Unsurprisingly after the festivities the night before we felt super rough when getting up. Thankfully not for long once getting our chocolate fix, alas, it wasn’t meant to last long as we had let our excitement (and my incorrect assumption that it would melt) turn to gluttony and ate twice what we should have. A not-so-smart move that lead to my throwing up in the ocean during the hours we spent bobbing around soon after. What turned out to be an all-day excursion that also lead to the not-so-fun experience of my being so burnt that I was to have water blisters all over my body within a day or two. That I saw coming, and made mention of, but let myself be all-too-easily swayed (shocker) when my part Syrian pals exclaimed that we should stick together. A good thought in general but there isn’t enough sunblock in the world for my kind of glow-in-the-dark.
Once finally heading back into the back entrance of the festival through a dirt walkway between the beach and rain forest that was lined with vendors, I grabbed some pineapple that was so sweet juicy that it soon made a welcomed mess all over me. They some veggie burgers that were destined to go uneaten, as I started to feel better but they weren’t quite there yet. Wandering off on my own to lay down in a drum circle underneath the huge tropical trees of deep green right in the heart of the festival, I continued to feel better and better until ready to head out for more food. Following the delicious aroma of grilling chicken among the local merchants on that path between the festival exit and beach, I squeezed onto a rickety old wooden bench table for that delicious meat, candied plantains and not-so-exciting white rice and black beans that seemed to come with just about everything (grumble). After filling my belly for the night, I made it to a fun and interactive self-affirming workshop (yay workshops!) that included, among other things, a circle of us participants holding hands and sharing about ourselves. From there I made a failed attempt at cleaning my smelly tent but found a different kind of sweet success soon after with a makeshift bucket shower that proved to provide more than a few nods and raised eyebrows of longing approval from the fellow festies who took notice. For those of you unfamiliar, the ability to cool off and freshen up in that kind of world is a form of hippy ecstasy.
Hobbling around thanks to bare feet I hadn’t realized were no longer calloused enough for an un-souled romp, I shared distracted smiled with those I passed while we tried to navigate our way around the muddy paths and I hunted for more workshops as well as exploring the yoga neighborhood closer to the main entrance (the main camping area we were in was closer to the middle). Returning to camp around 9 PM V was already asleep in her tent and the fellas planted on a make-shift area of a tarp hangout area between our tents. Joining them for only an hour or so of conversation, it didn’t take long for the rest of us soon followed suit.
Surprised to actually get a wee bit of sleep despite constantly waking up from the stifling smell of mold, a stinging sunburn and to change positions on the hard sodden ground only separated by the thin material of the tent, I woke up around 7 AM when the sun began to blaze down. After quickly rinsing off in the same manner as the evening before, I took off before my compadres had awoken with the need to hit the port-a-potties (I had lost my Go Girl at the SF Woman’s March) and to find some breakfast. After a quick stop back at the tent, to which I found the crew had already gone, I headed back to the yoga neighborhood to spread the communal white clay mud mask that I had noticed the day before over my entire sunburned body (with help from other participants) and then headed out to the ocean for a super quick rinse off (get away from me sun!) and some food. Determined to get some yoga in, I made my way right back to that neighborhood for vinyasa, though I only made it half way through the hour and a half. If those people are really partying, camping, getting no sleep and still managing to contort for hours…I’m convinced they’re yoga aliens. The way I participated the second half was a corpse pose next door in a camp that had been set up for such with its large trees, pillows, outdoor beds and different types of hammocks. Take that, yoga aliens.
Finally managing to find V & P when roaming back toward our camp, the day continued with hanging in that main area where I had been enjoying the drum circle the day before. An afternoon that included the amusement of being about twenty feet from famous life coach and internet comedian, JP Sears, who we had actually first spotted the day before on the beach. An entertaining and unexpected sighting to which V had encouraged my going to say hi and take a picture with for all of you. Alas, considering how much I assumed he was likely to already be being bombarded, I didn’t want to bother him. So instead I have these couple pictures of him from a few feet away that he was unaware of. A lot less invasive and creepy, right?
Even without chatting him up, just the idea that he was there and the memories of his funny videos added a positivity to the festival that was to stick with me throughout the rest of the festival.
After what had become our routine early evening hang in our own little center-camp we wandered around for an hour to check out art and cool camps and then proved ourselves to once again opt out of the joining the all-nigher crowd after an hour of separating to do our own thing before bed. Me wandering off with one of the boys to check out a really cool stage with fire dancers.
The next day started out as a repeat of experiences with another clay body mask on my crazy sunburn, quick dip in the ocean, empanadas that reminded me of American tamales, delicious meat skewers (my fave) and succulent pineapple. A couple new welcomed additions to the palate were a Coke (something I only like when hung over or in hot and humid conditions) and a heavenly double scoop of vegan coffee ice cream. The best ice cream I believed in the moment that I had ever tasted, though I chuckled at the idea that it was probably more the environment than anything.
Noting a few days in that I had gotten better at dealing with a constant state of being worn out and sleep deprived (something that comes from being a traveler, burner and recovering insomniac) I brought the thought from the back of my mind to the front about needing to start enjoying that festival more for its positives before I missed it. To that point I had seen more fault in it than good thanks to the unfortunate circumstance of feeling mislead by the admin of the festival when reaching out before buying my ticket to ensure there would be a variety of music (not just EDM, techno, etc), something that had proven to be false (minus Xavier Rudd), commercialism I wasn’t used to and the inevitable disappointment of the love and community of Burning Man being impossible to parallel. It made it hard to not be let down, though I could still see that it would have been amazing to me if I didn’t have those things blocking me. It was on the beach in the rain forest in Costa Rica for God sake. It was time I started appreciating it.
I actually did start recognizing the beauty and enjoyment of it more from there. Ironically, though, the wear of the weekend was starting to seep into our little group with disconnects such as when P once again insisted we stick together when I flat-out said I didn’t want to go on a trip the liquor store. An outing that caused us to unknowingly miss Xavier’s first performance. Something I was super bummed to find out about the next day considering that he had been the one musician I was into there. More than that because the performance had turned into the experience I had been most looking for when the spellbinding show had lead the people watching to join hands in a circle, singing his songs while he played. Magic.
“Woke up” the next morning (maybe slept an hour) to a friend climbing out of her tent understandably confused and hysterical about her boyfriend waking her up in the middle of the night livid and breaking up with her about a less-than-sober misunderstanding regarding a conversation the night before that had lead to his believing there was a conspiracy against him. Trying to comfort and help them work it out on and off throughout the day based on insight-though-experience that included guidance about how the situation was not real/due to intoxicants, exhaustion and over-stimulation, along with how they would think the situation silly later (but to be careful because the way they came at each other is what would last), I juggled it with my own financial frustration of only having a few bucks of available money left thanks to the fraud that had been flagged in my account right before I had flown out. Something I was to find out later was thanks to an error on UBER’s part. Not even a little surprising.
After paying $24 for a simple breakfast for that bud I had been walking around trying to talk down for an hour, $60 for an Airbnb to go to that night (once shit hit the fan and I had decided to leave early to support my gal pal) and $60 I had Venmoed to V toward the party a few days before, I was sweating it. The total amount was quite a bit more than my poor-ass would have spent on my own and well above what I had budgeted. Friendship sure can be expensive. Especially when you’re living like a twenty year old pauper while all your friends are living like real adults. Pick-pocketing, fraud, pick your poison. I always manage to find the hot mess when it comes to finances, regardless of whether it’s my fault of not.
It was a crazy day and I was bummed about leaving the festival a day early, especially once finding out that I would be missing Xavier Rudd AGAIN, but soon started to have the best day of the event when running into my long-time bud, Clif. Giving him shit right away about being there on his own and not for my b-day when I had invited him, we soon continued as if we had come together, the other bud taking off after a chuckle when hearing Clif’s nickname for me of Slobinon Malotsatits. I headed off on my own not too long later to make it to that same sound meditation workshop that had been my first great experience of the festival. It being too hot, and me too sunburned, to enjoy it the same as I had before, I soon found my way back to Clif. Once meeting up again, we went to a didgeridoo workshop where he introduced me to a cool musician and fellow local of Ocean Beach (from back home in San Diego) that he had met earlier in the festival. Very cool.
