An automotive serendipity thing had happened to the SLO folks on the way to BM. They went up thru Reno and had overfilled their vehicle with people and gear. Whilst stopped in Reno on Saturday, they spied a guy who appeared to be on his way to BM. Now technically, BM doesn't "start" until Monday, but you can arrive early if you are part of a theme camp. In truth, this appears to be rarely checked/enforced, but the myth persists. So the SLO folks meet Allen the Canadian, a first-timer, who is biding time in Reno because he isn't part of a theme camp and can't technically arrive yet. He is instantly made a member of DeNile in thanks for taking on an extra passenger from SLO, and arrives early with the SLOers rather than spending another day in Reno AND bonds with his passenger. As it turns out, Allen is a delightful addition to camp, and their impulsive inclusion of him was a great idea. Allen is Super Newbie, having brought all the things other veteran campmates have forgotten to pack: extra tennis balls (used to cap rebar tent stakes so they don't slice your legs open), 50 and 100 feet lengths of rope, leatherman tool, blue hair dye. During the week, it will become a camp game to first ask Allen for whatever you need that you didn't bring to see if he somehow anticipated it, escalating to impossible requests like "coffin full of potato chips" (tip of the anecdote to cookalexv), which even Allen, a mere Canadian, has failed to bring along.
The camp dynamic is more or less pretty good for me. I know quite a few people from Seattle already, and the people I'm meeting seem compatible as well. The one person I'm not looking forward to seeing (my ex) will not arrive until Monday or Tuesday, giving me time to acclimate to being in the desert in this weird world without worrying about drama. As it turns out, I'll later have plenty of drama too, but for now, my main problems are remembering to drink enough water, apply sunscreen, attempt to sleep at night despite being a block away from camps that play loud techno from 11pm until sunrise, and keeping the dust storms from invading my eyes and nose. As a campmate said about the dust assault on his nostrils: "The boogers in my nose are so big, I'm thinking I should name them".
Speaking of dust, one of the weirder (if you can even begin to quantify such things) sights at Burning Man is people in costumes or states of provocative nudity who, due to the sudden dust storms that flare up repeatedly, are wearing thick goggles and "I'm about to belt-sand the cabinets"-style industrial dust masks. It's like Afghanistan from the neck up and Mardi Gras from the neck down. I had at least one person who knew me approach me to hug me, and I couldn't tell if I knew them or who they might be when I looked at their goggled, masked face. If there's ever a justifable reason to stare at a woman's breasts when she's talking to you, it's when that's your only hope of identifying her if you can't discern her face and can't hear her voice (see above, techno 11pm-sunrise). And the dust will blow into your tent, your vehicle and your food; and even if you have baby-fine hair like me, you will develop "playa hair", which is both oily and stiff and will give you white girl dreadlocks, which I never dreamed was physically possible for me. I'm seriously considering shaving my head pre-BM if I return next year to avoid looking like someone from Eugene, or Halle Berry's ghost.
Unless I wanted to post this trip report in 10 segments, it's impossible to write about all the stuff I saw/experienced in a narrative format. So I will resort to that great slacker tool, the bullet list:
*Area 47, a "village" of 4 Seattle area camps, had an "Iron chef" competition, with each camp bringing an ingredient to "stump" the recipient. We ended up with beef-flavored Smack Ramen, so we lost despite a valiant effort. There was a tie for first, with the Space Virgins winning in the presentation aspect by serving their creation on the two nearly-naked bodies of 2 of their attractive campmates (if you've done the naked sushi thing, you know the drill here). After Iron Chef, there was a Santa Rampage-style "Marauding Horde" where the 100+ members of Area 47 "invaded" other theme camps and exhorted them to join the horde. Me and 2 others had to duck away from the horde to use the port-a-potties, and couldn't find which way they'd gone when we were done. Only at Burning Man can you repeatedly ask the question "excuse me, did a marauding horde pass by here in the last few minutes?" to strangers and get a calm, un-alarmed negative answer.
