My father kissed me goodby on the lips, surprising me. He had never shown that kind of emotion before but, after all, I was leaving on a year's journey into the unknown with only the sketchiest of plans. It was 1966 and I was 27 years old, two years past the draft age for the Vietnam war.
A few days earlier I left my engineering job in New Orleans and came home to Shreveport, store my car and goods and say goodby to my parents. I had been doing thermal analysis work on the Saturn 1B rocket for a year and a half and saved up some money for traveling. Being cooped up in an office, I was getting restless again even though I was able to get out occasionally to test fire the rockets. Two years earlier, I spent three months bicycling in Europe; now I wanted to go to Australia and Asia, overland to Istanbul, and eventually travel more in Europe. Once you get the traveling bug…………..
I researched this trip for months before finding The Tahitien, a ship from Marseille sailing under the Messageries Maritimes Company banner. From France, it sails through the Panama Canal where I would jump on board, then across the Pacific to Tahiti, finally landing in Sydney, Australia. From Panama to Sydney, the voyage would take 33 days for the magnificent sum of $302. This included five port days in Tahiti, five days in New Caledonia, stops in a couple of other smaller islands, French food and wine the whole way. All in all, it was just what I had in mind for a great way to start the trip.
TO MEXICO CITY - JAN 10
The overnight bus took me to San Antonio by way of Dallas, then another to Laredo on the Mexican border. In San Antonio, I had time for an enchilada lunch and a touristo visit to the Alamo. At a drugstore, I bought some entero-vioform tablets for possible diarrhea problems while traveling. The druggist started berating me for vagabonding instead of fighting in Vietnam. I just laughed at him and said, if he felt like that, he should go; I felt that we had no business in Vietnam.
In Laredo, my bus arrived just when the train to Mexico City left, missed it, so I got a hotel room and a bus ticket to leave tomorrow. In the square, I made friends with two American fellows who showed me around. We went to a couple of dance halls listening to the music. One band had an accordion and sounded amazingly like a Louisiana cajun band except for singing in Spanish rather than French.
I left the US with $745 in cash and travelers checks. Somewhere in Asia, I will send for more from my bank account.
I sat with Mario, who spoke English, in the front seat of the bus. On the four hour ride to Monterrey, the bus overheated, the gears got stuck and it had a flat tire. We changed to a much better bus in Monterrey. About 5 am we passed a group of about twenty people carrying large crosses, wearing elaborate costumes and huge headdresses. Not sure what it was about but I felt honored to witness what seemed to be an important ceremony. We arrived in Mexico City about 8 am.
Mario led me to the Hotel Monte Carlo but it was full. Back at the bus station, I met Berks Brown, a Canadian from Newfoundland, on his way to Brazil for the Carnival. He said "Let's hitchhike to Panama together." Sounded fun to me so we hurried to catch the 11 am Fletcha Rojas bus to Oaxaca to get out of the big city.
TO GUATEMALA CITY - JAN 13
At each town, niños jumped aboard the bus selling pop and tortas so we didn't starve. Berks and I talked politics and economics most of the trip. He was against both capitalism and communism, and for a new non-bureaucratic order of the common people in which the individual was predominant, arts and culture flourished and social injustice was non-existent. A very worthwhile philosophy but, I thought, a very idealistic view of a utopian society. On the way to Panama City, we had many interesting talks about how people live, both economically and politically. Berks had made this same trip last year and could speak excellent Spanish. I could imagine him traveling the Pan-American Highway year after year far into the future, heading south, always south.
In Oaxaca, we were tired and sleepy so got a room in the Hotel Rex for much needed rest and sleep. Next morning, we toured the archaeological museo learning about the local Monte Alban and Mitla cultures, then wandered through the outdoor market. We walked out of town eating tangerines and slices of pineapple. A truck took us to El Tule, famous for the huge cypress tree in the churchyard, reputedly 5000 years old. The trunk was 42 meters in circumference. Sorry there is no photo of the tree. We ate tortillas from the nearby house and talked to some niños until a truck filled with molasses cakes stopped and took us to Mitla.
El Tule Church
We ate arroz con pollo at a truck stop and walked along the road overlooking a river valley as twilight fell. The huts down below, hidden among the foliage, sprouted fires and candles, no electricity. As an excuse to talk to the people, we walked down to ask for water and were drawn to a place with music. It was a cantina with friendly people milling about but only soda pop was served. The music came from a large loudspeaker and turntable operated by two car batteries.
Back on the road, total darkness, the stars were brilliant. A truck stopped and took us to near Tapachulos where we slept the night in our bags under tropical palm trees. After the sun rose, a Buick came roaring by, stopped, came back and offered us a ride. They were three wild looking guys from Guatemala, the driver wore a hat pulled down over his face with sunglasses, all looked like gangsters from the States. Carlos owned the car, Fernandez had just returned from Finland, the third did not say much, perhaps because he could not speak English.
Close to the border, the country was becoming more jungly, bare-breasted women were washing clothes in the rivers. At the border, I had to spend time getting a visa and our guys were very nice and helpful. Both Mexican and Guatemalan customs charged for overtime (?) and a complete inspection of the car. Police were on the lookout for guerrillas; a virtual war was going on in the countryside. There were wanted posters for Luis Lima and Marco Sosa for communist guerrilla activities, 25,000 dollar reward. On the way to Guatemala City we hit a dog and bent a driveshaft support. Somehow we straightened it with a tire iron. Marvelous! It was a great ride with some great guys.
Arrived in Guatemala City late, got a room at Hotel Leon and ate chow mein in a Chinese restaurant. Next day was Sunday so we acted like tourists. We went to the plaza, listened to orchestra music, talked to shoeshine boys and toured the National Palace (most beautiful in Central America). The park was very crowded and colorful with Indians wearing native costumes and crazy hats. After lunch, we went to the Archeology Museum. Some of the PRE-COLOMBIAN heads here (and in the Oaxaca museo) have beards and European features. How did that happen? Carlos had told us that in Coban, many Indians have green eyes and blond hair.
