Globe-Trotter of the month Graham Hughes of Jinja Island, Panama!

By Nicole Brewer

For the month of March we bring to you our globe-trotter of the month, Graham Hughes of Jinja Island, Panama. That’s right, the same globetrotter that trotted to every country via means of transport other than air! Graham is a newer member of the iluv2globetrot travel community and many globetrotters have been amazed by history of The Odyssey Expedition he took.

It was with great pleasure for me to interview such an inspiring traveler! We had to switch up the format just a tad because you can’t ask the man that has traveled to 201 countries how many countries have you traveled to…we already know the answer per various interviews like this one from the Daily Mail. Check out the below interview to see what life has been like post traveling the Entire globe for Graham and to be inspired to trot the globe yourself!

What made you set off on your epic globetrotting trip across the world?

Before I went on this trip I had already been to around 70 countries. I’m a backpacker and I love it. It’s a lot of fun. Then I realized no one had been to every country in the world without flying. I thought that would be an incredible challenge but something that I could possibly do. Some people may not have thought it could be done but “Haha…I showed them!” Then it was a case of, I made a TV show with Lonely Planet about my travels. I also raised money for the charity WaterAid and I wanted to show that the world isn’t this big scary place where awful things happen. […]

The way that we see the world is very slanted by the media. I’m not criticizing the media because it does have a job I suppose to inform about the world, but it can give us a distorted picture only telling us a bit of the story. We don’t typically hear when something particularly bad happens in Oman today. I think it can generate a lot of fear and distrust […]. But a final thing honestly, I just thought it’d be a lot of fun and it was! I met nice locals and expats from all over the world. It had to be one of the most enjoyable Guinness World Record book events from across the world. Other then probably sex ha.

Graham with family, friends and his Guinness World Record book certificates!
Graham with family, friends and his Guinness World Record book certificates!

Were your expectations met based on prior perceptions you may have had about a country you were going to visit. Would you say that you were underwhelmed or overwhelmed by the experience?

I don’t know if I’d say I was overwhelmed by the experience, it was the unexpected that was just so phenomenal. The way that people in improvised countries such as Guyana and Belize were taking me in their homes, also in West Africa and Nepal. People fell over themselves to help me out. I didn’t get robbed, I didn’t get mugged, I didn’t get into a fight, I didn’t even get ill in 4 years! Like folks in Australia, would tell me that Papua New Guinea is the most dangerous place in the world.

Then I went there and some things went on, but I ended up staying with 2 separate tribes in 2 different parts of the country where I was the only foreigner there and I was treated like an honored guest. I was expected to find very stiff, very conservative people like in Saudi Arabia, but it was a country where the people were so hospitable. Just wonderful people, very intelligent, well spoken and well dressed. It was just the opposite of what I would’ve expected. I was just overwhelmed by the shear hospitality, even in Iran. It just restored my faith in humanity, especially in the Middle East. […]

 Who had the best or worst food in your opinion?

In my opinion, Indonesia and I think they have both. In Indonesia they have these little cafes, where your food sits in the window. So you go in and say you’d like some rice or something like that and they scoop out you know not even that hot rice, maybe medium heat rice that they have in a big steamer. They throw that on your plate and then they put this sort of cold sauce with meat that was in the window with the flies on it. I mean, it was just horrible I guess the rice was supposed to heat the meat up. Yeah, I found it quite difficult because it was rice with everything, rice for breakfast, rice for lunch and dinner.

At that point, you just crave a potato or pasta, or something else. However weirdly enough the last time I was there in Indonesia I had the Best meal. I was at this little port, almost like a fishing village. They go and catch the local fish and then go off to the market and some of it gets sold at this little pop up restaurants along the way. They have a little gas cooker and skillet and big rice cookers. They then take the fish out of the cooler box. So I tried this squid with sweet and sour and was delicious as hell.

