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For me, Burning Man is some parts magical and some parts frustrating and some parts blissful and some parts devastating, just like everything that regular life is – except also dusty. There is so much gushing with positivity around Burning Man that I feel almost embarrassed to admit that two years in a row, I had both ups and downs to my burn.

I do truly believe that for some people, Burning Man is a non-stop highlight reel. But for me and many others, it’s a rollercoaster. And when it comes to a festival that worships at the altar of catharsis, I feel an even stronger urge than usual to show you not just the beauty and the bliss, but also the challenges and the exasperations. I learn more about myself and the world from the moments that challenge me than the ones that peacefully pass me by, so for that I am eternally grateful to these struggles from Black Rock City 2015.

The Weather

The weather was tough in 2015. Here’s from a six time Burner, that makes me feel a whole heck of a lot better about how difficult I found the weather situation:

“I love a good dust storm, I love a good challenge, I love some chaos, but this year the cold and repeated dust storms really took it out of me, physically and emotionally… We had to rebuild our camp shade structure four times, my gig which I was excited about was canceled due to dust, and some of my beloved guest DJs were too cold to play my own party. All these were really tough for me and slowly chipped away at my spirit throughout the week.”

Me? I just spent seven months in Thailand without air conditioning, so I think it’s safe to say that the heat that many struggle with during the day is not a factor for me. The evening cold, however, is another story. Monday through Wednesday I was actually beside myself with happiness over the evening temperatures – they were super mild and for once, I felt prepared. But Thursday night things took a turn for the frosty. I heard afterwards it was thirty eight damn degrees. So yeah, pretty much literally freezing. Friday night, my entire camp — a camp filled with some of the most hard core ravers I’ve ever known — hung out inside one of the camp’s RVs, huddled in blankets. It was simply too cold to be outside, no matter how impressive the party on the other side of the camper door.

And then there was the dust. I remember in 2013 getting very excited about “the” big dust storm and gushing after about how beautiful it had been. HA! The entire burn of 2015 was a dust storm. I actually heard that the Black Rock City airport, which offers charter flights on and off the playa, was more inundated with requests to leave early than they’d ever fielded.

As someone who is high functioning in high temperatures, I love the daylight hours at Burning Man — I ride off on spontaneous adventures, I look at art, I go to yoga, I attend workshops, whatever. Black Rock City after dark is one of the most magical things I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime, but I’ve just been too cold to enjoy it for sizeable portions of both burns. My first year, I think it was understandable that I was caught of guard. This year, I made a better effort, but was still kicking myself for not being better prepared.

Showering

I’m a girl who prides herself on her ability to be out the door in ten minutes, on not owning a blow-dryer and on being able to live blissfully for three months on an island in Indonesia without fresh water showers (brackish water, which is rain water mixed with sea water, was the best we got). So it is humbling for me to admit that for two years in a row, my lack access to a shower had a big psychological effect on my burn.

The desert is just not my natural setting. I love being submerged underwater, set in the middle of lush jungles, and stranded on technicolor islands. I’ve been in a several situations throughout my travels when I went days and days without showering – hiking the Inca Trail, camping on a remote Panamanian island — and it barely crossed my mind. The desert, however, is a whole other challenge. You know how a lot of people feel about nails on a chalkboard? That is how dry skin feels to me. With my skin cracking from dry air, my hair caked in dust and my eyes burning red from the wind, I crave showers like I never before have in my life. It might only last a moment before the next dust storm, but that cleansing ritual resets my soul and sets me up for a day of happiness.

Both years I’ve gone to Burning Man, I arrived under the impression that I’d be able to shower a few times throughout the week at my camp. Both years, that has not happened due to technical failures, misunderstandings… whatever. Moving forward, I know that being able to take a brief shower every two days is absolutely essential to my happiness at the burn, and I’m going make it happen either by investing in renting my own RV, or joining a large, organized theme camp that offers a reliable camp shower.

Camp Clashes

It kind of kills me to write that once again, not feeling like I fit in with my camp was my biggest heartbreak of Burning Man.