TO SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA - JAN 17
Next morning, we bussed out to the large houses in the suburbs to obtain visas from the El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica consulates, then began hitchhiking south. The Pan-Am highway is only partially paved, a mountainous road changing into dense jungle with tall palm trees. We passed two tremendous volcanos along the way. Several rides took us to a truck stop where we slept under the stars with a promise of a ride to San Salvador the next morning. We have seen what it's like to live without electricity, people living much as they have for hundreds of years. Everyone walking along the road carries a machete for cutting bananas. As Berks says;
EVERY MAN CARRIES A LONG KNIFE…...EVERY MAN IS ARMED
THEY ARE READY FOR THE REVOLUTION!!
El Salvador Border - Food Stalls
Our truck driver loaded up with barrels of molasses at the El Salvador border, then later stopped at a house (the truck owner's house) where we all ate tortillas and sausages. Tortillas are different in each country, these were thick and filling. The drivers decided to stay awhile so we caught another ride to San Salvador, then three more all the way to the Nicaraguan border. El Salvador has the most magnificent vistas, cultivated valleys, active volcanos, lakes, rivers and the sky steeped in beautiful, natural colors as the sun set.
We stopped to drink coconut juice from the green nut with the top sliced off. Near the border, the driver invited us to stay at his house as the border was closed for the night. He owned a store with lots of kids around. He fed us coffee and cookies and strung up hammocks for us on the patio. Just before turning in, the kids gave us each handmade slingshots (they thought we needed protection) and the father gave us each a colon for the short bus ride to the border in the morning. He was insistent on doing everything for us. What friendly people everywhere!
Next day, we crossed into Honduras, a rough and dry country, then into Nicaragua. There was harassment of trucks and much unnecessary inspection at every border. We arrived in Managua at 10 pm, rode into center of town and walked to Berks' favorite restaurant for hamburgers. There we met two gringos from Norway who were going to Costa Rica to pan for gold. Why not? We walked over to the plaza, found music and singing at an outdoor cafe, and met a very friendly girl and a fellow from Paris. We flirted with her and talked awhile - she was stunning. Some students came by and began talking politics (Berks' specialty). We've been telling everyone we were from Iceland and the students questioned us thoroughly. "What's the capitol of Iceland?" Well, I had no idea, even Berks stumbled over the pronunciation of Reykjavik. An older man came along who we had met in Guatemala. Then an old hobo joined the act yelling for money. All at one time, the students were yelling trying to make us understand their Spanish, the girl was asking us to come to bed with her and her sister, the old man was shaking our hands and the hobo was demanding money and screaming to top everyone. Finally, everyone went away so we drank a pepsi, listening to guitar music, reading and writing. Calm descended on Managua.
We went to the beach to see the sunrise, then took a couple of buses to the Costa Rican border. Americans in a large car ignored our attempt at hitchhiking, but three Mexican students took us to San Jose. Near San Jose, the highway was lined with people waving banners, flags and screaming - a political parade had just passed. It seems we have preceded the president of Mexico, Diaz Ordaz, in every country on our way south. He is getting a tremendous reception everywhere.
Berks and Gregg In San Jose
In San Jose, we took a hotel room and found a restaurant with the best Paella Valencia I have ever eaten. I could eat it every day. I was in heaven. The city is very European and Costa Rica is obviously more prosperous than other Central American countries.
TO PANAMA CITY - JAN 21
Next morning, after a breakfast of heavenly bread pudding, we took a bus to David in northern Panama. On the bus was Jilles, a French Canadian radio broadcaster going to Rio. Also Rhoda, a peace core volunteer from Oregon living in Volcan doing community planning but speaks very little Spanish. She said she does not actually do planning but acts as a catalyst (?). Jilles thought the CIA was using her (innocently) as a spy. Berks quoted the famous line;
"YOUNG IDEALISTS, THEY ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS KIND"
The road was spectacular, verdant, beautiful with rolling hills and mountains dropping down into banana plantations. Local people seated behind us said "U.S. Fruit Company owned all the land in south Costa Rica and no one could work independently, own their own house, or even live there without working for the company. " Also wages were extremely low and schooling was virtually non-existent. I could hear Berks muttering about capitalist corporations and how their greed is ruining the world.
We arrived in David at 11 pm, ate quickly and found hotel rooms. Jilles had some of the green stuff so we bought some rum and coke and had a little party. Turned out to be a poetry party;
A pregnant priest named Peter was riding a leaping llama from Lima When he met a pagan prostitute from Panama Peter became pagan in Panama and made the prostitute pregnant Then the pagan priest and pregnant prostitute rode the leaping llama to Laredo
I knew time was getting short to meet the ship in Panama, so I planned to take a plane from David first thing in the morning but the flight schedule changed. I should have taken the plane from San Jose. The bus left in the morning but it was a full days ride. I was cutting it close - the ship was scheduled to sail from Cristobol on the Atlantic side tomorrow evening. We rode across the bridge into Panama City about 10 pm and we got a room at Pension David. I couldn't find a listing of ships in the paper, but I met some New Zealanders at the pension whose buddy was in Cristobol trying to get on the Tahitien. They said it was scheduled to sail later that night. Uh-ooh!!
I called the harbor master to check. He said it will sail at 11 pm, one day earlier than scheduled. I didn't have enough time to make it but I should call the ship's agent in Colon to arrange a launch to take me to the ship when it passes through Balboa on the Pacific side. I talked to the agent and he said ok since the ship's schedule had changed. I should go to Pier 19 at 2 am to meet the launch. What a relief! After a walk around town with Berks and Jilles, I collected my bags at the Pension and went down to the pier. The launch captain said the ship wouldn't clear for a couple of hours so I slept on the bench. The launch cost $16 but the ship agent is paying for it. As the ship came by, I rode the launch out to meet it. The ship looked huge from my perspective on the water. Sailors dropped a rope ladder down, one climbed down to carry my bag up and to make sure I made it up. It was a long, scary climb but I was finally in the ship. There was trouble finding me a bunk. Apparently, Bob Thompson, an Aussie, had got on at the last minute when I didn't show. We later became good friends.
