The Favourites of Ron Perrier

Ron Perrier retired from his medical practice in March 2006 to travel the world. He hasn’t worked since and has been on the road for 6-9 months per year. He has visited more than 120 countries and over 680 Nomad Mania regions.

What are three of your favourite countries, and why?

Mexico
In my first year of travel (2006-07), I drove my 1-ton truck and camper to Cabo San Lucas in the Baja and saw most everything over three months. In my second year, I drove it to Cancun for over four months. Having your own vehicle is the only way to travel. The people are wonderful, the culture great, the street food awesome, and there are many great things to see. Once I finish 193, I plan on spending my winters in both the Baja and mainland Mexico. My camper is the perfect vehicle to dry camp as it has solar panels, a full dry bathroom, oven and everything you need.

United States
The US has many problems, most easily summed up as “America is not a country but a business”. As a country, I envy nothing that they have. However, it has some great cities, and better yet, some wonderful nature. I believe the Colorado Plateau (the uplift that the Colorado River flows through, including a bit of SW Colorado, NW New Mexico, northern Arizona, and mostly southern Utah) is the most beautiful place in the world (places in Patagonia, the US Sierra Nevada and the Canadian Rockies compare).

I have made 37 trips here, always in the spring and fall as the summer is too hot there, and these are the shoulder seasons for adventure in Canada. There are 300 canyons that empty into the Colorado River. Some highlights are the 180-mile kayak trip on the Green River, kayaking Lake Powell several times, Havasu Canyon, backpacking Grand Gulch, searching for Anasazi Indian ruins, and the area around Coyote Buttes, possibly the most recognizable place in the world that nobody knows where it is. I have been to the “Wave” nine times.

India
I spent four and a half months taking the train and occasionally the bus seeing a majority of the country. I arrived in Varanasi first, and after ten days, I was hooked. Then I basically went clockwise around the country visiting most regions. India is the total cultural experience – food, smells, noise, masses of people who want to be your friend, cows and their excrement. I then read “Being Indian” by a well-known Indian, and it kind of ruined it for me. Basically, Hinduism has no moral values. The golden rule “treat others as you would treat yourself” has little meaning. Everything is about wealth and power.

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

Rafting the Grand Canyon
This is easily the best adventure trip in the world – great geology, hiking, scenery, and so many rapids, you forget them all (except Lava Falls). It takes 14 days to do the entire 220 miles of canyon. This was possibly my hardest trip to arrange. After three tries over three years, I finally started early enough (15 months ahead) to arrange it. It is not cheap (over US$5,000), but well worth the price. The guides were awesome, and they let me row as much as I wanted. Delicious food was prepared every night. We slept on sandbanks. We had some great day hikes every day, including a return to Havasu Canyon to walk up from the river. I had been to the bottom of the canyon five times before – 3 times to the Phantom Ranch (one of these was a 22-mile rim-to-rim hike in a day), once 16 miles down Havasu Canyon, and once from Toroweap to Lava Falls. 

Diving in Palau
The entire south is a marine protected area, the only place in the world with good fish. Liveaboards are the best way to dive. This 7-day trip had five dives a day which is too much for most, and I only did one night dive. See WWII planes, ships and many world-renowned dive sites. The best places are predator heavy – lots of sharks, barracuda and tuna as the small fish are hiding. We had three dives at the best, the Blue Corner, where you tether yourself with a reef hook and move in and out with the surf. There is a habituated Napoleon wrasse that hangs out here (a huge green fish whose lips are a Chinese aphrodisiac, so there are not many left in the world). You can pet this guy.

Another great site is the German Channel, where I saw five giant manta rays fishing above a fish ball. This was the most expensive trip of my travel – over US$5,000 for the week. Almost as good is the Raja Ampat west of Papua, Indonesia, renowned for its coral and sea fans. I did another, much cheaper 7-day liveaboard here. My dream trip is a 19-day trip to reposition the Jaya. These are in the Coral Triangle, an area with great currents as the Pacific is a few metres higher than around Indonesia. Unfortunately, one gets spoiled, and most other dive sites lose their interest. I also don’t go to many aquariums.

