Burning Man 2011

An event that started in 1986 on Baker’s Beach, San Francisco, moved to the Black Rock Desert, Nevada a few years later and has grown by a big, old chunk every year, becoming, perhaps, the world’s best festival of its kind. Well, it’s the only one of its kind, of course.

We were just happy to be there and pretty lucky to be there seen as it had sold out a few weeks before for the first time in its history. Many people, regular Burners and star DJs, ahem,  had been caught out without a ticket and unable to get in. Or, so was the talk. And would the unprecedenated  numbers of people facilitate or muddy the festival’s evolution? Of course, we wouldn’t know – compared to the thousands of dollars to rent an RV out for the week, and looking at the thousands of rented RVs queuing up to get in, we were just glad to be there for the first and only time in our own truck.

The Rainbow and the Burning Man. Both share many similarities that differentiate them from European festivals. They both seem Utopian and identify themselves as Other places to the Outside, everyday world. At both, you will be ‘Welcomed Home’ regularly until about halfway through the event when some mysterious, communal command switches off that particular greeting. Indeed, at both events, there are very many mysterious, commands that everyone seems to follow, rituals observed by everyone and commonly held beliefs. They are not cults but they do look a bit like cults.  Also, and as a product of this perhaps, no commercial activity is allowed to take place. The Rainbow is all about trading and swapping stuff – at the Burning Man, they call it the Gift Economy.


San Francisco

From Alameda point there is a ferry for $5 that crosses to downtown San Francisco.

Mission District: Hot, sunny, Latin American.

Haight-Ashbury: Cold, overcast, Bohemian.

The fog of the North Californian Coastal variety has proved to be a remarkable feature of the landscape every time our path nears the ocean. The Redwoods seemed to ensnare it and hold it to the ground and further south, you can see the stuff rolling in on the wind and evaporating over the hot inland. In San Francisco, it lingers around some of the hills, instantly plunging the temperature to cold, but doesn’t reach others. It was pretty much always around the Golden Gate Bridge. Film crews must have spent entire budgets waiting for a clear shot for their California dreaming film and I feel like I’ve stumbled across some big conspiracy to cover up the real weather situation on the sunny West Coast.  [I just watched the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, after seeing a standard shot of the Bridge in all it’s sun-drenched golden glory at the beginning of the film, I was impressed to see the escaping apes utilize the fog that had shrouded one half of the Bridge to force their way past the cops. I can’t help thinking now whether I would have realized the significance of that had I not seen San Francisco with my bare eyes.  To the uninitiated, it must have looked like the monkeys had radioed ahead for a smoke machine or something.]


Parked up in the heart of the Bay Area – Alameda Point. The ex-military base reminds me of somewhere Eastern Europe, except for the views across the water to San Francisco.

After a couple of days enjoying the urban after all that rural we get confirmation that our Burning Man tickets are ours. Thanks again to the Dutch guy called Joost. We have six days to go before the 350 mile trip to the Nevada desert and a growing to-do list:

  • Get cool box, water tanks, rope, bucket, torch, etc.
  • Check brakes and belts.
  • Fix broken computer.

Sonoma County

We leave the coast and Highway 1 at the Russian River and head inland to meet the Blue Team at their place near Sebastopol. I’m pretty happy to leave the endless twists and turns behind for a while and keen to experience proper American Interstate Freeways  – however, the last piece of Sonoma Coast was looking fascinating: Dry, brown, yellow and red hills scorched by the sun, falling into a turbulent ocean, a thin strip of dense fog covered the beach and played with the views from the cliff top.

Finally reunited, Earthcircuit spend a relaxed evening together. The last time we were together was at Big Bend Hot Springs.

The hunt for Burning Man tickets continues and ends suddenly in the well-mannered figure of a Dutch guy called Joost who can no longer go and has identified us as the deserving Burners. A tense couple of days while we validate the tickets, transfer the money and change the name, hoping everything’s OK. $600 for something as intangible as a ten-digit code to be presented at an office in the middle of the desert…. Hmm.