Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is Charles Veley the world"s most-travelled man? Travel The Observer

Charles Veley in Nepal

Charles Veley in Nepal. Photograph: Charles Veley

One of the things Charles Veley, the world"s most-travelled man, has detected is that there is regularly a bar. There was a club on Palmyra Atoll, south west of Hawaii (population: 8); there was a club on Willis Island in the Coral Sea, off the seashore of Queensland (population: 4). Ten mins after he and I have arrived in Heligoland (population: a couple of hundred solidified Germans, and us) we are, therefore, sitting in a one-roomed pub, advertised by a enormous wooden herring outside, and congested inside with Dutch and German and English nautical knick-knackery. It is midday, and we have been on the highway for 4 hours: primary by car from Hamburg by haze and a snowstorm to an airstrip at Uetersen. Then by eight-seater plane, that took off in a perturbing feet of snow, to an island called Dune. Then by roiling packet opposite to here, Heligoland, holy land. It feels something similar to a event for the violent and the desperate, and Veley, a orderly groomed, 44-year-old American, has been on the surveillance for signs and wonders.

"This is square of my style," he tells me, gesturing around the bar. "Heligoland: I had no thought about it. So when we got here I waited for something. I saw this square of paper in the window observant Eiergrog – "Egg grog" – and it looked interesting, so I walked past the big wooden fish and came in. My truth for transport is this: regularly plan as if you are going to do a Japanese-style debate and each second is accounted for. But on arrival, desert all that and do whatever feels right. Eiergrog felt right. And you transport in, there is a flattering lady at the behind of the bar, and you begin to assimilate the place."

Iris, the flattering girl, has usually placed dual Eiergrogs on the list in front of us: hot, rum-based, raw-egg drinks whisked in to a froth. Iris came here 6 years ago to do a anniversary pursuit from Berlin, met a man, and stayed. "It is," she says, nodding at the swirling snow outside, the boarded-up beach huts and emporium fronts, "better in summer." She has right afar met an additional man and plans to follow him to Australia. There is one alternative unreformed alcoholic in the bar, an 87-year-old declared Mr. Westerhaus, sipping eyeglasses of prohibited gin. He has a daughter in East Anglia and was, he says, a air call signaller here for U-boats during the war. He had so majority great memories he came behind when he retired.

Veley, who slips simply in and out of German, has stories for both Iris and Mr. Westerhaus; he has been to all the places they have been. In fact, as it fast becomes apparent, he has been to all the places any one has been. Heligoland is series 806 on Veley"s list of visited "countries". He ticked off all the 193 UN-recognised nations eight years ago, and given afterwards he has been pciking up islands and atolls, provinces and protectorates. These days he runs a website called Most Traveled People, that has 8,000 members, mostly, similar to him, "competitive travellers", trade stories about Mizoram, Kingman Reef and Rio Muni. He determined it, he suggests, in an try to move a little cold to these travellers" tales, to rationalize the globe"s possibilities (and, you imagine, to publicize his own rare wanderlust).

It hasn"t, he concedes, regularly worked out similar to that. The universe of rival travelling is, well, zero if not competitive. For a start, determining what is and what isn"t a apart "country" – "a dissimilar geographical, ethnological or domestic entity" – threatens to spin roughly a full-time pursuit in itself. Border disputes are rife. "People put brazen nominations and I pick up those," he says. "And whatever has the majority nominations becomes a candidate, and afterwards there is a choosing by casting votes process. Spain and France and Italy and multiform others are right afar widely separated in to semi-autonomous regions. So it"s removing tougher…" He doubts anyone, not even himself, will ever get the total list (which right afar stands at 871). "We are regularly adding new places. And there are already a little unequivocally formidable places out there. Like Scott Island, a New Zealand island toward Antarctica; usually 6 people have ever landed on it." He says this with a certain frustration.

