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This Man's Been Nearly Everywhere

World Travels

By David HolmstromStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 10, 1998


John Clouse has the thickest, most dog-eared passport in the world. Turn to Page 16 of the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records and you'll find the reason.

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He holds the record for traveling to all 192 of the globe's sovereign countries, and to all but six of the non-sovereign or other territories that existed in early 1996.

Mr. Clouse, a hearty walker, great talker, and record stalker, is the reigning Marco Polo of the '90s, says the Travelers' Century Club (TCC) in Santa Monica, Calif. Club membership is limited to the tiny, fanatical group of travelers who have visited 100 or more countries.

"Clouse is the No. 1 world traveler now," says Klaus Billep, TCC chairman. But since Guinness and TCC are at odds over the definition of a country or sovereign area, Clouse, a lawyer from Evansville, Ind., is running in two races, so to speak. While Guinness counts 264 countries and nonsovereign areas in the world, TCC comes in at 309, including some remote islands that add a little more danger, drama, and expense to the quest.

Yet Clouse, who has spent about $1.25 million roaming from A to Z in the past 40 years, says he travels for the love of it, not to outrun anybody else who may be keeping a list. And by either count, he is now down to just three remote islands to visit.

"What is a country is hard to say," says Clouse. "TCC says if the place is far removed from the parent country, either geographically, politically, or ethnologically, then it's on the list," says Clouse. "TCC is the arbiter of this nonsense, but it's kind of fun."

Guinness tends to use political criteria more heavily, not geographic remoteness of political possessions.

Clouse has continued his journeys since making the record book, and has not only visited every country in the world, but some two or three times. Now he's focusing on the remaining three islands.

"Yeah, I'm trying to finagle my way to three places: the Paracel Islands, owned by China in the South China Sea," he says. "And on two occasions the weather has kept me away from reaching Bouvet, an island in Norwegian Antarctica. No. 3 is Clipperton, a French island about 700 miles west of Acapulco."

Reaching these islands can take months of preparation with hopes pinned on hitting a day when the weather is good, or the boat chartered for the occasion has delivered on its promises.

"You have to get a group of people together to cut down on the costs," says Clouse. Regular or irregular airlines do not fly near any of the islands.

Delphine Cooper of South Bend, Ind., a member of TCC, is also on the hunt to visit all the world's countries. Last year she made it to Bouvet.

After circling the island trying to find a safe place to go ashore among the honking seals, the captain of the chartered boat carrying Ms. Cooper and others put her in a Zodiac (rubber boat).

"I caught the weather just right," she says. "It's not a beautiful island, but it's thrilling to know that I'm one of the few people that have ever set foot on it. What makes a place unique for me is the margin of difficulty to get there."

Clouse agrees. To reach Danger Island, in the British Indian Ocean territory and part of the Chargas Archipelago, Clouse chartered a boat with others, including Tony Allman, a fellow world traveler from Auckland, New Zealand.

"It was a huge, pounding surf," says Clouse, a fit septuagenarian, "and we convinced some sailors to tow us in. It was so rough that Tony lost his pants, but we made it. And all I could think during the rest of the day was that we have to go back through the surf again."