Here comes our report from Burning Man festival this year, when 18 of us gathered together to create a camp themed around Gymnasium as an Ancient Greek institution for athletics, philosophy and socializing. You can read more about the concept of our camp on its own webpage; we launched this project a few months earlier at FreeForm Festival, and here you can see how it came about at the festival of festivals, Burning Man. (But keep in mind that this is by no means an attempt to write about the festival as a whole, there simply “too much” fun stuff happens to be able to grasp more than just a fraction of it.)
After months of preparation, the last days before the festivals were very exciting but also a bit scary – with this endeavor being our first experience as such a theme camp, something was likely to go wrong! Indeed, our early arrival/construction crew had a flat tire at the start of the trip in San Francisco, and as we collected all the stuff that we planned to carry to Black Rock City, we realized we had to buy an extra trailer. We resolved all the issues smoothly but experienced another setback due to the weather, as on Saturday before the opening of the festival, when we had planned to construct our camp, a severe dust storm took place; we could only enter Black Rock City in the evening and started construction early on Sunday.
Well, luckily we didn’t plan on building anything complicated, so we raised most of our shade structures before the rest of our campmates arrived. (Then later on in the afternoon a strong gust almost blew off a part of our shade structure, bending some of the carrying metal parts and tearing apart one of the tarps, but we were able to fix it; although it doesn’t say so in the instructions, it is apparently important to fix the structure with additional ropes and rebar.)
The final touch was putting up the banner of our camp.
Our location was great – at 7:30 Portal and A, we were at a busy intersection, but also with easy access to the Esplanade and an open view all the way to the man.
And that view proved to be nothing short of amazing on the first night, with the supermoon rising next to the Man statue.
Another nature’s wonder was a mini-tornado coming to us from the playa –
it was not any dangerous though, as you can see in the video below.
Well, this video shows a few other things too, but there’s still a lot more to the story (and two more videos) – so keep on reading. A couple more words about the camp:
We had a simple bike rack available for the visitors (note the horse head masks used for its decoration, I’ll mention them later).
For decoration, we used an olive tree (artificial – live plants are prohibited at Burning Man), columns adorned with ivy, and a small statue of Poseidon (without a trident, to make him look more like a generic Ancient Greek athlete…) – next time, we plan to team up with a 3D-printing camp to make a bigger statue.
The schedule of our activities was put daily on the blackboard.
Our first event included two running races – a 100-yard sprint
and a longer, approx. 1.8 km run from our camp to the Man and back.
The sprint was won by Chris, and the long run by yours truly :-)
Admittedly, there weren’t that many participants, but it was still very early in the week, while many camps were still wrapping up their construction. We had other races planned, e.g. piggy-back and barrel-run, as we did at FreeForm, but we had to postpone and eventually cancel those due to dust storms and because the horse head masks which were meant for the final run of that race were
stolen borrowed without asking from our bike rack. We also had to cancel our only night event – ‘discus (LED-lit frisbee) throw in the dark… and in the buff’ – because the nights were bitterly cold in the second half of the week! (Though as you can briefly see in the video above, we still managed to dance naked at some night parties getting warm by the fire from the art cars.)
Our ‘Naked Philosophy’ session was more of a personal introduction among our camp mates, as we did not know each of us in person; and then we discussed our experience in naturism and what it meant for us.
Our most successful event by far was the naked oil wrestling, and here is our second video dedicated to it. Unfortunately some of the video is quite blurry, because oil got on my camera, and most of the footage was not usable at all :-/ Oh well, at least it was a GoPro in a sealed casing, so the camera was totally fine after washing.
Our naked oil wrestling drew a lot of attention, even people in fancy mutant vehicles stopped to watch the match.
As at FreeForm Festival, we used sumo rules, which are the easiest to follow from all wrestling types, and added some Greekness to it with olive oil (and nudity), as a reference to the authentic Olympics.
Each match started with ceremonial wide steps, and then opponents tried to push each other
until one of them stepped outside the ring;
and the soles of the feet were the only part of the body allowed to touch the ground – so pushing the opponent down could also work.
But perhaps the most effective approach is simply carrying the opponent outside the ring, preferably keeping him upside down! :D
For each pair, the victory was decided in 2 wins out of 3 matches.
We didn’t structure the whole event as an ultimate competition though – anyone could challenge whoever they wanted, and more than once. But we had two wrestlers that stood out
and were well matched –
so their sparring was very intense and captivating.
But even the fiercest match ended with a hug.
And both of them received well-deserved golden laurel wreaths!
(By the way, I lost their contact, so if anyone knows them – please put us in touch!)
