Who hasn’t dreamed of going off grid, of packing everything in and travelling the world?
For the explorers, adventurers and nomads among us, the lure of the road, away from the daily grind, grows too strong and travel becomes a calling. But imagine if your dream were to travel the whole world on foot, taking you 75,500km (46, 900 miles) away from home, from your wife, your children and even your grandchildren.
For one man, these pangs of wanderlust sent him on an 11-year odyssey where he slept in jail cells in South Africa, found friendship with gang members in Guatemala and suffered the intense loneliness and stifling heat of the Australian outback.MailOnline Travel spoke to Jean Béliveau, the man who walked around the world.
‘I had midlife crisis and had to leave my past life and find something different.
'I’d rather be eaten by lion than be eaten by society,’ Jean Beliveau tells MailOnline Travel over a crackly phone line, from the house he’s currently building, in a Canadian forest.
At aged 45, Beliveau who owned a neon sign factory in Montreal, was at a crossroad in his life.
While walking across Jacques Cartier Bridge one day he started to wonder how long it might take him to keep walking to New York.Then he expanded his dream further until he had a plan – to travel six continents on foot.
The Canadian’s resulting journey is believed to be the world’s longest uninterrupted circumnavigation on foot.
He travelled from Montreal to Brazil to South Africa to Egypt to Morocco to Europe(Portugal. Spain, France, Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany) to Turkey then Iran, India, China, Japan, Taiwan, Borneo, Indonesia, Australia (North to South) and crossed six deserts in the process.
After nine months of preparation, with just a trolley of camping essentials and $4000 Canadian dollars raised by his supportive wife Luce, Beliveau set off on his adventure.He said the walk was to ‘promote peace and non-violence for the children of the world’ and ran a website highlighting different local causes that tied in with his theme along the way.
‘The north end of Australia was a big challenge with the 45 degree heat in October, November and December. It was really warm and lonely on the road.
‘But it was a beautiful experience, people gave me water.’Beliveau relied on the kindness of strangers to keep his trip going. He stayed with 1600 families and slept in churches, temples, schools, parks, forests and even bedded down for the night in jail.
‘In America I stayed in jail and would sleep in the same cell as a prisoner. In a South African jail once they forgot me. They changed shifts and came over and I said ‘I’m just a guest here’ but they couldn’t find anything on file.’
He freely admits his trip was blighted by a prolonged culture shock, especially witnessing the poverty of India and Africa where it would be a ‘blessing to have a roof’.He was heckled by children in Ethiopia which he said ‘nearly broke him’.
He said: ‘In Ethiopia there was a culmination of nature and culture shock. It’s a special place, children were walking around me and dancing and tried to talk with me. They didn’t speak English and would follow me and repeat everything.
‘After a couple of days of this I was so tired and couldn’t have any more contact.’
He also learned the hard way not to wink at people as it was considered a sexual invitation.Mixing with gangs in Ecuador and South Africa, he said once they realised he was walking for a good cause this protected him and earned him support from some of the world’s most notorious criminals.
He said: ‘A gang member in in Guatemala gave me money as he had been a child soldier and said he’d had a bad childhood.’
Beliveau acknowledges his trip was a privilege and that being an ambassador for peace afforded him access to all corners and citizens of the world.
He said: ‘I was received by so many people in their heart.’One highlight of his trip was meeting Nelson Mandela in Durban South Africa.
But his single-minded mission came at a personal cost. Beliveau left behind two adult children (a daughter Elisa Jane, aged 18 and a son Thomas-Eric, aged 20) from a previous marriage and he became a grandfather along the way.
He said: ‘I met my granddaughter for the first time in Germany, where my son was living, at aged five. We had a lovely week. They just think I’m their crazy grandfather.’
And despite Luce meeting him 11 times for visits along the way, running his website and championing the cause during his moments of doubt, on his return, the marriage collapsed.He said: ‘In Australia, I was staying with some doctors who told me when you go back home, your wife and you will not be the same anymore.
‘The day after I returned, the charm broke. We were very different. We tried, she’s a lovely, courageous lady. We split up and are friends now. We made something beautiful and she was the perfect lady for that trip. She doesn’t regret anything.’
Beliveau had felt like quitting along the way but Luce encouraged him that returning without success wasn’t an option.he said: ‘Sometimes I was thinking it’s a great liberty, a dream. But I was a prisoner of my freedom and had go get success. If I gave up my wife said ‘it’s like you did nothing,’ so please go ahead. That’s always something that pushed me further.’
‘Sometimes it’s hard and I had stresses but it’s the price to pay to have a beautiful time.’
The globetrotters feet held up well over the 11 years despite covering around 20 miles a day.
Most of the 54 pairs of shoes he got through were donated by people he met along the way. But from China to Iran to India he was in pain and struggled in Ethiopia when he couldn’t find shoes that were his size.Jean's triumphant return in 2011 was met by some with criticism that the trip was self-indulgent but he was joined by friends he had encountered on his journey and by the family he had left behind for his last few steps back home to Montreal.
He said: ‘When I came back I had a very hard time. For me, life on the road was the real life. It’s healthy to meet people and the world is not so bad.’
He regrets missing out Colombia as it was too dangerous to enter on foot in 2002 and is upset he could not get a visa for Libya in 2005. Jean is keen to cover these gaps and continues to travel when he can. Beliveau has published a book in French on his journey and despite being back home and building a 'dream house', he gives the impression journey is not over yet.‘Maybe I will just travel incognito for myself,’ he concluded.
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