IT’s WORTH CONSIDERING:
Out in the South Western states, as they are so spread out an 8 to 10 hour drive to your destination is actually considered very reasonable, there’s no traffic, it’s pretty much just travelling in a straight line! With the sky turning a violent red tinged with a soothing purple, dusk began slowly seeping into the sky with a very faint glitter of lights in the distance.
Feeling strangely drawn to it naturally we kept driving, and before we knew it we were in LAS VEGAS! Think of your best dream, mix it with a subtle hint of your worst nightmare, season with your best nights out, and a bit of a kick from your worst. Now shake it up, spin it round and down it, and pop the cocktail umbrella neatly behind your ear….there you have it – Vegas, in all its hedonistic insanely iconic glory. Staying with friends in their adobe apartment just off the strip was perfect given the spontaneity of this adventure! We dropped our bags and hit the town…only to find out that, even with fake British driver’s licences it’s not always that easy to get into casinos. After narrowly escaping a run-in with a bouncer scarily reminiscent of Jaws from the Bond movies, we decided to call it on the casinos and move onto something else.
THE MOST UNEXPECTED:
Having spent most of Friday night running away from bouncers and then attending unusual burlesque shows and most of Saturday nursing painful hangovers (this desert air, it really gets to you) we eventually headed out to check one last bar before our long ride home in the morning. As if like a scene from a movie, our next encounter would change our lives, for ever.
His name was Brent and he used to be a high flying lawyer in New York, but for the last thirteen years had been living on the outskirts of Vegas and making his living through gambling. We never really heard the rest of how he ended up in Vegas, or why, but before we knew it we had agreed to an adventure, and we were told it would blow our minds.
Feeling a tad nervous, but figuring we’d just tackled a weekend in Vegas and survived, giving Brent a ride to the festival and maybe staying for a day would be a walk in the park. Famous last words, Burning Man Festival is located in the middle of one of the most hostile desert plains in the US – the Black Rock Desert. Now just imagine a giant Glastonbury festival, except transport it to a large expanse of Native American sacred land in a dry desert, take away all the commercial crap and replace with a heart-warming sense of community – there is no currency, if you want to buy some water, you can ‘trade’ it for a hug (literally, I’m not kidding!) Also take away all the trash- this is a real Leave No Trace festival, you take everything away with you!
People are very welcoming and homely and will often invite you to join their ‘camp’ if you do not have one yourself. Most people will be there for the whole 8 days, but if you’re lucky and know the right people, you can go for just a day or so. We arrived early on the first day of the festival (a Sunday) and left very early Tuesday morning. Paying someone on the gate a small fee got us in for the two days, as simply for knowing this mysterious man in our car seemed to be like holding a golden ticket.
We spent time with our new ‘hosts’ who weren’t all that surprised that Brent had hitched a ride with two students who were supposed to be heading back to uni to study! The place was beyond anything we had ever imagined; I’d heard about this festival before, on the radio and in festival chat rooms, but I never actually thought I would ever go. It was too hot in the day to explore much so we took the advice of our experienced hosts and laid low until sundown, which was a wise move since the day time temperature can reach upwards of 45 degrees Celsius! Sand storms are also common so a pair of goggles is strongly advised (aviators ideally, but there will no doubt be a fair few people wandering around in snorkel masks and swimming goggles – oh that was just me? Ok, fine!).
At night the whole Playa (desert pain) lights up, and I later learned that the Burning Man Festival can actually be seen from a satellite, the site is that big! So it’s advised to bring a bicycle so you can cycle around the ‘city’ – a cheap one so you can dispose of it at the end.
Cycling around and beginning to get our ‘desert legs’ (is that a thing) we discovered crazy disco after crazy disco, mysterious whirring cars that looked like a shoal fish amongst other unusual contraptions – these modified cars are known as Art Cars and take many months to build, from scratch and their owner’s own imagination! In the very centre of this crazy city was the figure of a man, who was glowing green – there is a festival theme each year, and this year it was ‘The Green Man’ with a strong focus on sustainability and renewables, rumour has it that on the last day of the festival he will be burned – makes sense given the name of the thing, really.
The next day we ventured out in the day time as we knew as late as possible that night we had a long drive back to Albuquerque with class in the morning! It was SO HOT and we needed to find shelter! Deep in the very centre of the Playa (desert pain) there is a ‘Temple of Forgiveness’ where you can approach in silence, remain in silence and leave whatever comment or note you wish on it’s bare wooden surface, on the last night the temple is burned. With time getting ahead of us and the heat beginning to take its toll, we made our way back to our surrogate camp and said our goodbyes, making promises that one year we would return and do it properly.
Spending just two days in this ethereal bubble was still magical, but it was time to head back. After all, we were at college and had to get back to studies. Heading out of the strip, back out into the nothingness between Vegas and New Mexico you really do feel like you are being sucked out of a rather debauched fairy tale and kicked back into reality.
**PLEASE NOTE: if you intend to do the Burning Man Festival (especially travelling from the UK) you are best off booking way in advance, hiring an RV and doing it properly, as far as I’m aware, in recent years since its boom in popularity you can’t just turn up or go for a couple of days, these days you have to buy a whole ticket. But you are able to purchase a re-entry ticket.- Edit Feb 2014