A preamble to the next journey, Odyssey Part 2.

Previous blog writings have included: Encountering the Past Odyssey Part 1

 and

2013 Torres Strait Encounter. 

Getting in training.  Bev and I are going to use bikes for part of the forthcoming odyssey  so a little training now might be beneficial.

Getting in training. Bev and I are going to use bikes for part of the forthcoming odyssey so a little training now might be beneficial.

Readers of our 2012/2013 Encountering the Past Odyssey Part 1 will know travel for us is, and has been, a big part of our life.   During the past fifty years our wanderings have taken us collectively to around forty five countries.  My first major travel adventure was in 1970 when driving overland from Sri Lanka (Ceylon in the 1970s) to England with friend Ian and the second big one was touring Europe and the Middle East with Bev in 1972/3 in a VW Beetle.  There have been other adventures too, including a trip to the centre of the earth in far west China. The centre of the earth is defined as the most distant point you can get from the sea and it is situated in the Turpan Depression in west China.

But the two journeys in the 1970s were great adventures and life-changing events.

Following is an overview of my overland journey, the circumstances under which  Bev and I met, our subsequent 1972/3 travels together and how we built our ‘handmade mudbrick house’ after returning to Australia.

OVERLAND TO LONDON 1970/71.

Ian and I worked together in Dubbo, a large provincial town in central west NSW, and on weekends we went off adventuring together. When on a canoeing trip in the Macquarie Marshes (refer Day 1 Moonbi to Marthaguy Creek Encountering the Past Odyssey Part #1)  sitting around the campfire we pondered whether we could maybe drive to London overland following in the tracks of a recent overland car rally from London to Sydney.  The borders were still open following the rally so we thought ‘now is the time’. There were two prerequsites to doing such a journey and they were a suitable vehicle and money.  In the 1970s the only suitable 4wd available in Australia was a Landrover; Toyota was not available to the general public until the late 1970s.

I spotted this Series 2a ex army Landrover in a car lot in Narrabri.

I spotted this Series 2a ex army Landrover in a car lot in Narrabri.

Ian paddling in the Macquarie Marshes in one of our homemade kayaks. Note the .22 rifle on top of the kayak that we used to take pot shots at wild pigs. The Macquarie Marshes in the 1960/70s were known as the ‘home of the wild pig’.

Ian paddling in the Macquarie Marshes in one of our homemade kayaks.
Note the .22 rifle on top of the kayak which we used to take pot shots at wild pigs. The Macquarie Marshes in the 1960/70s were known as the ‘home of the wild pig’.

Once we had our gear together we set off for Western Australia where there was a lot of  mining expansion and thus money floating around.  Soon after arriving in Perth we were offered work assisting with the surveying of the centre line for an iron ore railway. I was the instrument man (the instrument being a theodolite) and Ian was my assistant.

Our short wheel base Landrover negotiating the iron ore railway access track.

Our short wheel base Landrover negotiating the iron ore railway access track.

After three months working for six days a week we had sufficient funds allowing us to start seriously thinking about how we could ship our Landrover to India, the starting point for our overland drive.   During the preparation time we saw an advertisement in a Perth paper ‘Landrover going from Ceylon to London in September. Paying passengers required’. We applied and as a consequence joined John, the owner of the Landrover, and did the trip with him.  Our Landrover was mothballed awaiting our return.

John’s Rover was in Colombo Ceylon. He had driven from London to Colombo with his wife and because  she couldn’t face the rigors of the return journey to London she flew home, leaving space for us.

John (no shirt) and Ian.  Final packing of the Landrover in which we travelled overland.

John (no shirt) and Ian. Final packing of the Landrover in which we travelled overland.

The drive from Colombo to the ferry port in northern Ceylon was an eye-opening experience for us for we had never experienced total chaos nor seen poverty on such a grand scale before.   However, in the chaos there was grace and dignity.

Grace and dignity.  For the photo buffs….Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, 300m telephoto lens, Ilford  b & w film. Taken into a glaring low sun.

Grace and dignity. For the photo buffs….Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, 300m telephoto lens, Ilford
b & w film. Taken into a glaring low sun.

To get  from northern Ceylon to India we took the Irwin Madras ferry across the Palk Strait.  There is a belief that a bridge/causeway once linked Ceylon with India and it was known as Rama’s or Adam’s bridge.

The Rama name was after the invincible Lord God Rama.  According to Hindu temple texts Lord Rama employed ’Monkey People’, a race of ape like humanoids, to build the bridge. One reference said the Monkey People were ‘brave, inquisitive, childish, hyperactive, adventurous, loyal, courageous and kind’, just the right credentials for such a job!  Another Hindu belief is that the bridge was uplifted by the Gods to allow the Lord Rama to cross from India to Ceylon so he could rescue his wife who had been imprisoned by a demon king.

‘Adam’ came from the fact that it was believed that the Garden of Eden was located in northern Ceylon and that God uplifted the causeway to allow people to travel into the Garden of Eden.

