I’ve always been fascinated by international car travel. And I’m not talking about driving from France to Germany or from the US to Canada. Yawn. I mean real cross continental car travel. A friend’s mother once drove from Kuwait to London. The world really seems small when you think about a car trip like that.
So this week I read Irene Tinker’s travel memoir, Crossing Centuries (Inkwater Press, 2010), that chronicled her drive from Mombasa to London (although the book basically ends when she and her husband reach Sicily) in 1953.
So many things stood out in this 550 page book. For starters, in 1952 Tinker drove with a couple travel companions from England to India, where she studied post-Partition elections. While there, she met a calm American foreign service officer and married him a year later. As a sort of honeymoon, they returned to the UK (where Tinker was enrolled in her PhD program) in a 1953 Aston, not the best car to traverse the rough African terrain.
They set out from Mombasa and met European and Indian Africans. This was during the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya. Two decades later, when my grandparents visited Kenya, the political climate had greatly stabilized.
Tinker and her husband Millidge (Mil) stayed at the Stanley, too! In fact, the color barrier had just been broken when Irene and Mil arrived. The couple met with African leaders (which also included Indians) in the countries they visited and ran into some of the same people throughout their travels.
Irene and Mil enjoyed a progressive marriage by today’s standards. But back in the early 1950s, it was quite revolutionary. She didn’t change her name after she married Mil. Mil respected his wife’s academic endeavors, and most important to this book, her desire to drive across the horn of Africa. The only time he ever raised his voice was when they were about to go broke in north Africa and he was sick and tired of living under dire financial circumstances. Irene budgeted them to travel on $10 a day and they pretty much kept to that amount.
The couple traveled to Uganda, Ethiopia (and Eritrea), and Somalia, all up-and-coming countries (but history would have other plans), as well as the former Tanganika (Tanzania), Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Tinker includes an epilogue about what happened in these countries since 1954.
When the couple arrived in Egypt, Irene felt they’d left Africa and she was quite sad about that. And I felt equally sad the book was about to end.