Andre Brugiroux in Villefranche

Andre Brugiroux in Villefranche

My guest: André Brugiroux
Sunday, September 17, 2006 at 3 p.m.
Subject: UNE VIE SUR LA ROUTE (My Life on the Road)
Location: "Gîte O Vinum", located in a lovely area of the Beaujolais and only 5 minutes from Villefranche sur-Saône.

André Antoine Brugiroux (born 11 November 1937) is a French traveler and author who, between 1955 and 2005, visited every country and territory in the world, the last being Mustang. He was named "greatest living traveler on earth" in 2007 in Jorge Sánchez's list of Viajeros notables contemporaneous (Notable Contemporary Travelers). He has made a documentary film of his first, 18-year trip and has devoted his life to spreading the message of the Bahá’í Faith worldwide.

Brugiroux was born in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, near Paris, to a railwayman father and an accountant mother. He spent his childhood in Brunoy (Seine-et-Oise department) and attended the Mardelles school in Brunoy and then the Saint-Augustin collège (secondary school) in Montgeron. Lack of work on the family farm in Langeac (Haute-Loire department) had led his father to move to the Paris region.

It was not his father who encouraged him to travel, however, but rather his mother, who had done some touring before getting married. She unwittingly gave him his taste for travel and provided him with the key to developing his future resourcefulness by enrolling him as a scout. The name he received as a scout was incredibly apt: "fouine babillarde" (in French), or "chattering beech marten" (a beech marten is a cunning animal and chattering means "talkative")

Growing up in wartime made such an impression on him from his early childhood that his decision to travel the world was unconsciously inspired by the desire to find out whether peace might one day be possible.

The title of both his film and his first book, La Terre n’est qu’un seul pays (literally: "The Earth is but one country", published in English as One People, One Planet), is the conclusion to which his first journey around the world brought him, a journey which lasted 18 years before he returned home (1955 to 1973), and during which he hitchhiked 400,000 km (250,000 miles), hitchhiking through 135 countries on every continent.

Brugiroux left home in 1955, at the age of 17, with a diploma from the École hôtelière de Paris and ten francs in his pocket, working first for seven years in Europe to learn various foreign languages by doing part-time jobs. Between his time in Spain and West Germany he did his military service in the Congo (1958 and 1959).

Then, after working as a translator in Canada for three years (from 1965 to 1967) to save up the funds, he managed to visit the whole planet over six years without working. He traveled only by hitchhiking (including by plane, ship and yacht), spending no more than an average of one dollar a day.

During his travels he was imprisoned seven times, almost killed on several occasions, deported, robbed, etc. He stayed with Dr. Schweitzer at his hospital in Lambaréné (Gabon) and the hippies in San Francisco, with head-hunters in Borneo and Buddhist monks in Bangkok; he studied Yoga at an ashram in India and worked on a kibbutz in Israel; he also saw, among other things, the gem-smuggling business in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and refugee camps in Cambodia.

In the course of his journey, he discovered and accepted an idea extolled in the nineteenth century by a Persian noble named Bahá’u’lláh: "The Earth is but one country." He returned home with a new vision of history.

After publishing his first book, producing a documentary film of his first trip and recovering his health, Brugiroux hit the road again in order not only to visit the countries he had missed the first time round and their peoples but to share the Bahá'í principles and teachings he had learned. He traveled abroad from his base in France continuously for the next 30 years, spending six to eight months away each year and combining lectures with visiting new places. He has also traveled all over France.

In 1984 he married Rinia Van Kanten, a sociologist from Suriname whom he had met in Cayenne (French Guiana). They have a daughter named Natascha.

In 2005, Brugiroux completed his dream of seeing the whole world by watching polar bears in the bay at Churchill, Manitoba (Canada).