South America, Oceania, Asia 1979-80

In 1979-80, Francesca and John travelled for about four months through South America from Baranquilla in Colombia to Tierra del Fuego and back up the east coast to Rio de Janeiro in an Encounter Overland truck; then alone on to Easter Island, Fiji and Sydney (for some well-earned R&R); thence to the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Burma, India and back to Italy: seven months in all around the world. See Encounter Overland's description of the South American portion.

The story is told using the text of J's letters home to his parents.

Unfortunately the quality of the photos (scanned from 40-year-old slides) leaves something to be desired. (No digital photography in those days.)

This map gives the general idea of the route followed in South America:


Torino, 23-10-79

These are our famous last words before heading off (strikes, fog etc. permitting) for Madrid and Barranquilla. I have two letters of yours (5/9 and 3/10), as yet unanswered. One of them came by a roundabout route because they've managed to give the same postal code to two different places on opposite sides of Torino (you simply have to believe it!)...

As you know, we get to Rio at Carnevale, after which the few flights to Easter Island are heavily booked with tour groups. We are only on the waiting list so far, and that a week later than we wanted. Also, nobody knows yet when and if we can manage Tahiti-Fiji next year (no timetables yet). That's what we're paying Lit. 2.860.800 each for, I suppose. (Lan Chile has no competition: Santiago-Easter Is. is an "internal" flight.) Treasure Tours wrote to me a second time with their new China-USSR itinerary, which is of even less use than the first idea. We still don't have the China thing fixed and they keep jacking up the price (now c. $1000 each for 10 days). The rover's life is not all beer and skittles...

Armenia (in Colombia of all places), 1-11-79

Dear all,

Since wiv a li'le bi' o' luck we may arrive tomorrow in Bogotà, I have sat myself down in the truck after dinner to take advantage of this last opportunity to get a letter away (we almost never seem to be near a P.O. during the day).

So far things have gone reasonably well, in spite of logistical difficulties. The train from Torino to Milano arrived so late in TO, we took fright and rang a colleague of mine who drove us the 180 km to Milan airport, only to find our Madrid flight delayed by 2½ hrs (they weren't smart enough to put us on a delayed Alitalia flight. The Iberia flight also went via Barcelona where we had to go through customs (!) and J. had trouble through not having a visa.

The Avianca flight (0100 departure) went well, though the dirty, smoke-ridden 707 didn't exactly inspire confidence. On arrival (after 10-hr flight, at 0500) we found we were short of a suitcase and figured somebody had grabbed it and whisked it away through customs. Looked through the hold of the plane and, very downhearted, made out a claim against Avianca. Next day they brought it to our hotel (it had gone on to Bogotà in another hold, apparently a common occurrence).

Barranquilla is an unbelievably ugly city; the only thing we bothered to do was to check for mail and eat a local fish dish.

Met up with our travelling companions (1 - not 2 - driver/s, who has never been to S. America before!; a total of 10 girls out of 23 bods; 7 Brits, 6 Swiss, 5 Canadians, 2 Aust, 1 Yank, 1 Italian, 1 Dutchman). They seem generally sensible - quite a pleasant surprise overall.

There is one 61-year-old Canadian ex-taxman enjoying his capital gains from RE speculation. Left his wife at home - she likes holidaying in Hawaii and gambling in Las Vegas.

There is a 44 yr old American bachelor schoolteacher from L.A. who is taking his regular self-imposed sabbatical year. Francesca is next oldest, then Yours Truly. There are quite a few around 25-28. One Swiss is only 20, the Dutchman 21. There is one other (English) married couple, on their way to Aust to work via Easter Is.! English is the lingua franca as usual, though the Swiss speak their unintelligible gibberish amongst themselves, the Crawshaws gabble in Italian, and the Dutchman has no-one to talk to...

Spanish, for all it's so easy to read, is decidedly difficult to understand on the tongues of these locals. I lack the application to stick to reading my textbook and am unfortunately not thrown on my own resources in contacts with the locals. Quite a few of our group have taken Spanish lessons.

