NATALIA KAPCHUKS’S TOP TIPS FOR THE SUMMER FESTIVAL OF THE YEAR
Over the years Burning Man has become quite a phenomenon among the wealthy and famous, particularly those associated in the world of art, music and film. The annual event has created such a buzz for its fantastic show-stopping, theatrical Mad Max-style costumes, and its free-spirited vibes. The actual festival is held in the middle of the Arizona desert – a far cry from any urban metropolis. The two-week festival takes place in the height of summer in a place called Black Rock City – a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, approximately 100 miles northeast of Reno.
Every year, you can spot countless celebrities, models, musicians and artists amongst the crowds. Regulars include Paris Hilton, Alessandra Ambrosio, Cara Delevigne, Katy Perry, Jared Leto, Diddy and Daft Punk, to name a few. A lot of my friends have been there before and some go every year. Burning Man has always been on my bucket list, but with logistics, like long preparations needed to make in advance, and the countless ‘out of this world’ stories I have heard, it made me push Burning Man to the bottom of my bucket list. But in September 2017, my friends and I (all virgin Burners) decided to actually make it happen! Unlike the usual all talk no action attitude – to my great astonishment, everyone took the idea seriously and started preparations. You need about six months to a year to plan for this event, unless you’re joining people who will do it for you. I always feel it’s important to be self-reliant when going on a group trip like this because people can change their plans and you might end up being homeless.
Now let me tell you how the whole Burning Man actually works: Playa is a metropolis built for two weeks in a middle of the Nevada desert. There are streets with different names, which make it easier for you to maintain your sense of bearings so you can move around without getting too lost. There are many camps and each camp provides different services, interactive workshops, music and activities. You move around Playa on a bike because it’s impossible to walk anywhere, as the distance between things are quite far. It’s the best way to travel, but always make sure you lock your bike when you leave it because someone can take it by mistake. Our bikes were included with the price of our RV. It’s very important to decorate your bike with LED lights because it really helps with cycling in the dark. Bear in mind, there are no street lamps, only lights from the camps, art objects and parties around you. You don’t want to be run over, right? I used a head light at night, plus LED decorations that I ordered on Amazon and eBay.
One important point here: money doesn’t exist at Burning Man. The only way to get things is by swapping commodities; there’s a real sense of community exchange. People are super friendly and willing to help, even if you forget something at home, you’ll more or less find it amongst the crowds by talking and conversing with some friendly folks. In our case, we didn’t have enough wet wipes so we had to trade tequila to get more. However, there are only two things you can buy in Playa: ice (but be prepared for a very long queue) and coffee. Now that you know this, if you make it out to Burning Man, make sure you bring a large supply of food and drinks that will last your whole stay. We pre-ordered most of the things online and a delivery company uploaded it to our RV before we arrived. What’s crucial is drinking water and coconut water. You’ll end up drinking up to six litres a day as you will feel thirsty most of the time. Make sure you bring extra gallons of water for others too, and some for common use in the kitchen.
Pickles are a famous thing at Playa because it retains water in your body. Pickle juice is something you will really appreciate. We also got tinned soup, canned tuna and lots of power bars! Plus don’t forget vinegar. To wash away dust from your feet and legs, you will need to dilute vinegar in water. Dust penetrates inside your skin and makes it super dry; only vinegar can help neutralise it because it’s acidic. You don’t want cracked skin and dry hair, right? Other essentials are body butter, foot cream, lip balm and a nourishing hair mask. Wet wipes are very handy, some people only use wipes and will not even shower. I was using wipes for my hands and feet and it was a hell of a lot of wipes!
We flew a private plane from NYC to Reno airport. After we rented a huge GNC. The drive normally takes under three hours, but this is a rare case because realistically it can take up to nine hours with traffic and congestion. Don’t forget, over 70,000 people come and go over this period and there’s only one main road that brings you there. The journey by road to Burning Man is absolutely stunning. There’s beautiful scenery and you are surrounded by lakes and gorgeous mountains. It’s breathtaking and road trips are always so much fun.
