LEAD STORY FOR CAPS - November, 2014
Having just returned from Namibia, Jonathan van Bilsen's ninetieth country, we decided to dig a little deeper into this award winning photographer and bestselling author's life.
CAPS: Ninety countries is very impressive. Which is your favourite and why?
JvB: That is a tough one, because every country has its own uniqueness. I would have to say it’s a toss-up between Egypt and Botswana. Egypt blew me away with its archeology and history and the visibility of all the artifacts. Botswana was just the sheer number of wild animals. The Chobe Region has more than 60,000 elephants alone, not to mention thousands of hoofed animals, predatory cats and a smorgasbord of wildlife.
CAPS: The world is a scary place. Have you ever had any threatening incidents?
JvB: I don't think you need to travel far to find unrest and I have had several incidents, albeit most were of my own making. I tend to believe the philosophy that 99.9% of people are friendly and with a little caution travelling the globe can be very safe. In many cases, because we take extra care when travelling, we find ourselves safer than we are at home.
CAPS: I know you have been to Africa numerous times, as well as India and Asia. Have you ever experienced illness on your travels?
JvB: I have been fortunate to have visited many countries several times and have only been sick once. It was in Mexico when, halfway through a burger, I noticed it was pink inside. My illness only lasted part of a day, so I was fortunate. I am extremely careful when travelling and never eat washed fruit or vegetables, use ice cubes, drink unopened bottled water or purchase food from street or other un-reputable vendors.
CAPS: What medical precautions do you take?
JvB: I carry a small arsenal of drugs with me, depending on where I go. Usually I have anti-malaria, anti-stomach bacterial, anti-tooth bacterial, Advil, Gaviscon, a hand full of Percocet and a few pair of latex gloves. Fortunately I have never had to rely on any of them.
CAPS: You recently returned from Namibia, which is in West Africa. Were you not afraid of contracting the Ebola virus?
JvB: Since my return last week, I seldom get asked how my trip was, but everyone is concerned about my subjection to Ebola. The nearest outbreak to where I was is the same distance Ecuador is from Toronto, besides, people from the north-west (where the outbreak has occurred) do not travel to Namibia. Instead they head for Europe and North America.
CAPS: I saw a photo of you with the Himba people of Namibia. Do you often meet and interact with locals?
JvB: I love people, both from a learning perspective and from sharing life stories. I have been fortunate to have visited 10 countries in Africa and have met many different cultures, each being quite unique. It has opened my eyes to the need for peace and sharing on a global scale. It has also made me realize how fortunate we are to live in a country like Canada and take for granted all that we have.
CAPS: Do you normally travel with a group?
JvB: Most every time I travel I do so with a local guide and his car. I am not good with schedules and enjoy the opportunity to change routes on the go. I arrange my own hotels, seek out a reputable driver/guide and determine my own itinerary. Planning the trip actually becomes an adventure in itself. I cannot recall any trip where I have been disappointed by the arrangements I have made.
CAPS: I know you love to take photographs. How many would you take on an average trip?
JvB: I tend to shoot about 1500 pics per week. Thank goodness for long plane rides, giving me an opportunity to sort them.
CAPS: I understand you have published 9 books, four of them best sellers. Are any of them based on your travels?
JvB: The four espionage novels, which have done very well, are based in different locales around the world, where I have been. I enjoy unraveling a story in an exotic milieu, such as Turkey or Tanzania, Egypt or Columbia. Two of my books are tour books, one is a collection of travel articles and the remaining two are photography books.
CAPS: Do you travel all the time?
JvB: No, not anymore. I began to slow down a few years ago, when I did a total of 47 trips in one year and realized I spent more time travelling than I was at home.
CAPS: I know you write regular travel columns, but do you share your adventures any other way?
JvB: I do six to ten talks a month on various locations and escapades. I also MC numerous events and have had the privilege of presenting to 1,500 people as far away as Hawaii and Paris, but limit most of my talks to this area.
CAPS: What is the single most important element you have discovered from all your travels?
JvB: I would have to say appreciating the beautiful side of life on the planet. So often we hear only of things which are bad, but there is a tremendous amount of goodness everywhere. I also have a fantastic appreciation for the life we are allowed to live in Canada and strongly criticize those who mock our freedom and way of life. I find it unfortunate that children are born in countries where they have little or no opportunities and hope that we can do more to help the less fortunate around the world.