A good friend as soon as stated to me, “You’ve traveled so much, I bet you don’t even know how many countries you’ve visited.” I shrugged and pretended she was proper. However I knew. I knew precisely.
As I think is the case with many different compulsive vacationers, I hold an inventory of the nations I’ve entered. I began counting in 1968, once I left the united statesfor the primary time as a Peace Corp volunteer to Kenya, and of the 193 nations with seats in the UN, I’ve visited 50. The quantity isn’t extraordinary, nevertheless it pleases me. Or a minimum of it used to. It value me many days of jet-lagged, foggy-headed, new-city wandering, and I’ve all the time insisted to myself that my travels have broadened my sense of the world. However since my errant go to to Bosnia, I’m not positive that’s true.
I maintain my listing of nations excessive on a closet shelf folded into my copy of Patricia Schultz’s fats compendium, One Thousand Locations to See earlier than You Die. (I’m at 214.) With it’s a passport that expired in 2010, a doc recording my travels to so many nations that I needed to return it to the State Division in 2007 to have further leaves hooked up. Every web page is roofed with stamps or stickers or stapled visas, and I recall my self-satisfaction every time I stood earlier than a annoyed customs officer who thumbed via web page after web page, on the lookout for a spot so as to add another rubber stamp to the array of locations already earlier than him. That iconic blue American passport doesn’t outline me, I informed myself. I’m a lot greater than an American; I’m a world traveler, a worldwide adventurer, an economy-class Odysseus. I’m a Citizen of the World.
However there’s a query I’m now asking myself: What precisely constitutes visiting a brand new nation? When can I add to the record? Do I rely my journey to Tahiti in French Polynesia? An unique vacation spot for positive, however by worldwide regulation I used to be visiting France, and since it’s situated precisely 12 time zones from Paris, the French don’t even reset their wristwatches once they arrive. And there’s additionally my obsessive visa-collecting conduct once I walked the bridge over the Zambezi River leaving Zimbabwe and getting into Zambia for no different cause than to have my passport stamped. I keep in mind a vertiginous view of Victoria Falls and an unpredictable return journey in a rusty Datsun taxi with an engine that solely got here to life when the driving force joined two wires that hung from the dashboard, however have I actually visited Zambia?
I’ve one traveler pal, an ever-contentious man, who appears perpetually dressed in cozy, long-flight sweats and footwear simply slipped off for TSA scanners. I all the time think about him with one hand greedy a carry-on spinner-bag. He as soon as requested me straight out, “Tell me, how many countries have you been to?”
I used to be shocked by his blunt curiosity. Essential as it’s to me, my listing is my secret, a personal matter, like my wage or my weight. How might a fellow Citizen of the World pose such a crude query? How might he show such a scarcity of sophistication? However I answered him with no matter my quantity was on the time.
“62,” he replied with a raised eyebrow. “Gotcha beat!”
“Wow, that’s great,” I stated with no conviction. Then, like a righteous fifth-grader confronting a bully on the playground, I challenged him. “How do you count them?” I stated. “Legal entries, right? Passport stamps.”
He appeared irritated, ignored my query and began an extended story a few impolite customs officer on a current journey to Nepal. Clearly he’d been padding his rely. He was a cheater who included each place a aircraft he’d flown had touched down.
I remembered my temporary sojourn in Reykjavik, Iceland, the place a constitution flight in the 1970s landed to refuel. I might by no means contemplate together with Iceland on my record. Clearly, I used to be superior to this crude braggart. However what about Vatican Metropolis? I’ve seen the complacent angels on the Sistine Ceiling and the Laocoön’s wrestle towards divine energy, however does a 100-acre spiritual enclave actually matter as a rustic? And Monaco. I undoubtedly noticed an exit for the principality as I cruised the autostrada between Genoa and Good, however did I cross its border? I’m unsure whether or not I ought to add it to my listing or not.