On a way there, we stopped at a hypermarket that’s just a few minutes away from the airport. We loaded the car with food and supplies like batteries, torches, tape and cups. It’s important to get a steal cup to carrying around with you. There are alcoholic drinks everywhere, but you need to bring your own cup and don’t forget your ID. If you are a Burning Man virgin, like us, be prepared for a little surprise waiting for you on arrival. Once you get to the gate, and reach Playa, the gatekeeper makes you roll in the dust – this is a must-do ritual. So make sure you wear something very casual.
On the first day, we woke up quite early with very little sleep. The luxury RV wasn’t as comfortable as our usual five-star hotel, but all the people we met were very friendly and open. There is such a fun and positive vibe at this place. Many camp members gathered together for breakfast every morning and this is how Burners get to know each other more – talking about their lives, hopes, thoughts and dreams. Everyone has a job in the camp; you either cook, do the dishes, work as security – there’s a job for everyone. You must register for a job role after breakfast. My most favoured position was to be a cook but this was already allocated to others. Instead, I had to opt for cleaning the dishes. Once breakfast finished, on the first day, I was already covered with dust from head to toe. I literally changed four times. Be prepared to get dirty as it’s part of the experience. Somehow, we finished our water supply for cleaning on our first day. You will get two vouchers to pump out dirty water and refill your RV with fresh water. Luckily there is a public shower and WC at your disposal. At this point, I remembered my childhood summer camps with outdoor showers and smelly toilets.
During the day, we took the bikes to explore the city. What we saw was mind-blowing. The city has so many unique art sculptures and installations in different forms and sizes spread throughout. The space is so immense that on a first day we only managed to see about five per cent of it. The art is so powerful and expressive. You’ll find temples and human sculptures from leading artists around the world. On the last few days at the festival, some sculptures were set on fire. The year I went, one man committed suicide jumping into a fire in front of thousands of people so security will be tight in the coming years. There are also fantastic art cars moving around. You’ll find fish, boats, emojis or dragons on wheels. You can jump inside an art car and make new friends, whilst enjoying the ride. It’s an incredible place to explore by bike with no agenda – simply admire different art objects and explore different camps. A few camp names are: 17 Virgins, Bike Gods, Camp Bang Bang, Mystic, Candy Land, Department of Peace, Dusty Bumm, Insomnia, Love Cow and Miso horny – to name just a few.
Sunsets are unbelievable at Playa, the colours are very pretty – striking and bright. As the sun goes down, there are a lot of parties going on and many camps offer various cocktails and drinks free of charge. The most famous clubs are Robot Heart and Mayan Warrior, which you can find deep in Playa at night. And Distrikt is a great one for the day. A majority of the Burners are up until sunrise because watching the sun rise at Burning Man is just as spectacular (if not more) than the amazing sunsets there. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to stay up to experience it. I guess two days at Playa just wasn’t enough, but now that I’ve had a taster, I’m very excited for this year’s full experience.
1. How can you get tickets?
It’s not easy to get a Burning Man ticket. You need to create a Burning Man profile online. You must be registered and logged in to participate in online sales (dates and hours are available on www.burningman.org). Unfortunately there’s no guarantee you’ll get a ticket for the price of $440. It’s like winning the lottery. Thousands of people queue for the tickets, but not everyone gets them. That’s what happened to us. We didn’t manage to get tickets. However, the idea of Burning Man is not to make a profit on ticket aftersales, but we had no choice. Rather than buying tickets from third party firms like Vivid Seats or Viagogo, which cost between $1,000-1,200 each, some people cancel their plans last minute and if you register on Facebook groups for tickets you might get one closer to the event for the same value. But please verify the authenticity of the tickets and always ask for an original receipt, since there are many fake tickets out there. Don’t forget a vehicle pass if you’re arriving by car too.