Beyond the try to quantify all the world"s remotest corners, there are additionally ongoing qualitative arguments, often about what is meant by the word "visit". Some travellers insist you contingency outlay a night in a place; a little disagree it is sufficient to revisit a shower there; "others," Veley suggests, rather wearily, "will contend you have to nap on a play ground dais or do it for less than $10 to have it real. And a little people hold you contingency have cocktails at Annabelle"s or wherever…" Veley has attempted to move a little sequence to this area, too. Just in contact with down whilst on a craft is not enough; Most Traveled People requires a sketch or a pass stamp or a credit label receipt. He recently, he says, privately tangible the smallest mandate of what constitutes a "landing" on the North Sea island of Rockall (of shipping foresee fame).

He"d had a go at Rockall once before, with his friend, the clubbable orphan Ben Fogle, but the continue had been as well wily and they had incited their sailboat back. This time, with a opposite group, he set off from Benbecula, and it was beautiful, ease sailing for dual days. When they got to Rockall, however, even in those undiluted conditions, it was not transparent usually how they competence land. "The bloat is 7 metres, maybe," Veley recalls, "and the stone has perfect sides all spin with absolute eddies underneath them." Veley and his associate travellers circled the stone for half a day, watchful for a shift in the sea. "We in the future motionless to have a go at one dilemma that was a bit some-more hilly and had a dress of thick kelp trustworthy to it," he says. Among the organisation was a photographer from Stornoway, who donned a wetsuit and jumped on a surfboard. "He timed the swell, grabbed the kelp, found the crag and hauled himself up," Veley says, "and we were all entertaining wildly." Then it was Veley"s turn. It took him ages to get the wetsuit on. The bloat seemed even wilder. He plunged in. "I found the kelp, timed the surge, grabbed the crag, stood up on Rockall for may be one and a half seconds prior to the subsequent call crashed over and knocked me true behind in to the sea. But that counts, for sure…"

We sequence dual some-more Eiergrogs.

Charles Veley grew up in Brooklyn and never left the United States until he was 18. His relatives separate up when he was young; income was parsimonious and didn"t magnify to unfamiliar holidays. Veley recalls sitting as a child in the driver"s chair of his father"s car with the Rand McNally map on his knees, formulation trips from seashore to seashore in his head, devising himself regularly on the open road.

His primary attempts at shun came when he was sponsored by his computer scholarship grade at Harvard by the Officer Training Corps of the US Air Force; this was the epoch of Top Gun and foe for places was intense. Veley surfaced his year as a trainee warrior commander prior to being at once forsaken from the programme when a slight healing detected a notation injure on his retina. By that time he was pulling jets out of tailspins and devising 10 years stationed in remote air bases.

He responded to the violence by receiving a moody over to the UK to see a little friends at Cambridge, and from there his mania to transport began. He took a Eurail pass and was bending by the possibility. The last time he was in this square of Germany he got off at Hamburg sight hire and went using spin locale perplexing to eat a hamburger. "I had never left the States and astonishing there were borders, pass stamps..." Romance was a square of it, the awaiting of astonishing encounters. "I had a three-week manager pass around Britain, too," he recalls. "I unequivocally longed for to go to Dorset given I desired Thomas Hardy, and I longed for to go to Scotland. I recollect being in this overnight manager from Birmingham up to the Highlands and there was this redheaded lady sitting subsequent to me. And I recollect sort of in the center of the night we were snogging suddenly. I had a lot of engaging chair friends on coaches."

When he returned to the States, Veley assimilated with a little friends in sourroundings up a dot.com association formulating program that delivered commercial operation intelligence, assisting retailers to assimilate the shopping patterns of consumers. He worked 100-hour weeks and managed a little long-haul transport when he could. In 1999 the company, MicroStrategy, floated on the ballooning Nasdaq and the share cost appearance at $333. Veley had 500,000 shares. He was about to get married, he was 35, and he motionless to retire.

"I"d regularly had a idea to verbalise five languages," he says. "I was study French, German and Italian at night school, and afterwards I thought: given do this? Why not go and live in these places instead? So my mother Kimberly and I went and did a year abroad – this was 2000. We got dual round-the-world tickets and we lived in France and afterwards Germany and afterwards we went down to South Africa, and the embankment down there usually blew my mind. I realised we could go to Malawi, Botswana. And afterwards we took an additional year and went to South America. And afterwards I schooled about the Travelers" Century Club, that has an entrance spin of 100 countries." At the same time he was removing some-more and some-more meddlesome in round-the-world tickets. "If you unequivocally get in to the mechanics of them," he says, "you can fly primary or commercial operation and compensate majority less than economy, and that appealed to the computer side of me, obscure over algorithms."

