Books

Dust On My Shoes by Peter Pinney

“No, I am not rich. Sometimes I have money, and sometimes not. One becomes lean sometimes, and then fat. One becomes hungry sometimes, but never starves.”

Dust on my Shoes by Peter Pinney is quintessential travel before the whole deal became commoditized. Before waves of backpackers, hippy types in vans, and throngs of adventuring ecotourists the intrepid Aussie made his way to places as far flung as the Arctic and Burma in a world coming to grips with the vast destruction of the second World War. Dust on my Shoes is the telling of his first great overland journey – moving from Greece at war east towards India and beyond, with little money, no visas and no luggage. Travel on wits alone.

The fearless, it seems, travel solo and this is how Pinney begins his tale in Greece with nothing but twenty dollars in his pocket, ragged clothes and a pair of old shoes. He is moving towards Turkey despite constant warning about the war around him. A brush with death as a shell hits the train he is riding does little to deter him. War is nothing new.

“Why Turkey?” someone asks him.

“… Because I have not been there before.”

“Then you must be a rich man. It is expensive, traveling.”

“No, I am not rich. Sometimes I have money, and sometimes not. One becomes lean sometimes, and then fat. One becomes hungry sometimes, but never starves.”

With faith in the Universe and himself Pinney careens through Istanbul, Iran and Iraq. He befriends a quickwitted Dutchman named Marchand along the way. The two men outdo themselves in an extravagance of lies told in order to avoid arrest, gain entrance visas, or enlist in the Syrian army. They pretend to be oil company workers to gain transport through to Baghdad, having at one point to steal away into the desert night to avoid incarceration.

Pinney’s description of the world he moves through shows us enough of the grime to prove he’s really been there. He tells the tales of sordid streets that one expects the penniless traveler to experience. Mutilated beggars, wealthy soliciting homosexuals, peasants with homebrewed firewater, jaded drug-addled physicians – the author paints a menagerie of characters for us. Never, though, are we granted a peek as to what must be driving the man east, be it self-hatred, curiosity, or lunacy. For the pleasure, we are told and it’s left at that. Maybe Pinney simply couldn’t answer for his motives.

Moving through wintery, mountainous Afghanistan and on to a Calcutta full of smugglers, Pinney’s journey weaves through perils that would have today’s young backpacker reeling back home to the suburbs on the first available flight. The tale takes us through delights, while although obviously embellished, the imaginative reader can take guilty pleasure believing in. At one point Pinney and his mate Marchand find themselves hunted by a drum-beating, poisonous arrow-shooting cannibal tribe in the jungles of Assam. If only visiting hill tribes today in Thailand’s Chiang Mai entailed so much danger!

Jim Klee

Jim Klee – sports a mangled passport and a well-worn rucksack. He believes travel to be a form of therapy against modern civilization’s madness. In 2002 Jim embarked on a journey starting with a one-way ticket no return to Mexico City. Some months later he discovered Tom Thumb sleeping in the shade besides his tent on a beach in Costa Rica. After surviving rip currents in Mexico, nearly freezing to death trekking solo in Patagonia, and getting knocked unconscious by submerged rocks while surfing in Australia, Jim decided to clear his head by beelining his way (mostly overland) to the Himalaya. There a regimen of Sufi poetry, yoga up in the mountains, and cheap gel pens resulted in a stack of notebooks containing an unpublishable travel novel. He re-emerged in New York City in late 2004 and Road Junky was born soon after.