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Traveling Europe in a VW Bus


They did encourage me to travel.  I knew all these AFS kids from the year before in Florida that were in Sweden and France and Austria, and so what I would do is, I would go and visit these kids during the course of the year.  I would take off four or five days, and go.

Since I didn’t have any money, my [host] parents just said, “Why don’t you hitchhike?”



So I hitchhiked all over Europe at the age of seventeen, and then I turned eighteen while I was over there.  The bad news of that was Youth For Understanding found out and they tried to have me sent home on more than one occasion.  My German mother ran the interference on that.  She kept YFU at bay because I apparently broke quite a few rules that they didn’t like, one of which was hitchhiking.

Probably the biggest fiasco that I entangled myself with was at the end of the school year.  I had six weeks left of school and my German brother, who had lived with me the year before in Florida, lived in Stuttgart.  He was graduating, and so he bought a VW bus and he invited me to go on a trans-European bus tour.

VW Bus T1 "Fensterbus"

VW Bus T1 “Fensterbus” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I checked out with my family, and then with my school, and they said go for it, ’cause you know you don’t have many chances to do something like that.

So I hitchhiked down to Stuttgart, and we wound up going in a VW bus just like, you know, an old movie bus.  We went through southern Germany over into Austria, down into Italy, down into the Italian Riviera, up through the French Riviera, up through southern France.  We got to Paris.

In Paris, I was driving at four in the morning because I was the sober one, and I got hit broadside by a taxi.  It flipped the bus and we couldn’t get the bus fixed, so I had to hitchhike from Paris back to Hamburg to catch my flight.

What was funny about all this was, since this was my last month there, Youth For Understanding was calling, making travel arrangements, and they wanted to talk to me, and they found out from the school, “No, Dave’s not here.  He’s gone off for a six-week vacation.”

They finally figured out that I was out in a hippie van somewhere on the Riviera, so they revoked my ticket home.  I hitchhiked  back to Germany from Paris.  It took me two days.  I slept in a ditch.  I got back and my German mother mentioned something about, you know, there was some issue, but we’ll get it all straightened out at the airport tomorrow.

When I went to the airport the next day, the director of YFU came up to me and she just was not happy at all.  She gave me a big fat lecture in front of everybody.

It turns out they did revoke my ticket, and in the process of revoking the ticket, they had to go tell my family in Florida that I didn’t have a ticket, and that did not go over with my mom.  So they reinstated the ticket and I did get a ride home.

My German mother said, “Dave don’t worry , if you don’t have a ticket home, you can just stay here.”


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Traveling Iran in a mini-skirt, 1968

As a group of AFSers we were taken on a bus trip to Isfahan and Shiraz, which are more southerly cities, and very ancient and fascinating.  We stopped at Persepolis, which was an ancient Persian ruin, and we stopped at Qom which is the holy city.

At the time all of us girls were wearing mini-skirts.  We got off the bus to go in search of a particular mosque, and a crowd of people from Qom, the religious city came, ran after us to trying to stone us, but we ran back to the security of the bus and zoomed off into the night, because this is a religious city and we were insulting them by not wearing chador.  They were throwing rocks at us.


Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran.

Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran – Image via Wikipedia

And you know, I’m sitting there on the bus thinking: “What is with these two AFS organizers, these women, where’s their head that they put us in such danger?”

Isfahan and Shiraz were absolutely stunning, beautiful cities.  I think it was when we were coming — I can’t remember whether it was Isfahan or Shiraz, I’ll never forget this — we round the bend and overlooking the side of mountain are soldiers with rifles pointed out at anyone about to make this entrance into the city.


Perspolis ,Shiraz

Perspolis ,Shiraz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know for a sixteen-year-old from suburban Massachusetts, it was very different.  The cities are so ancient, so beautiful.  I just remember the white of the desert and the blue of the tile from the mosque.  The sky was blue.  The tile was blue.  There was gold trim, and the white of the desert, and it was just beautiful.  Beautiful!

