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World traveller visits Skibbereen

Friday, 25th October, 2013 4:30pm
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World traveller visits Skibbereen

?Canadian Mike Spencer Bown pictured outside the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen on Tuesday morning where he relaxed before completing the final part of his epic, adventure-filled round the world journey.

World traveller visits Skibbereen

?Canadian Mike Spencer Bown pictured outside the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen on Tuesday morning where he relaxed before completing the final part of his epic, adventure-filled round the world journey.

BY JACKIE KEOGH

IT IS not every Tuesday morning that you get to start a day’s work with a fabulous conversation about different states of being with a real live hillbilly, adventurer, world traveller, humourist and philosopher.

Mike Spencer Bown was staying at the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen this week after Barry Looney, son of the hotel owners Tim and Marian, invited him to come and visit West Cork after hearing him interviewed on Ray D’Arcy’s show about his travels to every country in the world over the last 23 years.

Travelling to every country in the world is a truly phenomenal feat but one of the things that has peaked the interest of the media is that this very wise man chose to end his epic journey in Ireland.

‘There are so many countries, such as Libya and Algeria, that are difficult to get into and I knew that if I wasn’t careful it would be one of those countries that I would end up with. I thought I better save a normal country, one that would be good to celebrate in, so I have been cultivating Ireland for a couple of decades,’ said Mike.

A couple of decades is no exaggeration: For 23 years, this man has been in a state of perpetual motion and, despite really enjoying his West Cork sojourn, he is conscious of the fact that he is now under a bit of pressure to get back to his native Canada because there are TV stations and magazines all clamouring to interview him.

So much of what Mike has to say is interesting but there are two underlying themes to almost every anecdote, every tale of derring-do: people and place.

Speaking as a self-confessed hillbilly from the Canadian province of British Columbia, Mike spoke about his untrammelled childhood in a remote and often extreme landscape. Once, as a kid, he recalls clinging to a tree and finding himself ‘flapping like a flag in a hurricane.’

Mike has a delicious turn of phrase: for example he doesn’t ‘do’ time. He said he arrived in Ireland ‘about’ two weeks ago. He told The Southern Star: ‘I always assign a low priority to worrying about what time it is, what day it is, and what season it is.’

Everything that this 44-year old adventurer owns is carried on his back: his backpack contains some old clothes, a proper mosquito net, and the few books and magazines that he has picked up along the way and will discard just as easily.

For the interview he is wearing his ‘visa’ shirt: it’s the rather smart blue and white check shirt he wears when he goes into the different embassies looking for his next visa, and a pair of black river-rafting trousers that are – no word of a lie – about a quarter of a century old and cost around €15.

Although few in number, the books in his bag are important too. Mike said that reading travel books – the likes of Richard Francis Burton and Henry Morton Stanley – provided him with the initial inspiration to travel but he said that if he was to pin down his intention to travel the whole world to a single moment, it came to him when he was sitting on the side of a mountain in British Columbia.

‘I was looking out over a valley and was mesmerised by its blue haze and was thinking how strange and beautiful it looked. I thought I would like to go and see all the natural environments and how people lived in them because there are such big differences, even across Canada.’

Central America was, at the beginning, Mike’s first real challenge. But before he gets into a brief synopsis of the continents he first answers the question ‘why?’ Mike said: ‘I have always done exactly what I wanted to do.’ It was the perfect answer.

He expands a little, saying: ‘Of course, it is a lot easier if you don’t really care about money. I didn’t mind sleeping in a three-cent hotel in Nicaragua after the war, or paying a dollar to stay in a posh hotel in the same country.’

Mike said you can ‘do’ South America in about two years because there are not too many countries and it is easy with the borders, but Africa takes about three and a half years because there are a lot more countries – 54 to be precise – and generally there are greater difficulties getting through.

Australia was a six-month trip and he spent one month in the Antarctic. Europe took three years. Mike said: ‘It was easy with the borders but, my, there was so much to see!’

The ‘loner’ question arises and Mike comes up with another perfect answer: ‘You never meet more people than when you are alone.’

On some of his trips he said he travelled in groups of eight; sometimes it was with one other; and sometimes it was on his own. ‘It’s all good,’ he said.

So the whole world? It’s another question. Or, rather, it is the same question again, put in a different way. Mike said: ‘I had the idea for a long time but it wavered in strength. There was a time when I thought it was impossible but as I carried on it became more and more plausible.’

Then up come the crass subject of money: it is another question. Years ago, Mike hit on the idea of getting Western-stylised products made in Asia and shipping them by the container load to myriad markets.

‘For a young guy I did make a lot of money... At the time, you could have considered it as being a small fortune, especially for someone who had just finished being a teenager.’

Mike is saving the best bit for last. He said he still has €15,000 and will, after the media fuss in Canada has died down, find ‘somewhere cheap and warm and write that book.’ It will, surely, be a bestseller.

In his time, Mike has studied lots of things: English literature, astronomy, quantum physics, even Egyptology, but he said he dropped out a lot. That’s some game plan for a dropout!

After visiting Dublin, Westport, Galway, Cork – and West Cork in more detail thanks to the kindness and hospitality provided by Barry Looney and his family – Mike is preparing for the bend for home.

Friends? It’s a final question. He said: ‘It used to be that friends used to have a half-life, but the advent of email, especially Facebook, means you can maintain them forever.’

The notebook is closed and then a conversation – literally about states of being – crops up. It starts with Mike referencing the movie Cast Away starring Tom Hanks.

Mike has been to that island in Fiji where the movie was made and, rather hilariously, he said: ‘You know there is another island right next to it. He could have just swam off.’

On a much more serious note, Mike starts to tell a story, one that involves him spending 86 days in the wild, and of that particular experience, he said: ‘You find that you really meld with nature.’

‘After ten days,’ he said, ‘there are subtle changes; but after 24 you lose a habit you didn’t know you had; after 35 days your waking and sleeping becomes very similar and it is like entering into Aboriginal “dream time”; and after 45 days you get extraordinary abilities because you are at one with nature.’

This limitless state, he said, ‘offers real connectivity – a sense of atonement, the feeling of being at one with everything around you.’ And, as for what happens after the 65th day, he said: ‘I have never met anyone who can maintain a self beyond 65 days. You only need a self if there is an other.’

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