You are here
Home > News > The Tale of the Hippie Trail

The Tale of the Hippie Trail

The US military left Afghanistan this summer and it has since fallen into transitional mode. Afghanistan first became a nation just over 100 years ago in 1919, but one thing that has always transcended the country’s rocky political history is its legendary hash scene. Despite the Mujahideen, Taliban or communists, Afghanistan’s hash industry has transcended the people and policies that have made life for Afghan hash producers difficult over the past 50 years. The flood of hash that once hit Europe and America following the first major hash haul in 1967 has long since been forced out of practice, but the stories of this prime time of hauling hash across multiple country’s borders remain fascinating tales of a different time. Chronic NewsRay gave Ray an exclusive interview in which he recounted the adventures he had through Europe and Asia, as well as the difficulties he encountered along his journey.

The first hash haul is said to have occurred one year before things really hit the gas on the “Hippie Trail,” where thousands of westerners traveled east through Afghanistan on their way to find enlightenment in India. Many trekkers would stop in Kabul as the capital of Afghanistan. Then they’d start to get as much haveh as they can before they headed west, to Germany, Amsterdam, or Southern California.

Much of what we know about the smuggling aspects of the trail come directly from one of the first groups to make it happen—The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, which included members from southern California. Ron Bevan (brotherhood member) is thought to have started an operation from Kabul in 1967. But there were several groups that did it.

Ray, a young man from this group was among the others. Chronic NewsRay and Ray sat down together to share their past experiences in hash smuggling. As Ray discussed his Afghanistan experience, we also talked about the US’ withdrawal. Finally, Ray asked Ray what the implications of that might mean for the hash industry, which has been decimated for many decades.

Hop In—We’re Going Smuggling

The days before Ray’s first trip to Afghanistan were filled with proper hippie business. “We went to southern Oregon in the late ’60s and for whatever reason out of pure synchronicity a bunch of us from northern California and southern California all ended up in this one house in southern Oregon,” Ray told Chronic News.

They decided to go one step further and start their own commune. The group spent time searching for properties, but they were unsuccessful in finding one. They finally regrouped in California, in 1968. Many people who first tossed the idea around are still friends, many of whom met again years later.

One of those in that group was Ray’s friends, who had just returned a shipment from Afghanistan and had previously smuggled haveh from Afghanistan for a year. In those days, Ray and his friends were staying in the High Sierras—the perfect place to unload some hash.

Most people associate the “Hippie Trail” with the image of a classic Volkswagen bus and a Hanomag Camper that rolled up to their spot in the same hills that was also very popular with other hash smugglers, such as Darrell. “He came, we unloaded it there, and it took a while. And after he got what he thought was the load amount he goes, ‘Okay, you guys can have the rest.’ And so we picked away at it because it was in the framework,” Ray said, “We had to use all kinds of tools we implement to dig it all out but I think eventually we got like another 10 pounds.”

Ray was referring to the man with whom he partnered in making the journey east for the first time. “So you know we are quite thrilled to make a connection with him. This is Long Beach, brother, I can give you his name because he’s no longer with us. Well, he had many names, but we knew him as Darrell,” Ray noted with a laugh.

Darrell was a veteran driver, having made several trips prior to meeting Ray. His role was to drive, which was a great thing. This crucial role saw him driving every step of the way from Holland to Kabul. He didn’t even need a map when he was on his runs.

Eventually Darrell shared his next plan with Ray: “Here’s what I want to do next time because I’m gonna have another Honomag, but also I’m going to buy a really nice motorhome,” Darrell told Ray at the time.

It was also known as a Revcon. When it was first designed, the Revcon was at the top of its class in 1968. It had an aerodynamic aluminum body, and the 26 rails that ran the length of its frame were a hash smuggler’s dream.

“Very cool, very modern, front wheel drive. And he goes ‘I’m gonna buy this and we’re gonna, this is the vehicle we’re gonna make special rails that go inside the rails and we’ll have little hooks to pull it out,”’ Ray said of Darrell’s original plan.

Ray and Darrell were friends with engineers, who assisted them in building the rails. The Revcon would eventually be driven across America by Ray and Darrell, from California to New York. It was then shipped on to Rotterdam (Netherlands).