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I bought a monkey

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The only place they took me was to Iquitos.  We went on a family vacation and had a great time.  We stayed in these bungalows, and we went through the jungles.  We went for a week.  And I bought a monkey.

Steve: You bought a monkey?

Coat of Arms of Iquitos in Loreto Department, ...

Image via Wikipedia, Iquitos, Peru, Coat of Arms

Stacy: Yeah. Don’t ask me. I was quite a little adventure for them, wasn’t I?  I bought a monkey while we were there, and I come to find out many years later it really wasn’t a monkey.  But they sold it to me as a monkey.  It looked like a monkey.  But all it did was screech and hold onto your head.

Anyway, I ended up selling it that week because the thing was weird.  It wasn’t like a chimpanzee or that kind of fun-type of monkey.  I mean this thing just screeched and held onto your hair.  I paid like ten bucks for it and I sold it and he actually became a famous little monkey.  I think he worked for one of the banks in a commercial.

Steve:  So was it a monkey in the end?

No.  I mean, well, when I went to the zoos here many years later it was some type of…it was a family of a monkey, some type of mammal.  But it wasn’t like a monkey monkey. It wasn’t a monkey.  I know that it wasn’t a monkey ’cause if I saw it again I would know what it was, but it wasn’t what we thought were monkeys.

100 Years of Machu Picchu

The REAL title of this post should read: “100 years of the uncovering of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham.”  I can’t say enough about this place – I have been there four times and it is truly my favorite place on Earth.

Nothing compares to the train ride from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes.  There was no beautiful experience than descending down the Hiram Bingham Highway to the Urumbamba River while local boys ran down the path and waved to the bus at every switchback shouting, “Goooooood Byyyyyeeeeee!” and “Sayyyyyyy–oooo–nara!“.  Sadly, that experience no longer exists with the upgrade to airconditioned buses (at least that’s what I experienced last visit in ’06).

NOTHING compares to staying the night at the hotel by the entrance gates and waking up early the next morning to watch the sunrise over the ruins in virtual solitude.

Truly magnificent.

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Remembering the Buddha statues of Bamiyan

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Bamiyan was awe-inspiring.  We were driving up in this van on a curvy road.  You could see the side of this mountain for 45 minutes, and closer you realize there are these monstrous statues of Buddha carved out and these holes on either side of it, praying rooms or monastery rooms, where you could climb up stairs carved in stone and pray and reflect.  We westerners wanted to go to the top and stand on the head.  The front part of the head had been sheered off by a previous assault by one of Genghis Khan’s family relatives.  The Afghans have repelled every major invasion that had happened, including (after I left) the Russians.

In one of the cities we visited before we went to Bamiyan, it was a ghost town.  This was one of two haunting experiences I had in Afghanistan.  The city was reduced to rubble, but you could, if you stared at it, figure out where streets were and buildings were.  The city had revolted against Genghis Khan’s cousin/nephew’s son and killed them.  The army came through and said let nothing be left living in this valley, and to this day no one has moved back into this valley.


NPR: Bit By Bit, Afghanistan Rebuilds Buddhist Statues

NPR: Bit By Bit, Afghanistan Rebuilds Buddhist Statues


As I was standing there, I know I was hot and I know it was a hundred, I can swear I could hear voices of kids running up and down the street.  I could hear all the sounds I heard in Kabul around me as if I was being transported back to that time.  I can’t explain it.  It’s never happened since.  Nobody put that thought in my head, but I had vision.

Bamiyan, having that baked into the back of my consciousness, it was not a religious experience, the awe and magnitude of it.  Here I am with donkeys and water buffalo and this thing that was created a thousand years ago, this monument to another culture’s religion.  The air was cool.  It was so fresh to be out of the city.  It was a wonderful experience to move from Kabul to the countryside, the harvest was going, the ground was very rich…

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[Listen to the haunting experience and the rest of the story]