It’s 2011 and I am 66 years of age. Ordinarily I wouldn’t hasten to remind myself of that, but in this instance I think it’s probably a good idea to establish the fact at the outset and give myself an anchor in reality before I mentally plunge back down the time tunnel of my life and become 19 again.
I have decided to take a journey. I am going to relive the Great Travel Adventure of my youth, country by country, town by town, highway by by-way, retracing exactly the same route I took 46 years ago. The difference will be that this time it will be a virtual journey. The pack on my back will exist solely in my mind, the passport can stay in the drawer, and I won’t need to worry about visas or stomach bugs. I will arrive by Google Earth, look around courtesy of the World Wide Web and leave at the click of a button to spend each night dreaming in the comfort of my own bed. That certainly will make a difference, believe me.
On the 24th August 1964, a few months short of my twentieth birthday, I said goodbye to suburban claustrophobia in Sydney, Australia, and embarked on the Italian liner Galileo Galilei, bound for Bombay, India, from where I planned to travel overland across Asia, North Africa and Europe to England, in the company of my boyhood friend Adrian Sever.
We had dreamed of such a journey since schooldays and prepared meticulously in the months leading up to our departure, researching widely and establishing a number of pen friends along our projected route. Even so, we were largely heading into the unknown. There were no guidebooks for our sort of travel then, and the overland route was still a few years away from becoming the famous ‘hippie trail’ of the late sixties and early seventies. With our youthful enthusiasm for adventure, we were eager to face the challenges of the road, and we were fortunate that the political situation at the time, though in places precarious, permitted most of the borders along the way to be open, providing a short-lived window of opportunity that allowed the bulk of our travel goals to be accomplished.
The journey to England took us just on six months and when we arrived the cultural phenomenon known as the ‘Swinging Sixties’ was at its height. I lived and worked in various parts of London for sixteen months, taking short travel breaks, including a four week period motoring around Europe in an old Bedford van with Adrian and two Malaysian friends.
After various changes of plan we decided to return to Australia in similar fashion to the way we had come - overland, but by a different route except for some necessary or desirable repetition. So began a second great adventure that we had not originally envisaged. This took a further four months, ending in Singapore, from where we flew home, arriving in Sydney to a jubilant welcome from our families on 17th November 1966. We had been away for two years and three months.
In the pre-digital sixties, before mobile phones, internet cafes and Skype, contact with loved ones when on the road was limited to the international postal network, unreliable at best, especially if the stamps were interesting. I kept up a regular fortnightly correspondence with my family while backpacking, and weekly when in London. My mother dutifully replied to every letter she received, keeping track of a complicated address schedule and providing a support system from the other side of the world that I could not have done without.
I also kept a journal, and it is this that will guide me on my virtual journey and form the basis of this blog. It is the voice of an innocent abroad, thirsty for all kinds of new experiences, but fearful as well, and prone to a bit of post-adolescent navel gazing. I make no apologies for that. As I transcribe the journal I will be making the parallel trip, so the voice of the sixty-six year old will be there as well. I will do my best with the photos, but they are mostly scans of slides which have been sitting in boxes for decades, gathering dust and mould and slowly fading like the memories they were meant to evoke. How the conversation between a wide-eyed nineteen year old and his equally wide-eyed incarnation half a century later will develop, and what they still have to learn from their common experience, remains to be seen.