ON THE TAHITIAN TO TAHITI - JAN 23
The Tahitien is primarily a freighter supplying the French islands in the Pacific, the Marquesas, Tahiti, New Hebrides and New Caledonia. It also carried about 300 passengers dispersed among first, second and third classes. I was in third class. I woke up to meet my three bunkmates, a Spaniard and two Frenchmen. I also got to know the Frenchies girlfriends, in fact, a whole family of friends - "Strange family, huh". Most of the passengers seem to be immigrants to Australia from France or Scandinavia although some are going to Tahiti or home to Australia. Several are traveling like myself such as Ron from Canada and Alex from England. I seem to be the only American on board, at least, in third class.
On The Tahitien In the Blue Pacific
The ship is quite dirty, little organization and poor facilities. Food was also poor and fairly monotonous but seemed to perk up as I got used to it. It's certainly different, quite a few things I've never had before or fixed completely differently. Cheese every day for dessert, rarely anything sweet. One nice thing about a French ship is that everyone got a bottle of red wine at each meal. Half the freight must have been wine! There were six passengers at my dining table. The others were two Danes and two Swedes and a Laplander. The Lap was a funny little fellow, odd looking head and spindly body. Several spoke some English. They are all going to work in Australia for two years. The government gives them $200 to encourage immigration.
As the days passed, I settled down to a routine of lying in the sun, reading and talking to other passengers. Saw many sharks and other large fish in the water. A group of albatross were diving in the water catching fish; beautiful, graceful birds. When the sun is out, the water is a deep, deep blue. The ship is traveling at just under 400 miles/day at 16-17 mph. I finished my book, Mainsprings of Civilization, a valuable book for travelers due to it's discussions on various culture groups.
We had a dance in third class, almost no girls in third but the first and second classes came down to make it a real party. Surprisingly, there was a performance of native dancing. Where did they come from? Next morning, the Crossing The Equator initiation was in the first class swimming pool. There was soaping, dunking and other antics, only for passengers who boarded in Marseille. I'm hanging out a lot with Ron, Alex and Bob on deck. Today, we saw some flying fish, looked like large hummingbirds skimming over the water surface. Later, a large school of porpoise were jumping out of the water near the ship. I started reading Essays In Zen Buddhism by Suzuki.
A typical day seems to be get up at 7:30 for breakfast, write in my diary, lie in the sun and read until lunch, sleep after lunch till teatime and converse until dinner at 7. The third class passengers are really an above average group, very interesting to talk to. Sometimes I would have an aperitif with my bunkmates (and family) in our cabin before dinner. The days are uneventful but I am beginning to think freely again and get back the freedom of mind thought that I felt I was losing while working day after day in an office.
On this clear sunny day, Alex and I spent the morning on the sun deck talking about his two years working in Los Angeles, traveling across the globe and tips on how to thrive on the road. He quit his job as an economist for same reason as myself, felt his personality changing for the worse due to office routine. Alex and a few others on the ship, including some Germans, are making a general trip like mine through Asia and also going to Hong Kong and China. Of course, Americans, unlike Europeans, are forbidden to go to China. We are not so free, after all. It seems I have become quite famous as the American who hitchhiked through Central America.
Another interesting person is Duncan who works for the Australian government in New Guiana as a land surveyor and assessor. He heads a crew that roams the island to determine land use, logging and agricultural possibilities, and whatever else might be of economic use. The crew camps out in the jungle and on the beach, cooking foods they find, shoot or catch, even has a chef in the crew. He gets three months paid vacation every two years and has been EVERYWHERE in the world. He recently took the Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow. He loved it.
The Messageries Maritimes (MM) ships like The Tahitien are half owned by the French government, so at any time they can be called upon to perform government services. This is the reason for an additional stop in the Marquesas Islands. We will pick up some French Foreign Legion men (local natives) going to Tahiti as part of the atomic base crew who are conducting nuclear tests in the Pacific. Very, very controversial as is our own nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll.
An Oct 1966 file photo of The Tahitien anchored off the Marquesas
The Tahitien View Of Taiohui, Marquesas
On Feb 1, we sighted the Marquesas and arrived at Taiohui at 2 pm. We anchored offshore took the launch to shore and stepped into a lush tropical paradise. The main, or only, industry is the gathering, processing and shipment of copra. Must be careful or coconuts can fall on your head! There is a dirt road along the shore with clean, beautiful, little houses. Horses are available to rent. I followed a path off the road along a stream to get away from everyone. I passed huts and coconut groves on the way to the foot of a mountain, then began a climb through great scenery. As I reached the crest, I envisioned finding a little village down below untouched by tourists. As it was, I found a fantastic view of a valley below the crest. I skirted the valley, then two more, finally saw the ocean. The valleys are so luxurious, a real paradise, but no evidence of dwellings or people so I came back to Taiohui. No cafe was in the village, so I took the ship's boat back for dinner.
Ron, Alex, Bob and I went ashore again for the evening dance on the basketball court. Swinging music, large beers and wahines to dance with. Some refused, no problem, a little shy. The dance began breaking up around midnight. Ron and I and a Swede, Jan, spread a blanket out for sleeping. Many curious natives came over to talk. The night was black, no lights. Suddenly, out of the dark, came a New York Jewish accent, "Where are you guys from anyway"? He was a draft dodger going from island to island on the copra boats and living with the natives.
We woke up the next morning virtually in the center of town. It was fascinating to sit on the blanket and watch the town spring to life and tourists begin coming in from the ship. We bought some pineapple juice at the general store. Tourist vendors were setting up hand-carved wooden objects, long knives, hatchets, vases, etc. No one really seems to do anything here - just strolling around, talking, playing and eating coconuts. The copra needs little work. The life and atmosphere here slowly grows on you. No wonder the New Yorker chose here to escape the war.
Our new Marquesas passengers going to Tahiti number about fifty. They are living and sleeping on deck. At night, they brought out their strange guitars and sang Polynesian songs, beautiful harmony, wonderful music, the real thing, two nights straight until we reached Tahiti. If only I had a tape recorder!
