Member Spotlight: Steve Owad-Jones, Calgary, Canada


Steve Owad-Jones standing in front of the Devil’s Throat on Argentina’s Iguazu Falls

I’ve often reflected on which influence created my fascination with extreme travel. One theory I look to is being inspired by National Geographic articles and their large colour maps—wondering how you would get to these far-off locations. Another could be growing up in Shropshire and hitchhiking to school which would inspire me to extend my horizons to Orkneys, Outer Hebrides, then the Shetlands. Why stop there? I hitched to Italy and then Greece in successive years.

After graduating as a geologist, my first posting was to Libya; back then I dreaded going to work in the deep Sahara. It’s ironic since Libya has become something of a “holy grail” in the TCC. I remember having Leptis Magna all to myself—well before the UNESCO listing!

I would move to Australia, see plenty of the Outback, and form my own geological consultancy firm. I met my wife Dianne, then a geological technician from Calgary, on an oil rig in Charters Towers, Queensland. We discovered we both had the travel bug (on her world tour, she got stuck in Aussie), and decided our love of travel outweighed our love of kids—helpful when your significant other has aligned objectives.

Working a month-on, month-off rotation afforded us great opportunities for “in depth” travel, and due to the boom and bust nature of the oil industry, we made the best of the lulls. Following successive six-month trips, we planned a year in Africa. I got a big map of the “Dark Continent,” read the Lonely Planet guide, rated each country with a “visitability” star rating, and the itinerary came together.

It was grueling travel — back packing, public transport, cheap hotels and hostels. In 1998 the internet was in its infancy, so our packing included two changes of clothes and ten Lonely Planet guides. After three months in West Africa, we renamed our clothes, “Tripe rags!”

The psychology of travel: Is it the adventure of never knowing what tomorrow will bring? Is it a broadening of personality that all these experiences create? It’s certainly enabled us to accommodate the wild and wonderful into our worldview. The Dalai Lama said, “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been.” I’m certain he wasn’t thinking of Dosso, Niger, when he penned this! Dosso was officially the low-light of the year in Africa; halfway to Niamey, Di couldn’t handle being crushed in a minibus designed for 12 passengers; it was stuffed with a “standard Sahel load” of 21 plus chickens and goats in 40C (105F) heat. Upon reviewing our options, there was only a motel road-stop for long distance truckers on the so called “AIDS highway.” Our room featured a “shower and toilet” in the corner, from which emerged a plague of cockroaches and notably, one very large black rat! We were serenaded through the paper-thin walls by aforementioned truckers being entertained by the local “ladies of the night.” The minibus ride the following day seemed infinitely more enjoyable!

On this trip, we met other travellers who were TCC members, and did our first “country count,” only to discover my worst ever miss. We spent a full fortnight in Mauritius without knocking off Rodrigues Island, Schoolboy error! But further work assignments helped in getting on the path less travelled, and such delights as Hash House Harrier runs in Luanda and the Taklamakan desert in winter.

A major plus of following the TCC list is finding yourself in countries rarely featured on anyone’s bucket list. From fighting off a plague of mice in our hotel room in El Salvador compensated by a box seat to a Volcano growing before our eyes, to being guided by a Kalashnikov-wielding guard to arguably the world’s finest rock art galleries in Laas Geel, Somaliland, no matter how limited the prima facie charms a country offers, my experience is there’s always something unique and memorable.

Lengthy contracts living in Indonesia, China, Azerbaijan and Oman assisted in “mopping up” neighbouring destinations, learning the language, and some cultural immersion leads to having a dramatically different perspective of that country.

When we left Oman for a move to Canada, I realized I’d never closed out the TCC list (not least due to the financial stress of retirement which seemed irreconcilable with visiting the likes of Bouvet Island). It was a destabilizing thought at first, but now I’ve redefined to more achievable goals, and look forward to soon reaching gold status. In truth, one of the great things about our club is the focus on experiences and social aspects of travel, and not stressing on traveler’s league tables; this marries well with our preferred travel style of spending more time in a country.

Diane and Steve on a recent local trip to Moraine Lake in Canada’s Banff National Park.

Being locked down in Canada has been the longest I’ve spent in one country since I was 11. I applied for my permanent residence (PR) status and had a good laugh when Immigration Canada sent me a medical form to complete. They erroneously assigned my nationality as Eritrean rather than English (next initial letter in the drop-down box). I joked with the doctor, “I’m probably one of the few people in Canada who has been to Eritrea for a holiday.”

Canada’s been a wonderful country to be confined to, even if I was chased by a grizzly. There’s been no shortage of excitement, but we look forward to combining the TCC conference in Malta with a trip through Algeria, Linosa, Sardinia and Corsica. Dianne and I are very much looking to meeting new TCC friends in Malta, and exploring some of my Maltese haunts of 40 years ago!