Graham David Hughes: The Warmth and Hospitality of the Iranian People Surprised Me the Most (FARS News Agency (Iran))

TEHRAN (FNA)- A world-renowned British adventurer, filmmaker and Guinness World Records holder believes that the mainstream media don’t offer a fair, objective and realistic view of the world to their audience.

Speaking to Fars News Agency in an exclusive interview, Graham David Hughes says that the mass media should not withhold truth from the public, but they are doing so in an unjust manner. “[I]nternet should allow us all to research what we read in the news and learn about the background of any given story, but “research” for most people means simply finding a blog site or YouTube video that spoon-feeds their own preconceived opinions back to them!”

Graham David Hughes who has set the record of visiting every country on earth without flying or a personal vehicle believes that Iran is one of the top 10 tourist destinations of the world and that Iranians are among the friendliest nations whose hospitality and warmth is really admirable.

“I met a Belgian tourist in Persepolis who told me that he’d been travelling around Iran for three weeks and every day he had been invited to stay with a different family. This is the sort of hospitality us Europeans could only dream of,” said Hughes in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency, “I discovered a saying: “be good to strangers, because one day you might be the stranger” and I think that it is a wonderful philosophy and a way of living that Iran could teach the world.”

In 2008, Graham David Hughes embarked on an adventure of visiting all the 193 UN member states, the constituent countries that make up the United Kingdom, the non-member state of Vatican City as well as the partially recognized UN member states of Palestine, Western Sahara, Kosovo and Taiwan without flying. The mission was completed on November 26, 2012 after Hughes arrived at South Sudan, the 201st nation he visited.

Graham David Hughes blogs at and has gathered a comprehensive and detailed travelogue of his trips to each of the world countries. Hughes’s personal video logs of his travels have been broadcast as a television series called “Graham’s World” on the National Geographic Adventure channel.

FNA talked to Mr. Hughes and asked him questions about his ambitious journey, the difficulties he faced during this mission and his viewpoints about Iran and its people. He has recounted interesting memories of his traveling across Iran. What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: Graham; what made you think of attempting to set the record of visiting the most countries by scheduled ground transport? Were you simply trying to set an uncontestable record or were purely enthusiastic in visiting different countries and getting familiar with the new cultures and civilizations?

A: There were a number of reasons I embarked on The Odyssey Expedition. I love travel, I love challenges and I firmly believed I could do it. Of course, the world record was a major factor and I also wished to raise money for the charity WaterAid. But what I enjoyed the most about the journey was getting to know new cultures and meeting new people. The nature of the adventure meant I tried my best not to linger too long in one place, but that doesn’t mean I can’t return in the future!

Q: How did you manage to afford the expenses of so many long journeys and travels? Of course travelling to some 201 countries needs a great deal of budget, and as far as I know, you were not supported by a certain organization or institution. How could you pay the enormous expenses of traveling to so many countries?

A: It did not cost as much as many people imagine: around �7,000 a year. I “CouchSurfed” all over the world, saying with local people rather than expensive hotels or hostels. As part of the Guinness World Record race regulations, I couldn’t use private transport over long distances, so I was restricted to using public transport, which is usually the cheapest way of getting around. Many big cargo ship companies were happy to allow me to hitch a ride from one country to another. The biggest expense I faced was the cost of visas.

Q: I realized that during your trips, you’ve been trying to grow public awareness about the global warming and climate change, and also raise funds for the WaterAid charity. What objectives have you been seeking through these humanitarian and philanthropic efforts?

A: There were three main goals I hoped to achieve in terms of public awareness – one was to highlight the plight of the millions of children who grow up without access to clean water, another was to show that it was possible to travel the world enjoyably without leaving a large ‘carbon footprint’ and the final objective was to show that the world is not such a bad place! I wanted to encourage people to get out there and see it for themselves – I believe that the more we encourage people to travel, the better the world will be. I raised over US $10,000 for WaterAid and opened people’s minds to the possibilities of overland travel. But where I feel I’ve made the most difference, in my own little way, is to show that most people around the world are helpful, kind and generous folks just trying to get on with their lives.

Q: In one of your interviews, you noted that the Tuvalu Island which is officially recognized by the United Nations as a member states will soon cease to exist as a result of the dire consequences of global warming. Some politicians consider the concepts of climate change and global warming a faux and unreal threat made up by some scientists. What’s your viewpoint on that? You’ve traveled to all the UN member states and have a clear idea of how the global warming is influencing the world. How much serious is the threat of global warming?

A: The fact that politicians lie for political gain is nothing new, but what is particularly disturbing about the situation with Global Warming is that people are so terrified by the consequences of what we are doing to the world that they are prepared to believe politicians over the vast majority (97%) of the world’s scientists – including Nobel Prize Winners.

I’ve been to Tuvalu, I’ve seen first-hand how endangered that nation is. The sad truth is that nobody will notice or much care if and when the soil of Tuvalu becomes too saline to sustain human life, or if the Maldives have to build ugly concrete defenses around their beautiful islands. I hope that we don’t allow the damage to get so great that the 100 million people who live below sea-level in Bangladesh are forced to become climate refugees. But I think the reality is that unless world leaders start putting the planet’s interests above their own, it will only be when we start losing beaches around the world that there will be a scramble to finally do something about it.

Of course, by then it’ll be too late.

Q: Please tell us more about the documentaries you’ve been producing for the National Geographic Adventure channel. What aspects of the life, culture, architecture and natural landscape in each country do you concentrate on? What do you try to bring under limelight through your documentaries?