From Barranquilla we went to Cartagena, the port they used to ship New World gold back to Spain. It had to be heavily fortified against pirates like Francis Drake. From the mosquito-infested lowlands with shifty-looking city-dwellers (with a terrible reputation for theft with or without violence) and Indonesian-like villages with grass roofs and muddy lanes, along poor-quality but sealed roads up and down mountains (only 9200' so far) to the outskirts of Bogotà one day late.

It rains punctually every evening as we are putting up our tents and at lunchtime. Nights are cool. F. is glad of her warm new beeping-slag.

S. America is an odd mixture of whites, blacks, Indios and half-castes; R. Catholicism, poverty, big American trucks and nationalism. Scenery can be spectacular. Not sure yet whether I like it overall.

Up at 0500 every morning, before dawn. Have already done our cooking turn. Shopping for food wastes a lot of time. Locals try to steal things off the truck in the meantime.

P.S. The Gold Museum (Museo de Oro) in Bogotà was fantastic!

15.11.79, Quito, capital and second largest city (after Guayaquil) of Ecuador. Height 9400 ft (second highest capital in the world after La Paz).

Dear all,

This aerogramme is grubby before I start - I think through no fault of mine.

We are staying in a grubby downtown flophouse and F & I are presently doing our turn at guard duty over everyone's valuables. (One Swiss girl had her bag with passport, documents, traveller's cheques and glasses stolen from beside her chair in a restaurant last night - on the whole, though, Ecuadorians seem more placid and honest than Colombians). It may be the Indio influence. We have seen thousands of these in their colourful native costumes, just perfect for happy holiday snaps. The men wear their black hair long and braided at the back - white trousers, always a hat and usually a poncho. They seem to reach a max. of about 5'2" and almost always have a wife trailing behind with suckling infant.

F is keen to buy herself a complete Indian outfit - have to change more money this a.m. Actually we have already spent 12% of our available funds, but these (+ Peru) are probably the most interesting countries for purchases. Will probably buy me a poncho today but don't know whether I'd use it at home!

The highlights of the trip so far have been the Gold Museum in Bogotà (out of this world), San AgustÍn with its horse-riding calm and pre-Columbian gravestones, the Otovalo Indians dressed in their Sunday finery at Ibarra soon after we entered Ecuador, and Cotopaxi, the world's highest active volcano and, being on the equator, the farthest point from the centre of the earth (so they say). We were there the other day and camped in freezing (literally) conditions at about 3,800 m. I set off early in the morning without F to climb to the snowline at nearly 5,000 m (c. 16,000 ft). J, being clever, beat everybody else by about an hour and ended up (like a lot of others) with altitude sickness (threw up three times during the rest of the day).

We received your letter of 23/10 at Poste Restante on our arrival (apparently arrived 31/10).

Have met the other EO group that left Barranquilla a week before us (remember our trip was "delayed" by 1 wk?); there are 26 of them in an older truck than ours with rolldown canvas-and-plastic sides instead of glass.They have had more mechanical trouble than we have, so have lost some of their week's start. They have just come back from 4 days in the Amazon jungle and boating on a tributary - apparently half-eaten alive by mosquitoes and other bugs.

We leave tomorrow for the same area, then on south towards Peru. Of all our nationalities, only Australians need visas to enter Peru! Somebody doesn't love us.

Hoping to get to a genuine Indian market somewhere along the way. So far we have only seen them in reduced form in the cities. Did you know that Panama hats come from Ecuador, not Panama? The Spanish colonial architecture (white colonnaded façades in city squares) can be quite attractive, but their taste in church decoration (using all the gold melted down from priceless Inca artefacts) was nothing short of vulgar.

We don't know yet whether we'll be able to get into Bolivia on account of the recent coup and continuing troubles, but it's not particularly important for our route since we can cross from Peru directly into Chile. It's a lovely world.

Still haven't been able to sort out Easter I. problem (Lan Chile is not represented here).

Our second-oldest crew member (American) had his 45th birthday yesterday.

Saw an interesting archaeological museum this morning, but not up to the quality of Bogotà's. Spanish language not progressing too brilliantly, on account of limited contact with locals.


