The Favourites of Boris Kester

Boris in Chad.

A short introduction

I am Boris Kester from The Netherlands. I am a Senior Purser for KLM. I have been fascinated by travelling to “new” countries ever since I was a child, and I started counting countries at age 9. In 2008, I had visited 117 and decided to go for all 193. I visited my last country, Ireland, in 2017.

I am a keen photographer and share a collection of travel photos and stories through Traveladventures.org. My Instagram handle is boris_traveladventures. My Facebook handle is boris.kester and Traveladventures.org.

One positive side-effect of the pandemic has been that it has given me the peace of mind to concentrate on writing a book. It contains a collection of some of the most exciting adventures I had during my travels. I am about to finish the Dutch version and will then translate it into English. Both versions will be out in 2021.

What are three of your favourite countries, and why?

Yemen
I travelled there in 2004 and fell in love with the country, for its stunning architecture, history, landscapes, the sense of adventure and exploration, and probably most of all, its humble and welcoming people. The country truly touched me. I wish they will find peace soon.

Papua New Guinea
I had heard so many stories about it being unsafe, I was curious how it would be to travel independently. I found an extremely varied country. A mighty river (Sepik). Tropical islands with beautiful beaches. A serious mountain to climb (Mount Wilhelm, 4509m, with a plane wreck on the slopes and ice on its summit). Active volcanoes. Incredibly friendly Papuans with a mind-boggling 850 languages for just 7 million people. Sing-sing festivals which are so colourful and lively they overwhelm you.

Colombia
After a short visit to Laetitia (from Tabatinga) in the 1990s, I had my first real visit in 2009. Back then, people thought I was crazy to travel in Colombia because it was considered dangerous. Instead, I found a country with a very rich variety of attractions, both natural (mountains, lakes, Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, Amazon rainforest), cultural (San Agustín, Tierradentro, colonial towns, Guajira peninsula, Ciudad Perdida, tribes), and culinary (diverse foods all over the country).

A special mention for the people. I found them proud of their country, protective of visitors whom they would advise where to go and what to avoid. I have been back several times, both for work and privately, and every time I am back, I realise how much more of the country I still want to discover.

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What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?

Tanna Volcano, Vanuatu
Rather than doing the regular short tour at the end of the day, I stayed in a tree hut at the foot of Tanna volcano. For three nights in a row, I hiked up the short climb to the summit to watch the volcano constantly erupt, spewing large chunks of rock into the air in an almost constant orange rain and rumble. An unforgettable sight, especially seeing it all by myself.

Mohammed, the Sudanese donkey cart driver
My then-girlfriend and I had visited the diffuses of Kerma. It was further away from town than we thought, and we were happy to find Mohammed. He invited us on his donkey cart to drive back to the main road. He only had two teeth left in his mouth. We were driving on a sandy track, and he was whipping his donkey to go faster.

My girlfriend started to sing songs in Dutch, English, and Spanish. It turned out he had an amazing talent for mimicking her, and he was singing along in all those languages that were completely strange to him. It was both amazing and hilarious. The sun was setting, Mohammed and my girlfriends were singing, the donkey was working his way through the sand – it is one of my happiest travel memories.

River Fane border crossing, Ireland
Ireland was the last of my UN countries to visit. I had saved it for last with a reason: close to home. I had decided not to fly to Dublin but to rent a car from Belfast and drive to the border. Studying the map, I found a small border crossing on the river Fane, just south of Cullaville. I drove from Dublin with my girlfriend, father, and friends from Canada and Romania. When we arrived, my sister and her family, and my best friend and his family, were waiting for us.

They had decorated the bridge, marked the border with duct tape, and organised a ceremony to celebrate reaching 193. That evening, I had a party in Dublin where more friends joined. It was a day I will never forget.

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What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?

Trip to Draksum-Tso lake in Tibet
I wanted to visit this remote lake and found out it was next to impossible to get there unless you had your own wheels. I found an agency in Lhasa which could arrange a two-day excursion there. Turns out, the tour was full of Chinese, and we only spent 40 minutes at the lake even though it was called the “Draksum-Tso excursion”.

The rest of the time, we were supposed to go shopping for traditional Chinese medicine in stores on the way. I was furious. Fortunately, I had only paid half the money in advance, so I decided to stay behind and made my way back to Lhasa on my own, even though the guide was screaming through my locked hotel room door for a while.

Crash in South Africa
I was driving from South Africa to Botswana, my 191st country when our car flipped twice at full speed. The rooftop tent and our seat belts saved our lives. Even now, when I look at the pictures of the wrecked car, I cannot believe we got out with only minor injuries. At the same time, I am thankful that no one else was involved. As we all know, there are often kids and adults walking at the roadside in Africa.

Equatorial Guinea
Getting a visa was a nightmare, as most of us know (unless you are fortunate enough to hold a passport that doesn’t require one). The embassy in Libreville first told me that I should be properly dressed, then turned me down. Then, a lady working there told me she could get one for me – for a crazy amount of money. Instead of getting it at the embassy, she asked me to come to a shopping mall and showed up looking like a first-class prostitute. She dealt with the procedure in her luxury car with tinted glass. It was a surreal experience.

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With the visa in hand, I had a bad experience at the border. I called the embassy lady for help (after all, I had paid her a lot) but she just hung up the phone. I was rescued by three Spanish nuns who had been working there since the Franco years. They invited me to their school, and I spent hours talking to the kids. It made me super angry at the criminal family running the country.

What are three of your best travel tips?

Travel is not a competition
Take your time to travel and truly discover instead of rushing to tick off places and countries. Don’t be afraid. Think big.

Listen to your intuition
One of the key elements of travel is trust. Trust in a person, in a vehicle, in a situation, and trust in yourself. I believe that intuition is something that you develop “on the go”: the more you travel, the more hiccups and issues you deal with, the more people you meet, the more you discover that you can handle more than you ever thought, you become more aware of what’s happening around you. Tune in to the signals you get.

Open your mind
I believe it is important to leave your stereotypes home if you want to have a genuine and meaningful travel experience. It allows you to truly see a country and its people for what they are, not for what you thought they would be.

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