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About town and around the world with Bo Warren

  • Robert ‘Bo’ Warren photographed at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Robert ‘Bo’ Warren of Shelburne with children in Iran. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Robert ‘Bo’ Warren at his home in Shelburne Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO



Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

SHELBURNE — World traveler Robert “Bo” Warren has only four countries left to visit before he can say he’s been to every nation on the map.

In January, he leaves for an 11-nation trip he hopes will include the places he hasn’t yet seen: Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Maldives and North Korea (or at least the demilitarized zone on the North Korean border). And once he’s been to these places, he’ll have accomplished a lifelong dream — a dream he’s ready to share with everyone.

There’s a difference, he says, between traveling “around the world” and traveling to every country within it. “It’s not a vacation,” says Warren, who has walked, sailed, skied and ridden in cars, oxcarts, on camels and on donkey-back. “It’s a very difficult journey to see the whole world.”

The logistics include securing visas and permission to travel to areas well beyond the tourist places — places like Bangladesh, South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen. “Just getting into them is very difficult,” he said.

Warren says he has walked through the rubble of war to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, shortly before his death in 2004. “Where ever I go, I try to meet with people who are significant,” he said.

By seventh grade, Warren decided there were four things he needed to accomplish, to achieve his goal: enough free time; the money to travel; determination; and, most of all, good health.

“When you put 30 kilos on your back for 36 years, it takes an enormous amount of energy,” he said, referring to his heavy backpack. “Even if you’re very fit, it’s very, very arduous.”

“I started traveling about 46 years ago,” said Warren, who grew up in Athol. “The first 10 years I traveled by water – sailing. After that decade of travel by sea, I started traveling by land,” he said. “And it was not by chance.”

Warren said he’s met other travelers who have been to at least 90 nations but has never yet met anyone who has been to all 193 nations in the world. “I’m sure there are some, but I’ve never met them,” he said.

“I’ve been around the world between 40 to 60 times,” said Warren. “To see 193 countries doesn’t sound like a lot, but to see it, in terms of the whole world, is overwhelming. I was not only fortunate, but I was blessed. The greatest explorers (in history) haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”

A civil engineer with advanced degrees in environmental science, Warren said he founded five businesses and earned the money for travel from them.

In his earliest world-traveling days, Warren says he saw the pyramids, the Seven Wonders of the World, and just about every major landmark in each country. “Early on, I was templed- and tombed-out,” he remarked. “At the same time, I was meeting people, and they were far more interesting than the tombs and temples.”

Warren says he doesn’t talk to people about politics or social issues – or give his opinions on how things should be done.

In all his 36 years of traveling over land, often on foot and in places customarily thought of as “dangerous” in the West, Warren said he has never been threatened by any animal or human being in 36 years of travel. “How humbling it is to see people so poor, who don’t have anything to eat, who will go out of their way to help me,” he said. “The only message I’m trying to convey to people is, the world is not a dangerous place.”

“That message needs to get out. It’s the lack of communication with our neighbors that causes fear,” said Warren. “If people could overcome their fears and realize the world isn’t necessarily a dangerous place, that alone would end the wars. We all look different, sound different, but at the core of it, we’re all similar.”

If he could, Warren said he would like to start a “GNN” – a “Good News Network” that produces news about the good things happening around the world. Warren believes about 90 percent of what people do is good – but that news media mostly focuses on what is bad.

Warren said he has spoken to Russians 50 miles from Moscow who “had no idea what a cold war is, let alone that they’re in one.”

He said terrorist groups like ISIS or the Taliban don’t take root in communities where there is prosperity. “Most people in terrorist organizations are there because they had nothing to begin with – no hope, no opportunity.” He said such circumstances make it easy for a terrorist group to come in, feed them, give them guns and a cause to fight for.

“If you want to solve the problem of terrorism, start with the children,” he said. “If you want to solve terrorism, educate the people of the world, so they can address problems. Don’t send gobs of money to the governments, which are corrupt.”

“This may be my last trip,” says Warren, who is 72. And while it could mean a black pin – finally – on every country on his giant wall map, Warren thinks he’ll still travel, revisiting some of the places he likes.

For many years Warren regarded his trips as private; but last year, he began speaking to groups and sharing his travel stories. Warren kept a journal for most of his trips, and he has a library of about 40 leather-bound journals, filled with hand-drawn maps, photographs and daily entries. His home is filled with objects from his travels, and Warren wants to someday preserve his Shelburne home as an “international traveling learning center,” open to the public. “It would mitigate the fears people have about traveling the world,” he said.

The journals also present a sort of “time capsule” of what these locations were like when Warren visited them. And, in the past 36 years, he said, the world is changing.

“I crossed the Greenland ice cap,” he said, “and I did it with a kite and on skis. You catch the wind with the kite,” he explained. “It took 21 days. And now about one-third of that ice cap is gone, ten years later.”

“Vanuatu is an island nation in the South Pacific that might not exist in five years – because of climate change,” he said of one of the countries he will visit next year. Vanuatu hasn’t changed, but rising sea levels created by climate change may swallow it up. “It is the physical manifestation of what’s coming to us all,” he said.

Warren has a Facebook group with which he shares photos and other information from his travels. To join it, type “Bardwells Ferry” into the Facebook search-line, then scroll down to “groups” and ask to join.