The Playa Palace Adventures Part 1 – Burning Man

Wow.  That was definitely the longest vacation of my life, or it felt like it, and it was still too short.  I’m not sure where to start but early memories are already dimming, so I’ll just start writing and remembering chronologically speaking.  Adding photos that I took with my phone, it will be a few days or more until my camera gets downloaded!

Thursday August 25

We were all packed up and flew to Reno Nevada! The night before was busy with packing, and as we were at Newark Airport, we started hearing about the hurricane.  Before that, I heard “blahblahblah hurricane blahblahblah florida” and that’s all I thought about it.  But it was Thursday or Friday that we heard about it hitting our area and hitting it hard – even being declared a state of emergency well before it was in range.  We were slightly panicked about this, as we didn’t expect it and had to ask our awesome friend who keeps our kitties company to move some of our balcony items to safety (more for the safety of others!)  Regardless, we made it through flying – no scan or grope, delays while we were on the plane, worries about making our connection in Phoenix, and relief that we wouldn’t have to fly home this time!

Our second leg from Phoenix to Reno was full of people going to the same destination as us, and as luck would have it we were seated by a local friend SusieQ – of course this leg always goes faster!

Landed in Reno, got our bags and a cab, and we were whisked away to our new home.  The sellers of the Playa Palace met us at the RV storage lot, gave us a once over of the most important things and walked us through hitching up.  All four of us crammed in the cab of the truck (who we affectionately nicknamed “Buddy” later in the trip) for the first drive over to the Grand Sierra Resort RV Park, then the sellers got a cab ride home from there. We were left to unhitch without any guidance, but it all went smoothly and soon we were set up for the next few days.  After grabbing a quick bite, we had to run over to my friend’s shop (Prism Magic in Sparks!) to grab bikes she lent us for Burning Man, as well as boxes I had shipped from NJ with bedding and other supplies.  One quick run to the Walmart next door (first of many!) and we had pillows and towels as well, and it was time for some much needed sleep after a quick bite at the resort.

Friday August 26

We slept fitfully in our new surroundings, and our first morning was bright – too bright!  We are not early risers, and I put on my expanding to-do list to buy some fabric to hang up in the windows.  I used velcro stickers to hang it up and it worked like a charm on the following mornings – until we got to Burning Man and the heat killed the stickiness!  (By then we were tinfoiling the windows, so we just kept the tinfoil in place ever since.  The bedroom was blissfully dark and cool!)

Anyway – that’s not the exact order of things.  We had a breakfast buffet that was scrumptious at the resort, and set out for shopping.  We shopped and shopped and shopped.  Mostly at Walmart. Groceries. Booze. Household essentials. I’ll come back with more detailed info if anyone can stand to hear about it when I have my travel organizer/notebook on hand… Eventually we took a break to enjoy ourselves at the resort pool and hot tub, and had a drink at the bar where the bartender from Florida tried to ease our worries as we watched the news coverage scaring everyone about the hurricane.

Pool & hottub break!  Biggest little city

(click any image to see it larger!)

We spotted the Technomads in their new vintage bus down the path from us in the RV park, not wanting to drop in we ended up having a twitter conversation where they invited us over after we crashed for the night! We didn’t catch up with them until we were on the playa.

One of our purchases was a handful of DVDs from the sale bin, as there’s a dvd player and tv in the Playa Palace – we enjoyed watching them in the evenings while we were hooked up to power, while making our own meals instead of eating out.

Saturday August 27

So Friday and Saturday are blurring at this point. Some things may be switched. I’ll come back to this with my book 😛  Oh we went back to Prism Magic to do some vital blinkie and costume shopping – keeping our awesome friend Lauren in business!

Sunday August 28

It’s D-Day! Departure day! We had become more familiar with the trailer at this point, and driving the truck on it’s own, but it was time to REALLY get used to driving it! We ran a few more errands for fresh produce, toiletries, and something from Home Depot.  Then it was time to hook up and head out.

On the road! Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

We skipped our usual route going through Sparks on Pyramid Way, for the less windy/scary drive along 80 to Wadsworth.  Normally my routine is to get an Indian taco on the way back, but we were hungry and needed some food so we stopped at Elaine’s taco stand.  I have to say, it was probably the best taco I’ve had out there!  Elaine was wonderful and chatted with us for a while before we had to keep on our path.  We also got free water bottles with ads for bail bondsmen and lawyers on it… Hmmm what are they trying to tell us???

Free water bottles. Just in case.

We were excited to see the general store in Empire The town that no longer exists was open, though we didn’t stop because space was tight and we (read: Random) are new to driving this trailer.  We did stop on the way out however! We got through Gerlach and off of pavement around 6 pm, and had about a 2.5 hour wait to get in and reach our campsite.

Waiting to enter burning man during sunset Burning man entry line

After a beautiful sunset, we reached camp in darkness and found our campmates, helping them set up then get the Playa Palace into place.  It was late and we were beat, so no parties that night – we crashed so that we could do more in the morning!

Monday August 29 – Monday September 5

You surely can’t expect me to remember what day things happened in a city where schedules mean nothing? 😛 I’ll tell you that Wednesday we volunteered with WDYDWYD project and it was our night to make dinner for our relaxed meal plan group of half the camp. Other than that, the Man burned Saturday, the Temple burned Sunday, and when anything else happened doesn’t matter – only that it did.

