You better have stamina if you want to keep up with Cassandra De Pecol.
The 27-year-old American was in Karachi on Wednesday for a bit of sightseeing as part of her daring journey to set a Guinness World Record of becoming the first female to travel to 196 countries of which Pakistan is 191st.
The current record is held by an American man who completed the feat in three years and three months. Cassandra, however, has been travelling for some 17 months now and only has five more countries — Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Syria, Yemen and Turkmenistan — to go.
“I still don’t have visas for the latter three. But that’s how it’s been. I have been applying as I travel,” she told Dawn.
Asked why she didn’t apply for all when charting out her expedition, she said she couldn’t because most visas were time-specific. For instance, the Pakistan visa is for only 10 days. “And it took me four months to finally get the green signal,” she said.
In Pakistan, Cassie, as she likes being called, is a guest of the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s (PATA) Pakistan chapter on a request of the PATA headquarters, Thailand. In fact, PATA Pakistan’s chairman Akbar A. Shariff helped facilitate her visa formalities from here. And her programme in Pakistan has been organised by Asiatic Public Relations Network on pro bono basis, to promote a positive image of Pakistan.
She gave a talk at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, and one at Rotary Club. She also planted a sapling with Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar on Tuesday.
“That’s what I do on my travels,” she said. “I plant trees, meet students, and oh, I also collect water samples from lakes, rivers and the ocean to test for micro-plastics,” she said.
“You see, I am travelling on a small budget. I have 15 to 20 different sponsors comprising big and small companies, a bunch of hotels and airlines,” she said.
One of the sponsors happen to be Adventure Scientists, a group of skilled volunteers concerned about preserving the planet. “I collect water samples for them. It has led to some revelations, too. Like we found micro-plastics in water from Venice.”
Bitten by the travel bug rather early, Cassie says that as a child she hardly travelled. “We only went to Canada because my mother is Canadian,” she says. “But I knew that there was more to the world than what is shown in the news,” she said while sharing that she ran away from home at the age of 13 to see the world.
“But Washington, Connecticut, is a small place. I couldn’t get too far,” she laughed at the memory. “That experience taught me one thing. That I had to have money to travel.”
At 18, Cassie also spent her first year of college in Costa Rica. “Later, when I was 21, I saved up 2,000 bucks making it possible for me to travel to 25 countries. I could sustain those travels by getting jobs, sleeping at stations, etc,” she said. “I tried offering an online course after that for $5 only but it failed. I guess I didn’t have enough experience back then like I do now.”
Cassie has been travelling alone throughout. “I wish I could have brought my cat with me,” she smiled longingly on noticing a stray cat on the steps of the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum. “I wish I could take it back with me.”
But the young adventurer travels light. “I only have a carry-on knapsack. I don’t collect souvenirs and the gifts that I get I have them shipped to the US. I just can’t afford to carry extra baggage.” The only thing she is taking with her are her memories and the many photographs and videos that she has of herself at the places she visited.
The visit to the museum at the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum was a lesson in history as well as sightseeing. The father of the nation’s preserved things, including his bedroom, office, golf clubs, clothes and cars made her want to know more about him and how Pakistan came about on the map of the world.
Going from there to our next stop, the Mohatta Palace, every bus or rickshaw that passed by brought out a “wow!” She saw the buses here to be the most beautiful means of transport on the roads. Later, she was on seventh heaven when her hosts hailed a rickshaw for her which took her up and down a street.
Having begun her journey from Palau on July 24, 2015, and after travelling far and wide, she says that everywhere she went she met great human beings. “In Oman, these Syrian refugees cooked dinner for me,” she said.
But before coming here, she had to cut short her stay in Afghanistan. “My parents were so worried that they couldn’t sleep a wink while I was there so I left early,” she said, adding that she wanted to promote peace through tourism.
“I try not to research any country beforehand as I want to keep an open mind wherever I go. And I have found that despite different cultures, religions and race we are all people with the same basic needs,” she said.
Cassie has tasted all kinds of food, too. “I love Indian, Japanese, Mangolian, Korean and Mexican cuisines,” she said before happily reporting that she had not been unwell even for a day on her travels and was looking forward to dinner at Do Darya on Wednesday evening.
Originally published in Dawn December 15th, 2016