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Back in 2013, I attempted to answer a question that seemed to come up a lot whenever I referenced my ten day sojourn to the Nevada desert: what the &!*# is Burning Man, anyway? In 2015, I resumed my investigation.

After my first burn, I knew that I’d be back — over and over again. The timing wasn’t right to return to Black Rock City in 2014 when I was bopping around Europe, but in 2015, I found myself dating a guy who was passionate about making it to the playa. When he snagged two tickets and offered me one, how could I refuse?

And so I found myself back at Burning Man, back in that pulsing energy of 68,000 idealists, back trying to answer that same question. What is this place? Why do we come here?

The answer is different for everyone. I’ve started to understand that what brings me to the desert is the idea that Burning Man exists as a kind of utopic preview of what the world could look like if we followed the ten principles in our day-to-day lives. That experiment intrigues me, and I leave Black Rock City inspired to create a life that is every so slightly more like life on the playa — freezing overnight temperatures excluded.

My second burn was both heartwarmingly familiar and strikingly foreign. It was a reminder: no two years will be the same. Every burn will be different. Every year will mark a new line in the sand — well, the dust.

I admit that in some ways, the event that is Burning Man itself seemed to change in ways that I didn’t love. Ways that made it feel a lot less like a spontaneous gathering of like-minded dreamers and a lot more like what it technically is – a government-regulated, paid-participation event. IDs were being checked heavily, in contrast to 2013, when I didn’t take mine out with me a single time. Some sound camps required passports to enter, while others were shut down entirely due to noise complaints and violations regarding scheduling or party size. Theme bars were being slapped with fines. While I was biking on the playa and started chatting with a fellow burner about a piece of art we were both admiring, he offered me the gift of him home-made mead – but sheepishly asked to see my ID first, explaining he’d watched a friend hauled off in handcuffs the night before while bartending.

It struck me as funny, in a way – is underage drinking really a plague on Black Rock City? I kind of feel that if a nineteen year old manages to get themselves out to the playa and survive under its harsh conditions for a week, surely they are deserving of a drink or two. The solution for the individual is simple – take a photocopy of your passport or ID and tape it to your carabineer-attached travel cup (most bars don’t provide cups, but pour their gifted concoctions into whatever vessel you’re carrying.) But it also struck me as sad, that the spirit of gifting and generosity that is so integral to Burning Man is being dampened by the fears of litigation and liability that plagues us in the default world. (Whoop, I just called the other fifty-one weeks of the year “the default world” — I’m a real Burner now!) I don’t know if that genie can go back in the bottle.

Also, for those that enjoy being completely disconnected from the outside world, there may have been a surprise in 2015. In 2013, I lost phone service long before driving though the gates and had to bike to one of the few camps that gifted wifi in order to check in occasionally on my business. This past year, my cell phone actually had a signal that was sporadically strong enough to download emails. While I was actually pleased by this – it meant that I could briefly scroll through once a day to make sure my website hadn’t caught on fire in my absence – I can see how others wouldn’t be. There’s a pretty simple solution, however, in the power button.

In other ways, the event that is Burning Man seemed to be changing in ways I really did love. One of the most striking differences I personally noted between the 2013 and 2015 burns was an increase in diversity among burners. Camps seemed a little less blindingly white. The temple, typically lined with private messages and memorials, was peppered with moving tributes to victims of racially-charged police brutality. Was Burning Man really becoming more inclusive, or was it all in my head? One day, I biked over to to investigate my hunch. There, I spoke to researchers who confirmed that very slowly, Burning Man was becoming a little less homogeneous. While 87% of the Burning Man population identifies as white, the volunteer I chatted to said the census had noted specific , likely due to the influence of a few key African Americans camps.

On a personal level, the biggest difference between my two burns was who I camped with. In 2013 I independently camped with a group of college friends in an established theme camp. In 2015 I camped with my man Ian, and an international group of his friends who were mostly playa virgins.

