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Travel Thread

but wait, there's more.

Six nights in a ramshackle pub; the land behind was the Namib Desert, at that time a de Beers Prohibited Area, and diamonds were said to be all around. I walked out into stark nothingness one day; plenty of desert rose formed from gypsum but nothing much else. Back on the rig, three more tours, promoted to derrickman. By the end, a round trip at 15,000 ft, or 160 stands, to change the bit was hard work. On the rig, the wind blew every day from the SW, constant, predictable, dry. Then one day, wind was from the NE. Next crew change, the desert had changed, flowers and plants out of nowhere, as it had rained 10 days earlier. Shore leave was in Cape Town where I hung out with white Rhodesian draft dodgers. We flew up and back in DC3's, slow and low, often in seafog, hugging the Skeleton Coast. The Orange River Gorge is very impressive.

With the wildcat well a duster, the rig moved North. Again, I missed the tow, but flew Jo'burg to Luanda and then to San Antonio de Zaire (now called Soyo), on the mouth of Congo River. Crew change by boat and at night we could see the flaring from Cabinda oilfields. Even 30 km offshore and out of sight of land, we were in the fresh waters of the mighty Congo. From March 74 to March 75, we drilled 3 wells and each found oil, which was exciting and hard work.

Meantime, on land, the political situation was deteriorating as the then Portuguese colony fought off nationalist, liberation movements. At the beginning it was safe but with the Revolução dos Cravos in Lisbon in late April, decolonisation started. Soon all the married men were moved off the rig and out of the country, with only single guys like me left. We still worked 2 on, 1 off and flew down to Luanda for shore leave. Took a couple of trips, one to Malanje, visiting a waterfall on the way. There was a pousada at the base, but they told us not to stay. At the rim of the waterfall, MPLA guerrillas were outlined against the sky. That night they burnt down the inn. A month or so later, we hired a car and went south, inland then back to Lobito, down the coast to Moçamedes, the northern end of the Namib, then up a scarp on a magnificent highway to the high country and in to what was called Nova Lisboa (now Huambo). The second city of Angola, but feeling pinched and nervous as fighting flared in the countryside. Our hotel backed on to a convent and it was full of young settler girls. They pleaded with us to get them out, to safety. Made it back to Luanda but travel became impossible after that.

By 1975, things were falling apart and nightly gunfire was heard from the museques, as much fighting between different movements, MPLA, UNITA, FLNA as they sought control; the Portuguese were leaving and it was a mess.

In Feb, after a week in town, our plane flew North. Usually, we would circle the town and a truck would collect us to go to the port. This time, nothing.. we waited then guerrillas jumped out and took us at gunpoint up country. We were kept hostage in huts, treated well but definitely confined. Two days later, a truck took us through the town to the port. Disarmed Portuguese conscripts sat on the town hall steps, disconsolate but alive. The MPLA had taken over and the only person killed was the labour contractor, Garcia, who had been taking 50 per cent of every local hire's salary. A Cuban freighter had berthed and arms and materiel were being offloaded.

I was in Luanda when Agostinho Neto returned from exile to become the President. Not many white people on the streets that day. We finished, flared, tested and cemented the third oil well as a future producer and this time I was on board with the rig under tow to another destination.
 
but wait, there's more.

Six nights in a ramshackle pub; the land behind was the Namib Desert, at that time a de Beers Prohibited Area, and diamonds were said to be all around. I walked out into stark nothingness one day; plenty of desert rose formed from gypsum but nothing much else. Back on the rig, three more tours, promoted to derrickman. By the end, a round trip at 15,000 ft, or 160 stands, to change the bit was hard work. On the rig, the wind blew every day from the SW, constant, predictable, dry. Then one day, wind was from the NE. Next crew change, the desert had changed, flowers and plants out of nowhere, as it had rained 10 days earlier. Shore leave was in Cape Town where I hung out with white Rhodesian draft dodgers. We flew up and back in DC3's, slow and low, often in seafog, hugging the Skeleton Coast. The Orange River Gorge is very impressive.

With the wildcat well a duster, the rig moved North. Again, I missed the tow, but flew Jo'burg to Luanda and then to San Antonio de Zaire (now called Soyo), on the mouth of Congo River. Crew change by boat and at night we could see the flaring from Cabinda oilfields. Even 30 km offshore and out of sight of land, we were in the fresh waters of the mighty Congo. From March 74 to March 75, we drilled 3 wells and each found oil, which was exciting and hard work.

Meantime, on land, the political situation was deteriorating as the then Portuguese colony fought off nationalist, liberation movements. At the beginning it was safe but with the Revolução dos Cravos in Lisbon in late April, decolonisation started. Soon all the married men were moved off the rig and out of the country, with only single guys like me left. We still worked 2 on, 1 off and flew down to Luanda for shore leave. Took a couple of trips, one to Malanje, visiting a waterfall on the way. There was a pousada at the base, but they told us not to stay. At the rim of the waterfall, MPLA guerrillas were outlined against the sky. That night they burnt down the inn. A month or so later, we hired a car and went south, inland then back to Lobito, down the coast to Moçamedes, the northern end of the Namib, then up a scarp on a magnificent highway to the high country and in to what was called Nova Lisboa (now Huambo). The second city of Angola, but feeling pinched and nervous as fighting flared in the countryside. Our hotel backed on to a convent and it was full of young settler girls. They pleaded with us to get them out, to safety. Made it back to Luanda but travel became impossible after that.

By 1975, things were falling apart and nightly gunfire was heard from the museques, as much fighting between different movements, MPLA, UNITA, FLNA as they sought control; the Portuguese were leaving and it was a mess.

In Feb, after a week in town, our plane flew North. Usually, we would circle the town and a truck would collect us to go to the port. This time, nothing.. we waited then guerrillas jumped out and took us at gunpoint up country. We were kept hostage in huts, treated well but definitely confined. Two days later, a truck took us through the town to the port. Disarmed Portuguese conscripts sat on the town hall steps, disconsolate but alive. The MPLA had taken over and the only person killed was the labour contractor, Garcia, who had been taking 50 per cent of every local hire's salary. A Cuban freighter had berthed and arms and materiel were being offloaded.

