Written by Sascha Grabow, traduit par François Racine (french)
Thursday, 29 August 2013
26th of August, departing on a 'cruise' to Wallis & Futuna where most passengers will be participating athletes at the 2013 Pacific Mini Games.
When boarding the ferry Otuanga Ofa at Nuku'alofa harbor, next to me there is a couple taking pictures. The slim woman has a beautiful smile, such as one rarely ever sees.
Next thing the man belonging to that woman by chance shares a cabin with me, and we start to talk: His name is Solo (Solomon), he is 85 years old, has been married for 65 years to his wife of the same age (she has ONLY had 14 children), and unwittingly follows the Dalai Lama's advice to travel to at least one new place each year (in order to keep the mind young and alert). His stated aim is to top the family record set by his great grandfather who lived to 111 (only a mere 26 years to go from now!!); this grandfather married HIS third wife, a girl in her twenties bearing him two kids, when HE was around 85! Solo is a fisherman & farmer, was a teacher & police choir trombone instructor. His life motto: Keep everything you do in moderation. He occasionally smokes Marlboro. He keeps a diary, records his family tree (back to around 500 A.D.), writes his life story down in a book and visits Wallis in order to unearth family roots put down there generations ago.
Written by Sascha Grabow & translated by Dieter Grabow (german), Takeshi Tajima (japanese)
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
In a normal country they ask: "How are you doing?"
. . . . . In the Congo a random passer-by may ask: "What is in your big bag?"
I arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo on February 7th, 2009, from Zambia on a good road. A moslem border guard wanted 20$ extra from me, but after telling him I would go back to Lusaka to inquire there at the embassy about this treatment, he became polite and let me pass. Shortly afterwards I caught a ride in a Pajero jeep, and in two hours time, on an excellent road, we were already in Lubumbashi, the country's second city and capital of Katanga province, the policemen in their bright yellow-blue uniforms posing no problem at all on this road. In the city I managed to stay in the Don Bosco Christian Center, VERY friendly people! Meeting some German/Zimbabwean expatriate couple, I relaxed some six more days, getting more information and preparing myself for the trip inland. My plan was to travel overland to the upper Congo river, and from there on a boat all the way to Kisangani (with some overlanding around some rapids in between). It is about 500 km to Bukama on the river, but my plans to hitchhike there were annihilated by the sheer lack of traffic!! On average maybe one car every four days (!!) passed by (or was passed by me walking as a truck may be stuck in the mud or broken down, thus making walking faster then using the truck!), meaning I needed about 10 days to get there, my feet pretty ruined by that time. I had made friends on a short truck-ride the last twenty kilometer into town, and thus when a boat left the very next day, I decided to wait for OUR boat, one that we already knew the captain of, and that would leave the next morning...
Written by Administrator & translated by Hadeel Tal (arabic), Takeshi Tajima (japanese), Eldar Ra (russian)
Saturday, 17 November 2007
Sascha Grabow is a global adventurer, worldwide travel expert, professional photographer (Amnesty International Photo Campaign, Wikipedia) and at the moment the youngest contender for the title: "World's Most Traveled Person". Have you heard of 'The Amazing Race'? That's basically what Sascha has been doing 'professionally' for the last twenty years. On July 9th, 2008 he became the world's youngest person in the "Hall of Fame" of the most traveled persons, having set foot on more than 400 Countries and Territories. He 'learned' and started hitch-hiking at age eleven, for school-buses in his area were really scarce. He has worked as a ski instructor and later became a professional tennis player, a job that quickly developed his travel organization skills. Sascha Grabow has been to 180 Countries and over 600 Islands; from the 'Land'-Countries he's missing only Iraq besides three in Africa, and from the Island-Countries only some of those in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. His longest trips took him in twenty months overland from Papua New Guinea via Africa back to Germany, and in eighteen months, partly as a traveling tennis coach, through 45 countries on four continents. He has eaten Monkey, Elephant & Crocodile (Congo), Dog (Philippines), Snake (Cameroon), Scorpion (Thailand), Caterpillar (Zambia), Zebra, Kudu, Oryx & Ostrich (Namibia), Camel (Western Sahara & Sudan), Whale (Faroe Islands), Turtle (Cayman Islands), and Cactus (Mexico), and has shared holey mosquito nets in pygmies' homes and celebrated new year's eve in a crowd where people salut into the air with real Kalashnikovs (Central African Republic). In Sierra Leone he worked with refugee repatriation as camp manager and convoy leader, in Mother Theresa's original mission in Calcutta he's worked with handicapped & blind children as well as comforting the dying. His first photo exhibition (on african tribes) was held 2007 in Heilbronn, South Germany. 2008 was spent in the Caribbean, then hitching & hiking the North American Continent towards Iceland, TV Show in Germany, later back to Africa. 2009 two months Congo, Indian Ocean, South America. Finally in 2010 the timing was right to reach Antarctica, the seventh Continent.