*If you want to be a good samaritan and clean up litter (or "MOOP", Matter out of Place) that isn't yours as part of the "leave no Trace" aspect of BM, you will often be directly rewarded for your effort. In my camp, our MOOP sweeps yielded 1) a $10 bill 2) a stylin' silver flask with Cointreau or Triple Sec in it 3) a funky belt 4) a marabou boa 5) 2 walkie talkies 6) a decorated altoids tin with a bloodshot eye painted on it with the inscription "Where's my damned tent?", containing 5 pills of dubious pharmaceutical legitimacy 7) a sealed chocolate pudding. Lesson 1: drunk and altered people drop the damnest things.Lesson 2: where possible, label your stuff. people are pretty good about trying to return things to their rightful owners; someone brought me a camera battery labeled "lara", but it wasn't mine. However, it was the property of the only other lara i know, who also lives in Seattle. Unfortunately, I had no way of knowing she was a Space Virgin and camped literally 10 feet away from where the camera battery was shown to me, and I don't know what the finder did with it when I couldn't confirm the location of the other lara.
*even though there's as much nudity as you've heard, that's just a small aspect of the whole experience. After a while, you get almost used to seeing your campmates naked on a tarp, vainly trying to wash and un-dread-ifie their hair. Nudity happens in really odd circumstances. On the Saturday of the Burn, the "Swinger's Lounge", a camp with both a bar with homebrewed ales and a zip line decreed that all users of the zip line had to be naked. About 5 DeNilers went together as a parody of a corporate team-building exercise, complete with pre-event photos and "go team DeNile" chants.
*No bullet list is complete with out of context quotes that are funny to me but won't make any sense to anyone who wasn't present:
"I'm sorry, but all hummus is communal."
"Can I borrow your receptacle?" "You should ask at Camp JiffyLube."
"Oh, like YOU'VE never fucked a dead whore!"
*I got to do 2 nifty things on the Sunday after the Burn. First, I was invited to the Species Feast, where 20+ exotic meats are grilled and sampled. Maybe you've eaten boar, antelope, elk, ostrich, venison, rattlesnake, alligator, rabbit, and kangaroo (!!) before, but in one evening? It was a fantastic experience. Kangaroo is gamey. Then, after the Temple burn, a friend who's basically a staff member of the BM org took me to the Super Sekrit Hot Springs. I guess they aren't really secret, in that lots of people know they exist, but rank-and file BM participants aren't really allowed to go to the place (about 5-10 miles off the Black Rock City grounds) where they are, but staff is. After 8 days of infrequent "bucket brigade" style showers, immersing my hair and body in a hot spring was heaven. I'd never been to a hot springs before, and ironically, the next day, I would go to another one in Oregon on the way home. The other wild thing about the hot spring near BRC is it had bullfrogs, minnows, and bats in the land around it. At BM, there is -no- visible life in the desert other than imported humans and insects you import via your camping supplies. It's kinda a big deal when you see a fly, and unlike everywhere else you've camped in the past, mosquitos will not bite you. So to go from a week of no insects, mammals, or plants to a hotspring with bats living in the trees was quite extraordinary. it sounds simple, but it was quite a reality shift at the time.
*the actual Burning of the Man was cool and all, but actually fairly low on the wow factor compared to some of the other stuff I saw or participated in. In my opinion, you could have Burning Man without Burning the Man and have a similar experience to the one that exists now. Also, the man burn is sorta tainted by the local yahoos who show up just for the huh huh, huh huh, fire, yeah, huh huh part of the event. On Sunday, there's a burning of a wooden "temple", which is perhaps more reflective and meaningful than the Man burn.
* Remember the people I attempted to ride to BM with, that had the RV troubles? Here's what happened to them: stuck in Alturas 2 days, emailed people in Seattle to see if auto parts could be imported. Part was brought from Seattle, failed to fix problem. They elected to buy a used car and leave RV to pick up (after further repairs) on the way back, finally arriving Wednesday (original ETA before seal blew was Saturday night). despite it all, they had a good time and their fledgling relationship survived many nights waiting in Alturas, getting to know the locals, while waiting for news of their vehicle. As the car they bought was much smaller than the RV and crammed full of their gear from the RV, they were unable to give any of us original ridesharers a ride back as originally planned. So I ended up catching a ride back with (wait for it.....) my ex boyfriend. This turned out to not be as onerous as it sounds, and despite much drama before BM and during, we actually had an almost enjoyable road trip back home. But that, my friends, is a story for a future entry....
BM A+++!! Prompt delivery of interesting experiences! Would attend again!