Africa Trip



Well, I guess I always had the travel bug.

I don't know where it came from, maybe my father.

But the first trip I made was just after completing my A levels, when I was seventeen.

A friend, John Beacon, had won a travel award of £50 with the idea of going to Africa.

I thought this sounded a great adventure and we agreed to go together. We really had little idea of what we needed to organise or even how to get there. But we knew the cheapest way was by Messageries Maritimes from Marseilles travelling steerage or fifth class.

When we arrived in Marseilles we were told that 'Europeans' (ie white people) were not allowed to travel fifth class. So we camped inside the MM offices for three days until they changed their mind!

It turned out our companions were mainly Mauritians returning home, and a large contingent of French Foreign Legion travelling to Ethiopia. Everybody was very friendly and the legionnaires adopted us. The boat trip was a fairly gruelling two weeks culminating in three days of very severe storms. We felt lucky to get to Mombasa.

Then we started to hitchhike.

By a coincidence that I never appreciated at the time my father had obtained maps from Bruce Chatwin who lived in our village. We followed these through Kenya, up thorough Uganda and eventually to the Sudan, and to Egypt. It makes a long story which I shall get round to writing and posting one day, but for the minute I'll simply leave you with a picture!

John Beacon on the left and me on the right. We had just bought bread - food at last - from a shop in Malakal, Sudan

The next trip was on my own in 1967. I had won a United Nations Association essay writing competition. This time I got the travel award - £50. I had written an essay on minorities - the Greeks living in Turkey, the Turks living in Greece and also about the poor of Southern Italy. So it was a marvellous excuse for visiting Istanbul, Athens and Naples!

But it was an extraordinary trip because I met Father Borelli in Naples, and he was an extraordinary man.He had been born a street urchin, become a priest, and then in order to make contact with the street children, gone back to the streets in disguise. This meant sleeping on the pavement again, petty crime, prostitution and all the other rackets. Eventually redonning his cassock the street children could not believe he was a priest, but the trust he had developed enabled him to start the first refuge, the Casa.

I worked there for a while and it is an experience I have never forgotten. I was robbed whilst I was going round the back streets taking photographs. Father Borelli was very shocked by this. Within hours he had put the word round and my camera was returned and with the film still intact! Some of the photos are below. But this trip, too, is a longer story which I shall tell one day.

Just round the corner from the Casa and near where I was robbed by a group of naughty eight year olds!

But perhaps the happiest and most exciting trip I did was with Meg. At a rather drunken dinner party I had declared that I would like to travel to Iran and India and that I thought it would be a good idea to do it on a motorbike. On a motorbike I felt one would have more contact with the people, than cocooned in a car. I could also push it if it broke down. Wrong on both counts!

But off I went the next day and put the deposit down on a lovely shiny blue BMW 750 series 6.

Meg was both enthusiastic and  brave. She never voiced the least doubt and with her utter faith in me I had to do it.

So we left our jobs, and a few weeks later, waved off by a few friends, we set off from Redcliffe Square. A few seconds later we were back. Meg had forgotten her gloves. That's how organised we were!

Europe was relatively easy, but Turkey was another thing all together. Driving down to Izmir in heavy traffic at night I thought this really is not a good idea. Suicidal or murderous lorry drivers were delighting in forcing us off the road and at the campsite that evening I said to Meg we should not go on. But we met a Dutch couple in a VW camper van. Pim had a lot more balls than I had and said you cannot give in now. "Follow us and you'll be OK!" And we did. All the way to Tehran. By this time we had met other motorcylists and I had begun to get the hang of driving the BMW. We had also sent a load of stuff back home so the bike was not so overloaded and a lot easier to handle. Travel light is the answer. Less to worry about.

After Tehran the travelling just got better and more exciting. Afghanistan - I am so glad we went there when we could - and Nepal were outstanding bits of the adventure and India was a delight. But a frustration too!. Two weeks of processing ludicrous Customs and carnet papers to get the bike out of Calcutta was frustrating and pointless. Until I realised it was a way of providing employment to countless bureaucrats!

Burma and Thailand were beautiful and unspoilt.

Yup, we finally got to Australia and this is at Albany, about to have a picnic. Most of my hair has gone and the moustache did not really work!

In Nepal we met Ted Simon, a far more impressive and erudite traveller than I am. Not satisfied with going round the world on a motorcycle once, he has just done it again and he's in his early 70's . Well done Ted! Visit www.jupitalia.com to read his story.

Ted Simon at Earls Court round the corner from our flat  after the first trip!

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