So far Sascha has worked as a tour guide, fitness coach, flight courier, travel guide, photographer, motivation guru, actor/extra (Egypt), writer, adventurer, bartender (Fuerteventura), soldier, seaman (Caribbean), car deliverer (towards Kazakhstan), sailor, english teacher (Uzbekistan), camp manager & convoy leader in refugee repatriation (Sierra Leone), social worker (Mission Mother Theresa, Calcutta), cook (Faroe Islands), dishwasher hospital, tennis pro ATP, tennis traveling coach, tennis teacher (Germany, Spain, China, USA), animation - GO, dancer/show/theater, ski intructor and bouncer (Dallas).
Written by Sascha Grabow & translated by Julien Millot (french)
Monday, 22 September 2008
When I arrived December 2002 at the border between Cameroon and the CAR, the christian missions had just finished evacuating their personnel since the security situation was rapidly deteriorating. I gave them some valuable films for safekeeping as they were being flown back to Germany. Next morning I crossed into the relatively unknown area, the one news I had was the CAR`s reputation for worst road blocks anywhere overlanding through Africa.
A combination of walking, hitchhiking, sitting on top of the load of some lorry, and mini buses got me through 25 army road blocks (of which I ended up paying `fees` fourteen times) and 600 kilometers in two days towards the Capital City Bangui. The place was in dire distress, every couple of months Libyan-sponsored troops tried to capture the christian-run Capital & Presidential Palace ...
Written by Sascha Grabow & translated by Renata Catiari (portuguese)
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
"We don't know where the $3000 are going to, and how really ends your interrogation after your prison night in Liberia!" ??????
"In the morning there are German and European embassy ambassadors present! Liberian authorities again let me write down a summary of my last 10 years or so, then compare it with the one done the previous night, two in order to check if I'm lying or fabricating anything (and thus may be someone with reason to hide things, possibly a spy or mercenary). When comparing the two, they find no fault, I'm being released! Back at the hotel, the bag is untouched, the money there!! All this was in August 2002.
Finally in February 2003, just across the border from Congo into Gabon, I had already found a place to stay for the night with a local family, I hear one more car approaching at around 8 pm, jump out from my bed, and stop the car on the road. It's a new pick-up with a couple of men inside. They agree to take me further, I run back, get my backpack, say thanks to the family, and jump onto the back of the pick-up. He drives like a madman, and for three hours I feel like riding a jetski through big waves, holding myself & 'cruising' on the metal somersault frame. When they stop in the middle of the jungle for a pee, I already feel a bit strange and stand nearby, so they won't jump into the car, and leave WITH my bag but without me. At 1 am finally they stop and ask me where actually I want to go. I tell them 'To the coast, to Libreville, the Capital'. They 'invite' me to sit inside, while another one of the five has to be in the open back. When I look around, I can see that this guy has started to work my backpack open, that was still placed on the loading area. I tell them to stop, and that I'd prefer to be back there, and don't need a seat. Next thing they all pull out different handweapons: One tiny silvery thing, another with a double barrel, another a dark revolver, etc, etc! I'm really stunned.
I can't believe this is really happening: I'm getting attacked by five guys with guns, after hitchhiking with them hundreds of kilometers half the night through the jungle, they give me a couple of headwounds with the weapons & also break my arm near the wrist through a strong punch/hit with a gun, then take all my things out of my pockets, my backpack with 8 kodak-films, camera, and the remaining money I still had six months later, around 800$. I had jumped back onto their pick-up with my broken arm, when they tried to drive off, and the one guy on the back jumped down, probably afraid I might be armed myself, and fired his gun off whilst doing so.
Then they stopped the car again, and the leader pointed his gun to my thigh/upper leg, and threatened to shoot me into my leg if I continue resisting. I put my hands up, and they drive off with everything. For one moment I had considered pulling my pack with me into the ditch and bush, falling off about 2 meters at the side of the road, but they probably would have emptied/sent all their bullets into the bush and me, kind of like in the movie ¨Into the Blue" (Jessica Alba/Paul Walker).
I walked five km back to a village, knocked on all the doors, and all are so scared, seeing my face bloody all over, nobody opens. Finally some two girls open for me, then bring me to town center and police. I want to pursue them, but everybody is so scared, it seems they are the same guys that two days earlier took a minister's hotel hostage, reception and all, for 2 and 1/2 hours, and managed to get away with about 6000$. Then they killed a tax driver, and then finally, sunday night on the way home to the capital and coast, in the jungle, they find me, treat me as some additional booty/loot/cash/gain.
They were these kind of cindarella kids, like from american movies: If there's a roadblock, they´d just go full speed, either get killed themselves or just go on unstoppable; maybe too young to be really capable of overseeing their own actions.