In 2013, I camped with a group of college friends and an established theme camp of veteran burners. In 2015, I camped with my boyfriend and a thrown-together group of friends-of-friends brand new to Black Rock City. We formed a three RV and one tent caravan, and all met for the first time the night before the burn. There was no planning email thread, no group discussion, no conference call ahead of time. Anyone who has seen my color-coded excel sheets and detailed planning calendars is probably picturing me going into a stress coma right now, but I was actually amazingly unfazed and after a summer of hectic travel planning, ready to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

In some ways, the whole thing added up to a pretty beautiful organized chaos – we shared some gorgeous meals, made some amazing connections, and had an absolute blast partying together. In other ways, it was straight chaos chaos. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: I wasn’t on the same page with my camp when it came to the cleanliness and eco-friendliness of our camp at what is admirably the largest event in the world.

Striving to live and travel sustainably is my jam, and so I was pretty dismayed to find that the group shopping — which I hadn’t been a part of — included pallets of single-use water bottles, sleeves of styrofoam plates, and several other non-Burning-Man-approved products that made me twitch. I think this planet I’ve been so blessed to spend the last half a decade traveling is pretty gorgeous and generous with its resources and the least we can do in return is try to treat it nicely. I also take the ten principles to heart and think they are what makes Black Rock City the special place it is, so it definitely stressed me to feel like my camp wasn’t paying attention what the founders call Burning Man’s “most important principle.”

Clearly, I couldn’t go back in time and change the shopping list, so I slapped on a smile and vowed to make sure every single recyclable item in our camp made it to the proper facilities. And I did. I spent hours throughout the week shoulders deep in my camp’s garbage, pulling out cans and water bottles and separating them into their own bags, and when we left Black Rock City I drove them to a specialized recycling facility and I felt happy and good.

What didn’t feel good was the routine of awkwardly putting on a chipper voice and reminding everyone to please sort out cans and bottles, a drill I don’t think endeared me to my camp mates. I felt pretty fatalist, like, if people don’t care about this stuff here, how is there any hope for the world out there? The thing is, it’s just not easy to talk to other people about sustainability without sounding like a condescending asshole, and I shudder at the thought of being a condescending asshole. The last thing you want to do is be judgemental when someone is being generous with you, and I also cringe at the idea of coming off holier-than-thou when I know I’m as flawed and in-progress as anyone.

In some ways, I so desperately wanted to be carefree and go-with-the-single-use-plastics-flow like the rest of my camp. Why couldn’t I just let it go and not care? Why couldn’t I be more likeable? Why couldn’t I be an easygoing girlfriend and make Ian’s life a little easier for once, instead of the other way around? But I just couldn’t. I’m not the most easygoing human. As deeply as I try to please those I love, so many years spent traveling alone and working for myself have left me fiercely independent and borderline stubborn. And there are just a few things I’m not comfortable compromising on.

So yeah, I stuck to my guns and made sure out camp stayed as close to Burning Man’s leave no trace ethos as I could personally manage. But in the process, I spent a lot of time wondering if the hilarious, generous and fun people I was camping with liked me or wished I would just stop being such a buzzkill. It didn’t help that they were significantly more party and pack-mentality oriented than I was, and I often found myself biking off to explore alone while they all biked off to day rave together. Personally, I was totally down with this arrangement — I love doing my own thing! — but I know it further ostracized me. That said, when I was in the mood to rage, I couldn’t have asked for a better wrecking crew. I hope if they read this they know how much I adored them, and how much fun I had partying with them on the playa.

I’ve been traveling for nearly five years. I regularly throw myself into new communities where I know no one and walk out with lifelong soulmates. So I feel a little embarrassed that twice now I’ve felt so desperate — and perhaps unsuccessful — to click with my camp at Burning Man. I want to camp with my tribe. I don’t quite know exactly who they are yet, but I’m getting a clearer picture every day. And I think they have color-coded excel spreadsheets.

Spectating

They say there are no spectators at Burning Man — everyone is an active participant. With each burn I understand more clearly how important contributing is. So many burners put so much love and energy and money into creating special experiences for strangers, and that is what makes Burning Man magical. Sure, I’ve brought little surprises to gift to others on the playa. In 2013, I think I participated at or above the level one would expect from a first-timer. In 2015, I kind of disappointed myself in this aspect. In the future, I really want to be one of those people who gives more than they take.

