On the Road
My early travels
The title of this page is intentionally borrowed from the late writer Jack Kerouac. Best known as the author of the 1957 novel, On the Road, Franco-American writer Kerouac is often credited with inspiring the "Beat Generation."
Not all know, however, that Kerouac was considerably more conservative than some of his better-known "beatnik" contemporaries such as poet Allen Ginsberg. Nonetheless, Kerouac's On the Road inspired a sense of travel and adventure in me while I was still a teenager.
At age 17, in 1972, I bicycled from London to Morocco, and then hitched rides on trucks, hopped an iron ore train in Mauritania, and ended up in Senegal and Gambia. My plans to work or stowaway on a boat to Recife, Brazil were thwarted when I was robbed sleeping under a full moon on a beach in Dakar, Senegal.
I became wiser as a result of that experience, but no less adventurous. After working and saving enough money to travel again, I set out in 1973 to "do" the overland route to India, which was then very popular with adventure travellers. The close-up view of poverty in India was a shock I had never experienced, even in West Africa. My initial response was to flee to the mountains of Nepal, where I discovered a love for trekking in the Himalayas -- of course being my own "Sherpa" and living on less than $2 a day. (Photo above). When I returned to India a while later, I fell in love with that country -- its rich culture, beauty and diversity -- despite its poverty.
Still prior to my 20th birthday, I set out to discover Latin America with only $700 in my money belt. In 1974, the wars that tore apart Central America in the 1980s had not yet erupted. Lingering tension from the 1969 "Soccer War" led me to skip Honduras by riding on a badly leaking launch across the Gulf of Fonseca from El Salvador to Nicaragua. I also skipped Panama, going directly from Costa Rica to Colombia, detouring to explore the culturally very distinct east coast of Nicaragua. In Colombia, I lived a while in a $6/month adobe hut among the pre-Columbian "idols" of San Agustín, eating avocados from the tree out back, and improving my Spanish by talking to the coffee pickers. After six months in Latin America, I lacked the money to return home, and had to sell off my possessions on the streets of Baranquilla, Colombia to raise enough money for a ticket to Miami. American Immigration authorities were not impressed when I arrived in Miami with the equivalent of 2 cents in Colombian centavos in my pocket. I was held in custody until my family could lend me the money for a direct plane ticket to Canada. Thus began my long-time hatred for Miami International Airport!
For a few years I worked in Canada, including a stint underground in Giant Mine, Yellowknife, NWT, and a summer hammering spikes on the Canadian Pacific Railway in Rogers Pass, B.C. -- not far from where the famous spike once united railway lines from the east and west. I also bought myself a decent used camera, and learned how to use it while studying journalism.
By 1977, the travel bug bit again, and I again decided to make the overland trip to India. This time I discovered the rugged beauty of Afghanistan and its friendly people. That country had been "closed" due to a coup d' état when I tried to visit it in 1973. In April 1978, only three months after I returned through Afghanistan, another coup set off a chain of events that led to the brutal civil war that continues today. Also on the way home, I tried to get a job teaching English in Teheran, Iran. I still have the newspaper clipping that obliquely refers to a anti-Shah demonstrations that occurred in January 1978, led by "Iran's enemies," and threatening a "return to the Stone Age." A fellow traveller joked that the demonstrators were chanting: "We want more oppression!" Of course that wasn't true, but given events that soon followed under the leadership of the Ayatollah Khomeini, it might have been!
The following web pages provide a glimpse of central and southern Asia in a more innocent time, 1977 and 1978. I've also included a few pictures taken in Europe on the way, as well as some from later travels in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Enjoy!
© 1999 Richard McGuire
Last revised March 10, 2010