Philippe Melul is a French travel agent who has visited every country in the world over 35 years of travel and ten round-the-world journeys (including one by train in 1995). The first country was Belgium, and the last one was Surinam. He has also lived in several countries, which allows a much more in-depth discovery than a simple trip, especially on a cultural level. The countries being: England, Germany, the USA, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, and at the moment: Ecuador.
What are three of your favourite countries and why?
A wide variety of landscapes from Iguazu Falls in the north to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in the south. I have a strong affinity with Latinos, and I speak Spanish fluently. I lived in Salta for seven years, a beautiful Andean region with colourful mountains, salt lakes, Indian villages and llamas.
Nature at its purest. Mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, lakes, giant fern forests, fjords, geysers, and sheep pastures as far as the eye can see.
Tip: The opportunity for magnificent treks, such as the Milford Track in the South Island.
I visited just at the start of the civil war. An excellent surprise. A very mountainous country with terraced cultures, medieval villages, and unique architecture. They are welcoming people with ancestral traditions, such as the jambai, the curved dagger. However, Yemenites do not shine for the condition of women.
Other favourite countries
Canada, Ecuador, Italy, Greece, Morocco, Tanzania, Iran, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Journey on the roof of the “Nariz del Diablo” train from Riobamba to Guayaquil, a vertiginous descent by the technique of zigzagging from the Andean plateaus to the tropical forest.
A few days in a “fale”, a simple cabin on stilts by the sea. No electricity or internet. Only the hot sand, the sound of the waves, and the multicoloured underwater world.
I stayed in “Dogon region”, cave dwellings on cliffs. A warm welcome in villages in this semi-desert region with ancestral customs.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
At the ascent of Mount Emei, I was attacked by baboons who scratched me and ripped off my backpack just for some biscuits.
Fortunately, a Chinese man out of nowhere sold me a stick to repel them.
Truck-hitchhiking ride from the Ethiopian border to Nakuru. Three days standing by, holding on to a single iron bar, in the dust, the rain, and the scorching sun.
The Central African Republic
In the middle of Bangui airport, six requests for “backchich” in 2 hours, with threats (confiscate my passport, take me to prison and beat me up). Backchich is the Arab word (but used in all Africa) for “bribe”.
In Bangui, they asked several times for money (“small Christmas gift”), and once, they brought me to a closed room where they threatened me to withdraw my passport and put me into jail. They also threatened of beating me but did not do it. I had no chance except to pay something. I had to bargain and finally left 20$.
This type of adventure, I had it many times, but most of all in Africa, and mostly at immigration and customs: Congo, Sierra Leone, Tchad, Cameroon, and Somalia. I hate to give “backchick”, but sometimes I had no choice. This is officials’ corruption, but part from that, I had fantastic relations with many Africans.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Money, time, preparation and motivation
To travel, you need money, time, and preparation. But above all, you need motivation. And do not listen to all the caring relatives who will find you 10,000 good reasons not to leave.
Try to get as many as possible before departure, as it is increasingly difficult to apply for a visa when travelling from one country to another.
Three essential ones. English far ahead, the only truly international language. Spanish, which allows you to travel to 20 Latin American countries. French is useful in 20 African countries and France because the Parisians do not like to speak foreign languages, as everybody knows. If you are good at languages, a little Arabic or Russian can be useful. But forget the Chinese, too complicated. I prefer the “body language”, the universal one.
Philippe has written several books, including “Profession globe-trotter” (2017, French) and “197” (2021, French-Spanish-English), available for sale on his website Philippemelul.com. He has also just released a mini-video called Every country in the world in 7 minutes.