Dodgeville Chronicle & Boscobel Dial Article

From the January 19, 2006 Dodgeville Chronicle
& January 24, 2006 Boscobel Dial

Written by by Jean Berns Jones
Titled "Travel was frugal but memories are still sweet"

After touring a sizable chunk of the globe for 14 months on a pittance of what travelers normally spend, Brock Waterman could write his own budget travel book.

"I wanted to go traveling so I researched the cheapest ways to do things," said Brock (27), who is from Boscobel.

In fall of 2004 he quit his computer programmer job at Lands' End to back-pack around Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, Thailand (Note: Japan too). The challenges and hardships this type of travel entails did not deter Brock, since he has always lived a thrifty lifestyle.

"I'm a person who doesn't spend much money," he explained. "I don't use credit cards or buy things I don't need. You can save a lot of money if you don't pay interest for things."

After high school, which he completed in three years, Brock went to Southwest Wisconsin Technical College and then got a job in 1998 at Lands' End. During the six years he worked there, he first rented and then owned a home in Dodgeville.

He developed relationships with people in Dodgeville, particularly through the sport of basketball which he picked up after college. He still feels ties to Dodgeville and comes to town every week to shoot hoops with a group of friends.

Brock enjoyed his work at Lands' End but, in 2004, he realized he felt too young to be settled down. At 25, he decided to take advantage of the youth fares he could still benefit from on airlines.

"I always had a dream of going to Australia to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, and to swim with dolphins," he said. In preparation for this, he became certified to dive.

"I talked to people who traveled backpacking and realized it could be done." he said. "Until then, I hardly knew what a hostel was."

A few months later, Brock had sold his house, his motorcycle, and whittled his material belongings into what would fit on his back.

After booking the cheapest possible flights on September 23, 2004 he landed in Nadi, Fiji. Within hours he met a group of young men and women from France, Italy, Sweden, the UK and Canada and he joined them in exploring the islands.

"I also met Americans from California, Texas and all over the place," he said. "Backpackers are very friendly and open people to get to know."

Brock flew to New Caledonia but his stay there was reduced from over two weeks to only four days. The island, a French colony, is beautiful but the people were not friendly to tourists. Perceiving this, he and others staying in the hostel moved their flights up to leave earlier than planned.

So Brock returned to Fiji and ended up spending five weeks experiencing the mainland and groups of beautiful outlying islands. Fiji was his favorite place on the trip, due to his cultural experiences and the beautiful coral reefs for diving.

One cultural drawback is that Fijian salesmen can be aggressive and intimidating in their tactics, which Brock learned when he let a street merchant lead him into a backstreet room. Three men closed the front door and three closed the back door.

Three others offered Brock kava, the traditional drink made from roots, and expensive merchandise was shown. When Brock purchased only an $8 necklace the merchant was not happy, but allowed him to leave.

One day Brock hopped on a local bus and rode it out to Wailotua, a remote village of about 50 people. A friend of his was living in the village so Brock thought it would be okay to just show up, a decision he now realizes was culturally questionable.

The Wailotua villagers were shocked to have an American arrive unannounced. Despite his lack of decorum, Brock was welcomed by the chief with a kava ceremony and invited to stay overnight in the man's home. The chief and his wife owned the only flushing toilet in the village.

"As soon as I got off the bus, little kids grabbed my hands and walked around with me," Brock said. "The people are very affectionate and they have no concept of personal space, which takes some getting used to."

On the bus, Brock entertained the other passengers by taking digital photographs of them. Some had never seen their own image before.

The bus ride was hair-raising. The mountain road had collapsed and a caterpillar was traveling in front of the bus, carving a precarious dirt track for it in the side of a steep cliff.

"No other place I went was as relaxed as Fiji," he said. "It was amazing to come from a place where everything is so hectic and be able to lay on a beach or in a hammock or snorkel and just relax..."

Very soon, Brock learned about "`Fijian Time." "This basically means that something will get done whenever the Fijian you're dealing with feels like doing it," he explained.

People who live in the islands' beach culture simply refuse to be rushed or to be driven by the clock.

"They don't see any reason to hurry," Brock said. "I actually don't think they are aware of what stress is. By our standards they don't have anything materially, but they seem very content and happy."