Ray agreed to join Darrell on his trip to Afghanistan. “I go, ‘Sure, I’ll go slide and sit shotgun,”’ Ray replied. “It was like the coolest ride I ever took. However, we were both vegetarians so it was a lot soups, avocados, and carrot juice. The Norwalk Press is a great juicing device, and we had everything set up. We totally kept our eating habits intact.” Their eating habits would eventually earn them the nickname “The Carrot Juice Boys.”

After receiving the Revcon, they prepared for their trip from Rotterdam. The group would then make their way through Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria before reaching the Afghan Border.

After Ray and Darrell were caught in east Turkey, Ray’s first trip ended up being a long one. The Revcon’s front wheel drive engine featured torsion bars in the front, which didn’t pair well with the traffic or potholes they encountered on their journey. The Revcon lost control for a second but they were able stop at the median. “Eastern Turkey is definitely the sticks, very isolated and very desolate,” Ray said of the breakdown.

When you break down out there, it’s common to surround your vehicle with rocks. This was done before they attempted to hitchhike to the nearest town. They brought mechanics back to the Revcon, knowing they wouldn’t be able to replace the bar, but could rig something to get the Revcon back to civilization.

They walked to Tehran, Iran where they found the needed part and sent a message home. It wasn’t a fast process. “So we were in Tehran for about a good month, repairing the vehicle, but everything got straightened down,” Ray said, “So we rolled into Afghanistan, probably in late summer of 1970.”

Of Science and Borders

Our mission was to get a couple hundred pounds and five gallons each of hash oils. While other groups had brought hash loads back for about three years before this trip, to the best of The Carrot Juice Boys’ knowledge, they were the first people ever to bring a flash evaporator to Afghanistan. For their great chemistry project, Everclear was used to fill a large portion of the Revcon.

If the idea of driving across the middle east with a chemistry set seemed weird, the opulence of the Revcon stole everyone’s attention at each border crossing, simplifying getting its contents across various borders in both directions. “I mean, they’ve seen the ‘Hippie Trail’ in the VW Vans, the Honomags, but they’ve never seen anything of this magnitude in this amazing really cool motorhome,” Ray noted on the border crossings. “And of course once we got into Persia we decked it out with Persian carpets and runners and it was looking really cool.”

Although they were playing the role of wealthy Californians in many ways, they still had to be pulled out at each border. “The head custom guy would come out and just wanted to go inside and look at it and say ‘oh very nice,”’ Ray said, “It’s just amazing.”

Once, the border agent reached for their chemistry set. He pulled out a cup and a glass. The agent asked Darrell and his companions what the beaker was. “Glass,” they replied. They looked again at the glass and agreed with them. The guard then put it back into its box.

Iran was known for having some of its most restrictive border controls, but the group discovered that once they entered, it was one of the most friendly countries in the world. This is because Iran tried to Westernize the country before 1979’s fall of the Shah. Ray emphasized that it was one of the nicest places he’s ever been to, as they spent the month waiting for car parts. “They just want to make sure you’re [not] smuggling weapons or anything, doing nefarious stuff, but all the people there were so nice,” Ray noted of Tehran. “They just were so hospitable and helped us [with] whatever. If we’d go looking for the embassy, [residents] would take us in their car, take us to their home, feed us and then take us to the embassy.”

With a Revcon repaired, it was a little more difficult as they neared the Afghanistan border. Each hotel had signs warning them that they could be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for 1 gram hash or life imprisonment for 1 kilo. “They try and put the fear in you, but we got some good hash in Turkey,” Ray said with a laugh.

The group made it to Afghanistan and headed for Kabul. They chose to stay in the posh neighborhood of Californians. The Solan Hotel was their next stop. This is where hash-lovers and tourists alike go to get high on both sides of the trail.

One of Ray’s favorite things about The Solan Hotel was a space attached to the courtyard where you could park your van and camp near a little park attached to the hotel. The hotel was home to a rotating group of Europeans as well as a few Americans. It was always a great time.

Locals tried to make the hippies, smugglers and others happy. “Afghanis just loved us because we had money and we were very careful about religion,” Ray said. “We were very aware of how they are and how not to trespass or do anything [that]They are not against them. There’s just some things so you don’t mess with. You don’t eat during the day during Ramadan and walk around chewing food.”

