Boris Kester has actually done something that many of us have only dreamt of. He has visited every country in the world. From Palau in the Pacific Ocean to Benin in Africa, he has been there. A total of 193 UN-recognised countries. In june, Ireland was his final destination.
Isn’t Ireland an unusual choice for your final destination? Why not choose a super-beautiful place like Mauritius or the Bahamas?
“My family wasn’t able to go to those places. Imagine that I had chosen to go there. I would have got off the aircraft and I would have been completely alone. I’d be standing there knowing I had landed at my final destination and no one to share it with. When I started making my list of countries to visit, I noticed that I hadn’t yet visited Ireland. It was then that I chose to make it my final destination. I sent out invitations well in advance. Eventually I started driving from Belfast to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and found a bridge on Google Maps that marked the border. I then crossed the bridge together with all my friends and family. After that, we had a party upstairs in a pub in Dublin.”
How did you feel?
“I was so busy organising things that I didn’t think very much about it. On the final day, I thought, “Oh, yeah, today’s the day.” Only afterward did I have any realisation that I’d been to every country on earth. I can’t say that I got particularly depressed afterward. But, when I got home, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s it, then.” It’s pretty much the same feeling that you have when you go on a long holiday. When you come home, everything’s the same. The neighbour is taking his dog out. The postman is doing his rounds. That kind of feeling.”
He has just returned from Afghanistan. Right now, he is returning to countries he does not yet have pictures of, or countries that were so beautiful that he has to see them again. The shine has not gone off the apple, and I don’t think it ever will. Back home in the Netherlands, it’s snowing hard. We’re sitting in his house in Leiden. His home, where he has lived for twenty years, now, is a registered monument. There are photos hanging in the living room of people he met along the way.
Behind us, a giant world map hangs on the wall. During our discussion, we keep looking at the map. I can’t stop myself from asking him some pretty standard questions. “The most difficult country?” “Equatorial Guinea. It took forever to get the visa.” “The most beautiful country?” “Every country has something beautiful. I can’t answer that.” “The most surprising country?” “That’s difficult, but I think Nauru, a tiny island close to the Marshall Islands. All the islands around there, actually. You expect to get that island feeling of white beaches and palm trees. But that’s not the case.” Boris has a story to go with every country. And he remembers every trip to every country.
Nauru – Boris Kester
Have you always been a globetrotter?
“I used to go on holiday with my parents to faraway places. At that time, I kept a diary in which wrote about the countries I had seen. Later on when I went on holiday by myself, I often went to countries where I hadn’t been before. Just by working for KLM, I had reached 120 countries by 2009. It was then that I thought, “Well, that’s about two-thirds. If I cover another seventy, then I’ll be done.” That seems like a lot. And, when I started making a list, I noticed all kinds of countries that I’d never even heard of. The thought went through my head, “Isn’t that dangerous?” But it seemed like a great goal and, despite the fact that I didn’t know if I’d make it all the way, I decided to go for it.”
Boris has been working for KLM for close to thirty years. As a cabin attendant, and now as a senior purser, he flies all around the world. Not only has that helped him to cross off these countries from his list, it has also fed his wanderlust. It has also helped him with his mindset. When I ask if he thinks it was a shame to have missed important days or family members, he points out that, in his work as a purser, he also misses important people and things, so this hasn’t really changed things.
You said you travelled to Colombia with your niece. What kind of tips did you have for her?
“Be extra careful. But maybe I feel that way because she’s my niece. I want her to come home in one piece. You always have to trust your intuition. On the other hand, you also have to be willing to take chances. What’s more – and this is very important – enjoy the moment and keep looking around. I’ve noticed that travel has changed enormously. She was often sitting there texting with her mother on her phone. “Look where I am now! Look what I saw!” That’s not so terrible, but you’ll miss things that way. Look up. Look around you. Talk to the local people. Certainly if you want to take good photos, watch your surroundings. Watch the weather.”
What were your happiest and luckiest moments during your travels?
“There were so many happy moments. When I was in Guyana, for instance, I’d planned a guided tour to some waterfalls. It turned out that I was the only visitor. And off I went with four guides. The trip to the falls lasted a couple of days. And there I was, on my own, taking photos of that magnificent spectacle. And because I was alone, I was allowed to stay much longer than usual. It was beautiful, like an oasis.”
“Another happy experience I recall vividly happened when I was hiking south along the coast below Cape Town. I saw some very heavy storm clouds approaching in the distance and thought: wow, this could be pretty spectacular. So I hurried back to my car, drove to Cape Point and walked up to the viewing platform in the pouring rain. And again I was alone, because of the rain. At that very moment, the sun broke through the clouds. It was just perfect. A perfect rainbow, dark clouds, the mountains. That kind of beauty really tugs at your heartstrings. It was a moment of pure joy.”
South Africa – Boris Kester