Jumping off point, Rome 1968
My first trip to Rome was in December 1968. I rode my beat up Suzuki 250cc motorcycle down from Frankfurt, thru the snowy alps – put it on a train from Lucerne, cause the snow was too wicked, to the border town of Chiasso. Waited there for 2 nights until finally I snuck into the customs storage barn and found it and pushed the tricky-pain-in-the-ass Italian customs guys to let me have it. As I rode out of the frozen mountains I reveled in breathing the rich, earthy, farm smells of the road down to Genoa and soon skirted the Mediterranean shore to find a beachfront room in one of the Ligurian sea towns near Sori.
In Rome we stayed in the youth hostel in the Olympic Village, having met up there with Pete. He and I had stayed with Meg’s friend Massimo in his family’s Florence apartment but traveled down to Rome separately since he was fed up with my blown head gasket beater and my habit of running out of gas. Pete was working in the leather market in Florence – his Italian was perfect and the America tourist gals all believed he was local. When they found out he was from San Francisco they couldn’t wait to have him show them the town.
The scene in the Rome hostel was unique. Since this was the main jumping off point for the exotic lands of India, Kathmandu, Lebanon, or North Africa, there were dozens of mainly english speaking 18-25 year old kids, (“Don’t trust anyone over 30”) who would show up in couples and triplets and meld into the pack. The conversation was Where? and How?. We were learning about buses and hitching and riding on roofs. Long rap sessions describing brown and green Lebanon, and black Afghani. How to cross North Africa from Gibraltar to Morocco, through Algeria to Tunisia and then catch the cheap ferry to Sicily. Kathmandu was at the time still kind of a mystery, and unknown – very few people had come back from there yet – so there was little discussion about what was there. Pete and I had run into a guy named Don Beasley who had traveled overland from South East Asia – but he was one of the very, very few. He was adamant that we needed to go back with him. All we really knew for sure was that the best hashish in the world came from there, that the trip was awesomely exciting and through the fabled countries of Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan, and then down into India and Pakistan, and that there were a bunch of hipster cats and surfer chicks living there on almost nothing.
Rome was the jumping off point because you could catch the ferry from Brindisi to Greece, including a stop on Corfu, and then move down to Lebanon or hit Turkey and start the long road trip to India. Or you could head to North Africa either through Southern France and Spain and across the straits or the other way down to Palermo, directly to Tunisia.
Pete ended up staying in Italy and meeting his wife Linda there – I wouldn’t see him again for over two years. I left my Suzuki with Meg and started out after New Years towards Morocco.