There could be some truth in the theory that Rama’s/Adam’s Bridge existed, as recent space images taken by NASA reveal an unusual submerged geological feature resembling a causeway. Its unique curvature and composition suggests that it may have been manmade.

Waiting to board the Irwin Madras. Well-dressed Ian; if you were respectable in appearance it was less of a hassle getting past border officials who had a distinct dislike for long-haired westerners.

Waiting to board the Irwin Madras. Well-dressed Ian; if you were respectable in appearance it was less of a hassle getting past border officials who had a distinct dislike for long-haired westerners.

FOLLOWING ARE DIARY EXTRACTS FROM SEPTEMBER 1970.

ENTRY INTO INDIA & PASSPORT CHECKING.

THERE WAS NO WHARF IN INDIA SO WE HAD TO EFFECT A BEACH LANDING.  “Getting the Landrover off the ferry and onto the beach was not as simple as getting passengers ashore, they went by lifeboat.  The Rover was lowered onto two wide beam boats lashed together to form a barge and then the barge was towed to the beach by one of the lifeboats.  Once the barge was beached, a makeshift unloading ramp was fashioned out of planks.  The planks were laid on the gunnels of the barge and the Rover was driven down the planks and onto the beach.  The whole operation was a bit scary; the slightest imbalance would have meant the Rover going surfing.  You have to admire the Indians; they are able to overcome most difficulties with improvisation.

 Once on the beach, a customs official, called the Beachmaster, greeted us. His job was to check the vehicle for contraband and make sure the Landrover documents were in order.  The Landrover Carnet de Passage was inspected and all seemed ok. The Carnet de Passage is a document which gives the vehicle an identity and a legal right to enter the country.  The fact that John owned the vehicle was recorded in his passport so if he attempted to leave the country without the vehicle the officials at the exit point would assume he had sold it so import duties would apply. The fact that we owned cameras was recorded in our passports too and, again, if we didn’t have them in our charge when we left the country we would be required to pay duty on them.  

The Beachmaster was a very imposing character. He stood proud and was impeccably dressed, wearing Bombay Bloomers (baggy army issue shorts worn in the tropics), a khaki shirt across which a gleaming leather bandolier was slung, and his Parade Ground Gloss mirror-shiny army issue boots reflected hours of a spit and polish effort. To complete the presentation he toted an immaculately groomed moustache, the pointed ends curled skyward.  Finally, to achieve an air of authority, he brandished a metre long wooden baton with which he went around the Landrover tapping here and there in an attempt to detect cavities where contraband could be hidden.  I couldn’t see the logic in tapping at panels because there are so many cavernous areas in a Landrover where contraband could be hidden and when tapped they would still sound hollow.  I think the tapping was to impress us. Before getting into India proper there was one last official matter: we had to give a blood sample. This was required to determine if we were carrying the malaria virus.  The blood sample was not tested on the spot so if we were carriers I’m not sure how they were going to find us in India to quarantine us. Collecting the blood was simple.  An official cut our forefinger with a stiff-backed razorblade, the ensuing blood was wiped onto a glass slide and then a second slide was placed on top of the sample with our passport number written on the outside of the glass.  I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about this surgical procedure, knowing the razorblade was not sterilized between each person and that the one blade had probably performed a hundred or so cuts before us!” 

 GETTING OFF THE ISLAND OF PAMBAN, OUR ENTRY POINT INTO INDIA……“The ferry from Ceylon made landfall on the Island of Pamban (India) and the only way to get the Landrover off the island to mainland India was by train. There is no road bridge as it was destroyed by the same cyclone that damaged the pier near where the Beachmaster met us yesterday.  Getting to the railway station was not easy as the streets were crawling with vehicles and people wandered all over the road in a disorientated state.

Finally we made it to the railway station and on a siding adjacent to the platform was a pantechnicon-type carriage into which we placed the Landrover for transport across the narrow strait between Pamban Island and mainland India. It would have been simpler to put the Rover on a flatbed carriage but a vehicle on a flatbed could easily be pilfered. There was a problem making the Rover fit, it was about 300mm too high so we had to remove the rooftop box and let air out of the tyres to lower the overall height of the vehicle.  Once the Rover was loaded a railway yardman closed the doors and crimped a lead seal across the lock. 

Unloading the Landrover.

Unloading the Landrover.

With the Rover secured the carriage was shunted onto the end of the train and we took seats in one of the third class carriages.  Third class means narrow wooden seats and no glass in the windows. The train remained stationary for some time, which meant food vendors could hawk their culinary delights and beggars had time to pressure travellers for money. I gave a gentle-faced castanet-playing beggar a coin and in return he blessed me. 

The castanet-playing beggar.

The castanet-playing beggar.

The food vendors had a wide array of food for sale including fruits, breads and small pieces of fried meat, which looked far too greasy for my liking. Each of the peddlers precariously balanced bamboo trays of food on their heads and people wanting to make a purchase leant out of the train window and took what they wanted from the baskets, paying by dropping the money into the peddlers’ outstretched hands.  Occasionally crows swooped down and helped themselves to the food in the baskets, an action tolerated by the vendors and I think it’s because crows are considered sacred.   Many believe crows are reincarnations of humans sent to scavenge and keep the surrounds clean and some believe they guide a dead person’s spirit to heaven. 

