Trio's Trek: A short review
Trio's Trek: A short review
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:
Young woman requires two female companions for a bus-cum-hitch-hike via France, Spain, the North African Coast, Egypt, the Sudan, Uganda and the Belgian Congo to Kenya. Low costs.
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:
Surely hitch-hiking is one of the best methods of getting to know the people of a country when one is only passing through!
"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:
I learned they were tourists, which made them the first we had met anywhere on our travels.
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:
... every vehicle we hailed stopped with almost embarrassing promptness, the drivers being surprisingly friendly ...
Or this amazing truck ride across the Libyan Desert:
With a certain amount of squeezing there was room for all three of us in the driver's cab, together with the driver and his mate." The truck drove 12 miles and hour, left Friday and expected to have crossed the desert by Monday. A pile of Arabs came along riding on top of the trailer. "Every now and again the Arabs would plunge a hand into the bowl and pick out what they considered to be choice morsels for us. Usually they were lumps of fat which we detested, but we had no alternative but to accept and eat them.
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:
The Pyramids of Gizeh, however well prepared for them one may be, are utterly breath-taking in their overwhelming immensity. Nothing one has ever read or been told, or has seen in pictures, can take away that shock which their size alone compels. No superlative in a description of them is quite enough - they are indescribable.
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:
Our driver was very gay and sang at the top of his voice as we went along, making his beautiful car dance the Samba. The car was so comfortable that we wished the journey longer. But the Greek was amorous as well as gay, so perhaps it was just as well!
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:
Their reasoning could hardly be akin to Western thought and must, perforce, be retarded by bigotry and callousness
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:
We were quite sorry to leave these little people [the pygmies of the Belgian Congo], and, wanting to give them something, I tentatively offered a cigarette. They were overjoyed and little brown hands were stretched out from all directions
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:
Trio's Trek: The Story of a Ten-Thousand-Mile Hitch-hike
Use http://www.bookfinder.com to find books like this!
W.H. Allen & Co. Ltd., 1955
August 1, 2001