Meigo Mark spends more nights in his tent than in people’s homes, not wanting to intrude unless invited. He tries not to go too deep into jungles for fear of wild animals and pitches it behind bushes and trees so that it’s not visible from the road. He has been within close proximity to wolves in Turkey and a leopard in India, but it was a dog in India that bit his leg thrice.
Growing up, 27-year-old Meigo Mark always loved travelling, but it was in 2014 when he felt compelled to embark on a new challenge and adventure – to walk around the world. He heard about Canadian Jean Beliveau, a TED Talk speaker and author who spent 11 years to complete this feat. He slept in more than 1,000 homes and the concept fascinated Meigo. “I thought that could be a nice way to travel, going into local homes – not hotel to hotel – to see how people are living from the inside,” he says. Other stories such as that of Sir Francis Charles Chichester KBE who single handedly sailed around the world in the 1960s fuelled his ambitions. “Suddenly I had a strong inner feeling that it would be interesting to go so slowly, to see the temples, villages, and nature, and that I could do it,” he adds.
To cross rivers and seas, Meigo uses boats, ferries, ships, and airplanes but on land, he sticks to walking. That means turning down the kind bus drivers who offer to pick him up along the way. He is currently on his 21st pair of shoes.
Meigo’s trail from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, to Singapore
Seeing the world through Meigo’s eyes
“I’m not trying to make or break any record. For me, this journey is a great learning experience,” says Meigo, who plans to continue for another six years and for whom it is a personal mission that he feels he has to complete. “I’m curious about the history of a country, such as the Vietnam War. In Iran, the city is rich in architecture that dates back to the ancient Persian empires. And as a musician, I am interested in anything from traditional to pop music.” On average, he would walk 30 to 40 kilometers and has rest periods that could span a day or two weeks. He uses Google Maps and Maps.Me to mark his route – which he sometimes plans around UNESCO Heritage Sites – but it’s not necessarily about taking the shortest path. He enjoys walking through small villages that are more peaceful than bustling highways.
To think that Meigo started out with about €8 ($13) in his pocket and a tent to camp in. Eventually he sold his house and when word got around, letters crying support began pouring in as did financial assistance (want to chip in? His bank account details are on his Facebook page here). As he uploads snippets of his travels in the form of photos and videos, it almost feels as if you’re travelling with him.
Meigo enjoying cut up watermelon in Iran
By walking rather than relying on modes of transportation, he goes not from one tourist attraction to another but treks into remote villages tucked away in the hills, where people exclaim that he’s the first westerner they’ve seen out of their TV screens. It has literally allowed him to meet people from different walks of life, including a wealthy family he bunked with after connecting on CouchSurfing and road workers he bumped into as the sun was setting in India. He stayed with the workers in the humble slum area for three days. The windowless walls were thin with nine other people cosying up in a cramped living space. “And they were cooking with fire indoors.” The “toilet” was a big open field 60 to 70 metres away. Yet the people were welcoming and respectful.
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Children in Dhungkharka, Nepal
Meigo believes that crossing hundreds of villages in different countries has allowed him to feel so much kindness in the world. It’s refreshing from the bleak outlook media outlets portray. “The longer I travel, the more optimistic I get about humans and our willingness to help each other when in need,” he reflects. “One day in Iran, I was stopped and invited for tea 14 times. I had lunch with mafia-type drug dealers in India who were armed with guns and ran into Buddhist nuns in the hills of Nepal.” Hold up, wind back. What do you mean you casually ate with mafia-types? Were you not afraid? We had questions, but Meigo reckons that looking into someone’s eyes, you can decide whether to trust someone or not. This includes having the common sense not to pull out a camera in the more dangerous zones or walk during the night. “They were just inspired by my journey and wanted to meet me. They didn’t want to harm me in any way. Meeting so many different social groups, I’ve found ways to see not just the differences but the similarities, which make us human and help us to connect. We both see the same sun and moon. As a traveller, it’s interesting to see what’s different in terms of culture, food, and language, but at the same time, I try to see the similarities.” Meigo admits that he initially found it easier to build walls as a skeptic but he now tries to build bridges and see what commonalities he and others share.
A sunflower field in Slovakia during July
How Meigo’s adventure has evolved
What started out as a personal journey, little did Meigo anticipate the impact it would have on others and that he would be visiting over 25 schools and universities to give talks. There he inspires people to chase their dreams, work at making them a reality, as well as to be more thankful about the things we have rather than complain about the things we do not have. Travelling on the road without rushing (unless he’s in a country with a limited visa period) and in different environments have given him a newfound perspective towards time and his interactions. “I see how I talk differently. Sometimes I wonder if we really change or become more ourselves. Everything that is not part of me or for me, just falls away. I’ve also become more easy going meeting different people.”
When the going gets tough, he looks back at photos and videos taken with different people to recall the positive encounters that have happened and how they would not have taken place should he not have taken the road less travelled. It helps that he was an active runner and meditation practitioner prior to embarking on this journey. On him, he also carries a handmade bracelet from his mother, a buddha statue, and a scarf from his best friend. Surprisingly enough, Meigo’s greatest fear doesn’t stem from the wild animals or strangers he has crossed paths with. “The scariest part is what I sometimes discover inside myself – negative emotions or selfish dynamics – and it’s very scary,” says Meigo, whose goal is to become a better human being What that means is to be more respectful, positive, thankful, stronger and happier.
Home might only be a walking distance away for Meigo (that is if you have about 1,000 days) but his family, avid travellers themselves, have flown over to join him in exploring new territories. He and his sister conquered Mount Olympus in Greece, braving the rain, cold and darkness. His sister had some breathing problems and broke down crying, but the experience brought them closer. His mother, a former teacher, met him in Nepal, prepared with a generous box of pencils to gift students during a school visit. Companionship also came in the form of stray animals (he later found homes for dogs and cats that have journeyed with him) and a Vietnamese group. After one or two media interviews in Vietnam, he received a message from a local who said he wanted to walk with Meigo 200m before Ho Chih Minh. “I didn’t believe him, thinking that he might be inspired then but later change his mind,” recalls Meigo. The guy showed up with 12 others and together the group walked for five days. Walking in a group required different logistics, but it was interesting for them to see their country in a different light.
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No stranger to immersing himself in local celebrations, Meigo’s pictured here in the middle of the Holi festival in India.
Meigo’s a vegetarian so when on the go, he mostly eats peanuts as they’re high in energy and easily carried. He always has food on him but while in the jungle area in Laos, he ran out of supplies and resorted to munching on bamboo leaves. Foraging was hardly a first for him. “I was eating in nature for more than two days during a trip in Europe that when I arrived in a store, I was so happy to buy all the bread.”
Having run out of passport pages, he’s currently spending a month or so in Singapore while waiting for his passport to be renewed. His next stop? Indonesia.
You can follow Meigo Mark’s travels on his Facebook page here.
Photos: Meigo Mark