Leon Hochman was born in Santa Marta, Colombia and started travelling in 1981. After 40 years, he was able to achieve his dream of visiting all 196 independent countries listed by International Travel News magazine. Due to travelling for 40 years, his tour guide in Pakistan gave him the nickname The Legend.
Nobody wakes up one day and decides to visit all the countries in the world, Hochman says. There is a process. In the beginning, you start travelling to visit some countries. At some point, one is bitten by the travel mosquito; then you want to see more countries, and suddenly you realize that you can visit all of them. I started visiting some regions of my country, Colombia. I was happy to do it. Then I visited some of the nearer countries. After that, in 1981, while living in Panama for work reasons, I was sent to visit most of the Caribbean islands.
It was then when I felt that the travel mosquito had bitten me. I only thought about travelling and seeing countries where I had not been before. Years later, I noticed that I had travelled to most of the countries in the world and not too many was left, so I decided to visit all of them. It has been a long way, many flight hours, many waiting times at the airports, full days without sleeping, but all have been worth it. The reward has been very gratifying.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
I love Argentina because going to Buenos Aires is like being in Europe but in Latin America. The people are very friendly, one eats the best meats in the world. I also love Argentina for its natural beauties such as the Iguazu Falls, which is one of the new 7 wonders of nature. Also Patagonia with the charm of Bariloche, the Perito Moreno Glacier and the spectacular Ushuaia.
Bhutan is a small country in its territory but big in its heart. They have great respect for life, they do not sacrifice animals, and it is forbidden to fish. They have a harmonious coexistence between man and nature. The degree of development is measured through the Gross National Happiness, where they measure the ecological, cultural, spiritual, environmental and well-being values of people. From the moment of arrival, when the Druk Air plane passes very close to the Himalayas to the visits to the Dzong (fortified Buddhist monasteries), they well merit the visit to the country.
Morocco is a wonderful country. Visiting it travelling by ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar is an experience well worth doing. I love their delicious food like couscous, tajin and lamb. Touring Fez, Meknes, Marrakesh and Rabat and getting lost in its medinas with its narrow streets. I enjoyed it very much the same as Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, in Marrakesh, seeing the snake charmers and also visiting the Madrasas or Koranic Schools.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
The decision to visit every country in the world
In 1981 for work reasons, while living in Panama, I was sent to visit most of the Caribbean islands. It was then when I felt that the travel mosquito had bitten me. I only thought about travelling and seeing countries where I had not been before. I became a Dromomaniac. Years later, I noticed that I had travelled to most of the countries in the world and not too many was left, so I decided to visit all of them.
The last country in Africa
When I arrived at my hotel in Juba in South Sudan, the last country that I needed to complete the visit of the 54 countries of Africa, I realized the tremendous achievement that I had just made. Tears came to my eyes because Africa, for me, is the most difficult continent to visit. I was very happy and it was time to celebrate with my family and friends, but that would have to wait a few more days.
The last country
Upon arriving in Pakistan, I told my guide that I was very excited because after travelling, since 1981, for 40 years, I was at that time completing the visit of all the countries of Asia and also that of all the countries of the world. He told me that I am The Legend because of my perseverance and determination to have been travelling for 40 years in order to fulfil my lifelong dream.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Protesters in Zimbabwe
In the year 2000, I visited Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, just when the country was celebrating 20 years of its independence from England. During my visit, President Robert Mugabe gave the order to kill the English who were there and expropriate their farms.
The streets were full of protesters to the point that the car I was in with the guide could hardly move forward, so many people looked inside the car and realized that there was a white man inside. I told the guide that if there were any problems, to clarify to the protesters that I was not English but Colombian. Luckily nobody attacked us.
Protesters in Lebanon
In October 2019, I travelled to Lebanon for the second time to go overland to Syria. In Beirut, thousands of protesters were in the streets protesting because they put a tax on phone calls by WhatsApp. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri reversed the measure, the protests had not stopped as people continued to demonstrate against the economic crisis, unemployment and corruption. The next day we left very early towards the border with Syria, thinking that the streets and roads would not be blocked.
Still, it was not like that, there were many protesters who had closed the roads, so the vehicles could not travel on the main road that led to the border, burning tires and laying stones. Our driver made a titanic effort trying to convince the protesters to let us pass because we were tourists. It was important that we got a good impression of Lebanon and its people.
It worked about three times, getting them to remove the barricades while they greeted us by raising their thumbs, but another five times it didn’t work, and the driver had to go by alternate routes and then return to the main road where the blockade was repeated. I thought at one point that we were not going to be able to reach the border, but the perseverance and knowledge of the driver finally managed to take us to the Lebanese side of the border, where we transferred to a Syrian bus.
Reservation problem in Tunisia
In July 1996, I was with my wife in Tunisia. We lived at that time in Bogotá, Colombia, where there was no Tunisian Embassy, so we had to get the visa in Madrid, but they only gave it to us for three days. Upon arrival in Tunis, we went to the Tunisair counter to reconfirm our departure flights. The person who attended us told us that our reservations had been taken away from us because they had to be confirmed in Madrid at the time we checked in, which we thought absurd. They put us on a waiting list. We left very nervously because if they did not include us in our original flight, in three days, our visa would expire, and that could cause us problems.
The following days we always went to the airport to see if they had managed to get us on the original flight, but they always told us that it had not been possible. On the day of the flight, we went early to the airport, we spoke with a supervisor, but we couldn’t get anything. We were going to Cairo, we inquired with several airlines, but the only one that could take us was Lufthansa via Frankfurt, but it was too expensive, so we discarded that option. The supervisor kept us on the waiting list until ten minutes before the plane left, suddenly he told us to go with him, and he took us to the door of the plane and told us that our seats were there.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Plan in advance
Planning the trip in advance helps save time and money. This includes tickets, hotels and places to visit.
The luggage must be very light, pack in a carry-on, the bathroom items must be miniatures such as shampoo, aftershave, toothpaste, etc. This helps one to carry the luggage in the compartment above the seat and, when arriving at the destination, you don’t have to wait to claim the luggage.
Try to travel by zones
Going to countries that are close to each other. You will save time and money.
What are some of the worst places you’ve stayed?
In Lagos, they asked me three times for money at the airport. The traffic is terrible, and the people are very aggressive to the point that the person showing me the city got out of the car three times to fight with the other drivers.
Do you have any favourite cities?
Beirut, Bogota, Edinburgh, Prague, Samarkand.
What is another good travel story you haven’t mentioned so far?
I have been in remote regions such as Antarctica and the Arctic region, including Svalbard and Greenland, being 991 kilometres (669 miles) from the North Pole. I have also been in Tibet and Siberia, touring these regions on the Trans-Siberian Train.
If you can only choose one:
Favourite airline: Turkish Airlines.
Favourite airport: Istanbul.
Favourite city: Beirut.
Favourite island: Samoa.
Favourite people: All the good people in the world.
Favourite small town: Fussen, Bavaria, Germany.
Favourite travel book: The four books that I wrote about my travels.