The Favourites of Jack Goldstein
Please introduce yourself
Hi! My name is Jack Goldstein, a first-generation Colombian, born 51 years ago to an Ashkenazi Jewish family of immigrants from war-torn Europe. I have lived mostly in Bogotá and Miami and graduated college from the University of Pennsylvania. I was a flower grower and exporter for 15 years (which allowed me to reach my first million-mile airline loyalty status) and, for the past 20 years, I have been running my own hotel in Bogotá, Lancaster House where I happily host fellow extreme travellers. I am also quite involved in social and cultural endeavours as well.
I started travelling internationally before my 4th birthday because I was blessed with having maternal grandparents in Hungary. With the family, we would spend the summers there and every year visit another European country. Hence, I was exposed to very different worlds since a very young even though I grew up in a small ethnic bubble within what was at the time a very parochial society and in a highly unstable country. Politics, religions, cultures, wars, adrenaline, and passports always played a big role in my upbringing and travel was the best way to learn about life in general. This was certainly the first passion I developed.
How many countries have you been to?
By the eve of lockdown, I had been to 134 UN countries and 175 UN+. I focus more on being intense in my travels (like with NomadMania series and regions) and therefore don´t have yet the urge to check-off countries to get to 193 by simply spending a night across a new border. I hope to cover the full list of countries little by little.
How many days have you approximately travelled? Playing Travel Trivia with fellow EPS members during the first months of lockdown, I learned that there are other weirdos like myself who keep track of days in countries visited, the number of border crossings and all sorts of wacko stats. However, since I keep records by country, I don´t have a breakdown of time spent travelling both in Colombia and the USA, two places where I have lived most of my life. The tally for all other countries shows a total of 2163 days. So, if I try to “guestimate” for the top two countries, I should comfortably reach beyond the 3000-day marker. Roughly, this means about 1 out of every 6 days in my lifetime.
I should also add here that, at the time of writing, it´s been 9 months mostly inside my hotel. Also, it has been 10 months since my last flight. Before COVID, I can only think of three times over the past 25 years when I have spent more than 30 days in one place without flying somewhere.
What are three of your favourite countries and why?
Mongolia (2004). Medicine for the soul. I covered about 1800 kilometres across the western part of the country, along with the entire Altai range and the Gobi finishing in UB right on time for Naadam Festival, back when the only building in town was the hotel I stayed in and the country was still not in people´s radars. We hired the guide who himself was hired by Lonely Planet the year before to help write their first book about the country. No roads, no trees, no shade, no fences, just the most beautiful landscapes, with scattered population centres, colourful nomadic people and hardly any tourists.
Myanmar (2001). Hands down, the friendliest people. Since arrival, we were overwhelmed with kindness and warmth, whether at the airports and hotels, or more significantly, in the streets, the zoo, or any given store. Even the beggars had a special way about them that made it a joy to give every time. Plus, the country is a remarkable tourist destination.
Sudan (2018). A solid second place in friendliness after the former, Sudan is unspoiled, visited by only a few tourists and rich in archaeological sites
Are there any countries you don’t enjoy travelling?
I must start with a disclaimer: I assume I speak for all of us extreme travellers when I say we love even the ugly, filthy, complicated, or chaotic. We may prefer certain conditions and standards, but overall, we take whatever comes our way and even look forward to challenges and unpleasant surprises. We can even enjoy these moments because they come full of lessons, anecdotes and stories that make us smile when we look back at them. Having said that, these three countries stand out:
The Gambia (2013), a country where people seem to be forbidden to smile. Granted, this was back in the days of colourful president Yaya Yame. Really felt harassed by many whiles on the ferry across the river, or while walking in the streets, markets, or beaches.
The twin countries of Surinam and Guyana (2013) because of their infinite capacity of making the most trivial turn into unfathomable nightmares. The long ques or lack thereof, the protocols and bureaucracy, the visas, the ferries, the corruption, the flight cancellations, the disregard for schedules and for the time of the visitor. And in Georgetown, because of the piles of unnecessary garbage.
What are three of your favourite cities and why?
Berlin. A city that seems rather uneventful from the place, is really a historic gem with the best though-out sculptures, monuments, and details. I owe this feeling in great part to the guide I hired the first time I was there, one of many attending ITB travel shows. Each time I enjoy something new, classy, historic, and impressive.