First Look At Tahiti
Wharf Activity On Papeete Dock
We sighted Tahiti about 10 and docked in Papeete about noon. Directly in front of us was the iconic Quinn's Bar, a place we will spend a lot of time in. We will be spending five days here while the ship is unloaded, so we have plenty of time to explore the island.
Quinn's Bar, Papeete, Tahiti
Today, a group of us walked around town for several hours. Then Ron and I got beers in a native bar. Everybody kept buying for us, not wanting us to leave, but we finally escaped back to the ship for dinner. Afterwards, Ron and I went to Quinn's bar for dancing. Quinn's seems to be the liveliest place in town and the wahines are incredible dancers and wonderfully erotic even though their teeth are all rotten. Ron and I went with two girls to a cafe for coffee and sat with French military guys who paid for all kinds of French hors d'oeuvre trying to impress the girls. But the girls made sure we stayed as their chaperones because they really don't like the French military. This was quite an introduction to Tahiti.
Typical Island View From Road
Typical Island House Near Road
Next day, Alex, Jan, Ron, Duncan and I rented a Fiat 600 to drive around the island and just be tourists. We visited old ruins, swam at the beach and in a river, ate bread and meat at a general store and stopped at the Gauguin museum. We mostly stayed on the leeward side which is the more populated and beautiful side, everything looks like a postcard. Off the main road, we found many fruits growing wild, mangos, avocados, breadfruit, grapefruit, coconuts, pineapple, coffee, red peppers, bananas, pawpaws and custard apples. We gathered some to bring to the ship's kitchen so they could give us a little variety at meals.
Tahiti Archeological Site
First View of Moorea
On this third day in port, I caught the morning boat to Moorea. Many tourists were going to a festival with dinner and native dancing. Wahine greeters were draping everyone with a beautiful flower wreath, including me. The tropical smells wrapped itself around me. Everyone turned right to the resort; I turned left to Cook's Bay, then inland on a jungle path to the mountains. After about five km, I met a boy who gave me three pineapples in exchange for my flower lei. He was curious about what was in my shoulder bag and wanted to trade for my knife but I couldn't let that go. He was a little perplexed because their culture doesn't recognize personal possessions. The islanders are raised to believe that everything belongs to the community equally.
A Walk Into Moorea's Interior
Moorea Beach Scene
I walked another path back to the beach, then to the wharf to catch the 8 pm boat back to Tahiti. I had hoped to spend the night but the weather turned rainy. The wahines on the boat began stroking my arm hair and facial hair (beard) and giggling like they always do. I was too late for dinner on the ship, so I had several shish-kabob with bread and mustard from food stands on the wharf in front of Quinn's. They only cost a dollar each, a great value and very tasty.
Riding the colorful wooden buses and the taxi cars rebuilt with flat beds in back covered with wooden sun roofs is a wonderful experience. I spent the day riding these vehicles and walking where they didn't go. I went swimming at a beach, rode to Tautira on the peninsula and walked around town, then out to the river for more swimming. Many women were washing clothes in the river and some Australians were splashing in the water. Taking a bus back to Papeete, the driver told me no one liked the French military being here and are afraid of the effects of the A-bomb testing on uninhabited islands. At least, the military base is on the far side of the island.
Tahiti Schoolhouse - Elevated For Coolness
The last day in port was fairly uneventful. I wrote letters and postcards and walked a path inland to the top of a mountain for a clear view of Papeete and the harbor. At Quinn's, with friends from the ship, we celebrated leaving one of the guys behind on the island. He had lost $1000 in travelers checks and had to wait for a refund. He had arranged to stay with the barmaid. I'm just wondering: Did he really lose that money? The French are very strict on allowing non-French to stay on Tahiti for any length of time, so Westerners are always devising schemes to stay.
TO NEW CALEDONIA AND SYDNEY - FEB 9
We left port at 7 am. Our days will be quiet for awhile. I changed tables in the dining room so that I am now sitting with the rental car group; Alex, Jan, Duncan, Ron and Bob. We are developing a habit of being the last ones to leave the room and also to drink the most wine.
I finished Alan Watts book on Zen Buddhism. Some thoughts from the book:
Man's science and the resulting perception of the world is far ahead of human society, i.e., politics, ethics and morality. The societies of today, like capitalism and communism, perceive a Newtonian world of things and objects, a materialistic world which must be directed by force. What kind of society will emerge when it perceives and incorporates Einstein's world of relativity, a world of events which happen naturally?
Western religions think of a world that was constructed; Eastern religions think of a world that has grown naturally. How does this difference affect individual and community thinking? How does it affect our idea of God?
Then there is a thought from "Old Pu's Travel Diary"; Many Western scholars respected China, particularly for the primacy of rational thought in Confucian philosophy which does not regard worldly matters as being dictated by a deity in Heaven.
My beard is much fuller now and my hair is quite long. Perhaps I'l have it trimmed in Sydney.We passed Vavao Island in the Tonga Group. Fishing ships are in the bay. The island has a flat top and sheer cliffs, seems to be mostly limestone. Oh, we just had a nonexistent day - crossed the International Date Line.
Ok, a little fun on the ship. A fellow from Martinique is very naive and a little slow, but has a large superiority complex. Some of the guys convinced him that they could do black magic and would teach him. They "cast a spell" on him so that he will be able to walk on water in the swimming pool tomorrow.
In the morning, a crowd gathered around the swimming pool with cameras to watch the magic. It took a while before he gathered the nerve to try it. He put one foot in the water, it sank, so he wouldn't try it again. The poor fellow really believed he was under a spell and it would work. I think most us us just felt sorry for him. In the afternoon, we passed the Fiji Islands, I think we saw six in all, fairly close. This marks the amorphous boundary between the Polynesian world and the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia.
A surprising observation; One quarter of Melanesians have blond, curly hair along with their very dark skin. I learned they did not come from Africa as many people thought, but they inherited a genetic quirk passed down from ancient cousins of Neanderthals.
