In How Far We’ll Go, 74-year-old Hilda Muellert looks back fifty years later on the travel adventure she took with a friend when she was as young as twenty.
on me On December 29, 1972, a full-page article appeared in De Standaard about two West Flemish girls who were on a world tour with their backpacks on. One of those girls was now 74-year-old Hilde Muellert from Ostend. “In the aftermath of May 68, the world looked completely different. On the one hand, there was the hippie movement, with the ultimate highlight of the legendary Woodstock festival, and on the other hand there was the Beatles who promoted India led by George Harrison. Everyone wanted to go to There’s Her Time.” Together with her friend, she began her “Magic Mystery Tour”; an eleven-month criss-crossed journey through the land of the Maharaja.
The first to arrive in Ireland
“I met Catherine completely by chance on the catwalk in the center of Brussels, and it quickly became clear that we had the same dream,” says Hilda, who graduated from RITCS three years ago as an assistant director. After that I did solo assignments for the then BRT (Now VRT, editor.), with only one goal in mind: to see as much of the world as possible. After touring Europe, and hiking on my own, I found the perfect travel companion in Catherine: we were both interested in the world, and both were still young and open-minded. The duo first took a trip across Ireland to get to know each other a little bit better, and they hit it off really well.” That trip to Ireland was unforgettable and we were ready for more. That was the period when India – including the Beatles – was in the spotlight, so we decided to start our world tour there. There was something mysterious about India, and to those of a somewhat uncommitted mind, it was like a magnet.”
The fact that Catherine’s older sister Anime and partner Theo had just honeymooned in their converted Ford truck was also a plus. We thought maybe we could meet there. Our plan was to travel further through Indonesia to Australia and Japan and from there to South America. No idea how long we’ll be going but it was Jan 72 and we thought we’d be back by Christmas. She saved 31,000 francs, and Catherine had 33,000 in her bank account,” smiles Hilda. She was 23, and her travel companion was 24. India was a culture shock for the two young women. On the one hand, you had the beautiful Maharaja’s palaces, On the other hand, I saw extreme poverty everywhere. It was shocking, especially with the West Mentality. It really was a different world that we ended up in.”
I’ve often thought: What were we silly hotheads
In the third degree
The ladies wandered by bus and train. “In the third class – that meant sleeping in the luggage compartment, because sometimes a train journey like this took two or three days. But it was cheap, and everyone was naturally very curious about these two white young women from the West. Sometimes we got the strangest requests,” Hilda laughs. “But we never really felt insecure. The world was a safer place then than it is now.”
Contacting the home front was only possible through a post office worker. “There were no cell phones yet, no internet, and the message had been on the way for weeks. But overall, it was such a blessing: We had no choice but to fully immerse ourselves in Indian culture. We spent the night in ashrams and monasteries.”
From Calcutta to Madras, from Bombay to Delhi, Kathmandu and the Himalayas: the duo traveled in eleven months through India and also through Nepal. “In those eleven months we traveled more than 10,000 kilometers. The train journey from Madras to Goa alone was over a thousand kilometers. In Nepal, we did an eight-day trek in the Himalayas: not a good idea in gym slippers,” smiles Hilda. This adventure in the Himalayas resulted in “a journey through the Indies for art,” according to De Standaard dated December 29, 1972. “We happened to meet an American there who set up a trade in thangkas—beautiful Tibetan artwork painted or embroidered on silk, and can be Live on it. We followed his example, and using the proceeds of those artworks we bought a Deux-chevaux in Belgium which we took back to India via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the then-BRTN art magazine “Searchlight” reported on this at the time, “as Hildy says. During her travels, she diligently kept notes that now form the basis for the book that she self-published. “I found my diary quite unexpectedly when I was looking through the cupboards here at home. tensI believed, That would soon be fifty years ago!
It also turns out that Catherine had such a diary and I compiled them in this book, illustrated with drawings made by Catherine along the way. Just in the spirit of that time.”
Compiling the book was a perfect activity for Hilda in times of corona and shutdowns. Hilde smiles, “I went back to that whole trip myself, and I often thought: ‘How reckless we were an idiot’.” “That’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about our daughter: It was good for her to find out that her mother had already lived a full life before she was there. That trip to India marked the course of my life and I continued to travel. Around the world with my husband.” And yesterday’s travel companion? “We’re still best friends,” Hilda said.
The book will be presented on Sunday August 21 at 2 pm at the Hotel Le Parisien in the Groentemarkt. How far will we go (257 pages) costs €22.95, order via firstname.lastname@example.org or at 0475 28 12 74.