Reflections from the world's most-traveled couple


Returning to Pakistan, we passed a camel train in Afghanistan on the way to the Khyber Pass.

Robert Pine, Boulder, CO

In the March ’06 issue (page 2), Editor David Tykol included a mention of Robert and Dorothy Pine, recognized by the Travelers’ Century Club as the first couple in the world to have visited all 315 countries on the organization’s list. In response to readers’ feedback, Robert Pine is sharing more of his and his wife’s story.

I have always been interested in seeing the world. When I graduated from the University of Kansas in 1941, I immediately joined the Navy Air Corp and was a naval aviator for 22 years. In that capacity, I saw much of the world. In particular, I covered the Pacific, North Atlantic and European areas quite thoroughly. During most of this period, my wife, Dorothy, was home raising our children.

After I retired from the military, I thought it would be fun to show her some of the interesting places I had seen — and that is how we started traveling the world together. It never occurred to us that we would end up visiting every country in the world!

Observations

When you are attempting to visit the more challenging countries, you must have an experienced, knowledgeable and imaginative guide. Ours was Herbert Goebels of Aachen, Germany. He leads 10 to 12 escorted tours each year for Universal Travel System (Box 7050, Santa Monica, CA 90406; 310/393-0261, www.uts-travel.com).

Robert and Dorothy Pine entering Iraq from Turkey with their daughter, Judy Young.

We have encountered many roadblocks. “Sorry, you can’t enter this country.” “Sorry, you won’t be able to leave the country” (because of civil unrest). “No visas are being issued. You won’t be able to get in.” “All flights are canceled. Maybe next week.” “Sorry, we don’t have your reservation and there are no rooms available.” Herbert has solved them all!

There is no doubt that travel is educational, and travelers have a certain dynamic in their knowledge that others seem not to have. In my case, I am always interested in the people we meet, with regard to their lifestyles, religion, dress, customs, activities, diets, political values and the unique ways they adjust to their environment.

I’ve noticed that behavior is influenced dramatically by extremes in weather, topography, soil conditions, mineral deposits, social pressures, financial conditions, political circumstances and religious beliefs.

Having said this, in many ways people are the same the world over. They are trying to make a living to provide for themselves and their families; they love their children; they are helpful to visitors, and they are just trying to get along in the world.

For myself, one of the great values of a long trip is coming home with a deeper appreciation for the USA.

Travel today

Iranian schoolgirls taking our picture.

We are living in a wonderful time to travel. In my lifetime, we have gone from the Model T to space travel, and, certainly, the modern jet is the only way to go for today’s traveler. In the day of the prop plane, it took two fueling stops to get from the West Coast to Hong Kong. Now, you have a drink, eat a meal, watch a movie, take a nap and you’re there. It is true that all of the new security measures are bothersome, but I find it comforting, also.

In my opinion, the next great advance in travel will be space travel. Some countries are, apparently, studying the surface of the moon for suitable locations for development. Perhaps in a few years the moon will be added to the Travelers’ Century Club’s lists of places to visit! Some of us would be willing to take that trip when a Lunar Hilton Hotel opens, there are interesting attractions to visit and there are regularly scheduled arrivals and departures.

I have been fortunate to have a wife to share my travels with. Sometimes I’ve heard her mumble under her breath something about “staying home for a change,” but when the time came she was always ready to go and enjoyed most of our adventures. We also were fortunate to have our daughter, Judy Young, accompanying us on our most challenging trips.

Most memorable places

People commonly ask us which our favorite places in the world are. My usual answer is Boulder, Colorado, where we live, and Lawrence, Kansas, where we grew up. I think no matter where you go, you are happiest where your roots are.

Dancing around the North Magnetic Pole.

I have been to Iceland many times and I have a strange liking for the place. We also are fond of Northern Europe and many areas in the Pacific. We are always asked about our most dangerous or frightening experiences — and there have been a few. We have been through earthquakes in Japan, the Azores and Pakistan; faced wild animals in Africa; escaped civil unrest in Ivory Coast and Irian Jaya; had our guide arrested in Bangladesh, and survived a sinking boat in the piranha-infested Amazon River. We were in Albania shortly after the fall of the government and realized too late that it was a volatile situation.

We could write an entire article on the strange flights we have been on — planes that never should have been flown, luggage compartments left open, people walking around during takeoff and landing, seat belts and seats that didn’t work, pilots missing elephants on the runway, pilots just plain missing the runway and circling around for another try, flights that were supposed to go to one country and decided to go to another country… .