A few of us got together for a "travel roundtable" to exchange experiences and sow ideas. Dieter, the Austrian-Australian, told us about purchasing a car in Singapore with two others, driving to Kathmandu and hiking to within 20 miles of the Chinese border. They needed hiking permits for that. There is a P&O Line ship from Sydney to Singapore for £95 Aus. Duncan says the best chance of getting a ship to Singapore is from Darwin (northwest corner of Australia). If you want to go to New Zealand, flights from New Caledonia are very inexpensive. Deck passage from Penang to Madras is $20 US. Lutz, the German, told us about traveling through Afghanistan by way of Kabul and Herat. I'm beginning to get an idea of how the travel grapevine works. Every place you go, you hear about the next place. I've been readingGenghis Khan. I love it. Later this year I will be passing through that part of the world.
Passing By Fiji
We arrived at Port-Vila, New Hebrides and took the launch to shore after breakfast. It's a small, neat WWll town with a French-British condominium government. That is, the French govern one month, the British govern the next. It sounds complicated, but it seems to run smoothly. There was not much to see in town, a general store, a market and Chinese trade stores. The native women were selling all kinds of fruit and seafood like fish, mussels and crab, all carried in woven baskets of green leaves. One woman had the biggest crawfish I've ever seen, measured from my elbow to my fingertips with a tail two inches in diameter.
Port Vila, New Hebrides - Town Center
I hiked several miles out of town into beautiful country, some rainforest, some rough hills. In town was a small but very good cultural museum showing aspects of tribes including ceremonial masks, war weapons and everyday tools. At the wharf, my friends and I met an American doctor who had given up everything and is sailing around the world in his own catamarand. I've always wondered if he made it. The launch back to the ship, with a capacity of 50, carried 94 people. We all wanted to make it in time for dinner. The air-conditioning in the third class dining room has been non-functioning for several days now, so we drew up a petition and will give it to the captain tonight. If nothing is done, we will go on strike!!
Ron, Gregg and Alex On The Tahitien
Noumea, New Caledonia, Feb. 18. We dropped anchor at 8 am for a five day stay in this interesting place with ship and air connections to other parts of the Pacific. I spent the afternoon walking around town soaking in the atmosphere. Ron and I obtained a copy of Pacific Islands Monthly from Messageries Maritimes which has lots of information about island travel. Alex and Jan hurriedly made arrangements to get a refund for the remainder of our trip to Sydney and get a flight to New Zealand. The ingrates; how could they abandon us like that?
There was a lot of excitement in town tonight. First, a fight along the street, more like a brawl. We went to several bars, finally stayed in one where the locals kept buying us beers. Again, like in Papeete, they seem fascinated by us and don't want us to leave. Another fight developed in the street, people were running everywhere. A girl lost a blouse which everyone was throwing around. Ron got in the act, caught it and used it as an ascot. Last I saw of him, he was growling at a group of native (black) girls who were dancing around him. Who is that guy? I don't know him!
Our Lovely Ride To The North
After breakfast, Ron and I got pack lunches from the ship's kitchen and began hitching north into the boonies. One ride was with a couple of young girls in a Renault 4CV going to the airport - crazy French girls driving like mad at 110 kph, waving their arms and singing. Didn't know if we were sad or relieved to see them go, but they sure were cute and pretty. Another ride took us to La Foie, 120 km from Noumea. We hiked out into the country side a few kilometers and ate our lunches by a picturesque stream. To our surprise, the kitchen had put a full bottle of wine in each lunch.
Our Picnic Lunch With Wine
No, I Didn't Go Swimming Here
Cagou At The Zoo
Coming back, we rode with a wonderful lady the whole way. She stopped at a roadside zoo to show us their national bird, a cagou (like a cockatoo), small deer and petroglyphs then drove us around Noumea showing us the sights. A very nice lady. At night, we went to a night club in town, then to the Biarritz Club on the beach, sat on the sands until the floor show, then went in. There were Tamure dancing girls and a great rythym singer from Papeete. One of the best shows I've seen.
Words of wisdom from New Caledonia:
NEVER EMPLOY A HOUSEBOY WHO'S BEEN MISSIONIZED
A laid back morning in the park reading and writing and talking to locals. There is a gigantic tree in the park, known as the largest in the Pacific. After lunch, Duncan, Ron and I went to the aquarium and beach. The aquarium had a fabulous display of reef-type water life and luminous coral. Absolutely magnificent. The beach had many rocks and shells in the sand, but beautiful water, pretty girls and the ever present palm trees. We finished the night after dinner drinking wine on the ship with Bob. While in port, both here and in Tahiti, the Tahitien is truly like a cruise ship in that we eat and sleep on board and spend the days on the island as we like.
Fourth day in port, I walked around town checking out stores selling Asian trade goods. Yes, now we are definitely in Asia. After lunch, I hitched 20 km out of town to Mont Koghi, then walked the five km path to the auberge at the summit. The last two km was very steep. Reminded me of coastal mountains south of San Francisco. A great vista at the top and the Auberge Mont Koghi is one of the nicest places on the island. Sorry, no photo.
Back in town, I saw Ron who is trying to get passage on a China Navigation Co. nickel ship to Japan ($200US). New Caledonia is a major supplier of nickel ore from its mines on the north coast. Our day of leaving Noumea, Ron made definite arrangements to leave for Japan tomorrow. The Tahitien pulled anchor at 1 pm. Two anthropology students from Australia boarded today and were seated at our dining table. Only Duncan, Bob and I are left of our original six. Duncan told me to apply to the Department of Territories in Sydney if I wanted to get a job in New Guinea for any kind of expedition into the interior. They need people badly, and if a two year contract is signed (which you can break) they pay your way there. It's very interesting to find out about the kind of jobs that are available.
Read Justine on the sun deck most of the day. Not much else happening except for an English movie showing in the theater. Next day, I'm still reading Justine. I got a haircut in anticipation of arriving in Sydney tomorrow. To celebrate, we all had a party on deck after dinner, dancing and music, and everyone came with 1 or 2 bottles of wine from the dining room.
