Burning Man 2013 – Amusement Park for the Soul

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September 24, 2013

I got back home from one of the most amazing weeks of my life a few weeks ago, and it’s taken me some time to try and come up with a description and explanation for how incredible the Burning Man experience was. There really is no way to describe it in words. To understand it, you must experience it first hand. But I will do my best to try and paint a picture of what this festival meant to me.

The best description I’ve heard so far of what Burning Man is, “It’s like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, your birthday, Halloween or any other celebration all at once”. You really get to experience it all – all the emotions inside of you, and the ups and downs that come with them. In one week, I felt the happiness and joy like a child, spiritual awakening, and love on many different levels.

(2 Photos below by Duncan Rawlinson)

Once a year for a week before Labor Day, Burning Man takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. It becomes the third largest city in Nevada, and this year had a record population of over 68,000 people!

I was a bit apprehensive about the idea of spending a week in the desert, with its inhospitable climate and conditions. Extreme opposites in weather, dust storms, and lack of proper amenities that I’m used to, made me a bit nervous about embarking on this adventure. Luckily, we were able to get an RV that had all the comforts of home. To those brave ones who stay in their cars and tents, I must give massive props, as it is not easy.

You really must get prepared well for this experience. Stock up on enough water, food and anything you may need for the week, because once inside, you cannot buy anything. In fact, there’s no money being exchanged in Black Rock City. You either rely on yourself, or on generosity of your neighbors and new-found friends. One of the most impressive things about this experience is the incredible generosity that you receive and witness all around you. People from all walks of life come together to serve, give, and share.



You can get haircuts, massages, food, drinks, lessons, watch live performances, participate in fun games, go on rides, and enjoy interactive art, all free of charge.  People do it out of love and wanting to make others happy. One day we did our part by standing outside of our camp and handing out popsicles and watermelon slices to passersby. It was so nice to see how grateful and happy people were to get something cold and refreshing on a hot day.


(2 Photos below by Duncan Rawlinson)

Another big part of what makes Burning Man so special is the art. There’s are so many talented artists that work all year round to make some of the amazing art installations that you see out on the “playa”. It’s hard to describe the kind of art you see there, some of it is interactive, some is just so impressive and big, some have lights and flames coming out of it. I would spend hours during the day and night walking around to see and appreciate so many wonderful installations and sculptures. One of my favorites was Truth is Beauty (pictured above) a 55-foot silhouette of a woman that changed LED colors in the dark. Another one was a very underrated piece (don’t know the name) that was out in the farthest corner of the playa where not many people go – a small hut that had alien-looking forms outside and inside. (shown left)

I was very lucky to be camping with the Dancetronauts, who have a spaceship art car that doubles as a sound stage. Every night we would ship out to the playa with the bass station in tow and attract thousands of people with its impeccable sound system, energizing beats, pyrotechnics, and beautiful Danctrohottie dancers. Dancetronauts had many guest DJs as well as resident ones playing the most amazing music until dawn every day. I don’t remember the last time I danced this much! The Dancetronauts are such a big hit at BRC and have even been voted number two of top 10 best art cars on the playa! Burners kept coming up and praising the Dancetronauts when they walked around in their spacesuits, telling them how much fun they have dancing to their music every night.

Burning Man is home to many sound camps and parties, and you can choose what you like depending on the type of music, theme and crowd you want. There are parties going on 24 hours a day. We went to the biggest day party Distrikt several times and met many fantastic people there.

I think what defines Burning Man are the people that make up Black Rock City. I feel that the creativity, talent, hard work, and generosity of the people is what makes this festival the most special experience in the world. The costumes were out of this world! Everywhere you look you see fantasy come to life – one better than the next. Some people really spend a lot of time and effort to make their costumes. As I’m not that talented in making my own, I opted for cute bikini tops, flower head bands, beads, and funky skirts as my personal burner style. And at night, I wore white and silver outfits to match Dancetronauts style.

