The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘Who Needs a Road? The Longest and Last Motor Journey Around the World’ by Harold Stephens and Albert Podell

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 04•13

StephensRoadPic1aBack in 1999, we here at WoWasis drove 4000 km through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. We broke down in soft sand up to our axels in the bush with lions nearby, got an accidental fill-up of diesel 200 km from the nearest Kalahari town, and did it all while driving solo in a Toyota Hilux. We thought we were studs; no one had heard of anyone doing that route solo before.

But as studly as we were, it can’t compare with the arduous 42,252 mile drive made by Harold Stephens and Albert Podell, who circumnavigated the globe by Toyota Land Cruiser in 1965-1966. It took them 581 days, and is chronicled in their fascinating book Who Needs a Road? The Longest and Last Motor Journey Around the World (1967, ISBN 67-25177). Out of print for a number of years, the book was republished by Bangkok-based Stephens in 2011. The new version features an update on the people and places discussed in the original book, including fellow travelers (a number of people tagged along at one point or another), lovers, and interesting people (Everest climber Tenzing Norgay was one of them). As the authors point out, it will probably never be done again, due to political boundaries and wars. The book is 487 pages, including the index, and moves quickly, covering the bases on cultural and political elements along the way. Stephens and Podell were real gamers, as they dealt with minefields, continual breakdowns, mysterious flying hairy crab-spiders, and nefarious encounters. At one point, they’d taken three New Zealand women along for the ride. Things got dicey when the shared a meal with a local Police Commissioner in Algeria:

As the cheese was brought out, things took a turn for the worse, for the Commissioner made a request we had somehow to refuse. “I wish,” he said, “I wish to buy that girl from you.” He pointed to Barbara, blonde and chesty and glowing. I didn’t blame the Commissioner a bit, but we had to get out of  – and without offending him, for a man who’d killed fifteen French during the war with guns and plastique wasn’t going to think twice if insulted by an American.

“How much will you pay for her?” I asked, following the custom.

“How much do you wish?” he countered, and I could see we were in for some Arab haggling. Barbara had stopped glowing. I asked the Commissioner what he thought was a fair price, and he offered fifteen hundred American dollars, in either cash or gold.

“Well, that’s very generous/’ I answered, “but only for an average girl. It’s not enough for her. Barbara here’s an exception.” Exceptionally pale at the moment, I noticed.

“How much do you want?”

“Well, we just couldn’t part with her for less than $3,000. I mean she’s no ordinary girl: lovely hair, nursing skills, nice disposition, and -” “-and lots of meat,” the Commissioner smirked, a bit of spittle driveling into his dish of couscous. “All right, I give you $2.000. It’s too much for her, but since you’re my good friend, I’ll give it to you.”

“I’m sorry, but we just couldn’t take less than $3,000, even from a good friend like you. We turned down $2,700 for her in Marrekesh from the Sultan. We have to send half the money to her mother.”

“You do not bargain, Mr. Stephens.”

“Three thousand dollars is a bargain for a girl like Barbara.”

“As you wish. All right. I take her.” We were astounded. My trick had backfired – I couldn’t conceive of anybody paying $3,000 for a woman outside of divorce court, but there it was. Barbara looked about readv to faint, and the veiled wives were already giving her the Cinderella look when Al cut in.

“But there’s one thing Mr. Stephens forgot to mention, Commissioner. You see, we had planned to sell these girls as a group. They all go together. But since you are our friend, you can have the other two at a big discount, only $2,000 each, $7,000 for all three.”

“No, I do not want the other two. They are too skinny. Look,” he said, pinching Liz, who screamed, “No meat. All bones. I could not even get $200 for her from the nomads. I only want the other one.”

“But you see — well you see — we have to sell them together. The one you want is the prize of the flock and we need her to help us sell these other two miserable ones. Nobody will buy these scrawny chickens otherwise. Come on, special for you, as our friend, only $7,000 for all three.”

“No, no deal.” And with a sigh of relief we moved on to Algiers, the girls sitting in the back of the Land Cruiser singing at the cop of their lungs, “Maori Battalion march to victory, Maori Battalion staunch and true, Maori Battalion march to glory…”

There are many other astounding stories in this faced-paced tale. If, like us, you’ve gone through a few of your own adventures, are planning some, or want to know what you might get into when you get rolling on yours, this is the book for you. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

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