How Do You Keep Travelling

At least once a week someone asks me how do I do it. How do I keep on travelling and how do I it with money. Aah money. The magic word for which every backpacker would wake up for. Just whisper in their ear: “Hello sunshine! Time to rise and shine! Money is waiting for you!”
BAM! I garantuee you, that person will jump out of its bed and be wide awake.
Money, expecially among younger backpackers, seems like a never ending struggle. It is like water in the desert: where can you get it?

In this blog I would like to give you some tips on how to save and earn money while travelling. I will mainly focus on countries where I have been and where you can obtain a Working Hoiday Visa (WHV) such as New Zealand and Australia. With a WHV you can legally work up to 6 months for the same employer. Check the immigration websites for more details as every country has different rules and regulations. Also, make sure you know your rights; there are very nasty companies who do not pay you the right amount or tax you more than you should be.

Little important things to think about, but firtst of all, I would encourage everyone to go travelling. Even if it’s just for a year or so. It really opens up your mind and might makes you change it too. Were you planning on studying? Perhaps you change your study. Did you really wanted to work in IT? Maybe you find out you enjoying working in construction more and maybe your relationship is as good as it seems. Travelling gives you knew insights and perspectives on your live but also on yourself. Some people call it: “finding yourself“. It sounds a bit too dreamy for me but you will find out a great deal about yourself and work on your social aspects. You might needs to push some boundaries and step out of your comfort zone more often than you hoped for.

To keep on travelling might have been a conscious descision or not. You might have , at one point, decided to continue and explore another country. Others just go with the flow and they have just ended up somehow, travelling on. I belong in the latter catergory. It was the mere suggestion of my partner who suggested that we could go to Australia after New Zealand, and so we did. We started dreaming of other places and where to go next. Because you as free as a bird, you can do whatever you want to do and that feels great.

However, this doesn’t mean I am lying on the beach the whole day, sleep in, stay up late, party and consume lots of booz and drugs, like some of my friends and family are thinking. I would like to get this huge misunderstanding out of the way. Surely, there are backpackers who do that and love it but if you are travelling on a long term basis – let’s say, longer than 1 year – it becomes a lifestyle and who wants to live, needs to eat. Who needs to eat, needs money to buy food. Thus, you probably need to work at some point. (There are still many backpackers calling their parents for money…). Travelling can be hard work. We tend to wake up early and go to bed around 9-ish. Making a cup of coffee or tea involves a bit more than just putting the kettle on. Little things take much more time as you have limited space or facilities.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love camping and living in a car but it does require some energy.

When we settle down for a few months to fill up our wallets, we both go out looking for a job. I will be the one backpackers waking up with the whisper: “money is waiting for you”. But to get that money, I will have to work.

So here we come to tip no. 1. WORK. The magic word. But not every backpacker will jump out of its bed to work. Specially if you don’t like your job. In my case, I’m working 2 jobs and both of them are quite OK but not fantastic. It does bring in a fair bit of income but it is brain draining too. Knowing it is just for a short period – usually 2 or 3 months – I can deal with it.  Easy jobs are not dreamjobs. For example housekeeping. It is something I have done many times before and very easy to get. Still, I absolutely loathe it but when I look in the long term, it will keep me on the road for a while.

You don’t need to do things you don’t like. I choose to work easy jobs as I want to start quick and work hard to earn a lot of money. That is why I don’t look to long for a job and take the first thing I get. Others do look a bit longer and ending up with someting they more enjoy – or not.
A huge adventage of working while travelling is that you can try many things. Actually, you can do anything you want! In the countries where I have been, nobody cares about your education; as long you have the right attitude. Your experience list will grow rapidly. I can proudly say I have worked as a: cheesemaker, vegan baker, kitchenhand, sheep herder, housekeeper, doorknocker, car sales(wo)man, barista, waitress, receptionist, grape picker. On a blue Monday I have changed engine oil and break fluid for someone on a parking lot in Christchurch.

Tip no. 2 will sound like your mother. Or an accountant. Simply, don’t spend that much. Do you really need to stay in a caravan park for $45 a night? Do you really need to have a take-a-way coffee every day and $3 croissant? You can spend your money in a more sufficient way. Think in the long-term and about practical things. Great that you have 5 different shorts and 3 pair of jeans but how do you want to carry that around? It is better to invest in things you will need on the long run on your journey than buying new stuff all the time. Good hiking shoes or a head light are one of the things you can spend your money on and enjoy them for a long time.

So the conclusion? How to keep on travelling?  First of all: work whenever you have the change. Even if you don’t really have to work but you are still settling down for a few months, you should find a job. You will be grateful in the end as it will keep you on the road for a long strecht.
Second: don’t spend all your earnings on crap you don’t need. In matter of fact, try to safe up as much as possible. Let’s be honest, do you really need to have 6 pairs of shoes? And third: work and travel your own way. I have met many backpackers who either work 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, or people who don’t work and be drunk every night. These are 2 complete different examples of how you can travel. Most important is that you do it your way. If you don’t feel comfortable working 7 days a week, than don’t. Keep things fun; it is your journey.

The Simpson Desert

There is one massive blank spot on the Austrlian landmap and it is called: The Simpson Desert.  It is Australia´s fourth largest desert and covers up roughly 170 000 sq. km. between Alice Springs and Birdsville. This part is well known for its remoteness and the immense parallel dunes. If you want to cross it, you will have to tackle the 1100-ish sanddunes to get to the other side. Some of them are 200 km long and that makes the Simpson Desert home of the longest sanddunes in the world.

Now of course, why would anyone cross it? I mean, going up and down 1100 km sanddunes to get to another small town in the middle of nowhere, not to mention the amount of dust entering your car while driving. Besides that, there runs a highway north of the Simpson Desert. You might better take that one. You must be mental to do this.
It turned out, we were.

If there is one thing what it is inherent to the Australian culture, it is 4WDing. This means you drive around on – sometimes very- rough terrains, tackling washouts, sanddunes, beaches, creek crossings and such a like, just for the fun of it. With a good, well-maintained 4×4, you can almost get everywhere. I can tell you it is extremely funny to drive over a roundabout rather than taking it. It is also very helpful when driving sandy or corregated roads. As with a normal car, you will be shaken to death and more likely to roll over and lose several parts. In a 4×4 you simply release some tire pressure and off you go.

Back to the Simpson Desert, where there is obviously a 4WD track. Australians love driving and make tracks where ever they can. The road in the Simpson called The French Line and is one 439km straight line from west to east. But even before getting to the beginning of the road, it is a long rough way with dustholes, corrugation and some terrible steep washouts. I remember one creek crossing where I walked in first to see how deep it was and got suddenly stuck up to my knees.
Luckily, this is not something you will experience in the Simpson, as there is no water.

At lest that is what we thought. It turned out, there has been an incredible amount of rain, in the days before we arrived. This means more mud and damage to the track. On the other hand, the desert has never been that green since 10 years.

Driving through the desert doesn´t go without any risks and the Australian government and visitor centres take therefore any oppertunity to warn you about them. Lives hve been lost out there.
The French Line is one of the most feared tracks in the 4WD world and with that knowledge, I picked up a `HOW TO BE SAFE IN REMOTE AREAS` brochure to find out if there are any precauctions we had to take. Just in case.
To state the obvious, here’s a list of what you should know before heading out:
– Carry plenty of water: 7 L/ a day/ per person + 7 days extra.
– Enough food + 1 week extra
– In case of a breakdown: STAY AT YOUR VEHICLE! A missing car is easier to find than a person and this is how many people died. They leave their vehicle in search of water.
– Let someone know of your travel plans and when you are expected to be back
– Warn the police on both sides when you should arrive.
– Have a well maintained 4WD
– Carry enough fuel
– Carry a satallite phone + a 2m long red flag, attached to your bullbar.
– Do research and know what to expect.
– Know your vehicle and know how to repair it.
-Deflate your tires.
-Be experienced in 4WD and sand.
– Don’t go alone.