At Bonnaroo last summer I was blown away by the presence of Planet Roo, a village dedicated to sustainable living and social change. This beautiful space held classroom space for yoga classes, lectures on green living, and a learning garden where workshops were held. Yup, in between the big sets at ‘Roo, one could attend clinics such as Letter Writing for Change, Chicken Clinic: The Basics of Hen Health, and Death to Landfills: Take a Bite Out of the Waste Stream. I was obsessed with the fact that Bonnaroo was gifting its community the tools it needed to take the sustainable values of that festival and go out in the world and implement them elsewhere.

As I flipped through the booklet of burner events this year, I found myself wondering, why doesn’t Burning Man have that? Why wasn’t there anyone running a Green Your Burn seminar, why wasn’t anyone teaching how to set up a composting garden, why this, why that. Yet the really empowering thing about Burning Man is that my immediate next thought was… that person could be me. (Step one: learn how to set up a composting garden.)

I plan to seriously reassess the way in which I interact and contribute for my next burn. In the short term, I  hope to get involved with and volunteer at Recycle Camp, since I really admire the work they do there, and use Meihoukai in Wanderland as a platform to help burners plan a greener burn. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on this topic — I’ve decided I can make up for my lack of citizenship at Black Rock City by contributing to the community here on this blog!) In the long term, hell, I want to dream big. Someday when I have a more stable year-round home base I’d love to really go wild and run a playful, sustainably-minded travel-themed camp, design an underwater diving-inspired art car, or contribute to a whimsical, larger-than-life piece of art (oh, how this former fine arts student misses making things with her hands).

pre-dust storm, post-

. . .

Reading through my equivalent to this post from my last burn, I realize that yes, I made a lot of the same mistakes twice. And that’s frustrating. But you know what? I also learned from several of them, too. I lived more in the moment. I thought more about the activity I was doing or the person I was talking to or the party I was at than the ten others that I wasn’t. I felt close and connected to both my boyfriend who I camped with and my best friend who I traveled with. I put less pressure on myself. I understood more what I wanted out of the week and I knew how to get it. I felt confident and at ease. I did my own thing — and I loved it.

Still, if at this point you’re thinking I’m a whiny baby who ran around shivering and fussing over my hair and nagging my camp and wondering why I continue to torture myself… you’re not totally wrong. Ha! Just kidding! I adore Burning Man. It’s one of the most creatively stimulating, emotionally empowering, ideologically inspiring, and wildly fun experiences I’ve ever had. Is it a rollercoaster? Heck yes.

And I can’t wait to get in line for the next ride.

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56 Comments...
  • Cate
    April 4 2016

    Wonderful post, probably one of the best about burning man! This offered a ton of insight and made me think more about myself and how I would attack the challenge and vision of burning man!!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Thanks Cate. I truly appreciate that! Burning Man teaches you a lot about yourself.

  • Eugenia A Parrish
    April 4 2016

    I spent years in the deserts of Nevada and loved every minute, but I’ve never heard of this Burn thing. Thanks for sharing. When I was much younger, I would have traveled to participate, but for now I’ll live it vicariously through you. Many years ago I did participate in one of those Walks for March of Dimes or whatever, where you get people to pledge so much per mile you manage to walk. During the last one I did, the organizers put out a tank of water with paper cups. Yes, the trash cans filled up, but I was astounded at the young people who simply threw their cups on the ground. What a mess! And then afterwards I was talking to some of them about where to deliver the money I collected, and somehow it got out that I was stupid for turning over all of it. When I asked, why not? one girl answered, “Well, you don’t expect us to do all that walking for nothing, do you?” To put it simply, I became bitter and even though I still try not to use plastic bottles or dryer sheets (hate the things), I have been cynical about such things for a long time. Thank you for letting me know that there are some young people who really try and don’t just mouth it while they toss everything in one trash can because it’s easier and apparently they have better things to do. Love love love to you!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Hey Eugenia, thanks for the love! I definitely would be appalled at someone keeping the money they raised for charity, but I have to defend the paper cup throwers. Having done several runs now I understand that this is the standard. As you said the trash cans filled up and for those who are training and competing seriously, they can’t afford to break their pace to work through the crowds towards and already overflowing trash bin. From what I understand, dedicated volunteers happily ensure that each and every cup is cleaned up after the race. I know it can look a little jarring though!

