On Journey: Part One

London – Athens

After a shaky start getting out of London we made good progress down to Dover where we caught a ferry over to Zeebruge. Another lift and another lorry got us to Harleen where we stopped for a couple of nights with Jon’s cousin. It was cold in Harleen in October and I was more than ready to head south. Autumn is not the time of year to be lingering in northern Europe especially as we were intending on camping along the route. Waking up with frost on the tent is no fun and the further south we headed in Germany, the colder it got. An overnight stay with another relative of Jon’s in Braunau am Inn near Salzburg gave us a break, though I shall never be a fan of sauerkraut. Best known as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, it was not a place we wanted to stay long in. Salzburg gave us an opportunity to visit the castle, and explore the maze of tiny narrow alleys, which criss-crossed each other. The tantalising aroma of freshly roasted coffee, steaming hot chocolate and the sight of heavenly cakes and tortes made our noses twitch and our mouths water – the prices made us wince.  We spent a pleasant evening sharing a couple of beers with two Canadian lads who were lucky enough to be travelling around in a VW camper van. Unfortunately they were heading in the opposite direction to us.

A cold night in the Austrian alps found us staying in a hostel and the following night in what is now the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, we were forced to stay in a guest house as the weather was appalling. Hitch-hiking was slow going and eventually a train got us to Skopje where the weather was much warmer. This was an incredible 17-hour journey via Beograd and Nis through some of the most depressing countryside I have ever seen. Glimpses of bullocks pulling  ploughshares with farm-workers following behind, scattering seed by hand looked more like a Turner painting than life in the 20th century. All the while, the sky remained overcast, grey and depressing until it became dark and we could see nothing at all, except for our reflections in the grimy windows.

After a brief stop to buy bread and tomatoes we started to hitch hike out of Skopje towards the border at Gevgelija / Evzoni. We had no troubles at the border crossing and quickly picked up a lift from a lorry driver going south towards Athens, passing through Katerini, Larisa, Volos and Lamia. Unfortunately he wasn’t going all the way, but at least it was in the right direction.

Arriving in Athens felt like arriving home. I had spent some time in the city two years before when a girl friend and I hitch-hiked around Europe. Although we had mainly camped at the south of the city we had also used the youth hostels which are always bustling with people from all around the world.

Athens is glorious – hot, hot, hot and very dusty and much polluted, notorious for the nefos (smog) and the high-rise apartment blocks, built to home the thousands of refugees who arrived from Asia Minor in 1922, but I love it! Almost every house and apartment has a balcony bulging with geraniums, and many of the city’s streets and squares are fringed with orange trees. The traffic is horrendous, the noise is incredible, but it has a kind of dilapidated charm, it is so different to anywhere else I know.

We had to visit the Acropolis and the red-tiled Plaka district which nestles into the northeastern slope of the Acropolis. This is virtually all that existed of Athens before it was declared the capital of independent Greece. Its narrow labyrinthine streets retain much of their charm despite gross commercialism. I’m happy to be back, to smell the delicious meaty aroma of souvlaki in the streets, drink the pungent black Turkish coffee, taste the creamy Greek yogurt topped with honey and feel the heat of the sun on my bare arms even though it is mid October.

So very different to the little Yorkshire city I call home.

Anticipation and Preparation

England to Australia (1973)

I met him on the boat from Newcastle to Bergen which was taking me to my new job working in a hotel in the middle of nowhere. He wasn’t anyone special, just a young man travelling around Europe, but there were several of us on the boat and we sort of drifted together as young people do, chatting and having a few drinks in the lounge. We all exchanged addresses before disembarking and going our separate ways. Margie, the exchange student from Wisconsin, invited me to stay in her student bedsit as I didn’t need to continue on my journey for another couple of days. Josh, the Scotsman headed off on his bicycle laden with tent and sleeping bag and panniers filled with ‘stuff’. He was cycling all around Norway this summer. Jon, the South African, was also travelling, but using local buses and trains, staying in hostels and cheap guest houses and making his way through Scandinavia and then down to southern Europe.

During my six months working at the hotel I received several postcards from Jon. He was returning to South Africa after his European travels, but wanted to know if I fancied joining him and travelling overland as far as India. He knew that I was intending on going to Australia after my stint finished at the hotel. It was tempting. I had always fancied visiting India where my mother had been born. And it was en route to Australia. We could split up there and go our separate ways.

In the days before the Internet making such travel plans was not so easy. You had to write to the embassies of the countries that you wanted to visit to get information about visas, transport, accommodation etc. Then contact those travel agents who specialised in the areas where you were travelling to for useful pamphlets and scour bookshops for suitable literature. Living in Norway at that time made it harder for me as everything had to be done by post. Fortunately there were leaflets available about the ‘hippie trail‘ written by other travellers, with details of places along the route where you could pick up information for the next part of the journey. Using all these resources we managed to concoct a plan.

From London we would head across the Channel to the Netherlands where Jon had a cousin we could stay with, then through Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, spend time in the islands before heading for Turkey, Iran (Persia at that time), Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally India. Jon would depart from Bombay on a ship to Durban, South Africa whereas I would continue south to Madras (now Chennai) and find a route across to Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

      • map √
      • rucksack √
      • new hiking boots √
      • water purification tablets √
      • dried food sachets √
      • toiletries √
      • change of clothes √
      • farewells to friends and family √

Two weeks after my return from Norway I was ready to go.

~wander.essence~ anticipation and preparation

Rocks, Rock Art and Rock Music: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: back into the wilderness as we said a sad goodbye to our luxury inn and set off for Hwange, famous for large herds of elephants and over 400 species of bird. We took a game drive with Moses, a black Zimbabwean guide, who was extremely knowledgeable. This park is bursting with elephants, zebra, wildebeest, springbok, kudu and giraffe; towards the end, as dusk was falling, we held our collective breath as a white rhino and an elephant came face to face – they both stopped dead in their tracks, eyed one another up and then the elephant turned around and disappeared back into the bush. Game over. A spring hare and a duiker were the last animals we saw before darkness fell. Continue reading Rocks, Rock Art and Rock Music: Snippets from an African Diary

Springboks and Fuzzy Ducks: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: drove east through Etosha to the other camp at Namutoni, a German fort, spotting another male honey-coloured lion and its kill (a zebra), a two-toned herd of zebra with their stiff upright brush-like manes trotting together shoulder to shoulder (we have now seen so many zebra  we are very nonchalant, barely glancing at them as though they were herds of cows), wildebeest, springbok sheltering from the heat beneath the spreading trees, a falcon, flocks of Egyptian geese, a couple of giraffe heads down and legs splayed around a water-hole and two spotted hyena – it’s like writing a shopping list – but still no elephant! Continue reading Springboks and Fuzzy Ducks: Snippets from an African Diary

Aardwolves to Zebras: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: a very long and dusty day mostly on dirt roads as we drove into the Namib Desert to a private campsite. Strange trees along the way called quiver trees (kokerboom), which are really aloes, and large communal nests made by sociable weaver birds. Getting a little sick of Crowded House ‘Take the Weather with you.’ Stopped briefly at Seeheim Hotel to stock up on drinks and got licked to death by a mad bull-mastiff puppy. We continued to Bethanien, where Michael and I hunted down ice cream and anchovy paste, not to be eaten together I hastily add, then we stopped to eat lunch by the side of the road under the shade of the one tree in the area, only to be eaten alive by huge biting ants. Taking a shovel with me to go to the loo is a new experience. Continue reading Aardwolves to Zebras: Snippets from an African Diary