There are probably another 10 things to add but this is in big lines what everyone will tell you.
To be fair, I was scared to enter this god forsaken place. No shadow, no people, a long not-so-easy road and we would travel alone, not in a convoy or tag-along-tour. We would be alone.  Surely the list stated clearly: “Don’t go alone.” That means something, right? Right?!
What if we would tip? What if we get stuck-stuck? I could hear myself saying through our radio: “Blue troopy just tipped over, please help.” It would take days to someone would show up! And then , somehow, they would have to tow us out, tip us back. The disaster!

My partner, qualified mechanic, had nothing to fear. He wasn’t afraid. Nor scared. It was just a sandy and hilly drive in his eyes. In the weeks before, he had done every single repair on our vehicle and fixed things of which he thought had to be fixed. He reassured me that we had done so much 4WD the past 2 years, that the Simpson would be more than fine. (Fair enough, I can’t remember how it is to drive on a sealed road).
So off we went, up to the 1100 or so, sanddunes.

And was it one of the scariest tracks? Was it really that remote? Was it dangerous?No, no and no.
On the first day, we have met so many people, that it seemed impossible to even be stuck out there. Wait an hour, maximum, and someone will drive along. We have met tours, recreational drivers, seasonal drivers, locals, bikies, rangers and a massive truck. The landscape consisted indeed out of a lot of parallel sanddunes which means you will go up and down and up and down. It was sandy but not that sandy as the Sahara and above all, it was GREEN. Bush, small trees, salt lakes were filled, clouds were hanging above our head and even a few drips of rain came down.

The Simpson Desert was nothing like a dry, arid or remote place. Sure; there was no drinking water or communities around, but you were never alone.
Of course, we were perhaps lucky or experienced enough, but we did meet people who had some issues with their car. Also, some washouts were extremely scary. If you are unexperienced in 4WDing, it might be a difficult track to tackle. Nevertheless; if you are prepared, you can do it.

 

The Australian Kitchen

Chop. Slice. Blend. Stir. Mix. Rinse. Mash. Fry. Pop. Steam. Cook. Boil. Grill. Smoke. Dry. Rest. Bake. Fillet. Season. Drizzle. Mix. Beat. Slimmer. Serve. Eat.

In November 2015, Australia launched a new food channel: The Food Network. Not that this country lacks any cooking show. During prime time you can get inspired by Aussies BBQ Heroes, Jamie Oliver’s Superfood, Chopped, The Spirit of Japan, Inferno Kitchen, UK Bakes, Cabinet’s Kitchen and a dozen of others. Despite the huge range of these programs, it seemed viewers were in the need of something more. Quite funny, in my opinion, as Australia doesn´t really have decent food culture.

Every single European I come across has been complaining about the same thing: Australian food sucks. The bread is too soft, the coffees are too weak, soda’s are incredibly sweet and artifical. Above all: who came up to create Vegemite chocolate?! No, Australia is not a country like France or Italy where you could go to just because of its kitchen. France can be named in one sentence with croissant, crêpe, brie en Boeuf Bourguignon. Italy just breaths pizza and pasta. Perhaps Australia can be described with sausage rolls or pies. Not the chocolate pie or Dutch apple pie, but minced beef pie. It comes with a dash of ketchup and if you’re lucky, it had been made the same day. If not – what most likely the case is – you will probably munch it after a good night out.

The cooking shows are a big puzzle for me, as there is no point in broadcasting them. Why look at them and not use them? Sure, Jamie Oliver can provide you great ideas for dinner and it is quite entertaining but how likely is it you are actually going to put this in practice? Nihil, I assume. It is a real shame, as Australia has many farmers and produces a lot of fresh vegetables, meat and dairy. However, most of the harvest will be exported to other countries and Australia ends up importing more products. For example: the Passionfruit Christmas Pudding has been created in England from imported ingredients and exported to Australia. Same for the Belgian Chocolate Cake, made in Belgium – I guess this is actually a good thing – and the kiwi’s are imported from Italy. You start to wonder if this country keeps anything for themselves and if they are able to cook something more than a mashed avocado toast.

Well, there is one thing Australians are bloody good at doing: the barbecue. It is the French gourmet pan, the Italian pizza oven and the Belium deepfrying pan. All hail, make way for the Australian Barbecue! You cannot live without a barbecue unless you deny that you are in Australia. There are options for vegetarian and vegans so no one will be left behind. Every household owns at least one of these smoking hot grills. Either working on gas or with – flavoured! – coals: char grill, steam, woodfire, spit, portable or smoking. Australia has the answer. There are free electric barbecues in parks if your backgarden is too small. Every day, the council cleans them but on the country side, you might be a bit unlucky. Most rest areas have designed barbecue pits so that you could still light the barbie, if you could not afford a portable on – and also to prevent bushfires.

Knowing this, the only understandable cooking show which makes sense, is Aussie Barbecue Heroes. I wouldn’t be surprised if locals pick something up from this show. Three couples have to face different barbecue challanges such as “create a dish with prawns, sweet chili and basil, within 30 minutes!” or “give me a fushion steak!” It is far more interesting than Australia’s Master Chef with the tension around Sally’s dish and the question if the eggs of her quinea salad are boiled on the point or not.

To wrap up the Australian kitchen, you will need 3 things. Pie – preferable a few days old, reheated – a barbecue – to create excellent steaks – and an ice cold beer – but due to the heat, it is more likely a warm one. I haven’t discussed the matter “beer” but as most students among us know what a beer is, it seemed irrelevant to me to elaborate on that subject. There are no extrodinairy beers here: think about a simple beer and reduce the alcohol to 3.5% and that is your Australian beer. However, you never know what Jamie Oliver comes up with and turns it into a gourmet superfood. This country is full of surprises.

So there you go: pie, barbecue and a beer that goes along with it. Simple and easy, that is Australian food culture. Who needs Passionfruit Christmas Pudding anyway?

The 40 of Limburg

A group of UM professors, staff, students and relations opened the ’40 of Limburg’ route last Friday, which is a bike route through the hills of Limburg to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Maastricht University. The route is open for everyone so you can explore the hills in Limburg yourself!

The 40 of Limburg link

Here’s a piece written by sports journalist Robin van der Kloor who shares his experience in the peloton that opened the ’40 of Limburg’ route.

Text: Robin van der Kloor
Translation and Photography: Brian Megens

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Among Professors (in lycra)
What do you talk about when you find yourself solely among scientists on a bike, for example, during a bike ride through the hills of Limburg in celebration of the UM 40th birthday? Must one talk about the regenerative medicines when you want to start a conversation with a scientist, who is let’s say the Tom Dumoulin of the UM?

A peloton of professors, researchers, students, teachers and doctors, all of whom are riding in lycra. Last Friday, an interesting mix of ‘UM people’ or ‘UM related people’ rode on the small, beautiful roads of South-Limburg. Some of them were business relations, one of them a former governor, who is a member of the MSM board. That’s reasonable, but me? “What is your link with the university?” Uhm, I write articles for a newspaper and for some time education was in my portfolio and now I write on cycling a lot. Is that a valid argument? “Uhm, I don’t think so”.

At a break in Gulpen, a young man entered the inn heavily sweating. He had missed the start at UM Sport due to a tire that blew up and he had to chase our group for over 50k. A sort of hide and seek with the peloton as on every point he was just too late or had already left when we reached it. Luckily, he can push the pedals quite well, he almost made it to professional cycling and he is also a former world top youth darts player, good for him as elsewise he probably wouldn’t have survived his road to unification with our group. We call him ‘the Talent’.