      • Eugenia A Parrish
        April 7 2016

        I guess I could see this in a competition, one that people had been training for. But this was a simple walk, a money-raiser, you didn’t even have to finish, just go as far as you could. And the participants were teens mostly, with some kids, moms with strollers, old folks, etc. I’m sure there were some volunteers to clean it up, but the trash stretched for half a mile past each water tank (the walk was 20 miles) and people who had nice lawns were a bit upset! Didn’t do much for the reputation of the event. 🙁 Come to think of it, I haven’t seen it done in my home town in many years. Maybe email soliciting is easier! And maybe people would rather do an actual competition.

  • Colleen Brynn
    April 4 2016

    1. I’m obsessed with your pink wig. Just love it.
    2. How tough!! It’s hard to feel so different in a situation that is supposed to be feel good and inclusive. I’m sorry you felt that way! I hope you do find your tribe. I would definitely be recycling with you haha, but I know I’d have a hard time in the desert too… I’d definitely be bringing buckets of water to have some sort of bath, and now that you’ve mentioned it, I’d be sure to pack some sort of body cream. Ack!
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Oh yeah. Lotion is the most important item on my playa packing list! I have absolute tons of it. Thankfully I’ve had awesome experiences at both my burns with meeting wonderful people and feeling very much like I’d found a community I clicked with… just not specifically at my camp. And that’s not a dig against either camp, it just wasn’t the perfect fit for me. I’ll keep looking 🙂

  • Marni
    April 4 2016

    I love this post! I always like to hear the “less praised” side of travel, because life isn’t perfect. You’re not alone on the eco-friendly aspect, either – just reading about their shopping purchases made me cringe, and I would have been right there with you, calling for separate recycling and digging it out myself. We only have the one planet, and not enough people seem to care about looking out for it (and by extension, us), so a big kudos to you for not caving, and for playing that important role.
    Marni recently posted..

    • Same! Great post and food for thought, Meihoukai.
      Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Thanks Marni and Kristin! I do know that I was doing the right thing, but it just bummed me out that I felt like such a buzzkill while doing it. That instinct to fit in is so strong, even when it goes against things we believe in!

  • Brittany
    April 4 2016

    2015 was our first burn, I didn’t realize that degree of wind/cold was so abnormal… I’m relieved! I can only imagine how amazing going for the second time will be… Hopefully with less wind! Saw you had super hero costumes!! My husband and I travel the world with our superman and superwoman costumes – definitely a tradition we adopted under the influence of Burning Man 🙂 We didn’t totally jam with our camp either, if the stars happen to align maybe we’ll meet one day, at the world’s best camp 😉 Thank you for sharing your thoughts

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      That sounds like a wonderful dream, Brittany! I’m still traveling with my superwoman costume too — we’ll have to have a fancy dress party if our paths should cross 😉

    • The Dame Intl
      June 7 2016

      Where do I find a husband like this? hehe
      The Dame Intl recently posted..

  • Theresa Christine
    April 4 2016

    I can definitely relate to the not fitting in with your camp thing. I’ve been three times and only my last time (last year) did I really start to feel like I belonged. It can really affect your entire Burn! Great that you’re looking to make changes for the future 🙂
    Theresa Christine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Maybe third time is a charm 🙂 Thankfully I feel very much at home in the Burning Man community as a whole, I just haven’t found the perfect camping situation just yet. Definitely looking forward to keeping trying!

  • Erin
    April 4 2016

    This makes me want to experience it but at the same time its a bit scary…lol

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Indeed it is 🙂 But in my mind, well worth it!

