Lithua­nian glo­be­trot­ter: Baltics need to ex­ert more self-pro­mot­ing ef­forts

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

“With 170 coun­tries un­der his belt, Danas Panke­vi­cius, is be­lieved to be the most-trav­elled Lithua­nian in the world. It took him 18 en­tire years of glo­be­trot­ting to claim the name. With a thought that time has come to put the knap­sack on the peg cross­ing his mind more of­ten, he, how­ever, may be­come one of the first ever to or­gan­ise trips to reclu­sive North Korea…”

With 170 coun­tries un­der his belt, Danas Panke­vi­cius, is be­lieved to be the most-trav­elled Lithua­nian in the world. It took him 18 en­tire years of glo­be­trot­ting to claim the name. With a thought that time has come to put the knap­sack on the peg cross­ing his mind more of­ten, he, how­ever, may now be­come one of the first ever to or­gan­ise trips to reclu­sive North Korea. “The coun­try has changed tremen­dously since my first visit to it in 2011. In 2016, I saw a pretty, new Py­ongyang, the cap­i­tal city,” he told The Baltic Times.

Where does your huge drive for see­ing the world come from?

End­less cu­rios­ity drives me. I want to see, feel, ex­pe­ri­ence every­thing my­self. In­for­ma­tion from books or televi­sion was no longer enough to sat­isfy my cu­rios­ity.

With over 170 coun­tries un­der your belt, you’re dubbed by some ra­dio hosts as the most trav­elled Lithua­nian. Do you think you re­ally live up to the ti­tle?

There’s a great chance that I do. I haven’t heard of any­one else who vis­ited this many coun­tries. In 2016, I set the record in Lithua­nia and was of­fi­cially recog­nised as a Lithua­nian who has vis­ited the high­est num­ber of coun­tries. If we in­cluded such re­gions as Antarc­tica, French Guiana or West­ern Sa­hara, there would be more than 170 of them in to­tal. It wasn’t easy to bring to­gether doc­u­ments ev­i­denc­ing my trav­els, be­cause I’ve never col­lected them. This rather high num­ber of 170 is a re­sult of the past 18 years’ ex­ten­sive trav­el­ling. And I spent some time in each coun­try vis­it­ing the most in­ter­est­ing places.

How does it feel to be called that way?

I don’t give much sig­nif­i­cance to this. I al­ways meet trav­ellers from all over the world and some of them have seen way more than me. I’ve met some very young peo­ple from wealthy back­grounds whose goal is to visit all the coun­tries. They travel around the world very quickly, spend­ing only a few days in each coun­try. I don’t have such a goal. I wouldn’t go back to the same coun­tries oth­er­wise. My goal is to ac­tu­ally get to know a coun­try I am vis­it­ing, rather than keep the list grow­ing. I’ve vis­ited many coun­tries more than once.

How did you get in­ter­ested in trav­el­ling? Where was your first trip to?

In my child­hood, I used to love watch­ing TV shows and read­ing books about trav­el­ling. This was how I started dream­ing about trav­el­ling. I went on my first trip when I was lit­tle. It was a car trip to St. Peters­burg with my fa­ther. I still cher­ish some mem­o­ries of that trip. One par­tic­u­lar mem­ory stuck in my head: it was when I was in two coun­tries at the same time – one foot on Lithua­nian soil and the other on Lat­vian soil at the bor­der.

I’d say I caught a travel bug af­ter my first long-haul trip to Sin­ga­pore. I loved it so much that I re­turned home by land in­stead of fly­ing. I ex­pe­ri­enced a lot dur­ing that trip. It was much more dif­fi­cult to travel back then. There were no travel guides in Lithua­nia and I didn’t know any trav­ellers who could help me or give some ad­vice. There were no trav­eller fo­rums and smart­phones back in those days. Some lo­ca­tions had no In­ter­net con­nec­tion. In some, for ex­am­ple China, it was banned. It was im­pos­si­ble to buy plane tick­ets or book a room on­line, or use the In­ter­net for au­to­mated trans­la­tion. Trav­el­ling is pretty easy now; it takes sec­onds to find the re­quired in­for­ma­tion.

