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Especially Azerbaijan
October 4, 2013 12:39 AM   Subscribe

The Top 80 Highlights of the World according to Michael Spencer Bown, a Calgarian who may lay claim to the title of 'the most extensively travelled person in human history'.

While You Were Working
(Ten really cool things Mike Spencer Bown did while becoming the world’s most extensively travelled person)

1. Visited the graveyard of the blue whales, South Georgia Island, Antarctica
2. Learned to drive a reindeer sleigh while drunk with the Yakuti tribe, Yakutsk, Russia
3. Hung out with witch doctors on the Dogon Escarpment, Mali
4. Dodged angry forest elephants in Luango Park, Gabon
5. Sat face to face with Silverback Gorillas in Virunga Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
6. Checked out the “Red Neck” Inuit bar scene, Nook, Greenland
7. Dropped in on the villages of the Yezedi Devil Worshippers, Iraq
8. Paddled past sleeping tigers in the Sunderbans Mangrove Forest, Bangladesh
9. Stayed in salt hotels, San Pedro de Atacama, Andes
10. Drank Guinness in Ireland. He still is.
posted by mannequito (31 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a fellow Calgarian: Fucker. Damn fucker.
posted by converge at 1:16 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's impressive no doubt, but diminished by trying to sound impressive. It also doesn't suggest why these things are important to experience versus the infinity of other things there are to experience on the planet.
posted by justkevin at 1:27 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ok, that man is not an ethnologist but he was able to meet in his lifetime a Dogon Priest of the Lébé Snake God and followers of Melek Taus the Peacock Angel.

That's cooler than Indiana Jones.
posted by Phersu at 1:36 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's impressive no doubt, but diminished by trying to sound impressive.

I don't think this article was published because he was trying to sound impressive.

During our time together, I asked Mike if he’d be willing to look back at his twenty-one years of travel and cobble together a list of highlights.

Mike refused at first, arguing that such lists were pedestrian, that there’s no one place that’s better than another, and that a true traveler should go everywhere.

posted by walrus at 2:16 AM on October 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


As a friend to a few like minded persons, I'd guess number 95 would be "Stealing kale from a community garden and sleeping on my buddy's couch for a week and being generally inconvenient. Also, I will braise that stolen kale for three hours to make you an exotic meal of braised kale. You really should be thanking me."
posted by converge at 2:21 AM on October 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm reasonably well travelled and I've done just over one tenth of his list. I'm deeply envious of his travels around West Africa. I like his list. It's not all tick boxes of the Taj Mahal or Uluru.

For my part I haven't met a witch doctor in Mali but I did nearly run over one in Malawi: he was dressed head to foot in banana leaves and standing by the side of the road, blending in to the foliage.

Also: hitchhiking in South Africa. I'm not sure I'd want to give it a try now. 20 years ago my brother did it in Zimbabwe though and he and his friend got picked up by a lovely old couple who insisted that they not only give them a ride but fed them and put them up for the night.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:44 AM on October 4, 2013


Shows you the lengths people will go to in order to stay out of Calgary.

Seriously though, how in the hell did he finance this little excursion?
posted by vapidave at 3:03 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I've always relied on the kindness of strangers."
posted by converge at 3:25 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't help but feel that there's more to this story. Whoever this guy is, to reduce his experience of two decades to a list of things you should do seems... weird. And what's he going to do in Calgary now? How is he going to feel about his life, when he sees people from his age and background with families?

Which is not to say that his listicle isn't cool. But its a severe boiling down of his life so far. This guy has to be more interesting than a checklist of places that most of us can barely understand.
posted by The River Ivel at 3:35 AM on October 4, 2013


Yeah, I would love to see a short essay by this guy. Did Travel change him? What did he learn? Are people basically the same? What kept him going? Did he get tired of it at some point?

It really seems a shame that all they did was squeeze a listicle out of him.
posted by vacapinta at 3:40 AM on October 4, 2013


Perhaps a short essay was too much: no man likes having their listicles squeezed.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:44 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think David Attenborough has a better claim to that title.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 4:34 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I were anywhere near that well-travelled, I would not care about that title, at all.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:42 AM on October 4, 2013


Another exile from Alberta, Robert Young Pelton, also has a pretty interesting track record when it comes to travel.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:47 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


7. Dropped in on the villages of the Yezedi Devil Worshippers, Iraq

The Yazidi are not Devil Worshippers! That's like calling Muslims Moon God Worshippers.

That said, this list is fun.

Also, as mentioned above, Robert Young Pelton is awesome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:05 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


64. Trying not to look down at the precarious Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan

Tiger's Nest Monastery was featured in Batman Begins. Neat! I bet it's absolutely hair-raising in person.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:18 AM on October 4, 2013


60. Deep south, coast-to-coast, All-American Road Trip

60a. Canoe trip with two friends and compound bow, Cahoolawasee River, Georgia.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:35 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously though, how in the hell did he finance this little excursion?