The dialog with my hoaxer-friend made me understand that I wanted some requirements. I contemplated this challenge for months and selected two necessities to have visited a rustic: First, I wanted a authorized entry and second, I needed to have a witty or adventurous story to take house to admiring pals. So Bolivia, the place a wandering flight itinerary took me south from Peru earlier than I flew again to Miami, doesn’t rely. Authorized entry, however no story. And Tanzania doesn’t rely. My oddly nationalistic Kenyan information had walked me to an invisible line in Maasai Mara Recreation Park and invited me to pee into neighboring Tanzania. I crossed into Tanzania and peed again into Kenya. So I had a narrative, however no authorized entry.
So I’ve given my listing plenty of thought, and I’ve created requirements. However not way back I took a visit to what was as soon as Yugoslavia and received misplaced in Bosnia. Since then I’ve stopped counting.
My journey began merely sufficient with a drive from Cut up to Dubrovnik, each in Croatia. My yellow Suzuki Swift rental was dwelling as much as its identify, and my recurring American nervousness a few stick-shift had pale in the soothing sunshine. I whizzed throughout an autocesta so clean and so traffic-free that U.S. interstates ought to crumble with envy. I used to be on the prime of my vacationer recreation with no fussy tour-bus co-travelers and no annoying information to direct my curiosity or redirect my impulsive sightseeing inclinations. I used to be making good time, and the prospect of Dubrovnik, an Adriatic vacationer mecca, lay earlier than me.
The route? No drawback, I assumed. My iPhone was mounted on the sprint and the imperturbable Siri, together with her mellifluous voice and her GPS certainty, assured me of the shortest, speediest route. I might simply adhere to her unobtrusive urgings and comply with the acquainted blue line that I knew led straight to Dubrovnik and the snug house I’d reserved behind the town’s historic partitions.
My temper was so euphoric that my thoughts drifted. I’m unsure whether or not it was ideas of a tasty dinner or Diana Krall’s seductive American voice from the CD participant, however I utterly missed Siri’s trustworthy reminder that my exit was approaching in two kilometers. I additionally missed her warning of the exit in 500 meters and her last exhortation to take the subsequent off-ramp. I zoomed fortunately ahead, anticipating and indulgent night downing recent Dalmatian lobster and sipping slivovitz.
After a number of moments, I questioned if maybe I’d missed my exit. By no means thoughts, Siri would reroute me.
The tires hummed on the even pavement, however now the freeway indicators acquired odd, sudden names: Čapljina and Stolac and Trebinje. What occurred to Dubrovnik? The place was Siri taking me?
I touched the “repeat direction” icon, however she didn’t reply. I tapped a second and third time, and it dawned on me that Siri’s trustworthy voice had failed me. She was gone. There have been no extra instructions, not a phrase of steerage. A second later, Siri’s ever-dependable map vanished from my display. Exits, roads and city names all evaporated, changed by a vacant grid. In accordance with my muted iPhone, I used to be driving throughout an enormous sheet of beige graph paper on a lonely blue line that directed me mysteriously ahead.
I recalled the cautious web search I made earlier than leaving residence. Sure, I had assured myself, Croatia would provide Siri’s turn-by-turn navigation. Wherever I went, she would present the best way. However then I had a darker thought: Maybe I used to be not in Croatia. How near the border had I been? I attempted to recall my psychological map of what was as soon as Yugoslavia. I knew Croatia was the previous nation’s shoreline, the world that was a haven for vacationers from throughout Europe. And simply inland, I remembered, was Bosnia. The identify made me shiver.
For the primary time ever, I didn’t know what nation I used to be in. I used to be a world traveler, a counter of nations, a Citizen of the World, and I used to be misplaced. Vacationer-friendly Croatia had vanished. I grew instantly nostalgic for what I had seen the earlier days: Roman ruins, historic cathedrals and most of all, the inviting and vibrant blue of the Adriatic.
As I drove, the terrain modified, or maybe I imagined it modified. The surroundings seemed sparse, arid. Inexperienced turned brown and crops appeared to wrestle in the warmth. Life appeared to have given up in this place, but there was a type of mournful and austere magnificence to it.