Walking almost 1,850 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago
On my first trip in 2011, I walked with no pack transfers about 1600kms over 64 days (average 24kms/day) from Le Puy en Valey, France, to Santiago, Spain. I started the Camino Portuguese in Porto on January 2nd, 2018, at the beginning of my two years of driving around Europe. Of the three potential routes, I walked the classical, interior route. There was only one other walker. I love carrying a pack and being self-sufficient.

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

VW California Coast
I bought a new VW California Coast (a deluxe camper with everything but a bathroom) and drove it in 2018 and 2019 over 180,000 kilometres to every country in Europe and as far east as Baku Azerbaijan. In September 2018, I was hit by a train near Stockholm. Just as I crossed the barrier, it started down, and I was unable to cross the two tracks before the barrier on that side came down. I could not park where I would not be struck by the train and hoped the train would use the other track. It hit only about 15cms of the left rear corner. The van virtually exploded. 

Now for the bad news. I then bought another new California in Amsterdam with the proceeds from that settlement (Allianz is a very reliable company). On New Year’s eve, 2019, I took an overnight ferry from NW Greece to Venice on my way to Amsterdam to sell the van back to the original dealer. After driving only 100 kilometres, near Verona, I was hit by a drunk driver on the big autostrada sustaining 27,000€ damage. Just as he was passing on the left, he swerved into the guardrail, striking my left rear end. I did a 180° turn at 130 km/hour, striking the entire right-hand side of the van. 

As his car was still driveable, he tried to leave the scene of the accident. I grabbed his keys and ended up fighting him and his three friends in the middle of the highway. I was yelling for help, but 25 cars passed until one stopped. They finally wrestled the keys from me and drove off. I eventually found out that he had no insurance. Italy has a policy to pay insurance costs for non-insured drivers, but not if they are impaired. 

My insurance company, AG in Brussels, has done nothing but obstruct repairs. They have still not paid any of my expenses, including the initial towing charges. They were so difficult to deal with that the VW repair shop in Verona refused to deal with them. AG sent me 12,000€, but I then had to personally pay 15,000€ to get the repairs started. Amazingly, this did not begin until June 24, 2021, almost 18 months after the accident. They were finished on August 4, 2021, the day before I finally returned to Europe to finish the drive to Holland. 

In jest, I asked AG for the names of legal firms in Belgium they could recommend so that I could sue them for the total cost. Their response was to cancel my insurance on October 30 even though I had paid 2,150€ for the entire 2021 year. The good news is that I could not have used the van anyway because of covid and saved 19 months of storage costs. I also had some parking damage on the right rear side that was also fixed. Don’t drive anywhere on New Year’s day, and don’t use AG.

Held for extortion at a business in Shanghai for US$6,000 (36,000 RMB)
I will not give all the details but was very cleverly lured to this “bar”. After much arguing and a lot of physical pushing from three tough Chinese guys, I bargained down to US$5,000. My credit card didn’t work as Union Pay doesn’t accept foreign cards and they insisted I call Visa to raise my limit. I asked security at Visa to put the transaction through as I was a little nervous. After 5 minutes, it was accepted. 

When I got back to my hostel, I called Visa who cancelled the card and told me to get a police report. The next day at the police station, the officer rolled his eyes when I gave him the address. One hour later, the manager of the bar sat beside me in the police station and asked how much I wanted to leave the station? After three intense bargaining sessions, they returned 10,000, 5,000, and finally another 10,000 RMB. I left town. The transaction never appeared on my credit card and I made US$4,200! You could also call this a good news story. I went diving in the Raja Ampat.  