Not only are the people creative and fun, they are all also very generous and want to give gifts to each other. It is very common to exchange presents on the playa (Playa gifts), without any obligation. I got so many playa gifts – necklaces, postcards, scarves, clothing items, glow sticks, sparkly rings, bandanas, and other funky things. No one ever expects you to give something in return, and likewise, when you give a gift, you don’t expect anything back. I was giving away my headbands, beads, and bracelets.

Most people also don’t ask you what you do for a living, as it’s all about getting to know people on a deeper level without judgement or preconceived notions. Of course, there were a few “not burner-like” individuals who managed to point out how important and successful they are, and what they do for work. But the great thing about Burning Man is that nobody really cares about what someone does, how old they are, and how much or what they have. It’s about getting to know the person inside and what they are about.


Photo by Duncan Rawlinson

Now on to the art cars. While most people get around the city on bikes, there are so many other modes of transport. Segways, electric skateboards, golf carts, and bicycles of all kinds, all decorated and decked-out to the max. The art cars come in all sort of sizes, shapes and themes. Just like the costumes, and art, some people spend years building and perfecting their creations. Some breathe fire, shoot lasers, or play music. The fantasy and creativity is unlimited and some are so big and impressive you just can’t help but stare in awe.


One of my favorite art cars (besides the Dancetronauts of course) was the Love Potion. It was so beautiful when it changed colors and sparkled at night. They also gave out little love potion bottle necklaces, filled with a magic love elixir for lovers and hopeless romantics.

Some of the highlights of the week for me were the Man and Temple burns. The Man is the center structure and the biggest one on the playa and it represents the “system”, commercialism, capitalism, “big brother” so-to-speak. The burning of the man takes place on second last night of the festival and represents taking down the Man and refusing to be part of the “system”. It’s a spectacular show as the Man goes up in flames, fireworks all around and the entire population of BRC to witness it all. It was the biggest fire I’ve ever seen in my life and was magnificent to watch, especially aboard the Dancetronauts spaceship with awesome music.

(2 photos below by Duncan Rawlinson)


The Temple is a spiritual center of BRC. It is a place where people can go for quiet reflection or meditation, and to leave messages of love and remembrance of their loved ones lost, or write wishes on the walls. The Temple gets burned down on the last day, and it’s a different atmosphere entirely to the burning of the Man. It gets eerily quiet as it goes up in flames and you can feel all the wishes, dreams, and hopes of the people who left it there burn down and rise up with the smoke. It was a very moving experience.

(Photo credits: left – Duncan Rawlinson, right – Breeana Robbins)

Burning Man tries to be a responsible and environmentally friendly festival and has a “Leave no trace” policy for all who attend. That means that you are responsible for your own trash, and when you leave you take it with you. There are no garbage cans around and if you see some trash on the ground, you should pick it up to make sure the desert is left as if untouched. When we packed up, we made sure to pick up even the smallest pieces of MOOP (matter out of place) at our camp site.

Photo by Duncan Rawlinson

One of my most favorite experiences of the week was going out on the bike by myself to deep playa, out towards the trash fence that is the boundary of the city. Riding at sunset in the open playa, being alone with my thoughts, headphones on, listening to beautiful music, was incredible. I never felt so care-free and peaceful as I did then. I got so carried away that I lost track of all time as it got dark. At night, the whole city transforms into an ocean of lights, and what a sight that is! You can spend hours just walking around enjoying all the fire, lasers, lit up art, bikes, costumes, art cars, and people. It can get almost overwhelming with so much visual and audio stimulation that makes you feel ecstatic and filled with immense child-like wonder.

So what is Burning Man?  Any photos or descriptions of Burning Man can never live up to what it really is, and will fail to show how truly remarkable this experience is. I feel that this is an experience everyone in the world should have at least once in their life. It is life-changing!

In my own words, it’s an amusement park for your soul – a place free of commercialism, labels, and judgement. When you are there, you feel that you belong, you feel right at home. That’s why when you arrive, people greet you by saying “Welcome home”.

And I can’t wait to come back home to the Playa again.

Click here to see all my photos from BM

Click here to see Duncan Rawlinson BM photo album


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