I was in Luanda when Agostinho Neto returned from exile to become the President. Not many white people on the streets that day. We finished, flared, tested and cemented the third oil well as a future producer and this time I was on board with the rig under tow to another destination.
While you still have your marbles, you need to write it all down, that sort of life doesn't happen anymore for people who have english as their first language.
I've only been to Walvis Bay Namibia and a short trip out into the desert from there, nothing exciting like your escapade.
Most of my early exploits were in the front bar of outback mining towns and didn't involve much more than motor bikes, heavy drinking and fighting. 🤣
 
... cont.

In preparation for the tow, the oilrig derrick was lowered and a Dutch ocean-going tug arrived. Underway and leaving the dirty waters and floating vegetation of the Congo River behind after a day, we headed WNW into the Atlantic proper, en route to the Canary Islands. There was a skeleton crew on board, and everything was pulled apart for maintenance or painted. After a week or so, we approached the doldrums and outside work became impossible due to the stifling heat. I witnessed a school of orcas, perhaps a hundred, pass close by. There were sharks and schools of fish, and I saw several water spouts. The tow was very slow, making an average of one and a half knots for the voyage. Along with a New Zealander, for me it was the first time across the equator and, in true nautical tradition, we were initiated into the court of King Neptune. After another week or so, it became cooler as we neared Africa's western bulge. Eventually we were opposite Senegal and there were sea birds in large numbers. I saw the high rises of Dakar but never the land. This section of the trip was fraught as we were caught in the major sea-lanes. In one direction, heading to Europe, were supertankers laden with oil, low in the water and pushing bow waves, while in the other direction, empty tankers were returning to the Gulf. They were so high in the water it was hard to think they were the same size vessels.

Forty-one days after setting off, in mid April, 1975, the snowy volcanic peak of Tenerife, over 12000 ft high, gradually revealed itself on the horizon as we drew closer. There was almost a romance to this and I can understand why the peak features in the stories and songs from the days of sail. Some 30 hours later we approached Gran Canaria, and we crew-changed at Las Palmas.

A few weeks of shore leave were due, and I flew to London where one mate was then staying; he'd used his onward ticket whereas mine had expired. Took in the music scene and had a well earned break. I then flew to Switzerland, played the tourist in the Alps, taking the funicular up Jungfrau was the highlight, before heading to Portugal to rejoin the rig, as we were to drill off Setubal. December prior, I'd received an expatriate contract and the new work regime was still 12 hour shifts but 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off to match European law. This wildcat took 9 weeks to drill and was a duster. Shore leave was in Cascais and i took assorted trips around but generally took it easy. Meeting an English lass helped. Portugal at the time was in political turmoil with leftists trying to control government. Tourists stayed away and it was cheap. The American owners were alarmed about nationalisation, so the rig wasn't going to drill any more wells.

I travelled to the Algarve then to Spain, moving North to end up at a resort town called Sitges, just out of Barcelona. Summer was in full swing and the place was packed with northern Europeans. The beaches were lined with bars and everyone was talking about this US dude performing around the place. It was Warren Zevon, honing his craft before his return to LA.

I then travelled through France, a few days in Paris and over to London again to hang out in Pimlico with the lass. Then it was time for a flight to Lisbon and find out where next.
 
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1975-76 The Caribbean​

KLM had a direct flight to Trinidad, and off we flew. Welcome to the land of rum punches and, after a few days in the Port of Spain Hilton, it was time for work. I'd been promoted to Assistant Driller, the work schedule was 1 week on, 1 week off, with alternating night and day shift tours. And the rig was a 20 minute run by tender in the calm waters of the Gulf of Paria, with Trinidad to one side and Venezuela to the other.

After a few times ashore getting our bearings and staying in cheaper holiday hotels, with a few guys from the other shift, we rented a house in the bayside suburb of Caranage. A car was also leased; this was handy when the rig moved to the Atlantic side of the island and crew change was by helicopter. Sometimes, I could finish shift at 6am, shower and eat then take first chopper off, and drive in town by 9am.

The location and work schedule allowed for travel. Over the next 18 months in my week off I visited Grenada, St Lucia, Martinique, Barbados and Jamaica. A double shift allowed 10 days break in Venezuela, staying first with a geologist in Caracas then a flight to Merida, high in the Andes and reputedly one of the most dangerous landings in the world. Also I made an excursion far south, taking a light plane to a jungle strip and immersion in the wild country around Angel Falls. Magnificent, though I saw the top half one one day, with the base covered in mist, and the bottom half the next, with cloud hiding the top of the plateau.

Leave was due at Xmas and the company let me fly to Australia rather than place of hire, South Africa. The best way was via Caracas, Miami, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Sydney, Hobart. This fell apart with engine problems in Caracas such that arrival in Miami was late, and i missed the last connection. And no visa! Passport control bundled me off to a detention facility for the night, given beans and rice, and put in a room with other illegals. Everything was done in Spanish, even by the authorities. Next morning, after a bit of process, I pointed out I had onward tix. Begrudgingly, a stamp TRWOV, Temporary Resident without Visa, was put in passport, and I was escorted to departures. To LA, where I could freely walk off if I wanted. The ticket was a beauty, no conditions, every leg could be rebooked, and eventually I made it home after about 60 hours in transit.

A few weeks in Hobart and Sydney, where the US consulate issued me a Business category visa that is still valid, and I flew back to work, a different route. First stop San Francisco where I stayed with some Aussies from the flight. They had a place a block from Haight and Ashbury, and we took in some bands and street life. Then on to Mexico City for a day and back to work.

Next highlight was February Carnival which coincided with my week off. Fun, party, music, drunkenness, goat curry, good times. "How you jumping so? Like you feeling hot or what?" Steel bands were still a feature though calypso was king and reggae still an acquired taste. Rastas were beginning to appear but still a Jamaica t'ing.