5 minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Two lanes in every course, a rocky median strip, and no solution to flip round. The blue line on the iPhone grid pointed via the barren panorama outdoors my windshield.
Lastly in the space, I noticed a grey construction spanning the freeway. I approached, and it turned a border crossing, an imposing mountain of concrete and metal designed to intimidate vacationers, smugglers and maybe invading armies. I pulled cautiously into certainly one of its gates and seemed up at a swarthy man with a gaunt, no-nonsense face and a crisp uniform who spoke a phrase he anticipated to be universally understood.
I dug by way of my pockets and handed over my blue passport. Certainly, I assumed, he’ll be impressed when he sees what number of locations I’ve visited. He’ll welcome a cosmopolitan sophisticate like me to his homeland.
“Where am I?” I requested hopefully.
He twisted his mouth and pointed at a slack flag on a pole simply forward. It seemed acquainted, however I wasn’t positive: Bosnia? Croatia? Montenegro? I made out some stars, a blue background and a yellow triangle. I used to be fairly positive the Croatian flag was principally pink and white. The man gave my passport a firmly officious stamp and handed it again. The look on his face stated he was by means of with me. Time to maneuver on. I made a remaining attempt for assist.
“Dubrovnik?” I stated.
He held up 4 fingers, all of the reply he was prepared to provide, then used the identical 4 fingers to wave me away. I stepped on the accelerator.
4 kilometers? 4 hours? The fourth exit? Who knew? The final glimmer of data from Siri had been that I used to be two hours from Dubrovnik.
I sped alongside, turning into extra satisfied that I used to be in Bosnia. What I knew of the nation was what I recalled of the warfare in the 1990s. I scoured my mind. The Yugoslavian breakup created a number of new nations, however what number of? What have been they? And why had I ignored the historical past chapter behind my Lonely Planet information? It had been over 20 years because the warfare, and all I recalled have been horror tales about Serbian Christians, Muslim Bosnians, smashed nations and a massacre that was in the information for months — perhaps years.
I remembered a Serbian basic, ”The Butcher of Bosnia,” a conflict felony answerable for the deaths of hundreds. In Croatia, the grim previous was obscured in a profitable trip paradise of quaint cities and an excellent shoreline. Not so with Bosnia. From some darkish nook of my mind got here the reminiscence of a play referred to as Blasted by an English playwright whose identify I’d forgotten. It was probably the most unsettling night I’d ever spent in the theater: two hours of characters haunted by the violence and depravity of the warfare the place Yugoslavia had been. They performed out their atrocities and nightmares: rape, blood, homicide and worse. Now I used to be the place all of it occurred.
I adopted my iPhone’s blue line throughout its beige grid, then abruptly it directed me to an exit. I had no actual selection. Past the off-ramp, the broad even freeway ended. I used to be on a two-lane street that turned narrower because the kilometers handed. The blue line swerved to match the route I noticed forward however offered no additional assist. I climbed hills and threaded by means of curve after curve. A darkish forest surrounded me then loomed above me. The sound of my tires on the tarmac rumbled erratically as my little yellow Suzuki bounced and shook on pavement that alternated between wheel-grabbing ruts and bone-jarring potholes.
As I rounded a flip, a shabby constructing with peeling brown paint appeared on the fringe of the forest. My path narrowed to a single lane and a gate swung down to dam my approach. The knot in my abdomen made me think about the worst. Was it some sort of ambush? An assault by unreconstructed troopers who hadn’t given up their warfare? A shadowy determine in a uniform that seemed official however not notably army emerged from the constructing. His tan outfit was wrinkled, however he was nicely fed with a intestine that swelled over his belt.
One other border crossing? My hypothesis appeared confirmed as I ended and the person prolonged an open palm, so I handed over my passport. He gave the doc a perfunctory look, a fast stamp and handed it again.
I sighed with aid and pointed forward. “Dubrovnik?” I requested.
“Ravno. Ravno naprijed. Jedan ili dva sata,” he stated pointing straight forward grinning with a row of tobacco-yellowed tooth.
“Okay,” I stated, “sounds good.” And I used to be on my means.
