How does one come to travel to travel to all 193 independent countries in the world? As a child my greatest adventure was traveling to Vigo to buy caramels and chocolate, or later I would travel further into Spain with my parents on holiday—all quite normal for a young Portuguese boy.
It wasn’t until after I completed university when my cousin asked me how many countries I had been to. Maybe 30, I told him, a humble figure compared to his 70. I said to him, “You’ll see if I do not beat you!” And from that point I began to take my travels very seriously.
My next goal was to overtake the country count of the politician Mario Soares, who had visited 130 countries (or so I thought) and then to surpass even Pope John Paul II, who had 150 on his list. By 2006, I had no other choice but to travel to every country in the world.
Along the way the world had become a revelation to me. Travel means freedom. It has taught me how to see humankind and understand that the sense of family exists in every country. For instance, after I traveled to all the world and contacting/knowing with many believers I became a believer myself but a special believer: now I believe in all religions. What matters most to me is knowing people from every background. One of the countries that had the most profound effect on me was Iran. There, the people were so nice and so kind, completely contrary to the propaganda that the media and newspapers write about.
I am also a very romantic type of guy. I have been married 10 times—but to the same woman, Ana Lisa! And always in a different country and a different religious ceremony. The first time and first marriage was in Ethiopia, followed by a tripto South Sudan. The legal marriage was in our country of Portugal. And since then we have enjoyed a Muslim marriage ceremony in Zanzibar, traditional ones in Cuba and Easter Island, a Presbyterian rite on Niue, a Hindu one on Bali, even a Berber marriage feast in Morocco, and finally a special wedding in Barcelona during a TCC meeting.
Sometimes my wife travels with me, sometimes my children accompany me (I have seven children). Some trips are best to go with other travelers and often I travel alone.
You have to have a certain amount of luck to travel through every country with nothing happening. On my quest, I escaped a train crash in Zimbabwe, avoided by two days an earthquake in the Solomon Islands, had missed staying in a hotel in Kabul that the Taliban had arrived at to shoot tourists, and had jumped off a tourist bus in Morocco because it didn’t have an empty seat and right after watched it fall into a ravine, killing nine Portuguese.
One of my more memorable experiences was in Yemen. My visa was in order when I flew into Sana’a from Eritrea. Two Germans on my flight and I were denied entry. The Germans didn’t argue with the officials and flew on to Germany, but I insisted that I could enter because I had my visa—either that or refund me my money. Because of all my passport stamps the officials thought I must have been with the CIA and took me to an interrogation room and shined a light on my face. One of the police officers offered me cigarettes and talked about Cristiano Ronaldo; the other threatened me—like good cop/bad cop from the movies. The men all had a knife at their waist. For some reason, they did not take away my phone, so I spent the night in custody exchanging messages with my friends and family on Facebook. In the morning they awakened me with the news that I had been authorized to enter the country. That afternoon, I was invited to dance in the street at a local wedding.
If I were to give advice on how to travel to every country, I would first say not to believe what you read but go to the country to learn for yourself how it is; keep an open mind, and try to feel the people—eat what they eat and try to understand how people think. Bring along a change of old clothes in case you have to spend the night on the floor somewhere. Be adventurous and always stick to your goals.