A French-canadian NGO guy, who from that village also left that day towards the city, his contract had expired, at 4 am took the through-coming train and got me a ticket too, which I paid him back when I got an advance from my embassy once in Libreville. Then my mom sent me 800 Euro per Western Union for the cheapest oneway ticket home (to a northern Paris airport), 753 Euro, because once the local doctor confirmed my tennisarm was broken, I didn't want to take chances with the healing process.
The coincidentally present German embassy doctor had earlier failed to make that diagnose!! Axa insurance later refused to see this as an emergency, they wouldn't reimburse the ticket price, and from Paris I had to hitchhike in freezing weather, February, with only a red raincoat, and still with this huge wounds on my forhead, back to my hometown near Stuttgart, Germany."
Written by Allison Pearl Erickson, edited; translated by Takeshi Tajima (japanese), Julien Millot (french)
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
An adventure of diamonds, women,
danger, and suspense.
Sierra Leone, a country noted lowest on the Human Development Index, is where Sascha Grabow found himself in April of the year 2002. Arriving in Freetown, the country’s most populated city and capital at just over a million people, after getting there from Guinea via his usual overland traveling, he met a Dane commissioned by the Sierra Leonean government to excavate the harbor. The country is very-well known for its diamond mining and exporting, widespread knowledge of this most recently from the movie Blood Diamond. After becoming tennis buddies, they started to stay together. On one particular day, his host was approached by a girl who had in her possession a matchbox filled entirely with diamonds. Sascha, ever curious, stepped out onto the balcony in an attempt to observe the rare items, hoping to at least see them, and even more so to touch the jewels. She was selling them, said the whole box was for $5,000 U.S., and in Antwerp they could easily go for $20,000 ...
Argentina: Train here is cheaper than the bus, but doesn't cover all destinations. Visa-freeentry for Europeans for 3 months. In the end of September, Buenos Aires, Megacity of up to15 million inhabitants, can be still quite cold.
Brazil: Things have become pretty expensive, Salvador & Rio have security problems, Visa not needed for Europeans, although Americans pay quite a lot for it! Hitchhiking almost impossible, buses expensive, distances huge!!
Cameroon: Currency Franc CFA, 656=1€. Visa easy, but costs 50.000; get a 3-months, as it is the same price! Douala can be a bit dangerous, people may follow you around on the street. Limbe, Bamenda, Yaounde and climbing Mt Cameroon are recommended. Hotels Limbe from 4.000 (Paradise), Yaounde 7.000 (roundabout Nlongkak).
Comores, Indian Ocean: The Visa costs an outrageous 60€, even if you stay only 1 day (max 45)! Bring € cash, huge losses with $, currency is fixed @ 492 comoro francs to the €, people on the street usually convert @ 5000 per 10€. People are VERY friendly! Consists of 3 islands, Grand Comore (Capital Moroni), Anjuan & Moheli, plus Mayotte, which but belongs to France. Three nice beaches around Grand Comore, in the North & East. Boats between the islands w/o schedule once or twice a week for 25-30€, flights more regularly @ 42-60€. Problems with water & electricity. In 2006 they had a one-month-'civil war' with 80 soldiers dead, separatist attempt by Anjuan. The president's wife supposedly has a company that produces the speedboats that refugees use oneway all the time to escape to 60-mile-away Mayotte/France(Mayotte receives already 50% of all illegal immigrants of France!). Great business but crazy to think of it: The worse her husband runs the country, the more she makes profit!! When the Yemen Airways plane crashed, OF COURSE they claimed it must have been a typhoon (even though totally out of season), and they had a new reason to ask donatios from Europe. The country is very moslem, but their 'brothers' don't bother too muchin terms of investment etc. The location is just too isolated. A boat to Tanzania may cost 150€, be postponed for 3 weeks, may take 5 days & make you awfully seasick.
Congo DRC: Best place for Visa: Kigoma (same day 3-months-multiple-entry 100$). Best road in the country: Kisangani to Beni, 750km, in 24hours or less, with buses leaving in either direction on Tuesdays 7 am, 45$, company 'Les Enfants D'Abord'.
