Green Tortoise: the Exception that Proves the Rule

Green Tortoise bus on playa (Photographer unknown)
Green Tortoise bus on playa (Photographer unknown)

With the influx of concierge companies seeking to capitalize on Burning Man’s popularity, we are taking a hard line with companies that want to provide tourism services and turnkey camping at the event. We don’t believe in spending money to avoid self-reliance in Black Rock City, and it’s absolutely against our principles to sell people “the Burning Man experience” as a vacation package. But there’s a balance to be struck between a “No Spectators” ethos and keeping our culture open to everyone.

We’re reviewing the ways we strike this balance and may make additional changes in the future, but for now, we’re continuing to make an exception to our approach to turnkey camping in the case of the adventure company Green Tortoise, with whom we forged a relationship in the year 2000. It’s worth explaining how in this case, Green Tortoise is the exception that proves the rule.

In the beginning…

In 1998, heavy rain flooded the event site just as Burning Man was coming to an end. With vehicles unable to leave Black Rock City, many Burners were stuck on playa. To make contact with the outside world, they trekked into Gerlach on foot, leaving a muddy mess in the small community (if you’ve ever been on playa when it rains, you know the deal). In response to concerns from the Gerlach community, participants were not allowed to leave during the event in 1999, creating challenges of its own: this time Gerlach lost the economic benefit of Burners frequenting its stores and facilities during the event.

Beginning in 2000, Green Tortoise agreed to provide shuttle service to Gerlach, enabling participants to purchase supplies and make contact with the outside world using the local payphones, while minimizing impacts on the local community. Most importantly for us, Green Tortoise provided a much-needed service for our participants that we couldn’t provide ourselves.

Then and now…

For a while, we gave Green Tortoise a small number of tickets they could resell as part of their compensation for providing shuttle service because, while we were short on money, we had plenty of tickets. Over the years, we grew to know and trust the Burners running the company and their staff and customers made valuable contributions to Burning Man, so we allowed them to expand their presence by offering a trip to Black Rock City, which is a noteworthy exception to our current policies.

For 2015, the Green Tortoise package costs $995 for the week (the event ticket is sold separately). It includes transportation to and from Black Rock City, along with water, shade, and food for cooking meals. Campers must bring and set up their own tents/sleeping accommodations and participate in meal preparation. These are not luxury trips to Burning Man. Green Tortoise encourages participation and has an excellent Leave No Trace record.

Though the need for daily bus trips to town has declined (participants tend to come more fully prepared these days), our relationship with Green Tortoise has continued. The current contract provides Green Tortoise with infrastructure for their camp, and the option to purchase up to 185 tickets (at $390 each) for resale to their customers only. Green Tortoise does not share a portion of its profits with the Burning Man organization; Burning Man does not benefit financially from this relationship in any way.

What Green Tortoise Brings to Burning Man

Green Tortoise campers include first-time Burners and 20-year veterans. They span a wide age range and are primarily backpackers from overseas. The service is particularly appealing for people who travel long distances to participate in Burning Man, as it makes some of the logistics and supply acquisition easier and more affordable. Of the 150 participants who will go to Burning Man in 2015 with Green Tortoise:

  • 69.3% reside outside the U.S.
    • The largest group of international campers are from Australia (24% of all campers), The Netherlands (24%), and the U.K. (11.5%)
    • Other home countries include Colombia, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Argentina, Singapore and the Bahamas.
  • The average age is 37
    • The youngest is 18
    • The oldest is 79

And Green Tortoise campers have made significant contributions to BRC over the years. These include:

Art Projects: Green Tortoise campers have played an integral part in the conception, design, building and implementation of various playa art projects, including a wall of light (multi-colored technology-driven LED display), The Rolling Light Balls project, and pieces for CORE (The Circle of Regional Effigies), including two from Victoria, B.C.: PsychoPhilia (the big head) in 2012 from and Fleur pour les Morts in 2013.

Art Cars: Green Tortoise campers have created three art cars: The Tiki bar (a VW van chopped up and re-fabricated into a tropical-themed, roaming bar), The Cloud (the same chopped-up VW van fabricated to resemble a fluffy, mobile thunderstorm), and the Galapagos Tortoise. All art cars were hop-on, hop-off style and were built with accessibility in mind to encourage any and everyone to ride them.

Regional Contacts: Two Green Tortoise campers have gone on to become Regional Contacts (from New York and Georgia).

BRC Departmental Support: Green Tortoise campers often sign up to volunteer for various departments prior to arriving on playa. Others have become more engaged upon arrival or in subsequent years. Green Tortoise campers have become Black Rock Rangers, BRC nurses, Lamplighters, Center Camp Cafe staff, Earth Guardians, Temple Guardians, and more.

