Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: August 1, 2001
Way back in May of 1997 I found and reviewed a wonderful book, written by a woman who hitched around the world on her own in the 1960's. A cherished friend of mine dug another old marvel out of the tomes in the National Library of Australia that reaches even further back into time!
In 1949 Nancy Blessley advertised in a prominent English paper:
She picked up Joy Daneman in Britain and Mary Jaques-Aldridge in Paris. Six years later, Mary would go on to write a book about the trip: Trio's Trek: The Story of a Ten-Thousand Mile Hitch-Hike, W.H. Allen London, 1955.
Fundamentally the book is a rather plainly written travelogue, and I doubt it met with much success in its time. But today, some 50 years later, the glimpse back to those post war years, with three prudish young women game enough to hitch from London, through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to Egypt is full of curios. They hitched only little after Egypt, but still, their story is worth a glimpse.
I mean, after the trip, Mary and Joy write:
"What a pity, that some of the world's politicians can't go, incognito of course, on a hitch-hiking trip!", remarked Joy.
and if you think times were safer back then, I'd reconsider. If anything we have here three young women with a little courage in a time where the countries they were visiting were more feared than hitch-hiking. Things have changed a little since then.
The incredible rise in tourism since their trip shines on through. Who today could travel through Europe and Northern Africa to write of two Frenchmen met in Aswan:
Incredible! In times when tourists were so rare and so unusual you could get away with many things unimaginable today. Consider this passing remark on Morocco:
Or this amazing truck ride across the Libyan Desert:
I'm always amazed at how perceptions change too. Went I went to Giza, I could find hardly a visitor that wasn't disappointed with the size of the Pyramids there. Yet Mary writes:
Might the sky-scraper have tainted our imagery a little, or the expectations we collect from rampant publicity and media hype?
It may be an old point, but it brought a smile to my face all the same to read of a Greek driver in the Belgian Congo:
But then Mary writes: I'll do anything once!, so I'm not sure what she had to fear.
The Spain they describe is one that will be very foreign to any modern visitor. Travellers, and women travellers were so rare in 1949 that they draw attention everywhere they go. Mary describes crowds of people in almost every Spanish village they pass through, following them around staring ceaselessly as though these girls were from some distant planet.
Still, she wins little sympathy with me in the end, writing of the Nilotic peoples in southern Egypt:
which is a near perfect expression of the very bigotry she's accusing others off. But then the idea that Western thought was implicitly higher than that of others was perhaps vogue at the time, or if not so completely it highlights Mary's conservative side rather well.
And if criticising the morality of native peoples wasn't enough, those that she liked, she poisoned:
Though I'll confess that a multitude of smokers today might not view this as quite the corruption that I do.
All in all I found Trio's Trek an intriguing read, thus far the earliest hitch-hiker's travelogue I've encountered and stirring a lot of thoughts on the changing times. The style is nice, polite, prudish, conservative, some of the text smells a little too thickly of it, and all the same here are three brave (if perhaps bigoted) young ladies, that took the world into their hands, trusted people and came to conclude that hitching was what made the trip for them!
What would these same ladies say of hitching today? Will the media hype have turned them?
Don't get your throats cut, the Europeans all warned as they moved into Morocco. I think then they were talking about the North Africans, today they'd be talking about the drivers ... anywhere!
Full tracing details for the diligent: