The Favourites of Jorge Sánchez

July 2021 in Blagoveshchensk, Amur oblast, Russia. With the Russian flag, the River Amur, the Chinese city of Heihe in front and the Russian Geographical Society T-shirt, given to him at the 175 anniversary of this society where he is an active member.

Spaniard Jorge Sanchez is one of the world’s most travelled people. He was born in Barcelona in 1954. He was once the number one ranked traveller on Nomad Mania for having visited most of their world regions. He is ranked number 3 currently at the time of this article and is living with his family in Siberia. You can know more about him at JorgeSanchez.es.

What are three of your favourite countries, and why?

I have one favourite country per continent: Russia in Europe, India in Asia, Egypt in Africa, Peru in the Americas, and the Solomon Islands in Oceania. But since I am requested to describe only three, here they are:

Peru
This is one of the few countries in the world with costa (coast), Sierra (mountain range), selva (jungle) and Desierto (desert). The first time that I visited this wonderful country, I obtained a 90 days visa at the border with Ecuador and would spend all those 90 days discovering its many marvels. Since I was travelling a whole year around South America without going back to Spain, I needed to work on the way from time to time to get money, so I travelled to Puerto Maldonado and was offered a job joining a team of gold-seekers up the river Madre de Dios.

The money that they paid me (in grams of gold sand) for my work for a few weeks was enough to travel without economic problems for six more months. Peru offers lovely cities like Cusco (Cuzco), Arequipa or Lima since the times of the Spanish Viceroyalty, old Inca civilization remains, several powerful tributaries of the Amazon River, the Lake Titicaca, the Machu Picchu trail, and excellent gastronomy (try ceviche with a jug of pisco in the restaurant La Buena Muerte, in Lima).

The Solomon Islands
These islands are incredibly exotic for a European traveller and have a lot of history related to Spanish and French great navigators, like Alvaro de Mendaña (the first European in the Solomon, who gave those islands its present name) and Jean Francois de La Perouse (both died in the Solomon, in Nendo and Vanikoro islands). I saw practices of cult cargo in San Jorge Island, where I stayed three days, and uncivilized Kwaio natives in the mountains of Malaita Island, old Japanese weapons that since WWII was scattered in small islands near Bougainville Island (in Papua New Guinea), and I drank kava with the local people during their ceremonies in Santa Cruz Islands.

Egypt
Egypt is not only the pyramids of Giza plus Abu Simbel temples and the beaches of Hurghada and the Sinai peninsula, but also the coptic monasteries, like Baramus (my favourite one), between Cairo and Alexandria, where I have overnighted several times. The oasis of Siva, the whirling dances of the dervishes in the tekke in front of Khan el Khalili market, and especially the marvellous journeys by felucca between Luxor and Aswan, which will take you about five days with four nights each journey getting to know the real life of the Egyptian peasants and make friendships with them and eat the local food. If you are interested in old civilizations, then Egypt has a clue to understanding them.

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

Sighting mythical Lo Manthang from a distance
In Kagbeni (Nepal), I joined a group of Gurung merchants, and we crossed together the Kali Gandaki gorge helping each other (it was the year 1989). Then I separated from them because they stopped in every small village to sell rice. I walked alone and even ran for several days until I saw the incredible, walled Lo Manthang, the capital of the old Kingdom of Mustang, and I loved it at once, exclaiming exalted in Spanish: Dios mío, que emoción! After Lo Manthang, I continued my journey until I reached the Tibetan border through the Kora La Pass. The next day I was discovered by the Chinese Army, but I was allowed to spend that night in a Tibetan house inhabited by a family with children. In the morning, they sent me back to Kora La Pass, and the soldiers gave me a bag full of food for the journey. Once in Lo Manthang for the second time, I slept in a caravanserai close to the king’s palace, and when I reached Kagbeni again, I continued my trekking around the Annapurna via the Thorung Pass.

