Canadian Mike Spencer Bown, the most travelled man in the world, was in Waterford city last week. Aged 44, the Newfoundland native has been to over 190 countries, and his journey to Ireland marked his fist visit to this island.
The late proprietor of The Munster Express, JJ Walsh, visited 87 countries during his eventful life, no mean feat at all, but it does give you further indication of the extent of Mike’s achievement.
After enjoying a walking tour of Waterford with James Doherty, this newspaper met Mike over a pint in Jordan’s Bar on The Quay where he regaled us with tales drawn from his 23 years of on the road backpacking.
“I had an import/export business, but I sold it to allow me to concentrate on travelling,” said the amiable Canadian, whom we met in the company of Keith Daniels of the Rice Guest House, where Mike stayed while in Waterford.
“So I packed my bag and went on my way right around the world, which I’ve been doing ever since. And I have to say that the friendliest people I’ve met in that time have more often than not lived in the world’s less developed countries; they’ve got more time for you there.”
So how did Ireland rank on that scale? “Pretty good, I have to say, one of the better in terms of the world’s developed countries – there’s still a natural friendliness here. But in general I have to say that the fewer tourists there are around, then the friendlier local people tend to be; that’s been my experience anyway.”
Following his visit to Ireland, Mike posted the following on his Facebook page. “Of course I’ll have to come back. There was not enough time, and I saw none of Donegal, for instance.
“The way I look at it is this…. Irish meals are very large and filling, so you don’t have your thee a day, just two, thus leaving some room for Guinness.
“In the same sense, rather than pig-out by trying to do all of Ireland at once, I’ve saved some space for Donegal. Also, some of my family on my mother’s side were originally from that area, Brown’s (as opposed to Bowns) and Quigleys.
“Waterford was an interesting ancient city, not much developed for tourism, as it was once a big manufacturing centre.
“The weather didn’t co-operate, but this was okay, as there were many museums and pubs. After Waterford I rushed north relatively quickly, and looked at some of the places around Belfast. “There is a famous rope bridge out to an island used for salmon fishing, back in the day, Carrick-a-rede… it was talked about as is it was rather dangerous, and I was half expecting to see something like in Nepal, before the gurkhas upgraded the rope bridges to steel construction.”
He added: “Actually it was a rather small bridge, and only 100 feet high, and nothing Indiana Jones about it…. but it was fun to see the kids getting happily scared on it. A local legend says that a man-eating sea serpent lives nearby, and it can only be slain by a man named McCurdy wearing clothing made out of calf skin, wielding a club with three nails in it, which have never been used to shoe a horse…. if my memory serves me correctly….. better not chance it.
“The Giant’s Causeway was worth a look, as the hexagonal columns are interesting…. there was a blustery wind when I was there, and it whipped up a deep froth of foam, and drove it into the coves and shoreline, a metre deep in places.”
Detailing his travels, Mike said he has had his fair share of hairy moments (“I’ve used my charm to talk my way out of trouble!”), which we detailed on a country by country basis.

Cameroon: “I heard lots of gunfire there, and even witnessed a fatal shooting. I’ve been robbed in several countries, including, unfortunately Ireland where my mobile phone was robbed on the street. But I prefer to focus on the positive and talk about how wonderful a planet we live in.”
Congo: “I met spear hunters while I was there, the eastern part of the country with the Bambuti forest  tribe, who took me into their protection for a number of weeks. Their way of life is removed from the norms of Western society; they live off nature. They were remarkable, some of the most adventurous people that I have ever met. My four years in Africa, travelling through 50 different countries in the process, were memorable for many different reasons.”
Georgia: “The food there was absolutely terrific.”
Honduras: “An interesting place, but very, very dangerous. Guatemala’s had its fair share of troubles too. ”
Iraq: “I was there during the 2003 war; I bribed my way into the country from Iran and got into lots of underground parties, which were great fun, a real alternative scene and a far cry from the way that the country has been traditionally portrayed in the mainstream media.”
Nagorno Karabakh (surrounded by Azerbaijan): “I was almost subjected to torture while I was there, but thanks to the Russian I could speak, I was able to talk my way out of my jail cell, convincing the authorities there that I was a visitor and not a spy. Being arrested by border guards looking for bribes or potential ransom money is something I’m familiar with.”
New Guinea: “Fascinating and very primitive. People are still burned there for withcraft.” 
Nigeria: “Very friendly, which again runs contrary to some of the more commonly associated images we may have of that country given its religious strife. And I could say the very same for Pakistan, which is contrary to what the international media would otherwise suggest.”
North America: “The national parks and mountain rangers are so vast in both Canada and the United States that it’s possible to go several weeks without meeting any people. So having the skill to be good in one’s own company and to embrace the benefits of solitude is very important. One could lose your mind without human contact – so it’s very important to avoid going ‘bush crazy.’
“After 10 or more days without human contact, a person could go ‘bush crazy’ – night and day times merge into one, coherent thought can become difficult and after 65 days of this, the human body can literally shut down because of such loneliness.”
Russia: “It’s incredibly vast. Saint Petersburg  is a beautiful city and I really enjoyed my time there, as well as in the southern former Soviet republics. I lived with Russian reindeer hunters in the Arctic Circle, eating reindeer meat and drinking vodka, which was quite the experience. Being Canadian prepares you for harsher winters”
Somalia: “Mogadishu was every bit as dangerous as one reads about. I travelled in a car there in tinted windows because it’s not a safe place for a white person to be, as was proven during the war which raged there and of course through the many incidents of piracy which have occurred on the Somali coast.
“Punt land in Somalia is a haven for pirates and I was held there for being a suspected terrorist – that was a close shave.”
The Amazon: “It was like stepping back in time. The people who live there are removed from the modern world as we westerners know it.” 
Indonesia: “The Indonesians provided me with great hospitality. I stayed with different families and ate well there. They enjoy life and make visitors feel most welcome.”
Mike travels light and dresses down: he doesn’t carry a computer and in most instances does not bring a mobile phone with him while on his travels.
“I’ve always had a passion for hiking and mountaineering, and wandering the wilderness has always fascinated me. And thanks to that interest, I developed survival skills that have enabled me to develop and hone the confidence required to travel through some of the most dangerous places on Earth.”
Interestingly, all the more so for a man who regularly writes across a range of international publications, Mike doesn’t do too much research into his destinations. He prefers to go ‘freestyle’ and simply see where life takes him.
Be it Tokyo (his favourite city), the ruined city of Mir in Turkmenistan, the beauty of Koh Tao Island in Thailand or the English teachers he befriended during his time in China, Mike Spencer Bown had packed several lifetimes of experience into the past two dozen years.
And it was a pleasure to sit and talk with him.