Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: April 1, 2001
A few years ago now a beautiful friend in Lausanne referred me to a book by a Frenchman who had hitch-hiked around the world in the 1960s/70s. It was called "La Terre N'est Qu'un Seul Pays" and the man was André Brugiroux. I find reading French a little arduous so I kept my eyes open for an English translation. It turned up on-line one day and not long after joined my library. There it sat for another year, the victim of shuffled priorities until this January past when I set off to Tasmania. As reading material I took along Brugiroux's English text "One People, One Planet - The Adventures of a World Citizen".
A few weeks later I found myself lying on the grass at a Spiritual Unity of the Tribes Gathering in Tasmania during one of the very few sunny spells we had reading the last chapters of Brugiroux. During the days of rain that preceded I'd won a mysterious new neighbour who now appeared from her tent to enjoy the same rays of sun. Brooke had set up tent beside me in the rain, and because of the rain neither of us had spent much time around our tents, preferring either to be cocooned inside of our respective tents or elsewhere under cover.
She noticed my reading and asked what. I showed her the book, and with a spark of recognition in her eye she tells me this man was just in Launceston (not far from where we were in Tasmania). No, I couldn't believe that, it must be a simple mistake, a similar name. After all, this was a Frenchman, who'd written a widely unheard of book in 1975 about his travels in '60s how could he possibly be in Tasmania just now? But no, Brooke insisted, he was Bahai (Brugiroux was Bahai), had that name, resembled the man pictured in this book (allowing for the passage of decades) and was touring those few parts of the world he missed in his youth lecturing about the Bahai religion.
I was amazed, and back in Hobart set out to trace the guy. Surely enough he was just in Launceston, in Hobart too, mere days ago, lecturing on his travels and the Bahai religion, but had just flown to New Zealand! A near miss if ever I'd seen one!
So it is, that in lieu of an interview with Brugiroux, I can only regale you with the tale of a near miss and an account of the man's most remarkable journeys, a most remarkable life, as I came to know it from his book "One People, One Planet".
Brugiroux was in his youth driven to explore the world by a mission I keenly identify with. He wanted to learn from the world and its people, to leave his own prejudice, fear, bias, lifestyle behind and plunge into those of other peoples to taste of them, and grow from them.
My greatest surprise perhaps was the insecure and timid soul that set out on that mission. He clung to others to his own profound regret for an inability to face the world alone - something he would learn within the first three months of a quest that would ultimately last almost 6 years hitch-hiking around the world. He set off from Canada in the company of two Canadians in their converted taxi. Meeting his first long distance thumber in Panama he notes "I didn't have the guts myself, but I had to take my hat off to him" but finally comes around, abandoning the taxi and his travel mates in Buenos Aires in favour of his own thumb. His first ride was ironically with three glum heavyweights armed with a pistol that left André in a wild panic - but they were in the end only game shooters.
But so deeply did André come to value hitch-hiking as a means of travel that he introduces his whole adventure with these words: "At first I had regarded hitch-hiking as simply a way to travel, but it turned out to be an incomparable means of maturing, of learning about myself and my limitations, and developing my character to the full. (c.f. Hitch-hiking: A Course in Personal Development?) . By Peru he says smugly: "I was becoming a professional hitch-hiker. Not bad!"
But still, in 6 years of thumbing all around the globe, 340000km, 1978 rides, 135 countries, eking out a place to sleep anywhere, anywhen, he never manages entirely to shake that formidably frightened nature he set out with. It's startling to read: "In the dark my imagination ran riot. I never slept soundly, for I never felt completely safe. Only exhaustion would force my eyes to close. I never really go used to it."
And yet he was a stubborn pedant by any measure. He has immaculate records and can tell you how far he travelled where and how and when, how much he spent, and how ardently he disciplined himself. In Calgary, for example, with -35 degrees Celsius he was stuck for a place to sleep - the Salvation Army wasn't free as it was in the States, but wanted a dollar contribution. "All I had to do was turn over a dollar and I would be able to lie down in a warm place. The snag was that I was stubborn, and I had made a decision never to pay for the privilege of sleeping. One dollar wasn't very much - true - but it meant one day less somewhere else. It was that first dangerous compromise. I knew that if I gave in this time, I would do so again, and each dollar that slipped from my grasp would make my trip just that much shorter. It was therefore out of the question." He then tried the welfare department, the police and the bus depot with no luck, until someone noticed him and invited him to share their hotel room!
In as much as he's frightened, stubborn or pedantic, he's also an eternally faithful optimist and positivist. These six years become ultimately the tale of his discovery of and conversion to the Bahai religion. It is not only a fascinating tale of extremism in cultural travel, Brugiroux very nearly killing himself in various war zones he chooses to enter and neglecting diet and hygiene to the point of collecting life threatening ailments along the way, but also a very good introduction to the beauties and history of this most marvellous of world religions
He concludes with sentiments so warmly positive as to approach naïveté: "I believed in joyful tomorrows, in days of never-ending peace that would be shared by everyone, to the four corners of the earth. Six years of thumbing along every manner of road and track in every kind of weather had taught me the truth of that conviction, until little by little it had become my deepest article of faith."
I look forward one day to crossing paths with André, I'm confident it will happen .... We are I think, kindred spirits.
Full details for the book worms:
One People, One Planet: The Adventures of a World Citizen
Oneworld Publications, Oxford 1991
Originally published in French as:
La Terre N'est Qu'un Seul Pays
Laffont, Paris, 1975