The east coast of Trinidad was undeveloped and I found a wave near Manzanilla Beach. It was problematic leaving the car when in the water as someone would walk around and test the doors. My towel was stolen nearly every time. But the locals employed on the rig were great and we mixed with them socially in the weeks off. They were Afro-Caribbean and generally not from the city. Good parties. There was a program of training up local staff and, by the end of 1976, my contract was not renewed. I was not unhappy, as it was time to finish up. I'd saved heaps and when I flew home, before turning 25, I bought a house for cash.
 
1976 - 1977
Hippie/ not Hippie; Punk/ not Punk​

And how long before the bug struck again? It turned out to be 2 months. Many of my friends had left town, and those that stayed ... well, I'd changed! So I hitch-hiked from Hobart to Darwin, taking the PoT across Bass Strait, up the East coast to Townsville then across to the top end. Rides weren't hard to get, and mostly long distance, share the driving efforts. Early March and the wet was retreating; my brother was living in Darwin so it was good to see him. I flew to Bali, stayed in a losmen right on Kuta (Legian was still undeveloped) for a while. But there was a plan, so off I went. Took the ferry to Java, buses into Jogya, visited Borobodor and Merpati, then a train to Jakarta, and headed for Jalan Jaksa.

The nascent hippie / backpacker trail was guided by bulletin boards and, especially, a 4 page roneo from what grew into the Lonely Planet empire. Staying in the same places along the way made it easy to meet like-minded travellers, have cultural skirmishes, avoid some traps and stay safe. Two other Aussies were heading north, so we caught a bus to Merak, took a ferry past Krakatoa to the southern tip to Sumatra and looked for transport.

There were buses leaving daily to the next big city and, in what can only be seen in hindsight as neophytes getting it wrong, we bought tickets and headed off. Less than 30km out, the bitumen ran out. It was the wet season and the road was awful. From puddle to mudpit to big, we slewed our way forward. It took 92 hours to travel 250 km. And the seats were tiny, made for locals, plus we were over the rear wheels. Of course. Don't mention the chickens and goats. Eventually we arrived somewhere and we could get off. Another, better ride and we are in the West coast city of Padang and heading inland, to Bukitinggi and on to the fabled Lake Toba.

On the road, I was becoming ill and came down with dengue fever. Somehow I made it across the lake and signed off for a few days. Sleep and rest, and I recovered, slowly. Eventually, alone, I made it to Medan and bought a plane ticket to Penang.

Malaysia was first world, in comparison, and a good place to rest, eat well and get healthy. Then across to Butterworth to catch the night train to Bangkok. This was a city on the cusp of change, but echoes of the Indochina wars lingered. It had been a major RnR centre for U.S. troops earlier on. I headed for Soi 4 off Suhkumvit, where the Malaysia and Atlanta Hotels catered to backpackers and druggies. Then off again, up country to Chiang Mai, to Chiang Rai and up into the hill areas abutting the Burmese border. A bit of trekking, and opium was offered in the villages at night by the hilltribes.

Train back to BKK, and a flight to Rangoon. The regime was only allowing 7 day visas which made it hard to see much. A night train to Mandalay, by jeep to Maymyo where Paul Theroux had just passed through, up the Lashio road until the army turned us back, and a scurry back to Rangoon, to fly via Dhaka's Dum Dum Airport to Kathmandu.

By now it was mid May and the monsoon clouds were massing. Even then, the hard-core travellers were saying it had been better 5 years ago (yawn). Took a bus to Pokhara and stayed by the lake, to be rewarded with glimpses of Machapuchure as the clouds swirled around. The trekking season was well over so I sought out a bus, and found the original Magic Bus on its way back overland. We passed down to the Terai and into the Ganges valley. A stop at Lucknow and on to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, then to Delhi.

By then the subcontinent was heating up, the pre-monsoon that drove the English to the hill stations was making India uncomfortable. Europe beckoned but interesting places were inbetween.
 
Onward​

Chandni Chowk is perhaps the centre of Old Delhi and well worth a look, but not when it is 45°C in the day and noisy at night, and the knotted string bed is 5 ft long. After a queue at the station for tix, I was able to get on a train to Amritsar, deep in the Punjab. From there, a bus, the only one each day, to the border and the challenge of an Asian land frontier between hostile neighbours. Eventually into Pakistan and to Lahore. Hot and bothersome, with crowds gawking at the our little group of tourists, and not a place that appealed so we tracked down a bus to Peshawar for a 6am start the next day then took a room in some dirty hotel.

The Trunk Road, for that is what it was called, took us across the irrigated plans and numerous streams of the Sutlej as we headed West, skirting Rawlpindi. It was still hot and oppresively humid but the land was drying out, getting more rocky, as it started to rise. Peshawar was everything expected, a bustling, dusty, noisy bazaar town. We were entering Pashtun lands and the locals looked different , men with fierce eyes, sharp noses, in turbans and flowing robes. About the women, it's hard to say as they were invisible. Another cheap hotel, a meal of pilau and meat, and Afghanistan was next.

Very quickly after leaving Peshawar, the road started rising, gently then steeper as we entered the Khyber Pass. Progress was slow as the bus navigated the winding road, overtaking slower trucks and foot traffic. Most of the Pass is within Pakistan and there were numerous checkpoints on the road and impressive Raj-era forts overlooked strategic stretches. One vivid memory I retain is the evolving feeling of comfort as we ascended and the air became drier; clothing that was heavy with sweat, humidity and dirt from the Plains became lighter and more comfortable as it dried out. The border at Landi Kotal wasn't too bad to negotiate then it was downhill, to follow a river gorge and to Jalalabad.

Another day's travel (night travel was never an option) and I was in Kabul. Peaceful, slightly modern, pre the 1979 Soviet invasion, the city was a mix of densely settled and spacious, Pashtuns, Hazara, Turkic types, a lot of Indians, another crossroads of Asia bustling with trade. Contact with locals was mainly on a commercial basis and the town at that time had lots of travelers, mainly European, there for the hashish or the experience, dopers and missionaries, on the Grand Tour or in the Great Game.