I’ve heard nightmares about couples camping together and I admit I had some serious hesitations going in. But they melted away the moment we hit the dust. We spent plenty of time apart doing our own things throughout the week — we both had friends we wanted to spend time with, and as always I was fiercely protective of my independence and solo adventures — but there was something wonderful about coming home to our tent and finding my guy there. He was my rock throughout the week, and the experience brought us closer than ever. It was on the playa, over a year after we first met, that I first used the word boyfriend without attaching an eyeroll or a set of air quotes to it.

Burning with a boyfriend meant I checked out a lot more um, let’s just say “partner oriented” workshops, camps, and activities than I personally would have otherwise — a side of the Burning Man experience I definitely didn’t experience the first time around. But it didn’t really matter what we were doing. Whether we were attending a tantric study group led by a pair of sassy septuagenarians, biking across the clock at midnight to score grilled cheese sandwiches, catching up on a sunset walk around The Man or getting herbal-infused massages from friendly Hawaiians at The Lavender Lounge, it was just plain fun to be there with Ian.

There was a little less mystery in my second burn. I knew where to find Robot Heart, I understood the clock-based layout of the city, and I saw the fence that never seemed to be there my first year. The upside? I wandered aimlessly on purpose when I wanted to, and got where I was going when I wanted to, too. I understood more about what I wanted from the week, and I knew more clearly how to get it.

One thing remained steadfastly the same. I found myself asking, on a regular basis, what is Burning Man? And once again, I found myself answering.

Burning Man is acro yoga workshops in a big top tent.

Burning Man is attending a photo walk with the ever humble and generous , and running into your Burner buddy along the way.

Burning Man is nights catching an original, Tony-nomination-worthy performance at Ashram Galactica, riding a ferris wheel in the desert, snacking on served with a side of projected vintage porn, attending a Planet Earth Britney vs. Madonna dance party, and climbing up on the Thunder Dome to watch a real-life fight club.

Burning Man is solo bike rides on the playa to soak up all the art — and perhaps find a treasure to take home.

Burning Man is all night dusty dance parties that end with the sunrise.

Burning Man is declaring it Superman Saturday, and fighting bad vibes on the playa.

Burning Man is laying in a cuddle puddle in the overflow tent from a standing-room-only and listening to thought leaders from around the world talk about how festivals shaped their lives. Burning Man is attending a Creating a Conscious Business discussion with the CEO of , and leaving feeling like you might implode with inspiration.

Burning Man is going to an inversions workshop and doing a headstand and seeing what the world looks like upside down for the first time.

Burning Man is biking out the temple and bawling your eyes out at the raw, cathartic messages left behind by your fellow humans.

Burning Man is being one of the least fantastically dressed people in the tent, even when you’re rocking head-to-toe watermelon or a pink wig and a skull playsuit.

Burning Man is missing out on the Disney Sing Along, the Sea Prom, the Playa 5K, the Motown and Mimosas party, and the midnight glowga class because there is simply more to do and see than you could ever tackle in a lifetime. Burning Man is vowing to return again so you can give it go, anyway.

Burning Man is the most creatively decadent week of the year. Burning Man is the wildest party you’ve ever crashed. Burning Man is a playground for the wide-eyed wanderer. Burning Man is a real life social network for dreamers, doers, and dancers. Burning Man is a vision of the way the world could be.

Burning Man is, again and forever, whatever you want it to be.

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58 Comments...
  • Laryssa
    March 29 2016

    This was beautiful, Meihoukai. Awesome post.
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  • Paul
    March 29 2016

    Great write-up and excellent photos.

    Will you attend this year? I know first tickets recently went on sale!

  • madlen
    March 29 2016

    This might be my favourite post out of the many that I read since I discovered your blog about three years ago! Wonderful, Meihoukai and thank you!

    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      Wow Madlen, that means so much to me to hear. Thank you for saying so!

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    March 29 2016

    Love the last line Meihoukai! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      You’re so welcome Rekha. It’s an overwhelming experience to try to capture!