The hostel on the mainland slept 18-20 people on bunks in a dormitory style room for about $5 per night. Hostels on the outlying islands cost $12-$24 per night and the largest one he stayed at housed about 240 beds.

"You get used to doing without a lot of conveniences," Brock said. "When you're a backpacker in Fiji, cold showers are a way of life."

From Fiji, Brock flew to Auckland, New Zealand. During his two months in that country he had his most exciting experience -- sky-diving at Lake Taupo.

He also packed in other New Zealand activities including bungy jumping from the Auckland Harbor Bridge, a Milford Sound Cruise, a walk on the Franz Josef Glacier, luge rides, sand boarding, Rotorua wall climbing, a mountain trek and bike ride, Punakaiki Caverns, and night life with friends.

Next came Sydney, Australia; Denpasar, Bali; and Bangkok, Thailand. Wherever Brock went, he tried to live cheaply and make his own food whenever possible. Street vendors' stands provided many meals.

"I would go where the locals were eating," he said. "In Thailand you can eat at night markets for 50 cents rather than paying $4 in a restaurant. I tried to save my money for things I really wanted to do -- like sky-diving."

"I really worked hard at getting the cheaper things," he said. "I was always working on cheap transportation, getting in with people on rented cars and sharing gas."

In Australia (Note: I did spend 6 months in Australia, but Thailand is where I road the third class trains & buses, Australia does not have those):, where he spent six months, Brock traveled on third class trains and busses. Then he and a German friend got a deal on buying a 1984 Holden Jackaroo truck.

In it, the two of them and a female Japanese friend covered about 15,000 miles of Australia's sprawling expanse (Note: I traveled first with Adrian from Germany, then Sayoko from Japan, not both at the same time). They drove through the Outback and even harsher regions, like The Kimberly, cooking over a propane stove from coolers of groceries carried in the back of the truck.

The punishment of crashing through streams and over rocky roads took a toll on the truck. When they sold it, two blown tires were replaced and balding, it had a cracked windshield, a bent kangaroo guard from hitting a kangaroo, was leaking oil, and had to be kept running due to a battery/ alternator problem.

Brock's parents, Bill and Sheri Waterman, came to visit him in Australia for their 40th anniversary last February. Together they saw the famous sights of Sydney.

Everywhere he traveled, people were interested to talk to him, Brock said. As soon as they learned he was American, people invariably asked him about his political views.

"I don't think I talked to anyone over ten minutes where this topic was not brought up," he said. "Everyone knows the U.S. is the world's premier super power and they know what we do influences everyone. The people I met know so much about America but we know very little about their cultures."

"The hostility I encountered from being American was mainly because of the war in Iraq and the fact that we re-elected our president," he added.

Brock returned home last November on a flight from Bangkok to New York that took 17 hours.

He is now living with his parents and brother, Thad, and running his own computer business. Titled GeNext Software (Note: www.genextsoftware.com), it offers web hosting, site design, Internet consulting and venture capitalism.

I've learned so much from traveling, I wouldn't know where to start explaining it," Brock said. "Mainly it makes you hear other sides of issues and look at things in different ways. It broadens you."

"People have misconceptions about people from other cultures," he added. "An example is that they have the idea, and I did too, that Australia is really desolate with kangaroos hopping all over the place. But it's so totally not."


Dodgeville Chronicle & Boscobel Dial Picture #1 - Brock Waterman is shown with the basic provisions that accompanied him during 14 months of travel.


Chronicle Picture #2 - Mae Klang Waterfall in Thailand was one of countless spectacular sights Brock enjoyed in the countries he visited. Thousands of other photos of his travels can be seen on his website: www.genextsoftware.com/travel


Chronicle Picture #3 - Bill and Sheri Waterman pose with the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind them while visiting their son, Brock, in Australia.


Chronicle Picture #4 - Fijian children on a local bus have fun while Brock takes digital photos of them en route to a remote village, where many of the people had never before seen their own images.


Boscobel Dial Picture #2 - DANCERS PERFORM A FIREWALKER CEREMONY on Robinson Crusoe Island in Fiji


Boscobel Dial Picture #3 - BROCK WATERMAN with two European friends on the beach in Fiji. For thousands of additional photos of Brock's South Pacific adventure go to his website: www.brockwaterman.com