As Kreamer, an American from Tucson, Arizona, recalls in his new book published in 2019, he was a 19-year-old student drinking and hanging out in bars on the Untere Strasse when he first heard about the hippie trail. The tales he heard awakened his childhood dream of visiting Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital. The road east was a route fairly well-trodden by a section of the youth of the Western world, and usually went via Istanbul in Turkey to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, then on to India and Nepal.

Kreamer is a man who pretty much writes it down as it comes to him without always worrying about loose ends, or style, and we are left to assume that the Untere Strasse is the one in Berlin. When he heard tell of the hippie trail, he and his mate Dave, another American, hitchhiked to Munich, having learned that it was possible to find a fellow called Sammy who was looking for drivers to take a convoy of trucks to Syria for sale.

Sammy was duly tracked down and the two Americans were taken on for the ride to Damascus. This took them from Bavaria through Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey before delivering the trucks in the Syrian capital and collecting their pay. All the trucks were 10 years old or more, and the six-country journey had escapades of its own, with crazy traffic, breakdowns, corrupt cops, a shattered windscreen and more.

Kreamer, as noted, is not always the most elegant of writers but he has his share of valuable insights and understanding. This was the excitement of a journey begun – We are on the fucking road for fucking real, he says. Crossing the border into Yugoslavia the change was instant, he observes. The wealth and consumerism of Western Europe was a thing of the past. It seemed like the 1950s. This was like time travelling. Everyone was dressed like peasants or cheap-suited thugs.

Still, Kreamer will grow up some. In a Yugoslav village a crowd gathers to watch him and Dave play frisbee. The villagers have never seen a frisbee. When an old man begs to be given the magical object, Kreamer rudely rebuffs him. It is an action he will come to regret, and thousands of kilometres later he will be more generous towards the deprived locals.

Here at The Budapest Times we were puzzled by the subtitle of his book: "After Europe, Turn Left". Many places refer to themselves as the meeting point of east and west, but it is in Istanbul where Europe truly meets Asia. And crossing the Bosphorous from the former continent to the latter hardly involves a "turn left" on the Asian side, even a figurative one.

In fact, Kreamer is referring to southern Bulgaria, where the road turns left along the Mediterranean coast to Istanbul or right to Thessaloniki, the Greek port. "Mystery" solved, then, though the clue was in the photo on the front cover of the book, if we had paid more attention.

A mention here for Kreamer’s above-average photos that adorn his A4-size book, having equipped himself with a good camera that he used well. Unfortunately, funds ran low in Bombay and he had to sell it, so pictures from the tail-end of the trip, mainly Nepal, are borrowed and there is a drop in quality.

Another small negative feature in an otherwise entertaining book: the proof-reading was sloppy at times, such as this howler (the worst) – "[Driving] You have to be ready to slam on your breaks at any given second and we have had more than one close call." Still, like the majority of the photos, the reproductions of his passport pages with their colourful visas are fascinating.

Kreamer and Dave spent some time touring the Middle East before rejoining the hippie trail in Iran. They worked in a kibbutz in Israel, walked the streets of war-torn Beirut, visited the Roman ruins at Baalbek in Lebanon and slept in a cave/tomb at the ancient world wonder of Petra in Jordan.

Finally, having problems getting from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait, they flew from Bahrain to Shiraz in Iran. Then on to Afghanistan, a sort of hashish central, which is where they joined the main hippie trail from Istanbul. In Afghanistan, Kreamer has another epiphany of sorts, apologising to some villagers he had been rude to: " … when I saw what an asshole I was, it was ugly, and I did not like it".

Onwards to the Great Buddhas of Bamiyan, the famed Chicken Street in Kabul, the absolutely spectacular Kabul Gorge and the dangerous tribal-ruled lands of the Khyber Pass, in Pakistan. In India, the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, never-ending hairpins up into the mountains in the Vale of Kashmir with its famed houseboats on the lakes, the Taj Mahal and Red Fort of Agra, and, in Delhi, the first dead person he has ever seen, a man face down in the road in Connaught Place with people stepping over and around him.

Also in Delhi, Kreamer got involved in a fistfight by wading into a crowd of drunken Indian New Year’s Eve revellers who were mobbing a tourist couple, groping the woman all over her body and tearing her clothes. "The quest for peace and love and spiritual enlightenment would have to wait," Kreamer remarks.

Finally, Freak Street in Kathmandu where the hippies hang out and puff away, then a trek in the Himalayas. It is all over, time to fly back to Germany. One of the key elements of the hippie trail was to backpack as cheaply as possible, mainly to extend the length of time away from home, and Kreamer had thrown himself mostly fearlessly into a world of cheap hotels, tricky border crossings and guards, riding on the roofs of clapped-out buses, sleeping rough outside or on floors, endless hours on Indian steam trains and so on.

In 1979, the Shah of Iran was deposed in a revolution and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became the new Supreme Leader, and Russia invaded Afghanistan. The overland hippie trail was practically over, more dangerous, a lost time of terrific youthful freedom and derring-do. It can still be enjoyed in Robert Louis Kreamer’s book, in which a young man plunges into a challenging and exciting world and discovers some worthwhile truths about himself and others.


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