How a 'ladyboy' rescued this Brit adventurer from PH rebels

by Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Jan 31 2013 01:33 PM | Updated as of Feb 01 2013 03:10 AM

Brit adventurer Graham Hughes in Papua New Guinea
LONDON - A British filmmaker has completed his mission to visit every known nation in the world after four years of travelling without flying, including the Philippines where he briefly encountered separatist rebels in Zamboanga.

Adventurer Graham Hughes, from Liverpool, England, has spent the last four years visiting 201 countries around the world, including every member state of the United Nations, as well as Taiwan, Palestine, Western Sahara, South Sudan, Kosovo and Vatican City.

The 33-year-old completed his journey on 31 January 2013, after returning to London on a bus from a rescheduled visit to Russia, officially the last country on his list, where he was said to be “interrogated [by local officials] for 20 minutes.”

He wrote on Twitter: “Goodbye Russia! You know I never feel I’ve really left somewhere until I get escorted out of the country by the military.”

A week earlier, the 33-year-old attended The Telegraph Adventure Travel Show at Olympia Conference Center in London, where he talked about his experiences in front of a strong crowd of travel enthusiasts.

Speaking to ABS-CBN News, he said: “I traveled to every single place in the world, on my own, on a shoestring, staying with local people everywhere I went. I wasn't mugged, I wasn't beaten up, I wasn't robbed. I didn't even get ill. So if I can do it, anyone can.”

He added: “It's really reaffirmed my faith in humanity. It's given me this amazing experience that no one else in the world had, and it's been an education. There are so much stuff that I've learnt by way of politics, history, religion, culture, food, everything. It's been amazing.”

From the old nations of Europe to the islands of the Pacific, Hughes visited every known country in the world travelling on land and on sea, using only public transportation alongside cargo ships and local modes of transport.

“The most difficult part was visas and getting to islands, because I was over-landing it. I wasn't flying to get from one country to another. To go from one country to another across oceans and there's no ferry service, it's very difficult. You have to negotiate with cargo companies or fishermen, or whoever can take you over on a boat,” he explained.

Philippine experience

In 2010, Hughes found himself on a boat to southern Philippines, visiting the Mindanao region through Zamboanga, Davao and General Santos City.

“Philippines is one of my favorite countries in the world. The people make it so welcoming. It's quite funny because up to that point, nearly every cargo ship I've been on, the crew and officers have been from the Philippines, so I had lots of Filipino friends already, which is fantastic,” he said.

He also added: “I went to General Santos. I went to Manny Pacquiao's mum's house and got a photo outside. It's really a lovely place to visit, and it's the people that make it.”

While in Zamboanga, Hughes also befriended a group of friendly locals including a transgender called Jen, who helped him escape from a brief encounter with local separatists.

“I was chatting to some guys who are Sulu separatists and wanted the Sulu islands to be separate [from the Philippines]. They have documents to give to the UN with why they should be a separate nation, and it was one of those things where I felt a bit awkward,” he recalled.

“Luckily enough, a girl came over and said "Do you want to come and have a beer with us?" and she took me into another room and we had San Miguel. I had a brilliant time. And then I found out she was a ladyboy, so now I can say I was rescued by a ladyboy called Jen.”

The adventure wasn’t always fun and games. Hughes also visited some areas that were potentially dangerous or unstable, from Afghanistan to North Korea.

“It's just a case of taking sensible precautions if you're in certain places, and avoiding areas. For instance, when I was in Iraq, I went to the northern part in the Kurdish region where it was safe. There has been no kidnappings or attacks up there. It's a fairly normal country,” he said.

Hughes was also arrested twice: first in Cape Verde, and then in Congo a few months later. Allegedly suspected of espionage, he was kept in jail for several days each time under the most basic of conditions. He was released without charge on both occasions due to lack of evidence.

Yet, despite these setbacks, the intrepid British traveler remains optimistic.

“I want to say to not judge the world, and countries of the world, by the actions of their leaders and their governments and things like this. Most people on this planet are good people, just trying to get on with their lives, and they don't mean you any harm,” he urged.

Hughes visited 201 countries between 2009 and 2013, travelling alone overland and on sea with a small backpack of essentials and a shoetring budget estimated at £27,000 for the entire trip.

On his mission, he said: “I think if I could do anything in my life, my one life thing is I encourage people to go travelling, and I think that is a life worth living. Because the more people travel, the more people see the world it opens their minds and makes people less prejudice, less racist. It makes people more interested in the world and everyone in it. And less selfish as well. So yeah, get people travelling. Go out there and see this wonderful planet of ours.”

Dubbed as The Odyssey Expedition, Hughes’ adventure was featured in a television series on National Geographic. He also wrote a popular blog, which will form the basis of his new book, “Man of the World,” released later this year.

Hughes was also raising funds and awareness for Water Aid, a UK-based global charity helping provide clean drinking water and effective water systems to developing countries around the world.