Burning Man 2017 – Demons Exist in Nirvana

BURNING MAN 2017 – The dust, oh the dust.  I can still smell it if I think hard enough.  The Playa sticks to everything that’s ever been there.  Like a tattoo, it never comes off.  Whenever Burners are feeling sad or nostalgic, they can open up their dusty costumes bin and give their dinosaur print tights a shake, Playa poofing out.  The memories we make out at Black Rock City stick to us the same way.  They change who we are, and who we were at the same time.  The person you are when you are waiting to get into the city will never return to the default world.  Accepting this fact and letting it happen is one of the most important things you can accomplish at Burning Man.  The ego must die for us to truly be alive.

This is not a guide like “How to go to Burning Man” or “My Favorite Photos of Burning Man 2017″and this is not a memoir, but merely a reflection. Not everything is rainbows and unicorns in Black Rock City.  Things get hard and there are hourly challenges.  However, it’s these moments of struggle that make it all worth it.  If easy is your thing then go to Coachella, because I don’t want to hear you whining when I’m having a good time.

“Welcome Home,” oh how nice it was to see those words! Burning Man 2017 started with a bang and took off at the speed of light.  We somehow missed the gate line, getting in in under two hours.  We set up in the night, a windless night perfect for assembling our shade structure.  Before dawn we were all up and running, so we went for a bike ride to give our virgin Burners a sense of direction.  The stars were clear and you could see the Milky Way, letting us know things were good, beacons of normality in a city of the unimaginable.

The first few days we had perfect weather, then a huge windstorm came out of nowhere.  The normal dust blows in a shade of grey, but this was a deep orange tan.  Our shade structure was strong, but I yelled for everyone to grab a corner.  For what seemed like eternity we held onto that tent as I couldn’t see my hands that were holding the poles in front of my face.  I crouched down, fearful of less stable shade tents flying through the air like deadly weapons.  The storm left as soon as it came, leaving us to make some quick repairs.  My hand was bleeding but I didn’t feel it, the adrenaline pumping hard and WE WERE ALIVE!

We sure had some crazy nights.  A particularly memorable night went something like this:  rode our bikes to the center, left them near Pink Heart then wandered by foot.  Found a black light camp with a fish theme, they gave you 3D glasses than made you walk though a sort of 3D maze.  Upon exiting, we noticed the Charlie The Unicorn art car not far away.  We walked out towards the light and had a really good dance party; Charlie was a great host.  From there were heard the “crack clack tak tak tak ztaaa cap” of the giant Tesla coils.  I stared at them for what seemed like hours, unable to convince myself that they weren’t shooting electricity to the sounds of Charlie’s beats.  Eventually we went back to camp for a water refill or something, then stayed up all night laughing with our campmates.  Around 4am we went searching for the Dusty Rhino art car.  After about an hour we found it and followed it off into the desert where Tycho played his annual sunrise set.  The music was chill and when the sun peaked over the horizon, shining though the dusty haze, it was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen.

By the time the man burned things had already gotten out of hand.  Everyone was strung out (Carrie interjection — not everyone!  Sober burners do exist!) and the weekend warriors had arrived the night before with their RVs, and drugs, and moopyness.  MOOP, (Mater Out Of Place) is one of the most important words on the Playa.  Not one piece of anything should ever hit the ground and one must always be watching for moop.  Some people are born moopers, leaving an ugly trail of trash through their entire lives.  Once you are mindful of mooping, it’s easy to avoid.  The Playa is generally spotless until the weekend warriors arrive.  Not really Burners, they just come for the party and fail to notice the details, the point of the whole thing.

Saturday night, everyone is sitting around the Man for the big burn.  Firemen made a circle at a safe distance to keep back the crazies.  The whole ritual is very pagan feeling, with masked fire baring dragons who light the fuse.  There were fireworks and, as always, a huge explosion that you can feel from the edges of the city.  Fortunately for us we watched from the 6 o’clock side as viewers on the 12 o’clock end had to witness a man break through the perimeter and end his life in the flames.

We didn’t hear about this until the morning.  The man didn’t make it to the fire, but collapsed from the heat far away from the flames.  When the structure had fallen, a team of volunteer firemen risked their own lives to drag the man out of the heat.  He was still clinging to life but died soon after rescue.  Many people had seen it, and it had affected them greatly.  Sunday is always a day for tears, but this time was different.  There was pity and grief, but lots of anger as well.  Suicide can be viewed as selfish, but it touches too closely to home for us.  Carrie and I have both had loved ones take their own lives and we have helped friends though times that they felt were the end.  There is always hope, never give up, never give up.