Equatorial Guinea: Currency Franc CFA, 656=1€. Visa at the moment only available in Libreville, Gabon, for 75.000 CFA (115€), Copy Passport, Letter from your Embassy and 2 Photos, may take 8 days to issue. Overland Entry possible through Ebebeyin (Cameroon or Gabon). Ship Djibhulo connects Bata and Capital Malabo (Bioko Island) twice a week, takes about 30 hours total, costs 12 (deck class) or 15.000; a faster boat, San Valentin, gets repaired in the wharf, and then supposedly is able to cover the distance in 7 hours. Flights are 45.000, almost daily. Hotels in Ebebeyin from 10.000, Bata (Alegria) & Malabo (Chana) 15.000; Clubs Candy, Buddha Bar, Bahia (all free) & Luna (5.000 cover charge). Rio Muni (mainland): Ecofac (25 km South of Niefang) is by far the cheapest place worldwide to have a chance at seeing Gorillas in the wild. Problem here is the roadblock beyond the bridge just outside Niefang. Bioko: If you fancy a tour around the island, then do it clockwise. Road blocks are more lenient on the Riaba side, and by the time you get to Luba junction, you tell the soldiers there that you just want to get back into Malabo town. Sipopo has a nice beach & bridge-connected island, Moca is a cold/European-climate mountain village, 10 km North of Luba is Arena Blanca, a pretty palm-fringed beach cum local village. You can always try to obtain a permit for climbing the country’s highest summit (about 3400 meters, supposedly a road goes up there), but considering that they half expect every traveler to be a spy or at least some kind of infiltrator, and their telecommunications system and heavy military presence being on that mountain, good luck with that … Annobon: Flights twice a week, Mo & Fri, 82.500 from Malabo, 67.000 from Bata; the ship Djibhulo arrives there every 2 months or so. Only one Hotel, behind the airport, 50.000 plus 15.000 for any meal !! …otherwise it’s improvising. The main town Pale (or San Antonio del Norte) is connected by a path (starting just behind the hotel) to Santa Cruz village (about 2-3 hours of ups and downs), and another 40 minutes across a further pass to San Antonio del Sur, in the very South of the island, though that trail is a bit difficult to locate. Locals prefer using the Cayuca-one-tree-boats to get around.
France: Currency €. Paris, Cote d’Azur, the Alps, the Pyrenees, Corsica and Brittany are all very much advised to see. Skiing here is another unforgettable experience.
Gabon: Currency 656 CFA=1€. Get your Visa in Yaounde, 4 days, 50.000 one month, 70.000 multiple entry, 80.000 3 months, 120.000 3 month multiple. Libreville is safe, has nice beaches, Maison Liberman 10.000 per night. Take the boat across to St Denis. Franceville has an interesting Ebola-Institute where you might see a Gorilla!
Madagascar: Visa for 1 month now free until December in an attempt to lure tourists back into the country after the February '09 'Revolution'. 1€=2760 Malgache Ariary (meaning 5x) = 13800 Franc Malgache (the old currency). In Capital Tana Hotel Lac, 2 blocks NE from abandoned railway station, for 10.000 Ariary (4€). In my 12 days there in 2009 they had an attack on buses between Majinga and Tana, killing three, a bomb blast in the radio station, and the new 'President' is a 34-year-old DJ choosen & installed by the army. Policemen can often be seen close to beautiful girls, planning tourist scams to strip you off some cash, as it may be there only income whatsoever.
Mali: Currency Franc CFA, 656=1€. Visa at the border for 15.000, then you got 1 week to extend it for free in Bamako, opposite Ghaddafi administrative village (East bridge), for a further 3 months. Hotels Bamako starting 7.000, Segou 2.000 (Catholic Mission, spacious & safe), Djenne 3.000, Mopti 4.000 (Pas de Probleme, swimming pool). Highlights Bandiagara Dogon and Peul, Tombouktou. Clubs Bamako Jet7, Byblos, Le Diplomate, ‘Hippodrome’. For 5.000€ some Arabs will drive you in the fastest-type fuel injection 4x4 clandestine all the way across the Sahara from Tombouktou to Tamanrasset, Algeria, for a couple of days, and then back. No Visa, nothing. IF there would be trouble encountered on the way though, you can be almost sure you’d be on your own then, so this definitely isn’t for the fainthearted.
Mauretania: Currency Value about 400=1€. Get Visa in Rabat, Morocco, 32€ one month, 55€ two months, and note that it starts the day being issued. So if you fancy 3 more weeks to explore beautiful Southern Morocco, then plan ahead. Nouadhibou: the world’s longest train (iron ore), 2300meters long, starts from here every afternoon 3 pm, getting you into the interior. It’s about 12 hours to Oyoum (no lights on the train!), from where pick-ups go to Afar & Chinguetti. The Capital Nouakchott is about 2-3 hours from Rosso, at the Senegal River & border, where you may try your luck for the night at the Catholic Church.
Mauritius: It's a really beautiful place, you can stay up to three months without a visa, but they want to see your onward or return ticket, and your exact address plus tel number. They called me the day after my arrival to check if I was there & fine. You can find apartments here from 50-100 Euro per month!! If you state that you're selfemployed, the chance that you will be allowed to reside here is actually pretty good too. Grand Bay is the place to be on Friday & Saturday nights, especially Buddha Club.
Mexico: Currency 16 Peso=1€. Westerners are allowed in 3 months without a Visa. Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Baja Peninsula, Yucatan Pensinsula, Puerto Escondido, Zippolite, Oaxaca, Mayan Ruins, Chichicastenango and from there onwards to Antigua in Guatemala.