 Crows are not the only scavengers, pigs are on the job as well.  Both crows and pigs vigorously devour human excreta, of which there is plenty about the streets.  I went into a public toilet early this morning where pigs were gorging themselves on the contents. At first I found the activities of the pigs revolting but after giving it more thought I accepted the fact that they were doing good by keeping the surrounds clean. 

After a wait of about half an hour the train began to move. The trip, although only short, was a nostalgic trip for us as the train was pulled by what I guessed to be a 1940s circa steam engine……Train travel in India for outsiders like us is, like many other aspects of India, chaotic.  There are many different classes, which is confusing for first time travellers.  Boarding the train is probably the most stressful aspect of train travel. There is no courtesy, it’s every man for himself. You have to abandon manners and get aggressive otherwise you may be left standing on the station as the train pulls away. I realised why there is no glass in the windows of some trains; it’s because the passengers go in and out through the windows.  It’s faster than queuing at the carriage door. For those who can’t afford a ticket, can’t get a seat or have no money, riding on the top of the carriages seems to be acceptable.”

An inexpensive, air-conditioned way to travel.  Image from a news story in Britain’s Telegraph 18th Feb. 2014

An inexpensive, air-conditioned way to travel. Image from a news story in Britain’s Telegraph 18th Feb. 2014

 DEPARTING INDIA  & THE PASSPORT CHECKING POST TENT EVENT

(Indian Pakistan border)

“Hussainwala Passport Checking Post consisted of a few decayed mud brick huts and a rather worn out tent similar to the one near Dhanushkodi where we came into India.  Getting out of India was nearly as complicated as getting in.  Fortunately there was no blood test. The difficulty arose after I took a photograph of a hippie outside the Checking Post tent.  I didn’t think for a minute that taking a photograph would cause such a furore.  Unfortunately for me I was spotted by a border guard and he immediately started blowing his whistle and shouting.  In between whistle blasts he shouted ‘Not allowed, not allowed’.  I was apprehended immediately and taken inside the tent and questioned. ‘How many photographs have you taken?’  ‘None’, I replied.   After being asked this same question half a dozen times and me giving the same answer the guard quietened down.  I suspect the shouting episode was to impress his commanding officer. During the shouting ordeal I pointed out there is no sign to say I couldn’t take photographs. His reply was,  ‘You should know, you should know’.   When officials get worked up in this country they repeat themselves; maybe it’s a way of emphasising their point.  Surprisingly, at no time did the official look like removing the film from my camera. If they had it would have been a disaster as I was nearing the end of the film and I would have lost many valuable pictures.” 

The photograph that caused the furore.  The hippie (pyjama-clad) is on the left.

The photograph that caused the furore. The hippie (pyjama-clad) is on the left.

During the 1970s there was a constant flow of hippies travelling from Europe to Kathmandu in Nepal.  At the time the overland route from London to Kathmandu was known as the ‘Hippie Trail’.

POVERTY ON THE STREETS OF INDIA….“Not all beggars in India have a gimmick but some of these gimmicks include clenching a fist together for so long that the fingernails grow through the hand. Many beggars sit quietly frozen to the spot with an arm outstretched. Women beggars usually have a crying, malnourished child clothed in rags alongside them. They do not actually ask for money; their pleading, sad, cloudy and watery eyes do the asking. Another scene today, which will remain in my mind forever was a mother and three small children living in a vandalised telephone box.  Seeing these poor souls living like they were made me think there is something wrong with a world where there are mega-rich and destitute-poor.  

 Seeing the mother living with her children in the telephone box has crystallised my thinking about the ethics of the world.  Up until now I have not seriously thought about the poverty, paucity and inhumanity in the world . All I have done so far is pay lip service to the lyrics of songs sung by the revolutionists such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. I have sung the lyrics of songs like ‘There But For Fortune Go You or I’ but not really given thought to the message.

 Not all kids on the streets were as placid as the ones living in the telephone box, street kid gangs roam about looking for any opportunity to rob or steal.   The most aggravating mobs of kids walked behind us chanting ‘cigi cigi cigi’ and some were bold enough to tug at our clothes. Most times when pestered like this a local will step in and shout at them to leave us alone. 

The street  gangs may not be acting alone as sometimes they are under the control of begging syndicates with the syndicate bosses reaping the profits. Many children are snatched off the streets and put into service.  Some children are bound at birth so their limbs grow into grotesque shapes. I saw one small boy with his arms wired behind his back.  The more grotesque attract more money. Life is cheap here and we were warned to keep watch for people clutching babies whilst standing on the side of the road as they could throw the baby under your car and then claim compensation for injuries or the death of the child.”

