The 211 country honeymoon
First published 29th November, 2010
Kazuto and Azusa Matsumoto began their honeymoon on May 11, 2007. When I happen to meet them in the cozy common room at the Betel Box Backpackers Hostel in Singapore, it's November 27, 2010. In between, they've travelled to 211 countries together. And for the record: they still appear to be on excellent speaking terms.
Kazuto, a writer who earns some income from his trade on the road, explains over rice crackers and beers in frosted glasses that he had already travelled to every single country in the world when the pair married.
"So when she married me, I thought she should do the same thing!" he quips, adding more seriously: "She asked me to do it again, so we started."
Azusa chimes in: "It's a honeymoon! A honeymoon should be special!"
The first question I imagine many backpackers might want to ask them is how they have financially managed such a massive undertaking, aside from Kazuto's writing income.
"I worked as a school teacher — just before starting I had worked for 12 years," she says, adding that she had saved for the trip. Now she earns extra money on the road during examination periods by marking high school papers by distance.
They stick to a daily budget, which changes depending on where they are: among the more expensive places have been the Carribean and Cocos Islands — the latter of which cost them at least US$100 a day alone for a hotel room.
And how do they research a country ahead of time?
"I always have a Lonely Planet that I check," says Azusa, which Kazuto seems to think is hilarious — when you've been around the world pretty much twice, you're allowed to maybe act a little like a travel snob to someone who's only been around pretty much once!
Kazuto concedes that they do check guidebooks and websites, and anything else they can get their hands on. "But even so, for many places there is no information," he says, adding that if you rely on research alone you'll think you can't go to some places at all. "So guidebooks — you can't trust them fully."
The research question pops up again when I ask Kazuto for his top tip for travellers.
"If someone wants to travel to any place, just go! Experience something!"
Kazuto says he's been to every country (not Antarctica, as it has no citizens so isn't on his list), while Azusa is on her way to crossing off India, Bhutan and Nepal. She hasn't been able to get visas to Algeria or Saudia Arabia while on the road, so hopes to eventually get to those on a separate trip after she gets back home. Visas to those countries are usually possible to get back in one's home country, she says.
"Always I seek new worlds," she says. "Because to know a culture, to know about people, it's my education."
Has the trip been difficult for their relationship? Do they fight?
"Yes, we fight!" Azusa says, as Kazuto shakes his head.
"Women's answer, men's answer!" she adds, with another laugh.
Their favourite countries? "Congo," says Kazuto, without hesitation. Why? "I can't say so shortly. That is another world. If there were two worlds, one would be the Earth, and Congo would be the other. It's completely different from other countries." He says he means this in every way, but particularly praises the people, whom Azusa adds are extremely hospitable.
Her favourite place in the world however is an area straddling Ethiopia and the Sudan. "Can you imagine the Masai people of Kenya? There are more beautiful people there in the southern part of Ethiopia and the southeastern part of Sudan. They have no clothes, but all these traditional accessories... They are very beautiful," she says.
Their least favourite countries? Kazuto disliked Equatorial Guinea for its corruption; Azusa has a shopping list of reasons ready as to why she didn't like the British Virgin Islands: no transportation, expensive taxis, nothing to do, nothing to see, and nothing much at the supermarkets to eat. Kazuto thinks this is pretty funny, laughing another insider's kind of laugh, and I suspect there is another story to explain why this country is smack bang at the bottom of her list. But I've elbowed someone else out of the way to speak to them on the run ahead of my own flight out of Singapore, so I need to wrap.
That someone is an unassuming Singaporean hanging around the lounge. Later he gives me his card by introduction of the guesthouse manager, who describes him as "Singapore's most well-travelled person". I later look him up: Tan Wee Cheng has been to 196 countries and is the author of Hot Spots and Dodgy Places: Travels through North Korea, Sudan and Distant Lands, published in June, 2010.
Looks like I've found our next interview subject.
Related readingHow to manage your money in Asia
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