A: I didn’t have a camera crew with me for much of my travels, so a lot of the documentary is essentially a video diary of the daily trials and tribulations I faced getting from one country to another. But that’s not to say I did not manage to capture at least a snapshot of life, culture and nature around the world. I celebrated Christmas with a Fijian family, I joined a Bwiti tribe in Gabon, I met Frankincense farmers in Oman and got up-close and personal with the orangutans of Borneo.

Q: I’m sure your perceptions about many countries changed after you visited them. As you’ve already pointed out, the reason is that the mass media do not always portray the realities and truths about the world and their coverage is mostly oriented on their interests and their respective government’s approach toward the other countries. What’s your viewpoint on that?

A: I find this matter frustrating, as the internet should allow us all to research what we read in the news and learn about the background of any given story, but “research” for most people means simply finding a blog site or YouTube video that spoon-feeds their own preconceived opinions back to them!

I think that the negative view of the world people get from the news media is mainly because “nothing particularly bad happened today in Burkina Faso” isn’t an attention-grabbing headline. The media, by its very nature will tend to report bad news stories and often overlook the good. Sadly, we’re all more inclined to respond to negative events – hence people’s distorted view of the world.

I studied History and Politics in university and I’m more than aware of how difficult it is to get the whole story from any given event – human emotions and prejudices always get in the way, the trick is to try and get as much information as possible and draw your own conclusions, but allow those conclusions to change in the light of new evidence.

Q: The mainstream media’s coverage of Iran usually frightens the foreign visitors who want to come to this country. The allegations that the foreign visitors are usually arrested, monitored or spied on have always been the constant theme of the Western media’s portrayal of Iran. How much different was Iran to what you had thought? What aspects of the Iranian culture and civilization interested you the most?

A: As a Brit, getting a visa for Iran wasn’t easy, but it was not as difficult as some of the other countries in the region, such as Turkmenistan. The shared taxi I was travelling in was pulled over on the way from the Afghan border to Mashhad and a security official looked through all of my video tapes. This happened to me a few times on my travels around the world, and although I found it intrusive, it was, in my opinion, less intrusive than when you fly to the USA and they make you have a full-body scan. And, well, I was entering the country from Afghanistan!

But after that, I travelled from Mashhad to Tehran, down to Shiraz and across to Khorramshahr with no trouble whatsoever.

It was the warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people that surprised me the most. From the moment I stepped over the border people came to my assistance. The family in my shared taxi to Mashhad made sure I got to the train station, helped me change my money, helped me buy my ticket to Tehran and made sure I got on the correct train. A local guy I met in the Indian embassy in Tehran invited me around to his flat for dinner and we’re still good friends to this day.

I met a Belgian tourist in Persepolis who told me that he’d been travelling around Iran for three weeks and every day he had been invited to stay with a different family. This is the sort of hospitality us Europeans could only dream of! I discovered a saying: “be good to strangers, because one day you might be the stranger” and I think that it is a wonderful philosophy and a way of living that Iran could teach the world.

Q: I read that you said Iran is one of your top 10 tourist destinations and one of the friendliest countries in the world. Why have you come to this conclusion? Do you want to come back to Iran one day and spend more time visiting its ancient sites, cultural and natural magnets?

A: Absolutely! I would love to come back to Iran, hopefully very soon. I’m happy that I got to see Persepolis; it was truly magnificent, but there are plenty more places I would love to visit. The rich and varied history and culture of the Persian region is something that resonates strongly with me, that promise of adventure, fallen empires, exotic spices, flying carpets and roads less travelled.

But it’s the people of Iran that made it one of my top countries in the world. I was on an overnight bus travelling from Shiraz to Khorramshahr when the elderly lady seated in front of me offered me her mobile phone. I was a little puzzled at first, but she motioned for me to put the phone to my ear. The guy on the other end of the line said that his name was Seyed Houssein, he was an English teacher in Khorramshahr and that I was sitting behind his grandmother. She had called him because she was concerned about me. She said that the bus was to arrive very early the next day, at around 5 am, and she thought I’d have nowhere to go and nobody to make breakfast for me.

She had called her grandson to ask me if it would be okay if they took me back to her house and make me breakfast in the morning. That one act of kindness still makes me smile when I think about it, I’m smiling now writing this, and helped, more than anything else, re-affirm my faith in humanity.

Q: What’s your best wish and desire for the humanity? You have visited all the world countries, even the islands which the UN doesn’t consider as member states, and it can be said that you’re a world citizen. How can we create a strong, unbreakable link between the people across the world and bring them closer together? How is it possible to put aside the cultural, racial and lingual differences between the world nations and establish a lasting alliance among them?

A: The internet is the most powerful tool for learning and understanding that the world has ever seen – it allows us to travel the world without ever leaving home, to communicate with people of all nations, to share ideas and aspirations, to educate and inform.

From what I’ve seen of the world, people are not that different; they realize that what matters is family, friendship and happiness. Cultural, racial and linguistic differences, so long as they do not cause suffering, are something to celebrate, not a difficulty to overcome.

So then, the question is, how do we use the internet to break down the artificial barriers we create for ourselves, such as money, power, war, international borders? One answer is the creation of a shared goal; a challenge that can include everybody and will improve the life of everybody no matter where they are born. And our generation has that challenge: to take action on climate change.

I hope that my travels have shown that the world is not as big or as terrible as it is often portrayed in the media. I hope I have shown that with enough determination, anything is possible. I hope that one day soon enough people see that nature needs our help, and that we as human beings have the courage and resolve to reverse the damage we have done to this wonderful oasis of life – the only home we’ll ever know, Planet Earth.

Interview by Kourosh Ziabari