I went to Burning Man and it was even crazier than I expected

Burning Man CostumesBusiness Insider/Aly WeismanAttendance at Burning Man is up to nearly 70,000 people.

Burning Man 2016 officially started on Sunday.

Even as photos of this year’s festival have started trickling onto social media, many are still baffled by what exactly goes on at the week-long event.

Three years ago, I went to Burning Man for the first time. Last year, I returned for round two.

While I had attended many different festivals previously, Burning Man was unlike anything I had ever seen.

Burning Man, as the website proclaims, is “an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.”

The festival is a choose your own adventure of early morning meditation, late nights lit up by neon and pulsating music, art installations, bicycle adventures, and much more.

The first year I attended in 2013, so did more than 61,000 other people. By the time I went back in 2015, attendance had grown to nearly 70,000 participants.

Here’s what happens inside the wild world of Burning Man.

It all started with this: a cheap leopard suitcase I purchased on the streets of New York City. Everything you bring to Burning Man is at risk of getting seriously dirty or of disappearing. I felt OK sacrificing this.

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I packed it full with costumes, sunscreen, sunglasses, flashlights, food, and other items on the official checklist. Everything is in plastic bags to keep it clean from the impending desert dust.

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Upon arrival in Reno, Nevada, the closest airport, I hit a Walmart to grab last-minute necessities such as jugs of water. Walmart was clearly prepared for all of the 'Burners' driving from Reno.

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Just two days after the festival started, shelves were incredibly picked over.

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Or there was simply nothing left at all. But I managed to get what I needed.

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After a two-hour drive, I approached 'The Playa' -- what people call the land where Burning Man is held.

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I was greeted by veteran burners. Being a 'burn virgin' myself, I had to get out of the car and roll around in the dust, as is customary for all first-timers.

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Everyone stays in tents or RVs.

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I stayed in a small RV, but this is what the inside of many tents looked like.

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There was a communal tent filled with pillows, blowup couches, and chairs where everyone could hang out together.

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My camp was part of a larger camp that offered two large meals a day in exchange for kitchen duties like cooking and cleaning.

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There was food for hundreds. Check out the massive pot of scrambled eggs being made.

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One of my duties was to 'massage' this salad before lunch.

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And then came dish duty.

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It was pretty gross. Everything you bring into the desert, you have to take back out -- including dirty dish water.

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Ornately decorated bikes are used to get everywhere.

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Each bike has to be covered in el wire, which lights up at night so people don't run into you.

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It's useful in the middle of desert dust storms.

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Bikes are by far the most common mode of transportation around the playa.

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But there are a few other ways of getting around, including Segway scooters.

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The first place I checked out was Distrikt, a Vegas-like outdoor club pumping music between the mountains. The bar was open, but you had to provide your own glass.

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It was beautiful at sunset.

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People are dancing everywhere.

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I found that rather than barter, most people give things out free.

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Like this man who travelled from Mexico to pour pickleback shots.

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This booth offered free bad advice. Thanks!

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Money is no good here, but stupid human tricks are. I don't have any, so I had to do a cartwheel in exchange for sending a postcard from the working post office.

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This camp offered free fried chicken and watermelon. And they delivered!

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There was a free wine tasting.

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And free coffee from New Orleans' famous Café Du Monde.

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Inside, people read the paper as if nothing crazy were going on in the desert around them.

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Pretty much anything you wanted, you could find.

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Some camps set up fun activities like zip lines.

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This bicyclist carried around a massage table for strangers.

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The 'Duck Pond' camp had a great viewing point for sunsets and sunrises.

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There was a gym.

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A salon.

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Hollywood!

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A working pay phone. (There was no mobile phone reception.)

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Places for napping.

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Medical services for both physical and mental troubles.

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And there were tons of wedding ceremonies taking place all over.

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Including this fire-breathing octopus art car, where the bride and groom's rings were made of duct tape.

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Art cars, such as this piñata-themed vehicle, are a huge thing at the festival, and people spend all year putting them together.

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This lizard car was made of all metal.

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This incredible idea was a car that supported hammock chairs.

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Others were simply colourful.

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The parties continued even through the dust storms.

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I noticed this parked art car from a distance because of the loud music it was blasting.

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This guy inside the car shot people below with a hose to cool them down. It was nearly 100 degrees every day. Nights were cooler.

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On the outside of the car there was an open bar, where people filled their Camelbaks -- intended for water -- with alcohol.

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The festival, and this car, cater to all ages. Here is someone's dad taking a little break.

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This art car filled with Barbies looked fun.

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But it was pretty disturbing upon closer inspection.

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This fish car was creative.

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And there was a cool bumblebee car.

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The cars take you out to 'deep playa,' miles away from the main camps, where random things like this open bar are set up.

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People hang out in booths just like in real bars -- except you're in the middle of nowhere.

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Some people set up badminton.

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This fence is the very end of the playa, where burners aren't allowed to go past.

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Around this area, I spotted a movie theatre. It was fully functioning with a generator, playing films like 'The Wizard of Oz,' and offering snacks at a concession stand.

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There was all kinds of art.

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Like this toilet brush cleaner statue, located conveniently near a line of porta-pottys.

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A giant disco ball that lit up and glowed neon purple at night.

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Interactive art installations.

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At night everything lit up, which is amazing considering there is no power grid.

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Even the art cars light up.

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I spotted this cart, which had two sinks and was handing out free toothbrushes. Notice the glowing tooth on the top!

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At night there were wild dance parties played by DJs such as Paul Oakenfold and Major Lazer.

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There were fire dancers.

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The entire fake city was aglow as soon as the sun went down.

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This glowing-woman statue by artist Marco Cochrane was a 2013 favourite.

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Here is the woman sculpture from afar during the daylight.

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You can go inside the man and slide down. This is the view from inside looking out onto the playa.

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Everything appears so small.

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By the end of it, I was tired, covered in dust, and ready for a shower.

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But overall, it was a great experience that I would highly recommend to anyone up for the adventure. High-fives all around!

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