When the people of South Sudan celebrated the birth of their country last year, they didn’t know that by that act, they were waking up a 74-year-old-man somewhere in France out of his well-earned retirement. After visiting every country on earth, this global trotter had already managed to achieve his childhood dream in 2005.
But with the creation of South Sudan, the goal posts had now shifted, and he had to come down to Juba, just to make sure his accomplishment remained intact. Andre Brugiroux is the Marco Polo of modern time, explorer extraordinaire. He is a life that has been entirely dedicated to and spent on the road.
Having left his father’s home at 17 to work at a hotel in Scotland in 1955, he ended up chewing on the ends of an innate insatiable desire to explore, to see new places and cultures that took him around the world, first on an un-interrupted run of 18 years, and then for another 30 years.
In the end, the experiences of his travels have affected his philosophy and perceptions about existence and human life. He was in Uganda for the second time in December 2011, on his way to South Sudan. He passed through Uganda because it was not possible to get a South Sudanese visa from France.
The beginning of his journey
Brugiroux graduated at the top of his class at his hotel school. The school had two offers for him, either a job at a hotel in France, or to go work in Scotland. And as he excitedly grabbed the opportunity to go work abroad, he took his first step at being one of the world’s greatest travellers.
From then, impulse simply drove him on. “I hurried and chose Scotland and when I got there, I realised I can learn the language (English) on my own and find another job because I had left the first one. Then I said why not Spanish? Then I went to Spain. Then I said why not German? Then I went to Germany. Then I said, why not Italian? Then I went to Italy. Then I said alright, why not Russian? And I went to Russia,” he says, making it all look so simple.
Between Spain and Germany, he spent a mandatory two years with the French army, a time he spent in Congo Brazzaville, where he was in charge of the officers’ mess. It’s here that he met a one Albere, a Congolese who also worked as a cook. This man impressed Brugiroux immensely.
“This man to me represented man as I can see, with honesty, courage, cleverness. He was an example of what man should be like,” he says. Brugiroux’s book, One People, One Planet, is dedicated to Albere.
In 1965, he left for Canada where he worked as a translator for three years. And during this time, he saved up $12,000. After saving, he turned back to the road, and his journey kicked into life once again.
“For the next six years, I did not work. Every day, for six years, I hitch-hiked, spending drop by drop, a dollar a day. That dollar was for sleeping, moving, washing, visas, the necessary things you cannot escape,” he says.
This is when travelling became his daily living. He depended on lifts and sometimes spent a whole three days in one spot, waiting for a free ride. It is through hitch-hiking that he made it across South America, across the seas, Africa, and all other continents. He made metro stations his home, knocking on stranger’s doors for baths and some supplies. Hitch-hiking proved more difficult in Africa because “In Africa, they don’t understand why a mzungu should not pay. They want to make you pay three times more.”
Brugiroux says the main reason for travelling was to seek out the hearts of human beings. “What I had done was not a tour of the world, it was a tour of mankind. When I was travelling, I was not interested in distance or in kilometres, okay the interest was there too, but I was interested in the hearts of people,” he says.
“I never slept in a hotel. This is my principle since I started travelling. I slept in my sleeping bag,” he says. “I would not go to the restaurants. I would eat in the market places, on the sides of the road. And in Africa, sometimes I saw a mango tree, full of mangoes, just rotting there and nobody was taking. So Andre then eats mango all day, free, because they are rotting,” he adds.
Doing this kind of business is bound to raise suspicion. And Brugiroux has had his fair share of jail time. “There was adventure, like they put me in jail often. I was in Columbia and the Secret Police came and took me to jail. So why put me in jail, am I a revolutionary man? Or am I a spy?” I was told.
‘Shut up. You were going to bring the plane to Cuba,’ I was a hijacker. I had never thought of that. They never thought I was a hitch-hiker but a hijacker. It was around the time when Che Guevara, was in Cuba, so the whole of South America was in turmoil,” Brugiroux recals. He was arrested in various South American countries and in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Jordan as well.
He was also expelled from three countries, Peru, Brazil and Costa Rica. “Have you ever taken a plane … with a Kalashnikov in your back and your hands in the air?” he asks, “It is very spectacular. I love being expelled by the way. This is transport for me,” he adds with a tinge of humour.
Poor health forced Brugiroux to return home in 1973, after traversing nearly all countries on earth. The six years saw him cover 210,000 miles in 1,978 cars, planes and all forms of vehicles.
“I never took it for granted that a driver would stop, and I never blamed the ones who chose to pass me by. But the miracle had happened 1,978 times, and every time it came as a surprise,” he writes in his book.
His book and movie about his tours, allowed him to get the financial freedom that would pay for later travels. After regaining his health, he would get out of France and go spend eight–10the last time.
“I did this for 30 years. Altogether it has taken me 50 years to travel all around the world, all my life, I have done nothing else. The last territory I had visited was Mustang, a kingdom in Nepal, in 2005,” he says.
Brugiroux got married to a woman from French Guyana at the age of 45, and he has a 30-year-old adopted daughter.