By Sai Mokhtari
I just came back from my seventh year attending Burning Man, surrounded by almost 70,000 others who were crazy and curious enough to make their way out to Black Rock Desert in Nevada for the week-long festival. Each year, we spend good money and precious vacation time to survive and thrive in one of the harshest environments imaginable. Inevitable hurdles include hot days, cold nights, wind storms, corrosive alkaline dust, and of course, the stuff of my nightmares: the porta-potties.
This year, a rain and hail storm shut down the gates of Black Rock City for about 24 hours early in the week. Thunder boomed overhead and we could see lightning touching down. Cars couldn’t drive on the wet playa and were forced to stay parked in line, unable to move until the ground dried up again. The weather out there is no joke. And there are a million non-weather related ways to hurt yourself too. I ran into dozens of people with torn ligaments and broken bones throughout the week. One woman died midweek when she was struck and run over by an art car.
A few years ago, I spotted a Burning Man bumper sticker that read: "My Vacation Is Your Worst Nightmare." Yup. I won’t try to explain why we put ourselves through this madness time and time again. By now, there are enough articles about why Burning Man is THE GREATEST THING EVER and why it belongs on everyone’s bucket list. It’s all true — the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. If you’ve already been, you know all about it. If you’ve never been, for the love of god, please read the survival guide before you go. And if you’re not up for a challenge, pretty please just stay home.
Black Rock City is dirty and dangerous. It’s full of artists, weirdos and nerds. It’s a city that celebrates creativity and self-expression. People let their freak flags fly high. Veterans are proud of their status and newbies are excited to shed theirs. It’s a city that doesn’t tolerate tourists. You are expected to participate or get the hell out of the way. It’s equal parts namaste and fuck your day. There’s chaos and mania. It’s noisy, crowded, crass and uncomfortable. You have to fend for yourself and practice self-reliance. It’s bloody awful and fucking fantastic and once it gets under your skin, nowhere else in the world will do. Remind you of anywhere else?
Sai Mokhtari is a photographer living in New York City.