DRUDGERY OF LIFE WORKING AND LIVING ON THE STREETS….“I believe the most exploited of all the workers on the streets would be the poor wretches pulling two-wheeled handcarts and the men I call the human donkeys. They stagger with unbelievably heavy bulky loads.  The carts are cumbersome and heavy and when overloaded, pulling and manoeuvring them through the traffic is a test of human strength and endurance.  One cart had live chickens hanging upside down from racks, another three buffalo carcasses and another had hundreds of books tied on with sisal string.  One emancipated cart wallah struggled to keep an unstable load of flattened cardboard boxes from tipping over. If they had fallen to the road I was prepared to help him reload, that was the least I could do to ease his burden.” 

The down-trodden labouring class destined to a life of poverty.  What is he thinking?  Note the cart load of buffalo carcasses in the background.

The down-trodden labouring class destined to a life of poverty. What is he thinking? Note the cart load of buffalo carcasses in the background.

A human donkey and a traffic hazard ahead.

A human donkey and a traffic hazard ahead.

A sacred cow and poverty on the streets in India

A sacred cow and poverty on the streets in India

ON THE GRAND TRUNK ROAD NORTHERN INDIA…..“Motoring hazards are many, negotiating unmarked open ditches, heaps of gravel and missing bridges are all heart-stopping events.

 Overtaking a vehicle is one such event.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts we decided to only overtake if a truck wallah was riding on the truck in front.  Truck wallahs ride on top of the loaded trucks and use their hands as an indicator when it is safe to overtake.  If their palms are facing down and steady it means stay put, do not overtake.  As soon as an overtaking opportunity presents itself they turn their hand over and oscillate it slowly which means get ready to go.  As soon as their upturned hand starts flapping madly you pull out and go for it.  The only problem with this system is that Landrovers are not renowned for their acceleration so a fair distance is required to overtake; you hope the truck wallah giving you directions has taken this into account.  I close my eyes during the overtaking operation and hope for the best. 

Bad news.

Bad news.

 Truck wallahs have other duties too. One I saw today had a large wooden wedge and when the truck stopped he jumped down and shoved the wedge under one of the rear wheels of the truck. Obviously the truck had no handbrake. Handbrakes are possibly not the only thing on Indian trucks that are poorly maintained as we have seen quite a number of trucks overturned or down in the table drain.  One overturned truck we saw yesterday had a definite steering problem as one wheel was at right angles to the mudguard. I guess a tie rod had broken or dropped off.  There are reports that hundreds of truck drivers die each year when their trucks overturn, wrap themselves around trees or poles or collide with other vehicles.  Another truck I saw today had a section of tyre bolted over a split in the tyre and I was told that sometimes tyres are filled with rice which is pushed in through the valve hole forming a semi-solid tyre.”

FAMISHED MAN ON THE PAKISTAN AFGHANISTAN BORDER……“Whilst waiting for the Afghan officials to process our documents I sat in the car and peeled a honeydew melon. I threw the skin out the window thinking one of the mangy dogs hovering around would pounce on it; but no, an old bloke in a black and dusty bedraggled army greatcoat snatched up the skin and began eating it. I felt ashamed that my cast-off was actually picked out of the dirt by another human being. Feeling guilty, I cut a chunk off my melon and gave it to the old man. He smiled and muttered a blessing.  I realised that it might not be a good idea to eat in front of the less well fed from now on.” 

Without a leaf, without a flower, without a blade of grass. Local taxi with twenty passengers passing through the Khyber Pass.

Without a leaf, without a flower, without a blade of grass. Local taxi with twenty passengers passing through the Khyber Pass.

AFTER THE OVERLAND DRIVE IAN & I TOOK OFF FOR AFRICA.

Adventure didn’t come to an end once we reached England. After saying farewell to John, Ian and I hitchhiked to Scotland and then flew to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Whilst in England we looked into the possibility of buying a motorbike and ride the length of Africa starting in Morocco, however when we contacted the Moroccan embassy we were told a single motorbike traverse of the desert would not be permitted.  Not to be put off we flew to Nairobi and bought a 250cc BSA motorbike with the aim of heading for Uganda to go gorilla spotting.

The BSA being built from the ground up.

The BSA being built from the ground up.

The BSA with full load.

The BSA with full load.

The above photograph was taken just prior to setting up camp for the night.  We were told it was OK to camp there as ‘no leopords here but leopords up the road’.  Once on the road we realised that there were certain dangers camping out in Africa.  At one camp we heard lions roaring in the night; heartbeats on the pillow when in half slumber allowed my imagination to run wild, thinking elephants were about to trample us to death.  At one camp I went down through the scrub to a creek to gather water and I was very alert to sounds around me as I imagined a big cat jumping out to attack. This was the first and last time I have ever been scared in the bush.

There are many stories relating to our time in Kenya and maybe when old age catches up with me and I am not capable of travelling I will have the time to write them down.  Some of the events that come to mind include: our motorbike breaking down and the subsequent shipping of it back to Nairobi, climbing Mt Elgon (4,321 metres) on the Kenyan Ugandan border, hitchhiking to Mombasa, being accosted by a lady wanting to sell herself to me for a shilling, bottle feeding newborn twins, attending a brainwashing  colour slide night run by missionaries, being molested by a passenger in a truck we were travelling in, sitting next to a woman on a bus who was breastfeeding a baby on one breast and a piglet on the other, teaching a driver how to change gear on a VW Kombi that he had just bought and sleeping in a concrete cell and watching fireflies hovering above me.

