Abrams on the Hippie Trail: A Wander Through the Prose (The Long of It)

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: August 1, 2002

Last month I shared a summary review of Steven Abrams’ untitled diary recording his overland trip from England to Australia in the late 1960’s. I promised then to share a summary of its highlights, and that then is what I’d like to offer this month – an annotated walk through the best and worst of Abram’s prose. Put simply, I hope to offer you much, perhaps most, of what this diary has to offer! Let’s take a stroll …

A healthy summary is very worthwhile.

Abrams spent three years travelling alltold, his partner Louis 10. They began on the 2rd of Cotober in 1968, Abrams was 22 years old. This diary records the first 6 months and 5 days of Abrams’ travels, being how long it took him to reach Darwin from Liverpool. They traversed countries as follows: Belgium, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, India, Burma,Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor, Australia. Abrams travelled 32, 717 km, hitched 181 lifts, and spent £235 in the process. It has taken him 7 years thus far to produce the on-line diary from his written notes!

He blitzed through Europe in a mad rush, reaching Turkey just one week and 21 lifts into the trip. The real story begins in Asia.

In Iran they encountered an admanat skepticism regarding their chances of hitching the distance from one of the many people they met driving it!

In Afghanistan, 1 month after leaving England:

What stomachs!

In Pakistan Abrams neatly summarises how wrong Bluey was:

In India they finally abandon their thumbs for a while:

And of course encounter the inevitable toilet dramas, sharing them in perhaps unwanted detail:

Driving in India was wildly entertaining:

and even the cyclists were good for rides:

In Nepal we see the reality beginnings of the tourism and backpacking boom in ernest:

and Abrams demonstrates some peculiar English precosciousness:

Back in India, a most amazing form of environmentalism:

After an extended hjourney on public transport when they took to their thumbs again the experience wasn’t quite what they expected:

and their luck stayed a little low alas:

But it wasn’t all bad, hitching still had its advantages:

Abrams was perhaps the antithesis of Jamie Salazar and this was the pinacle of his self-reported lascivious behaviour:

I had to laugh out loud at this episode:

And while Abrams was far fonder of sobriety than debauchery, he wasn’t always on the moral high ground:

He indulged I his fair share of unashamed fare evasion as well, but wasn’t by any means alone:

India was by far the most entertaining country he recorded, with such a wealth of humerous anecdote, but it presented it’s bizarrely macabre side as well:

In Burma he overestimates perhaps his own uniqueness somewhat (a rather surprising contrast to the Nepali crowds):

and in Thailand we get another prudish hint of suprising sexuality:

along with an open confession to loose fiscal morals:

An amazing tale of contrasts from one ride to the next:

and even the taxi passengers in Thailand have a heart:

In Laos one of those observations unique to roadside waits:

and in Cambodia (Kampuchea) we see narcisism we’d expect in a p[erverese fairy tale:

Back in Thailand I laughed out loud again at Abrams’ comic adventures:

In Malaysia something I never learned while there:

and the kind of ritual I’ve only seen on Ripley’s Believe it or Not:

Singapore presented an interesting obstacle to thumbers:

A very decent stab at hydro-hitching in Singapore:

and they offload a most stunningly useless piece of equipment:

It’s hard to fathom just how unusual his diet was, consider these strange values on the way to Brunei (on the ferry):

A truly amazing overland hike through Borneo, the likes of which I’d not seen in a thumbers tale since Kurt Schumacher’s Panama crossing, left them in the hands of some interesting guides and guardians:

And thus far I hadn’t encountered anyone besides myself ad my friend Sook Wai who’d traipse through tropical jungles with only an umbrella for shelter:

The Indonesian police proved very helpful, quite a contrast to contemporary U.S. reports:

But Abrams confesses no moral qualms indulging in the outrageous hospitality of his impoverished hosts:

In a classic case of being in the right place at the right time, they experience the birth of the Inodnesian Youth Hostel movement:

While I enjoyed much of Abram’s tale I found this moral and philosophic conuncrum a little trite:

I have strong qualms about the way tourist dollars influence and distort native cultures too, but not because of price rises! Is there not something about the inherent value of indigenous dignity and lifestyle that is more sad to lose that than a cheap meal? Apparently to Abram’s, not. Another interesting poste restante in action, in a way we’d likely not see today anymore:

And finally, setting foot on Australia, a moment to reflect upon the the trip with the advantage of 30 years hindsight:

I too pity them (us, for I am one of them), for having become party to such a questionable yet ubiquitous industry, yet am pleased for the opportunity some have found to explore the true meaning of diversity and humanity and take home with them a degree of humility and understanding that only travel can lend …