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The Road to 193 with Bengt Enbuske

Bengt Enbuske in the northwestern mountains of Sweden


Where and when was your first trip outside of your home country?

 

My first trip was to Norway in 1965 with my parents. My first solo trip was in 1972 to Gran Canarias. My first far away trip was in 1974 to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Actually, Finland was the first country I visited but it’s almost my home country. I live close to the Finnish border. 


I have always been curious about the world and always had dreams to visit different places. And some places are “you must see it”.


What is it about traveling that appeals to you the most?


Experiencing the world, new countries, cultures, nature, peoples, amazing places and finding friendly people who are almost everywhere. Often in underdeveloped countries you find poorer people who are the most hospitable.

 

How many UN recognized sovereign countries have you visited? How many continents have you been to?


I’ve been to all 193 UN countries (as of 2018) and 40 other countries from the Travelers Century Club list for a total of 233 countries and territories. I have one continent left to visit, Antarctica, which I hope to do in 2022 (after the pandemic).


How long did it take you to visit all 193 countries?


I started traveling at a comfortable pace in 1972 but in the last eight years, I visited 102 countries. The last UN country I visited was Saudi Arabia in 2018.

Some of the flags Bengt collected from the countries he visited

When did you consciously start counting countries?


I decided to count all UN listed countries in 2010 after some people called to my attention that I had visited almost all the countries in the world. I asked myself, why not?  In 2015 I had visited 34 countries in one year, 24 countries in 2014 (18 of these in Africa), and 18 countries in 2016.

What was the most difficult country to enter in your experience?


The most difficult country to enter was Saudi Arabia which I visited in 2018. It took me two years and eight months to enter the last of the UN countries on my list.


What was the most inaccessible country that you visited?


The most inaccessible was maybe Irian Jaya in West Papua which I visited in 1995 before the time of the Internet. It took a long time to get there with many stops at Indonesian islands along the way and it was not comfortable with broken and double booked seats. My wife cried on the way there but after the trip, she and my youngest son were satisfied. 


What place draws you back more than the others and why?


I have returned every year since 1980 during the spring and summer months to the northern Swedish mountains for the fantastic nature and the silence. You can drink the water from every creek or lake. In March and April I go to the mountains by snowmobile for ice fishing and in the summertime I fly (myself) to go fishing. I used to go hiking with my sons when they were younger.

 

In the northern mountains of Sweden for ice fishing*

The country I have visited the most is Thailand and I explore different parts of the country whenever I’m there.


*Note the arks (tentlike structures) where Bengt and company sleep and fish when it is too cold to go ice fishing outside. The ark is heated by a kerosene stove. There is also an ark for the sauna. The arks are transported using a snowmobile.


What is your most memorable travel experience? 


My most memorable travel experience is our hike in 1995 in the Baliem mountains of Irian Jaya with the indigenous people. They wore a “koteka” which is a penis shaped tube and a tie made of shells. I have three different kotekas at home but it’s too cold to wear here in the Arctic.


What was the most hairy experience you encountered while traveling?


I had several hairy experiences during my travels. One was in Somalia (Somaliland) at the airport where two ladies came and held out their hand and greeted me. I was joking with them and put my hand on the lady’s shoulder. They said nothing but one of the security men saw that and got crazy. He shouted at me, “you touched a Muslim lady, it’s not allowed. You can’t leave the country!” After a while they left me and I thought it was over but after 30 minutes, several policemen came and they didn’t let me board the flight. They asked me to stay on the side and let the others go before me. Then they took me away to their office. They took my passport and photo camera and asked me what I was doing in Somalia. They kept me for one to one hour and a half. They checked the photos I took in Somalia and I had a photo of a lady in front of a shop. They asked me many times why I photographed the lady. They were very angry and told me “you touched a Muslim lady and it is not allowed”. I apologized fifty times and told them I did not know that it’s a problem. Suddenly the police officer handed me my passport and camera and said I can go but never come back to Somalia. It was easy to promise that. That happened at the airport when I was waiting for my flight back to Addis Ababa.


Somaliland had no hotel room available but in one place they carried a bed and toilet paper to a conference room and said, “you can sleep here". There were armed guards in the area. In the morning I asked them how much I owed and they said “no it’s free, this is your first time here”.


