll in the dust screaming: “I’m not a virgin any more!”
We set up our temporary village in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, so excited to see what the place looked like in the day. They say it’s the largest temporary city in the world, and ‘city’ is precisely the word I’d use to describe it. The place spanned for miles, and in the whole week we were there, we probably only saw a quarter of the site. You need bicycles to get anywhere—Burning Man’s version of cars, I guess.
And then there are the art cars; these are the most incredible contraptions comprised of huge mutant vehicles decked out in lights and decorations and couches and DJs, and can hold about 100 people. They drive out into the desert with crowds of people following the music—pretty spectacular really!
We spent the days dressing up in fabulous outfits and biking through the “streets”, stopping off at all these little tents where there were activities in exchange for gifts. We stopped at a tent offering tequila snow cones in exchange for showing your best dance moves, a place handing out love potion, another giving words of wisdom—oh and a hugging booth!
The nighttime is an even more magical experience. Everything is lit up with neon lights, and you can venture from stage to stage listening to whatever your heart desires.
Venturing further into the desert, you end up stumbling across some of the most fantastic art pieces. They build this wooden temple where everyone goes to let go of their hurt. By the end of the week, the walls are jam-packed with notes to lost loved ones and forgiveness notes to themselves. I was moved to tears by it. On the very last night, they burn the temple, and everyone gathers around to let go of all of their hurt—it’s an incredibly emotional experience.
There was this moment one afternoon when we were heading out to the critical tits parade (a bunch of women biking around the desert expressing their freedom), biking through what we thought was just a whiteout. You could only see a metre or so in front of you, and the dust storm just kept getting worse and worse to the point we all had to stop and hold on to one another otherwise we would have lost each other. We turned and looked to the left, and there was this incredible chapel statue there in the middle of nowhere with someone playing the organ. We ventured in and sat in the pews and waited out the dust storm there.
This is the most beautiful place on earth, from the sunrises over the desert to the sunsets whilst watching the man burn, and despite every inch of me being covered in dust (everyone’s hair had turned some shade of grey by the end of it), and without having had a proper shower in a week, it was the most moving and spectacular experience I could have asked for.
Author - Emma Mitchell
Emma Mitchell is from New Zealand. She has lived in New York, travelled extensively throughout America and is currently living in Berlin, Germany and exploring as much of Europe as she can.