Ray countered that the Islam religion was not based on that type of thing. Ray acquired some language skills during three trips which took him about one year. He was struck by how personal and caring everyone was. He noticed that most conversations were focused on the feelings of the other party.

In Kabul, the couple rented a house on two floors and built a hash laboratory. The couple would extract a large amount of hash oil off-site, then return the raw material to the flash heater in the bathroom. This will remove all alcohol. They would need to wait a few months before they could get five gallons worth of hash oil.


Loading and Unloading of the Goods

Chronic NewsRay inquired how much haveh it would take to make five gallons of oil. Ray estimates that 200 kilos of hash were used to make the oil. Ray also pointed out that unpressed hash makes for a better oil. The Revcon then hid the remainder to use in their specialized Revcon frames. “The rest we had pressed up and put into the containers, the square tubes, it actually ended up making the hash look like a Hershey bar. We sold most of that in Amsterdam and I’m sure to this day, there are a lot of people there who call it ‘screw hole hash,’” Ray said.

The hash received this name when they put five to seven of the bars together and put a screw through the stack, just to tighten it up before they tossed it down the tube designed to fit into the Revcon’s internal storage system. “It was a precise measurement that we had all the patties pressed,” Ray noted on the precision used to fill each tube with as much product as possible.

It was also very good. Flash evaporators kept oil at an acceptable temperature while it absorbed the Everclear that was used for production. “I mean, it was a black oil. But because of the flash evaporator we didn’t have to heat it in a high temperature, it was in a vacuum, so you got the real essence of really, really good hash,” Ray said. “I don’t know if you’ve had really, really good hash but it’s very floral and very sweet.”

Like today, to produce the highest quality oil, one had to have the finest material. Ray explained the journey that led them from Kabul’s upscale hash lab to their base camp across the country. Their first encounter was with Kandahar in Afghanistan.

“We used to go to Kandahar, but that was a tough place to be,” Ray noted on the trip. “Kandahar was like going back 1,000 years. I was like ‘Oh my God. That was an ancient town.’ And you couldn’t help but get dysentery just hanging out there for any amount of time. But Kabul was more modern.” In addition to the more modern vibe in Kabul, you could basically get whatever you needed. And in reality, it wasn’t that competitive with other smugglers in town because there was just so much hash to go around.

The Revcon was to leave Afghanistan with Ray when it came time for them to go home. The Revcon hired a German woman as a chauffeur to take on the role. “We paid her like $10,000 or something. She was amazing! She was a fan of fur coats. I mean, she’d look the part of being wealthy,” Ray said. This was the perfect complement for Ray, who had done this five times previously. It was important to look normal and not be too sexy. In the hope of being accepted at borders, it was important to not be an idiot, and also not be too kind.

Ray and Darrell reached Holland without any problems. After the Revcon was unloaded at a small farm in Amsterdam, it worked flawlessly. The majority of the loads would be sold locally.

“But here’s a luggage story for you,” Ray laughed. The hashmoos moved around Europe and decided to take some of their oil home to America. Ray believed that oil sold for $10 per milliliter at the time. A whole liter of the oil would have been worth approximately $10,000. “We went to a liquor store in Amsterdam and bought Kahlua. Then we’d melt the little seal and stretch it and pull it over the bottle, undo the cap and pour out all the Kahlua and then poured in the hash oil. Then we heated the seal back up and you know back the cap and so it looked sealed, and we’d take two bottles,” Ray said. “So, we go to the airport and we’d go to the duty free and buy another bottle of Kahlua and we traded out the bottle we bought at duty-free. So, we just carried it right across check-in.”

Ray reminded us to not forget about the exchange rate. The $10,000 bottle of vodka in 1970 was worth more than $70,000 today. He can’t recall how many bottles made it back, the whole five gallons would be worth $1.2 million today.

The Experience can be adapted

On Ray’s two trips to Afghanistan, he already had the lay of the land. In order to reduce his time in Kabul, he would purchase hash beforehand to cut down on the long road trip to Kabul.