Did you dream of be­com­ing a Robin­son Cru­soe in your child­hood?

There was noth­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary about it. As far as I can re­mem­ber, I had to play the pi­ano in­stead of play­ing foot­ball with my friends out­side. I didn’t like it much back then, but now I’m glad that I learned to play it. I re­cently bought a pi­ano though and re­mem­bered what I’d learned years back, and I en­joy play­ing it some­times.

Read­ing was some­thing I loved to do as a kid. I used to bring lots of books from the school li­brary and read all the time. My mother used to ask me not to read too much, so I had to hide. Some­times, I would read at night hid­ing un­der the blan­ket with a small lamp at­tached to a bat­tery. I used to read books about trav­ellers as well, but I never thought I would be­come one my­self.

Did you ever have time for study­ing? What are you by pro­fes­sion?

Of course, ed­u­ca­tion is very im­por­tant. I haven’t traded study­ing for trav­el­ling. I grad­u­ated from Vil­nius Uni­ver­sity. I have a Mas­ter’s De­gree in in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and used to work ac­cord­ing to my pro­fes­sion.

How much of the trav­el­ling have you turned into money-mak­ing, I mean fil­ing sto­ries for travel mags or do­ing photo shoots or videos for spe­cial­ized pub­li­ca­tions?

I don’t make any money from trav­el­ling. I take a lot of pic­tures and give them to travel mag­a­zines and news por­tals for free. True, I was paid once for some pic­tures from Afghanistan that I took in 2006, right in the mid­dle of the war. The fee was equal to the price of the Afghani visa.

Then how do you make money for the glo­be­trot­ting?

I’ve been in the in­ter­na­tional whole­sale busi­ness al­most all my life, sell­ing var­i­ous prod­ucts: raw poly­mer ma­te­ri­als, sil­i­cone prod­ucts, etc. and en­gaged in the se­cu­ri­ties trade for 2 1/2 years. This al­lowed me to travel, be­cause all I needed was a com­puter. I could travel and work from any part of the world, as long as there was In­ter­net con­nec­tion. Re­cently, it was dif­fi­cult to work, be­cause I spent much time in dis­tant lo­ca­tions in Africa. Some­times, we had no power for weeks, let alone the In­ter­net.

Which of the coun­tries you vis­ited did you find the most fas­ci­nat­ing? Why?

The list of coun­tries I like is rather ex­ten­sive. It is dif­fi­cult to pick favourite ones.

Ethiopia: I’ve been there twice and I’ll def­i­nitely go back. It has won­der­ful na­ture, wildlife, an­cient build­ings, but tribes liv­ing in the Omo Valley left the great­est im­pres­sion. More than 10 dif­fer­ent tribes live there. Each tribe has its own cus­toms, cer­e­monies and looks dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers, even though they live only sev­eral tenths of kilo­me­tres from one an­other. Did you know that the word cof­fee came from the Kaffa re­gion in Ethiopia, where they grow cof­fee?

I did not!

Antarc­tica is a con­ti­nent least af­fected by hu­mans. It is a long trip, but the sights are worth it. On the land, you’ll see large seal, pen­guin, and sea lion colonies. We took rides to ice­bergs on in­flat­able boats and whales would swim to us driven by cu­rios­ity. In­ter­est­ingly, the an­i­mals are not afraid of hu­mans. Maybe, they’ve never seen one and don’t con­sider us to be a threat.

Patag­o­nia, a re­gion be­tween Ar­gentina and Chile, is an­other one I love for hik­ing. There I could spend weeks walk­ing in the moun­tains, on glaciers, ad­mir­ing the beauty of nearby lakes and wa­ter­falls. For re­lax­ation, I would go to the Sey­chelles. They have some of the most beau­ti­ful beaches there. You can find many things to do both in the wa­ter and on land. You’ll find palm trees on which the largest nuts in the world grow, and Aldabra gi­ant tor­toises.

How does Lithua­nia and the Baltics mea­sure up against the other world’s finest des­ti­na­tions? What do we lack? What do we tend to un­der­es­ti­mate?

I think there is not enough in­for­ma­tion about the Baltic coun­tries avail­able to the world. We should ad­ver­tise more. When tourists visit our coun­try, they are sur­prised by its beauty and ad­mit that the trip had ex­ceeded their ex­pec­ta­tions. We should take pride in our his­tory: we have won­der­ful his­tor­i­cal build­ings and mon­u­ments. The Baltic coun­tries boast gor­geous na­ture: forests and lakes. Most coun­tries don’t have this. Beaches in the Baltic coun­tries are among the most beau­ti­ful ones in Europe. It is peace­ful here: no earth­quakes, tsunamis, droughts, rainy pe­ri­ods or hur­ri­canes. It is very safe here com­pared to the rest of the world.

You min­gled with tribal folks in ru­ral Africa, chased down a lion and snorkeled in shark-in­fested waters. Have you ever

put your life at risk? Do you think about that?

When you visit very dis­tant lo­ca­tions, dan­ger is every­where. Imag­ine a trip of sev­eral days in the jun­gle. You have to look out for wild an­i­mals. Some can come from be­hind with­out you even hear­ing them, for ex­am­ple, pumas. Not to men­tion poi­sonous spi­ders, snakes, anophe­les. You can’t take the re­quired amount of clean wa­ter for the en­tire trip, so you have to drink from rivers, where pi­ranha and stingrays live. You can get se­ri­ously in­jured by them. The wa­ter is in­fested with par­a­sites that can en­ter your body. Some­times, I had to sleep on a ham­mock in a tree. I used to look for places that are dif­fi­cult to reach for an­i­mals. I had some dan­ger­ous ex­pe­ri­ences: mines ex­plod­ing right next to me; I wit­nessed sev­eral shoot-outs and was at­tacked by armed men, but they didn’t take any­thing from me. I caught an ex­otic dis­ease from a mos­quito bite once. I’d never heard of it be­fore and there is no medicine for it. Young peo­ple sur­vive, but it is of­ten lethal to older peo­ple. I was hos­pi­talised sev­eral times. My last time in a hospi­tal was in Su­dan, due to de­hy­dra­tion, a re­sult of the lengthy trav­el­ling in the desert. It was ex­tremely hot (+55°C) and there is no shade, and you are short on wa­ter all the time. I wouldn’t wish for any­one to go to a hospi­tal like that: all in dirt and poverty. Surg­eries were per­formed right next to me. I faced some se­ri­ous dan­gers, but every­thing turned out well so far. I don’t just plunge into dan­ger­ous coun­tries, I gather in­for­ma­tion, an­a­lyse it, but some­times sur­prises oc­cur.

Which of the coun­tries, be­sides the war-rav­aged re­gions, do you find most dan­ger­ous from a trav­eler’s per­spec­tive?

I be­lieve that dan­ger­ous coun­tries are those in which crime and drug traf­fick­ing flour­ish, where it is easy to buy a gun, so rob­beries take place in broad day­light. Most of such coun­tries are in South and Cen­tral America. They in­clude Guyana, some parts of Brasil and Mex­ico, Hon­duras, and El Sal­vador. Ter­ror­ism and kid­nap­ping are a ma­jor prob­lem in So­ma­lia, Southern Su­dan, North­ern Mali, Southern Al­ge­ria, Nige­ria, and Ye­men. These are only a few of the dan­ger­ous re­gions; there are more.

What about North Korea? Why do you find amaz­ing about it? How much have you been able to see it first hand?