Mount Athos, Greece
I will never forget the first day on Mount Athos, Greece. I took a boat in Ouranoupolis to Karies. Then I walked for several hours, looking for any monastery to spend the night. When I lost my way, I climbed to the top of a tree to find a path. Finally, I arrived at one of them, and its beauty subjugated me: it was the most fantastic building that I had ever seen so far during my journeys! Its name was Simonos Petra.

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It reminded me of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. I could not believe my eyes. That was a wonder beyond imagination. I entered the monastery and was shown my room as a pilgrim with a breathtaking view over the sea. I still visited and slept in 9 more monasteries, being the last one Saint Panteleimon, the Russian one. But the impression that I received in Simonos Petra was unique and unrepeatable.

Singapore when I was 28 years old
I had been travelling for a year around Far East countries, working when I needed money to keep on travelling. I taught Spanish in Japan. I accepted several unusual jobs in Taipei while studying the Chinese language. I played chess for money in La Luneta (Manila) and reaching Singapore after a journey overland which lasted 40 days from Zamboanga to Lahad Datu, crossing in local sailing boats (vintas) many islands of Jolo and Tawi Tawi plus Borneo with a group of illegal Filipinos emigrants. My idea was to go back to Spain, spending some months in India on the way. But in Singapore, I visited a travel agency where I was offered for about 400 US Dollars around the world ticket of a french company called UTA with the following stops: Jakarta, Sydney, Noumea, Auckland, Papeete, and Los Angeles.

I could not believe it. I could go around the world, something of which I dreamed but always thought that I would never be able to accomplish. I counted all the money that I had earned playing chess in La Luneta: 500 US Dollars! And I immediately bought that ticket. The moment when I received the ticket (on paper), I was in the seventh heaven. The first night I slept with my airline ticket under my pillow. That day was one of the most memorable of my life as a traveller.

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

Robbed in Johannesburg at midday in a central square
Nobody helped me in spite of being the place very crowded. I just left the laundry with my clothes, and three young black boys were waiting for me. I fought, but I fell to the floor. I had blood on my elbows. Finally, I gave up, and they took my bag and ran away like devils. Fortunately, they did not search my body. Thus my passport plus cash money and credit card were not stolen. I had to buy new clothes.

Attacked by insects
During that same journey, which lasted almost a whole year travelling overland, without taking airplanes, in around 25 African countries, I was attacked by insects. That devoured the eardrum of my left ear while travelling by dhow across the Rovuma River from Mozimboa do Praia in Mozambique to Mtwara in Tanzania (two and a half days of navigation). Only in Nairobi some weeks later, an Indian woman helped me in a pharmacy with the appropriate medicines.

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Jailed in Asuncion, Paraguay for seven days
I was jailed in Asuncion, Paraguay, for seven days for entering the country through a forbidden border in the Chaco, something that I ignored. I had to use my last grams of gold earned in Madre de Dios to buy food in that prison, where the prisoners were not fed. When I was released I was deported to Brazil through Puerto Stroessner (it was in Stroessner times, back in the year 1986). Today that town is called Ciudad del Este.

What are three of your best travel tips?

Be generous with the people in need in countries poor in money
Do not bargain for fruits or souvenirs to old women in local markets. Remember that you have money enough to visit those countries, but ordinary local people will never have the means to travel to your country. Instead, give alms to the poor. In India, where I have spent 12 months net of my life in different journeys, I separated every day some rupees to give to a sadhu or a beggar. Those rupees were money enough to buy a tea and a piece of chapati. You will recognize the good traveller in which he is generous with the people in need when he travels.

Remember always that being a good son is 1000 times better than being a good traveller
I have known travellers obsessed to break a travel record or determined to travel more years than Marco Polo, and they refused to interrupt their journey when they were advised that their parents were sick and soon would die. That is a big mistake. You should stop travelling and go back to meet your parents or relatives in the hospital. Otherwise, you will have remorses of conscience for the rest of your life. I am proud to declare that I was with my father until his last day, without travelling, and years later, I was beside my mother’s bed until she left this world.