Rome. My dad would tell me stories about the Roman Empire before putting me to bed, so when I first went there in 1978, I was able to relate to so many places and felt immediately connected to the place. Just like everywhere in Italy, it is wonderful to get lost walking the streets, always finding something new.
Budapest. If there is a place where my heart feels at home, this is it! Huge nostalgia over the most wonderful childhood moments. The city is majestic, elegant, and people are beautiful (they used to be the kindest, most refined society before 1989).
What are three of your favourite hotels or places you’ve stayed and why?
Regent Seven Seas: Not long ago, cruises were not a big thing for me, but thanks to my dear Sandy, I have come to love them. RSS ships are simply outstanding, luxurious, and well serviced.
The Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (New Years´1986-87). This was the cream of the crop of my first exotic trip, right after graduating High School. Not only because of the elegance and history for which this landmark hotel is famous for, but also because the staff confused me for the heir of a Zimbabwean millionaire… and boy was I treated like royalty, including a tailor-made Flight of the Angels over the falls and the game parks.
Camping in Parc Banc d´Arguin, Mauritania (2008). I got there with hardly any luggage and with all my electronics off after days of camping elsewhere in the desert without a chance to recharge batteries. My guide was not particularly the friendliest and we basically had no common language, so we kept things to a bare minimum. This meant that came sunset, I was all by myself, in this most idyllic of places, on a cliff, overlooking the ocean on one side and the dunes on the other, waiting for my sleeping pills to take effect while staring at the best night sky ever, full of stars, shooting stars and even satellites. It became simply natural to relate to biblical characters who found God in solo moments out in the wilderness. A truly religious moment, even for the secular minds.
What are the three worst places you’ve stayed?
Miramar, Orinoco jungle (2004): That “beautiful, ample house, built on a rock, overlooking the mighty Orinoco river” in a remote place, half-way along the eastern Colombia-Venezuela border. In what can very well be my most off-the-beaten-path trip ever, on a raft along that jungle area, setting up our hammocks every night in a different shanty or Indian village, one day we were promised a more comfortable lodging alternative. This turned out to be an old, abandoned brothel used by the drug cartels, in a place so remote and disgusting, the prostitutes fled from it. It would be improper of me to describe in these pages the level of filth in this otherwise ample house, evidently built on a rock and overlooking the river.
Hotel Pegasus in Georgetown, Guyana (2013). In all fairness, before writing this, I checked to see its website and must say that the place looks way better now as it has been fully remodelled. But the level of decay back when I visited was truly appalling, a sad image of a place that once hosted the Queen of England and other personalities.
Hotel Laico Hammamet (2019). Same as Pegasus, only here the staff did not even bother to smile and try to improve things for you. Excuses, fights with other guests in the lobby, no F&B service, the mother of all rundown places in what is certainly prime real estate.
What are three of your favourite restaurants and why?
La Rosa Nautica, Lima (2007). Peru offers one of the best cuisines in the world, a combination of Latin American and Asian flavors. Everything from sushi to ceviche, tiraditos and causas. The setting on a pier is also very nice.
Oceania Cruises: Arguably, the best cuisine aboard a ship.
Lavash, Yerevan (2018): I love Caucasian food and this place is top of the line, very well serviced, unpretentious, and very well located in the heart of Yerevan-
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Abkhazia detention (2012): It had all the ingredients that I look forward to when travelling to exotic places: A country that does not exist, a heavily militarized border (across the bridge from Georgia, by the Inguri river), Independence Day celebrations, plenty of adrenaline, jokes about my Colombian passport, long hours waiting for FSB agents to do their work while their bimbos made them company, signing long confessions in a language I don´t understand, and a grand finale with the head of Secret Service toasting to ever-lasting Colombian-Abkhazian friendship.
ETIC Marquetalia (2020). The thrill of planning, organizing, and executing Extreme Travelers´ International Congress-2020 in the heartland of FARC rebellion, deep in the mountains of southern Colombia, a place never-before visited by international tourists and, probably never to happen again given current circumstances on the ground. The trip, for 36 of us, eventually mobilized upward of 350 people including the top echelon of the former FARC guerrilla, the heads of the UN mission to Colombia, the National Agency for Reconciliation, the Ministry of Tourism, an entire army battalion, dozens of police escorts, the local Indian tribe and their dance troupe, local communities and town mayors, victims of the conflict, a local TV news crew and one from Netflix, and a long line of minivans, bullet-proof cars, motorcycles, jeeps, and mules. This was also the first time that a project was able to bring together all actors in the Colombian conflict and have them work together for a common goal. A proud moment.