After the final match, all wrestlers were welcome to go to an amazing massive group
shower ‘perfoamance’ at the camp called ‘Something Freaky Foams This Way’. Next day, we arranged the same competition at their camp – so that people queuing up to get foamed would try their strength in wrestling and entertain the public, and skip the line. We got in touch with one of the organizers of this camp at FreeForm Festival, and this was the best collaboration we could ask for – getting clean and relaxed felt particularly amazing after days in the dust and then even more so after wrestling. Decent showers are obviously quite sought-after at Burning Man, but this camp brings the whole experience to the next level by making it a massive group (40 people at a time) and entertaining activity (with countdown and music, water and foam sprayed under high pressure).
Here are some more photos from the wrestling matches at our camp and ‘Something Freaky Foams This Way’, if the ones above and the video aren’t enough.
Besides planned events, we had a few spontaneous activities, e.g. dance practices by Antony and damoN.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any footage of our fun session of a naked Greek dance with music from ‘Zorba the Greek’. It was lead by our new friend from another camp, and he rightfully suggested we would like the idea of performing this dance naked, which he said was his fantasy from a while ago, when he learned it at a Greek restaurant.
And if you follow this blog, you shouldn’t be surprised seeing some naked capoeira here :-)
And with Tam around, acro-yoga was bound to happen sooner or later –
to our own and guests’ entertainment.
Then we toured a bit around the playa and did more acro-posing with some of Burning Man’s most interesting art constructions in the background.
This structure proved to combine very well with acro-yoga,
as its multiple lines were quite easy to align with the body parts of the posers.
From afar, it looked as if the giant metal ball was resting on Antony supported by Tam’s legs…
Then we posed with the Man himself –
can you spot him here?
And how could we forget ‘the Woman’?
(This statue is actually called R-Evolution.)
And one of the Mars Molecules seemed to be designed perfectly for acro-yoga, not just as a background, but as a base too.
Here is a composition with three men again.
And now, three men intertwined into one ‘laughing dragon’ –
laughing and causing laughter in viewers alike.
There were a few other camps that offered activities in the buff. Besides washing your body from all the dust, sweat and, in our case, also oil at the ‘perfoamance’ camp, cleaning the nose from accumulating dust seemed like a good idea too… and of course there was a camp for that – Neti’s (naked) Nose Spa – and naked too! I really liked how I felt afterwards, so when I got home I immediately ordered a neti pot. Some events were missed due to dust storms or cold nights (e.g. black light naked twister), others I simply forgot about (e.g. naked skateboarding session).
The camp across the street from us, Decadent Oasis, provided the best light show at night, with their technicolor ever-changing palm trees and great music. We were invited to do a striptease for their bachelorette party, though we first had to find some clothes to put on :D They also had a slackline,
and we were treated with a show of really good slackline walker who was naked and walked it all way through.
He must be quite good at balancing, as I remember this guy on a unicycle at the Naked Pub Crawl 3 years ago.
Speaking of which, the Naked Pub Crawl was again among the best events at Burning Man
and certainly the largest naked one.
You can see more of it in the first video above,
but as you can guess from the name, it involves cycling naked around Black Rock City with hundreds of fellow burners and getting drinks at participating camps.
Duckpond camp offered some extra entertainment with their ‘mechanical bull’ ride,
but unfortunately my favorite part from the Naked Pub Crawl 3 years ago – the slip’n’slide “duckpond” – was absent, being apparently prohibited by the state health agency… A slight consolation came from a slide at another camp, which was down a giant sheep’s ass :D
But we did plenty of naked cycling on our own too,
exploring the playa and its installations.
One of the most intriguing and impressive was the Totem of Confessions,
which featured plenty of nudity in its decoration among other elements.
Another view of the R-Evolution statue.
Riding on the bike in the heat of the day felt pretty nice thanks to the light wind (unless it turned into a dust storm!)
But the best conditions seemed to be around sunset time – the sun wasn’t scorching but it was still very warm before the onset of the cold night, and the air was still – that’s when we liked strolling around in our altogethers. But the photo below shows how you can be well protected against the elements while being naked!
And for comparison, this is how the same place looked like one day after the end of the festival…
Sad that everything has to come to an end, but on the other hand Burning Man celebrates immediacy, so realization of the temporary nature of… everything is part of the festival.
We made sure to leave no trace behind us and were ready to go
home for the next adventure. Gymnasium proved to be a great experience for its organizers and visitors alike (hopefully all of them, let me know if not) and will hopefully develop only more in years to come!
And here is our third, bonus video with damoN performing on the playa. This was shot while the festival was still rocking, just outside Black Rock City. In case you thought it was difficult to escape from the crowds at this massive festival, it is actually easy to find a place where you can be alone when you would like to reconnect with your ‘inner self’; and the vast open landscape of the desert will only help with that. But it’s good to know that you’re next to the city full of your friends or yet-to-become friends.