  • Jessica
    March 29 2016

    Loved this post, Meihoukai! I’ve always been curious about Burning Man and your experiences with it make it sound absolutely wonderful. Definitely adding it to my wanderlist. 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      Maybe I’ll see you on the playa — I’ll definitely be back someday!

  • Dominique
    March 29 2016

    I love that outfit with the skull and the pink wig. It really suits you! I wonder if the changes you’ve noticed at Burning Man this year will continue throughout the years. It would be a pity if freedom has to make place for strict rules,and a cell phone network wouldn’t be great either. I wonder if the organisers can continue to distinguish themselves from music festivals! Only the future can tell!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      Indeed. I suppose there’s nothing that can be done about cell phone networks increasing strength, but I was very saddened by the over-regulation of gifting when it came to alcohol. Come on. We are in the middle of nowhere — there aren’t any wayward high school youths being corrupted here.

  • Cate
    March 29 2016

    What a beautiful post, Meihoukai! Burning man looks even more appealing every time you write about it! Do you recommend going with friends, or do you think doing it alone you could find a group to hang with?

    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      Hey Cate! I know there are plenty of people who go solo and love it. In that case I’d recommend getting involved with a camp before reaching the playa, especially if you’re a first time burner. Personally, I would really value the community and infrastructure that doing so would provide. You can find plenty of open theme camps through Facebook or simple Google searches!

  • Marni
    March 29 2016

    Reading your thoughts about how Burning Man has changed (re: ID and drinking) reminds me of how I felt after the most recent Nuit Blanche (in Toronto)…. it’s meant to be an overnight art appreciation festival (various forms of art), but this past one was largely drunk people wandering the streets and seemingly having no care for what it was meant to be. Even the exhibits themselves seemed lacking in comparison to previous years. It’s hard to return to something and discover the purity of it has vanished. All that said, it’s good to know that the spirit of Burning Man is still there, even if things are slightly different. Plus, the broadening diversity is great news! I loved your Superman Saturday outfits!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      That must have been disheartening! Actually, I still feel that the vast majority of Burning Man participants are there in the true spirit of the festival, going about their business in the same way they always have… hence why I don’t understand the need to crush the spirit of it with over-regulation. Personally, I haven’t noticed any wandering gangs of drunk high schoolers roaming the playa. So why the hauling off in handcuffs for those handing out homemade brews?

  • Thuc
    March 29 2016

    I love this. Before I read it, I would’ve just concluded that Burning Man was like any other festival but you’ve really exposed all other sides of it. I love what you wrote about being there with your boyfriend and the photos of the tribute. You’ve made me want to go too!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      That makes me smile, Thuc. It’s a privilege to get to share this experience with all of you!

  • Colleen Brynn
    March 29 2016

    I definitely think all the outfits/costumes would be one of the funnest parts! 🙂
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    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      It’s definitely one of the things I look forward to! It’s so much fun pulling together outrageous outfits and seeing what others come up with.

  • Becka
    March 30 2016

    Awesome post! So excited to hear more and live vicariously. I’ve always been curious about Burning Man, but as an introvert with a small comfort zone, not sure how I’d fare.

    You asked for questions/post ideas:
    1) I’d love to hear survival tips and lessons learned (I’m curious about what the low poInts were, compared to these highlights).
    2) To what extent is the reputation of burning man being very full of orgies, drugs, etc. earned? Is it more “behind closed tents” or out in the open? Your comments on couples activities and ID checking made me wonder on both accounts.
    3) What does a day in the life at burning man look like? Do people barely sleep?!