THROUGH AUSTRALIA - TO SINGAPORE - FEB 25
Sydney Harbor In Morning Light
The Infamous Sydney Heads
Passed the "Sydney Heads" about 6 am, docked about 9 and finished customs two hours later. Bob Thompson, who lives near Sydney, was being picked up by his father. They were going to drop me at a boarding house but his father asked me to dinner so we drove to their house in Dee Why about 12 miles north of Sydney set in hills overlooking the ocean. Mr. T picked a passion fruit from his yard, very nice and sweet. Mrs. T gave Bob a royal welcome (two years gone) and talked me into spending the night. We had three beers on the way home, as my initiation, Three more in another pub before dinner, more later. Mr. T had some gigantic crabs, one foot across, for dinner. We all sat around drinking and talking with the neighbors until bedtime. I actually had a hard time following the conversation because of the strange accents (to me) and slang.
Next day, Bob and I drove around seeing his old friends. We met Martin, who was with Bob in Canada, and Roger, an engineer from Ohio, who met Bob in Panama but got a job on a ship bound for Sydney. He arrived last week and is looking for bush (ranch) work. The Thompsons asked me to stay a week but, because of the out-of-the-way location, I'll only stay until Monday, day after tomorrow. I don't want to impose. They have been so nice to me.
Sunday, we ate bar-b-qued hamburgers for brunch on the patio. then Bob and I picked up his friends Lorrie and Julie for a ride to Avalon to visit his friend Lynn. Lynn is married and lives in a beautiful house on a hill overlooking a bay. He will soon be going to Oregon on a Physical Ed scholarship. We had a buffet lunch, watched the kookaburra birds, then drove down to the beach and swam in a huge surf despite the many shark sightings lately. Bar-b-que, drinks and TV at the house, then back to the Thompson's house to bed.
Next morning, Bob drove me to Lansdowne, a very English-type boarding house across the bay from Sydney. It cost $2 per day for a room and two meals, the ferry to Sydney is 10 cents each way and very conveniently located. I took the ferry and poked around the city, looking at traveling equipment at outdoor and army surplus stores. Amazingly, I ran into Julie and we had coffee. Back at Lansdowne, supper was mutton. I sat with three older men; most of the residents seem to be retirees.
Lansdowne serves very big breakfasts; cereal, a plate of eggs, meat and potatoes plus toast. Sets you up for the day. I crossed the the harbor to Sydney and met Roger to talk with a bank executive about jobs in Australia for engineers. Not as promising as we had supposed. Spent most of the day investigating jobs; finally I decided to give it up. The drought is affecting everything including the economy. After supper at Lansdowne, I walked a mile to the Oaks Hotel for a beer. All the main pubs are in big hotels.
I spent the morning getting visa forms for Indonesia and trying to figure out how to get from Australia and into Indonesia. I met Roger for lunch and we checked out Kings Cross which is somewhat like North Beach in San Francisco. The Navy is in town, 3,000 American sailors from several ships, we see them everywhere.
Sydney Harbor Bridge
King's Cross In Sydney
Next day, I talked to the Howard Smith Travel Agency who confirmed information of a flight from Darwin to Portugese Timor and a flight from Djakarta to Singapore, but didn't know if the Indonesian embassy would allow it because of the civil war raging in the country. So I went to the embassy and found out that all scheduled shipping lines in and out of Indonesia were cancelled and no air flights except from Sydney. Now follow this: They said I could go to Darwin, get a Portugese visa for Timor, get an Indonesian visa in Timor, cross the border and take inter-island boats to Bali. But if safety conditions look unfavorable, I may not get the Indonesian visa. The Djakarta LLoyd Shipping Co. runs to west New Guiana and on to Djakarta. I'll look into it. One of my goals is to see Bali, but it doesn't look favorable.
Spoiler Alert for Darwin: I was in Darwin looking for a boat to Timor when I met two Englishmen who had just came from Singapore through Indonesia and Timor to Darwin, both by land and boat. Fighting was deadly everywhere and they got shot at several times. They felt that they were lucky to get through alive. Needless to say, this information affected my travel decisions.
Sydney Opera House Being Constructed
I had three more days before heading north to Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef so a little sightseeing today. First to the top of the A.M.P. building, highest in Sydney for a great view of the city, harbor and the new Sydney Opera House under construction. I walked out to the opera house and was able to walk all through it and talk to workers. It was probably 3/4 finished. I met Roger for lunch again, no job yet. We went to a museum, an aboriginal art gallery and walked through Paddy's outdoor market. After supper, Bob and I went to Deiter's flat, met his Chinese girl friend and Tony, a Yugoslav. We looked at photos of their kangaroo hunts in the outback, even showed skinning a "roo". Roo meat brings 2-3 cents/pound, is used mostly for dog and cat food. I think a lot of it is shipped to the states.
Today is my last chance to get a proper outfit for my travels. In the city, I bought a very nice down sleeping bag and cover, a comfortable rucksack, a ground sheet that can double as a rain parka, a mosquito net, desert boots, scissors and a knife. I spent the afternoon at the zoo admiring the koala bears, kangaroos and their antics, and other local denizens of the outback.
Kangaroos Can Have Fun Too
Roger and I met Bob and the gang at the Oaks Hotel, had a few beers, then went to a party with a 6-pack each. Good time dancing, then Lorrie, Roger and I happened to wind up with three girls who were room mates. They were amazed that I (supposedly) looked exactly like a famous Australian rock singer. They showed me his picture and I was amazed as well. The girls invited us to their flat where we spent the night. I didn't find out till the next morning that my girl's name was Lea.
Roger and I left the flat about 8 am, stepped outside and didn't have any idea where we were. Somehow, I made my way back to Lansdowne and slept all morning. I spent the afternoon at Watson's Bay beach. After supper, I called up Bob to say goodby to him and family and to express my appreciation for their friendship, then I packed my new rucksack to make my get-a-way in the morning. Martin (the Canadian) missed his ship to Canada for lack of money so he is moving into my room tomorrow after I leave.
