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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Counting Countries

My first step in Russia
I've been to nine new countries this year. Well, nine if you count a plane touchdown; eight if you include a plane touchdown and a dash through the airport for a connecting flight; or six, if you include actually stepping foot outside the airport.

The mad-dash-through-the-airport countries were Finland and Latvia, while the plane stop was Senegal.

Thus, it looked like my new country total for 2013 was going to be five. The far-flung five--Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Mongolia, and Namibia. But that doesn't add up, right? The wrinkle is South Africa.

I initially had to separate South Africa from the pack for the following reason. Upon landing in Johannesburg in the evening, I walked about one-fifth of a mile from the arrivals terminal to the Intercontinental Hotel (highly recommended). The upscale property is on airport, but not attached to the airport. So, I stepped foot outside the airport, but it was questionable whether I was actually off airport property. Then next morning, it was off to Namibia.

Thus, I ask you a two-fold question: Can you add a country to your count

A) if you stayed on airport property (airports being somewhat like embassies, IMHO, in carrying something of an international territory status) and

B) you stayed for less than 24 hours?

True, my passport was stamped with a South Africa seal, but still, to me, counting South Africa seemed a bit of a cheat. That's why I was somewhat bothered by my most recent Monopoly purchase.

Let me backtrack. Loyal readers know that I collect Monopoly games from the countries to which I have traveled. But my rule is strict--I have to have traveled to the country in question to buy a game. There are only three exceptions to this rule in my collection--games from Argentina and Japan that were gifts and a game from Tunisia purchased on my one previous visit to Africa. I picked up the French-ified game at a souk in Marrakesh back in 2001. Naturally, I assumed it was Moroccan Monopoly. Alas, when I got home and checked street names, no dice. The streets were in Tunis.

Now, in Namibia, there is no Namibian Monopoly. They play the South African game. So, I did buy that version in a grocery store in Windhoek. But I had mixed feelings. Yes, that was the official Namibian version, but it was South African and I had spent less than 24 hours in South Africa. Was this merely a token purchase? All of the pondering was leaving me feeling emotionally bankrupt.

But a missed connection in Johannesburg on the way 
home turned out to be my "Get Out of Jail Free" card. After getting ironed things out at South African Airways customer service, it appeared I would be spending the next 24 hours in Jo'burg. However, as the hotel at which I was booked was actually in the airport, I knew that in order to feel confident about adding South Africa to my list, I had to take a chance and head into the community chest-first the next day.

Indeed, a group of us who missed our connection to DC hired a private van and visited moving sites like Soweto and the Apartheid Museum during our unexpected layover. So, in addition to squeezing lemonade out of lemons, the tour officially permitted meto add South Africa to my country count, which has now surpassed the half-century mark.

What are your rules for including countries in your total? And how many countries have you visited?

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