I stumbled out of bed bleary-eyed at 6am to grab some more brekkie at the Coffee Shop (got lost again, fecking mirrors!), then caught the hotel shuttle to the airport for my Vegas flight. I was meeting two guys from the Neon City Garrison who were going to give me "the tour"...I didn't want to wander around alone, not knowing where I was going, looking like a saddo lost tourist, and potentially missing out on lots of the cool stuff to see. So it was great of the guys to offer their services.
As we approached Vegas on the flight, I was glued to the window for my first glance - and there it was - Luxor - imposing black pyramid blinking at me in the sunlight....I couldn't stop grinning! I was in VEGAS BABY!!!!
Arriving at the airport and Phil and Scott were there waiting for me. We headed to the car park where - surprise surprise - Phil had a HUGE SUV awaiting. As it was only 7.30am we headed to a diner for some brekkie.....typical HUGE pile of pancakes for Scott, a fry-up for Phil and a massive blueberry waffle for me *burp*. Then out into Vegas and a trip to the famous Vegas sign, for some pics. Touristy yeah but I didn't care - it's an iconic classic retro design that I *LOVE* :D
The heat was searing, it must have been 40oC MINIMUM....the concrete everywhere probably didn't help, I swear it reflected it all back at us tenfold. It was like walking around in a furnace......coming from "sunny" England it was a big shock.
The whole "concrete jungle and fake Eiffel Tower" etc etc of Vegas was a great contrast to start my week with, considering I was heading out to the desert to live in a dusty tent with no home comforts for a week :D
We walked the main strip and used the underground tunnels or monorail that connected the main casinos as much as possible, to try and avoid the heat. Heading over to Mandalay Bay we met up with Mike, another trooper, who worked at the Shark Reef aquarium so got us in at a dirt cheap rate. It was an OK aquarium but IMO some of the tanks were too small and uninteresting. However, the large tanks that you could walk under in the tunnels and all around the sides of a massive room, were impressive - but still bereft of any sort of decent "underwater" decor or plant life for the fish. Sharks and sea turtles drifted around and I wondered if they realised they were sort of trapped in the same space.....and whether or not it frustrated the hell out of them? Having watched on BBCi 2 weeks earlier a documentary about how sea turtles migrate THOUSANDS of miles on instinct to lay their eggs, I wondered if the call of instinct was being blocked by this enclosed tank, and causing distress?
Being a scuba diver I still knew that NOTHING could compare with seeing marine life in the wild, and also free, with the beauty of the blue sea and the corals beneath them.
After Mandalay Bay we pretty much walked the rest of the strip and stopped off at the Bellagio fountains, Luxor, New York New York, little Paris, then up to the Stratosphere Tower for a view of the whole city. How I wished I could stay a night there and I kicked myself again for messing up the time differences and denying myself this. THe view was awesome but for eyes used to "green and pleasant" England, the lack of GREEN in Vegas was very apparent. The heat was just as intense right up there in the sky, and they also had a couple of rides on the top of the tower - one that shot you skywards at God knows what G-Force, and another that literally dangled you over the edge of the tower - OMG no *WAY* was I going on those rides! Phil and Scott went on one though, and I chickened out :D
Next stop was the best Barbeque House in Vegas where I had a huge plate of Baby back ribs with BBQ sauce - DIVINE.....and they served drinks in MASSIVE jam jars!!!??? Good Lord!
Sadly then I had to rush off to catch my plane back to Reno, so it was goodbye to the guys and off I went - just as the sun went down and all the fab Vegas lights came on. Arse!
Back in Reno I headed to the hotel again, collected my luggage, and awaited Drix and Jim to come and collect me. It was near 2 hours until they arrived so I sat in the lobby and watched the Olympics closing ceremony, thinking "bugger I could have had some more time in Vegas!"
We decided to head for Burning Man/Black Rock City that night, so we'd get in early and get a good camping spot near to the centre of the City. It was only about a 1.5/2 hour journey from Reno so not too bad.
The guys turned up and Jim was towing a trailer jammed with water, supplies, scaffold and tent-type stuff. Drix's car was weighed down with all his stuff plus a bike rack on the back. This was it, woooo!
We stopped off at WalMart to pick up some supplies, then an all night supermarket for final grub-buying. There were other Burners in the car park who were also stocking up - you could tell them a mile off: RVs, lots of bike racks, and shopping trolleys full of water :D
By the time we were sorted and headed off it was now 1am. As we left Reno and the light pollution faded away, the inky black sky and stars were upon us. My cellphone lost it's signal and then I knew that I was isolated from the modern world...no TV, no texts, no internet, nothing - FANTASTIC!
We stopped briefly at the turnoff for Pyramid Lake, which was reflected in a lovely moon....it's a tradition that Drix and Jim do each year they drive to BM....stop at the lake, jump about and get excited, then carry on driving!
We drove and drove and then in the distance we saw the lights....the lights of a queue of traffic. It was just like that scene in Field of Dreams at the end where you see the lights snaking off into the distance. Burners!! If you BUILD IT THEY WILL COME!!!!
We kept driving and thankfully the queue of lights ahead seemed to keep moving too Now they were coming from both directions! I started wondering how long we'd be be waiting to get in. Pretty soon we joined a slow-moving queue and we kept going, which was good....we trundled on until we could see the junction where you turn into Black Rock City - not bad at all!
Jim had a spare ticket so I decided to stretch my legs and jog up and down the queues of cars trying to flog it. Everyone said no, then this divine looking guy in his big van offered me a lift on his door siding, as I was jogging along and being left behind. I hopped on and he introduced himself (unpronounceable Playa name that I've forgotten already), I said it was my first burn then hopped off again and continued up the queue a bit more. After getting no interest I headed back to the car, grinning at Mr Sexy en route and wondering absently if I should give him one of my business cards.
We trundled on a bit longer then out of the blue there was a girl standing at the roadside with $200 in her hand and a sign saying "spare ticket needed". Bingo, one ticket sold!
We turned into Black Rock City and joined three parrallel queues of traffic waiting to go in. RVs and cars loaded dwon with stuff, some painted up with BM slogans or typical "hippie style flower power" painted vehicles. Mutant vehicles on trailers went past, one of which was the head off "Alien" which was FAB. I got my camera out and started filming snippets.
Eventually I got out the car again and went to find Will Call to collect my ticket. I saw a little further up Mr Sexy's van, but carried on to the ticket office. Upon collecting it I walked past Mr Sexy who smiled at me again, but still I didn't go and fetch a business card to give him. Argh! Then he was thru the gates and gone....who he was I'll never know, but I learned soon enough that at Bm you meet people and have convos and it's all fab then the next minute they're gone for ever.....
Next stop for me was the Greeter's Station, where volunteers welcome all Burners and also "induct" the Burning Virgins - like me.
Out of the car I had to get and kneel in the Playa dust, play with it, make a pile of it, while the volunteer stood over me (and probably resisted the urge to say "while you're down there love...." :D Then I had to ring a HUGE bell twice and shout out "I'm not a Burning Man Virgin anymore!!" All this is on film and you'll see it at some point, honest :D
So that was my first taste of "the Dust" - something that I'd be living with for the next 7 days and something that would permeate ever crevice of my tent, my clothes and my body during those 7 days too!
Part 3 coming soon..............