Burning Man wasn’t hell on earth, it was heaven (apart from the toilets)

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Stuck in the mud with 70,000 people, stranded in the rain-sodden Nevada desert, toilets overflowing, no communications … what’s not to love about Burning Man, the world’s biggest music festival?

The deluge extended our seven days in this desert wonderland, camping with mates from Sydney, to nine. But the rain eventually stopped and they gave us the all-clear to drive out.

Sydney revellers at Burning Man: Ryan Johnston, Dalbs Hutter, Kate Feneley, Wade Bartlett.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sydney time, we’re writing this from our RV as it joins a queue of thousands to leave, a seven-hour traffic jam – and that’s just to reach the exit gates. It’ll be an 8½-hour haul to Reno, a trip that might normally take a few hours.

And now we’re catching up with a lot of news about Burning Man. If we’re to believe all the headlines, we’ve just spent nine days in hell. Hell?! If that was hell, who needs the other place? We’ve just had the time of our lives. The mud, especially, was fun. Spectacular fun.

It was so wet, even Burning Man’s famed Orgy Dome – where thousands of people cavort each year, so long as they arrive in groups of two or more – was temporarily closed. Supposedly.

It was challenging, of course. If you were 170 centimetres tall when you started the 100-metre trek to the toilets, you were 185 centimetres by the time you arrived, so much mud had accumulated on your boots. That’s not to mention how big your bladder was by then.

Then you had to confront the toilets! Water tankers had been unable to get in, so they couldn’t empty or clean them. They overflowed with faeces. That was less fun. It may have been too much for the few. Some left early in 4WDs. Some in choppers. Some paid $US1500 a head to be rescued by all-terrain vehicles.

But most of the 70,000 of us who came – the true burners – stayed to its glorious end. We saw the burning of the Man, the spectacular bonfire of the effigy that continues the spirit of the pioneers of Burning Man, which dates to the 1980s and 90s. People have come, year after year, in peace. They come for the music. They come in goodwill.

And that is what we witnessed from Camp Bang Bang, a Burning Man gathering founded by Bondi locals and still frequented by Australians each year. There was no panic, no hysteria, no rioting, no dissent into uncivilised behaviour.

These days in the mud were testament to the decency of people. We shared fuel and water. We cooked pancakes for each other, gave gifts. When the deluge came on the first Friday, friends from Bang Bang were unable to return to our camp for two days. They were given refuge in another camp.

Credit: Reuters

Because this is Burning Man, where you are greeted with more hugs than handshakes. A desert playground were the free-spirited journey from all over the world to embrace each other’s weirdness. We dressed to impress, animalia being the theme. We witnessed some of the world’s most mind-blowing DJs, interactive sculptures and art pieces. On Tutu Tuesday, we were faithful to the traditional dress code.

At Camp Bang Bang, to celebrate the triumph of our time in the mud, were put out the word and 500 arrived. A shoes-off policy kept out the mud. Some of the best DJs headlined at our party: Lee Burridge, who couldn’t reach the main stage, and Bondi’s own Richie Penny blowing up the decks.

Hell? No. We relished being stuck in this mud. We wouldn’t change a thing about it. OK, perhaps the toilets.

Kate Feneley is a graphic designer from Bondi. Wade Bartlett is a startup entrepreneur. They co-authored this article with their fellow burners from Sydney, Dalbs Hutter and Ryan Johnstone.

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