I’ve learned how fantastic it can be to get yourself lost in a sandstorm (of course it’s fantastic because you know you’re not going to be lost for long, and can instead use the white-out as an excuse to play a fun game of Marco Polo with other cyclists lost in the cloud). It’s also fantastic to discover the great fashion sense innate within you, silently laying in wait for the chance to break out a galaxy-print spandex onesie with bandana and sand goggles that take up 1/2 your face. And you’ve never felt more beautiful.
This was my first year at the burn, and I have both very positive associations and some criticisms, as I’m sure is to be expected of any event where 70,000 people congregate for a week in a completely inhospitable environment. So, here’s my critical side because I want to move on to the awesomeness of it quickly. In short, it’s the plastic. BM is an entirely unsustainable way of living, which I really struggle with because to me the whole idea of BM is to provide inspiration for an ‘ideal’ society. And to me, an ideal society doesn’t require spending hundreds of dollars on Amazon for disposable glow sticks and paper plates. BUT, that said, if you participate, there is no way to get away from it, and you’ll see below photographic evidence of a gorgeous glow stick crown that gifted to me.
Okay, that’s out of my system. So now I can talk about the great things that I was part of, and witness to, in the 8 days of desert living. To me, the experience is about meeting and connecting with a person, with people, with everyone, without the barrier of social norms that usually take months or years of knowing a person to break through. Yes, everyone talks about the sand and the heat and the likelihood of rain, but it’s the filler conversation that gives rest between conversations about a person’s life, if they’re happy, what their parents expect of them, their heartbreaks and what they think about god and the freshwater crisis.
The art is phenomenal, both because the work itself is something special, but it’s impact is exponentially more powerful due to the fact that it is sitting in the middle of the desert. The starkness of the surroundings combined with the knowledge that someone so loved the playa that they gave their only begotten structure of wood…. is pretty inspiring. To watch so much of it burn, and see projects of thousands of man-hours go up in flames and smoke devils, is to realise that all things end, even time on the playa, which feels endless until you find yourself in a 7 hour wait in seventeen lanes of traffic to make it to the exit gates.
The temple is such a special place that I am still shocked that I didn’t know much about before. It’s a beautiful structure, a place where people go to meditate, pray, write love letters on the wall and leave tokens at the altar to remember people who had left their lives by moving on in one way or another. It’s a place where there is no barrier to seeing the suffering that everyone has. There are no curtains or doors – everyone that goes to the temple brings their stuff and sits with it. I know a lot of people reading this will think that this sounds too much – and in normal life, I guess it would be. But the space that people share there allows everyone to just be with whatever they are dealing with and not hide it. I saw people cry, laugh, sing, draw on the walls, and no one asked them to stop or to go somewhere else. I don’t think I’ve ever been to another place remotely like it.
The nights are spectacular, surrounded by art cars, lights and fire. There were nights I would pull my bike over on the side of the road by a camp just to dance with the people outside for a song or two, then hop back on and continue riding. I believe dancing is the greatest cross training and best catharsis, and these nights usually ended with a trip to my friend Inon’s camp, a group of Israelis who made the best pizza this side of the old country (meaning Italy, not Israel…) and were even known to make a girl hot chocolate with a spoonful of nutella at the bottom.
Life on the playa was magical. Bombing around on bikes with Inon at 7am was the best part, as everyone stumbled home from dancing all night, we visited our favourite organic vegetable giver-awayer, who would find the perfect carrot specifically chosen for energy and the best celery stalk to restore health. Everyone had something to give, but the best gift is the simplest – just the warmth, smiles, and hugs, and chats from other dusty, dirty humans.