Interestingly enough, the “dangers” seemed pretty routine at the time, then we would get home and start thinking about it!

Incidents of interest

Yak burgers — We planned a trip to Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet for April of 2001, with the first stop in Bhutan for a festival. It was wonderful, but the main culinary delicacy was fried pork fat — fine the first time but it became trying after several days.

We then had a very difficult overland trek from Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet, in a van that kept breaking down. We even had to be towed over the Himalayas by a Chinese mail truck, traversing passes of 19,000 feet. By the time we reached our beautiful hotel in Lhasa, we were anxious for a soft bed and a good meal.

Elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka.

The restaurant special was “yak burger” and we figured that any meat patty in a bun was worth trying. It was very good, and we ate “the special” at every meal while in Lhasa.

The lion in Malawi — My daughter, Judy, mentioned that it was curious that after so many trips to Africa she had never seen a wild animal, so in April of 2003 we planned a trip to Botswana and Malawi to prove to her that there really are lions, zebras and giraffes on the continent.

We landed in Malawi on a small airfield, were met by our guides in a Land Rover and proceeded to our camp several miles away.

During the drive, the female guide spotted fresh lion tracks on the side of the road and we followed them until they disappeared into the brush. We stopped, she got out to see where they went and almost immediately a lioness jumped toward her from the tall grass — a huge surprise for everyone!

With the quickest reflexes I’ve ever seen, she executed a perfect 180-degree turn and landed back in the Land Rover, after which she apologized profusely because her training dictated that she should have slowly backed up, looking the cat in the eyes the entire time. The lion disappeared, we went on to camp and all was well.

The Nile in Sudan — In March of 2004 we were on one of our more memorable trips, which included Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, Dubai, Sudan and Chad. Entry into all of these countries was fairly routine, with the exception of Sudan, which was not disposed to allowing Americans in.

We spent days in Dubai waiting for visas, really losing hope that it would actually happen. We finally were granted visas; unfortunately, our four or five days in Khartoum were cut to two or three, so we had to make the most of the time we had and saw only a few highlights.

The first was on a trip 200 kilometers north of Khartoum along the east side of the Nile to the ruins of the Kingdom of Meroë, the home of the Kush civilization, existing until about the fourth century A.D., and to the Royal Burial Pyramids, one of the most pristine, stunningly beautiful sights we’ve ever seen.

The second day we went on a Nile boat trip to see the actual juncture where the Blue Nile and White Nile merge. For some reason, we thought we would see the blue and white colors come together, producing, perhaps, a light blue, but, while an impressive sight, it was dark brown mixing with light brown.

A word about shopping

Sign at the entrance to our hotel in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

I don’t shop anymore. In earlier years I purchased goods from all over the world. In the last 15 years, I have enjoyed watching my daughter shop for unique walking sticks from many countries; carpets from Nepal, Tibet and Iran; gemstones from the Indian Ocean and Africa; sandalwood items from Sri Lanka, and spices from the Middle East.

The mystery is how she manages to buy and pack so much in a single carry-on!

Sage advice

So, given our 65 years of travel, I’ve compiled some words of wisdom for world travelers.

• Develop a good relationship with a travel company and an experienced guide.

• Take more money than you think you’ll spend and fewer clothes than you think you’ll wear.

• Travel light enough so you don’t have to check luggage — unless you’re going to the Arctic Circle.

• Carry enough soap for yourself and your laundry.

• Chances are good that you’ll develop diarrhea. As a precaution, carry your own Lomotil®, Cipro® (both prescriptions) and Imodium®.

Robert and Dorothy in Antarctica.

• Don’t drink tap water, even to brush your teeth. Drink bottled water, even though in some places bottled water may be from a local tap.

• U.S. dollars are good almost everywhere. They are also good to have in your hand when there seems to be a language barrier. Get plenty of new bills from the bank before you leave.

• Carry several credit cards, for large expenses only. Because travelers’ numbers are being stolen, you might want to alert your card’s fraud department about where you will be traveling. They will decline charges from anywhere else.

• Never carry valuables in your hip pockets. Wear travel pants with deep side pockets or a waist pouch. Watch your purse; Dorothy’s wallet was stolen out of her purse in a market in Iran.

• Make several copies of your passport and visas and keep them separate and secure.

• Don’t change money on the street, as it is illegal in many places. Do it at the airport, a currency exchange or a bank, where the official rates are posted.

• Carry a satellite phone or GSM phone, especially if you’re going to remote or dangerous destinations.

• Be flexible!