Since I mentioned it, I’ll hit it first – WDYDWYD. Why do you do what you do? It’s an ongoing project that people can submit photos to with their answer (ala Postsecret) but the heart of it occurs at Burning Man each year, since well, a few years ago (200-something). I always loved this project, and this time we signed up to participate – my husband as a conversationalist and myself as a photographer. It’s the first time I took my DSLR out to the playa (I insured it first!) and of course, the day of our shift was the ONLY dusty day out there! It came and went in gusts so it wasn’t a serious white out, I just kept my camera in a ziploc bag as much as possible between shots. We also managed to get campmates to participate on Sunday – I need to get those model releases and images submitted soon!

What else can I say… It was a blur at the time, let alone a month later. The weather was amazing – aside from a few REALLY brief whiteouts on Wednesday, we had only a little dust, it never got too hot, the first few nights were warm but got really chilly midweek. The playa surface in the past has been difficult to bike around in, but this year the surface was in great condition except for a few odd streets where the water trucks (to keep dust down) ended up creating more potholes than in all of NJ…

The art was outstanding, we didn’t see enough of it (always the case!). The temple was absolutely amazing, and we were so excited that the Gameltron (we experienced this twice at PEXfest) was at the heart of the temple – we had one visit where we just sat and meditated under the music.

Playadipity – (serendipity on the playa) – we got an art car ride for our camp (that broke down. 😛 of course) and it stopped at the metal forest.  While we were there, a new friend that I met at my cousin’s wedding ran into us! It’s the only time we saw her, and we weren’t at either of our camps.

One night, a camp mate said she knew of a local camp doing a onsie and whiskey party. I don’t drink that much whiskey, but I had a onesie (one piece pajamas), so I put it on and we set out. We wandered all over, and we were across from the camp at one point but didn’t know it. Which was fine, the fleece onsie was surprisingly comfortable – I wore a tank top underneath so when I was warm/dancing I didn’t wear the top part.  It wasn’t as comfortable when the temperatures dropped and I had to strip to use a portapotty! (Note to self: buy onesies with a trapdoor next time.)

So – I have to mention our friend leading us was dressed as Alice from Alice in Wonderland. At one point she stops at a random camp to ask about the party we’re looking for.  She’s chatting with two guys, and then one takes her into the back section of their camp – she assumed they were looking for a map – and a guy in our group followed after her. As the rest of us waited and were starting to get impatient, she shows up eventually saying she fell down a rabbit hole!!! They lead her into a crazy maze of structures, which eventually opened up to a bar/lounge that felt like the real thing and not just  a tent in the desert.  The guy who followed her (the preacher) ended up staying as we wandered on, but he took Random and I there later in the week. This was such a great set up, it really was a crazy maze of structures that ends in a lounge – there were walls, artwork, air conditioning, a stage for open mic/musicians, and more. Unfortunately it was empty when we were there, but the “rabbithole” and the story of how Alice stumbled in it is one of my favorites from this year!  It was on C around 2:45.

A block over from this was another amazing structure on B, a temple-esque looking building with a second story that had a rotating hanging bed/lounge.  Our second time we stopped there, there was a great DJ and I danced as long as I could before companions wanted to travel on. I don’t know much about it, looking for more info, but I heard the camp members were Russian, that they wanted to burn it, but didn’t have the ability to move it from the crowded city streets to open playa, and had no burn pad. I saw a photo but forgot to note where it is….

By the way, there are some great pics here (#9 features two of my awesome campmates :P)

So let’s see. We did a lot of hanging out at camp during the day, and kept trying to stay out all night. Never made it to sunrise though we saw the sky starting to lighten one night! Oh well, sleep is a beautiful thing too sometimes. We had a great time with our campmates, it was great to see some old friends and make some new ones! Our art car adventure was a blast, and we went prepared for it to break down even though our campmate Stiles can work some crazy magic with beer and ether….

We watched both the Man and Temple burns from a distance away – it’s a different experience, but still really nice to enjoy the quiet and spaciousness rather than being jam packed in there.

I really missed PEX and a stage for fire performers – seems like there was less fire (art and performance) out there this year.  Out of the honorarium art installations, we saw and liked Aurora the giant weeping willow (we managed to stand under it before it was fenced off, due to people stealing the beautiful copper leaves!), the Pier, the Wet Dream (a beautiful sight at night, with LED raindrops, umbrellas, and the sound of a thunderstorm!), and the amazing Temple. We both also loved the tesla coil that made music! And the giant flowers, that had some kind of digital display that we didn’t see in full production, but were amazing.

We had to leave at the worst possible time – we love being able to stay until Tuesday and skip the long lines, but we only planned one night in Reno before starting our trip home (which we delayed a day…) and thus we were stuck for 7.5 hours on the exodus line on Monday. The pulsing method was much better than inching along, we would move then stop for an hour or so, get out and meet neighbors and hang in the shade of the RV.  But it was a long day.

Since this is already a novel, I’ll leave you here for the time being. In part 2, I’ll talk about our road trip from Black Rock City back to New Jersey, and hopefully have my photos done and ready for you! Here are two albums from camp mates though to hold you over!



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