Morocco: Currency 12 Dirham=1€. Westerners enter without Visa for 3 months. Interesting entry points: Ceuta, Melilla or Tanger. Ferries can be taken from Algeciras, Malaga, Gibraltar or Almeria. The prices vary only slightly, around 30+€, and it is easier to hitch to Almeria (only 300km away from the Alicante highway), and then take an overnight ferry, in order to arrive your first day in Morocco/Africa in the morning rather than late evening. To see & do: Rabat, Casablanca, Fes, Meknes, Dunes of Merzouga (Beginning of the Sahara), Marrakech, Agadir, Essaouira, Atlas Mountains, Surfing at Dakhla.
Namibia: Chameleon Backpackers is the best place to stay in Windhoek, cosy dormbeds @ 8€ incl. nice buffet-breakfast, swimming pool, plasma DSTV, billiard.
La Réunion, Indian Ocean: The hike 'L'Ilet A Guillaume' has great views, though not for the fainthearted, as there's a sheer drop of about 500m just left of the path. You start @ km15 on the La Montagne Rd from St Denis, Village St Bernard, Rd curves right, you take a left into the woods. Going and back takes about 3-4 hours.
Rwanda: Entry Visa-free for Germans up to 3 months stay! In Kigali you can stay in the city centre @ Hotel Bellevill, at 10$ for a double room.
Spain: Currency €. Madrid, Barcelona, Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Sevilla, Pilgrim Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela, ferries to Africa. Ryanair can get you there cheaply.
Tanzania: Visa 50$ OR 50€ for 3 months; if you go to Kenya OR Uganda in between, you can use the same visa again, it remains valid when re-entering Tanzania! A new road goes diagonally all the way from Dar Es Salaam to Rwanda! In Dar Es Salam the YWCA has dorms for 6$ including breakfast, open to men as well!
Uganda: Visa 50$ for 2 months single entry, stay can be extended (up to 6 months maximum, preferably at a smaller-town-office) for free! In Kampala, one of those capital cities where one doesn't mind spending a couple of weeks (people walking around at night, in a whole month I have never heard of a single incident), stay at Backpackers, Namirembe road; it's safe, green, spacious, dorm beds @ 4$, and you'll have ample communication opportunities!
Rose Bachman, a retired telephone operator from Houston, Tex., was on an around-the-world cruise when the cargo freighter she was sailing on was sold for scrap - in the middle of the voyage.
"They just sold the ship from under us," she said. Bachman and the other passengers were dropped off in Mombassa, Kenya. It wasn't all bad, Bachman said. "They put us up in a five-star hotel and gave us business-class plane tickets," she said. The travelers were also reimbursed for the two months they lost on their four-month cruise.
The cancellation did little to damper Bachman's enthusiasm for freighter travel. Over the past 10 years, the 73-year-old has spent more than a year at sea on cargo freighters. "It is absolutely the only way to travel," she said ...
Written by Sascha Grabow & translated by Julien Millot (french), Jorge Sanchez (spanish)
Friday, 30 October 2009
I buy a train ticket in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for the ´Death Train´ (according to the Lonely Planet guidebook) to the border with Brazil, run back to my hotel to catch my bag, all the while pouring with rain. When I arrive 5 to 12 back at the train station, totally soaked, the doors are already closed, the train starts moving, everybody is like: SOOORRY!! I take the underpath, on the other side is a 2-meter fence, and it would cause me too much attention to try climbing that thing with big backpack and all. I think feverishly, walk alongside the train, finally the fence has a hole, I sprint after the train into the track, shouts everywhere, a soldier stands on the rear platform. Nevertheless I hang on to it, pull myself up, though he tries to shove me back down. Finally I´m in, bleeding on my shin bone, and after explaining that I was with picture on the frontpage of their newspaper in 1995 for winning a tennismatch 7:6 in the third, they relax and provide me with a seat next to the most beautiful passenger they can find ... :-)
As there is another checkpoint just outside the city, I had to leave Bangui, the Capital of the Central African Republic, on the fourtheenth of January, just one day before the expiry of my Visa. I'd had a great time with barbeque for christmas at the french ambassador's residence, new year's celebrated with rounds of gunshots from real kalashnikovs - about six to ten people each year don't make it through that party!!
I really didn't want to leave! See, I was staying in one compound with the prime minister, we had tennis court, swimming pool and our own cook in livery, waking us up and serving us with fresh coffee and omeletts in the morning; but the idea was to get past that checkpoint, and then speculate on the real border guards in the boarder triangle Cameroon - Congo - CAR not being able to read sufficiently to maintain any claim towards my passport Visa indeed being expired ...
Authentique passionné de voyages, Sascha Grabow, le plus jeune détenteur du titre de "Plus Grand Voyageur du Monde", est actuellement à Maurice pour quelques semaines. À ce jour, il a visité 181 pays et il ne lui en reste que 13 à parcourir et s'élever sur le classement du site worldtravelers.com où se concurrencent une centaine d'autres voyageurs.