You know typically when you have squid or calamari from the restaurant it’s chewy as ever. But this, it was so fresh that it just melted in your mouth. I ate some great food around the world and some terrible food too. One thing that sticks out in my mind, in the Philippines it was a street food the balut, which is hard boiled duck eggs which was pretty bad. I remember I was in Uzbekistan and some guys invited me to their place for dinner, I was a bit concerned. There the sheep’s head is a bit of a delicacy and they enjoy the eyeballs which is said to be the most tasty part. Usually I’m like hey, I’d give a go…but umm no freaking way man lol.

Upon return, did you do a lot of self reflection and if so, how did this experience enrich you or made you a better person in your opinion?

It made me more aware of the world, of how it is and how works. It made me feel more connected to the world than ever before. So, if something happens in say Salalah in the news, I can visualize it. You know I met the locals, I hung out with the locals and the expats. So I feel like Salalah or Dubai, Sohar, I spent 6 weeks in that area so I feel closer to them now than ever before. When something happened on the news, it kind of felt a little bit abstract. Once you visit these places, you just generate a little more empathy. You think, oh God I was there, that could’ve happened to someone I know or met. I think in terms of my faith in humanity, it definitely restored my faith in humanity.

My knowledge about the world has grown leaps and bounds. I have a degree in History and Politics from the Manchester University, I learned more about history and politics during my travels then I did in a few years of University. I felt it was rude to enter a country without knowing a little bit about it, so I did some research and reading about the history, who’s in charge and who the old colonial powers were. I remember it as a journey. […] As for hitting home and self-reflection, I hit the ground hard once I got home. I didn’t hit the bottle, I hit the ground though lol. A lot of new people wanted to be my friend. They didn’t know me, they saw me as a character rather than a real person. You’ve got to build a bit of a thick skin, especially on the internet these days. For example, there is a comment on one of youtube videos and the commenter basically accused me of being a rapist, going around the world raping people and I’m just like are you f*** kidding me?!?!

After dealing with that sort of thing I like to think I’ve gotten a thicker skin. I’m actually happy that I haven’t really been subjected to cyber bullying really. Some people have been driven to suicide really. I become a bit more aware about stuff like that. It was just great to be home and hang out with my friends and family and actually have that 1 to 1 with them which I sort of missed traveling. […] I think though when I consider reflection, it really sort of solidifies the love that I have for my home down in England, it’s a great little city. I found Scousers (or nickname for locals), I found them all over the world in travels. I would hear that accent and be like oh you’re from Liverpool. That was great, I felt like I was part of a tribe. I’ve been in Panama now for 9 months and I’m kind of aching to go back in a few weeks.

What were the most difficult or rewarding modes of transportation for you?

Well I hitched a ride on a few cruise ships which was pretty impressive. One of them was a 5 star cruise ship and I was given one of the best state rooms with champagne and I was like oh my God I’m a VIP lol. […] One form of transportation that I really enjoyed was the cargo ship. You know the big container ships because you know you just left civilization in a way that you don’t do nowadays. You couldn’t get phone signals or the internet. So being able to disconnect, it gave me time to write and keep up with my blog. Also, I learned about the sea which I found to be incredible. I learned about the mechanics of the ship, how it all worked and at one point they let turn the engines off which was very satisfying. I was in the open oceans and it was just like oh my God. I don’t have a license to herald an hundred foot yacht!

All of that was very satisfying. I think some of the most rewarding travels for any traveler would have to be by train however. Some of those routes are incredible. I traveled by train in Cambodia and in India. You know it’s just great, you can hang out the door and you always get taken in by families. One of the great things about India is the majority of the people speak English {the sounds of a rooster is crowing in the background lol}.I took the skytrain down to Tibet and Beijing. […] The actual train goes 4,000 meters above sea level down to Beijing. It’s just awesome.

If you had to choose one group of people, who fascinated you the most?