The Soviets and Americans were in competition for aid and influence, and roads were surprisingly good around Afghanistan, although instability persisted. Maz-i-Sharif in the north was closed to all but locals, and the only real way West was swinging south then NW. But first a side trip to Bamiyam to marvel at the famous Buddhas, 55m and 38m and carved into an imposing cliff face. This visit was arduous but well worthwhile. The country was barren, with pinched valleys and some farming. The villages were dirt poor. Overall, a mountainous brown landscape, splashes of green and a deep blue sky. The Taliban blew up these wonders of the early Silk Road in 2001.

I slept in the nearby village, returned to Kabul by local bus and then on to Kandahar, on the southern plains / desert. I found a place to stay that was half buried, thick walled, and ideally suited to avoid the scorching temperatures of an early July summer. I stayed a day but it was a hostile place and of little interest. Another good road through bleak lands took me to Herat, up against the Iran border, where the Shia strain of Islam was evident, though Sunni was still prevalent.

It is said frontiers can represent a natural border, a river or mountain range, or can be a sort of no-mans land. The kilometres in the direction of Iran were the latter, empty desert, desolate, flat and ugly. Transiting the frontier took half a day, with paperwork, uncommunicative officials, inspection of personal effects both leaving and entering. And a walk of several kilometres from one outpost to the other. Eventually, I crossed and headed for the nearest town. Immediately, a relative prosperity was evident, more cars, better buses, less carts pulled by donkeys, shops with a wider range of goods.

I headed for Mashhad, a major city and religious centre but, again, it was unwelcoming to yet another cheapskate westerner. The rip-offs were transparent and no attempt to disguise the overcharging. The local flavour was zealous Shia and, as an infidel, proseletising a waste of time so, why not just insult the visitof. Time to move on, a long bus ride to Tehran and a semblance of sophistication. I spent a few days in the northern part of the city but, again, it was uncomfortable. I was not surprised when the revolution arrived in 1979.

And so, no visit to the Albruz to see the Caspian, no sidetrip to Persopolis, but another bus ride, northeast to Tabriz. Poorer, but interesting. There are Kurds, Armenians, Azeri amongst the mix, and the landscape is amazing, entering hill country but still stark and rugged. Buses to the border were hard to find and so I hitched rides, mainly in trucks, usually on the tray, and offered a few Rial for the ride. As we approached Turkey, for some 15 km, trucks lined the road; most were tankers taking unrefined crude through to Turkey. I was told a bribe was extracted from each, as this was industrial scale smuggling.

More indifferent bureaucracy, more delays and a group of travellers were allowed through. It was late afternoon and the Turkish side offered little; no hotel, no money change, no buses. We flagged down a truck, entered into sign language and about 6 of us climbed on board, to ride off across the treeless, high Anatolian plateau. The land was empty and we made some distance when the driver turned off the highway, no consultation, no explanation. By then night was approaching and we were lost. We could see Armenia's Mt Ararat in the distance. The driver stopped in a small village, some 5 km from the Soviet frontier. But all was well, some accommodation found (paid in the few Deutsche Marks we could collect) and some food provided. What a revelation, as was the curd and fruit breakfast next morning. A ride was found to Erzurum, the next big town, where money could be changed, then we split up. I headed off, taking the overnight bus, skirting Ankara and heading to Istanbul, to leave Asia behind and cross the Bosporus and into Europe.
 
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Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium, Tsarograd (they wish); such a strategic location and rather special; and clean compared to Asian cities. Still cheap and relatively untouristed in 1977; Hagia Sophia is magnificent, still late Roman ruins a-plenty, the covered bazaar goes for miles, and great views of the busy waterways.

I took a bus to the border and crossed to Greece then hitched a ride into the evening. I slept on a beach at Kavala and next day hit the road again. A few hours on, despairing of a ride, then a 2CV stopped. Driver was Swiss and was going home, so we drove on, across the north of Greece, past Thessalonika and into the mountains south of Albania. By night time he was tired and fell asleep on the windy road. I grabbed the wheel and somehow the car stopped. I took over driving and we got to Igoumenitsa just in time to take a ferry across the Adriatic, to Bari.

The it was a fast run up the east coast of Italy and across the Po Valley, autostradas all the way, my first freeways since Sydney, to the Alps. We took the Gotthard tunnel and arrived in Soluturn, his hometown, in the evening. Some food, some sleep and next day off again.

I walked to the edge of town to hitch and soon a car stopped. But no, the window came down a few inches and a woman in the back seat spoke in German. I caught 'Banhof' and she pointed back to town. Then a 50CHF note was proffered. I accepted it, turned back, then after a while went back to hitching. Soon a ride to Basel, then up the autobahn. I know the date because the driver, who had no English, said "Elvis ist todt ". Then a sidetrip, into the Black Forest to Reutlingen where i stayed with some guys I'd met on the road a few months back.

I had a bit of a break, a comfy bed, his mum's cooking, washed clothes, drank beer, then I continued North. I attended a music festival, can't remember where, but the acts included Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and a bunch of Krautrock bands. Then on, hitching to Netherlands and getting a ferry from Hoek van Holland to Norwich, and on to London.

I stayed in the Earls Court youth hostel and immersed in a very punk London then headed off, avoiding the cities. Roads in the UK were good for hitchhiking as most of the "A" ones had ringroads for the towns and a roundabout each end; rides would be coming out of the roundabouts, be traveling slowly and have a place to stop easily. I went through the Lake District, to Scotland, heading to see an Aussie friend in Ullapool, a small west coast town deep in the highlands.
 
Things didn't quite work out in Ullapool, but I stayed and got a job in the Royal Hotel as Kitchen Porter (= dishwasher / plongeur ) with a bunch of eurotrash and had a fun time. On days off I explored, traveling north to Tong and as far as John O'Groats, and to Stornaway, down the Hebrides, island-hopping to Skye and back to Ullapool. By the end of September, the season was over, the students were returning to their studies, and it was time to head off. I went to Aberdeen and stayed on campus. It was 'O' Week and bands played every night. I thought about a job on the rigs but, on the day I went to to look for one, it was sleeting. Nope, not for me !! Still had money, so back on the road, to Edinburgh and down the east coast roads to London again. A member of a band called Pin Ups gave me a ride and a place to stay, then it was time to go somewhere warmer.

