Today we are writing to you from POLAND!!!!!!!!! We have made it the whole 25,000km from Wendy’s Melbourne, Australia, to where we sit now in lounge room of Jurek’s mother in Katowice, Poland, without taking a single flight! Around 15,000km of the way, we hitch-hiked. Project Drop the tension was cooked up while hitch-hiking east coast Australia – why don’t we keep going to Poland? we thought. We wanted to travel to get ideas and inspiration from different cultures for ways to live our own lives and decided that might be interesting for other people too. Wanting to travel consciously, our idea was broadly to explore cultures of sharing along our flight-less way: to meet people from a range of diverse backgrounds taking local action for more a human-friendly world. 1 year, 2 months and 10 days later, we’ve made it! We have officially completed our conscious overland journey crossing halfway round the globe, visiting 15 different nations. WOW!
It’s surreal for us to be here and have our clothes folded away in drawers (!); we imagine it will take some time to adjust back into living life in one place. No doubt we will have many more ideas, reflections and perhaps conclusions to share with you in the coming weeks and months as we fully churn all the experiences that have gotten us to where we are now. But for now, we wanted to mark the achievement by looking at some of the huge contrasts we’ve had along our way:
We have stood at the top of the world at 3900m above sea level on the Tibetan plateau and dived to 20m below sea level on a single breath, freediving in Thailand. We have used boats to connect us to the next island 8 times, including hitch-hiking a sea passage out of Australia to East Timor, and have also been to the point on earth furthest from any sea near Urumqi, China. We have gone up muddy roads sideways to avoid getting bogged in Laos’ rainy season, and gone through mountains in tunnels on the perfect highways of Yunnan in China. We have ridden in trains we didn’t want to get off in Russia and ridden in road-trains in Australia. We have gotten lost in the eucalyptus bush of Australia and again in pine forests of Siberia’s Altai mountains. We have been in the naturally treeless landscapes of Tibet. We have sweated on the outback highways of arid central Australia and much more in the lush tropical jungles of Sumbawa, Indonesia. We have been caught out wearing sandals in the snow in Mongolia in August and been much better prepared to break the ice forming on the river in Belarus in October. We have stayed in villages made of bamboo and we have stayed in modern cities like Singapore. We have passed though one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world: Mongolia, and crossed the most populated island in the world: Java.
We have volunteered and learnt from people on permaculture farm projects in Australia’s ‘rainbow region’, in Thailand’s Mindful Farm and in an-almost-abandoned Belarusian village. We have stayed with Aboriginals in the communities of Woorabinda and Palm Island where for generations the Australian government has been repressing traditional culture, and we stayed with nomadic Tibetans trying to hold on to their traditional ways of life against the Chinese government. We have met activists fighting for their rights in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod and farmers doing the same in Indonesia’s eastern Adonara and Bajawa. We have met people who created social-enterprises to make change in their communities in Sydney Australia, Dili Timor-Leste, Houy Xai Laos and Saint Petersburg Russia. We stayed in open-houses, where anyone can stay on a pay-as-you-feel bases in Lombok, Jogjakarta and Moscow. We have given presentations in schools in Ende on Indonesia’s Flores Island, Hong Xing on the Tibetan plateau, and in Chastiye in Russia’s Ural Mountains. We have met a baby on its first day of life in a hospital in Dili and we learnt that our friend Dahlia died whilst she was travelling in Nepal. We saw our friend’s traditional healer in Java, we met the healing power of Sun&Sun in Bangkok, we tasted the healing properties of Russian herbal remedies.We joined a rainbow gathering (where people give up technology for a month and come to live together in nature) in Australia and we were welcomed to a traditional Indonesian village on Flores that doesn’t yet have electricity. We have laughed with friends over cups of salty milk-tea in Mongolia, coffee with sweet and condensed milk in Timor and lattes with perfect rosettas in Warsaw (Sydney, Jogjakarta, Ko Phangan, Kunming, St Petersburg and many more).
So, yeah… We’ll be making sense of all of this for quite some time, we imagine!