Probably not the best workshop for my fat burned lips but great fun and an awesome grand finale before packing up and heading out with a quick and chaotic goodbye to my Envision experience.
Packing up and surviving our bud fighting to stay awake at the wheel, we made it to the Airbnb a few hours later. Our time at the festival was over and soon the next leg of my Costa Rican adventure about to begin. Well, after the next unexpected 24 that was about to take place…
“!Entrada!” I exclaimed to the taxi driver with an extended arm and pointed finger as we reached the sign at the festival entrance.
“!Si, entrada!” He exclaimed driving right on down that dirt road forged in the middle of tropical green. Uh…ok, so I was being dropped off down the street and walking back.
Finally in line for that festival I had worked so hard to get to, I expected to be ecstatic. Instead I was having a low moment of wary impatience, over-stimulation and everything getting to me. Aware of it and trying to switch out of grouchy traveler mode, I struggled to be in the moment when a guy in line started to sing while playing his guitar and an old hippie in a court jester style hat and tie-dye short started talking all kinds of random nonsense with an occasional tap on his tambourine.
Looking around with irritated thoughts about how much of a challenge it was to tolerate the twenty-something festie types who came with what I perceived to be an inauthentic and entitled “we are the world but I know everything and should be catered to” attitude (see millennial memes), I wondered if I was just being a grouchy turd or had already passed the age of being able to enjoy the festival world. A sad thought given that I had just starting exploring it.
Finally making my way up the line in hot sun and sticky heat, a welcome turn came when I managed to head back toward a bit of zen soon after getting past the gates. It didn’t last long, unfortunately, thanks to a chick fitting the description above ironically tried to push her bottle under the spout for some Karma Tribe gifted ice-cold cucumber water before I could move out of the way. Awkwardly trying to screw on the water cap of my camelbak, you better believe I said scolded her. Proud in that moment for finally having a voice to stand up for myself after decades of being too easily walked on and insecure, I also simultaneously felt uneasy with the thought that I sounded like a mom. Ugh.
Begrudgingly continuing on as I began to set up camp in the harsh mid-day sun thanks to so few spots still available in open camping, I managed to find a little comfort in the memory it inspired of breaking down camp at Burning Man, only in an intense dry heat, a few months before. A difference that soon seemed to lead to my feeling not only a bit nauseous but also in my developing a slight headache. A bit dazed by the time I finished, I zombied around in circles despite knowing full well that I probably just needed a wee moment with less stimulation, rest and more agua. As to my feeling angry and full of shattered assumption, I was aware that part of the reason was thanks to my having high expectations (nowhere to go but down when starting from the top) and being too sensitive as to what a challenge it was going to be to find the burner vibe I was looking for among so much consumerism. A reaction that was soon to be seconded by Venesa once she arrived.
Wandering off after camp was finally set up, I managed to find a large and mostly empty palapa made of different-sized tree trunks and dried palms to lay down in. Thank God.
Half an hour or so after going limp, a bearded man about my age with a peaceful shamanic energy and smile that was just as big as his beard popped his face over mine to ask if it would be a bother to set up some stuff by me. Turned out he was about to lead a sound meditation workshop that ended up being just what I needed. Especially once the man laying next to me told me about a natural herb remedy tent he volunteered at by the medical station that could may be able to help with my symptoms. A recommendation that proved successful after getting through squeals, excitement and hugs once finally stumbling upon Venesa, her boyfriend (our first time meeting) and a man they had carpooled in with followed by showing them where to set up camp. The universe had finally given me a hand.
Finally taking a turn for the better from that point on, we excitedly threw up a cheers once settled in and the first celebratory drink continued on into many more through the wee hours. Adding on to that amusing ambiance, we even managed to buy some party favors from one of the people openly selling as they walked by every ten minutes. Something that gave me even more of a chuckle was when the guy allowed to send payment for my chocolate through Venmo.
Later that night, with what was to be the only big tropical storm of the weekend (my chance to channel Woodstock), a rainy downpour of a manic dance party broke out at the music stage we were at. One of those magical moments that ended up being my highlight of the festival. Even when we made it back to camp and realized that I had left my tent’s window open causing it to flood and all of my belongings to get soaked. A situation that, within 24 hours, was about to lead to everything in there smelling for the rest of the next few days to the point of my not being able to sleep during the few hours that I may have been able to otherwise.
Shout out to Venesa for helping me empty out the water when I was frozen in a drunken state of “oh nooooo” and thanks above for having paid to check important belongings like my laptop in a protected storage crate for $20.
Still, in contrast to the surly vibes I had a hard time shaking earlier that day, I found the humor in it. In no small part, thanks to remembering how nostalgia seemed to later pop up when thinking of those most challenging moments. Who knows why. Maybe because they tend to be when we most grow.
Holy shit, Costa Rica has become as expensive as California! I was NOT prepared for that. What do you mean it’s no longer as dirt-cheap as all the surfers used to talk about years ago? Who had two thumbs and didn’t do enough current research? This gal.
Add to that my always seeming to forget how challenging it is to keep a budget. Especially considering, at least for me, how the beginning of new trips, places, situations and the emotions that come with tend to require more moola at first. At least for me.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know mentioned how expensive the country has become in the last post, but it’s worth a reminder. If for no other reason but to keep my sanity.
San Jose was my first stop and pretty much what I had heard. A place to get into the country and then out to destination areas stat. With iron security gates surrounding everything and a lack of nature, I knew it wasn’t for me. Looks like I now know twice over when asked if I “know the way to a San Jose” that my answer is a solid “unfortunately”. Still, I was super happy to be there, even that city, and am admittedly aware that I probably didn’t find the charms that it did have to offer. Reminder me of the way I think of L.A. *shrugs*
Once landing and getting past the confusion of my UBER driver continuously trying to chat it up with my limited Spanish and his limited English, I found my way though the never-ending iron gates to the cute and unassuming house-turned Airbnb I was to be staying at complete with the host’s live-in family. Getting settled into the private room that I had originally booked for myself, Venessa and her boyfriend so we could recover from jetlag before heading to the Envision Festival (I had their arrival date wrong), I soon wandered out to at the very least grab a bite. That was my first real experience finding out where the country’s prices were at when I ended up with a meal that consisted of $15 for nachos with pineapple (surprisingly not a bad addition) and a beer at a place that was one step above street food. Something I hoped was a fluke due to being super close to the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, Costa Rica’s national stadium, but quickly realized was not. I’d say that someone (me) is spoiled from Thailand prices.
Going to the grocery from there, I panicked and only bought a bottle of wine and avocado when trying to figure out some eats for the next couple days. Epic fail but at least I got a chuckle out of it.
Sleeping though what was to be the included breakfast the next morning I had made such a point to look for, something I was to find out the morning after that consisted of nothing more than toast and drinks, I was OK with the sacrifice for the much-needed ten hours of sleep I managed to get that first night. Having that private room did cost me a pretty penny above what I would have spent on just my own bed but quickly taught me that catching up on sleep proved just how much it was worth it regardless of whether friends were there to share it or not.
Though still always a pleasant surprise, it’s the little things that make the difference. This time it was the outlets around that fit two-pronged American plugs and a bathroom sign in a restaurant with legs that twisted together for a giggle as it reminded me of the challenges of now having a 40-year-old bladder. A gauntlet I like to tell myself is only due to my needing to have more sex. Always looking for an excuse…
In addition to those two little things putting a smile on my face, I had a quiet but pleasant day wandering around the neighborhood without really knowing what to do with myself. Finding a park, pub and local restaurant to hang in, I finished my day by writing (after getting away from a nice but annoying older American man at the hostel who wouldn’t stop yapping) and organizing a flight for my next trip (back to SE Asia and India) through the company I was be working for as a mentor to teens in a service and photojournalism program over the beginning of summer.
