Around the World
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Trip Around the World (1981-82)
Gary L. Baker
Click image for up close view of travel track
Red tracks are air flight, Black are over land or sea
After I graduated from my Medical Technology Internship at Long Beach Memorial Hospital Medical Center in 1980, I worked as a Staff Medical Technologist for a while. I was not used to making that kind of money, and I soon had $6000 in the bank. I decided leave the summer pollution season in the Los Angeles basin and to go on a trip across the U.S. in my old Ford Econoline van, then spend a few months in Europe. I never expected my trip would turn into an odyssey all around the world.
It is not so unusual than someone would travel around the world. However, it was different in 1980. I was alone, with no phone, internet or e-mail. Once a week, I sent off a post card to my Mom. I didn't have an address to receive communications. However, the great gift was that tourism was not as developed back then, so I managed to have the Taj Mahal, Giza pyramids and Tut's tomb to myself. Traveling alone, I was often a special guest of the locals.
I. United States
Up the West Coast, down the Rockies, across Texas, around the Gulf Coast and up the East Coast. That's a lot of coasting.
Visited Dad when he was care taking an old ferry boat at Pier 1 at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. Got pulled into the police station for having 3-year expired Montana plates on my old Econoline van. While being processed by the police, I was sat on a wooden bench that had a pair of hand cuffs locked to the arm rest at one end. Sleeping in the redwoods that night, I heard on the radio that the police had killed a young guy who pulled a weapon while cuffed to the same wood bench. Slept at the Devil's Churn the next night, then visited my Mom in Port Orchard WA. From there, I made a quick trip over to Missoula MT, where I was born and raised. Next, some late night partying in Anaconda, where my biker gang brother had a house (painted black).
Zion, Bryce, Four Corners. Grand Canyon (great memory of hiking to the bottom for a thunderstorm symphony years before on spring break). Carlsbad Caverns in NM. Hot and dry. I guess it was about June. Stayed cool by spraying myself with water. Took showers every day from a gallon of water sitting next to the engine cowling. Just opened the side doors out and poured water over my naked self (even did this later, parked on 5th Ave in NYC). Got to New Orleans and the water spraying trick stopped working to cool myself because the humidity was sooo high. Around the Gulf coast and down to the Everglades where I nearly went crazy from the mosquitoes (all around the world, mosquitoes were my great nemesis).
Snorkeling in the Keys with sharks at the edge of my vision gave this Montana boy the creeps. Suddenly, all the different fish around me went into a panic. I got ready for a shark and was soon surrounded by a school of large tough looking fish (Black Jack?) coming in waves systematically scouring the sea floor for whatever prey remained in their path. It is a scary feeling to be our of your element, and not knowing what is coming.
I cruised through the green hardwood forests of the Carolinas. Too bad is is so difficult to get a good view of the coast, not like California Highway 1. In Washington D.C., the Smithsonian museums blew my mind. My favorites were the space capsules and old TV show sets. Funny a young hippie would get choked up by the Lincoln Memorial.
I was lucky to find a parking spot in front of a fancy town house tower on 5th Avenue in New York City. I was surprised the doorman did not give me the boot after a while. I made the parking spot my home base and bicycled around most of Manhattan. An older lady and Jewish guy approached me in front of a coffee shop and asked me to have a cup of coffee with them. I chained my bike up to a sign post at the coffee shop, but was surprised we had to walk to the store front of the World Unification Church. We watched a slide show of happy people working on a farm up state, and I agreed to drive a group of people up there for a stay. When I went back to bet my bike, I found someone had cut the chain, right in front of the good citizens of NYC, and stolen my bike. We drove to an old summer camp in the Adirondacks. I was instructed to park my van in a dead-end slot cut from the woods. Day in day out, they controlled our every minute. Working and singing. I went for my traditional Sunday run down the road, and the church staff chased me down in a truck with ever more strenuous pleas to return to the camp. Playing my guitar and singing a sad song, they made me stop because it wan not on their program. They told me my old family didn't love me and the church was my new family. They would find me a job, of their choice (not in my trained profession of medical technology), and my earnings would go to the Church. Yet, I liked the people and Church. One day at a talk session, one student mentioned he was happy there, but had been concerned at first that they were "Moonies". The counselor surprised us all my offering that the Reverend Sun Yung Moon was the church founder and leader. Soon thereafter, I wanted to leave the camp, but the president of the North America church, Moshe Durst, had parked his car in front of my van. I repeatedly demanded my path out be cleared, but they said they could not. Finally, I planned to cut down a new path out through the trees using my buck saw. At the last moment, Durst's car was gone and they said I could go. I drove off near dusk. A few miles down the mountain road, I pulled over at a scenic outlook and was amazed at what had transpired. An independent minded person like me can be molded by isolation and information control to take on attitudes desired by the controllers. After that, I can not hate innocent isolated people manipulated by those in power. I have tried not let myself be controlled in this way again.