Ray’s first trip lasted so long he actually overstayed his visa. He returned to the airport for his second trip and the customs officers noticed the issue on Ray’s passport. They gave him an extension. He learned his lesson and got a brand new passport for the next run. The passport worked and customs was easy. “So, I’d go ahead of time and get there and order up and make sure everything’s ready,” Ray said, “So when the vehicle came through it wasn’t just there, it was like it was going across. It wasn’t there longer than a week or two, which is about the average tourist time somebody might spend there.”

The later runs wouldn’t feature the Revcon. With the special gas tank compartments that held over 100 pounds of fuel, four-wheel drive Suburbans were adopted by the team. Although you would have to stop for fuel more frequently, the trucks performed much better than motorhomes on roads.

“But it was pretty safe because to get to it you’d have to take out the whole gas tank and cut into it,” Ray said, “And that was the last time that we did it. We actually hired a professional race driver, who was a dear friend, and he did a good job.”

Between trips, the gang was on a wider mission to promote psychedelic awakening. The gang made many runs in the late 1970s and a large portion of their resources were used to support this mission. Ray and his fellow smugglers found the freedom they were seeking through smuggling. They wanted to be able to pass it on to others. The unfinished boat, which began as a personal project for Ray and his peers would end up being a donation to philanthropic organizations. “So the majority of the money that we ever made went on that boat, eventually when the Russians started coming in and put in the puppet government and everything we said, ‘okay, that’s done. We’re not going back there again,”’ Ray said.

The First Smuggler: Expanding the Lore

Three years prior to Ray’s first run, Ronnie Bevan of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love would make the first major smuggling run out of Afghanistan. His autobiography, entitled “The Autobiography of a Hash Smuggler”, was the first to be published. Brotherhood Hashish – The Story of Ronnie Bevan2018

Many people speak of the “Hippie Trail” as intertwined tales of the many tourists that passed through and a handful of preeminent smugglers like him. Chronic NewsBevan was asked to comment on this idea. “One thing was there was more than just the two,” Bevan quickly rebutted. “You could get on a bus in London and end up in Kathmandu and there are photos of those people going in 1967 or 1968. The girls have bouffant hairdos and they’re in tight skirts. And then you see him a year later in Kathmandu, and we’re in the hippie clothes and their hair is all down.”

Bevan discovered that this was the main motivation for European tourists. Due to the international aspect, thousands of Europeans took that trip. Very few Americans made it. “We didn’t have the buses. There just weren’t that many. I know, all of the guys that were in Afghanistan smuggling because I was there through several years, and there just weren’t that many,” Bevan said.

Bevan said that many people from London or other places were interested in the metaphysical aspect of things and started taking psychedelics when they arrived in Nepal. However, not all people are like this. There were some people who came to the place for help, but not all. “There also was another large group of people that just did drugs,” Bevan explained, “You could buy heroin, cocaine, you could buy either from the pharmacy in Afghanistan. So we witnessed a lot druggie types just hanging out. So that’s just another dimension to what you’re talking about.”

Technically, many date the “Hippie Trail” to beginning in 1968, one year after Bevan’s first run. Bevan explained how increased numbers affected business. “In the early days nobody got busted for anything, it wasn’t until 1971 that somebody busted [in] one of the vans,” Bevan said.

Bevan was on the run with his friends and had an arrest warrant. That same year Afghanistan’s King Zahir Shah made hash illegal following a $47 million dollar payment from the US government. “Our people had to move into Pakistan to do their work, and it was pretty much destroyed after that. It collapsed and then many were arrested, particularly in the Volkswagens. There were eight, I believe. They got all of them except for the Russians. [in]It was 1979. That it’s, been over since then.”

An article from the South China Morning PostGhulam, an outsider Kandahar cannabis producer and farmer named Ali, was my interview subject. Ali noted he hasn’t had any problems since the most recent transition of power, despite concerns that the Taliban would crack down a lot more than the coalition-backed government that fell last summer. “We don’t hear a lot over there. But I think the Taliban is pretty much leaving everything alone,” Bevan replied after reading Ali’s story. “I think what they’re doing is they’re trying to get in there economically.”

It’s also important to remember that hash and Afghanistan have a much longer history than the Taliban does with the nation. “And I think the Taliban probably see that and realize that the people are going to be much happier and much easier to deal with if they let them have their culture,” Bevan argued.

This article appears in the January 2022 issue of Chronic News. Subscribe here.