Conclusions, as for now:
- The world, as we saw it, is a safe place: Despite what your televisions tell you each night on the news, we’ve felt incredibly safe along our way. Perhaps we’ve been lucky, but we were never robbed, mugged, held hostage or threatened. We didn’t meet a terrorist. But we did make lots of friends and experience incredible kindness and help from strangers. This trip has restored our belief that the majority of people are good – just like you!
- Happiness is not correlated with money: We met happy people in all of the 15 nations we visited along our way. The happiest people were those living closely with nature and sharing their lives with other people. It didn’t matter about the assets they had (or didn’t have.)
- Generosity is everywhere: We saw pay-as-you-feel systems running successfully in a range of different settings. No matter what country we were in, we were totally humbled by the generosity people showed us. Lifts, places to sleep, food, gifts. Often it was the people who had the least that gave us the most. Thank you to everyone who helped us along the way, we would not be here without you.
- People are the same everywhere: You meet good people, troubled people, jokers and arseholes everywhere. We all have the same needs, desires, dreams. This travel has shown us that culture is but the thinnest, outermost layer of our humanity or individuality. We believe that now, more than ever, is the time to promote this cross-cultural understanding that our differences do not make us so different.
- Traditional cultures are tied to the nature they developed in: For someone who studied biology, but is now drawn to anthropology, the somewhat obvious realisation that the landscape and nature itself shapes human culture is really exciting. We met cultures that take their food, shelter, musical instruments, medicines, divinity from their local surroundings. For most of us, living in cities, we live in environments that humans have created to overcome the annoying trivialities of nature: rain, heat, cold, wild animals… But with the climate going crazy and earthquakes, forest fires, tsunamis’ reminding us that we have not and cannot conquer over the forces of nature, these traditional cultures have a lot to teach the modern world.
Other thoughts, to be revisited later:
- Responsible travel: More people than ever before can afford to travel. This is fantastic as there is no better way to understand the world and gain the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But few of us ever get taught how to travel responsibly. Especially in south east Asia, we were struck by both the positive and negatives of the tourist industry can have on local communities. Stay tuned for upcoming articles on this topic that we feel passionately about.
- Clash between the global village and indigenous communities: We have seen with our own eyes places where advertisements and money-oriented culture have arrive in indigenous communities before there is proper education to deal with these commodities. Entering the ‘global village’ without proper education is destroying the traditional life in many indigenous communities.
- Unhealthy food is everywhere: We’re not just talking about roadhouse food. In every country on our way we found that sugar, unhealthy fats and generally highly processed foods are basis of normal everyday diet for many people around the globe. We think nutrition education is something a lot of places in the world could benefit from – including Australia!
- Human rights are being reduced: Around the world people not only still need to fight for their human rights, but in many countries they are being cut down, often without our knowing. This doesn’t concern only places like Laos or Russia, but also developed western countries like Australia and members of the EU. Crossing borders is becoming increasingly difficult if you’re not going by organised tour. By plane.
We’ve made it. But keep watching!
The physical journey might be over (for now!), but the abstract ones will continue. We have lots of ideas for upcoming articles and think that writing while ‘staying put’ should be a hell of a lot easier than writing on the move…while balancing exploring a new place…and spending time with your host…and having a poor internet connection…. Coming soon to DTT:
- Filling in the blanks of the journey: We are actually yet to tell you about some of the most important (and therefore hardest to write about) places we’ve visited along our way. To list just a few, soon you’ll read about our experiences on the Aboriginal community of Palm Island, 3 days in the tradition Indonesian village of Gapong (yet to receive electricity), our night in the tent of a nomadic Tibetan family, joining a Mongolia nadaam festival and meeting punks in Russia struggling to help citizens against brutality in the police.
- Practical guides for travellers: DTT’s DIY guides for legs on our route. Including, Russian visas and the Trans-Siberian railway, Indonesian visa extensions and hitch-hiking in the outback survival guide.
- Promotion about conscious travel: Let’s talk about the relationship between the tourism industry and the local communities.
- And more in depth conclusions to come!