Imagine traveling from England to Australia without a flight or Google Maps to direct your every step.
Imagine having no mode of communication with the people you leave back home, except for the occasional letter on those rare days you encounter the British Embassy.
Imagine having only £950 for a 4 month journey between two people, not a single cent more after selling all of your belongings.
Crazy? Yes. But this is a true story on how my dad, at 25, decided to see the world in September 1968.
Having grown up in England all his life, Peter was itching to see the world beyond the books that he read and stories he heard from returning war veterans. The town of Ramsgate, 3 hours South-West of London, where he worked as a lab technician in Pfizer, was too small to contain his big dreams.
Typical of the English at that century, Australia was the first destination that sprung to mind. After all isn't Australia just 'hot Britain'?
The Ten Pound Pom passage, an assisted passage migration scheme initiated by the Australian government in 1945 to boost the Australian population, subsidized the flight cost of Britons migrating from £120 to merely £10. That would have been the most sensible choice to get to Australia. But somehow, Peter knew that it wasn't sufficient to fulfill his adventurous soul.
Instead, he planned to hitchhike the entire way with the person he trusted the most, his brother John. John, a toolmaker by profession, is an experienced traveler that has hitchhiked all around Europe and North Africa.
On September 1968, exactly 3 months before Peter's 26th birthday, they set out on an adventure of a lifetime, traveling light with just a 5kg backpack, a sleeping bag and Bartholomew's map in hand.
European Leg of The Journey
Dover, England → Ostend, Belgium → Frankfurt, Germany → Prague, Czechoslovakia → Budapest, Hungary → Belgrade, Serbia → Thessaloniki, Greece → Istanbul, Turkey
Saying their goodbyes to family & friends in the port of Dover, England, Peter and John boarded a ferry to Ostend, Belgium. Belgium was a preferred option to start their overland trip through Europe, as it was more difficult to hitchhike through France.
"Going through Europe was the easiest part of the journey," recalled Peter. "People were used to hitchhikers, so we didn't have any trouble getting a lift. We would just stick our thumb out, and within minutes a car/truck/lorry would pick us up. We finished all of Europe within 8 days at no cost, except for food. It was the end of summer, so we slept outdoors to save money."
They would soon realize that this wasn't the case in other parts of the world.
Entering Asia...The Shocking Awakening
Istanbul, Turkey → Ankara, Turkey → Tehran, Iran → Kabul, Afghanistan → Islamabad, Pakistan → New Delhi, India → Kathmandu, Nepal → Calcutta, India
As soon as they crossed the border between European Turkey into Asian Turkey, they sensed that it was no longer safe to hitchhike. Private ownership of cars gradually decreased as they traveled further East towards Iran, and diminished altogether as they reached Tehran.
They traveled through Middle East via the Ancient Silk Road. It was one of the rare moments in history where the conflict-ridden Middle East was free from wars, enabling travelers to pass through safely. The Afghans were armed to the teeth with guns, pistols, swords, any weaponry available to mankind. The sight of it scared off the brothers, but soon enough they realized that the Afghans were actually looking out for them. Later on, they learnt that according to ancient Silk Road traditions, the locals have a sense of responsibility to protect true travelers, ensuring they have a safe journey.
This leg of the journey was done through long arduous bus trips. After weeks on end traveling on busses, the duo have mastered the art of sleeping in busses. At the far end of the bus, in the aisle between the rows of bus seats, lies a small corner, just enough to fit a sleeping man. Peter and John would take turns on who gets the spot, with envious looks from the locals.
Witnessing severe poverty for the first time in his life, Peter was horrified. He couldn't shake off the image of India, even 50 years later as he recounts this story.
"Growing up, I used to hear stories from the English war veterans that served in India. Oh, India sounded like paradise. Most English boys grew up dreaming about a trip to India. Imagine my shock when I eventually got there..
I woke up in New Delhi to dead bodies littering the streets. People were dying of hunger & diseases by the roadside, while passerbys would step over dead bodies as if it was a mere pebble. Later in the day, 'death trucks' would come to collect the dead bodies, pile them on to the truck, before disposing them elsewhere. While all of this was happening, the rich Indians, fat and dripping in jewelry, would carry on their days barely batting an eyelid."
