I have had the urge to see the world, meet the people, and visit every country in the world since I can remember. I had a great curiosity for the unknown, a desire to explore and learn about other people and cultures. What caused WWII? Why was there anti-Semitism? As I grew up and served in the US Air Force, I expanded the questions with a desire to understand: Why were people drawn to Communism? Why has religion caused so much division and conflict in the world? I could get many answers to my questions by reading and lectures. But to complete the picture, I felt I needed to visit every country in the world and meet the people in those countries, see how they lived, their villages, what they ate, and who they were.
In 2006, on a cruise down the west coast of Africa, I met TCC members Cathy and Bob Parda, who had a small travel company called Advantage Travel & Tours. They introduced me to the Travelers’ Century Club and gave me a copy of the TCC list of countries. Since I have lived or worked in nearly twenty countries in my years in the USAF and as an IT management consultant, I discovered that I had already visited 100 TCC destinations. I was motivated to visit the rest, and with the Parda’s group of like-minded travelers (which Cathy called her “AT&T Family”), off I went. On my first AT&T tour, I met TCC member Edna Erspamer, and she invited me to the TCC 2007 lunch at Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Los Angeles, and I enthusiastically joined the group.
Even though Bob and Cathy arranged and took many of the tours themselves, after the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010, they were reluctant to arrange travel in countries with active armed conflicts. Via the TCC, I found that Klaus Billep’s Universal Travel System would arrange tours to those places, and I then added Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
I reached TCC Diamond status in January 2014, visiting Vanuatu with member Bob Ihsen, and completed visiting all the UN countries when I toured Samoa in June 2014.
You can’t visit every country in the world without a few memorable adventures. In chronological order:
- When the Holland America Line MS Prinsendam hit a sand bar leaving Cotonou, Benin, in 2006.
- Entering Iran in 2007 from Turkmenistan, the Iran government directed the Customs agents to fingerprint us. Unfortunately, they used the wrong ink pads and just collected ten black blobs of ink on the form.
- Injuring my wrist and leg when a platform collapsed in a Rabaul WWII Japanese barge tunnel in 2008.
- First American group to tour Iraq after the war in 2009.
- When our boat became stuck on a bed of mud and shells in Guinea-Bissau and was refloated by a group of locals that sailed out to lift and free the boat in 2011.
- Marooned in Grytviken, South Georgia Island, for nine days with a ship engine failure at King Edward Point, 2012.
- Tour of North Korea, 2012, where we stayed in a hotel on an island so we could not walk around the neighborhood, saw the Arirang Mass Games and spent a night in a bus stuck in the mud.
- When Herb Goebels took me to see the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire. Because of the Mali civil war in 2013, Klaus had to reschedule our hotels and tour. Mali was still at war when we entered but we could not travel to Timbuktu, which was a big disappointment for us.
- Personal tours of the Roman Sabratha and Leptis Magna ruins in Libya and the firefights on my last night in Tripoli, Libya, 2013.
- Visiting Christmas Island, where the auto rental agency issued a rake to clear the road of crabs if we came upon red crabs crossing the road in 2014.
- Taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow in 2015.
- On my last international trip, I was able to go ashore at Pitcairn Island and was invited by Steve Christian to have lunch at his house to meet his wife Olive in 2015.
I attribute these memorable events to the fellow travelers and tours arranged by TCC members. For example, when Bob Ihsen, Laurie Campbell, Linda and Del McCuen, and I arrived on Cocos (Keeling) Islands, we were asked, “Are you, members of the Travelers’ Century Club? They are the only Americans that visit our islands.” Bumping into Frank Rainer at a campsite in Meroe, Sudan, and having a taxi driver yell out, “Herr Goebels, how are you?” while crossing a street in an African city.
And, I’ll never forget the eight days cruising in Antarctica with JoAnn Schwartz, Bob Bonifas and the AT&T Family with hopes to set foot on Bouvet Island, which we never did.
TCC memories of the destinations visited and the friends made to last a lifetime.