The Scientist meets the Talent, who decided to ride on a fixed gear (he thought it was fun, but I could only think: why?), the conversation didn’t focus on muscle tissue recovery, but on ‘giving it all’, watts, 40-20s and its use. During the evening, the Scientist saw that he had managed to get 4 KOM’s in his age category. Whatever that might be. His Strava profile is impressive by the way. He tends to ride 250k on average a week, a true cycling fanatic.

Impressive was also the former governor, whom I had never seen on a bike, but soon I couldn’t imagine him without one. Entwined on his hybrid bike, attacking on his climb like it was his last. To me, I witnessed a transformation going from politician to a cyclist from the early days. During the ride his posture got rougher, his hair wilder, his chain dryer, and his eyes more red. For a long time he missed the mud to become the true ‘laborer of the road’. He changed that immediately by pulling his front brake too hard to safely land on the grass of the Molenberg. There he lied, our Wim van Est.

Every now and then it seemed to be a chaotic Friday afternoon, with people from all different sport levels brought together on a bike to ride the ’40 of Limburg’, that turned out to be only 14 for us. Due to the organization, the motards, the people of UM Sport, and above all special guest, Hennie Kuiper. Against all laws of physics was the former World Champion of cycling present at several spots in the peloton at the same time. While he was instructing the guys at the front, he was also giving tips to the slower cyclists at the back (hands on the brakes, switch gears before the hills not on it), while also showing his fans how to ride to the front of the bunch by using the motors. A person with a high dosage of self-knowledge and humbleness. A man that can talk about himself for over half an hour without it becoming the ‘Hennie Kuiper Show’.

Also the maker of the route (what a one it became) deserves compliments. His claims that the UM is a place wherein the strong drive the weak to improve is true. Although the American woman gave the impression of quitting after the first hill, also she rolled back to Maastricht 4 hours later together with the group. Partially, because of her Transatlantic perseverance, partially because of the help by students, who by the way had to leave right after the ride as they had a 175k relay run to do. A cohesion like this is rarely found among the average leisure cyclists.

“What are you doing here?”, is a question I got asked again, this time during the pasta meal where I saw the former governor serving himself pasta like he just finished Bordeaux-Paris, which in his perception he probably did. Yet again I did not know how to respond. “But who invited you?” I pointed towards the Communication guy, who despite the sun and 18 degrees was wearing winter gloves all the time, also during the pasta meal. Not really a credible alibi. Until now, although I had an amazing day, it is not clear to me why I was there, maybe to write this?

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Robin van der Kloor

Origineel, Nederlands:

Onder professoren (in lycra)

Waar praat je over als je je tussen louter wetenschappers begeeft op een fiets, bijvoorbeeld tijdens een toertocht door het Heuvelland ter ere van de veertigste verjaardag van de UM? Moet het gaan over regeneratieve medicijnen als je met een onderzoeker, laten we zeggen de Tom Dumoulin van de UM, een gesprek wilt aanknopen?

Een peloton van professoren, onderzoekers, studenten, docenten en artsen. En dat allemaal in lycra. Een bont gezelschap zocht vrijdag de mooie, smalle, soms zelfs onverharde weggetjes op. Enkele zakelijke relaties waren erbij, vooruit. Een oud-gouverneur, die in de Raad van Toezicht van de MSM zit. Moet kunnen. En ik. “En wat is jouw link met de universiteit?” Ehm, ik ben stukjesschrijver bij een krant en had ooit onderwijs in mijn portefeuille en nu wielrennen. Telt dat? “Ehm, nee.”

Bij de pauze in Gulpen kwam een bezwete jongeman de herberg binnengewandeld. Door een klapband miste hij de start bij UM Sport en probeerde vervolgens vijftig kilometer lang onze groep bij te halen, maar op elk punt was hij net te laat. Het scheelt dat hij hard kan fietsen – hij had het bijna tot beroepswielrenner geschopt en is overigens meervoudig Nederlands jeugdkampioen darten, maar dat terzijde –, anders had hij deze tantaluskwelling waarschijnlijk niet overleefd. We noemen hem het Talent.

De Onderzoeker ontdekte het Talent, dat besloot mee te rijden op een fixie (vond ie leuk, maar ik dacht alleen maar: waarom?) en het ging niet over weefselherstel, maar over ‘diep gaan’, wattages, de 40-20’s en het nut ervan. Het Talent concludeerde: het menselijk lichaam kan veel meer aan dan we denken. ‘s Avonds op Strava stelde de Onderzoeker tevreden vast dat hij ‘vier leeftijdskommetjes’ had gepakt. Wat dat ook moge zijn. Zijn Strava-profiel is indrukwekkend, trouwens. Hij rijdt per week minimaal 250 kilometer. De Onderzoeker is een trainingsbeest, in wielerjargon.

Imposant was ook de Oud-gouverneur, die ik nog nooit op een fiets had gezien, maar die ik me al snel niet anders dan fietsend kon voorstellen. Gebeiteld op zijn hybride attaqueerde hij elke meter omhoog alsof het zijn laatste was. Voor mijn ogen zag ik de Oud-gouverneur transformeren van politicus tot coureur van de oude stempel. Gedurende de rit werd zijn houding robuuster, zijn haren wilder, zijn ketting droger, zijn ogen roder. Waar in zijn poging om de eretitel ‘slaaf van de weg’ te bemachtigen het slijk op zijn lijf lange tijd ontbrak, bracht hij daar eigenhandig verandering in door vlak voor het einde iets te rigoureus in zijn voorrem te knijpen en in het gras van de Molenweg te duiken. Verdomd, daar lag Wim van Est.

Bij tijd en wijle leek het een redelijk chaotische vrijdagmiddag, een berg los zand in het Heuvelland. De 40 van Limburg bleken er 14 te zijn, het niveauverschil was aanzienlijk en er reden wat exoten mee van wie je je kunt afvragen wat zij in dat mooie shirt deden. Maar er was voldoende lijm aanwezig: de motards, de mensen van UM Sport en bovenal Hennie Kuiper. Geheel tegen de natuurwetten in was de oud-renner op meerdere plekken aanwezig op hetzelfde moment. Tegelijkertijd kon hij de voorsten mennen, de onwetenden onderwijzen (“handen aan de remmen”, “lichter schakelen voor de helling, niet erop.”) en de wielerfans demonstreren hoe je tussen de motards naar voren rijdt. Bezitter van een zeer plezierige dosis zelfkennis en bescheidenheid. Een man die een half uur over zichzelf kan praten zonder dat het de Hennie Kuiper-show wordt.

Ook de routemaker (fraaie ronde!) verdient een pluim. Zijn bewering ‘bij de UM maken de beteren de zwakkeren sterker’ klopte helemaal. Waar de Amerikaanse al na een helling de indruk wekte te willen afstappen, rolde ook zij vier uur later Maastricht binnen, in de groep. Deels door haar transatlantische onverzettelijkheid, deels door de duwtjes in de rug van studenten die – hoe is het in godsnaam mogelijk – meteen naar Nijmegen doorreisden om een 175 kilometer lange estafetterace te lopen. Zulke cohesie kom ik bij wielertoeristen zelden tegen.