Camped beside a lake in the Peruvian Andes at about 3,500 m with rain and wind beating on the tent and a bottle of bad local wine to hand, waiting for the cooking group to come up with their offering. (F is our best cook since she is the only one who knows how to make rice that doesn't stick together.)

Dear all,

It's going to be cold again tonight. My hand is already not working too well. We have three sleeping bags: one good quality down bag I bought at Harrod's last time I was in London and two lighter-weight ones. I sleep in a tracksuit inside a sleeping sheet inside two sleeping bags inside a tent, with various wind-jackets etc. between my cocoon and the stretcher. F. likewise but with the heavy bag. Haven't been cold yet but not far from it.

We expect to arrive on the outskirts of Lima tomorrow and make our triumphal entry on Sunday a.m. to stay about 3 nights. Therefore, it seems time to start writing.

In general, the trip is still going v. well, in spite of some dissension and mild arguments within the group. We have seen some remarkable things. In one month we have spent one-seventh of our money (but expenses will increase after Rio).

I last wrote from Quito before setting off on our jungle excursion. It was well worthwhile. After driving down into the Amazon basin for 2 days, we engaged guides and went for two-day hikes into the jungle in groups of 7-8, staying with Indian families, sleeping on raised bamboo platforms under thatched roofs. To start out we took a motor dugout down the Rio Napo from MisahallÍ for over an hour (the strength of the current and volume of water in this one tributary of the Amazon was amazing - the Amazon carries 10 times the amount of water in all of Australia's rivers combined).

Our guide and his sister did the (good local) cooking and even prepared a liqueur (guayusa) from leaves. Caught some beautiful butterflies with nets, but saw no wildlife except 3 snakes (one of which - very deadly - the guide killed with his machete; however, no anacondas or boa constrictors, disappointingly enough). Swung on lianas like Tarzan, ate jungle fruits and paddled on foot along the river bed for a couple of hours. Swam in the river (warm), ate "hearts of palm" (palmito) freshly felled, tried punting a dugout, learnt a lot about jungle vegetation and local folklore (cocoa, breadfruit, "Panama" hat palm, medicinal plants etc.) Enjoyable.

Back in the truck, we did a hard day's drive to reach the Indian market at Riobamba on the right day. V. interesting and rather disappointing at the same time, since mostly fruit and veg. on sale. The only way to describe it is with pictures, which we hope to show you in Sydney. (Have already finished 8 x 36 one-third of our supply, and film in South America is wickedly expensive, except in Argentina where they make Ferranis - no good?)

From there down to the coastal plain and ever more barren terrain. By the border with Peru it was desert. After battling with corrupt officials at the border, we camped on the beach outside the first Peruvian town. F. had her first dip in the Pacific. The surf was dumping, so the body-surfing was nothing special.

During the night someone stole our two shovels, a tarpaulin and all the washing that was hanging on lines between the tents, except my swimming-costume. (I was almost offended about that, but understand their point, in view of the garment's condition). The result was that we only lost one medium-sized towel. Some lost jeans, all their underwear etc.!

There is real (Sahara-like) desert for hundreds of km south of the border (never thought of an Andean country having desert - apparently all the fault of the cold Humboldt current from Antarctica which means almost no rain falls).

At Trujillo we saw Chan-Chan, a wealthy pre-Inca city made of adobe (!) and still partly standing after 7+ centuries (conquered by Incas). The worst thing that happened to it was when it rained heavily in 1925! Even the 1970 earthquakes did hardly any damage. Nearby are two pyramids (of the Sun and the Moon) which are the largest pre-Columbian edifices in S. America. Beautiful in their isolation.

Then off the main road along execrable but spectacular roads by the Rio Santa up into a national park. Camped at 3,860 m beside the second-highest mountain in the W. Hemisphere and climbed (on foot) up to the pass (at over 4,800 m) which leads into the Amazon basin. It is interesting that the range that forms the watershed between the Pacific and Atlantic can actually be seen from the Pacific on a clear day (they say), while it is thousands of km from the other coast.

Yesterday we came over more passes flanked by precipitous drops to visit ChavÍn, a temple built 2500 BC with amusing gargoyle-faces and dark passageways. Well worthwhile doing 3 hours each way from the main road.