I’d have to say the people of Papua New Guinea. I actually couchsurfed with the grandson of Nick McEvoy, who was an Australian gold prospector from the mid-30s who went out into the highlands of Papua New Guinea that everyone assumed was uninhibited. Except the people in the coastal area thought they were inhibited, you know traders and people taking their boats out to the Solomon islands and Micronesia, they knew about that side of the world before the Europeans came over. Fast forward to 100 years and travels are up in the highlands, he has a cameraman and rifle. A civilization of a million people! In the 1930s, they were still using stone axes. So the grandson of this guy still lives in Papua New Guinea, it’s remarkable. I sat with the heads and elders of several tribes and we chatted.

It was just phenomenal, they made me feel like an honored guest and I got to see the way people lived in these times. In the daytime, the men went fishing, some of them went hunting. The women would go and collect crabs from the mangrove area. That was the work for the day, getting their food. Then they would come home and have a big feast. Then I went back down to the city of Lae where all the people would come down to do a big song and dance. The tribe would come out and do their particular tribe song and then in the end they would all come together as Papua New Guineans and do a song together. It was just a life changing experience.

Graham in Papua New Guinea.
Graham in Papua New Guinea.

There are over 800 living languages in Papua New Guinea and these are not dialects of the same language, but independent languages. One day, when I get a big producing company to back me up on this, I want to go back to Papua New Guinea with a team of filmmakers and go out and get these languages on tape. These languages are dying out. So what I want to do is sit down with the elders and then let them tell stories in their local languages. I’ll have it translated and put online. So like people studying anthropology and things like that can access it. So these languages don’t die out. They’re not written down! If I can get that project off the ground in the next few years I’d be a very happy man.

That place is just so fantastic in many ways. I think the only place that comes close to having that many languages is New York City lol. […] The tribal life is still very strong there but you also have this mix with modern technology which is very interesting to see. You know everyone has a mobile phone but I think that’s a good thing because maybe less people will leave the villages. At the moment it’s sort of like a brain drain where people with talent are leaving. Hopefully with telecommunications growing, people will stay there and continue to live their normal, traditional lives but are able to have that contact with the outside world.

One honorable mention would be Fiji. I spent Christmas in Fiji with a Fijian family and that was phenomenal. In the morning they would make food with coconut in a lovo. That was amazing. They’d put these hot rocks in the ground and build a fire. Then they cover with leafs and leave for hours and it sort of steams inside. The leafs would get wet and you take it apart and it’s just delicious and have a big buffet. Then in the afternoon you would watch Pixar movies. I just thought it was the perfect Christmas, to have a mix of the traditional and the modern. I think if you get that balance right, that’s the secret to happiness. The more we know about the world, the better it becomes. […]

Did you ever have times when you just felt lonely and if so how did you deal with it?

Not really in my travels, but I lost my sister during my time in Papua New Guinea at Christmas. I promised my girlfriend that I would be back in Australia for Christmas and once I got to the island I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I was there on Christmas Eve in Papua New Guinea. I thought well I am allowed to fly on the journey, as long as I fly back to where I left off and continue on.

I said I’d go to Australia for 2 weeks where my girlfriend lives.  About a week into the New Year, I went back to Papua New Guinea and thought to myself, you should be home. My sister was diagnosed with cancer and it was terminal.  At this point I thought to myself, I don’t want to continue my journey if it gets more serious.  So she has more test and at the beginning of February it was determined that it was terminal and that she wasn’t going to beat it. It was a very aggressive cancer and spread very quickly. So I flew back to the UK and I was there for the last few weeks of my sisters’ life.  I then flew back to Australia and after she died that’s when I felt very alone.

Ironically I wasn’t alone. I was with people that I knew in Australia. It was just the lowest point of the journey and the point where I really questioned whether or not to go on with it or stay the course and get back up on the horse.  I just thought, could someone else take the reins on this. Dealing with the traveling and logistics, it was just a bit much for me. I ended up spending quite a few months in Australia, just getting my head straight. Then my visa ended up running out so I had to leave lol. In a way that sort of forced me to go back to Papua New Guinea and continue my journey.

