The Favourites of Carlos Useros Moyano
Can you introduce yourself?
I am Carlos Useros Moyano, Spanish UN Master traveller. I have been in all 195 UN countries in the world (193 UN member states and the two observer states Palestine and Vatican City) and Antarctica (7th continent). Since I was a child at school, I was always surrounded by maps, atlases, geography, and travel books. Always ready to visit different places away from home and curious about new cultures and countries. I like to travel by land in local transport because it is when you get in touch with the real country through the local people.
I am ¨dromomaniac¨ (from the Greek dromos: go from one place to another; mania: obsession, madness) is considered a recognized disease, and many explorers, adventurers, travellers suffer it. I am proud to be ¨dromomaniac¨. I work during the summer season in Spain (restaurants, hotels as a barman or receptionist), and I travel an average of 4-6 months each year. I have been on the road for about 5,000 days.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
Ethiopia is one of my favourite countries because of the different scenery (mountains, volcanoes, lakes, and tribes) and where they found one of the oldest human remains. Trekking to Erthale volcano (only five active volcanoes in the world with conic formation) and around Danakil Depression (200 meters below sea level) with Afar community. Another place not to be missed is the salt flat, where they extract the salt and load it onto camels and donkeys that go in a caravan for several days. It is a traditional way, and they do it on foot. They do not allow the four-wheel drive to replace animals.
One of the holiest cities for Christianity with the church of St. George, rock-hewn in the shape of a cross into the rocky hills of Lalibela, Trekking around the Semien mountains, spotting the endemic ¨Gelada Baboons¨. Axum and the amazing obelisk, Tana lake and feeding wild hyenas in Harare and also going south and visit Omo Valley with the different tribes like Mursi, Hamer, and Karo.
Carlos recommends not to miss the coffee ceremony, and he thinks Ethiopia probably has the prettiest women in the world.
You can love it or hate it. Travelling in this amazing country is like learning in the school of life. They can be starving and see a holy cow and don’t eat it. I have been three times, and always you get new lessons to learn. I saw dead people in Africa, and when I came for my first time to India, I thought I couldn’t be impressed, but I was wrong. I was in shock when I saw dead bodies getting burnt in the Ghats and some of them floating in the Ganga River. It took me few days to understand it.
It is better to have plenty of time and don’t be in a hurry: No watch, no phone, just yourself pushing your limits till the end. You need to be patient, sometimes children annoy you and drive you crazy, but it’s the price you have to pay. You need to make plans day by day. Travel to India by train is one of the things I would recommend as you get a taste of the real India.
Many times you need to combine trains with buses due to the continuous cancellations. The longer you travel in this country, the more you like it. It is a mixture of pleasure and madness at the same time. I got gastroenteritis several times in India because I love street food.
Papua New Guinea
It is paradise on earth and one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. There are 851 known languages of which 11 now have no known speakers. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically. It is known to have numerous groups of uncontested peoples. Nature is everywhere. It is a virgin place where human beings have not yet left their mark in many places on this island nation. Still, many species of animals, insects, and trees await to be discovered by biologists and scientists. When I was going by boat for two days with locals to New Ireland, a volcano erupted, and I was the only foreigner. Nobody was impressed except me.
You can do the Kokoda Trail for a week or 10 days through the mountains. You can also go bird-watching; there are almost 40 different species of birds Dive and visit the wreckage of WW II off the coast of Rabaul. Of the nine extant species of Giant clams (1-2 meters), six are in Papua New Guinea. If you like fishing games (tuna, barracuda) are very popular.
I also recommend the Sepik River with their tribes and one of the world’s most extreme ceremonies. The men have their backs, shoulders, and upper torsos sliced by razor blades (scarification) to leave long raised welts resembling a crocodiles hide. If you like coffee, they produce in the highlands of Mt. Hagen, best known for their rich volcanic soils and climate.
Are there any countries you didn’t enjoy?
El Salvador, Paraguay, and Liechtenstein
There are not many things to see.
Afghanistan, Libya and Nigeria
I didn’t’ enjoy those much because of terrorism when I was travelling.
What are three of your favourite cities, and why?
Rio de Janeiro
This amazing city with its spectacular natural Guanabara Bay (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is considered one of the best bays in the world. It has the famous beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana as well. During Carnaval, it is the biggest party on the planet. I love the easy way of Brazilians. They can be on the beach, playing soccer, volleyball or just dancing but always smiling. One of the best things to do is having a caipirinha at sunset; Brazilians clap during the sunset giving thanks to God for the gift. It is worth climbing Pao d’Açucar and visit Cristo Corcovado on top of the hill to have a very good 360 º view.
I like to go around up and down in the streets in a car and then going to the fisherman’s harbour to eat in Pier 39 (waterfront restaurants) the specialities like abalone, Dungeness crab, bay shrimps and enjoy a nice view of the Golden State Bridge and Alcatraz prison. You can visit some wineries, do some tastings around Napa Valley and also visit Sausalito, well known because of its art. You can always hit the road and get lost around the coastline.
