In this week’s ¨Who’s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you Michael, solo Aussie traveler on his break. In part because of his last name, but also because of his preferred travel style his blog has the clever name Time Travel Turtle. Slow and off the beaten path for the most part, I first started discovering Michael’s posts on some remote places I had been in South America, which made them stand out in my mind. I finally met Michael in Italy in April and would be happy to travel around with him. But, as a self-described ¨garbage truck collecting trash¨ snorer at night, I would be seeking out the hostel’s private room.
1. So, where in the world are you answering these questions?
I’m in Luxembourg at the moment, in the middle of a mission to walk across the whole country. You can tell I don’t like my missions to be too hard – Luxembourg is not that big. But it’s still going to end up being a six day hike that will cover about 130 kilometres, so that should be a nice little achievement.
2. So let’s get right to it: Eating animal penis in China. Walk me through the process of deciding that this is something you have to try once in your life.
Ha ha. I’d heard about this restaurant in Beijing that served only penis and I thought it sounded like something that had to be seen (and tasted) to be believed. I’m a fairly adventurous guy when it comes to weird things like that and, at the very least, I thought it would make a good story. I had a couple of friends in the city who were happy to come along so we gave each other enough moral support to actually go. It was pretty revolting, for the record.
3. I really enjoyed reading about your time in North Korea, especially your color commentary about what you were seeing and being shown. Is it possible to have a connection with the country or the people given how much the tour is controlled?
The short answer is no. The long answer is nooooooo. Everything is really tightly controlled – in Pyongyang, foreigners are only allowed to stay in a hotel on an island so they can restrict your movements, for example. There are quite a few opportunities to be around locals, though, so you may not get a chance to have in-depth conversations (not that they speak English) but can see a slice of their lives. Overall, you learn as much from the efforts of the guides to control what you see as you do from the sites you’re allowed to go to. Driving through rural areas you can see the simple houses people live in, when you stop in the countryside you can hear propaganda messages blaring on loudspeakers, and when you’re in the city at night you can see how little electricity is being used.
4. You’ve had some unique experiences like crashing funerals in Chile, obviously your animal penis meal, and getting caught in the matrix in Poland. Do you seek out quirk or does it come naturally to your quirky self?
Probably a mixture of both. I’m definitely always on the lookout for experiences and places that are off the usual tourist paths – but there are a lot of things you just can’t plan. I think if you’re open to different experiences and are prepared to take the time to go a bit deeper into a location, these things happen naturally. You’ve then got to be prepared to make the most of them!
5. You have a fascination with UNESCO Heritage sites. Has there been one that you’ve visited that disappointed or, if not, was completely different than you expected?
There haven’t been any that have been disappointing so far but I must admit I got a bit bored of the Italian ones. Sure, there’s a lot of history in that country but by the time you’ve seen a dozen old cities with old churches, you wonder whether Italy really deserves to have the most World Heritage Sites of any country. The one that was the most surprising was in Chile. It’s a small places called the Sewell Mining Town that is in the middle of nowhere in the Andes and you have to access on an authorised tour that only runs a few times a week. I didn’t really know what to expect so I was blown away when I discovered this abandoned town with colourful buildings, a theatre, and a maze of staircases – all set against the striking background of the mountains.
6. Career break, nomadic adventure, backpacking, how do you characterize your trips?
If I said ‘career break’, I might seem too optimistic that I have a career to go back to. ‘Nomadic adventure’ is probably the best way to put it. I left Australia about 13 months ago and have no plans to settle down anywhere in the foreseeable future. The world is changing at such a rate, though, that there’s no reason why an endless global journey can’t become a career if things pan out well.
7. What are some of the secrets to travel that you’ve discovered that you think more people who aren’t traveling should know?
I think the biggest misconception people have is that there’s an ‘us versus them’ mentality out in the world. You hear people say ‘oh, the <insert race> are going to try to rip you off’ or ‘you’ll never get anything done because the <insert another race> are too lazy to help’. Ultimately people are nice and there will always be someone to help you if you’re lost, bored or hungry. If you travel the world for long enough you’ll discover the goodness in humanity and realise that no culture has a monopoly on generosity.
8. What was your first ¨We’re not in Kansas anymore¨ moment on this trip?
The first time I really felt out of my depth on this trip was when I went into Paraguay on my own. It’s a country that doesn’t really have any decent guidebooks written about it, has no tourist trail, no easy places to stay, and no English. I would go days without having a conversation in English, without knowing if I was on the right bus (or where I should get off), and without seeing another foreigner. But it was one of the best experiences of my time in South America because the challenge made the trip much more worthwhile.
9. What’s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?
Probably the time I spent in Buenos Aires when I was trying to learn Spanish (I say ‘trying’ because all I could do after three weeks was buy a beer and a bus ticket. And even then I’m sure I once asked for a beer to Mendoza). During the stay I was living in university accommodation with a bunch of Argentinian students. They knew that city inside out and we spent a lot of time in cafes, bars, nooks and crannies that I would never have found otherwise.
10. What has been your most embarrassing moment?
Well, if you don’t include every time I tried to speak Spanish in South America, the most embarrassing moment was probably in the US. I was hanging with some Aussie friends and some Americans we’d met and were having a couple of pretty wild days and nights (it was Halloween and the city knows how to party!). To cut a long story short, I woke up one morning and walked out to the hostel common room where my friends all started laughing at me. It turns out I’d thought it would be a good idea to get a tattoo on my face! Thankfully the woman in the tattoo parlour had been sensible enough to make it a fake one. Thankfully!
11. What’s your secret for getting the most out of your journey?
Being flexible and not having any boundaries. I never book my onward transport until the last moment so I can change my mind if something better comes along. I always say yes to offers of something different (ok, not always, but y’know what I mean). And I always try to find the pleasure in any situation.
12. Finally, our lightening round. (Just a quick short answer for each please)
- Best dish you’ve found so far: Argentinian steak. I don’t know what they do to those cows, but yum!
- Most exotic food eaten: I think we’ve already covered this one
- Most breathtaking moment: Standing at Iguaza Falls on the Brazilian and Argentinian border
- Biggest disappointment: Rio de Janeiro. But it did rain for pretty much the whole week I was there
- Most memorable place: North Korea
- Most memorable person: The oldest backpacker in the world, John Waite, who was 89 years old and had been travelling with two changes of clothes for 30 years
- Best thing to have on a long bus ride: War and Peace
- Worst thing to have on a long bus ride: The runs
- Best thing you packed: My hoodie. It keeps me dry, keeps me warm, and keeps me comfortable. You can dress it up or dress it down. The perfect bit of clothing.
- Dumbest thing you packed: All my other sweaters!
- Funniest travel habit you have: I like to walk a lot so when everyone else will get a bus or a taxi, I’ll walk.
- Place you wish you could’ve stayed longer: Chile – it has been one of my favourite countries and a real surprise.
Every week, Career Break Secrets profiles a different traveler or traveling couple who are embracing the ¨Because Life Is Out There TM¨ travel spirit. These are people who have taken the plunge to embark on a career break and are currently traveling the world.
Tags: Who´s Out There Now