Written by Sascha Grabow & translated by Dieter Grabow (english)
Monday, 28 January 2008
In April 2002 I live in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, with a Dane who was commisioned by the government in order to excavate the harbor. Some day a girl turns up with a matchbox full of diamonds. She is talking to my Danish host on the balcony, and when I come by, anxious to catch a glimpse of such precious stones or perhaps even to touch them, she tells us that they are on sale at the price of 5000 US$ - in Antwerp they would easily fetch a price of 20000 $.
End of June I turn up once again at the Liberian Embassy, a tiny room with a couple of bunk beds and a rice cooker. The ambassador declares time and again that there is no danger at all in travelling to Monrovia overland. After all he must say that because that´s what he is earning his living on: selling visas to tourists - a job which is not very profitable at the time being. So I ask him if it´s ok me giving him 35 $ for the visa which normally costs 50. "You can´t do that, bargaining & haggling with me like that", he says, but in the long run he agrees - what else is there to do for him ...
Written by Spiegel Magazine / Moises Mendoza, edited by Sascha Grabow
Friday, 15 April 2011
Ultra-Travelers Aim to Conquer the World
By Moises Mendoza
Fancy a trip to Antarctica? How about a vacation on Nauru? Or is North Korea more your idea of a dream holiday? For those travel fanatics competing for the title of "world's most traveled person," such inaccessible places are must-see destinations, as part of the ever-growing list of the world's countries and territories.
Some people collect stamps; some collect countries.
320 countries and territories are listed by the Travelers' Century Club, an organization for people who have visited 100 or more countries. Membership costs 100 $ annually.
"Part of the traveling is bragging rights," says their chairman, who is based in California. "Part of it is just the love of travel. It's a thrilling thing."
But who is the world's most traveled person? It's impossible to know -- but that doesn't keep some travelers from laying claim to the title.
Differing definitions of the word "country" certainly don't help. The United Nations has 192 member states. The Travelers' Century Club, in contrast, includes 320 "countries" on its list. While the organization admits that some places are not actually independent countries in the conventional sense, it insists that all are "politically, ethnologically or geographically different." The list includes disputed territories such as Trans-Dniester in Moldova or Western Sahara in Africa, classifies dependent territories such as the US's Pacific island of Guam as separate "entities" and also regards Alaska as counting separately from the continental United States.
Meanwhile another organization considers the world to be made up of 872 places, including countries, territories and major states and provinces, among other locations. That list breaks things down even further. It has, for example, 18 separate places to check off in Germany, including the country's 16 states, the North Sea archipelago of Heligoland and the tiny exclave of Busingen in Switzerland.
Ultra-travelers (about 30 of whom are from Germany) who spend much of their time trying to get to far-flung lands like Nauru or Bhutan are loathe to say they're in a competition to visit the most countries.
But there's no doubt that their ranks are increasing. The Travelers' Century Club has seen a rapid increase in popularity over the last few years.
It takes gumption, dedication and lots of hard work to be an ultra-traveler. But the biggest and most obvious challenge to visiting every single country is simple: money.
Others are lucky enough to have jobs that take them the world over. Work as an international tour guide helps to visit a lot of the Travelers' Century Club's countries.
Why does one keep doing it, despite being 70 years old and hearing regular complaints from one's wife? "It's in my blood," one traveler told SPIEGEL as he was getting ready to leave to escort a tour group through China and North Korea. "I get home, stay a few weeks and need to start traveling again."
The Thrill of the Unknown
Yet other travelers, like Spain's Jorge Sanchez -- who has a claim to being Europe's most traveled man -- need to find more creative ways to fund their adventures.
Sanchez, 53, spends about half the year washing dishes or working in hotels in touristy parts of his country. The rest of the time he's on the road. He's now planning his fifth round-the-world journey and a trip to obscure South Pacific Islands he hasn't seen yet.
Of course, there's an element of danger involved in ultra-traveling: Sascha Grabow, a former professional tennis player from Heilbronn in southwestern Germany, has been briefly detained by suspicious authorities in Congo and Liberia. On his website, he writes interesting anekdotes about his travel adventures. He also has had to talk his way past angry soldiers in Guinea and Kazakhstan.
But there's also the thrill of the unknown: the idea that the world is so vast and complex that there's always just one more place to visit.
'Many More Ways of Living'
For some, traveling becomes a passion -- some would say addiction -- that changes their entire outlook on the world and life itself.
Sascha says he's seen so many places over the years (about 606 of the 872) that his very concept of what it means to be German has changed.
"When you've lived in so many countries, it can be hard to see the German way. You see that there are many more ways of living your life," Grabow, 43, said in a telephone interview from Morocco, as he prepared for an excursion into Mauritania.
Rather than seeing it as a numbers game, Grabow stresses the philosophical aspects of traveling. "For me, it's not about collecting the most countries. It's about living life to the fullest and seeing and experiencing the whole world."
