My Travels

Last updated 2017-05-23


I thoroughly enjoy travelling. I spent several years between 1992 and 1996 travelling extensively in Europe, Asia and the USA on business, and have covered much of southern Africa through the years. Since 2004, I have been flying as pilot all over southern Africa, and since 2007 I've seen several African countries north of the equator, too.

Possibly my fascination with languages contributes to this interest, although the cultural element cannot be discounted. Travelling in the Old World (both Europe and Asia) is particularly interesting to someone who lives in a country with but a handful of buildings older than 300 years!


Places I've visited

Here's a list of some of the countries I've visited:

Africa: Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, D.R. Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe (27 countries).

Asia: China, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, UAE and the disputed Spratly islands (19 countries).

Europe: Austria, Belgium, Britain (England and Wales), Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy (including Sicily), Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Vatican (21 countries).

North America: Alaska (a state of the US but counted separately because of its separation from the lower 48), Antigua, Canada (4 provinces: BC, NL, PQ, YU), Mexico, USA (23 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin). (5 countries).

Australasia (or Oceania, if you speak Mericun): Hawaii (a state of the US, but counted as a country due to its separation from the mainland), Indonesia, Philippines. (3 countries)

South America: Brazil, Dutch Antilles, Peru (3 countries).

Africa Asia Europe North America Oceania South America Total
27 19 21 5 3 3 79

Airport only: Canary Islands (part of Spain), Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles (5 countries) and the US states of New Jersey and Washington (2 states).

Dependencies that aren't sovereign countries, but are sort-of separate: Sicily and Pantelleria Island, Italy; Walvis Bay and Penguin Island (then South African territory but subsequently handed over to Namibia); ITU Headquarters (an agency of the UN in Geneva); Puerto Rico (unincorporated territory of the USA); St Pierre et Miquelon (the last remaining piece of France in what is now eastern Canada); Sint Maarten, Saba, Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba (Dutch possessions in the Caribbean) and St Martin (a French possession in the Caribbean). All of these places also count (or counted) as separate entities from their sovereigns for amateur radio purposes.

Most travelers use a definition of "countries" that includes some non-sovereign entities. Good examples are Alaksa and Hawaii, which are states of the US and therefore not separate countries. However, by virtue of their geographical separation from the mainland, they are recognised as separate entities for amateur radio and travel purposes. In the list above, I've used "real" countries, except for Alaska and Hawaii. However, there are other ways to count.

According to the rules of the Travelers' Century Club, my country score is now about 90.

According to the rules of the DX Foot Club, my country score is now 92. DXFC is a travel site intended for radio amateurs, using amateur radio's current DXCC country list. Deleted countries are not included in these totals.

For what it's worth, the idea is not only to set a foot in every country. For my own personal purposes, I keep track of several parameters for each country: Whether I've set foot there; whether I've spent a night there; whether I've spent seven nights there; whether I've driven a car there; whether I've flown a plane there (takeoff and landing, not only overflight); whether I've played with ham radio there. There are not many countries in which I've covered all six, but there are over 25 countries in which I've spent at least a week.


Far from home

I've always wondered how far I would be able to venture from home. A few trips to the North American West Coast, to East Asia and to Scandinavia felt very far from home indeed. More recently, as I've started piloting aircraft in which long trips are feasible and commonplace, I've started wondering what ground I would be able to cover while sitting in the pilot seat. So far, as hobbyist pilot I've been forced to make a modest start, but we're working on it:

As Traveller
Direction Furthest Location From home
North 71° N Barrow, Alaska 96° N
East -- Circumnavigated the earth westwards in 2010, via Honolulu, Hawaii. 180° E
South 35° S South Atlantic, 120 km south of Cape Town 9° S
West -- Circumnavigated the earth westwards in 2010, via Honolulu, Hawaii. 180° W

Note: Honolulu is almost exactly antipodal to Pretoria.


As Pilot
Direction Furthest Location From home
North 40° N Ankara, Turkey 66° N
East 55° E Mahe, Seychelles 27° E
South 35° S South Atlantic, 120 km south of Cape Town 9° S
West 118° W California City, California 146° W

As Aircraft Commander
Direction Furthest Location From home
North 13° N El Fasher, Darfour, Sudan 39° N
East 33° E Maputo, Mozambique 5° E
South 34° S Hermanus, South Africa 8° S
West 15° E Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo 13° W

Note: I've also flown in Alaska, USA (61° N) and Labrador, Canada (53° N), but I'm excluding them from the list as I did not fly there all the way from home.


Memories

Some of the most vivid memories include my final trip to Walvis Bay in 1994 and some of my visits to Italy. The Walvis Bay trip was interesting because we (Don Field, a long-time radio friend from a little island in the north Atlantic called Britain and I) were there during the hand-over from South Africa to Namibia. We were in the unique position of finding ourselves in one country, and at the stroke of midnight finding ourselves in another country without having moved! Italy has been interesting because I got so see some of the countryside, rather than just the big cities. Big cities are all alike to a large extent, but prowling around a tiny village and watching the local market is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Paolo Cortese and his mother Liliana took me into their home on a number of occasions, allowing me to sample some of what Broni has to offer. Broni is a village on the southern edge of the Po valley, in the province of Pavia.

Incidentally, if you're a radio ham you may know Don and Paolo better by their respective callsigns: G3XTT and I2UIY. You may also recall the 1994 operations of ZS9Z and V51Z, that operated from two countries without having to pull up stakes!

