100 Not Out
Jeremy Burton reaches a milestone on our Alcion Tour
In an impressive half-century of travels Jeremy Burton has visited over 100 countries, filling up seven passports along the way. Jeremy reached the coveted 100 mark on a a recent tour of Central America with Journey Latin America. Disappointingly, he has not yet received a letter from the Queen.
What is it like to have seen more than half of the world? Jeremy Burton can tell you. Since his first trip abroad to Denmark at the age of 23, he has now clocked up over 100 countries. Having previously travelled to the southern part of South America, he had Central America in his sights this year and chose to get there on our Alción tour, packing six countries into three weeks. We spoke to him on his return to find out all about his remarkable adventures.
Papagaio: Congratulations on hitting this huge milestone! Can you tell us about reaching your 100th country on our group tour and how you celebrated?
Jeremy Burton: I was due to reach the goal of my 100th country on 12.02.2012. However at one stage the blockades on the road from Bocas del Toro in Panama into Costa Rica threatened to disrupt the schedule – until our enterprising guide, Carrie Gallagher, used her initiative and made on-the-spot arrangements for a couple of motor boats to bypass the blocked route and put us back on track. Carrie had also secretly arranged for a ‘champagne reception’ on our arrival in the pretty hotel garden in Suchitoto in El Salvador, and the group had found time to sign a congratulations card – the price of which was of course a short(ish) impromptu speech, and much discussion on the many countries visited by other members of the group as well as exactly how many countries there are in the world.
P: What were your top highlights of the Alción tour, and which was your favourite Central American country?
JB: The highlights for my wife and I generally increased the further north we travelled. Although we loved the Panama Canal, we began to feel closer to the people once we hit Nicaragua, especially on Ometepe island and in the magical town of Granada. Of course, Suchitoto in El Salvador and Antigua did not disappoint, but I am glad we added a tailor-made extension to Lake Atitlán, which in some ways was the icing on the cake. Favourite country: Guatemala.
P: Would you be tempted to return to Latin America to tick off the likes of Ecuador, Chile, Colombia or Cuba?
JB: Of course! From my point of view, it would give me a chance to catch up my wife who has visited several of these countries as a one-time stewardess with BOAC, as it was then. It’s a shame there isn’t a tour combining them all.
P: Which of the countries that you’ve visited do you think are the most underrated?
JB: Myanmar/Burma – not exactly underrated so much as avoided by the British, though not by Europeans who have been going there for years. It’s magnificent. The Philippines don’t seem to get much of a look-in either, and I would also add to the list Taiwan, South Korea and Argentina – all fascinating countries.
P: And are there any countries you’ve been to that you would not recommend others visit?
JB: I cannot see Saudi Arabia nor Algeria ever making it onto the tourist trail, not that that’s currently possible anyhow, but they are most unfriendly countries to visitors. Yemen (or South Yemen, as was) had wonderful architecture but an uncomfortable atmosphere.
P: Aside from ‘the one that got away’ [Jeremy was forced to cancel to trip to Madagascar in 2009 following riots], do you still have many more countries in your sights to visit?
JB: Oh yes, starting with Romania which we plan to reach in June. Other targets are Malta, Zanzibar, Sikkim, and, of course, Madagascar.
P: Have you ever got into any scrapes while travelling or has it been largely smooth sailing?
JB: Scrapes galore, including a freak wave that nearly drowned me on a Thai long boat trip. I also vividly remember running the gauntlet in a bus in Bolivia through rocks and fire, being forcibly vaccinated against cholera in Córdoba because my certificate was not in Spanish, turning back from an eco hotel in northern Laos where the manager had just been shot dead, and, most alarming of all, an emergency landing in Djibouti. The cabin crew were all crying their goodbyes to each other before we made a successful landing... just.
P: What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten while abroad?
JB: Fried scorpions, a bear’s paw, Filipino fertilised duck eggs (head, feathers beak and all), sea slugs and snake blood have to be contenders. But I never did get stomach problems, except in France (twice).
P: Has travel changed a lot since you first set out in 1965?
JB: Back in the 1960s flights were occasionally half-empty and there was no business class nor frequent flier programmes. Airport transit times were a doddle with only basic security and transit times, and the airline reservation system consisted of phoned-in requests with seat counts scribbled on a whiteboard. In fact, I worked on the first computerised international reservation system in the mid 60s at BOAC, which revolutionised airline booking procedures.
P: What have you learned from all your travels?
JB: Well, 50 years on the road have taught me how to pack my bag, arrive in plenty of time, do advance research on destination as arrival can be a confusing and potentially dangerous experience in a new country, and finally, that the older you get, the more tiring the whole process becomes. But one other thing – don’t let them tell you that enough travel will get it out of your blood. It’s never enough, because there is always something new round the corner yet to be discovered.
By Jeremy Burton, Journey Latin America Client.