journey to the east–mystery traveller

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I collected this story from a gal several years ago. It’s not really a hitchhiking story but it fits with the era as a lot of counter-culture young people were making a pilgrimage to India in the early 1970s. I’m sure she’d rather not have her name used but you might be able to guess who this closely resembles–she’s a legend in her own mind (and other’s). It’s interesting to see how her belief system evolved as a result of this trip, and her observations on the Israeli-Palestinian debate are apropos in view of the current push to recognize Palestinian statehood. Enjoy.
In 1969 I was traveling alone in Europe, and I went to Canada House in London to check on rides. That was my form of hitchhiking. Eventually I hooked up with these two guys who were traveling in a van to Morocco but I ditched them in Madrid. They wanted to sleep with me and I wasn’t interested.
I spent a month in Madrid and then took a boat to Fomentera, which was a down and dirty hippie island off the south coast of Spain. Most of us were stoned all the time but it was mostly soft drugs, usually hashish. In Fomentera I encountered junkies for the first time. Heroin was cheap and easy to get. I’d lived in New York City for the last 10 months and hung out on the street a lot, but this was the first time I’d known any junkies.
It was pretty risky for woman to hitchhike alone in Europe so I didn’t do it much—only when other transportation wasn’t available. But I did some hitchhiking when I got to Israel, always with a guy, and a few times in Greece. In Israel got involved with a guy on a kibbutz and we’d hitchhike back and forth to Tel Aviv. It was OK for him to pee by the side of the road but not me. A woman was supposed to hold it in.
I spent a lot of time with Arabs in Jerusalem because I found them really interesting. I was 22 and Jewish but I wasn’t pro-Zionist. From my perspective Israel was an apartheid society. I wasn’t as political as I was now, but I certainly was radical and I’d been a radical at McGill. I had a friend who was an older Arab man. We went to the hospital to visit a mutual friend whose girlfriend had been killed by a faulty gas meter. My Arab friend had to go through a separate entrance. Stuff like that. It was really horrible.
I stayed in Israel for two months and then decided to go to Greece. Spain and Greece were two popular destinations for young people because they were cheap and warm.
I figured it was safe to smuggle some dope out of Israel because the Israelis only care if you smoke dope with other Israelis. They don’t like that. If you smoke dope with Arabs they don’t give a shit. That was the deal. So I wanted to smuggle some hash out of Israel into Greece because I heard it was hard to get there. I thought if I hid it in my body the Israelis wouldn’t care and the Greeks wouldn’t strip search me.
I was going to put it in a bra but in those days I didn’t wear bras and I couldn’t find one. So I wrapped up my seven grams of hash inside a Kotex.
When I got to the ferry docks they called my name and a man in a suit approached me. I knew I was trouble because nobody wears suits in Israel. I’m really stoned because I’d just attended a party before leaving. He says, “Come with me,” and I decide to play it straight even though I’m a stoned-out hippie.
He took me to an area with a sort of pit and there’s a woman there so I know they’re going to search my body. I was trying to be cool and calm while they’re going through my backpack and suitcase. The man who sold the hash to me had informed so they knew I had dope.
“Oh, you’re looking for microfilm?” I asked them. “You’re looking for bombs?”
Then he tells me, “Go with her.” I ask why. “Because she’s going to search you,” he says.
Then I started yelling at her, going into this tirade: “I’m Jewish and I’m a college graduate. Before this I was thinking of moving to Israel. This was supposed to be my homeland. I’ve never been so humiliated in my life.”
I’d cut myself that morning stepping on a piece of glass. A doctor had bandaged my foot. I’m down to my socks and underwear and she sees the bandage. “Take off that bandage.” I figured I’m really fucked now so I said, “If you want me to take off the bandage you better get on the phone and call the hospital and an ambulance. I’m not risking an infection for this stupidity.”
She says, “OK, take off your pants.” I just looked at her straight in the eye. “I have my period and I’m not going to take off my pants. I turned around and kept yelling at her and when the guy in the suit came back I yelled at him, too. I have to keep yelling as I put on my clothes, to show I’m not relieved.
“Did you look everywhere?” he asked “Yeah,” she says, lying. “I looked everywhere.” So I yelled at him some more and then I yelled at the passport guy.
It turned out they knew everything about me. They’d had me followed in Jerusalem. This is a complete police state. They knew who I’d been with in Jerusalem and this is why they were out to get me. Because I was Jewish and hung out with Arabs.”
So I got on the boat, still scared and carrying seven grams of hash. What if they followed me onto the boat? In the bathroom I can’t bring myself to flush seven grams of hash, so I ate four of them and started to drink on top of that. Man did I get ripped. As it happened there was man on the boat carrying 200 kilos of hashish who got through with no problem.