I took a night train to Italy and spent 4 weeks in Florence, staying in the youth hostel and spending each day bettering myself in the museums and galleries. A student card meant entry was cheap, and the city had emptied out of tourists. There were a few others doing the same and it was a great experience.

Even here, the continental winter was looming so I moved on, to Venice, lovely, enigmatic, but the chill Adriatic winds blew across the lagoon. I took a train to Yugoslavia, as it was called, and stopped in Belgrade, then South, through snowy uplands to Greece. Thessalonika again, and a side trip to the monasteries of Meteora and around Mt Olympus.

A further train to Athens and, wow, this was where Europe winters over. The Plaka was buzzing, cafés full, retsina flowing but the historic sights like the Acroplis were not overrun. By late November, time to go so I took the ferry to Crete. I met some travellers on the voyage and they were likeminded, to find somewhere to stay and live cheaply. It helped that they were young women because, lo and behold, at Heraklion port, an offer was made by a local. And so it came to pass that I spent two months with 5 lasses, Canadians and an Aussie, in an unfinished house with occasional work picking carnations, in a place called Limon Hersonissos.

There were a few memorable things; nearby was an American spy base, eavesdropping on the Middle East, and we socialised with service people, observing their messy lives. Got to eat grits, though. And at Xmas/ New Year, the hotels all opened to be filled with Scandanavians seeking sun and some warmth. And a crazed Greek broke my nose when I stepped in as he tried to rape a Swedish lass. I did save her, as he became psychotic and chased me instead.

After two months as MOTH - Man of the House - we returned to Athens and, with three adventurous girls, flew Ethiopian Airways to Cairo. This was a crazy city so we did the museums and sights. Tutankhamun was a highlight, and the amount of exhibits becomes overwhelming. One morning, we went to Giza by taxi and were there before security guards had arrived. I climbed the Great Pyramid, which is no easy feat. The blocks are huge but it is possible to ascend up the corners. Getting down was harder.

We took a night train to Luxor, very much a tourist town but stunning. Visited the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Karnak then a taxi to Aswan. There was a plan to go to Sudan but the border was closed, so we explored the town. Some locals offered a trip in a felucca down the Nile, which entailed leaving very early to avoid the tourist police (prohibited, pay bribe, etc) and thus we drifted south, in light winds, past multiple ancient structures. We explored Edfu and had a great time, sleeping on the boat for two nights.

From Luxor to Asyut by terrifying bus ride, then a trip into the desert, heading southwest to El Kharga and on to Dakhla oasis. Something to see, I guess, including mummified corpses at long abandoned Coptic ruins. We returned, by train, to Cairo and then across the fertile delta to Alexandria. By then, it was time to split up so another flight, back to Athens and fond farewells.

I met a Canadian guy from BC, he wanted an adventure so we went to Thessalonika again and took a side trip to Mt Athos monasteries before heading back to Istanbul. We travelled along the coast, down the Dardanelles, by bus and hitching. I saw Gallipoli across the water but didn't visit. My mother's uncle rests there. Skirting Troy, we headed for Bergama, the Pergamum of Greco-Roman times, and explored the ruins. Izmir was uninviting but the next set of ruins was superb. Ephesus, where the ancient city is laid out beneath a hill, is extant to a large degree. I took a 'Turkish' bath in a still-functioning bathhouse that had been, they said, built for a visit by Cleopatra.

We headed inland, to Parmakkule, where mineral-rich thermal waters flow down a hillside to form amazing white travertine terraces. Worth a sidetrip. Through Konya and to semi-arid Cappadocia, visiting the unique structures carved from weathered tuft at Göreme. Back on the main highway south, two Mercedes pulled up; a Syrian guy was in one, and an Irish guy employed to drive was in the other. They were delivering the cars to Damascus, where there was a good second hand market. I travelled in one, and off we went, down off the high country, to Tarsus, to Antakia, to old Antioch, and into Syria, past Latakia. The local guy sped along and my guy tried to keep up. Then he hit and killed a goat in some god-awful place. A hostile crowd gathered but luckily the dude came back, negotiated compensation, and we continued. We passed Krak de Chevaliers and even crossed into Lebanon for a short distance before getting to Homs, then skirted the mountains and arrived in Damascus, the end of the lift.

A quick reconnoitre and we were off again, by bus to the border with Jordan and on to Amman. The pace of life seemed much more relaxed here, and the locals courteous and pleasant. Next was a trip south, into stark desert and a visit to Petra, the fabled 2000 year old city carved from red rock. There were no tourists apart from ourselves, no touts, no admission charge. Then back to Amman and towards the Jordan Valley to cross the Allenby Bridge to Israeli-controlled West Bank.

After a few months in this part of the world, it was quite a shock to be in an obviously militarised place. Coming from Arab lands, I was checked out thoroughly and always seemed to acquire new 'friends', Americans usually, at hotels and on bus rides. I went to Jerusalem and stayed in the old city, in the Armenian quarter. The heavy overlay of the three religions was ever present so it was time to explore. I went to the Dead Sea for the obligatory float, then continued to Eilat. Returning North, I gave Tel Aviv a miss and headed to Haifa, before trvelling to the Sea of Galillee. Was I a good tourist? Probably not, taking in a few highlights and no real deep dives. By now it was late April, gettibg hot and, with Israeli stamps in my passport, this part of the world was no longer welcoming. I bought a ticket and, passing through the intense security of Ben Gurion airport, boarded a plane to London.
 
Boomerang​

Money was running out and it was time to return home, so I investigated travel routes and costs. I stayed in a Kensington flat, sometimes on the floor and sometimes in a bed. Dr Johnson had it wrong and I headed SW. I'd been to the tip of Scotland so I headed to Lands End by way of Stonehenge, and poked around Dorset and Devon villages on the way. A bit more time in London, where I saw Dire Straits and The Police, (I'd done the Proms at the RAH the year before) and a very strange one man show featuring Spike Milligan.