Along the way, whilst he was in Tasmania, Veley detected by branch on the TV that he was no longer a multimillionaire: the MicroStrategy share cost had crashed to 40 cents, but he was as well far left in his travelling to spin back. He figured the shares would rebound back. He requisitioned a little some-more flights. It was when he and his mother were on the proceed to Hong Kong from Korea and he became vehement when he realised they could stop in Taiwan for 4 hours that he knew he was hooked.

For a couple of years after that Veley averaged around 100 countries per year. Some trips were some-more fit than others. He flew to the South Pole in 2003 and took in Argentinian, Australian, British, Chilean, French, New Zealand and Norwegian territories but withdrawal the same mark – all countries encountering a singular vegetable patch of land. The share cost did convene somewhat, and he spent, he reckons, some-more than $1m on craft tickets and freighter passages and sailboat charters: 1m miles of transport in usually 3 years, that took in each place you could name, and copiousness you couldn"t: Malyj Vysotskij Island, Zil Elwannyen Sesel, Ogasawara.

For majority of that time, Veley"s mother accompanied him, clocking up 200 countries herself, but in 2004 they had their primary child, and right afar they have three, elderly six, 4 and two, all autumn births given the Antarctic scrutiny deteriorate ends in February, and by that time Veley had in all been afar from home for some-more than 3 months. He insists that given his young kids have been innate family has been his priority, but he still pursues his unfit itinerary. When we encounter he is mid by a 16-stop round-the-world ticket, en track home for a week in San Francisco to catch the finish of Valentine"s Day and take the young kids off to Disneyland. Then he has a range of Argentina to collect.

Veley is revelation me all of this whilst we ramble rather aimlessly in the snow and knifing cold, fortified by Eiergrog, up to the high point of Heligoland, past a sheer geometric church to a cliff peaked with air call masts and unaware stone stacks cleared by the ocean. He takes it all in but as well majority comment. He doesn"t pick up souvenirs, or take photos over the peculiar snap on his iPhone, or jot down notes. Never does.

I"m intrigued, of course, by his motivation, but he can"t insist the mania majority solely in the blandest conditions – explanation certain that you are possibly a clergyman or an adventurer, but frequency both. "If you wish to have a finish worldview you have to go everywhere," he"ll say. "Every place you clarity something new." Or: "It"s an investment in hold up experience. Whenever I encounter anyone, no make a difference where they are from, I can regularly describe to them." Or: "While I"m alive I usually wish to see as majority of the universe as I can. I"m organised; I have a computer background." When I discuss the environmental stroke of his travels, he brushes the subject aside. "I caring about the sourroundings usually similar to you," he says.

The plea itself is infrequently sufficient of a motivation. Palmyra Atoll (population: 8; bars: One) is confirmed by Nature Conservancy in the US. In his enquiries about how he competence get there, Veley was referred to a lady declared Nancy at the Conservancy offices in Vermont. She referred to to him that the usually people who ever got to go to Palmyra Atoll were those who done at slightest a "six-figure grant to Nature Conservancy". To Veley this was fighting talk. "I can be utterly persistent," he says, on forlorn Heligoland, with a grade of understatement. In the finish he franchised a vessel out of Hawaii with a couple of others to share the cost. "We eventually arrived at Palmyra a little days later," he recalls. "The club is a cheap wooden make up built thirty years ago and yachties had created things on the walls. I wrote a "Poem to Nancy": "Palmyra is nice/great palm trees and sand/please reduce the price/from one hundred grand…""

It seems roughly surplus to ask Veley about his prime places, though from time to time – he has a weirdly correct mental recall for names and events – he will indicate how he had a excellent time on St Kilda, or he"ll let outing that everybody loves nation and horse opera song on Pitcairn. The strangest place he"s ever been was the "conference room" in between North and South Korea, in Panmunjom, dual nations staring at each other. The scariest: Afghanistan on the primary anniversary of 9/11. He once done a list of all the misfortune things that had happened to him: the time a tree frog urinated on his front in Tortuguero, or when his dug-out capsized in the Zambezi, between hippos, or when he waited for 3 days for a vessel out of Yuletide Island, and when it arrived he went to deliver himself to the captain prior to their 1,000-mile excursion usually to find him drunk, stoned, exposed and masturbating in his cabin.