In the United States our health care is terrible.  Our mental health care is worse.  There are no cheap ways to get help and most sufferers of depression keep the feeling locked up inside for years, embarrassed or their weaknesses. It’s our society as a whole that creates this feeling, this lack of spirituality, empty living without purpose.  We are always striving for the next material thing, next vacation, next promotion, because then we will be happy! But the truth is, these rat races are fueling the sadness, perpetuating the emptiness that our lives have become.  Only through turning off, tuning out, and releasing ourselves from the chains of modern desires can we truly be free to be free from pain and suffering.

The Temple burn on Sunday is always a somber event.  The art cars mute their beats and its the first silence you’ve heard it weeks.  The fire burns slowly, the structure strong.  One soul in the middle of the crowd let out a howl of the wolf.  This howling spread organically through the masses until we were all howling at the moon, upset at ourselves and our inability to control the world around us.  Tears flowed from many of our fellow Burners that night; it was one of the hardest days I can remember in Black Rock City.

The experience ended in a rough way.  There were always mixed feelings when leaving, but this was not the way it was suppose to go.  We were supposed to be happy, high on life and our experiences, excited for next year and sharing our ideas for it.  But we were left far more questions than answers, the uncertainty of the whole things growing deeper.  What were we even doing out here, where life shouldn’t exist?  The idea of a shower and the comforts of home kept us going as we used our last bits of mental fuel to navigate the dusty exit road and reenter the hard pavement of the default realm.

We arrived at Burning Man 2017 as seven friends, and left as one.  The experiences you share create a bond that can’t be broken.  Once you truly see and you look into someone else’s eyes and you just know that they see it too, there is no turning back.

Like this post about Burning Man 2017? Check out my article on Burning Man 2014 and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject.

 

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Lost in the Giant Dunes of Morocco

This was the reason we travel.  The dunes of Morocco awaited us and nothing could stop us.  We took the early bus from Marrakech, the only one going all the way to the end of the road.  It started off easy, and soon we were making our way up the western side of the Atlas Mountains.  The mountains are impressive, with small villages terraced into the hillsides and many people selling fossils and cool rocks along the road.  The road was in great shape but it was kind of a scary ride with the clouds beneath us.  The bus driver had a few pretty sketchy passes on the switch backs; he wasn’t stopping for anyone.  Some of the highest peaks even had some early snow cover.

On the back side of the mountains we passed through a lot of small villages with square houses made of mud and straw.  They blended right into the natural landscape, which by now was straight desert.  We had made it to the Sahara!!!  Soon we were passing through Ourzazate, famous for the filming of many desert movies including Lawrence of Arabia.  By now there were a lot of the Berber people around, dressed in their standard long robes.  They all had pointed hoods to block the sun that made them look a little like wizards.  Historically nomadic, the Berbers used to roam back and forth through the Sahara from Morocco to Yemen, but now modern borders restrict their movements.

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The landscape became more and more barren with oases popping up along the way, always with an accompanying village.  We saw signs warning about camels crossing the road, but besides that there were very few signs of life.  We reached Merzouga after dark; the desert was flat around us but we could make out shadows of the huge dunes in the distance because of the amazingly-bright full moon.

Upon exiting the bus, a bunch of people came at us.  “Do you have reservation for tours?” they kept asking.  We said “Yes, we already have one!” but they would not leave us alone.  They gave us a lot of bad info, saying there would be no taxis and such, trying to lead us astray and into their hotel or whatever.  Typical hassler shenanigans.  After only 10 minutes a taxi showed up and he took us the five kilometers to Hassi Labied, the village near the Erg Chebbi dunes of Morocco where we would be spending the night before our journey into the nothing.

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Mohammed was a Berber and owned a shop and house right up against the dunes.  He was also in the process of building a hostel which he currently lets Couchsurfers stay in for free.  He also had a cousin that did tours into the dunes, so he hooked us up with a good price for a two night adventure.  The hostel was dusty but comfortable, so we got a great night sleep – it was almost too quiet.

