As aficionados will tell you, Burning Man Festival is more than a festival: it’s a jaw-dropping cultural experiment in the Nevada desert celebrating art, sculpture and its unique ‘gifting’ culture, in which no money changes hands. It’s also one heck of a party that famously leaves no trace, packing up every structure it doesn’t burn ceremonially at the end of the event.
But as the environment is harsh and the emphasis is on ‘radical self reliance’, you need careful planning to get the most out of the event and the journey. For my second trip to Burning Man, forewarned was forearmed – here’s how we made the road to Burning Man as stress free and fun as possible.
While many ‘Burners’ fly into Los Angeles and Reno, we enjoyed a few days in San Francisco first. A creative, bohemian and open-minded city, it’s the perfect warm-up. Head to hippy haven Haight-Ashbury for interesting boutiques and bars or snap up a City Pass for discounted entry to museums and exhibitions as well as local transport.
As pale Brits, we also took the opportunity to get a last-minute spray tan at the luxurious Organic Shimmer spa – the $39 tan lasted for the best part of the week.
You’ll need an RV to do Burning Man in comfort: we booked ours well in advance from Apollo on the outskirts of the city. We packed the fridge full of healthy food and filled the trunk with water bottles – it’s BYO and Burning Man recommend 1.5 gallons a day per person. Ironically, alcohol is much easier to come by free at the event: theme camps often have open bars, but make sure you have ID and your own cup. Also, don’t forget your gifts for the people you meet, whether they’re trinkets you picked up in Chinatown or specially designed memorabilia: I came home with everything from leather bracelets to bottle openers featuring the Burning Man symbol. One of my gifts to fellow Burners was crazy hair colour: a quick spray with travel sized label.m powder sprays created festival-ready rainbow hair.
Seventy thousand people attend Burning Man Festival, so prepare yourself for a day-long queue on the roads to get in. Once you’ve found a spot for your RV, or located the theme camp you already signed up for, it’s time to explore.
The vast site is full of delights wherever you wander or – a popular option – cycle. Theme camps will offer you funny, thought-provoking, bizarre experiences, from a mindfulness workshop to a playful spanking. Mutant vehicles blast out music through crisp sound systems as they travel through the ‘playa’. Key landmarks include Centre Camp, a huge tent full of spoken word poetry, yoga bunnies and friendly folk. The ‘Man’ is an enormous structure that, this year, was surrounded by a maze leading to all kinds of art installations and carnavalesque surprises.
The Temple is a peaceful, affecting structure where attendees post tributes to dearly departed loved ones. Watching the ‘Man’ ceremonially burn to the ground on Saturday is full of fun while Sunday’s Temple burn is a more contemplative affair and a fitting end to the festival.
After a week in the dusty desert, you’re dreaming about power showers and downy duvets – so bring on the Grand Sierra Hotel Reno, the nearest Burner-friendly hotel that has modern bathrooms with marble spa-inspired showers. Our Summer Deluxe King was $120 and blissfully comfortable, while we could ‘decompress’ with fellow Burners at a special Beach Party around the hotel pool. While in the main hectic areas gamblers and families mingled with fancy dress-clad Burners, the Charlie Palmer restaurant Briscola was a sophisticated haven where we feasted on Italian food with American sized portions. The perfect recovery option. Until next year…
More about Burning Man Festival
Useful links: www.sanfrancisco.travel
burningman.org (Aug 28-Sept 5 2016)
www.virgin-atlantic.com flies twice daily from London Heathrow to San Francisco from £700 including taxes during summer.