I parked on the decrepit 1981 Boston waterfront (renovation was just starting), and was sleeping in my van. Some guy with a Dutch boy haircut reached his arm in the partly open window, trying to get in to steal something. Was he surprised to see I was sleeping in there, and yelling at him? I decided it did not make sense to store the van in Boston until I returned from Europe. So, while buying some milk at the 7-Eleven, I asked the clerk if he wanted to buy my van real cheap. He declined, but the guy behind me in line took up the offer. I packed my guitar and blankets into a box and shipped them back to Dad in San Francisco. I hopped a 747 for London, some Blondie album in my headset.
II. Europe: Landed in Heathrow. I thought it was a short walk to Westminster Abbey, so I started walking with my full backpack. About 5 miles later, some guy on the motorway felt sorry for me and pulled over to pick me up, even though traffic was busy and there was no shoulder. Such a nice guy, he went out of his way to drop me off in front of Parliament. I was a little surprised to see residual bomb damage from WWII, a phenomenon I saw repeatedly everywhere throughout my Europe trip. Prominent features of London were the architectural contributions of Sir Christopher Wren (great, great, great (?)grandfather of my Wren Cousins).
I hitchhiked all around Great Britain to Inverness Scotland, Hadrian's wall and the castles of Wales. Almost every time I got picked up on the road, my hosts would stop and buy me a beer (no mater the time of day), maybe some fish and chips, and maybe give me a place to stay the night. Just before crossing the English Channel, I got food poison from an egg salad sandwich and ended up laying in a park for several days in Brugge Belgium, before I could travel again.
I traveled mostly by rail all over Europe, from Stockholm to Fez, Normandy to Greece. I went on a date with an American girl in Paris. Too late to make it back to the Gare du Nord for my pack sack, so I slept in a cardboard box. Garbage man in the morning kicked the box and said he would return; he did. Lost my pocket knife in that box after he gave it a swift kick to get me out. They like to keep Paris pretty without box people like me. Traveling through a valley of glaciers in Switzerland, there was a beautiful mountain, so I spontaneously hopped off and began the climb. At the top, I was surprised to be in the middle of some kind of war games with helicopters and jets zooming around, and soldiers peering from concrete bunker slits. I had a sandwich and tried not to look like a spy as I watched the show. Funny thing to find a hidden fortress at the top of a rugged mountain.
I mostly slept in parks, beside canals, train stations, and church steps throughout Europe. Heated a can of stew with my white gas burner on someone's porch in Pisa, then slept at the front door of the cathedral facing the tower. In the morning, I was awoken with a dog sleeping on my feet as the priest pushed open the door, without a word spoken. What a sight, the tower was in the morning light. Where did that dog come from? Six months into my trip and I was getting tired. Took a boat from Athens to Crete, where I heard I could relax. Not really.
