The travellin’ man

Kevin Curley
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Earl Johnson has logged thousands of miles around the world

There is an old proverb that says ‘He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him.’

Earl Johnson stands beside his map of the world. Each time he returns home from a trip he puts a pin in the map to mark the spot.

Earl Johnson of North Harbour had always wanted to travel, but didn’t do much of it in his younger days.

At age 40, he lost a few friends and had some others who were ill, and the realization dawned on him that it was time to step outside his door and see the world.

In 1990, he made his first trip to San Diego and Tijuana. Every year since he has saved enough money for at least one trip.

His plan; “If I could come up with $1,000 a year, and lived to be 42, I would have two trips in. If I live to be 70, I’ll have 30 trips in. So far I haven’t missed a year and some years I even make two trips,” Johnson told The Packet last week.

Johnson’s favorite haunt is Cuba, and has made 15 trips there is in the past 25 years.

“I like the people, scenery and freedom. Most other places you are kept on the resort and have to stay there. In Cuba, I can go and walk for hours at night,” says Johnson.

He’ll be going to Mongolia on Dec. 12, and then heading to Sweden on his way home.

While in Sweden, Johnson plans to see the famed Vasa ship, a Swedish warship built in the 1600s that sank on its maiden voyage and is now perfectly preserved in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

In recent years, Johnson has been to Tunisia, Morocco, Jamaica, Norway, Germany and England. Just this spring he went to Panama to see the Panama Canal.

He doesn’t plan trips too far in advance; but after he goes to Mongolia the only continent he’s not travelled will be Antarctica. Though not the most obvious tourist destination, he says it’s not out of the realm of possibility he may go there someday.

Johnson has met many single-serving friends over the years; people he becomes friends with for a few days and never hears from again.

But some stay in touch.

One of his most memorable experiences came when he offered a Cuban man a beer at a bar in Varadero.

The man refused the beer, asking for a dollar instead, which was the price of a beer. The man said he was trying to save up money to buy his mother a wheelchair.

Johnson was aware it might be a con but decided to give the man some money all the same and exchanged addresses with him. The man wrote Johnson that winter and gave the exact directions to his home.

When Johnson returned to Cuba a year later, he went to meet the man and his family. Sure enough, there was the Cuban man’s mother in a brand new wheelchair.

Other family members travelled five hours by bus from Havana to meet Johnson and thank him for his contribution; that night Johnson joined them for a pig roast.

One of Johnson’s favorite parts about travelling is heading out from the comforts of the resorts to go for a walk.

However, one night in Casablanca it got him into trouble.

“I wrote down the name of the hotel and put in my pocket and I walked for 30 minutes. A young guy came out of the shadows and told me I’d gone the wrong way,” says Johnson.

The man stayed with him, but Johnson couldn’t tell if he was being a Good Samaritan or if he was leading him somewhere secluded to mug him.

The young man kept insisting he was going the wrong way. Eventually they came across a taxi stand. Johnson thought he was saved, but the man at the taxi stand only spoke Arabic.

“I can understand a few words of French, which is common in Morocco, but these guys only spoke Arabic. I thought I was in deep at that point,” says Johnson.

The young guy joined Johnson in the cab and within a few minutes he was able to direct the driver to the hotel.

“He was genuine, but in a strange place where they knew I was a foreigner by myself at night, I could have got my throat cut and it would be three or four days before anybody knew I was missing,” says Johnson.

A trip to Haiti gave Johnson a close encounter with Voodoo.

The Haitian locals put on a show involving dancing and food. A young local approached Johnson and struck up a conversation. The young man then excused himself saying he had to perform in the show.

“They called in the witch doctor, he said something, lord knows what it was, and the young fella went into a trance. His eyes changed and everything changed about his looks. Then he took a live chicken and put it in his mouth and hauled the head off of it,” he says.

The chicken predictably ran headless for a bit and then the witch doctor released the young man from his trance.

“The young fella was back talking to me afterwards, as if nothing had happened,” says Johnson.

Not all of Johnson’s trips involve wild adventures with charitable chance meetings, pig roasts and voodoo.

More often than not, he just takes it easy and enjoys a beer on the beach. But in the 25 years since he first journeyed outside his door, he has gotten to see much of the world he longed to see growing up.

He encourages anyone bitten with the travel bug to set a goal and take their own journey.

Organizations: The Packet, Vasa Museum

Geographic location: Cuba, North Harbour, Mongolia Sweden Morocco San Diego Tijuana Panama Canal Stockholm Tunisia Jamaica Norway Germany England Antarctica Varadero Havana Casablanca Haiti

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