At that point I had been to 184 countries around the world. I got from Uruguay all the way up to North America. Every country in Africa and Asia. I only had 17 countries left to visit, but I knew they would take a long time to get to. So I had that sort of mountain still to climb. I hit sort of like a roadblock. I think that was the time that I felt most alone. That’s no disservice to my girlfriend or anything like that, but it’s just sort of hard to go on. Then you just think, I’ve been traveling for the last 2 years, I could’ve spent that time with my sister that I can’t get back now. But you know, when I went back and saw her, she was at the hospice. It wasn’t like I just sat there looking morbid, I had cool stories to tell her. I actually felt like I kept her spirits up towards the end. I’m glad I was in a position to be able to do that.

It’s difficult when you’re away and people get married and such. It’s even more difficult when people die. My Godfather passed away yesterday and my middle Hughes name is named after him. I had been given a phone call from his daughter a few weeks ago that he had been given 3-6 months to live and I knew I was going back to the UK next month. But he just deteriorated really quickly and he passed away yesterday. So there again, I’m out here on my own little island thinking what the hell am I doing here. My family needs me and at the moment I’m not able to be there. I find it very difficult. I think that’s one of the downsides of traveling.  Unless you’re one of the last of the international globetrotting playboys that can afford to get on a jet and just go wherever you need to go. I always do the things the poor way, I mean the hard way because I don’t have the money.  I’m not rich. One of the things I wanted to show was you don’t have to be rich to travel. […]

I’m just curious after this amazing globetrotting experience, what’s next you? Do you have any final words of wisdom?

I’m going to steal someone else’s quote for my words of wisdom. What’s next is I’m starting a new adventure next year in 2016. I’m teaming up with another Guinness World Record holder from Canada. It’s going to be a very exciting around the world adventure. It’s going to be difficult and take a lot of hard work. Hopefully it’ll take a year…I thought this expedition would take a year and that took a lot longer. I’m not hanging up my traveler hat just yet. Now I won this island that I’m now on in Panama and I’m hoping in the next year to turn this place into an eco-retreat for backpackers. I think that’d be really cool, especially for people on a backpackers budget to be able to afford and come stay on a private island. Usually that’d be something that would be out of their means.  I’m thinking more like a couchsurfers type deal where people stay for free. They would have to pay their way over to the island but once they’re here, there are loads of things to do. So really to open it up to the world is something I’m going to be concentrating on in the year.

As far as words of wisdom are concerned, this is a quote and I love it. It goes “nobody knows what’s waiting at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”

Thank you Graham Hughes for taking the time to inspire us all. What’s your next adventure globetrotters? Feel free to leave a comment below.  Happy globetrotting!!

  1. Nadeen says

    Bravo! Just unbelievable!! What amazing accomplishments! I love traveling by cruise ships and trains so would love to see more countries that way. And he won an island in Panama! Yes please!

  2. Holly says

    Wow, great interview. Very inspiring. I love his idea to film the languages to preserve them. It was really cool that he even traveled by cargo. I applaud him,even continuing when people passed away and such. I laughed at all the rice in Indonesia, the flies and food in the window didn’t sound too awesome.

  3. Patrice M Foster says

    Globe-trotter of the month: Interesting article I felt his pain sister loss & Godfather and Graham decision to continue. In New Guinea old world meet new world welcome cell phones technology have come far. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kim says

    My husband had a dream last week about my grandma who requested that we visited Panama. I may have to go ahead and do that. Thanks for the profile on the country!

  5. LaShawn says

    Great interview. I love how inspiring and positive he was about his experience. LOL at the all the rice dishes! I’m not that adventurous so i love reading posts like this about people who are!

  6. Carys says

    Legend! I really enjoyed this interview & hope I’ll make it to Jinja Island some day.

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