  • LC
    April 4 2016

    I understand what you mean about the sustainability thing – feeling like you’re borderline nagging when you’re just trying to do right by planet earth. I believe many people go through the motions of using disposable items without really thinking about what they’re doing and the harm they’re causing. Who knows – might’ve been an eye opening experience for someone at your camp who’d never thought properly about the waste such an action incurs.
    Keep fighting the good fight Meihoukai!
    LC recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      That is nice to think… I hope so, but I do kind of feel like I was too apologetic and afraid to voice WHY I was slightly disgruntled to make any sort of difference. But I mean seriously, how do you non-judgmentally bring up that you think styrofoam plates are a convenience product that is slowly chocking the planet to death, when someone is already eating off one? I definitely wrestle with that…

      • LC
        April 19 2016

        Haha, I totally understand! It’s so hard, because you don’t want to be the killjoy friend who’s ruining everyone’s fun, even though that’s not your intention in the slightest.
        I try to be subtle about it. I’ll have friends sitting around at work with their disposable coffee cups, when I’ve got my super cool looking reusable tea infuser in hand… people think they’re kind of cool and constantly ask where to buy them.
        Whether or not they actually end up following through is another story.
        LC recently posted..

  • Allie
    April 4 2016

    Loved this post! And I appreciate how honest and self-reflective you are about uncomfortable situations; it’s refreshing. A lot of blogs get so generic and glossy as they grow in popularity (maybe to avoid controversy or criticism — which I can understand, but isn’t so interesting to read..), so I really appreciate that you keep your posts real. You’re a very engaging writer, btw. 🙂

    I can totally relate to being the “let’s not get bottled water and plastic bags” person in a crowd but not wanting to ruffle feathers. Good work sticking to your beliefs, girl!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Thanks Allie. Situations like this are tough — I don’t want to hurt the feelings of other people involved when recounting my experiences, but don’t want to leave out a huge piece of the equation, either. Blogging can be tricky, sometimes!

  • Lucy Hemmings
    April 4 2016

    This, right here is pretty much the entire reason I started following your blog years ago. I’m so bored of all the posts on ‘OMG BURNING MAN IS TOTES AMAZEBALLS’ and photos of the turds in glitter. Don’t get me wrong, I love a story of how incredible something is and feeling someone’s joy at their adventure, but it’s so unbelievably refreshing to read the honesty.

    I just came away from a vacation with a group of girls (Only one of whom I had known previously) and experienced pretty much the same deal – wondering if they were bothered by me constantly collecting up their throwaway water bottles and ‘gently’ reminding them that we could boil the kettle and use that water instead….

    Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s rad. Right, I’m off to fill in the coffee column of my colour coded excel spreadsheet for the morning.
    Lucy Hemmings recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      That’s tough, Lucy! I feel ya. I’ve been on domestic vacations with groups of girls where I was the only one drinking tap water and at the lobby gobsmacked asking how it was possible a building of that size didn’t recycle and writing a letter to the condo association complaining about it after. I think my friends just think I’m crazy 🙂

  • Susan
    April 4 2016

    First of all i just have to say that the pics are great, but guess you already now that:) Do love the text as well. I believe that the more people travel the more they are aware of how much plastic we use and how dreadful it is when ending up in nature. People want the perfect beaches but they also want the convenience of buying ready peeled fruit in plastic containers. Its time to realise that the world can’t have both! So good on you standing up for what you believe in in regards to cans and bottle sorting:)
    Susan recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      I definitely think travel opens one’s eyes to living green. In the Western world we live a pretty sanitized life far away from our trash but in many of the places I’ve traveled it is inescapable — being face to face with all our refuse really changes your perspective.

  • Chantae
    April 5 2016

    I totally feel you on single use plastics! And for a long, long, time I felt ostracized by people around me. Especially new people – nobody likes to be the lecturer/nagger/holier than thou person – esp since travelers do so much damage to the environment with frequent flight travel (always on my conscience!)… But at least you are trying to do what you can and you have a mission.

    Two years ago I made an effort to ditch almost all plastics – I still struggle, especially with food packaging which is my greatest source of waste. I’ve had many people tell me that I’m weird or that what I’m doing is pointless… And gross (because I often pick up trash and shove it in my wetsuit/bikini whenever surfing!)

    …But, now that I’ve kinda “come out” as a plastics tyrant I have a lot more support and the same people who tell me I’m weird are also the ones texting me pics of themselves using reusable coffee cups, picking up trash, etc. I think people don’t like to be confronted at first, but you can guarantee you pointing out the waste will linger in their heads and influence at least a small amount. Esp as you write this to your many readers.

