For over twenty years I have travelled and worked abroad-more often than not through restlessness and an inability to sit still and face up to things. For a large part of this time I always struggled with money-from the lack of it, and one such trip was the Geneva to Damascus hitch hike.
This chapter doesn’t seem to have a great deal to do with saving the World or Human Rights but it is still a part of my story and this journey continues to give me inspiration. It makes me smile when I am down. It inspires me when feeling bedraggled. It lifts me when prayer seems futile and it reminds me there is a great wide World out there just waiting to be explored, with hundreds and thousands of interesting souls to unexpectedly bump into.
It was October 2001, the twin towers had just been reduced to rubble and I had once again taken my few pound notes and this time bought a one way ticket to Geneva. The rest was just the future.
I’m going to flick through this trip.
Geneva, penniless, pissed off and lonely. I wanted a place to stay. I headed for the mountains and sat down on a grass verge by the side of the road.
“Please God”, I said. “Please can I have a log cabin to live in, somewhere up in the hills in the middle of nowhere, lots of trees, no houses in sight, a stream, green grass, total silence. Please God, please can I have this”.
I walked over to the road, stuck my thumb out, got a lift and started talking to the driver. One hour later I was at Alaine’s family dinner table eating the most welcome meal. Not only had I been fed but he had taken me up into the hills and provided me with a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. It was surrounded by trees, there were no houses in sight, there was a stream, lots of green grass-and it was totally silent. Instant manifestation!
I stayed 5 very peaceful days until I heard the news that the Coalition had invaded Afghanistan. I was so so angry. I couldn’t believe that these people were stupid enough to think they could stop terrorism through further killing. I had to do something. I had to stop the war. I had to act…..
And in that tiny moment some words flowed through me…Damascus, go to Damascus.
I actually laughed. It was pitch black. The stars were flickering above me. I had been totally enraged seconds earlier but here I was with intuitive instructions(?) to go to Damascus.
Where this thought came from I don’t know. Whether it was me, God, just a thought I don’t know…but in that instant it filled me with purpose. I couldn’t stop the war but I could do something to symbolize my disgust with it. I would hitch to Damascus and write an article for a newspaper expressing my outrage at such stupid actions.
I did it. It took me three months. I had 44 lifts, caught 3 buses and covered around 2000 miles. It has been the most amazing travel journey I have ever taken-to date! I slept on a pile of logs, in the back of a derelict lorry, in a field, under a bench on the side of the road and resting with my arm propping up my head at a service station bar, (with permission from the waitress’ who very kindly gave me a free coffee at six in the morning).
I watched a magnificent lightening storm from the end of lake Geneva, watched the sun rise over the sea at Trieste and got a days work in the Monastery of St.Bernard in the Alps where the St.Bernard rescue dogs used to operate from.
I met a kind bloke called ‘Ibiza’ in Croatia and got refused entry to Bosnia because I had no money for the visa. The angry border guard told me to come back when I had enough money for a cocktail! Bizarre?
Because of the refusal I had to make a big detour up and round through Hungary where even today I still have no idea what currency they use. Romania was a blast. I got a lift all the way from top to bottom with a rather dodgy Austrian guy. We very nearly had a head on crash. He bought me a pizza, paid for a Turkish bath for us both and then let me stay the night in his house where he had a beautiful Romanian wife who spoke English with a perfect American accent learnt direct from watching movies on the TV!
I got lifts from crazy people, a drunk in Bulgaria, speed merchants, a horse and cart, a retired couple who felt sorry for me and gave me $10, and long distance lorry drivers. I hitched morning noon and night. The best ride was of 275 kilometres from the Turkish border to Istanbul in the back of a pick up. In Istanbul I got a ride in a taxi (free) from a 17 year old who claimed to own a hotel. He did. I stayed there for three nights (free) and then he gave me the money for the bus trip south to Marmaris because he didn’t want me to hitch anymore. I was very grateful because neither did I.
I found boat work in southern Turkey where I was initially paid $5 a day. I then managed to up it to $12 an hour when the bloke realised he couldn’t complete his project without me!
I got paid in US dollars, English pounds, Turkish Lire and German Marks.
Finally I took a trip to Ankara, got my passport stamped with the Syrian visa and caught the cheapest bus ever to its capitol, Damascus. I booked into a ‘pension’ for the weekend, had a great Turkish bath and then wrote and sent my article to the Syrian Times-although I don’t expect it was ever printed.
I didn’t stop a war but I did complete a journey.
In my worldview travel is a must for so many people. It relaxes, builds character and opens eyes. But for me the wild experience of ‘free travelling’ must be over. If I am to do more I would like it to be ‘travel with purpose‘.
No more haphazard happenings, no more penniless frustrations just real meaningful voyages to create a better World for us, our kids and for the generations who are waiting in the wings to have their turn at life on Earth.