The darkish forest brightened, and I relaxed because the street widened and grew smoother. Then Siri’s comforting voice descended from heaven.
“Merge left onto Highway E65 ahead.”
I did as I used to be advised, and an excellent roadmap of Croatia materialized on the display of my iPhone. It was all there: my street, the roads that crossed it, completely happy cities and eventually the joyful info I’d longed to see:
Distance to Dubrovnik: 97 Kilometers.
Time to arrival: One hour and 34 minutes.
My coronary heart leaped. I used to be protected. I used to be again in Croatia. I had emerged unscathed from my imaginings of a war-torn wasteland and handed from worry into security, from darkness into mild. I cruised rapturously onward, my Suzuki buzzing effortlessly alongside the flawless pavement, and inside a couple of kilometers, the Adriatic gleamed to the fitting of the roadway. As soon as once more, I used to be a worldwide traveler, a stalwart World Citizen boldly (however safely) looking for journey (and dinner).
Inside a few hours, I’d bid my rental Suzuki farewell, handed via the gate in Dubrovnik’s large previous partitions and joined a frenzied crush of European and Asian vacationers. The condo I had reserved, with its broad mattress and conditioned air, was vacationer nirvana. I collapsed into an extended nap earlier than dinner.
That night I sat in a restaurant that my Michelin Information beneficial as a great guess for dinner. Earlier than me on a large dish was the Genghis Khan plate: a heap of grilled rump steak, turkey, and hen, that included sausage and minced meat with names that I couldn’t pronounce and spicy aromas that I couldn’t resist. I’d been sipping on a crisp pilsner with a reputation that intrigued me: Sarajevsko. Feels like Sarajevo, I assumed; that’s the capital of Bosnia, the place I’d had my afternoon escapade. The identify of the restaurant roused my curiosity, too, so I requested the server about it. He was a shiny, amiable younger man, in all probability 25, who appeared prepared to appeal an older diner in hopes of a great tip.
“Why is this place called Taj Mahal?” I stated.
“You know the Taj Mahal?” he replied in near-perfect English I anticipated in a vacationer city. “In Agra? In India? It’s the most beautiful building in the Muslim world, maybe the whole world.”
I remembered. Once I had stood earlier than the constructing years earlier, the daybreak mild tinted its marble partitions to a miraculous shade of rose. The rumble of the vacationer crowd and the prattle of close by guides went away, and I used to be speechless.
“Well,” my server continued, “we are Bosnian Muslims. We want our restaurant to be the best in the world, so we named it Taj Mahal.”
“You’re saying the best place to eat in Dubrovnik, Croatia, is a Bosnian Muslim restaurant?”
“Of course,” I agreed. “Now, would you say your desserts are the best in the world?” He smiled and handed me a menu.
Ready for my baklava and an espresso, I pulled out my passport and thumbed via the pages till two smudged stamps, every obliterating a presidential face on Mount Rushmore, documented that I had truly entered Bosnia and returned to Croatia. With a authorized entry and a story to inform once I obtained house, I’d met my standards for including yet one more nation to my life listing. Nation quantity 50, I assumed. Half 100. What ought to have felt like a vacationer milestone one way or the other didn’t.
My espresso arrived and I took a sip. In a number of days I’d be house. One in every of my journey rituals is to provide you with a fast reply for the inevitable query: “How was your trip?” Often the reply is straightforward. “Oh, Chile was amazing,” I’d say condescendingly, “Alpine mountains and that vast rocky desert.” Or: “Cambodia was astonishing. Angkor Wat and the unbelievable green of those jungles.” Or: “Croatia was sensational. The Adriatic and those ancient Roman ruins.” I touted each journey as superb or astonishing or sensational. However that sort of glib response was fallacious for Bosnia.
I had a narrative and two blurry stamps on my passport, however whereas I used to be there, I assumed solely of getting out. All I needed was Siri’s reassuring voice. I’d been misplaced and scared, and for no actual cause. What had I missed? I knew that horrible issues had occurred there, however I’d come and gone with out even touching the bottom. My single-sentence abstract must be one thing like, “I didn’t have any idea where I was or what I was doing.” I’d seen nothing. Perhaps, I assumed, I wanted to provide you with some new journey rituals, one thing higher than country-counting or a reductive catch-phrase.