The World Radiosport Team Championships, held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, during July 2000 provided me my first glimpse of what used to be the "East Bloc". Slovenia was a wonderful surprise, with Alpine scenery and a well-developed infrastructure. There is little apparent difference between Slovenia and north-eastern Italy or possibly Austria. I also took a side-trip into Croatia and Hungary. Hungary is definitely still struggling to make it into the economic mainstream, and my superficial impression is that the average Hungarian, much like the average South African, is facing an uphill battle to make ends meet. The most amazing thing in my book was the nature of the cars. I'd estimate that perhaps a quarter of the cars I saw on the road were two-stroke models from the former East Germany and Russia. The legendary Trabant is still very much in evidence on Hungary's roads. I'm told, by Hungarians and former East Germans alike, that this much-maligned vehicle is in fact extremely reliable, if somewhat spartan. Other brands that I can remember include Lada, Wartburg and Zastava. Quite an experience, after having become accustomed to the same insipid bunch of cars in every country that I had previously visited!

My side-trip showed me a somewhat less savoury aspect of life too, though. Without elaborating too much, the happenings left me with an overriding impression that anyone with a uniform still has a hard time forgetting the recent past. Suffice to say that official government policy doesn't stand in the way of autonomous decisions by petty officials with rubber stamps, especially not when dealing with foreigners...

2010 introduced a new chapter, when I finally got around to some leisure travel after seven years without vacation. I took my daughter Lisa to explore Europe. At age 13 she proved a delightful travel companion, undaunted by the schedule and willing to try anything. We covered eight countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland), with most of the time being spent in Paris, France. A few months later, I fulfilled a long-time ambition by circumnavigating the earth in a westerly direction. Doing so was surprisingly affordable, using a round-the-world ticket, public transport and hostel accommodation. The trip took in all six continental areas and added five new countries to my tally. However, the most significant event was probably crossing the dateline. It is a real privilege--if you live in the tropics near the Greenwich meridian, crossing the dateline in your lifetime is not very likely!

I'm already scheming about an eastbound circumnavigation, to regain that day I lost...


Southern Africa

Southern Africa is a wonderful place to travel around. I have seen most of the country by road and from the air, but there is still much that I'd like to explore.

Our Drakensberg's green valleys and cliffs that tower to over 3000 m lend it the name "Dragon Mountain". The interior sports rolling hills and arrow-straight roads that seem to stretch forever. You can sometimes travel for an hour without seeing any signs of human habitation, or even a car coming the other way!

The eastern Lowveld features plentiful wildlife, including antelope, lion and large mammals like rhino and elephant. The northwestern interior is a desert with endless stretches of grass and sand. The southwestern coast features scenic hills and vines from which excellent wines are produced.

The cities are vibrant, with well-developed infrastructure on par with any large city. Gauteng Province is practically one large city, including Johannesburg, Pretoria and several smaller cities in one large urban sprawl. Almost eight million people call Gauteng home. The name is associated with gold, a natural resource to which this urban area owes its establishment. Water is a precious commodity, as very limited natural sources exist. Most of the supply for Gauteng is piped in from the Lesotho highlands, around 500 km away.

The Pilanesberg area features a larger-than-life casino and entertainment complex built into a (hopefully!) extinct volcano, complete with old-style bush architecture in the Lost City, and a bridge that experiences an earthquake every hour on the hour.

The coastline provides wonderful diving and surfing opportunities. Glider pilots come from far afield to experience the thermals of the central interior, and most of the 1000 km triangular world records of the past decade have been broken in this area.

The Tourism Board's advertising slogan says it nicely: "A World in One Country"! If you're toying with the idea of coming to have a look, don't delay. The exchange rate has decayed by a factor of about 10 in the past two decades, making southern Africa an incredible bargain if you're paying in any major currency.

While Lesotho is not part of South Africa, it is complete surrounded by the bigger country and is well worth a visit. Apart from the breathtaking mountainous beauty, the Lesotho Highlands water scheme is worth seeing. The first dam, Katse, has been completed and is in full operation. From there, a long tunnel passes under the mountain to the hydro-electric station at Butha Buthe. From there, another series of tunnels passes into South Africa to dump the water into the Ash River between Clarence and Bethlehem. This impressive piece of engineering supplies most of Lesotho's electricity needs, as well as water for South Africa's Gauteng Province. Eight million people depend on this water, as Gauteng's natural water supply is woefully inadequate.

I mentioned that my interest in language might be one of the reasons I enjoy travelling. Perhaps not; had that been the case, South Africa must surely have remained my only choice! South Africa must certainly be one of the more interesting destinations from that point of view. In the "Bad Old Days", we had two official languages: Afrikaans and English. Lots of rhetoric floated around, to the effect that official bilingualism is a terrible waste of resources. Counter-examples such as Canada and Switzerland were cited to "prove" that it wasn't a big deal. However, little did we know that, in the aftermath of the change of government, we'd be stuck with not two but eleven official languages! Apart from a few that you may have heard of (Afrikaans, English, IsiZulu, Siswati etc.), there are several that you certainly haven't (Sepedi, Sevenda).

However, the thought of eleven official languages pales into insignificance next to the new official motto: "Ike e: /xarra //ke". The !Xan language, a century extinct, was apparently chosen to avoid alienating speakers of any of the eleven offical languages. One has to be careful when saying or typing it, although the chances of being caught out are slim--only two speakers of the language remain, both having learned it academically. I'm told that a simple typo such as substituting "//" with "/!" could drastically alter the meaning. The alternative meaning has something to do with getting rid of excess body fluids, and certainly doesn't have the same dignity as the intended "Unity in Diversity"...


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