The Indians are very poor hereabouts. Children even ran up and down between many hairpin bends to beg money and bread of us.

In the town today, F and I tried drinking chicha made by the original method. This was the drink the Incas had their women make by chewing maize. The fermented and sweetened juice is chicha! Not a v. interesting taste. Also risked hepatitis by eating in an Indian "restaurant" in the market. Much more interesting and picturesque than EO fare.

Lima, 5/12/79

We have now been here three nights and leave after lunch for Nazca (where there are all those big designs in the desert - we hope to see them from the air - joyflights cost c. $25), then on to Cusco. Looks as though we won't have trouble getting into Bolivia. We have just met our African driver coming the other way with a group. They passed through Bolivia in the middle of the trouble.

Have received a letter from you and one from MA.

Lima museums are interesting (gold, pre-Columbian civilizations etc.), also some of the colonial Spanish architecture (the city was founded in 1535 by Pizarro whose bones are in the cathedral - it was the admin. capital of the Spanish New World and seat of the Inquisition - we saw the tribunal and dungeons yesterday with representations of various tortures. Lima now has c. 3.5 M inhabitants and is rather grotty and dangerous).

On Monday some of us went by train to La Oroya on a line once owned by the Brits, across the Andes and passing through the highest railway station in the world on a standard-gauge railway (Galera, 4781 m). There was even a doctor-like figure in a white coat with a big bag of oxygen which he puffed in suffering passengers' faces. Came back to Lima in a group taxi (colectivo): 172 km for about $4 each.

Lan Chile now say there are no flights E.I.-Tahiti till 6/3/80, so we have requested Santiago-Fiji direct. Crazy.

Ate in the most luxurious restaurant in town last night (in our pub gear) for about $12/head. Food quite good. Service excellent.

Santiago, 9-1-80

Have received your letters of 2/12 and 17/12. We are actually running about 5 days behind schedule because of mechanical and other trouble. At Cusco we had to wait a few days for a new cylinder-head to be airfreighted from the U.K. The old one was cracked and the turbo motor our truck has is unknown here. It hasn't stoppped the beast from overheating, though, and the installation of a new bigger radiator hasn't helped either. It's just as well our driver was a mechanic before joining EO.

From Cusco (or Cuzco) we went up through the Inca heartland (the Altiplano, or high plateau, that stretches from Peru into Bolivia at around 4000 m), dotted with llamas, vicuñas and alpacas.

Near Puno on Lake Titicaca we saw pre-Inca burial towers with perfectly fitted masonry - obviously the Incas learned their art - and took a small motor boat out onto the lake to see how the Uru Indians live on their "floating islands" - actually reeds trampled down to form a platform. In one place my feet actually went through into the water and I nearly lost my clogs. Their boats, too, are made of reeds lashed together (aethetically delightful design that inspired Heyerdahl's Ra), their houses are made of reeds (v. pretty), they eat part of reeds etc. We tried this (quite good, like celery) and also took a turn in a reed-boat round an island (punting).

We actually spent Xmas in Peru, to the great chagrin of those of our number who wanted to celebrate in a big city, and esp. the poor Swiss girls who have never been away from home for Xmas before (one even rang Switzerland!) I can't remember the last time I was "at home" for Xmas but suppose it was in 1972 (or 1974?).

We crossed into Bolivia in a godforsaken pit of a place where everybody was welcome except the 2 Australians: wanted to send us back to Puno for a visa, even though we had checked in Bogotà and Lima with the Bolivian embassies that it wasn't necessary. J's fast-talking and wheedling (in Hispano-Italian) finally won the day, however, and they gave us temporary permits.

From there we proceeded to Tiahuanaco, a pre-Inca archaeological complex which is the pride of Bolivia. It was discovered (in ruins) by the Incas in the C12! Again, it is easy to see where the tradition of mortar-less, close-fitting masonry developed.

La Paz is an odd city built by the Spaniards in a hollow of the Altiplano to escape the cold winds. The vasy majority of inhabitants is Indian - v. picturesque - who live in the higher (!) suburbs on the hillside (well over 4000 m), while the well-to-do live down in the valley (just the opposite of most cities) where there is more air! F went on her usual artisanry buying spree - the last of the cheap buying-places.