The urge to transport to Veley"s extent, a kind of courtesy necessity on a tellurian scale, has a healing diagnosis: dromomania, the mania to new experiences, the without a country neurosis. He"s a extraordinary case, though. While majority dromomaniacs are henceforth married to the road, Veley is both secure and adrift, unequivocally settled, he insists, and roughly henceforth travelling.

His rivals – scarcely all of them acquaintances – have infrequently claimed that what Veley does is not unequivocally transport at all: it"s as well systematic, there"s no abyss to it, not sufficient danger. He became accessible with John Clouse, who for majority years was the Guinness universe jot down hilt as the majority trafficked man (before Guinness motionless to desert the category, as there were as well majority opposing criteria). Clouse, a counsel from Indiana, went by 6 marriages prior to his genocide dual years ago at 82. "He tended to find a new mother and transport with her, and afterwards she would realize what was involved," Veley explains.

About three-quarters of the travellers on his website are men, though the "leaderboard" used to embody a lady who claimed all sorts of implausible journeys. She had claimed, for example, that she had been to Mount Athos, the Greek friar state in to that usually males are allowed, arguing that when she was a lady her father had cut her hair short and taken her in. Veley asked for explanation of a little of her exploits and she rught afar private herself. The list right afar shows a man declared Bill Altaffer somewhat forward of Veley, but though Veley doesn"t disbelief Altaffer"s "been all over the place" he suggests that Altaffer refuses to regularly yield the justification required, and that their paths don"t cranky as well often, and "it is, I guess," Veley says, "not value worrying as well majority about".

One of the things that his years of watchful for planes and boats has taught him is that, try as you might, you can"t force situations. "I recollect on my primary Euro outing it was late afternoon and I was in Rome and I couldn"t go in the Vatican given I was wearing shorts. I recollect thinking: this is the usually possibility I will ever have. I was wrong." The primary time he attempted to get to the North Pole on an icebreaker from Svalbard they got stranded in the ice at 86 and a entertain degrees latitude. He went behind the subsequent year and done it. "Things will come spin again" is his mantra. His usually assets, he suggests – beyond, that is, his monetary resources – are calm and consideration in negotiating the world"s officialdom. To that I would supplement a certain sure clarity of restlessness, of giving the sense of being on the proceed somewhere else, of nowhere being a last destination.

On the vessel behind to the airstrip on Dune we find ourselves in the cabin of the Heligoland packet with half a dozen German men in their sixties, who crop up to have been at the Eiergrog all day. Discovering we verbalise English they launch in to a rousing version of "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor" as the small vessel pitches opposite the bay. They come here each year, one of the some-more solemn members of the organisation explains to me as we proceed the airstrip. Have been you do so for 40 years, regularly this week end in February, regularly this place. "Nothing changes. Friends, the same. Heligoland, the same. That"s how we similar to it," he says. Charles Veley joins in with the singing, files afar the experience neatly, but I"m guessing he is additionally formulation what to do after in Hamburg, and meditative about tomorrow morning"s flight, and the one after, and the one after that. Novelty can have the own monotony, too.

Charles Veley"s tip tips

Favourite all-round destination: Lord Howe Island (370 miles easterly of Australia)

Favourite country: I love them all

Best cuisine: Thai

Worst cuisine: Turkmenistan

Favourite bar: Hemingway Hotel Ritz, Paris

Favourite airline: Singapore for long-haul; Virgin America for domestic

Best airport: Hong Kong

Secret to violence jet lag: Travel westwards

Most underrated traveller attraction: majority World Heritage Sites

Most overrated traveller attraction: South of France in August

Best beach: Anywhere on the north seaside of Kauai, Hawaii

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