By Brian Broom-Peltz
Special to Moonshine Ink
As the snow piled high, burying our beloved Truckee beneath a winter wonderland, an irresistible invitation beckoned me to leave behind the icy chill and embark on a sun-soaked and rainbow-filled odyssey through distant lands around the world. With my partner and two friends, I embarked on a journey of discovery across Australia, Timor-Leste, and South Africa.
Our trip was bookended by two remarkable events inspired by Burning Man — Blazing Swan in Australia and Afrikaburn in South Africa. Both festivals mix the essence of the original music and fire-filled Nevada event with local flavors, fostering temporary communities of creativity, compassion, and transformation.
We first made our way to Jilakin Rock in Australia, the site for Blazing Swan. After a three-hour drive from Perth through eucalyptus forests and rolling fields scattered with troops of kangaroos, we were greeted by the warmth, spirit, and skillfulness of the organizers and participants. I met event organizers who created a health spa for the build crew, a participant looking out after a stranger stuck in a bathroom because “that’s community,” and a crowd eager to learn about how to help people in a psychedelic crisis. Blazing Swan, an event that celebrates the unique culture of Australia and the boundless energy of its people, drew me in with its entrancing didgeridoo sound baths and enthusiastic shenanigans. I marveled at how effectively the event created an atmosphere where strangers looked after one another and vibrant conversations naturally unfolded. As I left the muddy grounds, I chewed on the sentiment that had been offered at the aboriginal welcome ceremony: If you walk with an open heart, pure mind, and respect for the Earth and each other — you’re welcome; if you don’t, we have other words for you.
Following Blazing Swan, we continued our journey across Australia. The country I had long considered to be the land where everything is trying to kill you was far more beautiful and kinder than I anticipated. From the vineyards of Margaret River Valley to the crocodile tours in Darwin and caves sparkling with bioluminescent, glowing worms at the Gold Coast, the spirit of community and respect prevalent among Australians prompted reflections on the opportunity for kindness, respect, and connection in my communities back home.
Driven by curiosity to visit another country and lured by its proximity, we decided to detour to the lush island nation of Timor-Leste, a destination that promised a rich cultural experience and unique learning opportunities. Once devastated by colonization and war, the country now shows signs of resilience and reinvention. Even in its ongoing recovery, Timor-Leste’s complicated relationship with foreign powers was evident. The presence of Chinese-built infrastructure, including roads, power lines, aqueducts, and soccer pitches, was both appreciated and approached with caution, serving as a testament to a resilient nation familiar with the complexities of foreign involvement. Our exploration included visits to monkey groves, war museums, and impromptu beach soccer with locals. Despite the country’s tumultuous past, hope was palpable everywhere. The youth especially seemed eager to transform their country and themselves, mirroring the transformation I felt unfolding within me. Our departure flight was filled with young adults wearing Timor-Leste T-shirts holding visas to work for a year on farms in Australia. I asked one what he planned to do after. He said, “I want to study economics so I can help make my country wealthy.”
Our journey then took us to Doha for a brief layover. Qatar, a tiny desert country abundant in natural gas wealth, struck me as a stark contrast to our previous stops: outdoor markets with air-conditioning, immense modern architecture, and airport kiosks selling gold. I observed that despite western narratives surrounding the country, expats and locals were eager to highlight its positive aspects: their commitment to investing in their people, the safety of their streets, and their remarkable hospitality.
Our final destination was the Tankwa Karoo in South Africa, the setting for Afrikaburn that reminded me of the desert sage hills of Nevada. Different from Blazing Swan in scale and cultural makeup, Afrikaburn felt like an international city teeming with all things Afrikan — jazz and drums under stretch tents, an attitude of close-enough or “ish,” and a deep, communal spirit. Again joining a team of international volunteers, I found myself contributing to this vibrant community in ways I had never imagined, and thus better understanding the interconnected layers of volunteers that make these events possible. The unforgettable sounds, sights, conversations, and experiences culminated in an evening spent watching a giant heart-shaped structure, as tall as a ponderosa pine, go up in flames.
Throughout this voyage, there were constant reminders that I wasn’t “home,” such as when I was told I had a curious accent or saw the unfamiliar stars of the Southern Hemisphere. But then my sense of “home” evolved. Home as a tent in a desert festival. Home as a pale blue dot around a star. Home as a global community. Home as a welcome place within myself.
Stretches of travel can feel like dreams — vivid flashes of new worlds that are difficult to distill into a coherent narrative. Upon returning to my real-life, physical home, as I watch the daffodils bloom and listen to the chickadees chirp, I’m left with a deep sense of gratitude. This journey has left me with a profound appreciation for the intricacy and diversity of our world. Every community we encountered, every story we heard, painted a vivid picture of humanity’s resilience and creativity. It’s given me a renewed sense of responsibility, a call to action, to celebrate and serve my own communities.
The challenge now is to continue nurturing these feelings and applying the lessons I learned throughout my journey — to see and appreciate the familiar with new eyes. In essence, to keep the spirit of the voyage alive.
~ Based in Truckee and full of passion for nature, travel, spinning fire, and building communities, Brian Broom-Peltz is a business development consultant specializing in system improvement, AI integration, marketing, and web design. As founder of the Tahoe Psychedelic Society, he advocates for effective mental health treatments and decriminalizing psychedelics.