The next day I was finally on my way to Uvita for the festival. At least I thought I was until finding out once in line with a paid ticket for my bus at the station I had found through information provided on the website, asking my hosts and plugging in the info to my UBER app with fingers crossed, that the festival started the day after the ticket showed. Something that never would have legally flown in the US. It would appear that Eventbrite didn’t care about providing accurate info to participants this time though. Extra lovely considering that many of us were coming from overseas.
With only a few minutes of minimal panic before action, I managed to find a bed at a hostel right down the street from the festival. Something I was excited for as I had only stayed in a hostel once before in Ireland. Before getting there and after the first hour or two on the bus, a short stop introduced me to the popular street food of empanadas. Something I love in the U.S. but not so much there as the outer casing tasted much more like the masa tamales are made of than what I was used to and I don’t like tamales. I know. I’m that “one”.
The first travelers I befriended was at check-in at the hostel. They were a fun group of Canadians (which there seemed to be a lot of in that area) who were also on their way to Envision by way of another festival.
After hanging with them for a bit before going to grab a bite, I next met a sweetheart of an American woman named Carly (shout out!) who was walking with a surfboard bigger than her arms wanted to allow down the same dirt path as I toward the ocean. Turned out she had stayed in the country longer than expected after the man she was dating had to gone home to Los Angeles for work. A decision I much respected.
After hitting the beach together for her to surf and both of us to watch the sunset, we followed a recommendation for some great ceviche by confusedly finding our way through the rain forest via car on a bumpy rural road to an awesome 🐕 friendly surfer-style hostel restaurant by the name of Flutterby House that had been founded by two women from California. Go figure.
How I loved that place and wished I had a few more days to stay there. A great reminder of how unexpected the best moments in travel tend to be. Also my first true moments moments of pura vida.
Beyond my being adamant that I was at least going to make it to Envision, a festival unofficially listed on a blog I found as a regional burn, Costa Rica didn’t really have much to do with my birthday. What did feel like a birthday treat, however, was how close the little sister was to coming with until work stuff got in the way. A bummer (though we obviously made up for it) but I was still excited as I had my burner bud from last year, Venesa, and her new man coming to join.
I was leaving less than a week after One Love with the plan that those last couple days before flying back to the Bay for work (and then Costa Rica) would be for recovery and the last of my quality family time. Instead it turned into the opposite when the little brother had one of his breaks after I made an insensitively fed up comment that instantly escalated into his not only physically threatening me but appearing to get a wee bit delusional. Whoopsie.
While it caused me to have to Free Robin Fly from my family’s casa, it at least lead to my spending time with a pal I hadn’t seen enough of. I’m all for happy endings, so hey. It may not have exactly been leaving the fam on a happy note but at least we got something.
With my last day at home in San Diego for a month and a half being Valentine’s Day, I awkwardly made a video for that new special fella you read about in the last post (which I’m painfully including for you *blush*) from the OB coffee shop I wrote so much of my book at, Java Jungle, before heading across the street to eat at my last San Diego taco shop for a while, Mike’s Taco Club (yummy sauces), before heading off to the airport.
Managing to get in a bit of fun in the Bay between hours driving for Lyft by making it to a burner party and with the pals in the area you’ve read about, it dawned on me from the moment a week later when dropping the family work car off to sister (and realizing that the cost of grabbing my own Lyft to SFO was worth it) that I was finally starting to understand this new life just a wee bit. A thought that was immediately followed with others about being unsure about whether it was really getting that much easier or if it was just that Central America was a little more in my comfort zone. Either way, I knew that those first moments of familiarity within my travels were a huge step. I’d have an answer to the rest soon enough when, by the end of the trip, I was to be amazed by how I would end up making it through three weeks in a country as expensive as California and went to a festival there on somewhere around a grand.
Once waiting to board the red eye flight on the not-too-bad Copa Airlines for my first leg to Panama, the majority of other passengers being Spanish speakers made it excitingly obvious, though still in California, that I was on my way. Once on the plane and soon in flight, my not quite equipped enough preparations to combat being cold when trying to sleep (as the blankets I’d assumed would be given out were not), I was reminded of how many unexpected moments come with travel and how much I was going to have to switch back into go with the flow mode. Good practice for my impatient-ass and a tiny bit less uncomfortable than it could have been since I at least managed to get the emergency row. It also didn’t hurt that I was on my way to Costa Rica and was proud of myself for finally wearing a mask the whole time along with taking the Airborne that Wendy had convinced me to, yes, be worth the buy.
By the time we got to the destination of the layover in Panama, I was so tired that I didn’t want to figure out how to take advantage of the eight hours I had in a country that I would not have likely visited otherwise. Finally having enough experience to be stern with myself about no longer senselessly missing such great travel opportunities, I did eventually kick my butt back even further into travel mode by slowing down my mind into a slower state of actually observing my surroundings, finding tools available and thinking it through. First things first, I went to the bathroom for the ‘ol Wet Wipes, deodorant and toothbrush bath along with changing the skivvies routine I find essential during travel. Whether or not it’s true, I always think travel makes me smell. Likely paranoia for the most part due (at least in part) to how repulsed I get by how bad so many others do. One of my biggest travel negatives.
After leisurely strolling around the entire airport and waiting until I had already filled out a customs declaration form at the doors to leave, I finally did my research on where to go. It wasn’t until then, practically with one foot out the door, that I realized that the few hours I had to explore would have likely cost me around $150. Too expensive for my still-tight budget, but hey. At least it was a step forward.
Heading back to what was originally to be the terminal for my next flight (until it was changed to pure across the airport), I crashed hard on the airport floor by a random man playing a violin. I mean crazy sex dreams and not waking up until practically peeing my pants hard. Not bad for a recovering insomniac.
Finally making it onto that one last flight to CR, complete with an in-flight pout-session when sleeping through the snack, I had, after 18 years of hearing surfers talk about it, finally made it to Costa Rica.
With only a day’s rest after Mexico, sis and I joined my So Cal friends for the next celebration. A reggae festival in Long Beach, CA by the name of One Love that was to be yet another outstanding birthday success full of fun and fabulous friends who made me feel loved and celebrated.
Starting the day with Wendy and I picking up my pal Juliette at home in our beach town, Ocean Beach, we were on our way. Stopping halfway to pick up another friend, Shana, we already had a four-woman party. Shana, working for the Double Tree hotel, even managed to hook us up with a room at the very cool Hotel Maya that just so happened to be right next to the venue.
Meeting up there with Kati, Nikki and our friend Angie, who was coming all the way from Temecula, we also met up with friends (and total sweethearts) Cassie and her boyfriend Nathan once entering the venue. Soon posting up in a spot, we were so rambunctious and all over the place that we didn’t move for the whole of the festival. We didn’t even make it to the second stage, though it was probably for the best given that we were in “herding cats” mode.
With a mixture of having fun and keeping tabs of our crew (and myself), I was barely paying attention when a tall handsome man appeared and began trying to talk to me. Suddenly and with a slight French accent, he caught my attention when asking in a refreshingly respectful manner of a joke whether he was being a bother and if he was wasting his time. Managing to catch my attention in that moment, I really looked at him for the first time. I noticed him. Not only how attractive he was but also the kindness that radiated from him and the way he was looking at me. If we were a cartoon, there would have been little hearts in his eyes. I think I still saw them actually.
For the rest of the evening he was all there was. With the rest of the festival becoming a blur, he and his also very cool pal Pramod came back with us to the hotel and treated us to dinner before heading back to the room (minus Shana who had snuck back to the second room) for a night cap while Wendy and Pramod chatted on the balcony, Juliette passed out and Stephan and I continued in the room for a moment that became one of the closest I have ever had to falling in love. I don’t know if anyone has ever looked at me the way he did. At least not someone I wanted to. He was so incredibly romantic and, while I would have normally ruined the moment by being scared and running away, he was somehow able to make me feel safe. In part because, while I’d imagine it to be more the natural poet in him and not really just for me, his borderline sappy words (that I joked to myself were acceptable being that he was French) were working. They were amazing, actually. Like the love letters of the past.
Later, after their finally having to leave to at least get a couple hours sleep before work, we also fell asleep to what was the perfect ending to such a big birthday. Even if I was never to see him again, I was to be floating for weeks.