    I am SURE that a few of those playa virgins you burned with will think a little differently next year. Even if one person changes how they think about styrofoam then that’s a win.

    It is more inconvenient not to care, but there is a whole community out there (search “Journey to Zero Waste” on fb or “My Zero Waste Home”) that supports you!
    Chantae recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      I love your story, Chantae! I’m definitely still in the “feeling like a weirdo” phase when it comes to my some of my close personal friends. I loathe feeling like a nag or a preacher so I mostly stay silent and do what I can behind the scenes… my few attempts at talking to friends about their very easily replaceable non-sustainable habits haven’t ended well. I would love to find a way to feel more comfortable talking to people about what I believe in person and not just on my blog.

      Love the Trash is for Tossers blog that another reader introduced me too 🙂 Zero waste is an amazing goal!

  • Dominique
    April 5 2016

    Great post, Meihoukai! It puts into words exactly what I fear would happen to me, if I would go. The not-fitting in, the dust, the not-showering, the being-cold, the being-hot. Instead of deterring me even further, this post has inspired me that one day I should put on my brave shoes and go to Burning Man too. I know what could go wrong, but maybe something amazing will go right and it will be the best time of my life. One day 🙂
    Dominique recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      That’s awesome to hear, Dominique. The thing is I feel very much like I fit in at Burning Man — it’s a community I’m right at home in! I just haven’t found my perfect camping situation yet, but I feel a lot of love in general when I’m there.

  • Anton
    April 5 2016

    Think you’ll make it in 2016?

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Nah 🙂 Tried for the general ticket sale and didn’t get through. Now other opportunities have come up. I’ll try again in ’17!

  • Eva Casey
    April 5 2016

    I really like what you wrote : “I learn more about myself and the world from the moments that challenge me than the ones that peacefully pass me by.” I think that’s so true! And nothing challenges you more than travel, extreme weather conditions, and feeling like you don’t fit in! I can absolutely understand all of them. I’m constantly the “nag” of any group about sustainability and it gets exhausting. Sometimes I just give up and say nothing, but then I invariably feel terrible and guilty about all the waste. I think you did the right thing, because sticking up for what you believe in is always the right choice! In the end, I know you’ll find your tribe! It just may happen in a different way than you expect!
    Eva Casey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Yeah, it’s always a give and take. If I shut up and play nice I feel bad about the needless waste, if I say something I feel bad about being a nag (and pointlessly so since it often feels that it doesn’t go well!) Very much an ever-present struggle for me!

  • Natalie
    April 5 2016

    I’ve never been to Burning Man and not sure that I have a strong desire to go, but I applaud you for standing by the recycling. I know it sucks to be the nag, but people should respect your desire for sustainable living. It’s not that hard to separate plastic and cans! Personally, this is a pet peeve of mine. I try hard not to rip on people too much, but I think we all need to do what we can to protect the environment. Thanks for writing such an incredibly honest piece. Just another example of why I follow you.
    Natalie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      Thanks Nat, appreciate hearing that! I definitely feel that frustration. When you’re speaking up for sustainability people can get so frustrated with you for nagging them but I mean — it’s not me personally that’s benefiting, it’s the planet! We have to speak up for those that can’t speak up for themselves.

  • You’re always fantastic at showing both the highs and lows of your adventures. This was wonderfully honest. It sometimes takes a few burns to find your tribe. Once you get there, you’ll never look back. Cheers for keeping the burner spirit as best you could!! xoxo
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2016