TO CAIRNS - MARCH 7
After a problem finding the right road, I finally got out of town by 10 am heading north up the coast. My first ride was in a '46 Ford to Newcastle, then a truck to Bulahdelah where I ate and spent the night in a clearing near the road. The mosquitoes were ferocious, I would stare at them through the mosquito net. Monstrous things!
I packed up about 6 am and got a ride with an oyster millionaire, then a Ford salesman took me all the way to Lismore. We stopped at every town to collect money and he drove like a race driver, very fast and very good. We passed through fantastic country, changes every few miles, heavy woodlands, mountains, flat meadows, banana plantations, some sugar cane and wide rivers everywhere. I didn't expect this variety. Max, a vending machine executive, drove me to Surfer's Paradise on Australia's Gold Coast. He was meeting his business partner for dinner and asked me to join them, then offered to pay for my hotel. Of course, I accepted. This is a very touristy resort town on the beach, lots of women and surfers and signs in the ocean warning about sharks. We had dinner with wine at a Hungarian restaurant, then a few beers at the Chevron. I checked into the New Orleans Hotel, makes me feel right at home. By the way, just like in New Orleans, the oysters here are great.
Surfers Paradise On The Gold Coast
I took advantage of the beach for an hour after breakfast, then two rides took me into Brisbane and several more rides took me into Maryborough where I camped for the night in a park. I ate mostly sandwiches and milk shakes from the snack bars, also fruit. I met an Englishman with a pack going to Magnetic Island, same plans as myself. It's about three days up the coast and my first chance to see the famous barrier reef system. It was not an easy hitch to Gladestone, but then a fast driver quickly brought me to Rockhampton where I camped in a park again. I met a fellow from Adelaide hitching to Cairns, another destination of mine to visit Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
In the morning, I walked through "Rocky", ate a piece of cake and a bottle of milk, and walked a few more miles before Mr. Haywood from Brisbane picked me up and took me all the way to McKay. At first this was very desolate country with cattle stations, scrub brush and many creeks. Passing over a range, we entered northern Queensland, sugar cane country. Mr. Haywood was stopping in McKay, but going all the way to Cairns so we made arrangements to meet tomorrow to go to Townsville where the boat to Magnetic Island is based. I camped out again.
Old Fashioned Cane Train
Mr. H picked me up at 8 am for the long desolate drive through scrub country to Townsville. We arrived in the afternoon and drove around town before dropping me off at the wharf. The boat left at 5 pm, so I had time for fish and chips and a walk around town with its beautiful old buildings. The boat took 40 minutes to cross the five miles to the island. We landed in Picnik Bay, a small village, then walked over to the youth hostel. The hostel was booked up with kids for the weekend, so I had to get special permission to stay. The kids were out for an event, so they didn't come back until I was in bed sleeping. They were surprised to see me.
" I SAW JESUS CHRIST SLEEPING IN A BED "
After the kids cleared out in the morning, I took a shower, went into town for groceries and cooked a nice breakfast. I hiked over to the bays and over the mountain trails, then to the beach for swimming and checking out the reef coral. This is a popular place to come for a swim on the weekend. The country is very rough and rocky, not particularly tropical, but great views of those peculiar pine trees on the cliffs. Back to the hostel and sewed some Australian patches on my rucksack, the first of many in the months to come. I went into the village for a beer at the pub and met a fellow I saw on the road outside of Rockhanpton. He is camping. Cooked dinner from my groceries at the hostel, packed up and turned in. The kids have left for home, so all was quiet.
I caught the early morning boat to the mainland and walked out onto the highway. One ride took me to Ingham and Innisfail, picturesque little towns full of Italians who had come over to cut sugar cane. Now they own almost everything. We drove up onto the Atherton Tableland, a magnificent drive on a winding road through dense jungle with great views. On top, it is rolling dairy country to the pretty little town of Atherton. I slept under the railroad water tower because of possible rain.
My morning ride was with a cattle rancher who had shipped a large number of his cattle to the auction yards at Mareeba. We drove out to take a look at them. I had planned to take a train to Cairns, but it left late in the day so I caught a ride with a priest to Cairns. Again, the ride off the tableland was spectacular but it was raining the whole time, in fact, the whole day. I took a room at the People's Palace B&B and had supper there. Very quiet tonight in Cairns.
Green Island On The Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef day: Took the 9 am boat to Green Island with John, the hiking Englishman, and Charlie, an American civil engineer who had been working in Samoa. Green is a beautiful island, small enough that I could walk around. The prime attraction is an underwater bathosphere sunk on the reef and was a relic from WWll. The hatch was built up so we could enter above water, then climb down through an airlock. The quartz windows revealed a whole panoply of tropical reef fish swimming around the sphere. A fabulous experience!
View From The Bathosphere
In the afternoon, the tide went out exposing coral reef along the beach giving us a close look and hands-on experience. Back at Cairns, John and I had a purely American moment, we watched a James Dean movie in the local movie house. Tomorrow, a rail trip to Kurunda, gotta' love it.
Rail Trip To Kurunda
Kurunda Rail Station
The Town Of Kurunda
A great local trip, away from the coast, is the railway ride up the side of the tableland to Kurunda, a truly spectacular and colorful ride. Three hours up and three hours back to Cairns, quick, easy and memorable. Now I had to think about crossing the continent to Darwin. I bought another pair of much needed pants, another shirt, picked out some traveling food and packed up my rucksack, ready to go. Oh wait! Here are some colorful sights of Kurunda.
TO DARWIN - MARCH 18
It was easy hitching back down the coast to Townsville where a main road struck out east to Mt. Isa on the way to Darwin. After supper, I camped out on the edge of town. Looking at the map, I was surprised how far it is from Sydney to Townsville, about 1600 miles.
My morning ride to Charters Towers was through hilly, gum tree country. The afternoon ride was with an aboriginal through rolling grass country called "downs" like in England. The aboriginal fellow was a "town abo", as he called himself, having worked in Cloncurry for quite a few years. I enjoyed talking to him but, an interesting thing I noticed was, he didn't seem to have any conception of time, how fast it passed or how to gauge it in the future. Perhaps that is a cultural component of his upbringing. We arrived in Cloncurry late at night and, again, I camped out.