I don’t remember ever having a getaway with my sister out of the country, just us. She was nervous about Mexico until we got to the other side of the border. That was after I had accidentally taken us to the wrong crossing first. Whoopsie. It was pretty easy from there, though. UBER works, and is way cheaper than taxis, so I paid for those and she paid for pretty much everything else.
The best part of the whole trip was watching her childlike enthusiasm as she realized how much Mexico really was down the street from us and that a little more of my kind of lifestyle could be hers. Getting to Las Rocas Resort and Spa an hour later, we were both ecstatic about the place. Well, minus the gigantic statue of Jesus that stood on a hill behind us with his arms extended. That creeped me out. What thrilled us even further, though, was our balcony view that was all ocean. Something that was easily seen by the picture of Big Red jumping on her bed within our first few minutes of getting there.
Quickly after settling in, we went to walk the grounds for an initial checkout and, both being tired from always living on the go, to veg at the infinity pool. Amazing and relaxing minus the group of guys who had no other chicks to check out but us. Later walking by two of them on their second floor balcony, one yelled down to come up and party with them. When I asked what he meant by party he responded by telling us to come up to see. Big nope on that one.
Heading back up to our room, I was talking to Wendy ,who was out on the balcony, from inside the room. Walking out to meet her, she gestured to the balcony next door where it turned out that the guys from the hot tub/cat calling us were. We, wide-eyed with a giggle, tried to ignore them as they carried on a sweet conversation together about what I don’t remember but something that showed them to not be the creepers we had worried about.
An hour or so later one of the two guys unexpectedly jumped from his balcony to ours with a big smile and hello. After my quick scolding for a dangerous move, the three of us got into a conversation of which a buzzed Wendy entertained me as she chatted away while barely stopping for a breath. He did manage to join in enough to fill us in on how him and his cousin (who he had been unsuccessful in getting to come over to that point) were surfers on holiday from their family’s oil drill (or something like that). At one point Wendy cracked us all up when when walking right into the glass sliding door. Soon after we separated from him and his cousin to go our separate ways for dinner with a request to leave a note with our contact info on our door for meeting back up later. Well, she thought I was crazy to have actually done it (and even a wee bit embarrassed) as she thought it was only the comment of a friendly gesture and that it was awkward for me to really leave the number as they would never really call. Low-and-behold the priceless look of delighted surprise on her face when they actually did. Soon after we met back up at the resort and eventually made our way back down to the hot tub to hang with the other random people who were on holiday, traveling or expats. It was her first experience in this traveler world and she was floating on an excited cloud with how awesome it all was. Those kind of connections are my favorite part about travel and seeing her finally experience it just may have been the highlight of all my birthday celebrations combined. I didn’t even mind so much when her staying out until almost dawn with our neighbor meant that it would likely be an early night the next day on my actual birthday, Feb 8.
We struck out almost the entire time with the restaurants we went to, including lobster in Puerto Nuevo, but did manage to find major deliciousness at the street taco stand next to the resort where each was $1. Something excited Big Red so much that she tipped the guys working there $10 or a $6 tab.
Papas & Beer still stands as my favorite of places I’ve gone to in Baja. Going both days, we sat on the deck with buckets of beer while watching the horses for rent on both sides of us, vendors walking around and other people enjoying a couple days of relaxation and fun. On our full day, the 8th, we got full body massages of which we teased that she got the professional masseuse and me the receptionist due to their not wanting to lose the business. The shoulder massages we got on the deck of Papas & Beer the next day was much better for me but also left bruises on my arms that would take over a week to go away. That little woman was strong!
Wendy bought me a bracelet and ring for my b-day as well as some souvenirs for the girls (her daughter and our other niece). Having started the day hungover and tired, we were more than thankful that we fought to get ourselves there as our relaxing day slowly continued on. Especially when one of the guys working there found his way over to force me to do a popper. In other words a fizzy drink that’s poured into the mouth from the bottle followed by the mouth being covered to prevent spitting it out while the head is shaken around and a loud whistle blown obnoxiously. After me the guy also got Wendy and unexpectedly picked her up on his shoulders and spun her around. Followed, by which, was her signature friendly smack on the arm. It was hilarious.
Everything of the trip had been so easy until the ride back to the boarder. In true little sister fashion, Big Red passed out only to wake up asking if we were there yet before crashing back out again while I dealt with the Spanish speaking driver (who was nice and patient) as we tried to figure out what to do when the UBER app dropped my ride. Something we would find out about an hour later had happened worldwide. After a couple times pulling over, messages sent back and forth to UBER and the driver trying to figure out if we needed to pay the rest of the ride in cash, we finally got it all sorted. Finally making it to the border what must have been 45 minutes later than we would have save that trouble, others walked by us so fast through that it was obvious they were commuters walking over on a daily basis. Finally walking past the two hot boarder patrol officers as we stepped back into America no more than ten minutes later, one answered my call to Wendy with a big joking smile on his face when asking her if she had contacted our mom to pick us up by saying that she would be waiting for us. It was the perfect ending to one damn amazing celebration.
Check it out! As of Feb 8, I’m 40 and yeehaw! WHAT a ride.
Not the life it took to get here (though that too of course) but the actual celebration. Or should I say celebrations.
They were absolutely amazing x 1,000,000 and I’m crazy touched by what people did for me (we’ll get there) but it sure didn’t start that way. Let me tell you…
I was nervous about my birthday. Not because of the age but that, in an often painfully ironic turn, I’ve noticed that the events that are supposed to create the biggest happiness all too often seem to become the biggest letdown. My worries about this were confirmed when my sister-from-another-mister Kati ended up doing an intimate weekend with her sisters and husband with an informal beach gathering later for everyone else after enough people made her feel like her 40th was imposing on them. I mean, wow. If someone who everyone digs as the bees-knees got that kind of reaction, what chance did I stand?
Not much. Let me tell you.
Especially given that I constantly take off on everyone and have missed many of their celebrations. Because of that I knew I shouldn’t expect much. Still, I still wanted to at least try, so I planned a cruise. First in mind for my sick pop and second for the mounds of kids who have taken over the lives of my friends and family.
Kati, Nikki and my family would have gone and that’s who’s really important. Still, the 90% of others who didn’t bother to respond at all and the not great comments of the few others who did bummed me out so much that I canceled it. It’s fair to be said that the travel agent set it up for failure by being greedy with pushing to announce it too early. Still…
From there I announced that I was going to the Envision Festival in Costa Rica and anyone who wanted to come was welcome but that I wasn’t going to be responsible for planning any of it. I’d go by myself if need be and was (sadly) fully prepared for it. I mean, I knew it wasn’t fair for me to expect much but it still hurt.
Two or three friends said they would come, though I wasn’t about to believe it until tickets were bought. Nikki, not being able to go, took the reigns to plan a trip to a resort in Mexico she loved by the name of Las Rocas. Once again the dates weren’t working for everyone else to go, and I refused to bend any more for people who hadn’t shown any sign of caring, so it ended up turning into a plan for a sister birthday trip of just Wendy and I. Nik said it wouldn’t be right to go given that Doozer (sister) was coming to town. Something I didn’t exactly accept with grace (yes, I see the pattern) given that I had reached out to both before Dooz had planned the trip.
Debbi (AKA: Doozer) was super sweet about trying to see me while in town but, as far as my stubborn-ass was concerned, they both had known the dates. While I would try (because they are the best, actually do care and are family), I wasn’t going to go too far out of my way. Being somewhat of a shit, I also stood firm on my comments that I refused to end up in TGIFridays on Feb 8 in order to bend for others, which understandably upset Nik who had been trying so hard, but she was also quick to understand.
On a random whim a week or two later, I threw out the idea of going to one day of a reggae fest. Well it worked. She was so excited when she called asking if I was serious that she yelled out to her husband/my bud Brent asking if they should buy my ticket for a b-day present. That was that. My little love bug was successful in her mission to make my So Cal birthday special. Something I suspect was extra important to her given how much the previous attempts had bummed me out.