“Wat doe jij hier eigenlijk?”, werd mij opnieuw gevraagd, dit maal bij het avondeten waar de Oud-gouverneur pasta stapelde alsof hij zojuist Bordeaux-Parijs had gereden (had ie ook, dat kon je zo zien). Weer had ik geen passend antwoord klaar. “Maar wie heeft je uitgenodigd dan?” Ik wees naar de Communicatieman, die ondanks de zon en 18 graden de hele rit dikke winterhandschoenen droeg en er ook pasta mee at. Niet bepaald een geloofwaardig alibi. Nu nog, ook al heb ik een zeer plezierige dag beleefd, is mij niet helemaal duidelijk waarom ik daar was. Om dit stukje te schrijven misschien.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

When Germany opened its borders for 1 million refugees, Australia allowed 12 000 asylum seekers into the country. This is just a fraction compared to Merkel´s quota, especially when we look at the size and population. With 22 million inhabitants and a land of the size of North America, you would think it is more plausible that Australia would take in a few more. This, however, is not the case, at all. Australian immigration policies are complicated and make it very difficult for immigrants to enter or settle down. Yes, it is one of the most multicultural societies in the world, but that doesn’t mean it is very welcoming to strangers.

With 4 coastlines to protect, one of the most discussed issues for Australia is to hold back the illegal immigrants, coming from Indonesia by boat. These people are so desperate, they get on a tiny dingy and cross the Indian Ocean in the hope to find some luck in this sunburned country. Unfortunately, most of them get the status “unlaw-ful non-citizens and end up in a detention center where they are waiting to be deported. They will not be granted a visa and deportation can take up to a few years. The detention centers are known for being harsh and problematic. Over the last few years, riots have been taken place and asylum seekers have sewed their lips together as a form of protest. It is the uncertainty and desperation for these people what drives to anger.

The discussion about boat immigrants, as they are often called, played up after the Paris attacks. The question was if Australia was safe, and what would happen if they would allow more immigrants into the country. The majority of the population was afraid of a terrorist attack. People explained that it is “very likely” that something will happen because “you don’t know where the enemy is.” Paris was taken by the media and politicians as an example to show what could happen if a country takes up too many immigrants. It confirmed what the majority feared if Australia would take more refugees.

In the past, Australia hasn’t always been so neglecting to foreigners. In the 1970s, there was a completely different approach to refugees. The immigration minister back in 1976, Michael MacKellar said the following after the first boat of Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived in Darwin:
“As a matter for humanity, and in accord with international obligation freely entered into, Australia has accepted a responsibility to contribute towards the solution of world refugee problems.”
Promises were made to use the “full resources” for current and future refugees, because of “moral rightness”.

What has changed over the years and how did it changed? Media nowadays, uses phrases such as “potential terrorists”, “job-takers” and “illegals”. The promised “full resources” turned out to be detention centers which I have briefly mentioned above and the Australian Border Force, which aims to protect and control the movement of people and goods across the border. Why is Australia nowadays so neglecting towards asylum seekers?

It is a tricky question and a complex answer.

One thing is clear: Australia has changed as has their way of thinking and talking about aslyumn seekers. Immigrants are not regarded as victims of war or traumatic events, rather they are considered as persons who come here to work. By changing the way of discussion in public, it is changing the view on the subject. Another example is the phrase “how to stop the boats” instead of helping people. The detention centers are build out of vision of the Australian citizen. This creates the thought: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Recently I have talked to a local named Jack about this topic. He stated that humanity should be ashamed of itself of what is happening in the world with the massive stream of immigrants. His argument was explained in a long speech and contradicted himself by concluding that Australia does not want more immigrants. “We are accepting more than enough refugees already. We don’t want them here, they can go somewhere else.” So if the world should be ashamed of himself, should Australia be too? Would it not be a better idea to help those people instead of putting them away? Jack sighted and looked annoyed. “Look, we probably could do more but we don’t want to. We have our own problems to take care of.Australia could do more, yes that is true, but does it want to? As far as I can see, no. Perhaps some issues are, indeed, too far out of sight to be kept in mind.

Bed versus Couch

Probably you just had your INKOM and either had your own room or stayed at a friend’s place. During my first introduction week, I had a girl from my group staying at my flat for a week, until she had find her own 8m2 room. Perhaps you can consider this as my very first Couchsurfing experience. It turned out well: she is still one of my best friends.

If you are not familiar with Couchsurfing and are looking for alternative ways to travel, than this might be a good option. The Couchsurfing community has been esthablished in 2003 as a nonprofit organization. At the moment, it has over 5.5 million members, being active in 97 000 different cities, in 207 countries. It is a worldwide platform for local hosts and nomads. Hosts offer their so-called Couch to travellers, in return of a home-cooked meal or other favour, such as painting a wall. The website creates an opportunity for international voyagers to connect with the locals and to come closer with the culture of the country.

The thing that makes Couchsurfing special is that it is completely based on trust and mutual respect. There is no money involved and often even not appreciated. The cultural exchange and unique experience are more important.  The mission is “[…] a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”(http://www.couchsurfing.com/about/about-us/) The more you interact with the local community, the more special your journey will become in return.

Personally, I cannot agree more with the statement, especially after my own experiences with Couchsurfing. Last year I have travelled through Singapore and Java (Indonesia) with this service and it was the best decision I have ever made. I ended up teaching English in the slums of Jakarta, got on a radio show in Yogjakarta and attended a traditional Indonesian wedding. These specials moments enhanched my journey.

If you don’t like the idea of melting in with the local culture too much or you would like to have your own private room – with Couchsurfing it is usually a surprise how your bed looks like – than I can advice you to have a look at AirBnB. The American firm was erected in 2008 by 2 friends who thought it was a good idea to rent out a spare room out to travellers. They would only stay for a short time so they pumped up some airbeds and the idea of Airbed and Breakfast came into being. Today, AirBnB is almost as big as the Hilton Hotel group, with 3 million guests, booking 10 million nights in 34 000 cities, across 190 countries. Different from Couchsurfing, this is a paid service. You pay the house-owner and AirBnB gets 3% of the fee for bringing the renter and owner in contact.

AirBnB provides an easy way for locals who have a room to spare and would like to earn a little bit extra, cover their rent or would like to meet new people. When you want to stay somewhere but don’t like the high prices hotels offer you, you simply pop online and have a look if there is anything cheap available – very often AirBnB is more affordable than most hotels and hostels.

The different options between private room, shared apartment or a complete house for yourself, make it easy to choose your level of communication you wish to enquire. Whether you want a private castle or a cupboard, you probably can find it on AirBnB. Another plus, especially for highly touristic areas, is that you know where exactly at what location you will end up. Than you are sure that you won’t spend heaps of money on public transport to get to that one particulair church.

So what are the main differences and similarities between these services?

The biggest difference between them is their mission. Couchsurfing is completely based on trust, cultural exchange and social. No money on the table, only favours. If you are thinking “but buying ingredients to cook a meal costs money too!” than you are better of going to a hostel and Couchsurfing is not your thing. It is not about money, it is about being grateful for the unique experience hosts provide you. And that doesn’t have a price tag.

AirBnB’s mission is more commercial and can be seen as a hospitality company. “Unlocking unique spaces, worldwide.” Connecting. Creating. Sharing. Making money. Saving Money. The intension is not necessarily social, however, it is still a good alternative next to standard hotels, as each AirBnB room is different. It opens unique doors, at unique locations.

In my opinion, the most important similarity is the communual idea of sharing. Either you share culture, your couch or inside information, it doesn’t matter, you are sharing something. In that case, it makes an unique way to travel and to explore new places. Choose the way you feel comfortable with. Make your travel experience unique. Make it count.

 

 

 

Willing Working On an Organic Farm

Whether you have just finished your high school, Bachelor or Master, you might start to think about taking a gap year. Australia is one of the countries which offers a one year Working Holiday Visa (WHV). The visa allows you to work and travel for a year, throughout the country. It is a great way to experience its culture, cruise around and earn a bit of money. If one year is not enough, you can apply for a second WHV. However, you need to fit certain requirements. One of them is that you need to have done your 3 months specified work – also known as “the 88 days”.

