Around the World in 20 Years

After a four-hour trek to reach 15,092 feet, the author, Louie, and Peter pose at the feet of Pan de Azúcar and El Púlpito del Diablo, two distinct geographical features of Sierra Nevada del Cocuy in Colombia. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

After a four-hour trek to reach 15,092 feet, the author, Louie, and Peter pose at the feet of Pan de Azúcar and El Púlpito del Diablo, two distinct geographical features of Sierra Nevada del Cocuy in Colombia. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

Since 1995 Louie Hechanova has been crisscrossing the Earth on an adventure. He has been to 107 countries and counting, but unlike many travelers, he has never done it for bragging rights to the most number of stamps on a passport. Instead, he is likelier to boast about the days—DAYS!—he spent sitting in a cramped, dusty four-wheel-drive, watching a pride of lions hunt-eat-sleep-poop-play-scratch-repeat, somewhere in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

So what did you do inside the vehicle all day?” I asked. “Nothing,” he laughed. And because Louie is not about merely ticking boxes on the roster of 195 countries in the world, he returns to his favorite places often just to be with their people again, discover their geography further and observe their wildlife some more. Twenty years in, traveling still has not gotten old for Louie.

I had a glimpse of what it means to explore the planet with my lifelong friend (our friendship started when we were seven) when I joined up with him in Cali, Colombia, the day after Christmas 2014. I had essentially crashed his annual holiday, but Louie did not hesitate in inviting me over to the former capital of “the most powerful crime syndicate in history,” according to the US DEA. From that point on, I braced myself for all things unusual and unexpected, especially since he said I had to find my way to the hostel where he and Peter were staying. There was to be no typical Filipino welcome with the entire neighborhood standing right at the airport arrivals hall.

Peter, or Peter Hertrampf, is Louie’s forever soul-mate and the one true constant in his two decades of traveling as way of life. Together, they are a perfect pair because both are rather spontaneous in their approach to exploring the lay of the land. While they may know their destination, they do not always know how to get there turn by turn, as in a Google Maps route. On our way to Sierra Nevada del Cocuy to climb up to Pan de Azúcar and El Púlpito del Diablo at 15,092 feet, Louie had a debate with himself whether to hitch a ride before dawn on a milk lorry, making collection rounds to farms, or to strike out on our own in a rented car. In the days before the final verdict (we drove ourselves), I noted that Louie seemed to have as much fun researching possibilities and turning them every which way in his head as summiting part of the Andean range.

The hazards of self-driving in the Kalahari Basin in Botswana are plenty, but it's all part of the adventure. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

The hazards of self-driving in the Kalahari Basin in Botswana are plenty, but it's all part of the adventure. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

There have been a few exceptions in Louie and Peter’s otherwise unconstrained journeys, as in the case of their two-and-a-half-month, six-nation, self-drive safari to southern Africa in 2010. Because of the peculiar way Botswana wildlife parks work, it was necessary to book specific dates in that country to ensure campsite slots during the peak tourist season, when all Europeans and their grandmothers flee from the frosty wind lashes of winter to nestle into the warm embraces of sub-Saharan Africa. Louie and Peter themselves are based in Bremen, Germany, and they were competing for those spaces primarily against South Africans, who were also on their holidays.

Louie’s love affair with traveling began with his extended family way back in the seventies and eighties. Almost every summer growing up, he joined his uncles, aunts and cousins when they drove around the Philippine archipelago to places unheard of then by other Filipinos too embroiled in the political furor of the day. Even before Sagada became the tourist destination that it is today, they had already gone caving in Lumiang and Sumaging. Several years later, soon after Louie and Peter met on a Mindoro beach in 1994, Louie had the chance to show off his childhood tourist spot up the Cordilleras to the German newbie who was in the country for first time. In a year’s time, in 1995, just a few months after the official end of the Rwandan bloodbath, they found themselves in a ghetto-like section of Nairobi, Kenya, ready to check into a decrepit backpackers’ hostel, on their first globetrotting experience together.