Kyrgyzstan trip
In Osh, Kyrgyzstan, I had paid a private vehicle to drive me to Murghab, the main town of 4,000 in the Pamir of Tajikistan. I stayed in a small hotel overnight and went down to the “bus station” in the morning to get to Khorog. There were no buses, but I eventually got a ride in a small truck carrying sheep carcasses to Khorog. We waited for another sheep to be butchered (always a treat) and then drank vodka and ate from a communal plate with a bunch of locals. Finally off, his truck often stalled and halfway to Khorog, basically stopped running. I was left on the side of the road to hitchhike in the dark. Three 20-somethings in a small car picked me up. The guy in the back seat kept pouring vodka for everyone including the driver. We stopped at the driver’s house and picked up his wife and baby. The next stop was to let off the live sheep in the trunk. We then stopped at a business owned by the driver. They had lost the keys and then broke in. Finally arriving at Khorog at 2:30 am, they demanded money and I gave them some. The town was very quiet. I walked to the only known hostel and slept on the veranda of a room. I survived. 

Bonus: Iraq trip
At Akdamar, I had decisions to make. I wanted to go to Kurdistan, Iraq but Google Maps only showed routes through Iran and NW Iraq, both visa impossibilities. I Googled Turkey/Kurdistan border crossings and got two: Zete supposedly just opened in 2018 in the corner next to the Iran border, a 275kms, 3½ hour drive or the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing, the main tourist and truck crossing (and the only one before 2018). The problem Google Maps did not show Zete as even existing. The drive to the mythical Zete took me over three mountain passes – 2730m with slush and -4°C temperatures, 2110m and clear and 1900m just before Şemdinli and the border. The highways are superb in Turkey, and these were no exception – fast 4-lane or good 2-lane when the other is not possible.

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The trip was basically through snow-covered mountains dropping down into valley floors with none. As I neared Iraq, there was a large military presence with many checkpoints. But they were all very pleasant.
In fact, Zete didn’t exist. I turned around and drove back to Yüksekova. It was almost dark, so I simply parked on the side of the highway outside of town for the night. I ate and played bridge until late, then all of a sudden was surrounded by several military vehicles with an angry man who spoke no English. After a thorough search and many questions translated on the phone, I was told this was a dangerous place and had to go into town. It had started snowing. I drove into Yüksekova and parked at a gas station. The forecast was for heavy snow. I thought I was screwed – in the middle of the mountains surrounded by high passes, only 4-season tires, but had faith in the great Turkish road system and their winter maintenance.

In the morning, there was 4cm of snow on the ground, and it was still snowing. I decided to head west through the mountains of southern Turkey towards the Iraq border. After some slush, the road became clear. One positive was that I was following a river, the Çataksuyu Stream, downhill. The roads got better, and the snow, even on the mountains, disappeared. Besides missing a turn and having to deal with difficult soldiers, everything turned out great, at least for the time being. The road followed the same canyon that turned into a magnificent rugged gorge – big steep sloping plates of rock covered in green moss and then with green grass mixed with the rugged mountains.

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The next problem arose. Google Maps lost its navigation ability. This has happened before (in Kosovo), and one uses Google Maps Preview. It gives a route but no turns or instructions. It needs to be refreshed every 90 seconds and moved along the route manually. I reached a turn where the road left the river. I could go south through the Turkey/Iraq border at Üzümlü or the long way round through Ibrahim Khalil border crossing, the normal and main entry into Kurdistan. The Turkish military pointed me to Üzümlü. There were no road signs, and the road switchbacked high up to the top of the mountain where the border was. After the usual bureaucratic mess of Turkish immigration (but eased by the help of one nice guy who spoke English), I finally got to Iraq immigration for another big disappointment.