In 2014 alone, Green Tortoise campers:

  • Built and performed on a stage at Green Tortoise camp. This included acoustic guitars and a flute player ensemble, as well as DJs with ambient lounge chill-out music, providing a relaxed atmosphere for anyone to drop in on.
  • Built a sultan-like tent for the Caravansary theme and held meditation sessions.
  • Held free massage sessions by licensed massage therapists.
  • Hung a slew of hand-made birdhouses in random locations.
  • Performed for the public: sang at center camp, drummed at the pre-Burn ceremony and other events, hula danced, fire danced during the Burn ceremony and in other performances using batons, poi and other various flaming crazy-fun props, stilt-danced, and sang sea shanties on several of the pirate-themed ships.
  • Created a BRC Junior Ranger Program (not affiliated with the real BRC Rangers); over 300 participants received booklets describing participation-based tasks. Upon completion of the tasks in the booklet, each of the applicants were awarded patches.
  • Formed the French Fashion Police, complete with aviator glasses, tight shorts, whistles and ticket books, and held “Fashion Friday – a Costume Giveaway” and offered face and/or body painting to whoever passed by.

In short, this is no frou-frou, chichi turnkey camp. It makes significant contributions to BRC that have flourished for many years.

Going Forward

While we appreciate the long relationship we’ve had with Green Tortoise and are continuing to support their efforts in 2015, we’re also working with them to make some changes to how they operate to bring them more in line with Burning Man’s principles. The owners of the company understand and are working with us to address our community’s concerns around turnkey camping, and we may make further changes to this arrangement in the future.

About the author: Burning Man

Burning Man

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man's Communications Team.

13 Comments on “Green Tortoise: the Exception that Proves the Rule

  • Robert Atkins says:

    litmus test for “turnkey” camps: do the campers shit in the same place as the rest of the population of BRC? If the answer is yes, and they generally abide by the ten principles, they’re probably ok.

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  • Timo says:

    Green Tortoise is okay. I camped near them for a few years. I just wonder why they all smell like cabbage…

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  • Foraria says:

    I am from canada and will be camping with them this year, as none of my friends can make it. I am a first timer. I hope that I am not going to find stigma attached to being with this camp…

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  • Boooooooooo says:

    Really? REALLY?
    I just don’t even know what to think or say to you anymore, BMORG.
    I’ve been a rad burner too, may I have 10 tickets to sell and make a couple grand during the event? I’ll give people shade and granola bars too.
    Boooooooo

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  • Mark says:

    I camped with Green Tortoise my first time on the Playa. They adhere to the principles and are no frills. Everyone pitches in and works. This is not a plug and play camp. I only wish they would allow us to set up shower stalls.

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  • Jesse says:

    I’ve been part of two camps where stuff is provided that I didn’t bring myself: namely food and water. Both Kostume Kult and HeeBeeGeeBees could be considered turnkey, but at the same time they invited people into their camps and reached outward to participate. I never felt like I was living in material luxury (though nothing wrong with that), and the feelings of overall grooviness could never have been bought with money anyway. The attitude that the camp brings to BM makes the experience. Walling ourselves off from others who haven’t paid for what we brought is the first sign that someone doesn’t really get the idea of what BM is all about.

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  • I stayed at a Green Tortoise hostel in San Fransisco. It was an epic bargain for a private top-floor room with killer views.

    When I was there they had some information about a bunch of different trips, including Black Rock City. It totally seems worth checking out.

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  • melva foregger says:

    In 2006 and 2007 I rode with GT, $400. 2007 they raised the price to $500, so I rode with bio bus 2007 and 2008 and 2009 $250. 2010 I hitched a ride from reno on a school bus full of hippies for $20 and hitched a ride back to reno with an “airhead”?, 2012, flaming bus. 2013 and 2014 with burner express. can’t remember 2011 , maybe flaming bus. the point is, it really doesn’t matter how you get there. last year I decided not to come in 2015 because of rude people. this year I’m packing light and if I am not happy with my neighbor I will move to the fence. I am 78 years old!!!! the old burners are still there, the ones that love you ” just the way you are”.

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  • pinhead says:

    How exactly are people supposed to get one week of food, water and camping supplies on green tortoise or the burner express transport bus? How are they getting all their stuff from the drop off point to their campsite that may be a mile away? No room for carts and wagons onboard. No everyone can or wants to camp next to the bus depot. Its impossible unless they are tied to an existing theme camp who will transport their stuff. Thats the huge flaw in the bus transport schemes.

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    • Will Chase says:

      Burner Express certainly isn’t workable for everybody. It’s best suited for people who are either traveling light (it can be done) or coming to BRC to meet up with friends in a camp with infrastructure, etc.

      And there’s a Burner Express “jitney” that takes people from the main BXB Depot (on 6:15 & J) to the 3:00, 4:30, 6:00, 7:30, and 9:00 plazas around BRC, which gets you close to just about anywhere your camp may be.

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    • Retro says:

      “For 2015, the Green Tortoise package costs $995 for the week (the event ticket is sold separately). It INCLUDES transportation to and from Black Rock City, along with WATER, shade, and FOOD for cooking meals.”

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