Following are a few photographs relating to the stories mentioned above.

The house where we stayed and bottle-fed the twin babies.

The house where we stayed and bottle-fed the twin babies.

When hitching we were picked up by an English chap who was the manager of a Ford agency. He took us to his home. His wife had recenty given birth to twins so we helped to feed the babies.

Waiting for a ride to Mombasa

Waiting for a ride to Mombasa

A tiptruck driver picked us up here. I sat in the front seat between the driver and  passenger, Ian stood up in the back.  The passenger took a fancy to me and began to make advances but when the driver stopped for a call of nature I shot out of the cabin, Ian jumped down with our backpacks and we ran off into the bush and hid.

A few kilometres from the Ugandan border our motorbike broke a valve spring so our travels with the motorbike were over.  Ian hitched to the border to find a truck which would transport our bike back to Nairobi. I stayed with the bike and awaited his return.

While waiting I made  myself  comfortable and lay in the grass reading.  I didn’t get much reading done as  a woman came out of the bush and laid down next to me. She said ‘me shilling’ and indicated that I should get on top of her.  I immediately jumped up but my lady friend shouted in Swahili, I assumed something to the effect that I had tried to rape her. Out of the bush came some fierce-looking accomplices wielding sticks who started whacking me. Fortunately I was wearing a thick Afghan coat and with crash helmet on I managed to not suffer any injuries.  The amusing aspect of the event were the passers-by who came over, took their shoes off and also whacked me.

The driver and the truck near the Kenyan Ugandan border that saved the day. The truck was  carrying bananas

The driver and the truck near the Kenyan Ugandan border that saved the day. The truck was carrying bananas

Ian returned with a truck in the middle of the altercation so with haste we lifted the fully laden motorbike into the back of the truck and the driver covered it and us with bananas. He was worried that he might get caught and be charged with picking up hitchhikers, an illegal act in Kenya.  Soon after we set off the truck came to a stop at a police barricade. Police officers brandishing batons went around the truck tapping tyres so we slunk lower into the bananas hoping not to be discovered.  The driver let us off about three kilometres outside a nearby town as he didn’t want to be seen unloading us and our bike. From there we pushed the bike to a railway siding and organised its shipment back to Nairobi.  From then on we were hitchhiking.

From Kenya we went  to South Africa and back to Perth Western Australia.  From Perth we returned to the Pilbara region (northern WA) where we continued surveying  the centreline for the iron ore railway.  When the survey was complete we returned to the eastern states and went back to ‘ordinary living’.

Ian settled in well but it was a different matter for me. I was restless and yearned for more travel adventure.

Returning to Sydney  I applied for my old job back with the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission of NSW. The chief engineer offered me a position in either Maitland or Tamworth.  I said Tamworth and that was the best decision I ever made; I met Bev.

Back at my old job I found ‘ordinary living’ difficult and found it hard to settle back into work. I was restless after the overland and African adventures.  I also found it difficult coping with the petty thinking of those around me; my workmates were only interested in who was going to win the football and thinking about the price of a beer. I was thinking about the family living in the telephone box and the misty-eyed beggars who knocked on the Landrover windows, the melon skin eater on the Pakistan Afghan border and other unfortunates living a life of poverty.

Fortunately for me, meeting Bev was the antidote for my restlessness. We talked adventure travel and about the countries and cities we would like to visit.  Unfortunately for me our romanticising was short-lived as Bev had booked a passage to Europe on the Greek ship S.S. Australis just before we met. I was doomed to talking football and beer.

The day Bev departed was a gloomy day for me. I had lost the one and only girl I had met who shared a common interest, travel.  Our separation prompted a serious saving spree and I soon I had $5000 in kitty, a substantial amount in 1972.  She agreed that I should come to Europe so we met in Munich just after the 1972 Olympic Games where we bought a VW Beetle, a tent, a gas stove, a couple of air beds and a few pots and pans and, in the middle of winter, headed for Iraq.

Bev in Portobello Road London prior to our meeting in Munich.

Bev in Portobello Road London prior to our meeting in Munich.

Travelling through Europe and the Middle East in midwinter presented us with a few problems and they included trying to keep warm, finding accommodation (hotels and camping areas were closed as it was off season) and being exposed to some pretty tricky road conditions.  Driving on icy roads and ploughing through snow drifts were new to us but after a couple of slips, slides and bogs we soon mastered the technique of staying on the road.

Getting the chains on.  The easiest way to put chains on is to jack the car up then slip the chains under the wheel.

Getting the chains on. The easiest way to put chains on is to jack the car up then slip the chains under the wheel.

One of my biggest problems was keeping Bev safe from the advances of men wanting to have their way with her.  In some countries at the time a big proportion of the male population believed that all western women were prostitutes.  Some  years later I asked Bev if she was concerned about her safety. Her reply was, ‘I wasn’t  scared. I trusted you to look after me’.