Just back from Machu Picchu! Dont tell anyone but I walked the trail in 24 hours, there are three passes, of which the highest reaches 4215 meters, had to jump a couple of fences, mostly at night, didn't have much food with me, at 1 am I encounter a lost dog, he begs me to get him out of this (labyrinth for him, always up and down), and finally, surprise, at 2 am I'm in the middle of Machu Picchu, no entrance gate at all. I sleep under some rocks, together with the dog, giving each other warmth, and in the morning take some pics. But then a guard sees me with my big backpack, asks me for either trail or entrance tickets, then transports me out through the huge (about 50 meters long, several consecutive checkpoints) gate at the lower end of Machu Picchu in a rather unfriendly way :-)
I guess my budget is still too low to be able to see what nature has to offer ... My feet are in quite terrible a condition at the moment, the achilles ligament(?) can only take so many thousand altitude meters per day up & down (especially down is extremely strenuous), according to each individual's personal limit.
Today though I will have to walk one more time, back uphill on the train trecks, the lady from (tourist office) 'peru info' says that way it is legal. The Railway Company claims it would be 50-something kilometers (just too much to consider walking it, thus deterring potential walkers from attempting it!!), but in reality the track is about 35 km before you hit the road. To ask about 35 € for that train trip, albeit in Peru, has to be considered exeptionally dear/expensive.
I had an appointment with Shirley that day at 2pm, but when that morning the sun came out for the first time, I HAD to make a go for it!! I hope she understands, and please let her know my apologies.
Ps - Additional information:
Normally by now a 4-day-80-km Inka Trail trip costs 420 Dollars US, and for every tourist an average of 4 porters (for food, water, cooking/fire woods and tents) plus a guide trample the path!
After more than eight years I'm finally back in Gabon, the country where I suffered my worst attack ever. Five armed gangsters caused me severe headwounds and a broken left tennis arm, while relieving me of all my belongings. Kaname Saito, Japan's mosttraveled person, told me, "into such a country, where this kind of things had happened to me, I would never ever return back to!" But maybe this is exactly the way to go in order to combat and conquer one's demons ...
After arriving in the Capital Libreville, I hear that those guys had been infamous bandits that have long since been apprehended and put behind bars; and now peace has reigned for quite a time in the country! ... which would actually make sense for such a small state of only 1,5 million inhabitants.
I will try to get face-to-face with those guys once again, if a visit inside the prison will be granted to me. Who know, maybe I can even get some info on the whereabouts of my bag then including the treasured Kodak-films.
My experience getting last minute deals to Antarctica:
I'm writing this from Ushuaia, Argentina, the main port for passenger cruises to Antarctica. I have a spot held for me on the "Classic Antarctica" cruise by Quark expeditions for 4100.00 $ US. I believe this is the cheapest deal in town during this time of year. It was not advertised anywhere. While it is a discount for this particular boat, I'm not certain it's the cheapest you could pay for this itinerary. This is how I got what I got; hopefully others will be able to get as good or better deals having read this:
I came to Ushuaia without any reservations, assuming that I would be able to get a good price by waiting around for last minute openings. I'd been emailing one agency who had been insisting on $4900 as the best I could get, but I held out. I went to the first travel agency I saw and asked about Antarctica deals. They pointed me to the Antarctica tourist office near the port. I asked this office about last minute openings, telling them I'd heard rumors about a price that I made up on the spot ($ 4000 I think). They gave me a list of all the agencies in town, with their addresses, telephone numbers, and a chart of which agencies are contracted with which boats. They pointed me to one in particular that they'd heard had a $ 4400 opening. I went there but found them closed for lunch. I checked two other nearby places, who both tried to sell me the $ 4900 trip I'd heard about before. I found a third one that, when I fibbed again about hearing of a $ 4000 offer, magically came up with one, but it didn't leave until exactly a month later!! ...
1 Bill Altaffer (Carmel Valley, California, USA) 1943 815 1 Charles A Veley (San Francisco, California, USA) 1965 815 3 Jorge Sanchez (Hospitalet/Barcelona, Spain) 1957 766 4 Bart Hackley (Newport Beach, California, USA) 1945 712 5 Veikko Huhtala (Helsinki, Finland) 1946 705 6 Larry Leventhal (Brooklyn, New York, USA) 1935 701 7 Robert Bonifas (Aurora, Illinois, USA) 1936 688 8 Alan K Hogenauer (Los Angeles, California, USA) 1941 676 9 Wolfgang Stoephasius (München, Germany) 1941 672 10 Oili Liutu (Helsinki, Finland) 1940 663 11 Donald M Parrish Jr (Downers Grove, Illinois, USA) 1944 645 12 Roman Brühwiler (Zuzwil, Switzerland) 1959 638 13 Daniel Walker (San Jose, Costa Rica) 1941 627 14 Nuno Lobito (Caparica, Portugal) 1965 618 15 Sascha Grabow (Talheim, Germany) 1968 606 16 Herbert Goebels (Aachen, Germany) 1938 600 17 Kari-Matti Valtari (Lahti, Finland) 1953 600 18 Veryan Allen (Honolulu, Hawaii, USA) 1947 599 19 Lee Abbamonte (New York, New York, USA) 1978 591 20 Stewart Sheppard (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) 1939 588 21 Bjarne Lund-Jensen (Odense N, Denmark) 1948 581 22 Paul G Hurwood (Hereford, UK) 1958 578 23 Christine Kloner (New York, New York, USA) 1941 578 24 Carolyn Broadwell (Napa, California, USA) 1931 577 25 Hans Thulin (Taberg, Sweden) 1938 572
Middle of March 2011 finally the time has come. First I head North to Muenster for a couple of days, and giving an interview there for a local newspaper .