The 88 days of specified work is explained in Document 1263, which you can find on the Australian immigration website. It tells what kind of work is elidigble and in which region. For example, work in hospitality, in all states, does not count, but picking apples in Tasmania does. It does not matter if you work two weeks here, one month there and another one and a half month somewhere else, as long your employer signs your days off. In any case, it is improtant that you are up to date with the visa regulations and restrictions. There are major consequenses if you fraud your days such as being refused at the boarder or paying a high fine.

So what work is elidigble and what not? Not everything is clearly stated in the Document and it can be utterly frustrating and confusting. The best way to find out is to ask your boss before you start the job or to call the immigration line.

Most jobs which count are positions on cattle stations, mining, fruit picking and pearling. The specified work is not always fun and I would not like to pick mangoes ever again. But everyone has his own favourite and it all depends on where you end up and you want to do or learn.
If you do not like the idea of working long hours for minimum pay in the hot sun with the eyes of an angry manager piercing in your back, than there is something like WWOOFing.

WWOOF stands for Willing Working On an Organic Farm. It means you are volunteering four to six hours on an organic farm in exchange for food and accomodation. To goal is to learn something about farming, the culture and country you are visiting. It is an international organization and even Holland has a department.
WWOOFing jobs can variate from feeding wildlife, planting and harvesting crops to tree planting or conservation work. Part from the learning factor, you will meet people with the same intension – namely, to help and learn – as you and a much friendlier boss who will not scream at you when you accidently put the compost on the zucchini plants instead of the tomatoes. To put in short: the atmosphere and vibe are much better. Plus, you will end up in the most ridiculious places.

Personally, I was lucky enough to learn how to make cheese and herd sheep for two months in Tasmania. How many people can say that they have milked sheep and led them from paddock to paddock? At the moment of writing, I am WWOOFing at a butterfly farm in the Nothern Territory. Every day, I have to catch butterflies, harvest lettuce and tomatoes for the kitchen, maintain the vegetable garden and feed a trizillion of bunny rabbits, chickens, goats and geese.

But there is a problem with the WWOOFing system as well. Many places do not have a register or precise overview of who is staying or going. Owners sign of more days than WWOOFers were actually there and some farms do not treat their volunteers that well. That is why the Australian gournement decided that WWOOFing will not be eligible for the 88 days anymore. WWOOFing has to become paid work.

Is that a problem? I believe so. First of all, the intention of WWOOFing falls away. WWOOFing is volunteering, the persons are in general more mature and care more about what they are doing. A majority of the persons with who I worked told me they like WWOOFing because of the unique experience and the oppertunity to learn something. Above all, it feels good to help someone, especially when you start to see what needs to be done.
Second, many family businesses rely on WWOOFers as they are a cheap way to replace workers. It is not all about the money, that is true. For them WWOOFing is often a liftestyle. They have been working with WWOOFers for years. Their idea is that, every person has its own skills and that is what makes WWOOFing work. One is good in gardnening, the other in cleaning and guys are very helpful when it comes to construction. All these little pieces make one big puzzle.

I cannot more agree with this vision and I truly hope the gouverment changes her mind.

As for now, I keep enjoying my butterfly catching and picking tomatoes.

Up the Track

The wilderness around us slowly disappeared and more houses were showing up along the road. Places such as Humpty Doo and Palmerston passed our window. If you ever have been to Australia you probably know where I am. We found ourselves in the Northern Territory’s Top End, Darwin. A sign doomed up in the distance: 10 kilometres to go.

It had been a good 2 month from Melbourne until we had reached this part of the country. Of course, there was a quicker way which might have taken half the time we took, but that would have been less enjoyable. The easiest way to get to Darwin is via the famous Stuart Highway, also known as “The Track”. The sealed road starts in Adelaide and is 3500 km long. It leads you through the Red Centre of Australia, along cities like Coober Pedy and Alice Springs. The Track is travelled by many locals and backpackers all year round. You will not be left alone when you get a flat tyre and rest areas along the way are designed for overnight stays. Often they fill up around the hour of 3 o’clock.

It would have been indeed a faster way to get to Darwin. However, we had the luxury to kill some time before we would hit the city. And to be fairly honest, avoiding the Stuart Highway is the best you can do. Yes, The Track is one of those roads you should drive when you are in Australia. In my opinion you should do it because you can say you have done it and to visit Ayers Rock, a 460 km drive from Alice Springs. Part from that, there is nothing to do or to see, between the few roadhouses which form the only opportunity to fill up your car and your tummy with a counter meal. The landscape stays more or less the same, the whole way through. The road is straight, no turns, roundabouts, curves or double lanes. Perhaps a turn off, once in a while. No, the Stuart Highway is not the most scenic or interesting route that exists. Merely, it is just a road.

Knowing this from previous experience, we took a rough 2000 km detour via dirt roads and 4 wheel drive tracks (4WD) . After crossing the boarder with the states New South Wales and South Australia, we drove up to Innamincka via he Strzelecki Track, and several non-touristic national parks. The 4WD road is not the most scenic one, and maybe even more boring than the Stuart Highway. Nevertheless, it was an experience and a challenge to drive after a week of rainfall, like we had. The track leads to Innamincka, a small settlement close to the boarder of Queensland. It has that romantic touch of a remote cattle station with dust tornadoes created by triple trailer roadtrains, rushing by. Not to forget to mention the incredible amount of flies swirling around your head, trying to get in your eyes, ears and mounth.

From here you can crossover to the Birdsville Track via Walkers Crossing, another 600 km of four wheel driving. The Birdsville track is a popular drive, bringing you from Birdsville to a little place called Marree. You will drive along the edges of the Simpson Desert, Australia’s own Sahara.

Marree marks the end of the Birdsville track but also the beginning of a new off-road: the fascinating Oodnadatta Track, leading via Oodnadatta to Marla, follows the old Ghan railway. The rail service was originally designed to transport goods from Port Augusta in South Australia to Alice Springs, but it got shut down after sixty years because of poor maintenance, which led to financial losses and extreme delays up to three months (Australia, The Rough Guide, 1999).

Despite of the relics and desolated sidings you can find on the way, it is again, not the most spectacular drive of all. The badly corrugated 620 kms road shows you nothing else than endless bushland and dust clouds.

However, this might as well be the most scenic and special experience of the outback. Australia, after all, is a big country and distances are often underestimated by us, spoiled Europeans who demand a sort of attraction every 50 kms. In my believe, the big fat nothing is the most scenic attraction and is unique compared to the European continent. This country is not filled with ancient towns or 4 lane highways. Instead, there might be 1 main route to get to another place. In that sense, we are very spoiled with our cultural heritage. With a 3 hour drive you could be in Germany or France. A three hour drive here means you are not even half way.

And although therre is not much on the way and there not many cities, it does not mean you are alone. Australians like driving and are used to the long distances. The 3 tracks, Strzelecki-Birdsville-Ooodnadatte, are therefor the most popular dirt roads in the country and are frequently travelled by locals. It is a pain if you want to be alone but a bless if you get stuck, knowing that there will always be someone to pull you out.

In that sense, driving off the beaten track might not be so much different than the sealed main roads. But if you looking for a more adventurous way to experience the outback, than this is something you should do. No smooth sealed road, but dust and corrugation. No road trains and backpackers, but locals and 4WD enthusiasts. No busy rest ares, but a whole campsite for yourself and no one else around you. Complete remoteness. Well that is an experience.