Anyway, I never took dope across the border again. Worse than going to jail, I was afraid my father would have to come get me. That was my worst fear.
Matala is an island off Crete and it supported a large hippie colony. You could stay there for nothing and sleep in the caves. The hippies lived on the beach and drank in the cafes. Joni Mitchell was there at the time playing on the beach. I knew the guy that she sings about in her album Blue. He had flaming red hair. Carey was his name. He was a character in Matala. I didn’t see him the way she did, but she was in love with him and I wasn’t.
You never got to know your fellow travelers that well. You were traveling around in sort of group but you weren’t part of any group, you know? Most of these kids were Europeans and Australians. Fewer of them were Americans but there were some Canadians too.
You’d find out from one kid where to stay in the next place: This is cheap and this is good; this is cool and this is not. My experience wasn’t so much as being a tourist as it was of traveling and hanging out other hippies.
In Greece I met two guys who were heading for India and I’d thought I’d start out with them and see what happens. People told me that a woman shouldn’t travel alone in Europe, but I didn’t find it so bad. So when people told me a woman couldn’t travel by herself overland to India, I thought fuck this. I’m pretty macho. It was my way of rebelling against the restrictions on women.
The entire experience was pretty heavy. Even talking about it makes me anxious. We took a boat to the north of Turkey and then buses across eastern Turkey. Most of the local people had never seen a western woman and the situation got scary at times. At one point the bus stopped in a town where it wasn’t scheduled and we got attacked by a mob of men.
It was like a scene from a bad movie. They wanted me out of there. The men started banging on the doors. I knew if I got off I’d be killed or raped. We managed to convince the driver not to stop, to drive right through, but it was a terrifying experience.
And then the guys I was traveling with became a problem. I wasn’t attracted to them but they kept pushing me to sleep with them. So I had to dump them, and I dumped them in Iran.
Then I was traveling on my own and every decision was life or death. This was a life-forming time me, it was one of the major experiences that made me into what I am today.
For one thing, I was suddenly really aware of the oppression of women in a way that I’d never been before. Alone I could be attacked, molested, sold and bought in one of those countries. And if I picked up a Western guy for protection, it would only be a matter of time before he started hitting on me. And, of course, there was all the poverty. For a middle class kid that had lived cheaply in New York in some degree of poverty, I’d never seen anything like this.
The train I was on stopped in Mashad and I was stoned. Literally. It was some type of Moslem holiday and I was out walking. I knew enough not to be wearing Western clothing, I had on these loose-fitting Indian clothes that covered my whole body. It wasn’t short shorts or anything. A crowd formed up behind me and began pitching stones. I had to run back to my hotel.
What happened next was even worse. Some of the townsfolk were so upset about what happened that they went looking for the ringleader of the stone throwers. They beat him to a pulp and dumped him at my door.
I was more comfortable in Afghanistan. Afghanies seemed less covetous of westerners, and more respectful of women for whatever reason.
I stayed mostly in Kabul until I ran out of money. I had money at home and it had been wired to me, but I had to wait a while for the money to clear. That was OK. The landlord let me stay on credit and hashish was legal. I was a hippie and I did a lot of dope in those days.
But another terrifying thing happened in Kabul. It was the 60s and I was into sex and all that. We all were in those days. But during the whole trip, I had been alienated sexually. Since I left Greece I was scared of getting involved with someone. Men had been awful to me the whole trip and I hadn’t had sex at all.
I was feeling really shitty. In retrospect, the reason I was depressed was because I was repressing all this fear. But at that time I didn’t know what was wrong with me. So I thought I’ve got to get laid, right? Those were the terms of the day. I’ve got to pick someone who I would find attractive if I was feeling good. That was how I talked to myself.
So I picked this American guy who had come from India. He’d been in jail in India. I didn’t find him attractive at all but I went to bed with him. We had sex and I didn’t feel anything, just numbness. He picked up on that and got freaked…really upset.
I didn’t realize how fucked up he was. He was hanging out with all these junkies who lived cheap in Kabul and didn’t have to steal. They could get cocaine and heroin at the drug store.
So he came to get me to take me to a party one night. I remember it was a huge gathering with a couple of hundred people sitting in a circle around a fire where they were roasting a lamb.
He went and sat in front of me in the circle. He’s a big guy and I watched him get up and start coming towards me. Part of me wanted to talk to him, tell him it’s not him, it’s me, that he shouldn’t be so upset. I was about to take a step towards him when I hear this thing whistle past me. I looked behind me there’s a knife stuck in a tree that just missed me. But everyone’s stoned and nobody notices he’s thrown the knife except me.