I could cross here, but my vehicle couldn’t! Turkey closed their border for an hour at 1:30, and a nice Kurd who spoke good English invited me for a Kurdish lunch of rice, dark noodles, fried chicken, and bean soup. In the three years, he had worked at this crossing, I was the first native English speaker and the first Westerner. I had to endure Turkish immigration again. I told the nice guy that he was the best Turkish immigration officer I have seen. He wasn’t Turkish but a Kurd! So I returned down the mountain to the river and turned west up through more mountains. Over a couple of low passes, I finally turned southwest as directed by Google Maps. In a village, the entrance was so insignificant that I missed it twice. It started as narrow rough pavement that climbed up to one of the more unusual roads I have travelled – new, wide, cement, no painted lines, a sharp 15cm shoulder, and a slight corrugated feel due to pour lines every ⅔m.

It seemed to climb forever and then went along the top of the mountains for several kilometres. At one point, it continued off the indicated map on Google Maps. It ended at a heavily guarded military checkpoint, which was also the “end of the road”. The road shown on Google Maps was apparently undriveable. After many questions and phone calls, I was given two soldiers in full combat gear and guns to take me to the town 60 kilometres away that would give me access to the Iraq border – apparently for my safety as there were “terrorists in the area”. We took a different, very steep road down to the original town and stopped at a military base where I was taken in for questioning. They wanted to know why I was in a special military zone and why I had travelled to so many dangerous countries like Syria and Iran and why I wanted to go to Iraq.

They eventually became friendly and let me go. The soldiers didn’t continue with me (I was still 45 kilometres from the town), and it was obvious they were there to make sure I got to the interrogation. It was one of my more unusual travel experiences. It ended up being a long drive to the Iraq border at Ibrahim Khalil border crossing, so I ended up taking three whole days to get there. But I saw some nice mountains and canyons in parts of southern Turkey that most people never get to – and I wonder why?

What are three of your best travel tips?

Drysol
This very powerful antiperspirant (20% aluminium chloride hexahydrate in an anhydrous alcohol base) is initially applied daily, then once per week, usually at bedtime and showered off in the morning. You never develop body odour and your clothes never smell despite wearing for weeks. In much of my travel, this is very handy as the ability to wash is often restricted. It makes life easier. Laundry is much less often. Even your polyester towels won’t smell too bad. You don’t have to carry an antiperspirant, deodorant or Axe. I have used it for over 25 years and now apply less often.

One bottle lasted me 15 months once. It doesn’t matter for cooling that you don’t sweat in your pits. Wear an old top on application days as it is hard on fabrics. Drysol stops apocrine sweat gland excretion, so you lose your pheromones. Some women complain about the lack of that normal, not necessarily bad, lusty smell. It can also be used for excessively sweaty hands and feet. It is prescription in the US and costs CAD$28 in Canada OTC. There may be comparable products in Europe.

Chaco flip flops
Besides my desire to travel, an initial goal that I have actually achieved is to wear flip flops 99% of the time. I hate shoes, and I only carry hiking shoes and flips. But you can’t walk this much with any flips or sandals (sandals have too many contact points – you have to wear socks for long-distance).
Chacos have a formed footbed and textured surface. The side straps are soft nylon that don’t trap anything under them. The between-the-toe-bit is soft. I have never had a blister or sore feet. What did all the Grand Canyon River guides wear? Chacos. That says it all.

There are some issues: Any of the 3 straps can pull out, and this has now happened to every pair I own. I carry a small Speedy-Sticher-Awl and can repair them anywhere. The other is heel callus that can crack and be very painful. I’ll sneak another tip in here – carry a micro-plane grater with you (mine is 25 cm long and a simple blade with no handle so I can plane both ways). A few minutes every few weeks is all that is necessary. Chacos are difficult to find. They are not sold in Canada. I mail-order them through REI. They are also not cheap.

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Forget suitcases or packs on wheels
Forget suitcases or packs on wheels (unless you only party) and buy a proper backpack that allows you to move anywhere and to actually backpack (in North America, we call multiday trips in the woods “backpacking”, you might call it trekking). From my experience, there is only type to buy – the Deuter Futuro Vario, 50 or 60-litre. Because you can adjust the length of the suspension, there is always a perfect fit so the pack sits on your hips. They also have every pocket and feature you could want. There is a lifetime guarantee, and I have had my 50-litre replaced free once. I also have a 60 litre.