Australia Day

We happen to be in the capital, Canberra – pronounced as Canbra – on Australia Day. It was the 26th of January, a National Holiday and celebration for the country. Australia Day is celebrated throughout the country with barbeques, drunkenness and the necessary national flag waving Many countries have their own national day, to honour their establishment and achievements in the past centuries. Or to solely to acknowledge their existence.

However, Australia Day is not cheered by everyone. The Aborigines, the original inhabitants of Australia, call it Invasion Day or Survival Day, referring to the point in history that everything changed. On 19 April, 1770, the English First Lieutenant James Cook started to map of Australia’s East Coast. And with that, he was mapping the end of the Aboriginals dominance over the country.

It was not Cooks intention to take the land from the Aborigines, rather he admired them for their self-sufficiency: “They are far more happier than we Europeans. They think themselves provided with all the necessaries of Life and that they have no superfluities.”

18 years later it became clear that things would change and the Aboriginal supremacy would end. Captain Arthur Phillip landed on Australian soil. It was January 26 1788, the “First Fleet”, consisting out of 1350 convicts and soldiers with their wives, immigrated to Australia.  In the years that followed, many convicts and free settlers arrived, filled with hopes, dreams and hungry for land and work.

It was on 1 January 1901, that Australia became officially a federation. It has been a bloody war between the settlers and the Aboriginals, where the latter have been brought almost to their extinction. The first aim of the new national parliament was to protect the European Australian identity and values, from Asian and Pacific Islanders influence. It was known as “the White Australia Policy”. It took another whopping 66 years until a national referendum gave Indigenous people the right of an Australian citizenship. And it was not until 2010 when a formal apology was made by former prime-minister Rudd to the Aborigines for the past 2 centuries of suffering and injustice.

There are many opinions when it comes to Australia Day. Some find it disrespectful towards the Indigenous people; others don’t see a problem. It is merely another reason to throw a party and socialize with the neighbours.

The Canberra Times argues that Australia Day is not a political occasion but rather “[…] a place, a nation, a people, and an idea.” (2015, 26 January, the Canberra Times, p. 2C).
It pledges that
Australia Day is about the unity of the country, with all it’s different cultures, backgrounds, histories and ideas. Nobody is the same but what all the inhabitants of Australia have in common is that they are Australians. Citizens of the country with collective hopes and aspirations. “What is being celebrated here is what we are, and have been and could be.” The cheerful celebration should not only look at the present Australia, but also at the history and its future: “It might be natural for some sense of triumph, togetherness and optimism, but it is not an occasion for abandoning truth, self-criticism or some hope that we can do better.”

My current supervisor, Nicole, partly agrees with this statement: “No, Australia Day is not about our history. I don’t believe anyone thinks that far or feels guilty about that part. We weren’t there, you know.” In her eyes, the Australian history has many black pages but that shouldn’t be something to focus on. You know, every country has a horrible story to tell, she says, “and we happen to have a very recent one. But look at the Germans, they are putting far too much attention on it!”, referring to the Second World War. Nicole explains me that she doesn’t want to be judged by something that her great-great-great-grandfather has done.

Then, she says something which I find typical Australian. Not because she’s Australian but it marks the main thought of many Australians: “It is not about the history, it is more a reason to get together, throw some meat on the grill and drink.”

Perhaps that is all what Australia Day is about: the celebration of itself as a collective nation with everyone who is there at the moment. A sort of communal mate-ship. Sharing a sizzle and a cold one at the beach. It is not about the history but rather it is about the creating a united Australia today. Easygoing and definitely with a lack of fuss.

 

Changing Economy, Talkshow with Tomáš Sedláček and Joris Luyendijk

Changing Economy, Tomáš Sedláček & Joris Luyendijk, Studium Generale & SCOOP

Tomáš Sedláček (left) and Joris Luyendijk (right) © Brian Megens

Studium Generale and Scope (study association SBE) organised a talk show about the ethics of today’s economy. They invited Tomáš Sedláček and Joris Luyendijk. Tomáš is a chief macroeconomic strategist at ČSOB Banking Group and member of the Narrative of Europe group which is commissioned by Manuel Barroso. Joris is an anthropologist, journalist for the Guardian and writer of the book ‘Dit kan niet waar zijn’ translated ‘This cannot be true’ about the banking sector in London.

Sitting from out my seat in the lecture hall I can see that Tomáš and Joris have done these kind of events more often together as they are playing with the audience and each other by making jokes and telling anecdotes. Tomáš is the leading ‘comedian’ in this way and opens with a cunning joke on the city’s self-confidence and Maastricht passed with flying colours. Another good thing to know is that according to Tomáš, “Nobody hates Europe as much as the Europeans do.”

Changing Economy, Tomáš Sedláček & Joris Luyendijk, Studium Generale & SCOOP

Changing Economy, Tomáš Sedláček & Joris Luyendijk, Studium Generale & SCOOP

After this comic introduction Tomáš gets more serious and asks us to think of the most perfect society. He comes up with where the elves in Lord of the Rings live, but even there they want to move somewhere else. Another example that he gives involves milking a cow, perfect seems to be not perfect enough. We are always looking for more, bigger, better. Another remarkable message of Tomáš: everyone assumes that Karl Marx opposed capitalism, but was he? Tomáš claims that Marx criticizes the human condition of capitalism which is the alienation of people, but not capitalism itself. Tomáš continuous with an example from Christianity the Garden of Eden, it was perfect, however, just not perfect enough. It is unimaginable to have a perfect society. In short, Tomáš message is that we did not set a goal to reach, therefore, in our drive for more, bigger and better, we do not know to stop.

Changing Economy, Tomáš Sedláček & Joris Luyendijk, Studium Generale & SCOOP

Joris Luyendijk spent two years in the heart of the financial sector London to write a book about how the real financial sector actually works. Are all bankers greedy monsters, and if so, why? He tells that people in the UK have an image of the Dutch as kind hearted but stupid. Joris played this role for the two years when he was working on his book. At the beginning he had a hard time to make bankers talk to him as there is a code of silence. However, when he offered anonymity, more and more people were willing to tell their story. His main finding is that it is not bankers themselves who are greedy monsters, it’s the system that turns them into one. Bankers are exposed to immense temptations and no loyalty from their employers as they can be fired and kicked out of the building within 5 minutes. Therefore, why be loyal to your employer? Bankers are tempted to exploit their profits in the short run although this does imply a much bigger risk for the bank in the long term. As there is no guarantee that the banker will be working for the bank at that period of time, the banker does not care.

In a nutshell, the message of both Tomáš Sedláček as Joris Lyendijk was that it’s the economic system that needs revision, not the people.

All photos © Brian Megens

Sizzling Sydney

You could almost hear the city breathing. Aah rain! It was a relief. After Christmas it hadn’t rained anymore. Now, when the first drops fell on the heated pavement, it was like water on the barbeque. Sizzling. Ssszzz
Sydney’s temperatures have been up between 25-35 degrees, week in, week out. It calls out for a day at the beach and that is exactally what most Sydneians do. The sandy shores of Manly, Bondi and Congee are overcrowed with enthusiastic surfers, bomshells and beach boys. We walked along Manly beach, zigzagging between the visitors, tourists and ice cream-eaters. Nothing special, in our opinion, but then again I’m not a true Sydneian and not a true sunbather. A beach is a beach. Sand ‘n’ sea, water ‘n’ earth, yelling children ‘n’ sand castles. Recently there was a shark spotted in the area. How exciting.

The famous ferry to Manly was everything execpt enjoyable. On a Sunday, when the public transport is only $2,5 for a full day, the whole city had the same of going to Manly. The line to the ferry terminal was incredible long but luckily the boat has a capacity of 1000 passengers. Within 15 minutes we sailed off. The Indian family next to us had at least one camera per person: ready to capture Australia’s biggest harbour with splendid views.