Eastern Europe (summer of 2010), another solo trip with my iPod and amazing local guides who took me for a very intense month from the Baltics to the Balkans and back to Budapest, my starting point. A grand tour of battle zones, concentration camps, remote villages, family history, bizarre places and conflict zones that was able to build in me a feeling of bliss that lasted for a long time even while back in the chaos of live in the tropics.
What are three of your worst travel moments and why?
Malaria, after a West Africa trip (2002), which started with total chaos at the airport in Accra due to last-minute cancellations, followed by new flights with long connection layovers until I was finally able to reach home (Miami). I was taken to the hospital for a couple of days and then stayed in bed shivering and soaking linens for another 15 days.
Stolen money in Madrid (2008). Before going to Mauritania, I was in Madrid attending FITUR Travel show. Upon arrival, and while smoking a cigarette just outside the hotel front door, I was robbed clean of everything but for a single EU50 note and some documents, and as Murphy would have it, that was the one time I had plenty of cash with me because the trip to Africa I had to pay all in cash.
The hotel did nothing nor even cared about the incident. I thought I could solve matters by getting some cash from an ATM (maxing out daily allowances) and covering the balance through the American Express office. But Murphy and his law were again playing dirty with me as I could not get serviced by either one because of a long list of very bizarre reasons.
Truly frustrating and humbling having to live off a 50-Euro note for three days. Eventually, I was barely able to get a Western Union wire from my mom just in time to catch a flight to Nouakchott, where to top it all off, my checked-in bag did not arrive, so it was me in my three-piece suite straight from the trade show in Madrid and a small carry-on only with electronics out into the Mauritanian desert.
The Indian tour company (2006). The quintessential story of a tour company that takes you to the places you specifically say you don’t want to visit drops you off at a train station when they were supposed to drive you all the way to the next destination, schedule visits during days places are closed and try to hassle with you over everything imaginable.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Look beyond borders; they are just artificial lines on the map. Often, it has happened to me that I focus on a given destination, which, for obvious reasons, translates into a specific country and perhaps a visa. But if one looks beyond countries and across borders, one can easily reach places that could otherwise be remote if approached from this second country´s capital.
Rent a car, so you may have ample time, total flexibility to detour or change itineraries
Learn a bit about the place´s language, history, culture. Locals connect with you much better if they notice you are not just another crazy tourist, but someone who appreciates their culture and circumstances.
And I must add a fourth: Start as young as possible, and if you have kids, expose them to the world asap! I fully disagree with those who think that kids need to grow up and mature before they can truly enjoy trips.
Do you have any little-known travel tips?
NomadMania’s Series offer you a quick shortlist of places to check in specific geographic regions. If you are improvising a trip with not much time to plan details, this site can help define your itinerary.
Jack can be followed and contacted online
While in lockdown in Colombia, for 6 months we pretty much did not even step out of our homes (in my case, my hotel, one of the few that never closed doors in Colombia). It was then that I decided to start a blog called Valija de Apócrifos (www.valijadeapocrifos.com), which translates to “Suitcase of Apocrypha”, also to be found as a Facebook group (Spanish, but with various articles and videos in English). It is a critical and unconventional platform dealing with issues that vary from Colombian peace accords to Israel and the Jewish world at large, culture and religion and extreme travel.
The two more relevant tabs to fellow nomads are called Dromomania and Following Benjamin of Tudela. Under the first one, you can find for instance my chapter in “Chasing 193. The Quest to Visit Every Country in the World. Vol. II”, articles about ETIC-2020, my TCC Member Profile and NomadMania´s interview, as well as videos-interviews with EPS, TCC, and a Counting Countries podcast. Under the second one, named after a legendary Jewish adventurer from the XII century, I have included articles about Judaica-related travel including some pretty obscure destinations and sites.
Otherwise, you can find me on Facebook under my name, on WhatsApp at +573102267352 or via email at email@example.com