Being late now, we didn't wait for New Year (again contested). Two Swiss fellows parted company with us in dissatisfaction with the way the tour was being run (and got no refund), to find their own way to Rio.

To make up time, we decided to take a new "international" route to Arica on the Chilean coast, across the Andes south of La Paz. The alternative was to return through Peru. (You no doubt know the story of Bolivia's lost land "corridor".) Said to be a good road and apparently was until a week before. With the onset of the rainy season, however, it became a morass of glue-like mud and dangerous fords. After getting the trailer stuck in the mud overnight in one spot, we found two heavy trucks next morning which had been bogged for 2-3 days coming in the other direction. After 3 hours of hard labour and some anxious moments, we managed to squeeze past them, only to find a flooded ford where trucks had been waiting for 3 nights. So we spent New Year's Eve under torrential rain at a river crossing in the middle of Nowhere, Bolivia.

The reaction of the would-be revellers can be imagined. By about midday next day (after a 36-hour delay) we were able to wade across, stirring up the loose sand on the bottom as recommended by the locals. Nevertheless, when the truck tried to cross it got stuck in the middle and seemed in danger of sinking and tipping over. Only a steel cable and the help of 2 other trucks on the bank saved us from disaster.

After more excitement of the same sort we eventually crossed the pass at 4800 m into a Chilean national park (with snowy volcanoes and flamingo-filled lakes) and descended below 3500 m for the first time in about a month.

Arica, a town in the middle of the Atacama desert (reputedly the driest in the world) has beautiful beaches and well-stocked shops. An astonishing change, just like a town on the Riviera. All of Chile has been similar - v. modern and apparently prosperous - no outward signs of repression or misery.

We travelled fast (for us) the Km 2050 through the seaside desert down to Santiago (modern, expensive and not very interesting) where I am now waiting for my Argentinian visa which cost $5 and has taken 24 hours (only Yanks and Aussies). If we finish in time we'll proceed to the Paraguayan embassy (Canadians + Aust). Brazil (U.S. and Aust.) can wait till Ascunción. Don't know why they all dislike Australians. F. hasn't had to get a single visa so far - consanguinity?

We leave for Tierra del Fuego this afternoon. To add to my other "grief", Lan Chile has mucked us about again re Easter I. Because of the ignorance of their Lima office we unbooked ourselves from a flight that does exist, so now we are back where we started, not knowing whether we'll get to EI or not, since all flights are full.


Late news: Looks like we can make it to EI but only by sacrificing time in Sydney. Therefore, our most recent expected arrival in Sydney is with QF 575 on 8/3/80. Too bad. We'll have time to fill in in Rio instead, but can't foresee getting a chance at EI again for some time to come.

Ascunción, 8.2.80

I am lying in a park in the city centre of Ascunción during the siesta hours (1200-1500) to reply to yours of 20.1 which arrived here yesterday! It is very hot, but it is the tropical humidity which is particularly oppressive.

The city itself is modern, clean and uninteresting. The river, slow, wide and brown, with (living) vegetation floating along, and low tropical green banks, is for all the world like an African river.

Don't really know why EO comes here at all, except that they have a fairly liberal monetary policy and transfer of funds is relatively easy. The group all wanted to go to Buenos Aires on the way up through Argentina but the driver refused. Baires (8M people) is said to be very lively. We may try to go there by air on our way back from Rio to Santiago.

After some difficulty, I have managed to get a visa for Brazil. We leave here tomorrow for Iguassú Falls, then to Rio where we expect to arrive on time (15/2). Whether we will find accommodation in Carnevale-mad Rio is a big worry. Our latest flight arrangements from there are as I wrote on the back of the Santiago letter: Santiago-E.I. (28/2); E.I.-Papeete (3/3); Papeete-Nadi (4/1); Nadi-Syd QF575 (8/3). This will unfortunately only leave us about 2 weeks in Sydney but they have cancelled all flights E.I.-Papeete until 3/3 and we think we'd better see E.I. this time since we have paid so much for the privilege of stopovers.