    • Meihoukai
      March 30 2016

      Hey Becka! I’ll definitely address some of these further in future posts, but to give you some quick answers…

      1) I have a full post coming up about the lowlights compared to these highlights, but the biggest tip I learned this year is to consider coming on Monday instead of Sunday if you don’t have to worry about your camping spot. Instead of a twelve hour trip from Reno it was three!
      2) There are definitely plenty of people experimenting with drugs, but there are also sober camps and everything in between. No one is going to force a mushroom down your throat 🙂 Burning Man is a very sex-positive environment and there are plenty of theme camps, workshops, and parties geared towards that. But you have to seek them out — it is indeed “behind closed tents,” as you say!
      3) I actually sleep a lot at Burning Man — I can’t function otherwise! I know a lot of people stay up for days. Hats off to them 😉

  • Amanda
    March 30 2016

    Okay, Meihoukai. You have more or less sold me. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of Burning Man, but seriously doubted whether I would actually fit it – whether I could hack it. But it kind of sounds amazing. One of these years…
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    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      There are sooooo many different kinds of people at Burning Man, I think almost anyone can fit in if they have the right attitude… and know where to look 😉

  • Misha
    March 30 2016

    Wow! Sounds like an amazing place! 😀

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      There’s nowhere quite like Black Rock city!

  • Eva Casey
    March 30 2016

    WOAH. Okay, officially on my list. I’ve never read a more persuasive article about going to Burning Man than this one! Great post 🙂 PS-I just wrote a roundup about Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and linked to your posts about Puerto!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Thanks for that, Eva! Loved that place!

  • Mitch
    March 30 2016

    Having been at Burning Man for the two years you described…. I think you totally nailed it. Beautifully written, highlighting both the pleasures and the warts of the experience. “Creatively decadent” is the perfect description. Thank you for jogging the memories!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Hey Mitch! Thanks for the kudos, always cool to have your observations validated from someone else who has been there and done that! Maybe I’ll see you on the playa someday…

  • Jenn Flo Taylor
    March 30 2016

    Yep agree with so many above- this is now high on the bucket list! You’ve sold it to me! It sounds like a dreamy experience. Thanks Meihoukai- amazingly written post!
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    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Maybe you can all join my future theme camp someday 😉

  • Kate
    March 30 2016

    I love your photos, they are so amazing. I have to say I am not sold on burning man at all but I also don’t like haters so don’t want to be one. But something I admire about your blog in general is your attitude towards sustainability. After reading about BM, it seems well proven that the festival (like many, I assume), is actually quite bad for the environment, even taking into account the number of people that are at the festival and thus not in the economy generating a carbon footprint that week. Do you have an opinion of how this jives with their principle regarding waste? Again, not trying to be a hater/naysayer like a lot of anti-burning man folks. I just think you’re a thoughtful blogger so was wondering how you might feel about that or if you’ve thought about it. Clearly tho pros outweigh the cons for you so not trying to change your opinion at all! (obviously me asking these kind of questions in the past have cause burning man people to basically tell me to jump off a cliff because I just don’t understand so I’m a little hesitant to even ask!)

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Hey Kate! That’s a great question and I actually address it in extensive detail in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for that. But the short answer is that people move and gather — they have since the beginning of time! And I think doing so is a pretty essential component of the human experience. I feel like the key to sustainability is it has to be sustainable — and asking people not to travel or not to go to festivals or conferences or reunions or whatever is pretty much the antithesis of that.

      I do however absolutely believe that it is our duty to make these wanderings and gatherings as environmentally friendly as possible. When I hear people harping on about the unsustainability of festivals — Burning Man is a big target, I think, because they are so public in their effort to be a Leave No Trace event — I wonder what their goal is. To get people to stop going to festivals, in general? I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, and I think it would be a huge creativity, idea-sharing and inspiration loss if it did. But if the goal is to get people to think a little bit more critically about their participation and the ethos of Leave No Trace, then I’m all for it — and doing my part to help!

      What do you think?

      • Kate
        April 8 2016

        I appreciate your realistic point about the essential component of the human experience to move and gather. I think your post about your issues with your group really spoke to my point and is something I can so relate to. My issue was with folks who attend burning man-or ANY event for that matter-and insist that it is in no way harmful to the environment due to principle of ‘leave no trace’ without researching any of the actual facts around it. But that in no way means the overall goal of making folks more aware of sustainability is bad, or not great, or not worth it! I feel like I have a better understanding of this festival due to your posts, thank you! I appreciate your beautiful photos and thoughtful posts and responses to comments like mine 🙂

        • Meihoukai
          April 26 2016

          And I appreciate comments that make me think, and let me know people are really listening… and care 🙂 So thank you too Kate!

