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Opinion

Travels on hippie trail more than a little mad

"WE were hitch-hiking to India."

It was January 1970. Ciaran de Baroid and his mate Tony O'Connor reckoned they were the first from "their wee city on the Lee (Cork) to be so bold".

Ciaran de Baroid believed he got his inspiration for his 10,000 mile round trip to India when he was two-years-old and his travelling instinct found him on top of the roof of his family home via a ladder and a cat ladder and from where he had to be rescued by a panicked stricken neighbour and mother. He wondered what all the fuss was about. Having survived that intrepid adventure hitching a lift to India was a stroll.

Although in his book, A Little Madness: Travels on the Hippie Trail, de Baroid suggests that his three years of hitching around Ireland and lowland Scotland was likely the real precursor to his Indian desire.

To accompany him he need someone, a little shall we say 'off the wall' like himself.

And such a person was very handy indeed. His best mate and life-long pal Tony O'Connor. His credentials were ideal. He thought nothing of risking his life.

He had been stabbed and survived; sprayed by machine gun fire and survived and eaten alive by earwigs as he awoke from an overnight sleep on the verge of a road in south Belfast.

He had just about turned 18.

When Ciaran was eight he discovered the world existed in an Atlas with glossy pages and told his world (which was Tony) that he was going to cycle around it.

Tony said it was a great idea brought on he thought by a nine-foot fall from the top of a pig lorry and a double-fractured skull two years earlier.

In case they were kidnapped they brought character references for their captors of their honourable intentions.

One was from Tom Barry an IRA hero from Cork's War of Independence. He advised, "It might come in handy if you run into any revolutionaries."

A letter from the Soviet Union told them "due to the vastness of our country we do not allow hitch-hiking".

With £280 between them they set off from Cork for London then India via Morocco, Istanbul, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.

This was a time before Discovery Channel, Lonely Planet and the internet; much of the planet was still a place of 'there-be-dragons'. Their first lift from Cardiff was from a vermin-exterminator by trade and an amateur magician by hobby.

He warned them 'turn back, turn back' because bandits would have them but it was not pirates or kidnappers that nearly done for them several times but the reckless driving by crazy people like the vermin-exterminator who gave them lifts.

They decided to split up on the basis that at least one of them would make it to India in one piece.

They met up in Paris and ate porridge for tea while sleeping in a doorway and were lucky to be fed by monks in a local church.

In Spain they were entertained on a train, packed with Spanish revellers, by a woman with castanets and a rose in her hair.

A young Basque man told them the meaning of 'manana' - "Sometimes it means tomorrow. Or maybe tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. Or maybe never." At the port of Ceuta in Tangiers in Morocco their first encounter, as they disembarked, was a man who offered them, 'Kif, marijuana, black hash'.

This was a time when young people were being told that 'drugs are the religion of the people - the only hope is dope'. Morocco was a place where mad things happened all the time and this was true for the travelling duo.

In Istanbul Tony's money ran out and he had to go home. In eastern Turkey Ciaran was rescued from oppressive well-wishers by a gun-waving policeman. When Ciaran arrived in Kabul he was told he was the only Irish man there, among many other nationalities, and it was there his tumultuous journey to India stalled. He was stricken with amoeba dysentery, a killer within days, he was told.

For the light relief you will need, why not spend your Christmas holidays in the company of Ciaran on the hippie trial.

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