Review: The Long Trip Home by Brian D. Wyllie (Brazil, 1969-71)

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)
iUniverse, $12.95
99 pages
January, 2009

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.




Leave a comment
  • A good read!! I admit that I am biased, as I am his twin brother and get a mention in the book. I also served in the Peace Corps (Trinidad) and shared the same Vietnam era experiencs.

  • Glad to see that my brother is following my posts! I want to mention the ongoing attempt to have all written material from RPCVs experiences (letters, journals, memoirs, books, etc.) have a place in the Library of Congress. It would not have to be Pulitzer Prize level work or even published, for that matter. If you want to help to make this happen (especially with our 50th anniversary coming up) write to your representative in congress or better yet Obama, and request it. More voices, more action. Our experiences hold important information from the past and need to be preserved for future scholars. This is part of the Peace Corps’ third goal, to promote understanding of other cultures throughout the world.

  • Again – a slight bias here as well – i am Brian Wyllie’s sister! I also enjoyed the book and readying about what my brother really did on his exploits in Brazil! I was the “younger sister” at the time and didn’t get to hear many of the juicier details until now. An interesting insight into the early days of the Peace Corps and just how difficult it was. I have always wanted to do a stint with the Peace Corps or a similar group and this provides the perfect “recipe” for doing it right. A great first book, Brian, we look forward to your next one!?

  • I am not Bryan Wylie or one of his siblings. I do not know Bryan Wylie although I feel some kinship as I was in the Peace Corps at just about the same time (1968-70) although in the Fiji Islands. I want to comment on the military draft situation at that time that is discussed in the review. I am currently working on a memoir focused on my courtship of a local woman when in Fiji and so here is a an excerpt about that situation:

    “Meanwhile, I still could have ended up dying in that meat-grinder of a war. Being in the Peace Corps had gotten me a two-year military service deferment, but not a lifetime exemption, and I had less than a year left on that. People I didn’t know had total control over my life. It was like that for all the Peace Corps guys, even the married ones.

    What I did know was that some goofball at Local Board #55 in Richmond, Virginia, could right then have been in the process of getting my deferment revoked for almost any reason he might want to come up with. Maybe he didn’t like the Peace Corps or he’d heard that we had it pretty cushy over there in Fiji, or he didn’t like the spelling of my last name. It was a voluntary position he was in, after all – what kind of sadistic weirdo chose to sit on a draft board playing God with people’s lives?

    There was a PCV in Fiji I. He went there with a deferment just like the rest of us, but then it was gone in an instant and so was he. He was sent to Fort Bragg first, but soon this military neophyte was shipped off to Vietnam. Before the others in his Peace Corps group could celebrate their first in-country anniversary, he shipped out for the final time – this time for home – in a body bag. It could have happened to any of us at any time.”

  • Yes, I do know Brian. And I read his book shortly after it was published. He has an interesting view on the Peace Corps vs Vietnam (and serving in the armed forces of the U.S.; in point of fact, I did the latter at the same time he was in the Peace Corps. It had never occurred to me how people still view the war in Vietnam as affecting their life today. But this book opened my eyes to the fact that it did, and continues to do so.

    Written in spare but descriptive prose, Brian has compiled a fascinating account of living near the bottom of the South American social spectrum. He has provided a snapshot of living as a Brasilian (spelled with an “s”, not a “z”), working class fisheries hombre. And then recounts his travels, often with understated humor, across Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, thence to Barbados in the Caribbean. His encounters with farmers, vagabonds, a latin American military dictator, and a young Swiss woman with whom he spent a romantic night (all night) in the ancient city of Macchu Picchu offer a lyrical historic account of world that no longer exists.

    Highly recommended for any student of U.S.Foreign policy, with special emphasis on employees and political appointees of the U.S.State Department.

    This is the real world muchachos; wake up and look, listen, and learn!

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