Early in the morning, two fellows from Newcastle in a Hudson picked me up, going to Mt. Isa for a job. In Mt. Isa, we met a friend of theirs, John. We had a few beers and, being Sunday, John wanted us to go water skiing at the dam reservoir. A friend of his, Bill Smith, had a boat so we picked up John's girl and drove to the dam. Everyone started skiing and they persuaded me to try (I had never water skied before). I got up on the first try but didn't stay up. After a couple more tries, I was skiing all around the lake, a really great afternoon. That night, we all bunked out on the floor of John's flat.
Rucksack And Darwin Sign Looking For A Ride
High Up On the Queensland Tableland - Just To Show
The Difference Between It And the Mt. Isa Outback
Bill dropped me off on the highway to Darwin. Only three offers of rides all day, but they were too short to be worthwhile. I would need to at least get to Tennant Creek where this road meets the north-south road from Alice Springs to Darwin. So I walked back into town for supper, then camped out near the highway. In the morning, I thought about the lack of traffic and how to find a ride. I looked around the railway depot for transport, then talked to a truck driver who said "look for either Outback or Co-Ord Transports, they go to Darwin." "Offer to buy their meals and they might let you ride." I saw an Outback truck, talked to the drivers, we made a deal and they promised me a ride to Darwin tomorrow. Again, I camped out.
I was up early, went to the depot and helped one of the drivers, Trevor, load up. His buddy Norm woke up and we ate breakfast before starting out. Then, bad luck, they found a u-bolt was broken and spent all afternoon trying to find a new one or fix it. Finally they jammed spring steel between the spring and chassis to keep the other u-bolt from breaking. We ate supper and drove out of the Isa at 7 pm. What a good feeling. We arrived at Barry's Caves before daybreak and slept a couple of hours before waking to a typical outback breakfast of steak and eggs. These guys definitely know how to eat.
Picked up another trailer at Tennant Creek and had a scrumptious meal at 3-Way Roadhouse, with huge Australian steaks. We were now pulling three very long trailers, looked like a train on the road. Trevor and Norm, originally from England, are both huge muscular guys as befits drivers of these heavy truck trains.
Giant Anthills In The Desert
We stopped in the desert; they wanted to show me the giant anthills, up to ten feet high but slender. Looked other worldly. We drove through the night and the next day, arriving in Darwin at 10 pm. After a hearty and heartfelt goodby to Trevor and Norm, a great couple of guys, I bunked out at the transport terminal.
It's March 26th, I'm in Darwin, and I need to find a way to get to Singapore, but how? First, I walked into town and picked up letters from Mom & Dad, sister, friends from work and my girlfriend. I found a room with all conveniences for $10/week and went out to look around and met Terry. An Englishman, he had just came from Timor and Indonesia with a friend, took them six horrific weeks to get through. The civil war had torn everything upside down, no normal transportation available, had to sneak through on fishing boats and local vehicles. They were shot at by both communists and nationalists and harrassed and terrorized by officials and local people. They were actually lucky to get out at all. Several years later, a movie was made about the war "The Year Of Living Dangerously" starring Mel Gibson and Linda Hunt, a must see film about the year 1966. When I returned to the states, it was the first film I had ever seen either Gibson or Hunt. It could be the first they made as young actors(actresses) and possibly their best.
What about transportation bypassing Indonesia? A flight to Timor costs $40, round trip is necessary. A boat is still running from Dili, Timor to Singapore every four weeks, only $30, but the last one left just a few days ago….. I don't think I want to spend 25 days here in Darwin. After supper, Terry and I went to a dance bar for some beers. Everyone was "pissed" out of their minds, "abos" fighting, guys trying to make "gins" (female abos). Practically all the single women in Darwin are "gins", so all the guys, both light and dark skinned, are fighting for those few.
Side note! They say "more beer is drunk per person in Darwin than anywhere in the world."
Sunday is a day to be a tourist. I took a bus several miles out of town to the botanical gardens and the Aboriginal Museum. The gardens were full of weird and wonderful trees and plants, but the museum was closed for cleanup and possible sale. Luckily, I met the owner, who lived next door, and he agreed to open it and show me around. I was amazed at the strange and creative artwork and unusual wood carvings. There was a large collection of colorful boomerangs, many different sizes. This must be one of the more interesting small museums anywhere. Later, in town, I saw Lutz, the German from the ship; he is trying to get a job here. His friend Peter had just flown to Singapore. For employment, mining is very big. There is a large operation of alluvial mining of tin at Eddy Creek and an important uranium mine just east of here. At the Government Hostel, I had dinner with the guys, all you could eat for $.60.
I went to the wharf to talk to the harbormaster. No ship was due for over a month except for a Japanese ship heading south. I met with the Timor representative; to get a visa would take two full days, no plane till the following week, then two weeks until the boat leaves Timor for Singapore. But then, I may not get passage. Enough of that, I'm going to celebrate my birthday which is tomorrow. I bought one of those big, juicy outback steaks and a bottle of sparkling burgundy and enjoyed myself by myself.
I woke up this morning anxious to get out of here so I bought a plane ticket to Singapore, cost $175, washed my clothes and packed up to leave on the 4 pm flight. An American from California came in today hitching from the south. He will follow me to Singapore but I never saw him again.
TO SINGAPORE - MARCH 29
It was a fantastic plane flight, seeing the whole stretch of Indonesian islands. How long will it be before I come back to set foot on that soil? Actually, I can tell you; it was 33 years later that my wife and I spent time in Bali, the first of four trips to that beautiful island. Back to 1966, the ride from the airport to the YMCA was colorful, noisy and crowded. This was my introduction to Asia!
I arrived in Singapore with $305 in cash and travelers checks.
Raffles Place - Raffles Hotel Is On The Right
This concludes the first part of my world spanning trip. Part 2 will take us from Singapore up through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and, eventually, Nepal. Stay tuned!