In part 2 of our series of interviews with our clients who have visited all 193 UN member countries we are speaking with Mike Kendall, who we helped to visit Socotra Island, Yemen; his 193rd country.
What is the first country you travelled to and which was the last to finish off the 193?
My parents took me to Belgium as a youngster and I went on a school trip to Switzerland. I didn’t travel much until my mid teens when I did the lads trips to Benidorm, Spain 🙂 and a few football matches in Europe. The last country I visited was Yemen, Socotra Island. Lupine organised a solo trip for me after my constant begging, thank you.
Which country would you say has been your favourite to travel to and why?
This is a question I get asked frequently but still have yet to come up with a decent answer, I like lots of places for different reasons. However pressed for an answer I would say Japan. I went to Japan for the 2002 Football World Cup and the 2019 Rugby World Cup (as well as a few other times). They hosted two amazing tournaments and I always have fond memories of my time spent there. Japan has amazing culture, food and the people are polite and organised but can have an quirky edge to them too. I also like Argentina, their cafe culture, great food and wine aside, I have seen perhaps the two of my most spectacular sights there in Iguassu Falls and Perito Moreno glacier.
Are there any countries you have visited that you have not enjoyed at all and would never go back to? If so, why?
Generally speaking there is not a country I would not visit twice, In fact I have visited about 100 of them twice or more already. Enjoyment can be found everywhere, if there is a country I have not enjoyed I’ve found its because I either met the wrong people or visited the wrong places. Again if pressed I would say Mauritania, I was there only 2 days after a terrorist attack against a group of tourists and the country was on high alert. However the new Lupine trip including the Iron Ore train ride has piqued my interest. I did not enjoy Cameroon much but I think I just went to the wrong areas. I would also like to say Wales if only to upset my Welsh rugby following mates.
What country has surprised you the most, in that it was completely different to how you expected?
No one country has really surprised me but perhaps an area of the World was not as I had expected. The Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian nations, with a few exceptions, were not the coconut palm tree fringed, powder white beach havens of tranquility I had seen on TV. There is a lot of social deprivation, climate change issues, health problems often linked to diet and even crime and violence. The more I visited the area the less of a shock it became and once again I experienced much hospitality and found some great things to see and do.
Which country has changed the most since the first time you visited?
I would have to say Morocco only because it was 30 years between visits. Apart from many of the new and renovated buildings, it was the people who seemed so different. Many women in particular have embraced “western” dress and attitudes. I experienced lots less hassle on the streets than when I first visited in 1980 as a naive 21 year old who fell for every scam. Still to this day I say I cut my travelling teeth on the streets of Tangiers.
Has travelling to every country in the world long been a conscious decision or did it just gradually occur as you travelled more and more?
I had always wanted to travel from a very young age and it wasn’t until 1994 I started travelling in earnest. I took a sabbatical from work from late 1994 to early 1996 put on my backpack and travelled around Latin America and Africa. During this break I only visited 28 “new” countries. I drove by many like Lesotho and Swaziland without visiting, travelling to every country was not on my radar. In fact when I first joined the TCC (Travellers Century Club) I thought they were a bunch of eccentrics (who on Earth wants to visit Chad and Nigeria ? I remember saying). As I travelled more in subsequent years and met more people who had visited these off beat places, the logistics were explained to me and it started to become more feasible. The rest is history.
What have been the biggest positive and negative changes you have seen in travel since you first started travelling?
Without doubt e-mail and the internet have been the most positive and I reckon many of you don’t know what is like never to have had them. I remember the days of getting mail “poste-restante” in usually some dodgy part of town, and when arriving at the post office and there was no mail for you yet. You never knew your bank balance, news from home, sports results etc from one week to the next, overseas newspapers, when available, were often the same cost as a night in a hotel. Not to mention carrying many guide books along with you if you were on multi-country trips. All of this is now on my smart phone. I also would mention the proliferation of low cost carriers and competition within the airline industry in general. A flight today to the USA costs me less than my first visit in 1979.
A downside of travel for me is the erosion of local cultures at the expenses of globalisation. For some people seeing a McDonalds or a Starbucks when in Africa can be viewed as a positive, not for me. Give me a souk rather than a shopping mall any day. Other negatives would be the restriction of entry to countries based on the passport you hold, albeit I understand why this is the case I don’t have to like it. I despise the whole visa application process.
What’s your aim now for your future travelling? Are you looking to go back and visit places you have travelled to previously but want to explore further or are you moving onto the TCC list and visiting territories you haven’t been to before?
Yes! At present I have 43 places left on the TCC list, it would be a lot less but I have cancelled 6 trips thus far this year. I also intend to see a lot more of Russia and China. Longer term my wife and I intend to divide our time between the UK and her native New Zealand (in the British winter) we have plans to spend 3 months a year living somewhere else too (we have a list).
Have you ever been in any dangerous situations throughout your time travelling?
Not really. I was involved in a bad car accident in Zanzibar but was fortunate to climb out with minor scratches unlike my fellow passengers, this did make me nervous travelling in African vehicles for a while. I was also detained in the former Yugoslavia when I was arrested by the military for pitching my tent in what was deemed a sensitive border area. I was released after my credentials were checked a few hours later. Similarly I was arrested in the Central African Republic for taking a pirogue ride to an island in the middle of the river that constitutes the border with the DR Congo and landing on an island belonging to the DRC. Amongst the French words I made out whilst being questioned were “mercenary” and “terroriste”, a $20 “fine” made the problem go away. Finally I collapsed on my first day in Egypt outside a restaurant in Cairo, I was taken to hospital and put on a saline drip. Not really sure why this happened to this day but it was possibly dehydration, and/or hypertension.
What advice would you give to young people who have just started to travel or have hopes to start to travel in the future, to make the most of their experiences?
Nothing, just enjoy yourselves. its great fun.