Romaine Welds was hiding from the Taliban in Afghanistan; swam on the beach in Mogadishu, Somalia, with armed bodyguards; and proudly raised the Jamaican flag at Babylon Gate in Iraq.
The Jamaican, who said he has visited 195 countries, landed in Antigua and Barbuda on Sunday, bowing his head and waving the black, green and gold flag that has become a symbol of his travels since 2021.
The 37-year-old globetrotter from Falmouth, who works for United Airlines in ground operations in the United States, has seen 28 wonders of the world in the 15 years since he began travelling.
Growing up in Jamaica, the Trelawny native recalled not having much privilege to travel.
For him, Yemen was a bit of a surprise.
“You don’t see much of the beauty of Yemen on TV, so I saw these adobe skyscrapers when I went,” Welds said in awe. “I mean, they’re three, sometimes four stories tall and they’re just hanging off the cliff.”
Another favorite of his was Babylon in Iraq.
“It was quite interesting when I visited Babylon, which a lot of Jamaicans don’t really know exists as a real place,” he said The Gleaner from his mansion in Falmouth, Antigua.
He was fascinated by two African countries – Libya and Ethiopia, one because of its rich Roman history and the other because of its relationship with the Rastafarians, the culture and the people.
Welds did not escape the war-torn areas, and his visit to Syria left him in a state of shock and despair.
“When I went there, it was still an active war zone, right on the border between Syria and Turkey… . I saw what the war did to Syria, how it destroyed homes and lives. It was pretty bad.”
The former Muschett High School student, who later relocated from Trelawny to Goodwill in St. James, says he travels on a budget and notes he’s not rich. He stays in hostels instead of hotels, and because he works with airlines, flights are discounted.
However, he recalls spending $3,200 in Niger, where he went to the Guérewol festival, a ritual competition among the Wodaabe people.
“This tour was expensive because it required tight security because the region is not safe. It’s quite dangerous between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali,” he says.
In Somalia he had to travel in a bulletproof car, and in Afghanistan he was forced to wear the national dress so as not to be easily recognized as a tourist by the Taliban.
When asked why he makes such daring trips, he quipped, “You know they say you have to go to see, so I have to go to see.”
As true-to-life and scary as some of the trips were, nothing was scarier than finding yourself stuck in heavy traffic in Mogadishu, unsure if a bomb spotted by police would detonate in a moving car in front of the one he was traveling in.
“That was the worst. The police started shooting randomly in the air to disperse the traffic because we couldn’t go anywhere due to the traffic jam. I thought, ‘Oh my god! Are we getting out of here or is this thing going on?’”
Not knowing which car the bomb was spotted in, he panicked.
But Welds will always live with the images of stunning natural wonders and the memory of the one-legged amputee sitting in the middle of a busy thoroughfare in Afghanistan begging for food because if he stayed home he would starve.
Welds, who watched many National Geographic Channel programs in his youth, says his first goal was to create the first new seven wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal in India; The Great Wall of China; the Roman Colosseum, Italy; Petra – the Khaznah, Jordan; Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru; and the Mayan Pyramid of El Castillo at Chichén Itzá, Mexico.
There are three categories of seven miracles, plus seven from CNN Television, and Welds said he did all 28.
“I did the seven natural wonders after that. These included Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Paricutin Volcano in Mexico, the Grand Canyon and Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).”
Then there were the seven natural wonders, which include the Amazon in Brazil; Table Mountain, South Africa; Igauzu Falls, Argentina; Halong Bay, Vietnam; Komodo, South America; Victoria Falls in Zambia; and Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, in the Australian outback.
On Sunday, about 20 family members and friends from the United States, Denmark and Vietnam joined Jamaica’s Honorary Consul to Antigua, Dr. Onyeka Campbell, and the Antigua government to give Welds a heroic welcome upon his arrival in the last country on his list.
“I wanted to finish somewhere that family and friends could go to and also in a nice place,” he said.
Today he claims to be the first Caribbean national to actually travel the world.