One big railway trip to go, to take by myself. I enjoy train travel but this was the big one. London to Vienna, a few days there then to Budapest, staying in a pension and with time to explore both sides of the Danube. Mid June and to the Soviet border, much checking of documents and some trepidation, then to my first InTourist destination, being Kiev /Kyiv. Each city was the same choreographed meet at the station, car to the designated hotel, and a bit of free time to wander. An overnighter to Leningrad; the solstice was near and it never was completely dark. The old city by the Nevsky was atmospheric, and poking into laneways and looking into courtyards evoked a strong sense of Dostoevsky's St Petersburg. I visited the (restored) summer palace of Peter the Great and the highlight was the Hermitage Museum, rooms full of Old Masters, and Matisses and other impressionists. I sold a Levi jacket and never changed money again; in fact there was not much to spend money on, some food and drink mainly. The Gum department store was barren.

Another night train to Moscow and a few nights at the Monopole Hotel; the city had little charm with the Arbat the only place of interest. Red Square and the Kremlin were massive, but guards kept people moving. I had little desire to file past Lenin's corpse. One fun thing was to travel on the metro system as the underground stations are magnificent architectural statements. Emerging to the surface amid suburb after suburb of drab apartments, kruschevshii's, and dull people was enough to scurry back to the centre of town.

And then, the Trans Siberian. I was going soft class, but 4 bunks to a compartment, in the only carriage reserved for tourists. Some couples who paid more were two to a room. A dull uncommunicative babushka was in the last compartment. Her job was to keep the samovar going, but tea was infrequently provided. We set off, eastward, through forest and field, After Perm and 1770 km from Moscow, a lift in elevation as we crossed the Urals, into Asia. The towns and cities rolled by; Ekaterinburg, Tyumen, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnyarsk, and across great rivers, kilometres wide, the Yenesei, the Ob, the Lena. But mainly it was forest, endless pine and beech, the southern edge of the taiga. The trans Siberian is double track and it seemed like we passed a train every 10 minutes going the other way.

And food was a issue; the restaurant car was at the far end of the train, and there were at least a dozen carriages, hard class, 9 bunks to a compartment, such that passengers flowed out and filled the aisle at all times. Drunks, not communicating . The PECTOPAH ran on Moscow time and was open for 2 hours for three meals. But what hours,? As we travelled east, through the time zones, (9 in total) in 24 hour daylight and we were far north, getting something to eat was problematic. The solution, at a stop in any town of significance, was to alight, run down the track (often no platform present) check the restaurant car and either climb aboard there or return to the carriage. It was hit or miss and there were some close calls! No staff cared, hey, Moscow InTourist put us aboard and that was the end of it.

After 5815 km, we arrived in Irkutsk, for a day's wait to meet the only train that would connect with the weekly ferry to Japan. It had taken 6 days; the 1825 Decembrists sent in exile did the trip in under 20 days across the trakt, in winter, on sleds and pulled by relays of horses.

With its wooden houses, often tilted and sinking into the marshy ground, and on a wide river flowing to Lake Baikal, Irkutsk was a pleasant stop. And then we were off, skirting the southern lake shores, deeper into eastern Siberia. The landscape changed as we travelled up broad valleys. The first mountains for a while could be sighted, towards the Mongolian border. One night, at a 2am stop , I looked out the window. We were in the autonomous Jewish republic, all the signs were in Hebrew and Yiddish was being spoken.

We pressed on, for a few more nights and days, then sighted the Amur and stopped in Khaborovsk, a six hour pause. Chinese traders were present but it all seemed rather desultory. Back on a much shorter train, six carriages only, we turned South and arrived at Nahodka, our carriage taken out on the wharf where we alighted to board the Japanese ferry. Vladivostok was, at that time, a closed city, a naval base and not for foreigners.

The ship sailed soon afterwards, and entered Yokohama Bay a few days after. I took in the delights of Tokyo and then flew to Hong Kong. A week in Kowloon, staying at the infamous Chungking Mansions, and on a plane to Melbourne. I arrived back in Australia with about $5 in my pocket, and borrowed enough to travel on, to Hobart.
 
After botching a repair job on the 1830s convict-built property I owned, the lure of a relationship had me back on the mainland and living in the inner suburb of North Fitzroy, sharing with another couple. This was student living, but in the big city and where everything was writ large. Politics, music, drug 'culture', sexuality, environmental awareness, all the self-identification we see now was emerging. As was a nasty recession and the bite of inflation. The inner north was gritty, the best music scene was on the Southside (Boys Next Door, Models among many) but we had the Last Laugh. Partner had a social work job but for me, jobs were hard to find and, when we moved to a tiny terrace deep in Fitzroy, it was a different world. The old industrial base was closing: a factory fire nearly every night (usally around 2am), get the insurance, sell out. Then, as suddenly, new workers, Vietnamese refugee women turned things around as garment factories reopened.

The old terrace houses were being bought up and renovated as professionals moved in, a neighbour was involved in the opening of the Black Cat in Brunswick St, its first coffee shop, among the op shops and hippie trinket places. Lygon St had half a dozen 'cheap and cheerful' places to eat at and Jimmy Watson's, where bottles of bubbles were $3 if the bar staff remembered to charge you, always had a crowd. Gertrude Street had Koori service shopfronts and Smith Street had a Coles but half the shops were shuttered.

I went to Sale and got a job on the rigs. The wind always blows in Bass Strait and working derrick a hard graft. The hitches were 2 on/ 2 off, and we drilled West Kingfish before moving to Yolla-1 off Burnie, completing it as a gas producer. Then to Gippsland again, and a job removing old wellheads, as the casing was sticking above the seafloor and catching fishing nets. I was on night shift and asleep when two guys, Kiwis, were killed when a cable parted as they tried to land the cut off section of casing on the beams in the moonpool. One of the workers was the dayshift derrickman. I quit. American-style management and Aussie unions. So that was my time in the oilpatch; as it was, I got the job in S Africa as I was first person in the door looking for work after the roughneck dropped down dead when the back-up cable for the tongs failed and he was hit by 150 kg of flying metal.