Next is France where Im meeting Tatiana in the Pyrenees, climbing mountains, bathing naked in hot springs and learning about planting your own veggies.
In the Barcelona area the police (4 guys) at 3.30 am break into a toilet where I am trying to catch some sleep, later wanting to charge me 20 € for the broken lock.
In Almeria I catch the ferry to Africa (Melilla), and the moment I arrive in Maroc (Nador) I start to relax, hitchhiking becomes much easier. I opt for a small detour towards Oujda and the Algerian border. Following morning I already reach the Mauretanian Embassy in Rabat where Visas can be had for 30€, pick-up next day.
I meet Cody, a young Canadian with rent-a-car and neglectable knowledge of french. He gives me a ride towards Agadir, and through the night I hitchhike the last 380 km, arriving at my friend Mohamed's place in Tan-Tan 5 am. It becomes really difficult to leave, but after two weeks, when the visa I just obtained is already halfway expired, by chance Paul, a German from Munich traveling on his own 4x4-Hilux-Camper equipped with two large beds, kitchen etc, stops over in town, and this is the sign for me to get moving again.
So we travel down through Western Sahara together, stop in Dakhla en route, and, entering Mauretania on the 18th of April, I take advantage of the fact that hitchhiking alone I could have never made it to the national park of Banc d'Arguin, and join him there for some days in complete peace and nature, the beach full of turtles.
Then I manage a lift with another camp guest, reach the Capital Nouakchott, concert in the Centre Culturel Francaise the very first night, and head back to Nouadhibou, 450 km North (riding with British/Malagan overlanders Adam & Sophie), to catch the world's longest train (~140 wagons of iron ore, 2300m long) through the night into the desert. The train doesn't have any light or electricity in its passenger compartment, and of the seats remain mostly only the hard plastic parts if at all. Thank god thievery isn't a problem n the train (yet?).
I spend some time in Atar and Chinguetti, the 7th most holy city of Islam, a place that recently has been declared inside the red zone by France (supposed to mean higher risk of being kidnapped by Al Quaida forces), then need to reach Rosso border as my visa is about to expire. Clement, the Nigerian priest there, is a princely host for a night, and, crossing the Senegal river I reach the country with the same name on the other side of the Sahara and its former capital Saint-Louis, a town that has seen better days but still located idyllic on an island behind a great sand bar.
Before arriving in Senegal's capital Dakar I spent two fantastic days in a +/- 30 people Fullah (Peul, Fulfulbe) family compound in Thies, 60 km to the East. The Peul are one of the largest tribes present in most of the Sahel zone countries, while Dakar itself is predominantly Wolof, another tribe known for their size and commercial skills.
On 3rd of May I am exactly 10 minutes in Dakar, headed for the supermarket to get myself the first cold drink in days, when Markus, ex-handball pro, fellow-German and based here to oversee construction of a fish factory, addresses me in front of the casher and invites me to simply stay with him!
Written by Sascha Grabow & translated by Mohamed Oladib (arabic)
Tuesday, 31 August 2010
paying tribute to my readers longing for an update on my travel stories, here we go! ENJOY:
Finally I am back in Africa! You can feel it instantly! Hitchhiking 300 km in Spain from Alicante to Almeria, after visiting Ibiza for a couple of days, there tenniscoaching and physically preparing a friend for an upcoming grasscourt tournament, it takes me full two days!! Then a ferry takes you across to Melilla, only meters away from Morocco. The moment you get into the first town, Nador, people are curious, friendly, engaging, it never takes more than 15 minutes to catch a ride, I am being invited to stay with Ibrahim in Casablanca, the one who gave me the last, very long ride down South from the northern coast. I meet his wife and his one-year-old son, we eat heartily at two a.m. what has been prepared for his return as it is Ramadan, meaning daytime fasting for 30 days is in accordance with the religion, with the rare exception valid for travelers (e.g. on foot), as well as pregnant women.
Next evening I continue South towards Agadir. You won't believe what happened to me:
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