Simply walking to or from a bus or train is so much easier. Escalators and stairs are a breeze. One gets stronger and in better shape from carrying something. After a long flight or train/bus trip, I love putting on my pack and walking to my hostel if possible. After several months of travel, a ritual has become walking the 45 minutes from the bus to home.

Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants? I stay in hotels as a last resort. In my present trip (2021), I am carrying a one-man tent (Big Agnes 1kg), a sleeping pad (Thermarest Uberlite, 220grams and the size of a 300ml glass), and what I always carry – a sleeping bag (Western Mountaineering barrel bag, 4 degrees C), small pillowcase and a sleep sheet. I can fit them all in my small day pack with extra room. I also carry a small collapsible pack for extras. I sleep in airports with comfort and can sleep anywhere (you would not believe some of them).  

I am not much of a foodie. It is hard to beat the Onion Bar & Grill in Spokane Washington. There is also a good fast-food drive-in in Page, Utah, and a restaurant in Moab that both have great burgers topped with a large hot chilli. The only good hamburgers are made in North America. 

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

A beach in Ghana
On my overland trip from Morocco to Cape Town, we were camped on a beach and it felt like a hurricane hit us during the night. The wind drove the rain through the walls of my high-quality tent. It stayed put only because I was in it sitting on one little dry place. There was nowhere to go.

Urumqi Airport, China
I sleep in airports a lot and this one closed for 5 hours at night. I hate spending money on hotels and had a reasonable night tucked out of the wind in below zero weather. I always carry a puff jacket, sleeping bag, toque, buff, gloves and umbrella for wind protection. I actually slept. 

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

My Uzbekistan visa was about to expire while I waited for my Turkmenistan transit visa that I had applied for 16 days previously in Dushanbe. I had travelled through Samarkand, Bukhara and Kiva and was waiting at Nukus in NW Uzbekistan near the border crossing with Turkmenistan. With about 36 hours left on my Uzbek visa, I gave up and took a 24-hour train back to Tashkent (where the visa was in my email) and then a shared taxi to the border of Tajikistan at Osh, Kyrgyzstan arriving at 21:30, about 1 1/2 hours after it had closed and 2 hours before the visa expired. It was pitch black without any businesses for miles. 

I approached the gate, and a guard came over. Realizing I had little time on my visa, he looked at my name. Ronald is close enough to Ronaldo that he was impressed. He let me into the building and called out 5 immigration officers to process the exit. Uzbekistan has the most onerous entry/exit inspection in the world. You completely empty everything onto a table, they check every item and then they open your computer to check for “bad stuff”. They gave me a stamp and exited me into no man’s land between the borders. There was no one around, and I started to yell. An overweight guard came, unlocked the gate and escorted me to the office, rubbing his fingers and saying “dollars”.

As it was an hour later (almost midnight) in Kyrgyzstan, they were understandably upset. The officer kept giving me hell. At the end, he asked me what I would pay him. Not wanting to give money, I found a turquoise rock in my pack I didn’t want it anyway as it was just dead weight, and he accepted it. I was free.

OPTIONAL ADD ON TO THE ARTICLE

Favourite airport: Singapore. Vancouver has the best art.
Favourite island: Vancouver Island – I live in Courtenay, where it is not too hot in the summer (except in 2021!), little snow, not much rain and the best sea kayaking in the world.
Favourite people: Afghanis, Syrians, German travellers aged 24-40 (the most accepting to an old white guy).
Favourite small town: Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. The best small town in the world.
Favourite travel book: Anything by Bill Branson. Vagabonding, the book that got me interested.
Favourite travel website: Nomad Mania. I am a Nomad Maniac – it controls my life.

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