FROM HULLABALOO TO HASHISH Carol Abbe, shown here in Greece (top left) at the beginning of her first trip to Asia, in 1967, and a few years later, on the road (top right). Below: an aerogramme from Afghanistan.
Carol Abbe sat very still on the international flight taking her from Beirut to Taipei. The year was 1968. Carol was 21 years old, and she was in the middle of the first of what would turn out to be three trips to the Middle East and Asia — where she spent most of her time in Afghanistan — over a four-year period. She was wearing a “tent dress,” something hardly out of the ordinary during an era when hippies proudly attuned themselves to peasant culture. What was out of the ordinary, if anyone could have seen it, was the multi-pocketed white vest she wore underneath her billowing frock. In the vest pockets, Carol had 20 4.5-pound gold bars strapped to her 5’11” frame — not an overly burdensome amount of weight ordinarily, but she was confined to an airplane seat for 18 hours.
It has been said that one ounce of gold can be hammered into a sheet that will cover 100 square feet. Gold smugglers get paid to be a hardy lot.
The flight was Pan Am One. Like a VW bus in the sky, it carried people around the world. People had sex all over that plane, Carol remembers, and dropped acid like late-’60s hippies were supposed to. “Doing drugs was definitely expected, sure,” she laughs, swatting her hand through the air as if free love and acid were simple givens.
Today Carol is a middle-aged woman who lives in Northampton and works in residential real estate. And today, of course, Afghanistan is not the sort of place where a young American can wander aimlessly in search of adventure and expanded consciousness. Then, Carol dropped acid in the Hindu Kush; 29 years later, American fighter jets are dropping bombs on suspected Al Qaeda training camps and Taliban hideouts.
During this, the first of three gold-smuggling ventures in 1968, Carol’s biggest fear was that she might fall to the ground and “make a huge clanging sound.” Or that she would pass out. This was in the days before airport security. X-ray machines and metal detectors (let alone poofs of air blown by chemical-weapons detectors) lay far in the future. It was hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable with all that metal digging into her sides. She definitely didn’t want anyone touching her.
Carol’s hair had faded from a blond dye job back to its natural chestnut color. Not quite below her shoulders yet, it was still a good deal longer than it had been when she began this journey. Taking a breather from college, she was feeling invincible. Still, her present situation, while not desperately scary, was not without danger.
Before she boarded her flight in Beirut, a man had told her: “If you think of taking off with these gold bars, we’ll find you.”
Months before her plane ride, when Carol arrived in Greece, she was a nice college girl just coming off the mid 1960s, with light-pink pearl glazing her lips and gold highlights tinting her blond bob. Two months was all she’d planned to spend on her trip to Europe: a boat to Rotterdam, a trip to Sweden, a drive down to Greece. She’d already been to Italy after high school with her choral group.