Soon after I left for three weeks in the Bay Area to make some money driving for Lyft. Well, one drunken hot-tub skinny dipping night in the woods with my burner buds Brigit and Aaron, we were BSing with my high school bestie Nicki (spelled different than Nikki at home in SD) about doing something up there and all of the sudden she was planning a wine tasting in the woods and dinner party with all the old school buds. Something that was a wee bit fuzzy when I asked later if she was going to make an evite. Not only had she already done it but she started cracking up about how I hadn’t even RSVPed to my own birthday party.
Meanwhile back in San Diego at a pizza and zipline party at Nikki’s house with Kate, Wendy and our friend Angie in attendance with there with their kids, Angie and Wendy decided they were going to come to the reggae festival as well. Super yay!
Pretty sure Kate had already been on board before that but I hadn’t wanted to even ask Big Red since she was already going to Mexico with me. Come soon my friends Shana and Juliette were also in. Shana, working for a hotel line, was even able to work a deal for Hotel Maya in Long Beach for the night of. Something that provided even more excitement as I had already really enjoyed that place from a time we had stayed before.
Take a step back. The day of the Nor Cal party Nicki was throwing me came. Or should I say the morning after the craziest six hour escapade driving for Lyft ever in which the passenger was a child star turned drug addict.
Back to the morning of the party. I drove 45 minutes to Nicki’s from right by the first winery (by Brigit and Aaron’s) for the pre-party and was not disappointed. Let’s just start with the blow up unicorn covered in unicorn lights that was directly in front of me when I walked in. Then look left or right and there’s a cute little setup of pictures of me, my name stenciled out all pretty and a nice setup of hors d’oeuvres that she had put together. Even a fancy schmancy cake. I felt So! Fucking! Special!
After our first little celebration there, we loaded into the minivan she had rented for the occasion (hahahahah) and headed back to wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains while I filled them in on the crazy ride I had the night before. Arriving there close to an hour late (of course) some super special pals I hadn’t seen in a long time were already waiting at Hallcrest Vineyards and then MJA Vineyards. They were the cutest little wineries and we had a blast. Especially sitting out on picnic tables in the sun with the expansive field surrounded by Forrest at Hallcrest. Sitting in hardcore traffic to get to dinner after that meant we were way beyond any chance they would save our reservation, though we managed to find a spot in the back to finish up the party. My finishing up meaning taking a few too many of the tequila shots I had bought for others when they wouldn’t take them. Whoopsie!
Flash forward to my praying to the porcelain god the next morning with mumbled comments about 40 not being the new 21 while Nicki’s husband Anthony laughed that I was the new president until the next friend turned 40. This is the guy that once, years before, had been high-fiving me as we both threw up jager-bombs in the tub and toilet next to each other.
Finally managing to pull myself together by the time they got home from church, I was ready to work to pay for the next celebration. Well, I thought I was until I threw up in my mouth while giving my first Lyft passenger a ride. 🙈 Yeah…it took a few hours from there.
They DO love me! 💖
The burn doesn’t really end until days, if not weeks, after getting home. Besides all the emotions of such an intense experience to sort through, there’s also the cleanup which, despite dizzying exhaustion, most try to get done quick. Playa dust seems next to impossible to get fully out but isn’t something you want hanging around when at all possible. I was amazed at how fast we managed to get it all taken care of. I think we may have broken a record. Well, minus the tent I splintered when breaking down during our burner couple squabble in the debilitating heat. Something that, luckily, turned out to be an easy fix with some super glue to seal in the splintered pieces.
Even the burn reminds me of one of the challenges I’ve found in travel and adventure in that it’s been hard to focus on living my beautiful life at home in California (San Diego County and the Bay Area) as opposed to being consumed by working on next trip. After all, they’re still my favorite places from those I have been to. At least so far. Finding some success with that after getting settled back in, I managed to keep up the fun with Jewels, her Brazilian boyfriend Andre and her fur-babies Sugar (aka: Sugs) and Annie (aka: Piggie). I even got to help out with the pups sometimes, including taking Piggie to the vet when she developed skin cancer. I got to hang out and write at my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, Te Mana (among others) and of course beach days that sometimes ended with bonfires and hitting the bars in my hood, Ocean Beach, San Diego. My pal Jessica’s birthday was a great example of that.
Previously having a great time for my friend Anna’s bachelorette party at a Spanish restaurant in La Jolla, visiting it again with Jewels and my sister, Wendy, ended my second experience with the opposite when the owner didn’t remember, or seem to care, that I came in to write about them for the magazine and then a male dancer flung and obnoxious drunk women against the wall right next to me when she wouldn’t stay off the stage. I may not have ended up writing about them but did manage to write about a fun and impressive new Brewery in Del Mar called Vistapoint Brewing Co a month later after hanging with the owner and head chef eating all kinds of their delicious plates paired with beers while they filled me in about each. Now those are the kind of perks that make writing for the magazine on top of everything else I have going on worth it.
The family chaos continued to climb as my brother and his fiance broke up and the rest of our family, who he had unintentionally mislead about the situation before they temporarily moved in with them from the Bay Area, was forced to move into an Airbnb for a couple months (where, by the way, I got Sean to make tribute posters of our pups who had passed), while they continued to look. Wendy stepping up through everything as the temporary hero and matriarch to our family lead to them finally finding, and unexpectedly buying, the Satterwhite Sanctuary in a small town in the bottom of San Diego County called Bonita. With its two houses, pool, basketball court, batting cage, built in outside bar, large fire pit and gazebo, it was perfect for my parents to have their own two bedroom house where even my grandmother could stay and my sister and brother to have the other large house their daughters. Perfect until my brother made it to the part of his marine vet PTSD (among other issues) cycle where he switched from sweet to angry and violent along with pointing the blame, in most part, at the closest woman to him. A place of darkness for him that was triggered in large part (this time) to the break with his fiance, the situation it created with their daughter, his unhappiness working as an RN in the psych ward at the VA and their living situation. Also from losing two of his dogs only a couple months apart.
This time his blame and hostility seemed to be aimed more at my sister, the woman who had been babying and taking care of him and way too many of his responsibilities (including mothering his daughter), though ended up peaking at me when he openly threatened premeditated violence after I hurt his feelings with an insensitive question (unfortunately I can be a stone-cold ice-princess bitch) when I got fed up and asked why he couldn’t wait until after my 40th birthday celebration before throwing more of his stuff at us. Time to refill my mace.
So many of us have a loved ones who face similar demons. Most know my brother for his good side only. Not only do they never see him when his inner monster comes out but also during the in between when he’s aware and not only trying to fight it on his own but also trying to get help. Also how regretful, heartbroken, depressed and feeling bad about himself he can get because of it. Only seeing him a couple times a year, mostly for my niece, I have kept a strong distance for years because of this cycle. Now that our family is involved, I can’t run away (in other words, fail him) any more. The family is also seeing and acknowledging it for the first time as opposed to dismissing my pleas for help in the past. There’s a rough road ahead of us but we’re together and closer than we’ve ever have been. They have a great property, us siblings can help take care of the folks and grandma (mostly sick pop) and they help take care of my nieces. I share all these experiences for those of you who can relate and because I am a writer. It’s how I process. It is also a part of my journey which is what I am trying to give you full honesty. My style is not just to show you the dream but also reality. Also to share part of why leaving again soon after for Costa Rica wasn’t as heartbreaking as it had been before.
Back to my home, shortly after Jewels and I had a Halloween pumpkin party with my nieces, followed by my celebrating Halloween in OB with Jess, the dog/house-sitting season hit and I moved out. Working on reconnecting with loved ones while I had the chance, I spent a couple nights with different friends and even managed to give Nik and Kate a chance to have date nights with their hubbies Brent and Kurt while watching their kids. I also got a chance to cheer Nikki on in one of my favorite neighborhoods, Mission Beach, while she participated in a mini triathlon. Super fun and exciting but also a reminder about hard rideshare has been so challenging on the wellness of my fitness and nutrition routine.
