Further Up the Road is the tale of a young freak hitchhiking from San Francisco to Argentina and halfway back with barely a coin in his pocket. Set in the mid 70’s, the book is a celebration of the spirit of the intrepid traveler, negotiating drunk truck drivers, military detention, Andean deserts and mind-blowing drugs along the way.
Robin Brown had come fresh from years in India, curious to see what the New World had to offer him. Despite the company of a blonde Californian chick met at Timothy Leary’s residence, the Bay Area winter gets too grim for him and so he hitchhikes south and gets robbed of half his $60 by some drunken police the first night he sleeps on a beach.
He has no travel plan, a blanket for luggage and allows himself to get swept up into hitching and riding 20,000 miles through Central and South America, getting arrested in almost every country he enters for having long hair and being a potential revolutionary – these were the days of the murderous South American dictatorships which left upwards of half a million dead or disappeared. At one military checkpoint he’s detained and asked who the hell he is.
“‘I’m an Indian sadhu’, I reply, which has them baffled. Right, I launch into a fearsome long explanation of what Hinduism is, throwing in all sorts of midblowing anecdotes about India and fakirs. After about twenty minutes I have them all pretty much sucked in. Their eyes are popping and their ears flapping fit to take off.
‘But you really are a Christian?’ the chief asks.
‘Oh, yes, sure naturally, of course,’ I reply, crossing myself.
‘Good, good!’ he beams, while his deputy pulls out a rubber stamp and bangs me a 12 month visa in my passport”.
He’s new to local culture and is obliged to learn his Spanish from truck drivers whose language tends towards the vernacular – after a near crash he finds that his new vocabulary kicks in:
“Jumping down to safety I gave him a nasty gesture and tried out my first Spanish curse, ‘hijo de puta!’ It mad me feel better, in a macho sort of way. The kid just grinned but willy-nilly I was getting plenty involved in their brand of fatalism. I wondered if this attitude, garnished with religious fervour, had been foisted on the Spanish by the Arab and if turn the Spain had exported it here. The dynamic conjunction of faith, fatalism, and filthy driving was keeping me more alert than most of my drivers.’
Most places he goes, no one knows quite what to make of him. This tall foreigner with long, straggly blonde hair quite confuses the locals who are always asking him why he doesn’t get it cut. Finally he snaps back that he doesn’t cut off his penis so why should he his hair? – a response that wins everyone’s hearts at once.
Further Up the Road is a document from a time that has since long been swallowed up by time and the pervasive tourist industry. We hear of freaks and hippies travelling hand to mouth in places where no one has any idea what’s beyond the nearest hill, never mind over the ocean. The travellers that Brown meets and hangs out with on the road are all larger than life cartoon characters who have stepped off the page and are following the whims of fate around South America, occasionally flipping out on psychedelics or losing the plot.
The writing is sharp, funny and kicks along at a swift pace and is almost a manifesto of another way of life amid a world hell-bent on materialism and suppression of the spirit. Brown receives a plane ticket from friends back home and arriving in Miami he’s once again exposed to the culture shock of the uptight world as his barefeet get him into trouble.
‘..as I caught the check-in clerk for the London flight who was leaning over the counter, boggling at my feet. His face registered scorn, distaste, outrage, etcetera. And fear. No doubt about it, somewhere inside he felt threatened. The pink-faced crewcut manager was called. In a heavy Southern accent he intoned, ‘The Company doesn’t allow anyone aborad without shoes. The management reserves the right…’
Brown is then forced into hustling a pair of shoes from the other passengers in the check-in and eventually has to hobble back to the desk in a pair of loafers too small and his hair tied back before he’s allowed on the plane.
His parting call and last line of the book:
“Goodbye New World! Tread softly on our hippy dreams.’