I had saved money, I was restless and twelve month round-the-world tickets were cheap. Late Dec 1979 I flew to Fiji for a few days then took a Lan Chile flight east, enjoyed two Xmas days aloft as we crossed the Date Line, spent a couple of hours on Easter Island (quite enough) taking in the Rapa Nui heads and on into a smoggy Santiago.
 
For the budget conscious traveler, reasonable priced AirBNB in London glamping.


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With the most up-to-date edition of the essential reference / guide book, the South American Handbook, in my bag, I headed south, hoping for a rendezvous. I took the train to Conception then a bus to the PanAmerican highway and on to Osorno and Puerto Montt. Alas, I'd missed the Chilean Navy ship, heading for Punta Arenas and then their bases on the Palmer Peninsula, by a few days. There were no cruise ships or organised tourism to Antartctica in 1979.

I headed back to Osorno. A fellow passenger told me not to go up this valley, or that one ... full of colonia aleman settled after WW2 and still dreaming of the Reich. There was one way to not backtrack, and I found a truck that was heading for the border. We travelled higher, close to the magnificent Osorno volcano, into deep forest. I crossed into Argentina, at a border post that probably saw a dozen vehicles a day.

The ride took me a bit further, to a junction in the middle of nowhere, and I walked, maybe 8 km, in fading light to Bariloche. On this side of the cordillera, the mountains were much less forested and ski lifts could be seen on the slopes. There were quite a few villas and lodges but everything was closed up. I took a room in the first place that was open, had some food and plotted the next move; Patagonia proper, or to the Atlantic then north? That was decided by available transport and, next day, a bus to San Martin then on to Neuquen was the only realistic option.

Dropping down into wide brown valleys and away from the Andes, the land was sparsely settled and quite barren. I'd only changed enough money earlier to get this far, so when the bus terminated at the railhead, I saw there was one train a day and enquired after the ticket price, 20,800 Pesos, probably 5 dollars, and went off to find a bank. After a meal I went back to catch the train. But the ticket was now 22,500 Pesos. The stationmaster shrugged. Welcome to Argentina, where inflation was rife. I had only just changed enough but my supply of US$10 and $20 notes would have to be spent judiciously, if the dollar rate was to work in my favour.

A night at Bahia Blanca and I decided to swing north. I hitched to Mar del Plata then on to a smaller resort town, Piñamar, which had a youth hostel. Being summer holidays, the place was jumping with uni students from the big cities. First night was NYE so there were fireworks and a great party, and I spent some days here, improving my Spanish, the novelty from far away, the gringo / not gringo. Then to Buenos Aires, staying with one of the students, Alejandro. The city was huge and hot, but had emptied out for summer; took a wander around the central plaza and calles, read the Buenos Aires Herald, circulation 30,000, took a sidetrip to the amazing canal district of El Tigre, and then headed north.

I stayed in Rosario with another new friend from Pinamar, Lilliana. A medical student, she spoke good English; after graduating, she moved to San Francisco and married a norteamericano. We are still in contact. Rosario was a large provincial town on the banks of the Plata but commercial and uninteresting. I headed off, and then was assailed by a 16 year old girl, running away from home. She flagged down a truck and we drove north, into gaucho country, to Corrientes. After a full day on the road, the driver said he was heading NW to Salta and the girl went with him. I went NE, along the wide Paraná valley; Paraguay was on the other bank, and deep into Misiones province. Arriving at the three way border at Iguazu, the Argentine side noted I didn't have a visa. I was leaving anyhow! Brasil issued me with a gratis three month tourist visa and I set out to see the superb Iguazu waterfalls. What the falls lack in height, they make up for in width and spectacle. It was wet season and the river was in spate. Access is easier from the Brasilian side, and the whole scene were so impressive. Various pathways led to numerous viewpoints and there were hardly any other tourists around.

I went back to the nearby town and then followed the Rio Paraná north for an hour. On the banks was a town called Sete Quedas, and the river funnelled through a constricting landform to form 7 cataracts. The volume of water was immense as it funnelled down about a 20m drop. These falls have since been submerged under the waters of the mammoth Itaipú dam and hydro scheme. A week after my visit, the papers carried an item about how the viewing bridge had given way and several people lost their lives.

It was a quick trip across the province through an increasingly settled and farmed landscape to Sāo Paulo, the commercial giant, engine of the South, home of a million immigrants. Many of the surrounding cities and towns are mostly filled with people of European descent, though migration from the northeast is also a strong feature in the cities. I discovered that even the cheapest hotel or pensão offered café da manha, pastries and a large milky coffee, enough to get the day started. I went down the scarp to Santos to see the famed coffee market and port, then back up and took a bus 3 hours down a clogged expressway to Rio de Janiero.

From the bus station, after visiting Poste Restante for mail, I headed straight for the beaches and found a youth hostel a few blocks from Copacabana, though i preferred Ipanema and Leblón. Everything they say is true, taking in the scene of as garotas in their tangas and the boys kicking around the futbol. I also managed to attend a match at Maracana stadium, the state final between Flamengo and Botafogo. The crowd was nearly 200 thousand and it was an experience, deafening with a constant percussive cacophony of whistles and drums. When the other team scored, and the crowd was split strictly apart, their stands suddenly turned white, as their supporters threw thousands of rolls of toilet paper, that unfurled and drifted down. It was told to me that it symbolised "Curtains" to the opposition.

I was nearly February and the town was gearing up for Carrnival. The place was filling but I knew a better experience, as a participant rather than as observer, could be had. I bought a bus ticket for a 1700km trip to São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, known as Salvador or just Bahia.
 
With no plan or booking, I went to Bahia's high town and looked for somewhere to stay. Eventually I found a spot in a hotel, but it was only a cubicle, a bed in a tiny space that had plywood walls that went 2/3 of the way to the ceiling. But, nāo faz mal, it was central, one street from the carnival route, noisy but felt safe.

