Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The First Time: Juplaya Journey

An introduction:

I'm a new blogger, burner, camping enthusiast, witch, lover, hippy, dust-lover, tree-hugger, vegetarian, Taurus with some kind of attitude problem.

The first time I went to the playa was during a major transitional moment in my life. Everything seemed to be changing all at once. I was a student in college, and summer vacation was just starting.  I'd just broken up with the boyfriend I'd had for almost a year, I'd cut my super-long hair to a super-short haircut, and I'd decided to pursue my own sense of freedom, though I didn't know what that meant to me. Stubbornly, awkwardly, unsure, I stepped up to the plate and decided to take a trip to "some desert in Nevada" for some camping trip called "4th of Juplaya." It was a scary idea. I didn't know what to make of it. I'd never heard of "Burning Man" before, and had no real experience with Burner culture except for brief encounters with friends who'd gone before. But it had been over a year since I'd been camping, since I was then too scared to go camping by myself. And I'd only gotten to go camping once that year. This proved to be my only camping trip of the following year as well, but it was one that changed my perspective on life.

When I was journeying to the playa, I kept calling things "mine." The car was cramped, I'd forgotten my sunscreen in the one of my bags which was buried under everything, so my face and arms were getting sunburnt on the long, uncomfortable drive. The three of us stuffed in the back of our friend's PT Cruiser were  using our laps to hold a very heavy Easy-Up. The person in the passenger seat was drinking Fosters out of his Camelback, and the rest of the passengers weren't too happy about it.

Photo Credit: http://reviews.productwiki.com/fosters/

Thanks to waiting for others to pack all day, we didn't arrive to the desert until after the sun had already gone completely down. I hated putting up my tent in the dark. I was in a bit of a grumpy mood when we stopped near the entrance to the playa to get out and stretch our legs. That was when I got to look up. 

The stars went on forever. The sights around me were breath-taking. I felt like the world had opened up somehow, instantly.

Photo credit: Dan Newton http://www.liquidinplastic.com/2009/08/meteors-playa-and-camping/

Two of my friends wanted to go drive around looking for a friend at another camp after we'd all set up our tents. I decided to tag along. It was fun to cruise around. It reminded me of the 4-wheeling trips I went on with my father as a little kid. But, first playa lesson: watch out for wet playa.

The Cruiser got stuck.

We all tried at it for a good while, but she was stuck. Being a typically nervous person, I would normally start freaking out. The car owner, however, was an experienced burner and calmly led us walking back towards camp. We made our way leisurely, and I soaked up the environment. We'd set up a blinking headlamp in one of the tents, so eventually we saw a flashing tent on the horizon. Ever since, this has been my favorite way of marking a camp while I go on night trips out there. Flashing lights are a necessity on the playa. 

I slept in my own tent that night, and wrote a journal entry about my experience. Here's an excerpt:

"I can see how being on this desert might change your life. Now I see why everyone who has been before just wanted a day to walk out into the desert by themselves for a while. There's so much solitude that you have to rely on each other. To be alone is to be truly and completely alone. Until you see light. ...
Having to rely on other people, and knowing other people are also relying on you... It makes you think more about what you're doing and only survival rather than wondering about trivial things of little importance. Not laws, not order, not being cool or looking good. Just lights. Go toward the lights."

Photo credit: Study for Transfiguration by Alex Grey http://www.cfa.ilstu.edu/normal_editions/grey.html

The next day, I went on an adventure with the crew. We drove around looking for a specific camp. The driver was intoxicated on several different mind-altering substances. She thought the ranger she saw in the distance was a Black Rock Ranger, one of the people that help keep everything moving smoothly at Burning Man. But it was actually a BLM ranger. We had two people in the front, four people in the back, three people crammed in the trunk area (the car was a hatchback), and two people on the roof. So, the driver got a ticket for reckless driving, and we had to fit the two people on the roof into the vehicle somehow. One of them laid across the four people in the back seat, and one of them squeezed into the back area with us (making a total of four back there). We didn't end up finding the camp we wanted, but we found a rave, and danced for a while.

Besides that, I hung out at 40-Hands camp. Whoa. There was a never-ending flow of alcohol thanks to a 4th of Juplaya enthusiast. Everyone was playing Edward 40-Hands, which is where you tape 40oz-er's of beer to your hands and can't free yourself until you finish them. One of my camp-mates fell asleep in the sun, and was shaded by a cardboard box from one of the cases of 40s.

I got to read strangers' runes, and pass around a gallon jug of wine.

I wrote this poem, titled after a comment by a friend:

Abscent-Minded Immortality
I am a part of the desert sand
The forever that comes in grains and sediments
that cake to your eyelashes
and the cracked dry skin of the ground
is all a part of me.
Sharing the atoms of eternity,
molecules -
rotating universes
ruled by the sun
the fruit of the vine that is sweet and bitter like an oasis on the tongue. 
Never forgiving - isolation and
drum beats are there to connect the dots.
The stars never forget the memory of their creation.

I am the desert and
the stars and the
sediment on my eyelashes

I am the epiphany in the brush. I am the red sun-kissed face
of experience with innocence.

This clarity comes with the purgatory of festival.
This connection is our birthright

By the end of the camping trip, I'd stopped calling things "mine" except for the tent I slept in, which was welcome for anyone else to share. Everything was shared. I felt like a member of a tribe. We were all surviving together. It was a completely different experience for me. I was hooked on playa dust from then on.

--Read About Juplaya 2011--