Looking after Bev. This night in Turkey we slept in a rat-infested storeroom.  I put the broken umbrella over our faces to keep the rats off.

Looking after Bev. This night in Turkey we slept in a rat-infested storeroom. I put the broken umbrella over our faces to keep the rats off.

There is a curious tale relating to the night in the rat nest. It was late when we stopped at a small café high in the hills in southern Turkey. I had thoughts that because there was nowhere to pitch our tent we might sleep on the outdoor tables in front of the café but when I suggested it to the owner he instructed us to follow his offsider who took us to a small room at the rear of the café.  The room turned out to be rather grotty but with a little effort we cleared a spot for our mattress.  There was a window with a hessian curtain which had a small hole. The offsider was very apologetic and even though we indicated that we weren’t worried about it he went away and came back with a nail and stitched the hole together.  Bev had a good night’s sleep but I seemed to be awake most of the night keeping rats at bay.

Café owner’s offsider. An offsider is an Australian term for a helper.

Café owner’s offsider. An offsider is an Australian term for a helper.

Unfortunately our host could speak very little English and the same applied for us with Turkish but we did determine that he respected Australians because they fought well in the war.

In 1972 free camping in Europe was not frowned upon as it is today. On many occasions we were offered places to pitch our tent and in the Islamic countries especially we were made most welcome as it was believed by some that visitors are sent by Allah and  should be made welcome.

An example of the hospitality extended to us was when we were in Syria.  On the night in question we had no alternative but to free camp and we asked a local if there was somewhere we could pitch our tent. We were basically told we could camp anywhere.  There was a track across a ploughed field which led to a knoll with a few low shrubs and I thought it a good spot to camp because we could hide ourselves in the hope of an undisturbed night. The sun was setting and as it dipped a silhouette appeared on the horizon. A small boy staggered towards us carrying a tray on which were two glasses of warm milk and a bowl of sugar. He was sent by his father who said we were visitors and Allah welcomed us.  And we were worried about being waylaid!

Today Syria is in the news and it’s because mayhem reigns. Every time we hear a media report about Syria we wonder if the boy who brought us friendship and others who we met on the roads to Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo are still alive.

Another experience associated with Muslim hospitality I must tell you about is the night we stayed with a family near Goreme in central Turkey.   Goreme town is located among the ‘fairy chimney’ rock formations in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. 

A fairy chimney ‘McMansion’ circa 12th century.

A fairy chimney ‘McMansion’ circa 12th century.

Fairy chimneys were formed as the result of the erosion of tuff, a light, porous rock formed by consolidation of volcanic ash layers.  The layers were sculpted by wind and floodwater running down valley slopes. Water found its way through the porous rock creating fissures and cracks in the surface of harder rock. The softer easily erodible material was gradually swept away leaving conical formations protected with harder tuff caps. Various types of fairy chimneys are found in the region; there are those with caps, cones, and mushroom-like forms, columns and pointed rocks.

Bev and the Beetle on the edge of an inactive volcano near Goreme.

Bev and the Beetle on the edge of an inactive volcano near Goreme.

Bev and I wet to the Cappadocia region to specifically seek out the underground cities of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu where inhabitants lived from as far back as the 6th century during times of raids.  In 1972 few people visited the region so it was difficult to find a guide or anyone who could speak English. We eventually tracked down a young man who could speak English, had a torch and the knowledge of the underground labyrinths.  It was an amazing experience, wandering through the complex where up to 20,000 people once lived or sought shelter.

Bev in one of the underground cities.

Bev in one of the underground cities.

The Cappadocia region

The Cappadocia region

It was dark when we emerged from underground and we asked our guide if he knew of a place we could stay and he replied we could stay with ‘my ant’.  Aunty, her husband and their family lived in a very small one-roomed house and even though there were eight of the family living in one room they managed to squeeze us in. Again we were told we were visitors sent by Allah.

After introduction formalities we were instructed to sit on the floor in the middle of the living/bedroom and a large circular tray of food was placed in front of us. On the tray was a large circular cloth, which came up over our knees.  We were instructed to eat and when we indicated that our host and family should join us we were told ‘visitors eat first’.  The food was pretty basic: potato bread and pickled onions, tomatoes and olives.  After dinner we talked with the family with our guide acting as interpreter. One of the older girls was curious as to what particular style of underwear Bev was wearing; so interested in fact that she pulled at the neck of Bev’s jumper and peered down and then felt Bev’s breast.  Bedtime came and we compressed ourselves as best we could on the floor in the corner of the room.  There was only one bed and that belonged to aunty and her husband, one older daughter and four young siblings slept on the floor.  Soon after lights out there was a lot of chatter; father had arrived home from the chi house and brought all his friends to see the visitors.

Our guide, (the lad with the blue shirt and yellow worry beads in hand).  Aunty is on far right and the lass, with an interest in underwear, is in the green jumper on left sitting behind Bev front row left.   A jumper is an Australian term for a woolly sweater or jersey.

