As I grabbed myself in the middle of a pitch-dark forest with nothing but a cosmic diffusion of blackness spread all around and looked above, the sky glittered at a distance. It felt like a fairy tale with a million stars twinkling in my eyes. I couldn’t recall when I last saw something as beautiful and surreal.
They say that the Southern Hemisphere holds all the good stuff, with most of the largest and brightest galaxies visible directly through the naked eye. I couldn’t agree more. Here the central parts of the Milky Way are always directly over your head, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other, like an open, brilliant bruise.
As the night grew darker, and any sort of artificial light disappeared, the many diffused nebulas and a hazy Milky Way took over reality, giving an unbelievably strong bright light, casting dramatic shadows of anything and everything that stood tall on the ground.
At about a 3-hour drive, in the east of Perth, The Space Place Observatory (the place I was volunteering at) offered people around Perth a quick escape and an ideal way to explore and learn more about the universe.
The business was run by a middle-aged couple Hans and Bella, who were, themselves, fascinated by the idea of stargazing, hence decided to pursue their passion by running a family business around it. Owning a few high-range telescopes and giving people a flabbergasting experience of their lifetime, it felt, at least to me, like a wonderful retirement plan.
I remember the first time I looked through the telescope, as they pointed towards Saturn, it was an experience of a different kind. So far in this lifetime, I grew up hearing and reading that name, but now I was actually looking at it. Never did I feel so real and insignificant at the same time.
And the fact that some of the galaxies, that I later saw, were a few billion light-years away, (meaning that the light that made me see them was) belonging to a time when dinosaurs were still alive on earth, was totally overwhelming!
The first “wow” moment of my stargazing adventure, however, took place before I had even looked through a telescope. Staring up at the cloudy night sky one cold August evening when winter hits the southern hemisphere with all its might, I spotted a bright pinprick of light to the southwest. “Which star is that?” I asked Bella, who was too consumed repeating “gorgeous” over and over again. A few moments later, she replied, “Rigel, one of the few brightest starts up there,” sounding a little irked as if I’d almost disturbed her from a meditative state.
I happened to stay with Hans and Bella for nearly a week, as a volunteer, helping them in the garden, managing guests during the nights of stargazing events, and a bit of help here and there, including feeding and looking after their bunch of cute Alpacas.
I had a one-bedroom caravan to myself, parked in an open field, with nothing but a few acres of garden surrounding me from one side, and a stable with four cute Alpacas inside, on the other. Right above, was the beckoning infinite space that sparkled almost every night, during the time I stayed there.
I think volunteering is a wonderful way to travel and learn more about the world we live in, as it allows you to absorb a place more closely and relatively than you otherwise can. And because of the fact that you’re volunteering for someone, they are always more eager to share ideas, their learning, and expertise with open arms — forget about all money it saves for you.
[Also Read: How To Travel World Without Money]
During my one-week stay with Hans and Bella, I visited the nearby towns with them every time they went shopping, visited the community fire department station (because they’re volunteering there) and met almost all the guests that visited them in the house. The learning was unlimited, and the memories were long-lasting.
In just one week, I learned more about outer space and the planets that surround us, than the entire life put together. Though I think I still know (almost) nothing about it because there’s so much to learn — almost like my two weeks of volunteering experience in Germany, where even a daily riding lesson felt like nothing in the end.
But just like many other experiences, that came my way as I continue travelling footloose and free, while following the idea of slow travel, this one-week of stay with Hans and Bella, in their lovely property, with all the unique experiences we shared together, is going to stay in my happy memories, almost forever!
Want To Have A Similar Experience?
If you’re a budget traveler, or love exploring places like the back of your hand, I suggest you try volunteering. Volunteering as an au-pair is a great way to explore a culture and understand the local community better.
I have been volunteering for some time now, and have tried websites like WorldPackers and Workaway to find such volunteering options across Europe and Australia (well, they’ve volunteering options in every continent and pretty much every country in the world).
In case you’re wondering… these websites are platforms where you can find volunteer positions in tourism, agriculture or as an au-pair anywhere in the world, and where potential hosts can hire you. You start by creating an account. All you have to do is sign-up, pay the signup fee, and create a profile. Once it’s done, you can start contacting businesses or local hosts based on countries, cities, and/or types of work. The general gist of each location is that you get room and board in exchange for a few hours of work every day. It’s that simple. Though to some people, the signup fee may seem like unnecessary money to bleed, imagine the heaps you can save by staying and eating for free somewhere in just one week (how about in Switzerland!!!). And consider all the amazing experiences you will get totally free on top!
Have you ever volunteered in your life? When and where was it? Share in the comments below!