Next morning, the place was warming up and the streets filling with all and sundry. I took carnival, and indeed you don't just see or attend it, for the full four days. The format, as at 1980, was for a series of parades to pass through, each costumed with their own theme but not as ornate or choreographed as in Rio. They would attend their own functions but the street party was where the fun was. On the prescribed route maybe a dozen kilometres in length, a series of trucks would travel. Each had a band, a Trio Eléc4trico of amplified guitars on a top level and maybe 20 percussionists, all belting out a powerful hypnotic rhythm as only the Brazilians can, below. These trucks moved around the circuit and thousands of dancers would follow. When tired, you could just fall away, to rest, find food or drink, and wait for the next truck and bunch of revellers to come past. Some enthusiasts went the whole distance but it was prudent to stay close to familiar locations. As you'd expect, after a few days and nights of high energy, the partying died down. My nearby bolthole was handy for recuperation.

I headed back to Rio soon after as my friend was arriving from Australia; she had taken 12 months leave from work and had bought a similar air ticket. We met up, took a hotel and explored the cidade maravilhosa. Up to the statue of Christ and take in the view, out to the beaches. eating in lanchonettes, and enjoying the place.

Then some serious travel. We headed inland, to the historic mining town of Ouro Preto, and on to Belo Horizonte. From there to Diamantina, in the depths of Minas Gerais, and up to Pirapora on the Sāo Francisco, and to Téofilo Otoni to stay with a gem merchant and his family. We cut across to the coast, to Ilheus where there was a post-carnival party, more of the same as Bahia had but only for a night. Another bus and we went to Bahia, a different town to when carnival was happening. Thus time, the beaches and food were more interesting and we did catch Gilberto Gil playing live on the steps of the town hall. In the churches, the syncretic mix of Catholic saints and Candomble deities were very evident in this most African of places, the former chief slave trade port of the colonial era. Capoeira was everywhere and the market women were in white flowing dresses.

We continued North, following the coast. Usually it was a long bus ride to the next big town with two or three days in each place. Aracaju, Maceió, Recife. Most had superb beaches though the early Portuguese ruins and over-ornate churches became predictable. At Recife, we went to Olinda, founded in 1535 and with its history slowly decaying away. We also met some yachties, they were heading to the Caribbean and we toyed with the idea of crewing. In the end, they dithered and we pulled out.

By now, deep in the NE, we travelled inland for a couple of hundred kilometres into the Sertăo, the dry thorny hardscrabble land, hoping to experience the true nordestinho character. It was a move away from the cane and tobacco to cattle ranching. All along, from Bahia north, the music was getting more elemental, leaving behind the sophisticated samba and into frevo and classic forrá, played on accordion, zabumba and a metal triangle. Campinho Grande was dusty and impoverished, and the food poor. No more coastal seafood and coconut flavours, but tough biftek, tougher chicken, broken rice and farofa. The alcohol changed from smooth vodka to cachaça in the caipirinhas, and Antarctica beer gave way to Brahma Chop.

We returned to João Pessoa then to Natal and a long bus ride to Fortaleza, well into the tropics at 5°S. It was here I renewed my visa for another 3 months. The coastline had long beaches, dunes and lagoons and the town not yet ready for the transformation to come with the development of the massive Carajas mines inland. Neither was São Luis, a charming place built on an island with a well preserved colonial section but a backwater when we passed through. It has an historic center of the city (dating from the 17th century) extant on its original street plan.

And then, one last long-distance bus ride to Belém, the fabled port at the mouth of the Amazon, or rather on the last bit of land before the true rainforest and built on a tributary behind an island, the Ilha de Marajó, for the river is nearly a hundred km wide where it meets the Atlantic. As to be expected, Belém was bustling, chaotic even. We found a river boat that was heading upriver and booked passages.

These river boats were by no means luxurious, with a lower deck crammed full of goods to be transported or traded along the way, and the upper deck open with space to hang a couple of dozen hammocks. Food was communal, usually chicken and rice. We headed to the market to buy hammocks, a double and a single, and stocked up on biscuits and the like, There was no alcohol allowed. Setting out from Belém, the boat navigated the channels and after a few days entered the river proper. One of the necessities for navigation is that going upstream they hug the shoreline, to avoid the strong currents. This makes for a more interesting if slow trip. Large freighters could be seen midstream but the further shore was not visible. After a few days and some stops, we reached Obidos, where the river narrows to 3 km and the water rushes down.

By then I was becoming quite sick and developed a fever. The trip, eight days and nights, to Manaus ended and we went ashore. We found a hotel but I was delirious and enervated, sleeping all the time. We tracked down some quack who was hopeless then a local guy in our hotel commented on my condition. He wrote down a herb and told me to buy it at the open market. I had no strength and wasn't able to. He chided me and headed off, returning with a paper bag full of a dark green bush herb. Make a tea and drink, he commanded. I did, and next day was feeling a little more lively. Day 2 and the yellow was dropping from my eyes, it was hepatitis, jaundice, and I was getting better, strong enough to continue. We took in the Opera House, the fabled folly from a rubber boom nearly a century earlier, then found a river boat, much smaller, to continue upriver. Passing where the Rio Negro joined the Amazon, the river narrowed and we headed for Tete and beyond. Our fellow passengers were a Peruvian, Haraldo, a German and a Frenchman, some Sumner Linguistic missionaries and a few locals. I have two strong memories; the first of having a dump over the rear of the boat to have piranha rise from the murk to fight for it, and the second. ... well, it was pretty boring on the voyage and one day I bought a pineapple and started to trim it with my penknife, methodically, removing the eyes, trimming the rough skin to leave the yellow fruit. With a flawless double spiral pattern emerging, I said "Mira" to everyone, and the French guy said "A work of art" while the German exclaimed "Like a machine." I kid you not.

It took ten days to arrive at the tri-point of Brasil, Peru and Colombia. We disembarked at Benjamin Constant, did passports and crossed to Leticia on the Colombian side. No more river travel, Iquitos was too far away.
 
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