Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Guest Blogger Michael Spencer Bown: The Top 80 Highlights of the World

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.

Perhaps the most interesting individual I’ve met is Mike Spencer Bown, whom I had the pleasure of traveling with for two weeks along the Karakoram Highway. At 42 years old, Mike’s not your ordinary backpacker; he has no camera, scarcely any luggage, and over the course of his twenty-one year trip, he’s been arrested more times than he can count. But considering that he has extensively traveled nearly every country in the world by now, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan (he’s scheduled to have finished every country by November, 2012), this is almost a prerequisite.

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.

“Everyone should even go to Azerbaijan?” I queried.

“Especially Azerbaijan.”

It was a hot and lazy afternoon in Kashgar, as we sat on the roof of our guesthouse, staring out across the Old Town, when I finally coerced Mike into penning down his top eighty experiences, which I’ve shared below.

It should be reiterated that lists of this nature are always subjective and based on the personal opinions and experiences of the author. And this particular author is the type of hardened vagabond who warmly reminisces about evading genocidal Hutu rebels in the Congo, instead of, say, stargazing under the Eiffel Tower or sunbathing in Phuket.

But, considering that Mike will soon break the record for being the first person to have *extensively* traveled every single country in the world, this is (oddly enough) the most complete and accurate list of its kind ever written by one person. So you can forget 1,000 Things To See Before You Die. I doubt Patricia Schultz has every avoided capture by pirates in Somalia.

I’ll leave you to Mike now…

80. Outback bushwalking in the Red Center, Australia
79.Standing in the graveyard of the Blue whales, South Georgia Island, Antarctica
78. Meeting witch doctors on the Dogon Escarpment, Mali
77.Havana by classic car, Cuba
76.Paddleboat past sleeping tigers in the Sunderbans Mangrove Forest, Bangladesh
75. Kaleidoscopic reef diving in the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia
74. Learning to drive a reindeer sleigh while drunk with the Yakuti tribe, Yakutsk, Russia
73. Penetrating the jungles of the Pantanal Wetlands by horseback, Brazil
72. Exploring the ruined palaces of Orcha, India
71. Getting lost on the three inter-locking subway systems of Tokyo, Japan
70. Salt hotels and jeep driving, San Pedro de Atacama, Andes
69. Gliding across Lake Titicaca on a boat made of reeds, Bolivia
68. Staring down the stone heads, Easter Islands
67. Roaring engines and a blur of green, riding the highlands of Cameroon by motorbike
66. Sailing past fur seals and marine iguanas in the Galapagos, Equator
65. Snorkeling with black-tailed barracuda in the Togian Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia
64. Trying not to look down at the precarious Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan
63. Tackling the West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, Canada
62. Temple climbing in the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
61. Admiring Lake Baikal from horseback on Olakhon Island, Russia
60. Deep south, coast-to-coast, All-American Road Trip

59. Trekking through rainforests villages to the lost city of the Taironas, Columbia
58. Castles of the Slave Coast, Ghana
57. Hosteling Europe
56. Fishing from row boat under the soaring cliffs of Geiranger Fjord, Norway
55. Evading police by motorboat on the Niger River Delta, Niger
54. Mountains as jagged as broken glass, Karakoram Highway, Pakistan
53. Horses, yurt living, and Scythian ruins, Altai Mountains, Mongolia
52. Climbing red sand dunes before sliding back down, Namibia
51. Perusing the rubble of the lost Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan
50. The tropical wild west of Palawan by four-wheel drive, Philippines
49. Dodging angry forest elephants, Luango Park, Gabon
48. Dream fish on the barbeque, Norfolk Island
47. Hitchhiking around South Africa
46. Troll Castles, Iceland
45. “Captaining” a rusty sand ship in the vanishing Aral Sea, Uzbekistan
44. Rafting the mighty Colorado River through the bowels of the Grand Canyon, USA
43. Hitchhiking past bandits, Central African Republic
42. Viewing the last of the Asiatic lions in Sasan Gir, India
41. Prayer flags and Himalayan peaks on the Annapurna Trek, Nepal
40. Sailing up the Nile River, Egypt to Ethiopia

39. A taste of the old Caribbean, island hopping in the Grenadines
38. Sprinting down black, volcanic cones in Antigua, Guatemala
37. Lemur spotting, Madagascar
36. Chilling under the Baobab trees, Lake Milawi, Milawi
35. White water rafting in the wake of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
34. Free Party Scene, U.K.
33. Snorkeling with one-million golden jellyfishes, Palau
32. Dim-sum carts and steaming baskets, Hong Kong
31. Floating down the Amazon, Brazil
30. Avoiding capture in the land of pirates, Puntland State of Somalia
29. Tucking into the relatively unknown and fantastically underrated Georgian cuisine, Republic of Georgia
28. Dropping in on the villages of the Yezedi Satan Worshippers, Iraq
27. Surveying for jewelry after the rains, ruined city of Mir, Turkmenistan
26. Island hopping past steaming volcanoes and Komodo dragons in Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
25. Delving deep into the Patosi Mines, Bolivia
24. Underground party scene, Iran
23. Lazing along the Mekong river by slow boat, Laos
22. Rock climbing the Hand of Fatima and the monumental mountains of Mali
21. Exploring the spectacular, ancient Khmer ruins in the jungles of Angkor Wat, Cambodia
20. Rubbing elbows with Sikh pilgrims in the Golden Temple of Amritsar, India

19. Checking out the “Red Neck” Inuit bar scene, Nook, Greenland
18. Cruising through spectacular fjord panoramas on Milford Sound, New Zealand
17. Standing amidst penguin colonies under towering, blue ice cliffs, Antarctica
16. Searching for the perfect mango, Unawatuna Beach, Sri Lanka
15. Spelunking Southeast Asia’s longest cave system at Deer Cave, Borneo
14. Wandering an ancient Roman city frozen in time by the desert sands, Palmyra, Syria
13. Angel Falls by dugout canoe, Venezuela
12. Lounging on the most beautiful stretch of sand in the world, Argent Beach, Seychelles
11. Glimpsing tigers on the prowl, Ranthambore National Park, India
10. Living in a leaf hut with an African Pygmy tribe, Democratic Republic of Congo
09. Poling away from cantankerous hippos in a mocoro boat, Okavango Delta, Botswana
08. Pretending you’re Indiana Jones in the incredible, cliff-carved ruins of Petra, Jordan
07. Testing your liver on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Russia
06. People watching over a sheesha pipe in an ahwa, Damascus, Syria
05. Coming face to face with Silverback Gorillas in Virunga Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
04. Red wine and wheels of cheese, anywhere in the Alps
03. Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
02. Standing in awe of the Great Herd Migration, Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania
01. Looking down upon the world from Mt. Everest Base Camp, Nepal or Tibet

Chronological order