Our dissapointment wasn’t a surprise. It is a natural thing what occurs when you are travelling for a longer time. Being spoiled with breathtaking views, lakes, waterfalls, indigenous sites and stunning routes make everything look normal. Nothing is special anymore and comparisments with previous experiences ruin your present visit. I’ll give an example: when we were at Lake Waikaremoana, New Zealand, we said to each other: “Oh look, another big lake.” But of course, although it is beautiful, an overload of beautiful things will accostom you to it. As soon we were back in Auckland, we realized how astonishing our journey has been. Take a look at your holiday pictures, maybe you will be surprised too.

Back to Manly, Sydneys famous overcrowed beach. Why is this beach so populair? What makes this sandy shore so special? If you ask me, it looked more like a public catwalk than a recreational area. The amount of trained bodies walking around made me feel like it was Baywatch Live. Yes, it was nice to walk on the boulevard, to watch surfers cathing their waves and to enjoy the sunshine. But can’t you do that on any other ordinairy beach? Don’t get me wrong, I like beaches. Perhaps the sand in my cheese sandwich and the screaming children around me make it an unpleasant experience.

A few days after we tackled Manly Beach it started to rain. The showers were more than welcome because of the high temperatures of the last few weeks. Maybe the Sydneians wouldn’t have admitted it but 23 degrees instead of 35 is very pleasant. On the news people complained that this autumn weather isn’t summer. Perhaps they were annoyed that they couldn’t go to Manly Beach. Fair enough, there are more things you cannot do when it is raining. No sizzle on the barbie. No tanning, drippin’ ice cream, an ice cold schooner or thongs and skirts.

Personally I only see one downside of the relatively cool weather of the past days. Namely, I have hanged my laundry up to dry. But it doesn’t.

Ka Kite Āno- see you again!

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest N.P and the land is a vital part of the Māori history. If it so happens you are there and you got a day to spend, you definitely should do the Tongariro Crossing, which takes you literally through Middle Earth. The walk is 19,4 km and takes 6 to 8 hours. On the way you can do several side tracks leading to the Soda Springs or the summit of Mt Tongariro. Since my arrival in New Zealand I have walked the crossing three times and done all the side tracks except Mt Ngaruroe. And that is exactly what we were about to do.

Mt Ngauhuroe is also known as Mt Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The sleeping volcano is 2290m high and that doesn’t make the climb an easy scrawl. There is no marked path going up the 45 degrees steep slope and the loose tephra makes it even harder to climb.

During my way up, I got in contact with a local from Christchurch, Mike. I was relieved he was there because I am not an experienced climber and I was afraid that I would fall backwards or get hit by a falling rock. Luckily, non of this happened. Mike tried to keep my mind of things by talking about what I have done during my stay in New Zealand. My internship in the NZ film industry gave enough material to talk about.

One thing we discussed was the quality of Kiwi films. From my point of view, New Zealand makes either very intense movies such as Once Were Warriors (1993), Whale Rider (1992) or the screenings are about zombies: Dead Alive (1992), Black Sheep (2006) are just the beginning of a long list. Every country has its preferences such as France likes romance, America enjoys vampires and the UK can laugh about its own humour. But New Zealand has something very interesting, in my opinion. Mike agreed with me when I stated that the New Zealand film industry has one unique feature which represents the local culture namely, Māori films.

The Māori are the original inhabitants of Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand. Their roots lie in Polynesia and between 1250-1300, several groups of settlers immigrated to New Zealand and upon today, the Māori culture is present in day-to-day life. Examples are the famous tattoos and the language usage in the media, sport events and public facilities. The intimidating haka is a traditional warrior dance which is preformed before the start of the game of NZ’s favourite and most popular sport, rugby.

As for that, the Māori culture puts its stamp on the film industry.  A recent example of such a movie is The Dead Lands (2014) which is completely written and spoken in Māori. The film follows the tale of the chief’s son Hongi, who must avenge the murder of his father in order to honour the souls of his family after his tribe has been slaughtered by another tribe. Hongi has to pass through the forbidden and feared Dead Lands, wherein a mysterious Warrior lives, also known for its brutal act of killing. My friend who worked on the film told me he never had to make so much fake blood and clean weapons as he did for this film. I won’t spoil the end because it is something you should see for yourself but I can tell you it is loaded with honour and respect.

After spending almost one and a half year in New Zealand, I still find it very fascinating how the Māori and Western culture collide. The fact that a tribal culture survives in a dominant Western lifestyle seems to me unique. The adaptation and changes Māori culture has undergone are tremendous but fascinating in every single way. The ongoing effort that is being made to keep the culture alive deserves nothing more than great respect to their cultural heritage.

Furthermore, films produced and screened in Māori language should be more encouraged to bring the culture to the main public, especially outside New Zealand. It could unfold more interests and respect from the native younger generation. Overseas it could simply increase the knowledge about the Māori culture. All in all it would be great example for other situations such as the Aboriginals in Australia.

In between time, we had reached the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe. The view was breathtaking and we could see up to 200 kms. It made it so obvious why the Māori immigrated to NZ. I would have done it too, with a view like that.
Our time here is over, but I am pretty sure I will return.

Aotearoa: Haere rā– farewell, or shall I say ka kite āno – see you again?

The World According to Bill

Since October we have swapped our Nissan Homy Caravan for an apartment. It is a cheap-as place, where dust and thin, plaster walls are the only things what separates you and your neighbours. This doesn’t count for noise because that goes right through it. Happy us. This is how we got to know our neighbours a bit better. On the left there lives a couple who loves Desperate Housewives and right door´s they are very religious and are helping our his sister who has a long history of money problems.
Often I feel like living in Die Pension Grillparzer, written by the fictional character T.S. Garp in John Irving’s The World According to Garp. The pension is inhabited by odd circus performances such as a pretty good dream teller and a beer, riding a unicycle. You hear them but don’t see them. You know they are there because during the day all the showers are taken – why?! – and after eight o’clock everyone starts cooking – why?! Nothing better than the smell of curry at 11 pm, right? At night you can hear voices but when you are looking for the right door to knock on to ask if they can shut up, they stop.

On the ground floor Bill is the manager. Whenever Bill disagrees with the daily life in the kitchen, second bathroom or washing room, he will do something about it. Once in a while, Bill likes to lock the bathrooms downstairs. Every time he hears too much noise, he assumes ´they are having a party´ and shuts down the toilets. He is also the one he turns of the gas and cleans the kitchen. If the washing machine or dryer doesn’t work, you can ask Bill to come and help you. He will show up with a hammer and makes sure it will take your coins.

The sad thing about Bill is that he looks like he has never had a fun day in his whole life. Lines in his face show that he is definitely older than sixty and his voice reminds me of Miley Cyrus. His white hair goes where gravity doesn’t and that hints that he has been Santa Claus in his previous life.

Bill kills his days by sitting outside on his Yellow Pages, sipping coffee from a beer glass and reading a copy of The Listener, a `good English book´, as he says. The latter is not really book, it is the sort of TV Guide which writes about a possible zombie apocalypse in Auckland, including an A-Z survival guide. His favourite show, he told me, is Dr. Oz who gives `great advice!` I had to try Miso Soup. “You know what Miso soup is? You can get it at Countdown, it is a soup with seaweed. It is very healthy, one of the healthiest food in the world Dr. Oz said.”