I’ve read a lot of books about North Korea and was very cu­ri­ous to see how peo­ple live there. I went there for the first time in 2011 with my daugh­ter Daniele. It was a very closed-off coun­try back then and they wouldn’t let many peo­ple in. We man­aged to con­tact the right peo­ple and they helped us to get per­mits. I ar­ranged our trip, so that we could watch the Ari­rang Mass Games. It’s an ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing event with as many as 100,000 par­tic­i­pants: ac­ro­bats, gym­nasts, dancers, ath­letes and mu­si­cians. Thou­sands of peo­ple stand hold­ing up coloured cards and us­ing them to cre­ate dif­fer­ent pic­tures. Un­for­tu­nately, they no longer hold the event as of 2013. I vis­ited the coun­try for the sec­ond time in 2016. I re­ally wanted to see the changes in­tro­duced by the new leader. The dif­fer­ence was ob­vi­ous: I had much more freedom, more op­por­tu­ni­ties to see how peo­ple ac­tu­ally live there. I tried to spend more time in public spa­ces sur­rounded by lo­cals, rather than in mu­se­ums or book­stores. This al­lowed me to see how they have fun, play games, sing and have pic­nics in parks. I even had the op­por­tu­nity to walk the city streets at night. Py­ongyang un­der­went nu­mer­ous changes: it has a new air­port, cir­cus build­ing, shoot­ing range, and blocks of sky­scrapers. There are new sub­way cars in the cap­i­tal city, and more cars on the streets. I even saw taxis. When I vis­ited North Korea for the first time, I saw only a few cars dur­ing a given day, and those were cars of gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives. I saw only sev­eral bi­cy­cles back then.

Now I see from your post on Face­book that you’re in the midst of ar­rang­ing a new trip to North Korea, and fur­ther­more, you claim to be the tour guide dur­ing it. How many peo­ple have al­ready signed up for it?

I would like to or­gan­ise trips to the most un­usual lo­ca­tions least vis­ited by tourists. There is no other coun­try like North Korea in the world. There are many peo­ple in­ter­ested in the trip, and sev­eral have al­ready con­firmed their trip. I will or­gan­ise some trips to other in­ter­est­ing and dis­tant lo­ca­tions in the near fu­ture. You can find the in­for­ma­tion on my Face­book ac­count Danas Around The Word.

What would be your three key tips for those ready to set out?

For begin­ners, I’d rec­om­mend trips to de­vel­oped and safe coun­tries. It will be easy to or­gan­ise the trip and you won’t ex­pe­ri­ence any cul­tural shock. Be sure to pur­chase health in­sur­ance from a re­li­able in­sur­ance com­pany. In case of an ac­ci­dent, you may find your­selves help­less if you have no in­sur­ance or enough money to pay for treat­ment. Don’t take risks. Pack ap­pro­pri­ately, depend­ing on the type of trip. And don’t pack too much stuff; take only the es­sen­tials.

What is the cheap­est way to travel?

You’ll spend less if you or­gan­ise your trip your­selves. Opt for street food in­stead of eat­ing at a restau­rant, and sleep in cheaper hos­tels or stay with lo­cals. Use public trans­port or hitch­hike, in­stead of rent­ing a car. Ex­penses also de­pend on the re­gion. Asia is the cheap­est.

Does your mum al­ways ap­prove of your dare­devil travel plans?

My mum chooses not to ask too many ques­tions about my travel plans, in or­der to keep her peace of mind be­fore I leave. When I re­turn, I tell her where I went and what I saw. Usu­ally, I leave out bad ex­pe­ri­ences from my sto­ries. My mother is al­ready used to my trav­el­ling and no longer wor­ries that much, I think. When I call her, she asks what coun­try I’m in first. If my an­swer is Lithua­nia, she is of­ten sur­prised, be­cause most of the time I spend trav­el­ling.

Will there come a day when you will put the knap­sack on the hook and set­tle down? Where will it be?

To be hon­est, some­times I think I should stop. I get ex­hausted from years of trav­el­ling, all the im­pres­sions and ex­pe­ri­ences, but… when I’m back home, I want to be on the road again af­ter sev­eral weeks. I feel alive when I travel. It’s be­yond words. I would like to be do­ing this as long as I can. When I’m old, I’d like to live in Lithua­nia and some Asian coun­try. Maybe, In­done­sia or the Phillip­ines, but it has to be some­where by the sea.

A mon­u­ment to North Korea’s former lead­ers

Danas Panke­vi­cius at Djenne mosque in Mali

North Korea’s Ari­rang sport event

Afghan vil­lages

In Ja­pan’s Hiroshima at the only build­ing left af­ter the nu­clear at­tack

Ova­hakaona tribe in Namibia

Fitz Roy Moun­tain in Ar­gentina’s Patag­o­nia

Ethiopia

Mali

In Tan­za­nia with Hadz­abe tribe hunters

A Himba tribe beauty in Namibia

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Latvia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.