  • Lavina
    March 31 2016

    One of the most informative posts Meihoukai! Used to attend a lot of festivals but laid back travel has taken priority currently!

    But yes Burning man is currently at the top of my wishlist when I start again!
    Wanted to ask bout the drugs bit , but saw that you’ve already answered the question for Becka!

    Cheers!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      I’m loving slowly getting into the festival scene. There are so many more I want to attend around the world! And so many more I want to keep going back to…

  • Sarah Williams
    March 31 2016

    This was incredibly inspiring! I’m making plans to attend my first Burn in 2017, and this definitely cemented my desire to go. Thanks for the thoughts and gorgeous photos!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Awesome Sarah! Best of luck landing a ticket, might be heading back myself that year.

  • Kristina
    March 31 2016

    As always your Burning Man posts are one of the highlights of your blog! I anxiously await them and will be sad to not see any next year. Burning Man has always been on my bucket list but your details encourage me to make it a reality in the next few years. In one of your upcoming posts can you talk about how you decide what to do while you’re there? Do you/can you plan ahead of time or do you just go with the flow each day? Thank you for trying to capture the essence of Burning Man for us dreamers..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Hey Kristina! I think everyone does it differently. When you enter the gates you get a little booklet of events, classes, parties and workshops submitted by burners who are putting them on in their theme camps. I usually spend the wait at the gate going through and circling anything that interests me. When I wake up in the morning I flip through and see if there’s anything I feel like I must do or see that day, and then the rest is usually filled in with hanging with friends at camp, doing “chores” — getting ice, tidying up the tent, making a meal — or spontaneous adventures like a bike ride across the playa. So a little mix of both 🙂 I’m very comfortable in the heat so I’m out and about all day, generally. There are many however who sleep through the day and go all out at night, when it’s much cooler (too cold if you ask me!)

  • Paul
    March 31 2016

    Wow, another great Burning Man post, Meihoukai! This is so on my bucket list but I’ve been having a hard time getting there. Sincerely hoping I can make it this year, but regardless, your writing and photos only continue to fuel the fire for me. Thanks again for sharing – amazing job, and I’m enjoying all of your posts (and great photos), as always! Cheers –
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    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      I understand Paul! It’s a long festival and takes a lot of time money and energy to prepare for. The timing definitely has to be right. It will be eventually 🙂

  • Cassidy Star
    April 1 2016

    Meihoukai! Love your blog. Burning man is on my bucket list! Are going to Bonnaroo this year? Looks like you have been in the past!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Sadly not this year 🙂 Perhaps another, though — I loved it!

  • Linda
    April 2 2016

    WOW!!! And yes, you got me, I def have a newborn curiousness as from this post on. So happy I found your blog btw, first time here!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Hey Linda! So nice to meet ya 🙂 I’m happy you found me too! Thanks for reading — more on Burning Man coming up soon!

  • Sarah
    April 3 2016

    Just bawled my eyes out at that sweet message from the grieving dog Mama. Had to go and hug my husky so tightly. Beautiful post.

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Dog lovers will have a LOT to well up over in the temple. So many beautiful tributes in there to the bond between human and canine.

  • I always thought that Burning Man was just a party week…clearly I was wrong and I am so thankful to see just how beautiful Burning Man actually is 🙂
    Amanda | The Backpack Lass recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      I think for some people it can be that coming in, but it would be hard to experience it and feel the same way coming out 🙂 Good ideas are contagious!

  • Maggie
    April 4 2016

    Lovely Post!! Good Compilation of details about trip…It seems like you had a great time

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      It was another amazing year on the playa, indeed 🙂

  • Nasir
    April 4 2016

    Hi Meihoukai.
    Thanks for the wonderful share and the experience you gone thru. This is something my personal favorites out of few. I found your blog last a year ago, Hats off 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Thanks Nasir! A much appreciated compliment <3

  • OK, fine. Now I REALLY want to go. 2017?
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