Our guide, (the lad with the blue shirt and yellow worry beads in hand). Aunty is on far right and the lass, with an interest in underwear, is in the green jumper on left sitting behind Bev front row left. A jumper is an Australian term for a woolly sweater or jersey.

An official report released by the Turkish tourism authority in January 2014 stated that 2,386,000 Turkish and foreign tourists visited the Cappadocia region in the ten months from January to October 2013.  I suspect our guide and family may well be still involved with making people welcome, because in the 1990s a story in a travel magazine about Goreme included a photo of what we are sure is the same family!  

Experiences such as the one we had with the family can still be had; there are a number of organisations that promote  stays with locals which makes travel richer by connection.  Go to the web for a list of organisations; Couchsurfing is one of the larger ones and if you do not want to sleep on a couch and are prepared to pay a little go to Airbnb and choose one of the least expensive options.

In 1972 if we were not given a bed and if we couldn’t find a hotel we free-camped.  Free camping today is not so easy, authorities want to see you pay for your night’s accommodation so they can reap their share of taxes.  These days free camping in the cycling world is called ‘stealth camping’, so named because you have to hide yourself and keep a low profile. In Greece I have read it is legal to camp in the grounds of the Orthodox churches, so on our forthcoming trip we will have to give it a go and see what happens.

Our first free camp (Greece) in 1972.   Bev ‘knocking up’  dinner.

Our first free camp (Greece) in 1972. Bev ‘knocking up’ dinner.

 The morning after a night under the stars in Spain.  One of the greatest pleasures in life for me is to sleep under the stars.

The morning after a night under the stars in Spain. One of the greatest pleasures in life for me is to sleep under the stars.

Camped high in the mountains of Greece 1972.  Note the frost on the Beetle and tent.

Camped high in the mountains of Greece 1972. Note the frost on the Beetle and tent.

Travelling through Europe and the Middle East in the latter months of 1972 and early months of 1973 was a bone-chilling experiemce.  On a couple of occasions we slept in the car, which was not a smart move as the condensation from our breaths would freeze on the interior and waking in the morning was akin to being in a freezer.  The Beetle with its air-cooled motor suited the conditions perfectly. It did however have one or two cold weather problems…the locks would freeze so we never locked the doors, the windscreen wipers froze and on one occasion the tyres froze with flats on them.

 Talking of locks, there is an amusing tale I must tell you about Beetle locks.  On one occasion we locked ourselves out of the car. With the keys left in the ignition the only way I could see to retrieve them was to break a window which I was adamant to do.  I know you are thinking, ‘jiggle your way in through the quarter window’ but I couldn’t do that because I had secured the window locks with a piece of cord to stop thieves jiggling the lock open with a piece of wire.  The following photograph shows the situation.

My quarter window securing system; the cord from the window lock down to the arm rest.  The cord stops thieves from inserting a wire through the rubber seal and flicking the lock open.

My quarter window securing system; the cord from the window lock down to the arm rest. The cord stops thieves from inserting a wire through the rubber seal and flicking the lock open.

So there we were, locked out; how was I going to get in?  Fortunately, the boot of the Beetle was open and in the boot was our gas stove which was an integral part of my break-in plan.  I took a short piece of fencing wire, heated it red hot, inserted it through the rubber seal and cut the cord. All I had to do was jiggle the toggle lock and open the quarter window.  These days we carry two sets of keys and have another set taped under our car.

When in Lebanon enroute to Syria we made plans to ship the Beetle to Cyprus from where we were heading for Israel. The reason we had to go via Cyprus was because the Israeli Lebanese border was closed. From Israel we intended to drive  along the north coast of Egypt.

From Egypt the plan was to drive west along the Mediterranean coast through Libya to Tunis, from where we intended to take a ferry to Italy. Unfortunately for us dictator Gaddafi of Libya closed the borders and thwarted our plans. We had no alternative but to return westwards and travel once again through Turkey and Greece which, in retrospect, was to our benefit  as we saw parts of both countries we missed during our eastward travels.

Bev having a chat with young locals along the south coast of Turkey during our return east from Syria.

Bev having a chat with young locals along the south coast of Turkey during our return east from Syria.

After our sojourn through Europe and the Middle East we made landfall in England. I managed to get a job with a small engineering works doing time and motion study and Bev worked in the inspection department after I showed her how to read a micrometer.  The most positive thing about our jobs was the owner who was a bit of an eccentric like myself and so we communicated wonderfully. He supplied us with a baby Fiat to run around in and set us up in the east wing of his house.

Honeybottom estate where we lived in England.

Honeybottom estate where we lived in England.

John and I built a conervatory and we needed glass. John bought the glass and brought it back on top of his convertible; dangerous some might say but he survived WW2 as a pilot so his thinking was ‘a sheet of glass at my neck is not a problem’. Note the flimsy string tied to the door handle of the car holding the glass in position and the tin of putty keeping the glass level.

Our friend John bringing home the glass.

Our friend John bringing home the glass.