I appeared up, noticed my server serving to diners on the subsequent desk and did some math. He needed to have been born through the Bosnian Conflict and grown up in its aftermath. What would at the moment’s drive have been then? I attempted to think about thundering tanks, rocket assaults, concussive explosions, crumbling buildings and shattered lives, however my creativeness failed me. I knew nothing about him or his house.
My thoughts drifted to the primary time I’d ever left the USA. After weeks of coaching, I traveled with a jetload of Peace Corps volunteers to our educating assignments in Kenya. Once we made a cease lengthy after midnight in Entebbe, Uganda, I acquired off the aircraft to stretch my legs and wandered away from the cluster of chattering fellow volunteers.
I stood on the tarmac in the center of an African night time, inhaled deeply, and appeared up at a wierd sky with new constellations and the moon tilted at an odd special approach. Songs of a thousand bugs thrummed from the grass past the runway. Every little thing earlier than me — the one-room air terminal, the curve of the palm timber, the nice and cozy moist air that enveloped me — was in contrast to something I’d seen earlier than. The world was out of the blue vaster than I’d recognized.
Aside from the management tower, the air terminal was a single-story picket constructing that was bordered by a neat, low hedge. At one finish, an open-air bar crammed the night time with blue-white florescence and Afro-pop jukebox rhythms. I took a seat close to a few Ugandan males huddled over beers and engaged in a mysterious dialog in an much more mysterious language. Repeatedly they eyed a close-by lady with an immense purse and a purple miniskirt marking her as the primary prostitute I’d ever seen. I used to be a nervous child from a California suburb sipping a Tusker lager and savoring his first moments on the continent. Within the months forward, Africa would open me to new landscapes, new languages, new cultures and new methods of dwelling. It was unique and frighteningly thrilling, however I embraced it. In contrast to my journey to Bosnia, the very last thing I needed to do was depart.
Many years later, sitting in this fancy Dubrovnik restaurant, I understood that each one my travels had been failed makes an attempt to recapture that single exhilarating second on the airport in Entebbe. Once I traveled now, the marvel was gone, changed by zippy rental automobiles, air-conditioned rooms, guidebook-recommended eating places and Siri, who prescribed my each transfer. Plus, in fact, there was the senseless arithmetic of country-counting.
When my server introduced my baklava, I appeared down on the syrupy confection, however I knew its straightforward sweetness wouldn’t fulfill me. I’d gotten it fallacious. My travels had grow to be about visas in a passport. The resorts and guidebooks had obscured the delights of assembly new individuals, seeing new landscapes, gaping at new architectures and studying unique histories. How was I totally different from my good friend who padded his country-count to impress others? I felt no totally different in any respect, and I used to be humbled.
It’s time to lose monitor of what number of nations I’ve been to, I assumed. As an alternative, I’ll attempt to collect moments just like the one in the Entebbe airport bar. I’ll keep away from my petulant tales about lodge rats in Kathmandu or filthy café bogs in New Delhi. Now I’ll attempt to come residence with tales that I’ll keep in mind as a result of I’ve discovered one thing, not as a result of they impress buddies — reminiscences of individuals and locations that amaze or bewilder or perhaps scare me a bit of. I’ll attempt to decelerate, cease obsessing about the place I’ve been and take note of the place I’m.
I seemed up at my younger server and determined to ask him the place he went for an after-work drink. I used to be on the lookout for a spot, I’d say, for some dialog with odd Croatians. Perhaps he might advocate one thing.
By Paul C. Dalmas
Paul C. Dalmas is a contract author who has made his dwelling as boilermaker’s helper, a fry prepare dinner, and a highschool English instructor. His work has been broadcast on KQED-FM and revealed in Newsweek, The San Francisco Chronicle and California Journal. He lives in Berkeley, California.