The next morning we were shown around town, purchased some turbans and got some last minute emails written.  We would leave at 5pm and spend two nights at Berber camps in the dunes, then return before sunrise the following day.  With us would be an older French couple, and a couple our age from Moscow.  We learned that we were not going to ride camels (two humps), but dromedaries (one hump).  A technicality we never knew about until now!  Into the dunes of Morocco we go!

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Riding the dromedaries took a while to get used to, stretching weird muscles us in all the wrong directions.   Sand, as far as the eye can see.

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When we reached the tops of the dunes of Morocco, we could see a large mesa in the distance, the border of Algeria.  Along we went, on top of our beasts, adoring the simple beauty of the erg, like giant waves, no two the same.  We made it to our Berber camp just after dark.  It was a collection of square tents made of carpet with a center table for diner.  It was peaceful and the moon bright, and we wandered off into the sand while dinner was being made.

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Happy with life and loving the adventure.  Food came late, tajine of course.  We went to bed tired as usual but slept extremely well again.

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In the morning we hiked up the large dune overlooking our camp.  The sunrise was grand, casting amazing shadows over the sandy hills.  We screwed around with the GoPro and rolled around in the sand.  After breakfast we got the dromedaries lined up and started off deeper into the nothing.  We really got to know the term “lurching” as we slowly made our way through the desert.  Three hours quickly passed and, just as we were becoming super sore, we made our way into a small camp.  By this time we were dehydrated, tired, and hurting in all new places from the ride, ready for lunch and a small break from the midday heat.  Other travelers greeted us at a camp, including a rather talkative Turk, very reminiscent of the character Dennis Hopper plays in “Apocalypse Now”.  Where are we?!!?

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Lunchtime Berber drumming

After lunch the wind was really starting to pick up.  It started as kinda cool, and turned into “I can’t see, breath, or talk,” without sand getting into everything.  The sun was becoming eerily fogged over with the ever-growing sand being thrown hundreds or thousands of feet into the atmosphere.  Every bit of exposed skin stung like small needle pricks during the big gusts.  We hid our cameras, except for the GoPro, and covered our eyes as well as we could.  If we didn’t have a guide it would have been scary.  Getting lost out there is no joke.

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Luckily we were close to our final camp and the wind started to die down as soon as we got there.  Our eyes were a mess from the sand and it took a few days for them to feel normal again.  But we had felt the thrill of adventure, getting “out there” where humans are not supposed to be, the real desert, hot, windy, and unforgiving.  We longed for a shower but settled for a dusty bed beneath the stars.  Our Berber guides played some traditional songs on their drums and we relaxed under the bright moon, feeling privileged and carefree.  What a life, what a life.

Like our story about the dunes of Morocoo? Click HERE for more adventures from Morocco and don’t forget to follow our Instagram @laaventuraproject.

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From Norte to Sur! A Baja Mexico Road Trip

The second day of our Baja Mexico Road Trip we faced the toughest drive of the trip.  Ensenada to San Ignacio, a grueling 800km trek across the desert from Baja Norte to Baja Sur.  We set out around 8am and drove for a few hours before stopping at a roadside restaurant for delicious huevos rancheros and coffee.  The simple, delicious food-homemade tortillas, numerous condiments, and spicy salsa-is one of our favorite parts of México!

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After breakfast, the sun got stronger and the road rougher as we would our way through one of the craziest cactus-filled deserts we’ve ever seen.  Thank God we got our A/C fixed!  Luckily we had been advised to have a full gas tank and plenty of water as there were no services for hours and hours.  Nothing but a 2-lane, potholed highway winding its way through more and more “curvas peligrosas” (dangerous curves).  Getting stuck behind semis a couple of times was annoying because the road was hardly ever straight enough to pass without risking a head-on collision.

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After nearly 12 hours of driving, just before the sun set, we finally made it to San Ignacio.  Out of nowhere, a tiny lake and a palm-covered oasis town in the midst of all the dryness!  We found a wonderful $10 campground right on the laguna (Camping Los Petales) with basic showers, bathrooms, and kayaks for rent.  Walked into the tranquil town for some tacos and slept peacefully in our tent, despite the croaking bullfrogs.

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Camping San Ignacio

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San Ignacio was tiny but pleasant and full of friendly people!  Highlights were the gorgeous old Domincan church and buying a cheap bag of delicious dates (they grow on the palms all over town).  Sad we couldn’t stay longer, we headed off to La Paz!

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Click here for day one of the adventure!

Click here for day three of the adventure!

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