It was on a rough patch of the Indian Ocean enroute from the Seychelles to the Chagos Islands in 2005 that I got the idea of combining my twin passions of diving and globe trotting. I sat in the cabin of the Indian Ocean Explorer trying to stave off sea sickness and started talking with David Langan, also a member of the The Best Travelled.
Most of the passengers were British retirees interested in the bird life on these uninhabited islands. But David, a Dubliner who ran a successful chain of furniture stores in the Emerald Isle, was going to the Chagos Islands because he is a country collector.
“Stamp collecting takes me to these places”, David explained. “I don’t consider I’ve been to a country unless I send a postcard from there. I have to research the addresses and opening times of the post office in every country I plan to visit. It’s a challenge but I love it. I come from a very poor family and left school at 15. Traveling and stamp collecting have been like universities to me, opening the door to history, culture, geography and people.”
Hmmm. If David could visit countries to send postcards, why couldn’t I combine country collecting and diving? Intrigued, I asked David to go through the list of countries he had stored away in his Palm pilot, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had been to over 100 countries and was thus qualified to join the TCC.
Hitherto, I’d only dived in about thirty countries, but having made the decision to try and dive in every country I visited, I quickly racked up new dive destinations. No matter what the season, I would tack on a few days at the beginning or end of every business trip and dive in a nearby country. This sometimes meant I was diving countries like Iceland in the dead of winter, so my dry suit skills sharpened. I looked for opportunities to dive numerous neighboring countries at the same time and found “quick” hits in the Caribbean, Arabian Gulf and Europe. I scoured the web for details of dive destinations and dive operators. I pleaded with clubs doing a dive to let me join them even though I wasn’t a member. I chartered dive boats just for myself when the operator wouldn’t go out without other passengers.
I decided that when I had dived in a hundred countries I would set up a web site. Seven years after my fateful meeting with David, I achieved my goal. In 2013 I set the world record for diving in the most countries in the Andaman Islands, diving with an elephant. It was the 125th country I dived in.
I now fantasize about flying a compressor, tanks and scuba gear into countries like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan and writing about my experiences. It’s so much fun I can’t stop! I love getting e-mails every morning from dive operators in distant countries I have yet to visit with their local greetings: the hearty “Bula” from Fiji, “Talofa” from Samoa and melodic “ia ora na” from French Polynesia. So exotic and inviting.