Our friend John.  If Bev and I visit England during this odyssey I will tell you a lot more about this wonderfully interesting character.

Our friend John. If Bev and I visit England during this odyssey I will tell you a lot more about this wonderfully interesting character.

Whilst in England I proposed to Bev.  If she said yes I told her I would stay in England, otherwise I was off down the Amazon by canoe.  I never made it to the Amazon but one day we might get there and if I do, it will be a matter of ‘having my cake and eating it too’.

On the way home from England we went to Mexico then thought we would head for Central America. One of the towns we visited was Taxco where Bev bought her wedding dress.  Some of our travels in Mexico were ‘on the thumb’ (hitchiking) and one lift we remember was when we were picked up by an American couple with whom we continued travelling around Mexico for a few days.  The van was a beauty, it was  airconditioned and very luxurious. Consequently, we didn’t get to Central America.

Hitching in Mexico. Our saviours in the oncoming van, Dick and Bea from Los Angeles.

Hitching in Mexico. Our saviours in the oncoming van, Dick and Bea from Los Angeles.

After Mexico we returned to Tamworth, married, had kids and built a mudbrick house.  The reason we built with mud bricks was because it was ‘dirt cheap’. We didn’t want to borrow money because in my mind at the time was the notion that once you borrow money the bank has ‘got you’ and you spend the rest of your life paying the bank back and there is no money or time for travel.

Mudbrick cottage Hungary 1972.

Mudbrick cottage Hungary 1972.

The inspiration for us to build a mudbrick house came from this humble abode.  This is what travel does for me, provides me with inspiration.

Building our mudbrick house. Our English friend Bill making mortar and laying up the bricks.  Bill now lives in the US and writes comments on this blog.

Building our mudbrick house. Our English friend Bill making mortar and laying up the bricks. Bill now lives in the US and writes comments on this blog.

Bev and I, with the help of friends, made thousands of bricks; the material for the bricks came from our property.

Diningroom window sill going in (1978).  Eighty percent of the timber we used in our house, including this window sill, is recycled. Get the long hair and flared trousers!

Dining room window sill going in (1978). Eighty percent of the timber we used in our house, including this window sill, is recycled. Get the long hair and flared trousers!

Dining area.  The window sill on right is the one I’m putting into place in the previous photograph. The dining room table is two metres in diameter and is made from timber once used as concrete formwork.

Dining area. The window sill on right is the one I’m putting into place in the previous photograph. The dining room table is two metres in diameter and is made from timber once used as concrete formwork.

View along the rear of the house.

View along the rear of the house.

The north end of our ‘handmade’ house.

Front verandah.  The floor timbers are seventeen metres long and measure 400mm x 75mm. I bought them for $11 a piece, a bargain indeed.

Front verandah. The floor timbers are seventeen metres long and measure 400mm x 75mm. I bought them for $11 a piece, a bargain indeed.

Living area. The house is painted throughout with waterbase paint.

Living area. The house is painted throughout with waterbase paint.

Our fireplace, a modified buoy.  I came across 300 of these in a scrapyard in Sydney. They were used to suspend an anti-submarine net across the entrance of Sydney harbour during WW2.

Our fireplace, a modified buoy. I came across 300 of these in a scrapyard in Sydney. They were used to suspend an anti-submarine net across the entrance of Sydney harbour during WW2.

Entrance to our ceramic workshop. The paths are not concrete but stabilised earth.  To see what is made in the workshop go to www.claycraft.com.au

Entrance to our ceramic workshop. The paths are not concrete but stabilised earth. To see what is made in the workshop go to http://www.claycraft.com.au

The Shack on our place; a resthouse for weary travellers.

The Shack on our place; a resthouse for weary travellers.

As I mentioned previously, there is good in every belief or religion. Buddhists believe that we should plant roadside trees for weary travellers to rest under and provide a place for those travellers to stay in.  The ‘shack’ is one such house. Over the years many travellers have stayed here.  The ‘shack’ is now on the Couchsurfing register.

During our house building I decided on a motto…..’WORK BREEDS INSPIRATION’ meaning… don’t worry about how you are going to do it, just get on with it.

FORTHCOMING ENCOUNTERING THE PAST ODYSSEY PART 2.

The forthcoming odyssey starts in Athens from where we will fly to the island of Kythera.  There are good reasons for going to Kythera and I will post the stories when we are there.  From Kythera we hope to island hop through the Cyclades and Sporades groups and finish our Greek adventure in Thessaloniki.  From Thessaloniki we will head for Switzerland to do some bicycle touring.   After Switzerland we head for Sweden. Maybe we will go via England and visit Honeybottom once more.

POST #2 WILL BE  LATE MARCH,  AFTER WE ARRIVE IN ATHENS.

Thanks to everyone who has posted comments on the blog so far. I would like to answer them personally but my blog advisor says if I do it opens the blog to spam and unsolicited advertising.

Bev and I hope you will tag along with us on our forthcoming odyssey but remember:  

we do not know exactly where we are going but we will end up where we are supposed to be.

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About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
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