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Interview with the first Filipino to travel to all 193 UN sovereign countries

Lourdes Ricasa with Capizeños, Peewee Roldan, Mike Ignacio, Dr Munich Conlu

There are fewer than 300 people who have visited all 193 United Nations recognized sovereign countries. Odette Aquitania Ricasa is one of them and is the first Filipino to have done so. The last country on her "road to 193" was Iraq, which she visited in August of this year. Ricasa's travels have been authenticated by NomadMania, a non profit organization that validates the countries and regions visited by its community of travelers through a rigorous verification process. Ricasa is also a member of the Travelers Century Club (TCC) having visited 304 of 325 countries, islands and territories on the TCC list. Ricasa is the author of six books (she's currently working on her seventh book), is an accomplished painter, a motivational speaker and a pianist. 

Ricasa has received numerous awards including First Prize in an International Speech Contest sponsored by Toastmasters Club and several Best Speaker awards from the Los Angeles Toastmasters Speech Club and the San Clemente Toastmasters Club. Her painting, Doorway to Peace, has been featured in The Anthropology of Colour - What colour is a culture, an art tome which was recently published in Russia. Ricasa uses her platform to reach out to children who cannot afford art classes. She also volunteers at various charitable institutions in Southern California and has supported BalayniCharie Foundation, a grassroots local organization that gives school supplies to children in Capiz. 

I interviewed Ricasa about her traveling life and here are some insights she shared with me.  

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

We have taken for granted the things we have. Many people in third world countries are humble, very helpful and friendly. I love to listen to their stories about their daily life. If invited to their home for tea, I accept their invitation provided the tour guide has recommended it. We Filipinos are all over the world. Our hospitality is genuine. In my sixth book, Love Echoes.....Share and Inspire, I included 16 interviews with Filipinos I met during my travels.

How many continents have you traveled to?

I have been to all seven continents. My advice to travelers is to see Antarctica. It is the last untouched wilderness in the world. It is a trip of a lifetime. I try to celebrate my birthdays in foreign countries. In 2014, I joined an expedition to Antarctica on my birthday. I wrote about it and presented a video to Odette’s Travel Club in Los Angeles. One of the comments I received was, it is an “obra maestra, a masterpiece”.

What is your favorite country to visit and why?

Spain has cast a spell on me and I go there twice a year. I’ve traveled there 52 times. It’s a big help that I can speak the language and communicate easily with the people. Spain has beaches, sunny weather, fiestas, the Pyrenees mountains and UNESCO heritage sites like Mount Perdu and Canal du Midi. I’ve been to 47 of the 48 UNESCO sites in Spain. The Cave of Altamira and the Paleolithic cave of Northern Spain in Santillana del Mar have eluded me. They have been closed for cleaning and preservation since 1992. 

Barcelona is a city where you simply don’t need a plan. Without fail, I’d spend days just wandering the streets, getting lost in Barri Gòtic, sipping cafe con leche or chocolate caliente with churros at Plaça Real. I have recurring dreams of sitting at the terrace of a CULTURE bar with no name on the corner of Carrer Fernan and Plaça San Jaume. 

My fifth book, Touching the Wind, features some poems I wrote in Spanish which are inspired by my travels in Spain.

What is the most inaccessible country in the world to visit?

The island of St. Helena is one of the most isolated and intriguing places in the world. It remains a British outpost smack in the middle of nowhere, deep in the South Atlantic. Flights to the island are only available from mid-October to mid-March. Otherwise, you take a steamship and the voyage lasts three to four weeks. This is a place you definitely want to visit.

It is necessary to get a letter of invitation from a local resident or show a confirmed hotel reservation before arriving on the island. A US$500,000 trip cancellation insurance is required and this must be presented at the airline counter before boarding the flight. 

From the sky I could see this charming island below. It was sweltering hot when we arrived in Jamestown. Robert (a “Saint”) met me and immediately swept me away to tour the outskirts of the city. Pretty soon I was on a first name basis with the Saints. (Saint is the term used for locals born and raised in St. Helena.)

What are your most memorable travel experiences?

By far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia, Turkmenistan is an ancient land of spirituality, tradition and beauty. It invites me to run across the steppes toward the horizon so I can express my restless spirit of exploration.

Svalbard archipelago/Spitsbergen which is about 700 miles north of the North Pole in the Arctic region will always remind me of my dog sledding adventure with a bodyguard who carried a loaded rifle just in case a growling bear misbehaves. While there, I also saw the Seedling Vault where seeds are kept to prevent their extinction.

What place would you like to return to?

Samarkand in Uzbekistan inspired me to write a poem, Samarkand the Garden of my Soul, published by the Uzbekistan Daily News in 2010. The whole city is a World Heritage Site. Women connect their eyebrows in one line and smile showing their gold teeth. They wear pants under dresses that are loose and flowery and accessorize with colorful jewelry. It is a land of beauty and tradition.

What do you carry in your travel bag?

I carry a slim fit running belt where I keep my passport and money, underwear with zipper for passport, IPhone, charger bank, a small laptop, a sweatshirt, extra pants with pockets, an umbrella, 2 disposable raincoats, a turtleneck sweater, shorts, tank top, bathing suit, t-shirt, a small cosmetic kit, lotion in a sandwich bag (easy to see), toothpaste, toothbrush and a wrist watch with an alarm clock as a back-up. I put most items in a plastic bag in case of pouring rain. I also bring a door stopper with me. It keeps away planned thefts. 

I learned to travel light after waiting for my luggage for three days while on a trip. Since then, I haven’t checked in baggage and travel with a carry on bag only. For beach getaways, I bring only sunglasses, sandals and suntan lotion (SSS). I donate my T-shirt and clothes to poor villages when asked. 

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

Our guide, Abbas, ordered for us a dish of boiled sheep with head, feet and stomach (tripe). It is a delicacy in the cold season in Iran. I wanted to write about this dish so I tried every piece offered to me. It was bland but ok. After six hours, I experienced terrible cramps. It felt like my stomach was turned upside down. The next day was our flight to Los Angeles via Istanbul. I went to the medical facility at the airport as recommended by Abbas. The doctor prescribed medication for severe diarrhea. It worked for a few hours. When we reached Istanbul, I had to go to the bathroom many times and missed my connecting flight. Luckily, there was a later flight available. When we stopped in Barcelona, I was still sick so I went to the Urgencies Hospital de Mar. It took three days for me to fully recover altitude sickness. It strikes older people hard. They should bring ski poles to use as a cane on wet and uneven grounds. They should sample local breweries.

What are your travel plans for 2023?

My plan for 2023 is to continue completing the TCC list: (1) The Austral Islands is accessible only 4 months of the year from December to March. (2) Socotra - a territory of Yemen, may now be reached through flights from Cairo. (3) Ascencion islands are on my schedule for a June flight from the UK.

There's no doubt Odette Aquitania Ricasa will find her way to these remote islands. Her determination is admirable which makes her the ideal candidate to be the first Filipino to visit all 325 countries, islands and territories on the Travelers Century Club list. We wish her safe travels!


Image by TravelswithCharie


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