One day in India, Peter and John were bickering like an old married couple, on who should carry the bar of soap. That's when they realized that the journey has worn them out, physically and mentally. They decided to take a break from constant traveling, and headed over to Kathmandu for a breather. The mini vacation refreshed their tired bodies and quenched their tired souls, like only the Himalayas can.
A Sigh of Relief in South East Asia
Calcutta, India → Bangkok, Thailand → Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia → Penang, Malaysia → Medan, Indonesia → Palembang, Indonesia → Jakarta, Indonesia → East Timor
The duo boarded a flight from Calcutta, India to Bangkok, Thailand in order to avoid the communist insurgency in Myanmar at that time. Upon arriving in South East Asia, an air of despair that was present from South Asia was lifted.
"Yes, the people in South East Asia were still poor, but they were not desperate. They were laid-back and happy. Oh and of course, the food was amazing. I had nasi goreng (fried rice) daily and couldn't get enough of it."
Hitchhiking was safe again, so they were out sticking their thumbs from Bangkok, Thailand all the way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via the coastline. Peter distinctively remembered the well-mannered and kind-hearted ways of the Malays. Little did he know at that time, he will end up marrying a Malay lady and moving to Malaysia for good some twenty years later.
They wanted to continue on to Singapore, but the intention did not materialize due to the Malaysia - Indonesia Confrontation. So they turned back to Penang, Malaysia, and hopped on a short flight to Medan, Indonesia with the aim of picking up a ship sailing off Palembang to Jakarta.
Hitchhiking through Indonesia was mainly done on rice lorries, as Indonesia is one of the world's major producers of rice. The island geography of Indonesia made it difficult to hitchhike, so they would take a flight in between the major islands.
The last stop in the South East Asian leg was East Timor. This leg was ridden with difficulties, starting with a group of army men pointing rifles to their heads, just because they didn't have the correct travel documents. Adding salt to the wound, Peter had all of his stuff stolen, including a diary where he kept meticulous details of his travels. By that time, his steel-capped boots were worn out, so he exchanged them with the locals for a pair of flip flops. He was now ready for a new life in Australia!
Howdy, mate! Welcome to Australia!
Timor → Darwin, Australia → Queensland, Australia
Stranded at the airport in East Timor for days, starving without any food available, they finally boarded the once a week flight from East Timor to Darwin. As soon as they were airborne and the air hostess offered them food, they woofed it down almost instantly. Having not had a proper meal in days, they licked the plate clean. With a look of surprise, the air hostess offered them another plate... It was then that they fell in love with Australia.
Landing in Darwin, they were greeted by monsoonal rain. But as soon as they left Darwin, the environment drastically changed. The dry deserts were harsh and uncompromising, Peter thought they have landed on the moon.
It was in Darwin where the duo parted ways. John, a skilled toolmaker, found a job in Darwin through some locals he met in a pub. At that time, Australia was hungry for skilled labourers as it was on a trajectory growth towards rapid economic development. Peter on the other hand, continued his journey towards Queensland, where he had a job as a Research Assistant in University of Queensland, waiting for him.
Hitchhiking 3,400kms through the deserts of Australia alone, Peter said it was the hardest part of the trip. The harsh desert climate, without a single tree in sight, ridden with flies during the day and mosquitoes during the night, was not the land of milk & honey that he expected. Eight days later, he finally arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, where his other brother, Bob and wife, Pam lived. Bob & Pam moved to Australia a year before, and was the driving force on why Peter decided to move to Australia too. Like most sane people, they took the £10 flight.
Lessons from A Trip of A Lifetime
52 years later at the age of 78, Peter still remembers his trip fondly. The overland trip from England to Australia was a formative part of his adulthood, where he developed his sense of socialism. Seeing 'how the other half lives' opened up his eyes to the injustice in this world. He has since spent his life fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, through his political work in Australian socialist parties and research work for affordable housing in Malaysia.
He has inspired many to live a life of adventure - myself at the top of that list. I wrote this post as an honor to the man that has inspired me to be all that I am - an adventurer, traveler & social advocate. Thank you, Daddy.