Landing a gig to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) remotely at night for a company called 51Talk, things were finally starting to fall into place. Taking a few steps forward then back, other plans for work and travel were still painful in that supplementing by driving for rideshare in San Diego was netting around a grand of the $3k I was pulling in from driving around 50 hours a week. That was on top of the family commitments that was occupying an exorbitant amount of my time. The most heartbreaking of all bills that began to fall behind because of this was not being able to pay for a blog hosting renewal. Not that I had time to write anyway.
Still, good times with good friends and family continued to be squeaked in as Wendy and I had a few awesome sister dates and I made it to San Diego’s regional burn YOUtopia. A festival I wrote about for the magazine and volunteered at as a greeter. Finding out quickly that I wasn’t a fan as it took more after the sound camp side of the burn (think rave) than art and connection with others, I was also quickly upset by a lead during my volunteer shift who had embraced the snarky side of the culture by constantly yelling at me. Still, I was thankful for the experience, the volunteer lead who was a sweetie and the friends who came with. Shout out to Juliette, Jessica and Morgan!
Moving on yet again to more moments worth a mention, an adopted little sis-pal from my first burn, Clara, came to visit and I volunteered at the soup kitchen where my pal from the last burn, Annie/Goldilocks worked. I got stood up there by a guy who works at Dixieline, where I go to pick up free scrap wood for bonfires and the fire pit, but hey. At least I got wood. Thanksgiving was a bummer at first when my brother’s baby-mama took their daughter and sister’s baby-daddy changed the flight for them to come from the Bay Area in the AM to late in the day. Well, that didn’t last long. Soon we ended up in the best and most hilarious sibling pool party ever (folks hung inside). This was before my brother’s break in February. I can’t remember us ever having such a great day together. Ever. Definitely topped the charts for the best Thanksgiving. Flying down to San Diego from the Bay Area a couple weeks later, my friend Svetlana talked me into going to a large event called the Naughty or Nice that three of the four people I had lost a few months before were attached to. She was also close to one of them, Wren, which was part of why I let her talk me into it. The experience was hard but in some way did seem to help. A trigger came soon after, though, when one of the bridesmaids from Anna’s wedding, a cool chick who I had bonded with at her wedding weekend, passed from cancer.
Managing to volunteer at the Del Mar racetrack to help take care of horses when California was being ravaged by fire, I soon after managed to get sick. Something Wendy pointed out be telling me I looked like shit and Sean by telling me I looked like I needed to take vitamins when meeting up with the fam at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Sienna, my niece’s favorite. For a month there on out, starting when dog/house sitting for Anna, I was a flu zombie. So much for starting to teach English online for that China-based company, 51Talk, who had hired me. So much, also, for saving to travel Central and South America for a couple months given that being too sick to work = not able to save. In contrast to Thanksgiving, Christmas and the day after New Years were the worst in that they were the days I was the most sick. Extra rough given that Wendy, needing to blow off steam once finally boiling over from all the massive amount of responsibility she had been handling not only for our family but also her high-level boss in venture capitalism, wanted to recreate our epic Thanksgiving by having a hot tub and champagne party all day. Sean was at work. The family had a housewarming/NYE combo party for which her closest friends had flown out and were staying at the house. I tried to keep up with both events through my aches, fevers, shivers and pain though it ended in my being on antibiotics.
Finally heading back to the Bay where I net more than twice as much driving for rideshare, I got sick for another few days from Svetlana’s son, as did she, but we managed to have fun with the quality time of my staying with her while she spoiled me and cracked me up by creating a vendetta against the shoe industry when getting infuriatingly upset about how hard it is to find my size shoe (12). During my stay, we managed to make it to the Woman’s March in San Francisco. My second and her first. Something I was extra excited about given that she is from a family and place in Russia that was not so great with woman’s rights. I saw Brandi there, if you remember reading about her, and she is just as fierce as ever. It was apparent, though, that our time is over. At least for now. While in the Bay, I also got time with my burner buds who live in the Santa Cruz mountains where I write among the trees and hike in the morning and we skinny dip beneath the stars at night.
Besides 51Talk, there is one other event that has catapulted my life onto the next level of all I have been working for. After Anna told me about her company, GLA (Global Leadership Adventures), a company that identifies as a Peace Corps for teens, I applied and was hired to work as a mentor for the summer in a photojournalism program, thanks to my blogging, in the Himalayas.
So here we are now. What you can look forward to next, dear FRFers, is the story of my turning 40 and Costa Rica, where I attended their local burn, Envision Festival, and volunteered at a place I found through the site, Workaway.
For now it’s back to the adventure.
Heading out on our art car, a three headed dog with painted flames, FJ was grinning with heaps of wide-eyed excitement and more than ready to participate when we stumbled upon a game by the name of “Running of the Balls” in which participants are given red scarves before launching out to try to flatten others wearing gigantic clear beach balls. Quickly becoming a we bit too sure of herself after taking one one of the balloon boys down, she cracked those of us watching up when the next one launched her into the air and right onto her ass for her first dusty moment on the playa. Experiencing the new excitement radiating through her, it was the first time I got to see a virgin have their own first experiences of the burn. It was then that I understood why seasoned burners so loved witnessing it and I couldn’t wait for more.
The 2017 burn being over 100º all day almost (if not) every day didn’t make it easy to set up our own little camp and was extra painful considering I had just struggled through making my own makeshift setup a couple days earlier to use until she got there. Taking dizzy breaks, the heat gave us a chance to sit back and enjoy the Real Estate moguls from Alabama we built off next to us. An older man and one close to our age who we soon deemed as the Bayeux Bros. We also enjoyed watching the Broasis form on the other side of us as more hot guys arrived and started to build their own neighborhood within the camp. Realizing that we didn’t have our own name for our little spot in that neighborhood of men (some cool Israeli guys from different places in the states were also set up behind us), FJ quickly stepped in and cracked me up when claiming the name in our little corner of the camp as the Bro Hoes.
Continuing firsts later that night, FJ and I hopped on our bikes and the bros on foot to head out for deep playa. In an altered state of opening our minds, FJ and I soon separated from the fellas and went off to explore on our own. That was when FJ had the inevitable experience of becoming so overwhelmed with how big and how much the burn is that she “popped”. Looking around in an almost panic while struggling to take in the vastness and ask questions, she stood there in a state of being overwhelmed and just couldn’t seem to be able to finish her thoughts. Another moment that brought back memories of my virgin burn put a smile on my face.
When asked about Burning Man, life changing is one of the terms often used as an answer. A vague response that drives me bananas in that it doesn’t give any reason as to why. In an attempt to give a bit of detail as to why, I often include the layout of the city in that there are different themed neighborhoods such as sound camps (raver scene), more spiritual, sexual, partying, family friendly, sober, workshops, etc. Diversity and so much of what it has to offer in that gives each individual a chance to make the burn their own. What is a common across the board is that it’s almost always super physical and intense on multiple levels. Besides the inhospitable climate of survivalist camping, lack of rest, constantly being overstimulated and so active all the time that even your mode of transportation is a bike (yes you need this), there are also extremes that, while having some of the biggest “wow” moments of life, also come with some of the biggest lows. Ones that would send many burners running if it wasn’t such a challenge to get in and out. Lasting nine days for “normal” entry creates an environment where those things have to be processed and moved on from.These are the top two reasons that come to mind as reasons the burn is so life changing.
One of our campers, a sweetheart of a young fella from Hawaii, had his moment when he jumped off the back of our slowly moving art car (BIG nono) one afternoon and later drunkenly took off in his girlfriend’s car (even bigger no no) to high-tail it out of the burn. Something that lead to one of my own lowest lows when I stayed back from wandering the playa on the art car (one of my favorite things) with some of our crew to be there for her (happy I did that) as she cried on my shoulder and later dragged me out on foot. With feet that were already battered and bruised, exactly what I didn’t want and what lead to my getting stuck by myself for what felt like an eternity on a white chair about 50 times the size of a regular one thanks to the building pain. Before that happened, however, were some of the year’s highs in that we stumbled upon what was to be one of my favorite camps of the year, Dante’s InFURno, where furries were dancing on stripper poles while we lounged in the largest hand-crafted hammock style chairs I have ever encountered.