III. Middle East: I landed in Cairo late at night and paired up with kind of a small middle aged creepy looking German guy. We were the only ones out in the streets in the middle of the night, except for a soldier on every corner each gesturing to us for a cigarette. It was too late to justify paying for a hotel room, but finally a policeman forced us into a hotel lobby (full of mosquitoes), and informed the manager we were to sleep there. In the morning, I found a youth hostel, then marched through the dusty markets, mosques and river front of Cairo. I paired up with some black European lady and visited the Giza pyramids. Not another soul around, but a camel driver. A policeman dressed like a farmer thought we looked suspicions, and almost arrested us, but then figured we were a funny harmless couple (can't tell you all the details on that). No restrictions on climbing on the pyramids. Hippies routinely slept on top.
Writing in my diary along the river across from a fancy government building, I was surrounded by three gruff looking guys. More plain clothes police with guns. One spoke a little English. "What are you writing?" Although I didn't know it, I was outside Sadat's palace and they needed to know if I was taking notes in preparation for some dastardly deed (of course, Sadat was murdered not that long after by his own soldiers). They were getting ready to drag me away, when I flagged down an educated looking Egyptian fellow who come over. He translated my diary to the amusement of the cops what I had been writing about some girl. They laughed and let me go.
I took the train up the Nile River to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Spent a half hour alone in subterranean gloom sketching the contents of Tut's tomb. Back on the Nile, I was amazed how well the ancient style sail boats could cruise up and down the river quite effectively. Further up the Nile, the most fabulous temples of my journey were the Karnack temples - older, grander and more mysterious than anything in Greece, Rome or India.
I finally got a bit of a rest working an a banana farm in the Golan heights. The Israeli farmer gave me the keys to the family car (a tractor) and I would go down to the fields at the east shore of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Keneret) and harvest bananas or spend the day removing "spears" (unproductive male shoots). To this day, my cotton jacket is stained with the liquor that drips from the stock when the bunch is cut. Crushed a hole clear through my ring finger clearing boulders from a field so it could produce crops and not just goat fodder. I spent a lot of time skipping stones, and never in my life saw so many sun beams as shined on me there 700 feet below sea level. I stayed with a group of foreigners, mostly Europeans in some unused house. We were all devastated when we heard John Lennon had been killed in NYC.
I left the Golan Heights in December, returning to Jerusalem just before Christmas. Jerusalem is my favorite medina (old city - next come Fez and Delhi), with lots of narrow twisting stone paths, the western wall and space Jesus walked. On Christmas eve, I walked from Jersalem to Bethlehem. Visited the Church of the Nativity and waited for the big moment at midnight, drinking wine at a small cafe on the square with some other westerners. Funny, the spirit didn't seem to be there, with machine gun guards and the overwhelming Islamic atmosphere of the town. Of course, it does not help that Jesus was not actually born on Christmas.
I had hitch hiked here and there in Israel. On my way back to Cairo, I hitched through the Gaza strip. Got picked up by four Moslem guys in a small car and they took me down a back road to their village. The older guy had a house comprising two rooms separated by a wall with a 12 by 15 inch opening. It seemed the whole village crowded around to see the westerner. No one really spoke any English. It was clear that the older guy was proud, and presented his grandfather's British Palestine certificate showing that he owned the land (not the Jews). They lavished me with their best. The wife toiled anonymously on the other side of the wall, with orders barked through the opening. A 10 year old daughter carried over trays of food too big to fit through the opening in the wall, and we men all partook, eating with our hands. I had the room to myself for the night. I do appreciate how nice they all were to me. The Sinai was being transferred over to the Egyptians at the time and I got to the border with some other young people after it was closed for the night. The border guards told us to go back to Isreal, but we decided to camp out in the sand dunes instead. Too bad one of my group had to go wandering off to stumble into a machine gun nest and bring the Israeli army down on us. Once they figured out we were not terrorists, they insisted we go back into Israel. We got in a big argument with them, until they personally escorted us back to th newly abandoned seaside town of El Arish. We actually had a great time there and returned to the border in the morning. The town was mostly demolished, I hear, before handing over to the Egyptians.
IV. India: Karachi, Amritzar, Agra, Goa, Varenasi, Nepal, poison, Calcutta, expired ticket
V. East Asia: juggling in Bancock, Taiwan, Mt. Fuji,
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