      You, my dear diving friend, are someone I’d love to tent next to on the playa 🙂

  • Jael
    April 7 2016

    I totally feel you about hating but being unable to stop nagging at your friends. I’m “exploring” Borneo with a couple of friends and I’m the only diver in the group. Since I just got my licence, everyone encouraged me to go diving while the rest of them went snorkeling, which I eventually did. The whole day, they took turns bugging me with questions like, “Wow, since you were so close to the fish and corals, did you TOUCH it?” I literally spent the entire trip harping about passive interaction and the importance of being respectful to nature. All I got was, “When I was in XXX, it was the guide who grabbed a sea cucumber for us to touch.” (Read: if the guide asked me to do it, it MUST be acceptable. Even if it wasn’t, I did no wrong because it was the guide who made me do it.) I was absolutely livid. There are so many serial killers out there. Are you going to turn into one too?! I warned them to be careful not to kick the corals with their fins etc. and they were completely unremorseful when they said they couldn’t help it because the sea was shallow and they needed to stand to clear their snorkel/mask/whatever. Really? Really?! If you can’t swim well, don’t wear the fins! They just looked at me like they couldn’t understand why I was getting so worked up. I’m no green hero, but I can’t see why we shouldn’t all at least start by doing simple things.

    • Meihoukai
      April 10 2016

      Yeah, seeing people stand on coral with their fins crushes my soul! Some places are actually going as far as to ban them for snorkeling. The cool thing about your friends talking to you about that though is that you were able to start a conversation! And because of that I’m sure that some of what you said sunk in. The biggest struggle is when you don’t get to get talking…

  • Laura
    April 7 2016

    I loved this post and even with the downsides, I still have that feeling that I NEED to go to Burning Man at least once in my life. But I had so many thoughts as I read this like: 1) When it was so dusty all the time, what did you do about your camera? (Your pics are awesome btw.) 2) How often were you able to shower? As a girl with frizzy, curly hair this panicked me if I’m going to head to Burning Man too one day. My hair definitely needs a rinse every couple days to bounce back…literally. And the big 3) I can’t believe your camp mates didn’t want to recycle! Especially at Burning Man! I would have been you in the camp – continuously telling people to put the plastic in the correct bag. Except that I would have probably only been chipper about it for like a day before the rage would have shown through (I’m kind of obsessed with recycling). Someone would have to start restraining me from attacking people who forgot to put the plastic in the god damn correct bag!

    Anyway…this post was great and I was happy to read about the ups and downs of Burning Man.

    p.s. You looked FIERCE in your pink wig and body suit! I loved it!

    • Meihoukai
      April 10 2016

      Hey Laura! Thanks for the kudos 🙂 I tried not to take my camera out in dust storms and keep it wrapped in a gallon freezer bag when I wasn’t using it. Then I got it professionally cleaned in LA after. There is still dust in it… it’s unavoidable. Both years I think I showered twice the entire week… very short RV showers. There are some camps that offer hair washing stations but the lines can be super long. It was definitely an issue for me too, as you’ve read!

  • Frida
    April 7 2016

    Great post, Meihoukai! This year will be MY third Burn as well. I will be tent camping (last burns were with a now-ex-husband in an RV!) with a theme camp for the first time, folks I met at my previous two Burns. It will also be my first Burn w/o a shower! Can you say BABY WIPES?! Stop by and see us @ ELECTRO-THERAPY CAMP if you need to recharge anything! Ask for FRIDA. I am a recycling NUT and can feel your pain! Buzz kill or not, the planet (and I) thank you!

    • Meihoukai
      April 10 2016

      Hey Frida! When I make it back to the playa, I’ll stop by and say hi 🙂 Baby wipes are magical, but I’ll be curious to hear after how you got on without the RV shower this time!

  • Steve Gee
    April 13 2016

    Hi Meihoukai

    Loved the story and loved burning man last year and the three before it.

    Being eco friendly myself and doing my utmost to leave no trace I just wander how you balance that with constant jet setting around the world which you must be leaving a larger than average carbon footprint?

    Only looking for clarification, not having a dig just find it interesting to see if you have a justifiable view point or is it only certain situations and people that make you consider what we leave behind, be it on the ground or in the atmosphere?

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2016

      Hey Steve! Good question. One thing I’d be quick to point out is I think I fly a lot less than it might appear at first glance. For example, I just spent seven months in Thailand, so that kind of spreads out the emissions of a big around the world flight, at least on a per-day-of-trip basis.

      You also might be interested in this post, which goes more into depth on sustainability at Burning Man and my thoughts on balancing out what might might see as wasteful with what others might see as essential!

  • I love hearing the good, bad and the ugly! The desert is totally my jam, I’ll take that over humidity any day!