Making it all the way to Reno, NV three hours away, her boyfriend managed to get the space he needed process and get himself back to the playa. While our camp wasn’t thrilled with the whole situation, we understood and were impressed by the strength of his mental (and physical) journey and the need to eat crow once back. FJ had her moment as well when missing a bartending shift with me at the Twisted Swan that was meant to act as a thank you for the hookup of her ticket. An unfortunate situation started by the Bayeux Bros moving her bike at a large day party camp they had been at earlier. An act that caused her to lose her transportation when it was time for her to head back to meet me given that they were nowhere to be found. A shitty situation that left her in a tear-filled panic for the next few hours while trying to figure it out which, in turn, created one of her lows of the week. Still feeling terrible the next day, she did manage to find her way over to The Swan in the blazing heat to apologize with a bottle of whiskey.
Every single burner has an insurmountable number of experiences and special moments worth a mention. At the same time, it’s impossible to see even a fraction of everything it has to offer. A swinger couple who were to be my road-dawgs for much of the week, S&M, S originally from the UK and M from Germany, amazed me with their ability to keep going. At one point M broke her foot on a large slide (Burning Man being a large playground for adults = injuries) but continued to stay out all day and night exploring, playing and dancing on crutches. Shortly after her injury, we had an unexpected moment of spirituality and calm amidst our rowdy fun when the lamplighters, a group of burners in flamed white robes carrying rows of kerosene lamps hanging from long thin pieces of timber upon their shoulders, walked by in a procession to light the pathway to the man. Getting back to the excitement once they had passed with the beautiful peacefulness of their tradition, I was doing my happy dance when unexpectedly spotting one of my favorite camps from the past, Hardley’s, out there on the playa away from the neighborhoods. Wishing the crew was keen to stay longer, I found a compromise when Stephen and I made a quick stop in the 24 hour whisky saloon bar for a shot before pedaling on. There were so many fun moments. An outdoor roller rink, bartending at our camp’s annual martini party (as well as the Swan’s), dancing on a pirate ship art car…too many to even remember.
Like every year, I was surprised by struggles I didn’t expect or, at the very least, thought I would have learned to fair with better being that it was my third burn. Beyond realizing that I was ill-prepared to set up my own spot in camp upon arrival, trying to figure out how to give back while only managing little tasks such as cleaning the bar and doing things needed by someone tall made for an awkward experience. Also, while thankful to be able to sleep in until 9 AM a few days, I was still often grouchy and physically exhausted. Something that unfortunately fell on people such as FJ and a sweetheart of a Jewish man who never seemed to stop talking.
Giving this man the playa name Mr. Yappy, FJ and I were both on the same page of fed-up exhaustion when ditching him after he had gone to do some clay pottery at the neighboring camp to where we were laying down. Already exhausted (like every moment of every day), we had been extra bummed, and in need of some quiet, to try to find our zen after getting to a hair wash camp only to find out that it was full for the day. Once sneaking out and getting back to camp, FJ headed over to flirt with Bama and I the opposite direction to lounge on a leopard couch in the front of the camp where I could catch up on writing and go through our guidebook to look for camps/events that interested me.
The burner community being what it is, random people stopped by to say hi. One of whom was an inspirational man in a wheelchair who told me about being one of the fire spinners surrounding the man the night of the burn. Also how he was working on setting up a Mobility Camp to empower those with physical disabilities. So. Fucking. Awesome.
Eventually giving up once Martini Man started dripping ice on me, I packed it up and headed out for a day-bar pub crawl with Stephen and Mirjam on my way to the year’s live music session at the Twisted Swan. It felt great when everyone there was so excited to see me and it was always a riot to see people from Ireland and Scotland in shenanigan mode. One charismatic red-headed Irish dude cracked me up when using the ploy of going for his beer to stick his head under my dress. Consensual, of course. The community keeps a close eye on that.
Later that evening and even more exhausted than normal when getting back to camp (mid crash burn), I had originally planned to go to bed early but the night had other plans. Figuring that, since I was going to bed early, I might as well pound some beers for a nice little buzz and tiny bit of fun when a group of us headed out on the playa in the art car for sunset. Downside of doing that is that, upon arrival back in camp, I was sprinting to the port-a-potties without lights on me. That’s when it happened. I GOT SHIT ALL OVER ME! Everyone’s worst blue cube nightmare: a port-a-potty covered in shit. How does that even happen?!? Tearing off my clothes as I ran screaming into camp for Jewels to get more water and meet me in the makeshift shower, she was clueless as to why I was freaking out as she kept exclaiming that I needed to be careful not to get the mint soap in my eyes as I scrubbed myself down Ace Ventura style. At the moment I finally started to calm down, S came prancing in while half-singing “ooh!” as he mistakenly thought something kinky was going on. Taking off his silver barely-there hot pants as he climbed onto the platform, I stood there frozen with an inability to grasp the absurdity of it all as he rubbed up on me slapping my ass for an absolutely opposite twist from the nasty experience that had just happened. A combo that was so weird that it could have only been at the burn.
Moving on an hour later, I asked S if he was sure about taking shots when we ended up in the dark and empty bar. Fun that lead to getting caught by a sweet and petite older woman, Mighty, when we started getting a little naughty in another way. A short while later, after eating wieners with the camp on their annual night for it, a group of us settled down in the shanty neighborhood of camp around the conversion van of two of my absolute favorite new playa pals, April and Jay, for a smoke and chat. Well, everyone except S who kept dropping his already barely there drawers and crawling around all the crew, mostly dudes, with his dick swinging in their faces while exclaiming against my attempts to calm him down that it was OK because it wasn’t that big. His wife, always calm and in good humor, just sat there barely noticing except to mention that he often got like that a lot when he was wasted and was well-known for it. It was all in good fun and eventually lead to the crew having a lube competition on his entire body. That, ladies and gentlemen, is another example of how one can earn a playa name. For him it was Lube Doll.
Always being the biggest party I have been to in the world, we took the art car out the night the man burned. Following that, FJ and I wandered off on our bikes with Lube Doll and M to once again dance the night away. Keep in mind that she’s been rocking all this on the broken foot from days before. FJ and I leaving the other two and missing sunrise by an hour, she just couldn’t take any more. A bummer in that I wanted her to experience what I believe it to be one of the most magical moments on the playa but, alas, impossible to fight once the playa has done you in.
Continuing the curse of my road-dawgs not wanting to stay for the temple burn the next day, the most spiritual moment of the burn and especially important to me in regard to coping with the four people I had recently lost (along with my fur-baby Layla I lost before my first year/what my first burn had become about), I ended up breaking down camp in 110° heat while FJ mostly sat around with the Bayeux Bros and flipped out on me (she genuinely apologized a couple weeks later) about how she didn’t want drama as I tried to keep myself from passing out and struggled to hold back a pouting and pissy attitude while I worked. A situation, BTW, that didn’t end up with us leaving before the temple burned but later did with us struggling to stay awake behind the wheel. Yeah. It was breakdown day in more ways than one. I am proud to say that it took us that long, however. Couples break up and get back together sometimes more the than once at the burn. We lasted all the way until the end. Pretty impressive.
The term “expect the unexpected” is on steroids at Burning Man. I was devastated about missing the temple burn until all of the sudden it ended up becoming what lead to one of my favorite moments. Hanging in camp and, as we saw the smoke starting to rise against the sunset, I walked over to our sweetheart of a Hawaiian Israeli camper (different guy) who was standing there watching and wrapped my arms around him while we looked on in silence. Soon FJ joined us in our embrace as I started to describe what I had seen in the temple over the past years and my understanding of it. People who had been through what I had (and so much worse) with loss but also those enduring a terminal illness, who had survived diseases like cancer, rape, refugees, previously living on the street, those who were coping with some kind of other horrible types of abuse and much more. Survivors but also love. Also all kinds of pure love.
His way of processing was to stand there in tear-filled silence as my words connected to him in his way while FJ’s way was to share her own experiences and struggles. Standing there, the three of our arms wrapped around each other, we found a moment of healing and peace. That moment was the grand finale. For me, it was what makes the burn such a big part of my everything.