I was also imprisoned in the Oman mountains in 2016 when I returned by land from Yemen. I had a single entry visa to Oman and I took the risk of crossing the border to Yemen when I was allowed entry. I was picked up by a Yemeni with a car and he drove me to one area in Yemen. I was not allowed to visit any cities or bigger villages. I had to pay under the table to immigration and got no stamps on my passport. When I returned to Oman, they said I couldn’t come in since they didn’t issue visas for visitors crossing by land from a war torn country. Then they decided to send my taxi back to Salalah in Oman with my passport to get a new visa the next day. I had two passports so I was not without a passport if I lost one. The Oman border military guard drove me up to their camp in the mountains. It was a cold and windy place and after a while, they brought a mattress and some food to me. The next day, some officers came to me and asked me if I am okey and if I had called my family. I said no, I hadn’t called but I had no problems at the camp, it’s like a Hilton. The next night the taxi driver came back with my visa and drove me back to Salalah. It was a fun experience. I really liked that.


What do you carry in your travel bag?


I travel only with carry on backpack weighing 7-9 kg. including the backpack itself. In the backpack are 1 video (pro), 1 small video, 1 GoPro video, 1 DJI Pocket video, 1 photo camera, batteries, chargers and cables in a small bag to hang on my pants’ belt when flight’s max weight requirement is 6 kg. Memory cards, toothbrush, etc. in a small light bag, 5 underpants, 5 T-shirts, 2 pants, socks, lightweight all totaling 1 kg. Toilet paper and disinfectants (depending on country I’m traveling to). I wear only one pair of long pants, one jacket and jogging shoes, the usual clothes I wear at home. I carry the tripod for the big video camera in my hand.  


Were you ever seriously ill while traveling and how did you cope with it?


No, I have never been ill in the last 20-25 years of traveling. I take a booster shot for tourist stomach every two years. It cures even the belly jelly and Bombay quick in India.

 

How do you think the pandemic has changed or will change your travel plans?


After the pandemic, I think you have to be more selective where to travel and when.


Now that you’ve visited all 193 countries, what are your plans? Will you continue traveling?


Yes, of course I’ll continue traveling. Now I can travel to places I like to go instead of must go places (to count all 193). The fun starts after that day.


In Sweden, the “greens” say shame on you if you take a flight. We now have a new word, “fly shame” but if we stop traveling, many people will have no job and put many countries and people in poverty.


What is your travel advice to those who are just now stepping out to see the world?


Don’t wait. Do it. Be careful but not afraid. You will meet friendly people everywhere. Avoid nightlife and bars in unsafe places. I have never lost a penny or been robbed during traveling. In unsafe places, I don’t leave the hotel at night and I don’t drink in run-in bars. It reduces the danger by 98%, I think.

 

What’s first on your travel list when normal travel resumes? 


I plan to travel to Cinque Terre in October 2021 and New Zealand, Samoa and Cook Islands in January/February 2022.

 

About Bengt Enbuske


Bengt was born three kilometers north of the Arctic Circle in a small village with ten inhabitants. He still lives in the same village which is bathed in the midnight sun during the months of June and July. In the winter months, he watches the northern lights (aurora borealis) from his window. When Bengt travels, the number of inhabitants in his village is reduced by 10%. He never travels in June and July because of the fantastic summer nights when sunset slips to sunrise seamlessly. Bengt usually travels in January and February when it’s cold and dark and he has to dig and clear the snow. It shortens the long six to seven months of winter.


Photos by Bengt Enbuske

*****

The Road to 193 is a series of interviews with world travelers who are on a quest to visit all 193 United Nations recognized sovereign countries. About 121 travelers from around the world have visited all 193 UN countries, according to NomadMania, a non profit organization that validates the countries and regions visited by its community of travelers through a rigorous verification process. The goal of visiting all 193 countries is elusive at times and fraught with challenges including trying to get a visa, going to a war torn country, finding passage to a remote island nation, traveling to dangerous locations and when the budget doesn’t quite fit the bill. But once conquered, the traveler joins an exclusive club of world travelers who persisted to reach their final destination.


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