I got out of there real fast, packed up and left Kabul the next day. It had taken me four months to get from Istanbul to Afghanistan and the last experience had really shaken me.
I caught a cheap flight to India and lived for a time in a boathouse in Shrinigar, in the Himalayas. It was luxurious living. For one dollar you’d get three meals a day and servants that would take care of you. But that was expensive for me.
I got sick in India. Everybody gets sick on these trips but I got very ill. I was OK in Shrinigar but when I got to Delhi I had dysentery and a high fever and thought I was going to die.
I was staying in a place where I shared a room with this guy. The room was stifling: 104 degrees F and only a single ceiling fan swatting at the air. My roommate was really a cool man and he helped take care of me. I don’t remember his name, but I’d like to look him up now and thank him..
He was coming the other way, from the Orient. Everybody coming from the west was fucked up from the drugs. But travelers coming from the east weren’t as fucked up because they were coming from a less alienating culture, and they weren’t so messed up on drugs because drugs weren’t as available.
He helped me get over the worst of my illness. He told me, “If you can’t get enough money to go home, then go down south to Goa and live on the beach. You don’t want to travel back overland in the summer, it’ll kill you. Then you can go back later.”
My parents didn’t have much money when I left, but I decided to call them and see if they could get me a plane ride home. They knew I wanted to see Asia so they sent me a plane ticket that would take me from Japan to Vancouver.
I was still sick but this was my chance to get to Asia, even though, as it turned out, I had three different parasites inside me. I had amoebic dysentery, a parasite in my lungs, and another one that they didn’t find for a long time.
So I never got to Katmandu or anyplace like that. I flew from Delhi to Bangkok, Thailand, which was a completely different world. The war in Vietnam and Bangkok was full of prostitutes and American soldiers on leave.
I looked like a stoned-out hippie, and I was a stoned-out hippie. My hair was long and I was wearing these Indian clothes. The American soldiers looked at me like they wanted to kill me. “Are you a boy or girl?” some of them asked.
Somehow I got to Ching Mai in northern Thailand. I don’t recall how I got there. I had met this boy who was studying in California who told me his father was at this monastery. You know these Buddhists, they go to a monastery and become a monk for three weeks of the year.
His father was impressed that I was a young woman traveling alone and he invited me to their house in Bangkok. He was a businessman in Bangkok and I stayed with the family. This was good for me because they treated me with respect, fed me, and took me around.
If I was feeling better I would have tried to go to Vietnam. Instead I went to Honk Kong and tried to get into China. China had just started to open up to the French but they weren’t letting anyone else in. They’d just had their cultural revolution. I had a four hour interview and then I waited two weeks in Honk Kong but never got an answer. I hated Hong Kong so I left.
It was now 1970. I went briefly to Taiwan. It was a terrible place. Beautiful country, but a terrible police state.
When I landed in Tokyo I had $10 left. But I met up with this Japanese guy who called himself Christian Dior. He was bisexual and had this boyfriend who was a transvestite. He was a total outcast in Japanese society but no one bothered him. He was allowed to be who he was. But he was such an outcast that nobody talked to him ever. Nobody. Ever.
The couple supported me as they had lots of money and one of them was a famous dress designer. I got introduced to this whole other world. The gay scene in Tokyo is made up of western men and Japanese boys. I mean they weren’t really boys–they weren’t 15–but they looked like boys. Very feminine and effeminate.
In Kyoto I went to the World’s Fair. In the Canada pavilion I watched a film about Toronto that brought tears to my eyes. Being from Montreal, I’d always hated Toronto but know I realized it was time to come home when a film of Toronto makes me cry. I’d been gone ten months.
One result of this year of traveling was that I had become re-radicalized. I had rejected radical politics for awhile because I was so screwed up and settled into an existentialist kind of life which was about having as many experiences as possible.
That was the interesting part of my wanderings. No responsibility. I think the intensity of the experience was a big part of it, the freedom of being on the road, and the sense of community.
If you wanted, you could get involved in an intense sexual relationship for a week and then never see them again. Neither one of you really cared too much. It was just a very intense experience. You’d intensely connect with people and then they’d be gone.
It was what everybody was doing at the time, a way to be free. You could go wherever you wanted but in the end I didn’t find it all that appealing. When I was lying in bed in Delhi imagining that I was going to die, I realized I didn’t want to live like this, without roots and responsibilities. I had to do something to help change the way things were in the world.
Our generation was very naive. We thought we could change the world. I think that gave us tremendous energy. This generation, they’re cynical and don’t really think they can change anything. But they’re much more sophisticated. When they decide to fight they’re going to be a fore to be reckoned with.

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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