Forget about the stupid uninhabited rocks or atolls
Unless you are a geologist or you study meteorology in remote places, do not join stupid tourist expeditions to stupid uninhabited rocks or atolls where even interesting animals do not live there, just because they are in stupid lists of travels clubs, or in the mind of stupid organizers. Do not be grotesque, but be a real traveller!

Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants? 

When I travel alone I use youth hostels or rooms in family houses and my money helps to local humble people, and furthermore, in those places you meet lots of interesting travellers. In the expensive hotels, the smiles of the receptionists are forced and artificial, most of the customers are inexpressive and circumspect, and the benefits go to a multinational chain of hotels based in the USA or in Europe.

I have used hundreds of times 4 or 5 stars hotels while working as a tourist guide for the company Intourist in the old USSR leading Spanish tourists (6 years), or in more recent times guiding rich Russian tourists around Spain, Portugal and France for 20 years.

But since I got married, I always lodge in the Spanish Paradores, which are old castles, monasteries or palaces. I love my wife, so I have to satisfy her. She would never accept to sleep in a youth hostel or in a 1-star hotel.

Although, in fact, I enjoy most sleeping in special places that emit baraka, such us besides the feet of the Sphinx of Giza, in the middle of the stones of Stonehenge, on the islets of Nan Madol in the island of Pohnpei, up in the Cathar castle of Montsegur, etc. That baraka, or subtle energy, helps you to develop from featherless biped to complete man.

What is another good travel story you haven’t mentioned so far?

Remember that dromomania is a pathology, something insane. There are many more important activities in life than travelling. Travel is just an instrument to acquire knowledge from the countries visited, like a bee extracting nectar from the flowers, but you must learn when to leave it. If you observe this attitude, there will arrive a moment when you will feel yourself like a monk on a pilgrimage around his temple, the planet Earth.

What are some of the worst places you’ve stayed? 

One of the most horrible places where I have slept was in Gangtok, Sikkim (India), during the Padmasambhava festival. I could only find a place to sleep in a private house where I was accommodated to sleep in a kind of sarcophagus with just my size. I felt in a grave in a cemetery. The next day I explained where I had slept the previous night to two Buddhist monks. They accepted me to share their cell in Rumtek monastery for seven days, the length of the festival. I participated with the monks in all the activities of the monastery, just like another monk, because I explained to the main lama that I was a Zen Buddhist monk during some months in a monastery north of Kyoto, Japan.

Another bad night (in fact, there were several bad nights) was spent in the caves of a mountain in the trenches of war in Jalalabad. I lived in that part of Afghanistan for seven days because I wanted to learn about the value of life. At 100 meters distance, I could distinguish how the government and Russian soldiers shot me, and I had to bow my head to avoid the bullets. In the evening, I, together with the mujahideen, slept in caves and every night, several Russian war aeroplanes bombed the places where we were hidden (it was the year 1988). It was hard to sleep. When I judged that I had learnt the lesson of life, I returned to Pakistan across the Hindu Kush mountains.

Do you have any favourite cities?

Blagoveshchensk, in Amur oblast, Russia.
Jerusalem, in Israel.
Kolkatta, in India.
Auroville, in India.
Yazd, in Iran.
Buenos Aires, in Argentina.
Sevilla, in Spain.

Additional favourites

If you can only choose one:
Favourite airline: The cheapest one.
Favourite airport: None.
Favourite city: Blagoveshchensk, Amur oblast, Russia.
Favourite island: Valaam (inside Ladoga Lake).
Favourite people: The whole of humanity.
Favourite small town: Ronda, in Andalucia, Spain.
Favourite travel book: The Seven Journeys of Sindbad the Sailor.
Favourite travel movie: The man who would be king.
Favourite travel website: Wikipedia.

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