Burning Man - The week that leaves the world divided. One side of the fence is a group of people sitting at home rolling their eyes and watching the pictures roll in of people in no pants, wings and a gas mask and posting some obscene blah blah blah inspiring life quote that never would have escaped their lips prior to the festival. The other side are the people who have lived and breathed in that desert dust and have had the life changing experience that is Burning Man. Leaving behind every constraint that modern society has put on humans and dancing until dawn without a slight hint judgement, celebrating beautiful lives that were lost and appreciating what we are fortunate enough to have.
So what is it about Burning Man that changes people so much, and why should you save your pennies for the next one? We speak to Courtney Hoolahan to get some inside perspective.
Was this your first time as a "burner"?
Sure was. My partner had been twice before and had always said it was the best thing that he has ever done, so I thought ‘what the hell, let’s do this!’
What were your expectations coming into Burning Man?
To be completely honest, I had anxious butterfly’s in my stomach when we were driving through the desert and soon to be approaching Burning Man after a 6 hour drive from San Francisco. Having only had seen photos, heard stories and done enormous amounts of ‘costume’ research on Pinterest, I had zero clue of what to expect. America is so bloody weird and unique in every day life, that I had no idea how more whacky and wonderful it could get. I was also excited beyond belief – I mean what could possibly go wrong being in the desert with your best mates for a whole week, no rules and no phone reception?
How many people were in your burning man crew? Had they been before or was it a new experience for everyone?
All up, there were 5 of us that drove in together in two separate RV’s and we were placed right next to each other in a camp called Music Savages. 5 people soon grew to 25! Your RV neighbours become your best friends and you share moments with them and help one another out like you would to your best friends of years and years. We opted to be in Music Savages as my partner had been with them back in 2014 and the familiarity of coming back to a crew you know (plus bringing newbies) is a great feeling. We were greeted by a camp leader as we arrived at midnight on the Monday and were instantly welcomed ‘home’. I must admit, it’s all so weird at first… everyone is SO nice!
Did you have to do much preparation before going there?
To go make the decision to go to Burning Man, is not one that you can make lightly, nor can you make it at the last minute. Andy and I committed to this crazy experience back in March when we were up at 4am, waiting in a virtual online queue to get tickets. Once the tickets are purchased, return flights to LAX from Sydney were booked and we hunted down and booked RV for the week in San Francisco. I think we managed to spend around $6K in half an hour. There was no turning back from that point! Prior to leaving for America, we had a friend make us some really cool stuff to take over and wear there…however once we got there, it really just wasn’t practical! Comfort in the desert is everything! And with extreme heat during the day and freezing temperatures at night, you need to be practical. So we did a lot of shopping in San Francisco which is great for whacky and weird pieces to wear over the week. Apart from clothes, we also needed to pack everything we would need for the week, from water, food, alcohol, bikes, lights, first aid kits, petrol…everything you need in your life for that week, you are expected to take. Thank god for America and the one stop shop that is Walmart! Once packed and ready to go, we drove 7 hours from San Francisco and were headed for Black Rock City!
The best and the worst part of Burning Man?
The worst part - the toilets! By far! If you’re staying in an RV then you have to have your water pumped and refilled at least once during the week and hunting down the roaming ‘toilet trucks’ is not ideal! The whole Playa has portaloos on every corner but when you gotta go, you gotta go so you make the trip to the portaloos as quick as you can!
The best part - I can’t actually put my finger on one specific part…the feeling of cycling onto the open desert at night for the first time and seeing the abundance of thousands of lights for miles and miles is absolutely mind blowing! Riding around on art cars, meeting new people and making new buddies and having crazy conversations, dancing until the sun rises and going to bed with the beat still loud and clear in your head, the outfits are amazing…there really is no place on earth quite like Black Rock City. It’s certainly addictive.
One memory that will stay with me forever is the emotion that came out of me when being at the temple. The temple, like ‘The Man’ is created and built by volunteers in the lead up to Burning Man and is such an exquisite piece of architecture. I still can’t comprehend how much time and effort goes into such art, then it’s burnt to smithereens within a week. I think that’s why it’s so special and scared. It’s a place where people go to pay respects to loved ones who are no longer with us and the energy is infectious. Whilst being at the temple, there is never a dry eye in sight. It’s truly an incredible feeling and with all the sadness and terror that goes on in the world, the temple restores your faith in humanity and gives you a glimpse into the love and respect that we all should have for one another.
What was the craziest thing you saw at burning man?
A guy walking around butt naked with a stamp pad and giving people ‘dick stamps’ on the dance floor was pretty damn weird. There was also a guy, turned girl who was naked with boobs and a penis. So damn weird but hey – he/she was rocking it and was having a hell time! You can’t help but feel so happy that everyone, no matter how weird, feels free and content to express themselves in their own way.
Have you ever travelled overseas to attend a festival before?
Nope – this was my first time and definitely won’t be my last.
Was your trip planned around the festival or did Burning Man happen to be on when you already had holidays planned?
Andy and I were tossing up between a European holiday or to tackle America. Once the decision to buy Burning Man tickets was made, the rest of the trip fell into place and we couldn’t have planned it better if we tried. The whole trip lasted 3 weeks and was incredible. We started on the west coast in New York, flew across to San Francisco, drove to Burning Man then ventured across to Tulum, Mexico after Burning Man. It was the perfect decompression from the harsh terrain of Nevada Desert. I can’t recommend a beach side getaway post Burning Man enough.
Would you go again?
Without a doubt!
Is Burning Man really the spiritual awakening that everyone says it is or is it just a big bunch of people dressed like Mad Max characters on drugs in the desert?
The best way to describe Burning Man is to imagine that civilisation has moved to Mars and the entire population has diminished to 70,000 people. There are no rules, no one to discriminate you or tell you off. Everyone is there to have a good time and enjoy the short time that we can exist in this crazy town while it last. It is literally like being on another planet.
There is so much to soak up in a week that it can become overwhelming at times and I think everyone always takes something spiritual away from it in that aspect. Living on what would normally be considered as one of the worst places on Earth (the desert), it is suddenly transformed to the most beautiful, peaceful and creative place on Earth that is so surreal. Sure you see some hippy, spiritual and super whacky stuff that makes you laugh but all in all it kind of gives you another perspective on the world.
That, and the fact that it sure is one hell of an epic party!! ;) It’s a long way to travel for a party but it sure is worth it!
Text courtesy of Courtney Hoolahan