Since Santiago, we have suffered a good deal of boredom. Even Tierra del Fuego was hardly worthwhile except to be able to say one has crossed the Magellan Strait (in fierce winds) and seen the Beagle Channel. The winds in all of Patagonia were ferocious (it is easy to understand how the seas get so big at Cape Horn).

The Perito Moreno Glacier made it all worthwhile. We saw great walls of ice (from a distance of about 100-200m) crack off and crash into the lake. From there we proceeded to the Peninsula Valdés where we visited colonies of penguins (walked amongst '000s of them), sea lions (marvellously agile creatures weighing up to 350 Kg and resembling big seals) and sea elephants (rather formless slobs of blubber weighing up to 4 tons and 6m in length - we were even able to touch them).

Therafter, the centre of Argentina (esp. the flat pampas) we found quite boring. Had some good meat but everything else is hideously expensive (+7.5% in Jan).

I can hear a few Australian accents near me here in the park, so I guess I'm not alone. Left F. at the camp-ground in the botanical gardens repairing jeans. Everything we have, including suitcases, is falling to pieces. Things really got knocked about in the trailer.

From tomorrow we are going to have to do battle with Portuguese - no easy job: I can hardly understand a word when it is spoken. Even the written language is much more difficult than Spanish (for us). At least coffee should be cheaper than in Argentina, where a cup of coffee costs more than a bottle of ordinary table wine!

Rio de Janeiro, 18.2.80

We finally made it to this fabled city and have moved into the Hotel Mundo Novo, where we are paying $22/day for an air-conditioned room with private bathroom and circular bed! We are sharing this luxury with a family of hyperactive mice.

Your letter and MA's were waiting for us on arrival. Our truck was an English-made Dodge, with a turbocharger or some such thing that is unknown in S. America on this model.

We now have confirmation of our 11 days in China, so we expect to be in Sydney from 8-23 March (incoming flight still to be confirmed).

We are having some difficulty shipping our excess baggage back to Italy. The shipping lines say the bags will arrive empty and the airlines charge too much. Have to try again after Carnival is over.

Everything is closed until Wednesday and there is non-stop dancing in the streets, besides the professional dancing by the samba schools. Also, every weirdo has the chance to dress up as he has always wanted. I have never seen such a pot-pourri of races and colours - they all seem to get along well together.

Rio's physical location is spectacularly beautiful; one of its big advantages is the availability of high hills to look down on the city and bay. We have been to both Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado (statue of Christ the King) - both worthwhile.

The Iguassú Falls, too, were quite a sight, but a little less exciting when you've already seen Victoria Falls and others.

We have organised to fly to Santiago with Air France via Buenos Aires, where we'll spend 3 days.

Brazil devalued the cruzeiro 19 times in 1979 and twice already this year, with the result that the place is crowded with Argentinans escaping their own horrendous prices.

Hong Kong, 2-4-80

We are off to China tomorrow (by plane to Canton and Peking, where it was snowing only last week and was 1-15° yesterday). The weather in HK has been cool and overcast (dull) since we arrived.

I have never been in a more vibrant place. New buildings are going up everywhere - they don't seem the least bit worried about a Communist takeover (the Reds are some of the colony's biggest capitalist speculators). The place is so full of interest I wouldn't mind living here for a few years at the right conditions.

The Bellonis are very nicely set up by their Milanese bank. A beautiful apartment (3 levels) with spectacular views down to the harbour and across to Kowloon, 2 Alfa Romeos, objets d'art from all over S.E.A., an amah (charlady) to do all the housework etc. Antonio left this a.m. for Taipei - he's always zapping about.

Today we went for a ride in a sampan at Aberdeen to view the boat-people from close up. Also photographed some junks under full sail on the harbour - exquisitely exotic and a tremendous contrast with the zillions of skyscrapers behind.

They've caught an average of 190 illegal immigrants/day in the last 2 weeks. Imagine how many they missed.

Manila is a dump but the Filipinos v. friendly. The rice terraces of Banaue were v. pleasant.