The article says he ran an export business in Indonesia, which he sold to finance it. Which he would have then sold at 21? Seems a little sketchy/drug-related to me, but meh, whatever.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:43 AM on October 4, 2013


Jack Flanders . . . is that you?
 
posted by Herodios at 5:49 AM on October 4, 2013


Many of these "highlights of the world" are in fact his own accomplishments.

Ah, to be young, healthy, rich and free.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:48 AM on October 4, 2013


I wonder how much his expenses were to pay locals not to jail him, kidnap him, steal one of his kidneys, &c. I very rarely go places that are on the travel watch lists (like e.g. Iraq but it is a pretty long list.) I guess a prerequisite for doing this is intuition or sixth sense for who to bribe, when to bribe them, and how much to bribe them with.

Looked at that travel watch list and the only countries on it I have been to are Mexico and Israel and the places I went there did not appear to me more hazardous than New Orleans or Chicago.

Azerbaijan had me hooked right off. My acquaintances at Chevron tell me the hazard duty pay in Azerbaijan is on the top of their list by a pretty hefty margin. That is one of those places where a Chevron employee does not go out and about without armed guards although I am sure it's a lot safer if you look like a budget tourist.

55. Evading police by motorboat on the Niger River Delta, Niger
to me this sounds positively insane.

01. Looking down upon the world from Mt. Everest Base Camp, Nepal or Tibet

Those two places are separated by weeks of travel as I understand it so it seems inefficient to go to both places if he did indeed do that. Richard Burton did the haj to Mecca where if you are not a Muslim you really should not try that and I noticed Mecca is not on his list. Syria and Iraq seem to be the closest points to the Arabian peninsula.
posted by bukvich at 8:28 AM on October 4, 2013


I expected nothing, but am pleasantly surprised to have done seven things on the list. Possibly one more by November, if all goes well.
posted by the cydonian at 9:58 AM on October 4, 2013


Many of these "highlights of the world" are in fact his own accomplishments.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:00 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's some kind of sense of fleeing from modernity, at least for the activities in the developing world. Animals! And animism! Oh my!

Also this list format I think diminishes the transformative potential of traveling and ends up making entire cultures/communities "to do list" checkboxes.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:06 AM on October 4, 2013


I'm willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, because nowhere in the article does it claim that he's a writer. He's a traveler. Someone else might have simply asked him to list the hilights of his travels, and may have even edited away the context for each entry. He sounds like a guy I'd enjoy sharing stories with around a campfire or in a pub.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:33 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoever this guy is, to reduce his experience of two decades to a list of things you should do seems... weird.

Well it says he didn't want to make the list: "Mike refused at first, arguing that such lists were pedestrian, that there’s no one place that’s better than another, and that a true traveler should go everywhere."
posted by stbalbach at 11:39 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's an oddly written article about someone who has certainly had some interesting experiences in different parts of the world.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:36 PM on October 4, 2013


I'm also not sure how you get lost on the three subway systems in Tokyo. I found the entire system very well-signposted, completely bilingual, clean, and easy to navigate. Unlike the MTA, which is two sometimes poorly-signposted and generally dirty systems with various track changes and closures that are sometimes only mentioned by printouts taped to the platform beams instead of before the turnstiles so you know not to pay $2.50 to go in when the track is closed.
posted by pravit at 5:56 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also: hitchhiking in South Africa. I'm not sure I'd want to give it a try now. 20 years ago my brother did it in Zimbabwe though and he and his friend got picked up by a lovely old couple who insisted that they not only give them a ride but fed them and put them up for the night.

I was happy to see that one. I recommend it! I just finished Peace Corps in the region, and we all hitched frequently. It's quite socially acceptable there.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:30 PM on October 5, 2013


I'm at around 16 on that list, and a handful more I ended up not going through with because of safety. I can only push my poor mother so far.

An unexpected benefit of visiting ‘dangerous’ places like Pakistan is that it affords you the opportunity to meet some fascinating people. They’re never tourists; they’re travelers, adventurers, lunatics, or some hazardous cocktail of the three.

The best times are always in places far out of the way. It's hard to make friends in Bangkok, where there are tons of people, but the people you meet traveling alone in Samarkand, Uzbekistan are the kind of people that you want to trade stories with. The harder a place is to travel to, the more dedicated and interesting travelers you'll meet.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:13 PM on October 5, 2013


This is key:

Mike Spencer Bown is at last ready to return home, having extensively travelled every single country and region on earth.

That word, “extensive,” is key: Others have visited just as many countries, but Bown made a point of sticking around and immersing himself each culture.


Once a year I get a kick out of attending the local Travelers Century Club meeting (people who have visited more than 100 countries/territories) even though they've just adopted me as a young mascot and I'm not close to qualifying for membership. Most of them tell stories of hiring private guides, hoping on a plane to stop over for one day to "pick up" a country, and even gaining points because they were in the military and flew to small islands that no civilians are allowed to visit. Slow travel seems to be a foreign concept for many of them.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:22 PM on October 5, 2013


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