2. Where do you stay?
There are a few options: in a car, in an air conditioned tent, or in a RV. In our case only an RV was suitable. Searching for the right RV is a challenge; we found one which looked appealing in pictures. It had a master bedroom, kitchen, shower, WC, two single beds and two sofa beds. It was great for a group of four. To save costs, many people rent an RV from another state like California and drive it themselves. Unfortunately many RV renting companies only accept a US driving license, so it’s not so handy for anyone visiting the US. For an extra fee, we arranged for our RV to be delivered and picked up from Playa. For one week rent, we paid $17,000, but there are less expensive options out there if you book in advance.
3. How do you know what camp to join?
It’s advisable to join an existing camp through a friend’s recommendation. There are a number of camps in Burning Man and they are all listed on the official website. Every camp is different and you might want to choose one that resonates with your hobbies and interests. Luckily I’ve got a few friends from a camp called Playaskool, it’s a pretty big camp with more than 420 people. I absolutely loved it for the TEDx talks on environmental digital and psychological themes. They had great speakers on board and you can find recorded videos of them online. It was a huge space with remarkable fire and laser shows and AAA Entertainment DJ’s. It was so good that many people from other camps came to celebrate with us.
Camp fee may vary, we payed around $9,000 for four people. That includes parking, breakfast and dinner. And if you bear in mind how many gallons of water, gasoline, construction, recycling and all the work behind the scenes, you actually understand the cost. Camp management was very supportive; they always gave us feedback and tried to solve any issues we had. Please understand that these people are volunteers and they want to have fun themselves. They are not there to serve you so better to contact them only in case of emergency.
Burning Man has a strong sense of community, responsibility and team work. You need to take the rules very seriously especially when leaving no litter. Black Rock Desert is a protected area and it must be left clean. So don’t drop anything and do not hesitate to pick up someones micro MOOP (matter out of place).
4. What do you wear?
When all the planning and organising is done it’s time to think about costumes. It’s very important to wear something extraordinary. Some people spend up to $10,000 on costumes. Essentials include: a warm coat, a hat and a funky neon fur coat with LED. I changed three times a day on average. You’ll need to change a few times for various reasons like the weather. During the day it’s very hot, with temperatures as high as 40ºC and at night it’s very cold; one year it dropped to 0ºC. You have to be prepared for all weather conditions at all times.
It’s very important to bring a few pairs of boots and socks – long and medium in length. Sunscreen is also a must. Another important point: dust goes everywhere! If you don’t keep your feet protected from the dust your skin will become dry and it will crack. The desert is very alkaline so it makes skin incredibly dry. Sand storms are worse that Mad Max movies. The best way to protect your face, eyes and lungs is using a mask and googles. Wigs and hats are essential for those who care about their hair. Even if you wash your hair every day it will be still get dirty and dry. There’s no point washing your hair everyday because water supply is very limited and your hair will get dirty immediately after you step out of the shower cabin, so dry shampoo is a good option and braids are a great look for girls at Burning Man. I loved having mine done at “Bitchin’ Braid Camp” which provides braiding services for everybody.
It’s good to mix and match costumes. I ordered lots of things online from Etsy and from Burning Man designers on Instagram. I bought googles, masks, bodysuits, space boots, furs and hats. Don’t hesitate to pass by a local sex shop and Halloween shop either. Buy different coloured wigs and anything that looks hot and sexy. You might also want to revive your old clothes and turn them into fantasy-style outfits. Whatever you do, get creative and don’t try to imitate – being yourself is always the best way to be.
5. How to get there
There are a few options. Reno is the closest international airport. From Reno you can take a car and drive, but make sure you buy a car pass; this is something you have to arrange separately for the price of $100. From Reno, you can take the Burners Express, which is either a bus or plane. You can charter a small plane that will bring you directly to Black Rock City. The only problem with the plane is that you can only take on board one hand luggage. The small plane is the most costly option, but it’s the the fastest way to get there. Another option is by bus but tickets go fast so you need to buy them in advance to be on a safe side. Visit https://burnerexpress.burningman.org/ to find out more.
Burning Man from August 25 – September 2, 2019