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Chocolate With Chile

Hippie Trail Conference

The Lives of La Escondida, a romance involving crypto-Jews in New Mexico

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Wander Year

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An Embarrassment of Riches

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The Lives of La Escondida

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Cardiff Hippie Trail Conference

University of South Wales, Cardiff

The Lives of La Escondida, a romance involving crypto-Jews in New Mexico The Hippie Trail Conference

Tuesday November 21, 2013

In 1970 my husband and I took a Russian ship from Yokohama to Hong Kong. There were some English speakers on board; we became friends and are to this day. One of them, Michael Wildgoose, e-mailed me in August that he'd learned something interesting from a woman whom he'd met on the India/Pakistan border around the same year: There was to be a Hippie Trail Conference in Wales in October. Two history professors at the University of South Wales, Brian Ireland and Sharif Gemie, were collecting travelers and travelers' tales from the period 1968-1979–from the start of the "Hippie Trail" until the Iranian Revolution's mullahs turned their country to a barricade in its path. Travelers mostly started in Britain and passed through northern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, to Nepal. Most boarded vans that took them on a no-frill overland trek (appropriate to prices in the £150-250 range). Some returned, some went on to Australia, some washed up on Anjuna Beach in Goa. It's safe to say all were changed.

I wrote to Brian and Sharif to let him know that I had published a book–Wander Year–that covered my travels in that time period, travels which included the countries on the Hippie Trail. They invited me to come and talk about it–which I did. I thus have had the spur to think more broadly about my '70-'71 travels and to search out other books that cover this experience, now forty-three years in the rear view mirror.

I had never heard of the Hippie Trail when I set out; wasn't a hippie either. Interestingly, Brian and Sharif have found that almost no one who made the trek identifies as a hippie, though there was one who did at the conference. My travels originated in the U.S. rather than England or Europe, and went west to east. Most of the other travelers of Hippie Trail-vintage at the conference had gone with those commercial drivers, which provided them a rather different experience from mine. A fine and entertaining account of what it was like for them is provided by John Worrell in Traveling for Beginners–to Kathmandu in '72. My travel style would be called Independent–no guide to say, "This is were we stop and tomorrow we move on." Some of the places these vans included on the tour were places I had been; some were not. The van riders all went to Cappadocia in Turkey, which I, alas, missed. I saw Ephesus; they didn't. They ate at the Pudding Shop in Istanbul; I never heard of it. My husband and I had put our ear to different lips for the creation of our itinerary.

Another interesting book is Rory MacLean's Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India. He traveled in 2005 and tried to locate the old Trail hotels and restaurants, their proprietors or their heirs. Things have changed in these forty or so years, of which I was very aware when I wrote Wander Year. How to convey that? I gave a nod in an epilogue to changes at Kuta in Bali (which I've observed on subsequent visits) and had my characters comment on the number of people on the planet–half of today's population. I tried for accuracy as to contemporary world events–though a salient characteristic of travel in '70-'71 was its isolation from what the West called news, and what one's family called news, too. But otherwise, I fear only those who have traveled then and now will appreciate the changes.

I chose to write a novel, and in so designating my story, I may have wrecked my chances to appear on the shelf bearing travelers' tales. How unfair! I hardly fudged at all! Since I had cut down the number of countries I covered to twelve (from the actual nineteen)–abandoning my characters in Isfahan–and still wanted to include a minor sexual assault that occurred beyond Iran in Turkey, I moved the incident to Pakistan. I think it nestled in without the least unfairness to the inclinations of Pakistani men toward Western females. I also fudged by including a stop or two that friends had described to me, but which I hadn't visited myself.

I already was half sure–and the belief was reinforced by attending the Hippie Trail Conference–that we writers of travelers' tales really write for each other, for the initiated, for those who, say, can keep Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan clearly separate in their minds. I don't want to pull rank here; I can only barely do it after having visited there. It was for this reason that I hoped to coax other readers to stick with me using the conventions of the novel–characters growing, changing, conflicting, having hot sex–while describing my own adventures in lovely Japan, Bali, Chaingmai, Kathmandu, and Isfahan, or less-to much-less-lovely Hong Kong, Java, India, and Pakistan. For those who want travelers' tales, Jack and Siri, Karen and Jeffrey probably confuse things; for those who want a novel ... perhaps the characters could just have gone to one interesting place and stayed there. But, for better or worse, I offered the time capsule of Wander Year to a world that has changed nearly beyond recognition.

The subject of the picture at the top was at the conference with tales, old photos, and clothes as appropriate to his present dignified place in English society as his bell bottoms were back in the day. There was a woman who has visited a hundred countries. There was a Scot who had been sent by the military to pose as a hippie traveler for intelligence purposes. He and his mates' cover was nearly blown when they showed up on the Afghanistan border with their three Land Rovers registered to the same person–Elizabeth Windsor. If you have such a story, you should contact Brian Ireland and Sharif Gemie's blog: The Hippy Trail. They surely want to hear from you too.

Carolyn Kingson is a writer who lives in San Pancho, a village on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Email: ctkingson@yahoo.com


Previous Posts

Wander Year

An Embarrassment of Riches: Money Messes Things Up

The Lives of La Escondida

Publishing Saga

Crypto-Jews in the Southwest


San Pancho Writers

My Writers' Group blog


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