Aside from Peace Corps service in Honduras and years studying and working in Mexico, reviewer Lawrence F. Lihosit lived in a remote Alaskan fishing village for eighteen months. He has self-published seven books and as many pamphlets. Most recently, he partnered with iUniverse to publish Whispering Campaign; Stories from Mesoamerica and an expanded South of the Frontera; A Peace Corps Memoir.
The Long Trip Home
By Brian D. Wyllie (Brazil, 1969-71)
Reviewed by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras, 1975-77)
Brian D. Wyllie offers a travelogue which portrays his youthful quest to see some of the world. In so doing, he opens a peephole to an age when Americans were welcomed abroad and travel was possible for working men and women. We are also treated to a description of a world two generations ago: a classic example of witness literature.
He also begins with introductory comments about his Peace Corps experience in Brazil which is fortunate because it reveals some of the changing Peace Corps methods. For instance, he explains that Brazilian trainees were sent to a rural camp in Georgia for half of their training before being shipped to Brazil. In 1969, I believe that volunteers headed for Asia were sent to Hawaii for training. It was later that this policy was changed and all training was done in-country. Another example involves teeth. Wyllie mentions that trainees with tooth decay were given dental services during training. Only six years later when I joined this policy had changed. We were told to report with any dental problems fixed (at our expense). Those who took no heed and reported with cavities to Miami, Florida were sent home. A final example involves the Vietnam War and conscription (the Draft). Volunteers were given an exemption from the Draft. However, I have read and heard about cases where returning volunteers from Asia were intercepted in Hawaii by Federal Marshals who took them into custody and chaperoned them directly to military service. Wyllie reports that some trainees in his group, getting ready to board a plane to Brazil, were intercepted and taken into custody for immediate military service. This would certainly alarm the younger generation who have no experience with conscription.
Assigned to a poor fishing village, Wyllie followed Peace Corps directives to “live like a local.” An advisor to a fishing cooperative, he built his own small sailboat. “I went to a local lumber mill and had boards cut to size…The boat was nailed together with copper nails and caulked with string and tar.” He even sewed his own sail on a treadle sewing machine. He used it to fish but also loaned it to local youngsters for weekend excursions. They repaid him his kindness by returning with payments of fresh land crab and freshwater crayfish. He describes the locals and buying fresh food daily in a world without refrigeration as well as the danger of tuberculosis for those who do not boil their fresh cow’s milk before drinking. Plagued by contaminated water, Wyllie bought an interesting filter. “It consisted of a five gallon clay pot with three filters on top of another five gallon pot with a spigot.”
This life style saved money. Unlike some, Wyllie lived frugally. Once “there was a functioning cooperative run by fishermen” and his two years passed, Wyllie decided to take the “long way home,” traveling due west across the Brazilian badlands, into the coco leaf choked Bolivian Oriente where revolutions have begun for decades, across the Andes into Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia before descending to sea level in Venezuela- his take-off point for the Caribbean islands. He traveled through twelve countries in ten weeks with a budget that would make a paperboy blush. “If I had known what I know now, I may never even have attempted the trip,” he wrote.
The first leg of his journey, across the isolated Brazilian badlands fraught with wild animals, poisonous insects and marauding cattle ranchers, was difficult. At the Bolivian border, his new Brazilian traveling companions were insulted when he pulled out an American passport. “You are not Brazilian?” So begins his odyssey across South America, traveling by bus, train, taxi, hitchhiking, ship and plane. Along the way he learned the Andean dice game, Cacho. He also fell in love.
On the Caribbean portion of his sojourn, he visited eight island nations and even managed to hire himself out as a deck hand when his money ran low. He sanded railings and was winched up an eighty-five feet high mast to refinish it top to deck. He snorkeled to check rudders and propellers. He also fished to eat and surfed on deserted beaches. For most, these are only imagined experiences. The next best thing is to read about them.