It’s the early 70s and many young guys are looking to explore the world, meet exotic young girls and smoke a whole lotta dope. Padraig O’Neill was one of these young hippies looking to travel and enjoy all that the world had to offer.
With his debut novel, Ketama: Alliance of the Rif based on some of his personal experience, we asked him a few questions about his travel then and now.
GP: Your book is based on your experiences with the hashish growers of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. What took you there in the first place?
PO: I had just finished an art degree and I didn’t really know what to do with myself in my life. Around that time the whole hippy movement was still quite strong, and seeking out new experiences, travel and smoking pot was all very new.
We’d just come from this very austere time after the war, with Europe being rebuilt, and it felt like there was a whole open minded, more spiritual world out there. A lot of my friends were hitchhiking to India, but I found myself in Morocco.
And the thing about Morocco is it is very accessible. You don’t have to go a long way from home, but it’s still very much a whole other world. Especially for a kid who has just finished university in London. And really, I just wanted to smoke a lot of good hashish and maybe meet some nice girls.
GP: Was it really as dangerous as it sounded in the book?
PO: There were some pretty hairy things going on at the time, yes. I mean, Algeria, just down the road, was still quite volatile and you kind of felt like there were revolutionary movements everywhere. The Atlas Mountains of Morocco are quite a lawless place in their own right, which is why they get away with growing this great hashish there, even today. There is still quite a bit of tribalism and I think at the time I probably didn’t realise the extent of the dangers there.
I think over time, as I travelled more and reflected on what happened to me, I realised what could have happened and how lucky I had been.
GP: So, did you really end up doing hash smuggling?
PO: I don’t want to get into it too much, but a lot of the book is based on my own life. It is of course dramatised, but there are a lot of things that are based on experience. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
GP: I gather that you’re still a bit of a traveller these days too…?
PO: Absolutely, I try and travel whenever possible. I spend a lot of time in Europe and Asia, but I’ve been everywhere. I’ve done pilgrimages to mountains in the Himalayas, driven across central Asia, island hopped in the Caribbean and done road trips in Africa.
GP: What do you think you learned from your time as a hash smuggler?
PO: I mean, I was never a Pablo Escobar type figure or anything, or even a Howard Marks. But there are lessons from dangerous trades that can apply to all sorts of business or walks of life. I think the trick really is to know when you’re ahead and then quit or diversify. I had a few friends who didn’t take that into consideration and ended up in prison. Basically, stay humble, don’t get too big for your boots and remember that all good things must come to an end.
GP: Have you been back to Morocco since?
PO: Oh yes, it’s a beautiful country. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been. The Atlas Mountains are incredible… Obviously don’t start trying to smuggle hashish though!
Padraig’s novel Ketama- Alliance of the Rif is available now as a digital download on Amazon.
A funny and suspenseful adventure set against the backdrop of the hippy years of the early 70s. A young man gets caught up in the tribal politics of the hashish growers of the Rif Valley in Morocco.