Got obsessed reading about Burning Man. I came across a couple of pictures first and being a sucker for visual arts I thought how fun. Then I read on some experiences and different personalities reporting, some press about how luxury camps ruined the vibe lately. A little drama. A little excitement. Then I heard a friend was there 2 years ago and it was one of the best experiences he ever had, but I should imagine it as being tugged through grindy sand behind a horse carriage (a la Ben-Hur) for 6 days. Mmmh. And it's super super hot and dry but also super fun. Mmmmh.
One leading to the next I found myself anxiously waiting, while dealing with unreliable wifi in a hotel room in Vegas. I hit the 'buy ticket' button right at noon when the 70,000 tickets first came available and the online waiting line took 42 minutes to dwindle down and telling me if I got tickets. There is way more demand and shortly after tickets are sold out they go for sale 10x the face value online. Crazy. But, I scored 2 tickets (Yeah!) and a vehicle pass thinking who I want to share this experience with. My family? Mmh. Taking care of 4 in a hot and extreme environment does not really sound that much fun to me.
During my obsessive research I also came across this TED talk by a 9 year old girl and felt I want to share this experience with my kids. Conflict. Then I came across regional Burning Man events and got tickets for SOAK, the Portland/Oregon one. I could share some of the experience minus the harsh environment and get a feel for the real Burning Man. Win win.
So for Memorial Day weekend we rented an old VW bus, took the kids out of school and went on our way. The festival was located in Tygh Valley and the drive took us down beautiful Columbia River. It drizzled when we arrived and it took the volunteers a bit to find our reservation. Upon arrival we climbed out of our vanagon and all 4 of us were greeted with a big fat bear hug. We also got to ring the camp bell. Let the fun begin! We made our way to our camp site passing the official VW Camp. We set up camp and noticed a group of families with kids same age as ours host a Totoro Camp just down a little hillside from us. The kids went over to meet their new friends while we took some time to take in the gorgeous views of the valley.
On our first night we walked around all the theme camps with the other families. Exploring lots of cool art and interactive fire and light installations. It was truly magic and I teared up from happiness. We also came across a tent handing out gummy bears to the kids. There is no money exchange, no bills to pay for 5 days which I found very relaxing. You share and bring and get and take. We had to bring all we needed for 5 days and also containers to take out our grey water and trash. It's a 'Leave no trace' event. We were happily surprised how well that worked and how clean and well maintained the port-a potties were.
Across our campground was the 'Talk with strangers' camp where we loved to hang out and talk with strangers.Our son met 2 other little boys to play with all day. All the kids we met at SOAK were great. Our daughter made instant BFF with a little girl and we made many new friends with strangers.
We read a lot, bringing our favorite magazine Dummy with lots of short, but deep stories to share. Chatted. The kids flew around on a magic carpet all across camp. They were in heaven. They also handed out cookies and headed to the ball pit several times a day. We, parents, got toasted with free cinnamon toast and schnapps by the 'Got toasted' theme camp. Friday night we watched the very colorful and acrobatic pageant show. Saturday and Sunday night we huddled together in a big circle to watch 'the burn'.
The kids really enjoyed being outside, playing with new friends, just living with no agenda and being around friendly, relaxed folks. There was occasional nudity (mostly in art form) which we don't mind and prepared our kids for. There was alcohol use in moderation, as we do at home. ;-) We did not see any drugs other then cigarette & pipe smoking. (Not saying, that it does not happen. Just saying, we did not see it out in the open.) Overall, I really enjoyed how friendly and well taken care everything was. The togetherness and community. Everyone carries mugs around and is very mindful of their surrounding. No trash anywhere in sight. No trash cans.
We saw lots of great art in all forms and shapes. Body art. Costumes. Ribbons. Cars. We also listened to a lot of bass drum and techno and live music almost around the clock. Or in Obama's words: "See, you got all these beautiful, dynamic people coming together, spreading love, looking out for one another. That is vaguely like my vision of tomorrow's America. Minus the orgies and techno. I'm more of a house guy, as you know." I must agree. :-)
Would I recommend this to other families! Absolutely. If you have an open mind, want to raise worldly, well aware kids and have realistic expectations, sure you should go. It's fun. It would be even more fun to go with some friends and do a theme camp next year. Let us know if you want to come.
Both kids keep asking when we'll go to the next Burning Man. They loved it! And on this note, here is my favorite line from Julia Wolfe's TED talk: “Burning Man is where children are treated like royalty and adults act like children”
Optimistic, curious, human bee.