    Ugh, the recycling! This drives me crazy, especially at work where we all have recycling bins with 20 steps of our desks, but trash bins AT our desks. Nobody around me recycles, and since I’m the boss, I feel weird saying anything. Usually, I’ll quietly wait until they’re not around and fish out the cans/bottles for recycle. Sigh…
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2016

      HAHA. Love that… that is totally an Meihoukai move!

  • becky hutner
    April 23 2016

    So much to say about this one! Firstly, you’ve hit on one of the reasons I’ve been turned off Burning Man — what I perceive as incredible waste. In particular, I remember cringing when my friend told me he pretty much “cleaned out a Walmart” on his way there. Seemed in such opposition to the festival’s non-materialistic philosophy! That said, I know most festivals are terribly wasteful. Cut to me on my 10th plastic cup of Heineken at Coachella because they don’t let you reuse (though they may have switched to greenware at this point?).

    Secondly, I have been this annoying, nagging crazy person so many times. It never ends well. These days, I tend to keep quiet, choosing instead to lead by example. Yes it makes me very VERY sad when friends who are well off and educated say yes to the plastic bag, especially when the bag they’re already carrying is more than adequate. Or when we order in at work and accept a load of plastic cutlery (including knives — why plastic knives exist in 2016, I have no idea) when we already have our own silverware. Or when someone orders the Atlantic salmon. Or when someone who is so vocally eco conscious in one area is so shockingly negligent in another. These incidents can send me to an angry and self righteous place but the quickest way to back is to think of all the ways I, with all of my passion and knowledge and relative spending power am still damaging the planet. I drove almost daily for 13 years. I use chemical hair treatments. I order to-go coffee even when I’ve forgotten my reusable mug. I’d be lying if I said these tallies completely extinguish my anger but they do help knock me off my high horse.

    When there IS an opportunity to educate on these issues, I try to seize it. For example when my boss asked me where I got my dry cleaning the other day, I was able to say well actually, I use a wet cleaning service and here’s why…But that opportunity never seems to be in the moment, when someone is making that poor choice, eating that factory farmed meat, having a ball at H&M. If you rain on someone’s parade, they’re going to get defensive. I think the key is arming yourself with as much info and practicing your pitch so that when that opp does come, you can explain the issues in friendly, layman’s terms that don’t make you sound like a snotty or crazy person…something I still struggle with for sure!

    Thanks for caring Meihoukai and for spreading your green message via this lovely blog.
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2016

      Hear hear, Becky! I hear you on leading by example, being humbled by the areas we still have room to grow, and education without bullification.

  • Erica
    April 27 2016

    I’m late to the party, but I wanted to say I really appreciated this post! I’ve never been to Burning Man, and I’ve always been a little bit turned off by it for reasons that aren’t really worth going into. But reading about some of the down sides for you actually made me think I should give it more of a chance. Going into it expecting a little suffering now and then seems like the smart thing to do 🙂
    Erica recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 28 2016

      Thanks, Erica! Indeed — managing expectations is a crucial part of any experience, I think.

  • Chris
    May 29 2016

    I love that you’ve stuck to your guns, and even if you only got through to one member of your camp to think a little more before buying styrofoam plates (fortunately, they haven’t been available in Australia for over 20 years), you’ve made a difference! 😉
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 30 2016

      Wow that’s amazing that they don’t sell them in Australia! I’d love to see that made into a law here…

  • Jess aka Poots
    September 19 2016

    I follow you and a bunch of other well known female travel bloggers and I’m happy I came across this post in my recent scroll on your site. I’ve been waiting to go to the burn for over six years and finally went this year. It ended up feeling like a lot more bad things vs. good…overall good but not great like I imagined but I know next year will be even better from the learning! It is a lot of work, struggles etc, and I was thinking about how to write about it all without seeming so negative but the truth of the matter is, I think everyone struggles and has a story when it comes to prepping, living and surviving that week. I feel better about writing my story now. Thanks for the read!
    Jess aka Poots recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 22 2016

      Hey Jess! I know how you feel. I have found writing about the burn to be a very cathartic experience — I encourage you to just go for it, whether you decide to publish or not! Let go of any guilt you have for not having the most perfect magical rainbow-filled experience. That to me was the most important step 🙂