Bill’s weak spot it Tassie – Tasmania. Just like most Kiwi’s, he has lived in Australia for over six years. Now he is retired he wants to move back and settle down but first he wants to clean the aquarium because you can hardly see the fish any more. Bill has never been anywhere else than Australia and New Zealand, so Europe is exotic. My worn-out hoodie which says “PARIS, 69!” from the local Op-Shop was “a fancy t-shirt!” and my cookies are “yummie! Mum’s recipe?”

I like Bill, till a certain point. When you are in a hurry, it is not a good thing to run into Bill: whenever he starts talking, he will not stop talking. On the other hand, Bill keeps the fishes alive, saves you from wearing your swimsuit when you ran out of underwear when the washing machine gave up on you. I really do hope Dr. Oz is right about that Miso Soup and that it keeps Bill alive and healthy.

The Wedding

The city Bandung is called Kota Kembang [The City of Flowers]. After the smog and durian smell of Jakarta, I was thrilled to see it. Unfortunately, Bandung was not much better than Jakarta. Traffic jam is a national  problem and so does Bandung too, suffers from the ongoing – or not going – stream of cars. Its nickname did not apply at all to the city, rather you could call it Jakarta 2.0.

For me, Bandung was bizarre. I couldn’t find a city center, the way, a structure or anything worth visiting or anything at all. And still, I spent almost a full week there. My host Dewi told me straight away when I arrived, that I couldn’t go out on my own and if I wanted to go somewhere, she would come with me. It was standard that you would be home before 11 PM. The evening clock, starting at 12, prevented youngsters and teenagers to go out to clubs and bars. Also, it should lower the high criminality rate. Murder and raping were extremely common.  I was shocked. Was it that bad here? Dewi nodded. Yes, last week her bag was stolen from her dads car. The window was ruined but that didn’t matter, as long her dad was still alive. I asked what she meant and Dewi explained: Robbers don’t want any eyewitnesses so if you, by accident, see something, they would probably stab you. I didn’t want to believe it.  On the other hand, it did explain all the gates in front of the houses here.

One of the reasons why I stayed in Bandang, was because I got invited for an Indonesian wedding. This changed my travel plans a bit but that was alright: I only had a rough idea where I wanted to go so I was very flexible.
I would attend the wedding with two other German girls, Lea and Sarah. We were a bit afraid of the need of wearing a nice dress and high heels. As backpackers we only had our harem trousers and loose H&M t-shirts.

Non of this is relevant to a simple Indonesian wedding, according to Dudung, Dewi’s farther. And no, nobody will throw with rice! Although there’s more than enough amounts of rice in this country, it’s not something they would do. They rather eat it after the ceremony. I had already noticed how utterly creative Indonesians were with their national dish, nasi. There was red, white, brown, black, (non-)sticky, yellow rice. Cooked in banana leaves, 20 different sorts of oil, spices, (coconut)milk. Sweet or savoury, whatever you wish. One day I helped with the rice harvest and upon today I still find some grains in my backpack. But that is another story.

Dudung kept on stressing that it would be a simple Indonesian wedding. Me who never attended a wedding in her life, still expected a RTL scene. On the contrary, this was everything execpt what I thought it would be. Dewi’s uncle got married for the second time  – up to four times is accepted – and this time it would take place at the house of the bride. When we arrived, we had to take our shoes of and sit on the ground of the living room. Many people around us were playing with their smartphones and seemed barely interested in what the imam had to say. Not that we could understand anything about what he was saying, but playing with your phone? Some family members weren’t troubled turning the noise down.

Another thing which I never got used to during my stay on Java, was the incredible amount of attention we got from family members. Their focus was not on the newlyweds, but on us. We had to pose, smile, shake hands. When the wedding treasure was handed over to the family we had to be in the picture. They stopped the ceremony so there could be pictures taken of us with the couple. Guests asked us if we were single and if we would like to meet their sons. Left-overs of the buffet went to us and  in the end they thanked us more than a gazillion times.

And all this within 2 hours.

The drive to and from the wedding took even longer. Because of the traffic jam.

White Legs.

It was a pleasant half an hour rock-jumping to get to the waterfalls. They were called “Kedung Malem ” which means something in the context of “The heart of an [fallen] angel.” The green canyon wherein the waterfalls were situated blocked most of the daylight which lowered the temperature to 20 degrees. A relief, if you compare it to the 35 degrees in the sun. To get to the waterfalls from Madiun, East Java, you need to have a damn good car which can deal with all the ups and downs. Or you need to be in the lucky possession of a motorbike. In both cases you need to have good GPS System. In my case, my host’s friends Patmo and Bernardi new the way and cruised me around on their motorbikes. It was an hour drive through the mountains and I enjoyed every single second of that ride. The air was cool, the landscape was changing: from city to sawa’s, from dried out forests to woodland  giants so high, you couldn’t see the top anymore.

Patmo and Bernadi went for a swim. Being in the country now for 2,5 weeks, I learned that swimming did not happen in bikini’s or trunks. People kept their clothes on (jeans, headscarves, shirts…) if they went for a dip. As a local explained before, Javanese find it “too naked”and “rude” to walk around in swimming gear. “It’s like walking in shorts; you just don’t do it.”
So instead of taking a refreshing dip, I installed myself on a big and comfortable rock. It was truly a pleasure looking at the guys, seeing them having fun.

Patmo came up to me. His English was broken but understandable. “Marie, you know how clean yourself with stone?”, he asked me. I shacked my head. He grabbed a flat stone out of the stream and started to scrub is legs, while continuing poring water on them. I repeated it him and soon little black and brownish streams flowed down my shins and calves. Patmo pointed to my legs: “So white!” he said surprised. I smiled and putted my leg next to his to compare. You couldn’t imagine a bigger contrasts. We started laughing. I was so white compared to his leg that I was almost glowing. “You’re as white as an angel”, Bernardi said when he saw my legs. “You’re the falling angel of the waterfall!”

Thinking back of it, it was actually an unique experience. I’ve never felt white and I don’t care what kind of skin colour others have. But I remember a phone call of my American friend in Christchurch, just before I left. He said: “Oh man, Marie, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to see the advantage of being a white, European girl.” I remembered I laughed about that and replied: “Oh well, we’ll see.”

My friend was right. Being a white girl had its advantages. First of all, everyone wanted to help you and looked at you with some kind of admiration I cannot describe. Second, people were extremely friendly, invited you over for dinner, lunch, to meet their family, school classes, friends. Everywhere you visited, water was given, food was served even though you hadn’t asked for it. But this also had a huge downside. It meant I couldn’t set one single step alone. Soon I understood why celebrities have bodyguards, disguises or rent complete restaurants so they can have a quiet lunch. Your freedom is completely gone. In Bandung, my and another Dutch couchsurfer, weren’t allowed to go out on the street on our own. There had to be someone with us, at all times. In Jakarta, it took me and two other German backpackers, half an hour to leave the Kota Square because people kept on coming up to us, asking for pictures and video’s. In Madiun, the Peacock Center I visited, uses now a car pick up guests because they had find it “unappropriated” that I came by motorbike. On our way to the waterfalls, a pregnant woman asked me to touch her belly, in the hope her child would turn out to be white as well.

With many other travelers and hosts I talked about these events because most of them hadn’t expect that much of attention. We came to two conclusions. First, you’ve a celebrity status because most people see white people on TV, making the link White = Famous. Second, Java is not that touristic as Bali. As Javanese don’t see that many white people in real life, it makes you more special.
Looking back on everything, I can laugh about it, while being in the situation, I remember I got very annoyed. In the end I was sick of being a showpiece for someone’s family. On the other hand, place yourself in their position, wouldn’t you have done the same?
At the waterfalls of Kedung Malem it was like everything washed away. Patmo and Bernardi were just Patmo and Bernardi, not two Javanese. And I was just Marie, a couchsurfer from Holland, with very white legs.