For the first time in 25 years, Burning Man, the annual art festival in the Nevada desert, sold out, closing down ticket sales weeks before the event took place from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5.
This year was my third time attending the festival and bringing back photos for the Daily Tidings. I have to admit I was beginning to really doubt the festival could be as engaging and creative as it had in the past. With a record number of 54,000 attendees, I was worried that more people like myself would show up simply to observe without hip and ingenious activities and workshops to offer.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Upon arrival at the Burning Man gate in the Black Rock Desert 120 miles North of Reno, everyone is given a booklet of activities for the week. I was shocked when I was handed a thick, bound book this year instead of the small, stapled booklet of the past.
The "What, Where and When" booklet is jam-packed with every kind of activity one could think of. For example at the Rock Inferno camp you can turn your Guitar Hero skills into a pyrotechnic rock show, shooting bursts of flame into the air. Or you can go to the White Dragon Noodle Bar one evening, where they are serving vegan noodles with shiitake mushrooms, shoyu and sake. If you Sumo wrestle someone you get into the VIP line. Tuesday morning is the Black Rock City Farmer's market where you can pick up some juicy melon, carrots or sugar snap peas. "How about Slappy Hour?" one entry in the book reads. "Ever wanted to just slap a man because you thought he needed a drink? Visit Funk Forest camp for safe supervised, loving slaps to the face. Then drink." The list goes on; dodgeball at night, communal showering, shoe decorating, film festivals, classes on belly dance, meditation, shamanism. There is even a Hunter S. Thompson camp called Bat Country. Whatever you're into — Burning Man has it.
This, of course, is in addition to numerous smaller theme camps with spontaneous activities not even listed in the book and all the amazing art installations stretching outward from the city. Burning Man is the largest temporary city in the world. For this one week a year they are given their own zip code with a functioning post office all run by volunteers. There are several newspapers, bike repair shops, boutiques for shopping for costumes and more — all free. No goods are exchanged for money except coffee at Center Camp and ice. All other activities are free.
For me the experience isn't just about one thing, it's a combination of my amazing friends and camp mates, the fun free activities, drinks and food all day long, and the magnificent art, explosions and dancing that goes on at night. Though I had began to lose faith in the creativity of Burning Man, the experience I had this year brought all that magic back. Once again, as I packed up my camp this year preparing to transition back into the default world, I promised myself — I'll be back next year.
Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4486 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.