Cuenca, Ecuador, Saturday 28th September
We're all joined up now, baby!
Having just finished a face time conversation with Judith, I’m thinking about how the dramatic shift in our access to communication technology, and the use we make of it, has affected this trip.
I go back to the first long journey I made by myself in 1980 – a yearlong overland to India. It started with a friend and me flying to Athens. Before the internet, Easy jet and the rest, booking a non- scheduled flight involved trawling the back pages of the Evening News or Standard (London able to sustain two evening papers in those days – and you paid for them) to find an advert for a ‘Bucket shop’ – a slightly dodgy travel agent who offloaded spare capacity for the airlines at under the advertised ticket price. Payment by cash – or cheque if you had £50 cheque guarantee card. My memory is that the one way tickets were £40 each – an enormous amount in those days, and the Greek Government needed proof you had accommodation, so the travel agent also gave you a voucher for 14 nights, often valid in a fictitious campsite.
For money I carried travellers cheques that needed to be signed on receipt from American Express, and then countersigned at the bank when you cashed them – the first cashpoints had appeared in the UK only a few years previously – and in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India?!
For entertainment I had a single novel – John Fowle’s ‘The Magus’, and for getting around a copy of the Blue Guide to India. Both of these were about the size of house bricks and took up a lot of room in my rucksack. My other major source of information was a café in Istanbul called ‘The Pudding Shop’ – this was a great place to pick up rides and information from people who were going to India or on their way back. It had an enormous notice board, and was always full of weird and wonderful people. Oh, and an enormous ‘swap library’ – leave a book and you could take one. I’d finished the Magus weeks earlier and was desperate for a new read. It was there I found out about the 3 day bus trip to Tehran – but not about the taking of the American hostages when the embassy was stormed a few weeks previously. I found out about it soon enough when I arrived.
It was also a great place to listen to ‘western’ music.
Getting in touch with people back home involved postcards – often taking two to three weeks to get back to the UK or over the 7 months one phone call from India to the UK. It was on Christmas day, needed to be booked 5 days in advance, and was dialled for you. Again, from memory, 3 minutes cost about £5.00. And the only way people could contact you was via Poste Restante – a service where the main post office in the capital city of a country would hold mail addressed to you for your collection. The joy of getting a little blue airmail letter after weeks without contact with anyone at home is impossible to describe.
You could literally disappear off the radar for months at a time.
I recorded the trip using an SLR Pentax 1000, using slide film that I eventually had processed back in the UK.
When I did eventually get home (early, after a bout of dysentery in Mumbai) – friends didn’t recognise me – losing three stone in weight probably, but also not having spoken or seen each other for seven months.
And now here we are in 2013 (God, I’ve just realised it’s 33 years later) and I can:
I won’t even start on the cameras; a laptop with all my documents backed up onto it, and a complete 400 page manual for the bike; editing software for still and moving pictures, and loads of other things that I’ve been using to make this trip easier.
For people of my generation; what I’d call the ‘crossovers’; we can remember when none of this stuff was even imaginable, let alone a reality.
It’s frankly magic; and for those of you who have never known a world without Facebook, utterly impossible to describe the impact it’s had.
Access to it all makes a journey like this dramatically different.
And there’s a quite a large bit of me, despite picking up the epithet gadget boy, which thinks it’s maybe not all for the best.