In the next 11 days we are supposed to see how one-third of humanity lives.

Hong Kong, 15-4-80

As I mentioned on the phone a few hours ago, we have now received both your HK letters, containing generally good news.

Property values and especially rents are phenomenal here in HK. Several people have told me that the split-level place we're staying in (with 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms/lounge/dining/kitchen/amah (charwoman) bunkroom probably rents for $US 4,000/month! It is now full of antiques and artefacts from all over SEA.

Last time we were here Antonio (the husband) had to leave for Taiwan. This time we haven't seen him; he's in Peking. Next week they leave for Paris, Italy and New York.

China was interesting but something of a shock. For some reason I expected to find them more advanced materially. Apologists insist on comparing it with what it was. After seeing HK, I couldn't help comparing it with what it might have been. Of course, HK is not everyone's cup of tea.

We flew in Chinese Airways Tridents to Canton and Peking, then in an old Viscount to a provincial city called Hefei, then by steam- and diesel train to Nanking and Shanghai; Trident to Canton and train (diesel "express") to Kowloon (HK).

In most places (esp. Hefei, which has only been "opened" to foreigners for a year), we were of at least as much interest to the locals as they were to us. In Hefei we collected big expressionless crowds wherever we walked. Everywhere the people seemed surprisingly placid (and inscrutably Confucian!) No outward signs of unrest.

We had our fill of visits to schools, factories, communes, a hospital etc. Also the tourist sights (inc. Mao's cadaver, temples and ancient gardens etc. in various states of rehabilitation - a lot of Buddha statues had their heads knocked off by Red Guards).

Three-quarters of our group were Filipinos, so on Easter Sunday we went to the only Catholic church in Peking (packed out). Interesting people turned up.

In Nanking we stayed in an Australian-jerry-built hotel/motel with plastic(!) koala-patterned curtains and wattle wallpaper.

Everyone in the trade is v. polite. Their lives must be unutterably dreary, but at least they're not likely to die of hunger. Prices are pitched high: having limited accommodation, they might as well attract the richer tourists and gouge them.

We've had a bit of a sickener, too, of Chinese food. F cooked spaghetti and a steak tonight!

Shanghai is a much more open and lively place than the other cities. Wonder what the origin is of the verb "to shanghai"?!

We gave our guides a pretty hard time by asking curly questions, but the answers were often unenlightening.

Estimated population "over 970 million". For having a third child you lose 5-10% of your (already miserable) salary (for life). ZPG (they hope) by 2000 AD.

Only saw 1-2 beggars, v. few cripples etc. Do they ship them all off to non-tourist areas? Lots of older women in Peking with "bound" feet. Only one old man with a beard a bit longer than mine.

Raccone, 15-5-80

I have just decided to start a course of abocillin to try to clear up a bug I brought with me from India, involving a vague sort of diarrhoea, stomach cramps, night sweats etc., on the assumption that it is not viral. I don't have any faith in the local doctors' knowledge of South Asian diseases, so have not consulted them. Also I don't feel at all bad but would have expected the thing to go away within a week. Don't think it can be cholera or hepatitis! [Note: Much later it was discovered to be an ameobic abscess.]

India was really very trying, what with the heat (47° the day we were in Agra; in Khajuraho we couldn't even sleep with the fan which simply churned up the hot air - didn't get any cooler during the night!), the food, the transport problems, the drinks (local "boiled" water was no doubt my downfall - F insisted on mineral water) and the pestiferous Indians themselves.

We saw some very beautiful things but the heat tends to "dampen" one's enthusiasm considerably. It would be impossible to begin to describe everything. You'd better come and look at our slides some day (not yet developed).

The scariest moment was landing in Delhi in a wild dust-storm - we really thought our days were done. I was v. pleased with my stomach for staying put. That was a Boeing 737 and we had to regain height and go round a couple of times before managing to land.

On a Fokker F28 from Calcutta to Varanasi (didn't rise above the turbulence) we had the edifying spectacle of Indians vomiting all over the plane and each other. One poor Frenchman got a lapful, even though the perpetrator had a barf-bag in his hand (but didn't seem to understand how to use it).