24 Hours At Burning Man

You’ve heard much about the notoriously liberated festival, but what do you actually do there on a typical day?

1. You’ve packed for weeks, planned half a year, driven 15 hours from San Francisco to Burning Man.

Kevin Tang
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2. But once you’re at the festival, what do you actually do for a week?

Unlike what you’ve heard, it’s not just drugs and partying in the desert. If you don’t want to be a sparkle pony (a helpless, gaudily costumed newcomer), there are at least a dozen hours of manual labor to do. Burning Man’s as much about radical self-reliance as it is about self-expression.

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4. 7:30 a.m. — Wake up to dubstep blasting from 12 different art cars. Find that your tent’s as hot as the inside of a mouth.

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5. 8 a.m. — See people parachute into the desert on the horizon.

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6. 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. — Groan in misery of dehydration. Nap more. Chug oceans of piss-warm water.

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7. 9:45 a.m. — Report to your camp’s leader, who may or may not be called Alpha Bitch or B-Love (some of the most adoring folks, by the way). Start cooking lunch for 200 people.

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8. Or compost your camp’s leftovers for three hours.

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9. Or wash pots and cooking utensils for your camp. Remember that there’s no running water here, so this is how you rinse dishes:

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11. 12:30 p.m. — Eat lunch in a communal tent.

Discover that raw live probiotic quinoa with cashew and kale paste can actually taste… good?

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12. 1 p.m. — Get dressed to explore the city. Bring a liter of water (at least).

Once a year, Black Rock City (the temporary settlement for Burning Man) becomes the third largest city in Nevada. This year, 68,000 people from around the world attended the festival. There’s a lot to see.

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13. 1:15 p.m. — Check the event listing booklet. Decide on things to do.

It can be as tame or as adventurous as you want. Either way, it’s a judgement-free space where no one’s pressured into anything they don’t want, or shamed out of things they do.

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14. 1:30 p.m. — Start biking across the desert. Gawk at incredible sculptures. Take shade under them to drink and chat with people.

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Jim Urquhart / Reuters
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Kevin Tang
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19. 1:40 p.m. — Stumble upon a wedding ceremony in the middle of the desert.

Every year, dozens of couples get married at Burning Man.

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20. Be unexpectedly moved as you witness complete strangers exchange vows.

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21. 1:50 p.m. — Watch as a dust storm engulfs the ceremony. The groom and the bride pay it no mind.

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23. 1:55 p.m. — Han Solo pilots a Cheshire Cat across the horizon. You learn to accept this as daily life in the city.

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24. 2 p.m. — Get invited into a bar in the desert.

When complete strangers pour you icy margaritas in the heat, you’ll be convinced that goodness is real. People don’t sell things at Burning Man. Nor do they barter. Strangers just help you and give you things as much as they can, and hopefully you will do in kind. That’s part of the culture there.

Kevin Tang
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25. 2:01 p.m. — To earn your drink, you must be spanked. Or yell an embarrassing story in a loud speaker.

A lot of camps have fun challenges to encourage people to stick around and talk.

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26. 2:30 p.m. — Lie down in a zen garden of ribbons as solemn banana priests scuttle by.

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27. 3 p.m. — A stranger walks by and doles out mango-flavored penis popsicles to everyone. He becomes instantly popular.

“Ice is worth more than Google stocks in the desert.”

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28. 3:20 p.m. — Attend a meditation workshop. Or a storytelling open mic.

Last year, I remember a Ukrainian woman telling me (within moments of meeting) that she’s here to remember her father, who she’d nursed at a cancer ward for years. Another man went up to a mic and confessed that he forgot what he said at his baby’s funeral. People get personal very quickly out there.

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29. 4 p.m. — Visit the Temple, where people scrawl messages and leave memorials to people they lost this year.

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30. Write your own message.

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31. 4:30 p.m. — Get lost in a dust storm. Stay where you are. Don’t try to bike in this.

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32. 4:40 p.m. — Doodle on the walls of a Porta-John. Feces may or may not be piled rim high, but most of the time the desert dust keeps it dry and clean.

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33. 5 p.m. — Hang out at a friendly tea bar littered with mummified and embalmed cats.

The founder of the Skinny Kitty Camp supposedly found a dead cat in his walls while remodeling his house. He brought it to Burning Man. Then people began to donate other cats they found.

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34. 5:30 p.m. — Make friends with people who want you to #HAGS.

(Hi, Rembert Browne.)
Seriously, though, Burning Man is possibly the friendliest foreign city you’ll ever visit. People who regularly fear strangers (i.e., me) will learn to lose that fear.

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35. 6 p.m. — Drop by Center Camp (in the middle of the city). Watch a performance, or look at the gallery. See a ton of naked people.

No, I won’t show you the naked people.

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36. 6:59 p.m. — Howl at the sky with everyone as the sun dips behind the mountains. This happens every night.

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37. 7 p.m. — Dinnertime! It’s getting dark. And cold (close to 50 degrees). Head back to camp before all the food’s gone. Dress warmer.

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38. 7:30 p.m. — Take a nap. You’ll need it, I swear.

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39. 9 p.m. — Wake up. Walk out of your tent to find that the entire horizon is literally on fire.

Miles and miles of bonfires, propane torches, and LED lights belt the rim of the desert, as a chain of lit balloons dome the sky. Biking through the open desert feels like navigating an open computer-generated landscape at night. There’s nothing quite like it.

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40. 9:20 p.m. — House music sprays from every direction. Watch as a metal octopus lights in a chandelier of propane fire.

This thing used to be a 1973 Ford.

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41. Or watch people get doused in fire for failing Dance Dance Revolution.

Don’t worry, they’re wearing fireproof suits.

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42. See this dude walk by.

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43. And this car drive by.

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44. 10 p.m. — Go to the French Quarters camp, where this lovely couple will give you champagne and handmade lavender soap.

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45. 11 p.m. — Play a round of flaming Skee-Ball.

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46. 12 a.m. — Gawk and giggle into a hall of mirrors.

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47. 12:30 a.m. — Watch people fight with foam swords at the Thunderdome.

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49. 1 a.m. — Stop by the Porn and Donuts camp, which screens hilarious 1920s French porn.

True to its name, they also serve great donuts. Thank you to everyone who welcomed us that night.

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50. 1:30 a.m. — Drunkenly paint on the walls of Firehouse Camp.

Thanks for the paints, Firehouse. You are my favorite camp.

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51. 2 a.m. — While wandering in the desert, stumble onto a DIY movie theater. Watch a movie.

Everything at Burning Man is built only a couple weeks beforehand, and there’s a theater. A whole freaking theater. With plush interiors, no less.

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52. 5 a.m. — Watch the sunrise.

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53. And that’s a typical day at Burning Man: It can be as vulgar, holy, sexual, chaste, sober, or drunk as you want. Better yet, it refuses to distinguish among them. No two people’s experience is the same.

See Also: 55 Things I Learned At Burning Man.

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