The Burn and the Return
Everything on the playa is really just a build up to ‘The Big Burn’ and this year, three different monuments received a right royal toasting. First to go up in flames was The Embrace, which due to an alarm clock ‘malfunction’ we mistakenly slept straight through. Hey, who burns things at 7am in the morning? Where’s the humanity?!
The week long celebrations all lead to the ‘The Man’ and ‘The Temple’ going up in flames at the weekend, but the two ceremonies are very different affairs. The Man goes up on Saturday night and is more a celebration of the festival itself. There are many theories into the meaning of the man being set on fire and even Larry Harvey, one of the festivals originators, is very vague about the actual meaning. It certainly gives the week a climax, yet some people leave before the burn to miss the traffic and others leave straight after. Some don’t even show for it at all, but hey, people can do whatever they like!
The Man was set alight at 9pm on Saturday and good grief did he take some time to collapse in a heap! So long in fact, that we left him to his own devices after an hour and 20 minutes. The Garnish team like watching things burn as much as the next music production school, but this guy was really milking it. We even managed to cycle all the way back to our camp and he was still going. We found out later from our neighbors that the man burned for almost two hours before he collapsed. All a bit ‘look at me, look at me’ for us!
The Temple is a completely different experience due to the contents of the building. Inside this amazing structure are thousands of handwritten letters and pictures of people’s loved ones. Heartfelt messages to parents, siblings and family pets are left inside, with much of the content extremely heartbreaking. Many apologise for things they didn’t do when they had the chance, others celebrate lost loves and it’s really hard to read such emotion without being truly moved. The energy within the Temple is incredibly powerful yet totally awe-inspiring, with almost everyone that enters visibly moved. This structure alone, what it stands for and what it holds inside is one of the main reasons that Burning Man is so special.
Unlike the whooping and cheering that greets the burning of ‘The Man’, the toppling of the Temple is a moment of quiet contemplation amongst the hushed crowd. The whole ceremony is conducted in silence, which as you can imagine at a festival of this size is something quite extraordinary. Many of the crowd are saying goodbye to loved ones and as the Temple becomes engulfed in flames, everyone in attendance pays their respects with a quiet sense of dignity.
As the temple fell to its knees we decided it was the perfect time to leave this amazing city behind and make our way back to the real world. And just as our journey to Burning Man had begun in pure farce, so did our return on the winding road to reality.
After a couple of hours queuing, then a couple of hours driving, we finally managed to hit Reno. After trying a number of different hotels (who were all charging double rates to ‘accommodate’ the travelling Burners) we pulled into a petrol station to get our bearings. From out of the darkness came a quite obviously intoxicated Meth head, howling at the moon and causing us to quickly start the RV and make our escape. As we lurched into action the vehicle scraped along the side of the petrol pump, causing the wheel arch to lock and leaving us nowhere to go without causing even more damage. Upon seeing our plight the meth head, aka Gurning Man, came over to offer some friendly motoring advice before another passing drug addict came over to beg for cigarettes. It was now 3am and our safe passage from the perfect utopian society had now seen us crash into a scene from Night of the Living Dead.
We surveyed the damage alongside our newly acquired comrades and decided we had to just reverse and take whatever damage befell our sinking ship. We were going to have to pay through the nose for this anyway, so we hit reverse with a large crunch, revealing a completely damaged wing served up with a large dollop of wounded pride. With no room at any Inn, we rode our limping donkey to the local Walmart car park and finally went to bed at 4am. There was no star of Bethlehem above our stable that evening, nor offerings of Frankincense and Myrrh. We would, however, be forking out plenty of gold to the RV company.
‘Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, and we were inclined to believe that we were indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell.’
In the boiling hot morning reality of a supermarket car park, cold and flu suddenly washed over the crew. As we vomited, sneezed and shivered our way to Sacramento, it became clear that we were driving the dustiest death trap in California. We found a hotel on the wrong side of town and spent 3 hours on our hands and knees scrubbing the decking whilst holding in nausea. Word to the wise, just buy 20 cans of ‘Liquid Gold’ for the interior of a post Burning Man RV; nothing else seems to shift the layers of playa dust.
After a night of the craziest dreams known to humanity, the race was on to get the RV back. We needed to sign the damage insurance forms before making our 2pm flight out of San Francisco. We left Sacramento at 7.30am to make a 2-hour journey, but yet again the Gods laughed at our planning. Running into the airport we had missed our connection by 10 minutes, but thankfully they allowed us on to the next flight. The next one of course being 8 and a half hours later.
Sitting in the airport mainlining flu medicine, we all had plenty of time to contemplate the crazy week that had just passed. Memories like these really couldn’t be compared to a monetary value or hassle factor, but to say we had gone to great lengths to get there and back would be an understatement. Yes, we probably did things a little wrong here and there, but learning from your own mistakes is what Burning Man is all about. It’s a personal journey into the unknown, where friendships are forged over the shared experience of life on the playa. A harsh desert climate that brings people together from all walks of life to celebrate exactly that; life.
As we boarded the plane to finally be reunited with our own beds, it was safe to say that ‘Team Garnish’ were more than ready to re-enter society. But I think it’s safe to say that we will remember every little detail of our trip to Burning Man. Be they good, bad or catastrophic. We guess that the only thing left to say is…
See you next year!