Tokyo is a megacity. I like the traditional temples, shrines, the impressive Imperial Palace with the large public gardens and then mixed with neon-lit skyscrapers, and ultramodern buildings and Ginza, the most glamorous shopping street in the world. I love Japanese food. I like how the Japanese can deal with all the chaos and stay in perfect harmony.
I always say that if the Japanese ruled the world, we would be almost perfect. I used to go to visit and eat in Tsujiki’s Fish Market, now the inner part is closed (just for professionals), but you can go to Tsukiji’s Outer Market and eat at the street food vendors. Or you can also go to Toyosu Market. I also loved to experience the bullet trains and go around with the Japanese Rail Pass.
What are the three worst places you’ve stayed?
I am a backpacker, so I only go to hotels when I don’t have other possibilities. I always stay in hostels or Couchsurfing places. In South America, I was unlucky because I was robbed in hostels a few times in shared dormitories with other travellers in countries like Peru, Argentina, Chile.
Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants?
When I travel, I am on a budget, and I need money to stay longer on the road. But the best place to enjoy food is the local markets where locals buy and eat good and cheap food. I just remember a few special places, for example, I ate in the best Spanish restaurant in the USA, Curate in Ashville (N.C.), by chef Katie Button. In Washington D.C., I was eating in Jaleo restaurant, by chef José Andrés. In Peru, a few years ago, I ate in Chicha Restaurant in Cusco by chef Gaston Acurio with one Michelin star.
When back home, I got the chance to go to El Bulli by chefs Albert and Ferran Adrià. I lived in the same village. It was for five years considered the best restaurant in the world and had 3 Michelin stars. Also, I was in El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, by the Roca brothers a few years ago, which now has 3 Michelin stars. It is not far from where I live.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
When I started my first solo travel around the world, I was young with no experience, and I thought I would go back in a few days because I was asthmatic and so worried that I couldn’t handle it.
Every time I was crossing a border and being in a new country
Going to Antarctica or Alaska
Without expectations, and having one of the best experiences in my lifetime.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
when I crossed the land border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan (Mazar Sharif) Taliban killed 18 U.N. soldiers. The next day, on our way to Kabul, three donkeys and a shepherd ran into us on the road, and we ran over one of the donkeys. We killed the poor donkey, and the donkey killed our car. Hot water and smoke came out of the radiator. We had to repair the car in 24 hours.
I was scared of the Taliban, and it was also a curfew every day so that I couldn’t go out. I could manage to arrive in Kabul, where I had to hide for a few days before going to the airport and flying out to Tadjikistan. I remember that the driver told me that if I had to trust someone, let it be a man without a beard because it sure wouldn’t be Taliban. When I was with locals, they were very helpful.
I was taking pictures of buildings with holes from shrapnel shots. And a man with a 4×4 braked abruptly and spun in the middle of the sandy road came towards me. He opened the door, and I saw a Kalashnikov inside the vehicle. He came out and told me that I was an American spy and he wanted me to give him my passport. He started yelling at me and asked for my parents’ names. He caught dust from the road, he dropped it and told me that this dust was like his mother and that I was stepping on it. I showed him my passport and told him that I was Spanish and that I was a man of peace.
People began to arrive, and many soldiers (militia) who were dressed in normal clothes began to tell me to leave because it was going to get more complicated. I was lucky to be 500 meters from the hotel, but I feared the worst because I thought they already knew where I was staying. I was very lucky. I was three days thinking that anything could happen to me. Even on the last day I had to go to the airport at dawn I thought they could kidnap me because it was the only vehicle that left the city, even the driver didn’t want to take me, and I had to give him some more money to convince him.
During the elections, the same Christian president (Jonathan Goodluck) was elected again when they believed that the Muslims would win. They were very even but did not accept the results. The country became insecure and dangerous to the point that when I was able to leave by boat for Cameroon after having been on a curfew for several days, they had burned churches and killed more than 500 people.
My visa almost expired, leaving the country on the last day, and later we were chased by pirates for a couple of hours. Luckily, a boat with police appeared and chased them away. A day later, I caught malaria when I arrived in Cameroon. It was one of the most horrible trips of my life.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Never do the check-in in airports. Just 30 litres backpack (5 kgs) hand luggage so there will be no lost luggage or delays. Carry things you need and buy the rest in the country you travel to when it is cheaper. Travel light. If you are on a long journey, you don’t want to carry a lot of weight. Get a SIM card in the country for internet and phone calls. It’s better and lighter to travel with a smartphone than a photo camera. To do a visa while travelling start at the beginning of the week.
If you want your air ticket cheaper, do it through another country (stopover), never direct to the final destination. i.e., If I have to fly to Hong Kong and I am in Fiji, I try to find companies that make that stopover in Hong Kong (transit), and you get out of the plane and don’t use the last destination flight. Sometimes you can save 50 %.