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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?

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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.


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.

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.

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

Kevin Tang

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.

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

Kevin Tang

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.

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

Kevin Tang

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.

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

Kevin Tang

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

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

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

Kevin Tang

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.

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

Kevin Tang

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.

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.

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.

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

Kevin Tang

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.

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

Kevin Tang

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

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

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

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

Kevin Tang

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.

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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