Before the age of Photoshop, this happened at Virunga National Park in Rwanda, home to critically endangered mountain gorillas. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

Before the age of Photoshop, this happened at Virunga National Park in Rwanda, home to critically endangered mountain gorillas. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

To peg Louie as merely a backpacker does not capture the essence of the man as world wanderer. While he can indeed go for days without a shower in the middle of the Himalayas, he can also be blind to price tags, as when the urge to splurge strikes him and he wants to dive five times a day and once a night in Bonaire, for 10 days. And because a spa treatment in Fiji may not necessarily have been Peter’s choice, sparks can fly as they debate the merits of Louie’s decisions.

Though he no longer remembers where they live high up in the Himalayas, Louie had some very good memories with this Tibetan family. He even blends in well with them. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

Though he no longer remembers where they live high up in the Himalayas, Louie had some very good memories with this Tibetan family. He even blends in well with them. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

Louie and Peter had trekked the Annapurna Circuit by themselves nine months before the October 2014 snowstorm tragedy that claimed 43 lives. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

Louie and Peter had trekked the Annapurna Circuit by themselves nine months before the October 2014 snowstorm tragedy that claimed 43 lives. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

It is a wonder to behold an argument in English and German (and some muttered Hiligaynon words) between Louie and Peter should the occasional disagreements arise about their accommodations, transportation, landmarks to visit, food and the like. Regardless of who wins (usually Louie, he claims), the point is that they both are determined to make the most of their holidays—TripAdvisor, Kayak, Airbnb, Uber and Visa be damned. In an age where traveling to one’s antipode is as easy as clicking a button, or waving plastic at people’s faces, Louie and Peter still trust their gut and let their feet lead them to certain places just because. After almost a month together in Colombia, we parted ways as they headed for the land of Fidel Castro. There, what was supposed to be a plain three-week trip ended up becoming a seven-week tryst with Cuba and its old-world allure and pristine state sans hordes of tourists similar to those found at the foot of the Eiffel Tower (which was more like Louie’s barangay, being a mere three short blocks away from his flat, when he lived in Paris as an IT consultant).

It is useless to ask Louie why he travels and why he loves it. “It’s like asking me why I love Peter,” he replies. “I just do. Period.” And that he does, even when the journey takes both hilarious and scary twists. Once, Peter stuck his head out of their tent and immediately got pooped on by a baboon none too pleased at their parking and camping under the primate troop’s tree, in the middle of the Okavango Delta. Another time, Peter got separated from their group during a cave dive in Tulum, Mexico. He did not reappear until close to an hour later, when he returned with another crew that found him alone in the water, clearly lost in the cavern system.

Besides trekking, cave diving is Louie's other favorite activity when traveling. Here he explores the caverns of a cenote in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

Besides trekking, cave diving is Louie's other favorite activity when traveling. Here he explores the caverns of a cenote in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

One day, while in Salento, Louie cajoled me into devouring some hormigas (the thumbnail-size Colombian ant variety). I gave in and nibbled on one, wary about potential allergies. As I waited a few minutes for any adverse reactions, we talked about the strangest food we had ever eaten. I felt that the cuy (guinea pig) he had in Peru was one of those up there in the totem pole. “Yes, but there was also the yak butter tea I had in Tibet . . .” And off he went on an amusing narrative of a different exploit.

This is how Louie slept in the middle of the Amazon jungle, near the borders of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

This is how Louie slept in the middle of the Amazon jungle, near the borders of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Louie Hechanova)

I think I am starting to get my friend and his lifetime love of travel. He is indeed not in it for a Guinness world record. On days when Louie is not at an airport, waiting to board his next flight, when he is just puttering in his garden, planting a new rosebush and attending to his palm tree, he uses his YOLO memories as fertilizer to inspire his next escapade. In the end, Louie is simply a collector of fascinating stories.


Agatha Verdadero

Agatha Verdadero

Agatha Verdadero runs the first and sole digital-only trade publishing house, The CAN-DO! Company, in Kenya and East Africa. She loves to travel, write, daydream, and play outdoors. She has enough scar stories now from cycling and trekking to write a book.


More from Agatha Verdadero:

Thriving In The Dust Bowl
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How a Filipino couple brought good coffee and happiness to Guymon, Oklahoma.