Burning Man 2015 || Film photographs and words by Birralee Hassen
This was my second time at Burning Man, and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot more than my first. Don’t get me wrong, my first time was absolutely amazing also, but this time I felt I was a little more prepared. I was mentally ready for the seven days of absolute non-stop sensory overload. The first time I went I did what apparently most first timers do - which is party hard out - and don’t get me wrong that was great, but this time I was keen to experience as much as possible, to become more involved in what was on offer. I attended with my two friends Georgie and Lisa, and our faithful Burning Man chaperone Bogdog. This was Bogdog’s fourteenth consecutive year in a row, so to say he is an experienced burner is an understatement. He offered us advice like “In relation to food, don’t bring anything that requires cutlery or crockery”, and so for a week we lived off Doritos and salsa, and popper boxes of cold pumpkin soup.
Sixty-five thousand people flock each year to Black Rock City, making it the third largest city in Nevada for the week that it is on. It takes about forty-five minutes to ride a bicycle from one side of camp to the other. Whatever you can’t imagine in everyday life can happen at Burning Man. The sheer size of the festival means that there really is something for everyone. There is unicorn skate jousting, where willing participants dress up in unicorn outfits, drop in opposite one another on the skate ramp that has been built in the middle of the desert, and see who wipes out first. There is an Australia day party, where ‘goon of fortune’ is played and fairy bread is supplied. People run in circles, attached at the mouth to the goon sacks, which are attached by pegs and duct tape to the clothesline. There is the all-time sunset party Distrikt, where sweaty bodies dance in the afternoon light and let out a roaring cheer as the sun dips behind the mountains. There is a roller derby, a wonderfully dusty arena made of plywood with roller-skates to accommodate for all sizes of feet. There is acro-yoga, laughing yoga, naked yoga, aerial yoga, pretty much any type of yoga you could dream of. There are workshops on self-esteem, sleeping better, extra-terrestrial life, relationship strengthening. And that is just skimming the surface. There is a whole booklet dedicated to events that are organised by people for people throughout the week. You can’t even begin to attend them all. You should always give yourself an hour or two to get to whatever event it is that you’re keen on attending, as you will most definitely get distracted along the way. We more than once missed things that we had planned to check out, due to events such as the armpit smelling competition, where you rate armpits through a hole in the wall on a scale of one to ten. And then there was the time we stopped to paint our nipples and then press the print onto postcards, with the option of sending them to whatever address came to mind. I sent one to my housemates in Sydney, Georgie to her mother in Melbourne, and Lisa deciding to send her nipple print to the office where she works as an accountant in Brisbane.
It is a week of extremes. Every sense may be heightened, every experience may be felt at the maximum capacity possible, if you so desire. The heat in the daytime leaves you dehydrated, peddling from camp to camp in the hopes of shade and a breeze, riding your bike along the fine line of experiencing as much as possible and not suffering from heat exhaustion. On two days this year there were extreme dust storms, and we peddled into the warm headwind, unable to see much further than five metres ahead of us, catching glimpses here and there of the person riding ahead of us.
With darkness comes a drastic change of the elements, sunlight warmed air replaced with the crisp chill that deserts nights are well known for. Burning Man is held on an elevated plateau that sits four thousand feet above sea level, and the cooler night air leaves you three options. The first being to rug up adequately, cover yourself in layers of leopard print, or whatever your cloth of choice, to keep the sharpness off your bones. The second option is to inebriate yourself to a point where you no longer feel the cold, combined with furious dance moves that allow heat to spread around your body and a smile to spread across your face. The third option is to stay in what you were wearing in the daytime, and subsequently to freeze. From my personal experience I recommend a combination of the first and second.
And then there is dust. Don’t for a second think if you attend Burning Man that there is an option to elude the dust. It. Gets. Everywhere. There is a reason that car hire companies in America at that time of year attach a seven hundred dollar cleaning fee to vehicles if they believe that that they will be heading into the heart of the Nevada desert. And don’t think that you could fool them either; no amount of duct tape across window seals would be able to pull off the illusion of non-attendance. No crack or crevice is safe. It gets in your clothes, in your food, in your cameras, in your car, in whatever it is you’re your sleeping in, as well as every bodily orifice possible. Georgie and I did at one point wet q-tips and attempt to extract the grime from our bellybuttons. I can’t quite remember if this mission was successful or if it was abandoned once the futility was realised. The dust somehow manages to creep in around the edges of you goggles and lodge itself underneath your eyelids; it somehow manages to enter your tear ducts. I watched Georgie pick boogers out of her nose that were so large they would have sufficed to feed a family of five. If families of five were so inclined to eat crusty dusty Burning Man snot that is.
On the Saturday night, the night of the actual burn, all sixty thousand plus people congregate in a circle to watch the man implode in a ball of fire. Lisa and I ducked off to pee, hoping to make a quick stop so that we could watch the burn in comfort. Not wanting to go all the way to the toilets and deal with mass lines we peed behind a truck. Once finished I grabbed Lisa by the hand and ducked underneath the truck, rather than walking around. It was possibly one of the best (fluke) decisions I made all week. On the other side of the truck there was a group of people being huddled into a crane basket. We hadn’t realised but the truck was actually the base of a huge crane. Somehow, by pure chance and surrounded by the amazing burning man luck that followed us the whole festival, we had managed to pop out into the group organised for the off duty fire-fighters, the people who usually organised the burn and fireworks. This group were having the year off, and Lisa and I sidled right on in, not hesitating for a moment as we realised the potential of the situation. We were hustled into the basket, and lifted up about ten stories high where we had incredible 360-degree views of the entire festival. The lights were insane, the burn was phenomenal, and our spirits were oh so high after the week that we had just had. We couldn’t believe that we had somehow managed to score the best seats in the entire festival. As fireworks went off below us and the man caught fire in a mighty explosion we reflected on the week that had been. Everything had just fallen into place so perfectly. As the wood started to crumble in the heat of the fire and the man fell to his knees, the overwhelming sense of gratitude that we had somehow ended up exactly where we needed to be encompassed us. I could not have imagined a better way to end the best week of my life. It was truly something special.
I could continue to write. But that is probably all I should share with the Internet. At the end of the day, Burning Man is a unique experience for every single person that attends. I think that everyone can take away something different. There are countless lessons to be learnt if you are willing, ready, or able. There are innumerable good times and laughs to be had. As well as the times that will test and challenge you. There are incredible memories to be made, which you can hold close to your heart or you can go and share with others. The options are all yours, there’s no right or wrong way to do Burning Man. Do whatever it is that you want or need to - the possibilities are endless. Have fun, be safe, drink water, and remember, in the wise words of Bogdog – “It’s a marathon not a sprint”.