November 2012 marked my fifth travel anniversary! To celebrate, I’m writing about the highlights of each year. Want to follow along? Start here.
It wasn’t easy being an American traveler under the Bush regime. While the economy was collapsing and the search for weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East was unrelenting, I was on the other side of the world being made to respond for the decisions of my government.
At a swanky bar in downtown Sydney, I was blamed personally for the global financial crisis. In Melbourne, I was greeted with, “American? I don’t like Americans,” by another.
And then there was the woman I found on an organic farm in Hunter Valley. I was curious to see what it would be like to live off the land and work on a farm, so I exchanged hard labor for free organic food and accommodation.
Work consisted of weeding the field for hours during the day with another volunteer, and the accommodation was a poorly insulated, dirty-ish trailer next to a couple of cows that I was slightly afraid of.
And then there was the poop. The matriarch practiced agnihotra, also known as the art of burning poop while sitting in a wooden teepee. I’m not sure what the direct translation is, but that’s my understanding of it. We were invited to wake up before the sun, head to the teepee, and chant/meditate while she lit cow crap on fire.
One night over dinner she regaled us with the story of the day she put some of the magical poop in water and drank it to cure a stomach ache. She swore by its effectiveness.
I tried to keep an open mind. I sat in the poop-burning hut a couple times, but passed on the excrement elixir.
Despite my efforts to go with the flow, the woman of the farm secretly held my nationality against me. At first. Then it became not so secret. I remember sitting around the dinner table one day while she ranted about McDonald’s and other American creations that were ruining the world.
As if I regularly eat at McDonald’s? The only time I ever got fast food growing up is when my grandma babysat my sister and I.
Fortunately, these were the strange exceptions rather than the rules. Most Australians I met were as friendly as they are depicted on TV.
After several months in Melbourne, lounging in hip cafes and themed bars and the small beach in St Kilda, I began to get restless – again.
Except this time, I wanted to go somewhere harder. New Zealand and Australia are about as cushy as a traveler can get. I was ready to see what I was made of.