Now…time to get ready for next year…
I often think about how much the burn is similar to the rest of my travel in that both create a foundation of constant learning, changing and adjusting. A continuous state of fluidity full of pleasure, pain, entertainment and the hot mess I seem to always become along the way.
One learning lesson that quickly hit home during the burn of 2017 was that coming early entry and also leaving a day or two late are likely to provide a more relaxed and balanced experience. Mostly for avoiding the hours of lines getting in and out but also for a few other reasons. To help build/be more involved with my camp and having more down time with them during the first couple days before full insanity kicks in. Also before I start wandering. Avoiding the hiProvide API access token / Usernamegh-traffic confusion and dust the vehicles coming in are kicking up once gates officially open ain’t that bad either. Last but far from least is the plus of avoiding falling asleep behind the wheel at the end with an extra night’s sleep. That is if I can deal with the sadness of the city being broken down around me.
Being gifted the chance to watch the burn be birthed when coming early entry was a first and lead to one of my most magical moments of the year when I found my favorite art installation before it was even fully set up. The Tree of Ténéré with its LED lights changing color and ability to climb on/interact with it transported me into a magical place of “oh yeah – this is why I do this.”. The earlier to find that first happy moment the better as it is crucial to counteract the not-so-pleasant feelings that come with all of the work and sacrifice leading up to that point.
Hanging in camp pre-start date was another highlight of the trip for another reason in that I actually got to chill enough to see the love between campmates along with the depth both of individuals themselves and their connection to the burn. My soul needs the art, of course, but what the burn brings out of us – walls it brings down, humanity, equality and the connection to each other, is by far what has makes TTITD home.
When gates were officially opened a couple days after my arrival and the inevitable energy amp that came with, a couple of us wandered off to check out the oldest dive bar on the playa, HOTD! (Hair Of The Dog) with its fun live band and a mist fan that was heaven on such a hot desert day. Also padding the discomfort was the shots of booze offered out of a stuffed dog’s dingaling. Weird, I know. A little too much for me but, hey. That’s the burn.
Later that night a few of us campmates left to explore The Esplanade and Deep Playa. For those of you who haven’t burned, picture this: the temporary city is a circle with the “suburbs” being half of the outer circle on one side and deep playa (nothing but art installations and room for art cars to roam) on the other. The larger and more grandiose the theme camp, the closer it’s placed to the inner-circle (as long as it did well in matters such as rating well with MOOP and adding to the community the year before). The most inner half-circle of playa without camps set up is known as the Esplanade. Here is where the open space and larger art installations start, though the “downtown” of the city, Center Camp, (carnival-style tent where you can buy ice and coffee) is randomly located in a different spot a few rows in.
The second official day was an interesting mix of the burn already buzzing but also not fully up and running since many camps were still being built and the activities hadn’t started. After looking for some that were, a new campmate by the playa name of Sugey and I finally ended up at a legit mist bar (pretty sure it was over 100° every day) that was practically raining in its large tent structure that had been set up while campers came by with champagne. One of the moments I am still most thankful for as I was dizzy and almost passing out due to underestimating how many camps would be open on the Esplanade to duck into. Also for trying to keep up with a fella in his early twenties. Story of my life.
Further wandering around after that to different camps and those experiences that came about along the way, I got my ass spanked with a “love” pattal, walked into a spa with a drunk massage therapist smoking a cig, had all my clothes ripped off at Naked Tiki Bar in order to earn my necklace for the year (naturally) and we helped some poor guy with a ton of ice he was lugging back to camp by himself. Something I was glad to do despite it finishing off a blister already forming on my heel and bringing me back to a woozy enough state to make it a struggle to get back to camp.
After my second burn, I had adamantly sworn to myself that I would get to more workshops. During this, my third, in reality, I only made it to one. At least it was the one I was most set on, an intro to tantra. Happy I at least made there, it ironically ended up being a little too basic, though I was happy to realize that I already had a bit of basic experience and knowledge. It was another pleasantry to find out that the man leading the workshop was about to put on a seminar with a woman I had done some freelance work with to put on an event in the poly and tantra world a few years before. Loving the way community, camaraderie and the degrees of separation always comes with a pleasant magic and a little bit or surprise no matter how many time we experience it.
So many things happened those first three days. My campmate Sweet Cheeks taught me how to work on bikes, I started getting to know everyone (all the while being teased about FJ) and I got the chance to finally use the burner business cards I had made the year before when leaving a couple at Brigit and Aaron’s camp, Go the Fuck to Sleep, so they would know that I had stopped by. Always a must, I found our closest mist camp, Mystopia (as did the rest of my campmates), where I was to constantly zombie out on love sacks over the next few days. Another daily must was finding the closest foot wash camp where I had an experience of getting my feet washed by a boy volunteering. Amazing to see kids learning how to be full of love and giving back so young 💗. Wader-biking around and constantly getting lost, I found a cowboy style post-apocalyptic day bar where I stopped for a vodka red bull (first time I’ve had one of those is a decade and a half) and a deep random chat with a fella who told me about his life journey. The first real moment for the year with the kind of connective conversation that make it so special. I also ran around at night with my new mate from Australia, Rek Steady (among other playa names), to check out art as an end to those first few days full of the kind of life-reassuring experiences that come from going to the burn.
Bartending at the camp’s annual party was fun as were the really cool group of hot dudes in their twenties and thirties from California who showed up and whose area of our camp was quickly deemed as the Broasis. What I didn’t find fun was all the random wandering we did without getting anywhere. Something understandable for virgins, a demographic I was around/camped with a ton for the year, but frustrating for me as an out of shape and impatient third-year who prefers to hang in neighborhood camps where it’s easier to bond with others. What was great, and yet another favorite for the year, was when my new campmate and pal Venessa and I wandered out onto the playa in the wee hours and happened across the Hug Deli.
Once there we volunteered to give different kinds of hugs ordered in exchange for payment in the form of compliments. My two favorites being when she was hilarious in giving an “awkward hug” ordered where, in the few times the man started to pull away, she brought it right back in. My other favorite hug was the Cinnamon Roll. The way that one worked was where a line of people held hands and rolled in causing the inside person to be squished in the middle while everyone else wrapped around for different levels of the same. It was near impossible not to laugh the whole time.
Just as with all travel, watching people fall into passionate love, even if only for a few days, is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve been lucky enough to encounter. While that new (and still now) burner bud Venessa and the playa lover she made for the year, a total sweetie and hot surgeon from across the pond, might feel a bit awkward agreeing, I choose to believe that they did. Even if only having the chance to be together for a week, it was one of the most real and wonderful things I was around for the year.
I even developed a few crushes of my own (I’m a sucker for sweet with a touch of endearingly innocent/nerdy) and had a little fun myself. Overall that wasn’t where I was emotionally, so for the first time, I didn’t have a full-blown romantic playa partner. Kind of a bummer in that deep emotional bonds are what the burn is most about for me but even that provided a new way for me to grow.
The moment finally came when FJ was to arrive. Earlier that day, when once again turning into a stoned zombie from the crazy heat (and maybe some special chocolate-covered-blueberries), I found my way through blurred eyes to a hammock camp (still too hot) and then to Mistopia before heading back to my camp to wait. Worried that she would get held up at the gate by the little bit of dust and rain we got for the year, it was surprising to hear upon her arrival that she had practically zoomed right in.
Expecting her to take longer to get through, I was in the makeshift shower that had been set up when she arrived. A situation that caused her to be greeted by Martini Man instead of me. Burning Man is clothing optional but it’s rare to see someone completely naked with no body art. Off the norm in that way, Martini Man is a gruff East-Coast personality who has been burning for over twenty years and a nudist who enjoyed peacocking. Something she was to find out when one of her first experiences on the playa was him coming out swinging, if you know what I mean. Further greeting her into camp, he plopped down with bigger balls than either of us had ever seen displayed through spread legs on a couch in the bar without a towel to sit on. Cringe-worthy but also one of the most hilarious moments of the year. Welcome to Burning Man, FJ.