Montreal man returns home after 11-year walk around the world
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, October 16, 2011 12:43PM EDT
He nibbled on bugs and snakes, he bunked with escaped murderers in Africa and he had a close encounter with a puma in a South American desert.
Now, a Montrealer who spent the last 11 years walking around the globe is home.
Jean Beliveau reached his hometown on Sunday after walking more than 75,000 kilometres through 64 countries.
The 56-year-old shared an emotional reunion with his wife and mother as a crowd of onlookers welcomed him home with cheers as he crossed the Lachapelle Bridge into Montreal.
Beliveau says one of the things he missed most during his trip was having a morning coffee with his wife.
The former neon-sign salesman, who was on a mission to promote peace and raise awareness about children facing violence, says he learned to appreciate the little things in life.
In return, Beliveau said his 4,000-day mission allowed him to experience an adventure that opened his eyes to the world.
"Imagine the guy who left 11 years ago with a very naive mind and now he's coming back with a big intellectual baggage," Beliveau said in a phone interview Friday as he marched toward St-Eustache, northwest of Montreal.
"I don't see nearly my own country and province (the same way) as before."
Beliveau said he's happy to finally be back among familiar surroundings.
"It's funny to hear this sort of crazy slang of French-Canadians," joked Beliveau, who should not be confused with the legendary Montreal Canadiens forward.
Beliveau, who left Montreal on his 45th birthday in August 2000, said he faced countless hurdles along the way -- and many occasions when he considered giving up.
And at times, he even feared for his life.
One night in South America's Atacama Desert, he woke to the growl of a puma that approached him as he snored in the darkness.
Beliveau, who did not have a tent, was bundled in a sleeping bag under the stars and could only hear the big cat. He said he froze and eventually the puma left him alone.
"The noise was so scary," he recalled. "I can say I was lucky about all these sorts of things, about danger."
During his quest, Beliveau was also taken in by escaped prisoners -- including a man in Africa who admitted to killing two people. He said it wasn't his job to judge the criminals.
"These guys, they gave me food and places to stay," said Beliveau, who relied on others and was surprised by the generosity of people around the world.
He sampled strange foods, including snakes and insects in Africa and dog meat in Korea. He also tasted spices so hot that "you burn."
After arriving in Vancouver in January, Beliveau trekked eastward through punishing blizzards and tsunamis of slush sprayed his way by passing snowplows.
"I said (to myself): 'Welcome to Canada, this is what you're made for,' " Beliveau said.
He said his next calling is to repay a huge "emotional debt" he owes to his family, who encouraged him to keep going during difficult times.
On Sunday, he met his five-year-old granddaughter Amira for the first time and was reunited with Laury, his 10-year-old granddaughter whom he has met just once.
Beliveau also reconnected with his spouse of 24 years, Luce Archambault, whom he saw about once a year during his travels.
Aside from regular chats on Skype, the couple last saw each other face to face in January when Beliveau arrived in Vancouver.
Archambault said Beliveau only told her about his plan to circle the globe three-and-a-half weeks before he left, even though he had been preparing for the trip for more than six months.
"It was a big secret, he didn't tell either me or his family," said Archambault, who initially thought he was trying to end the relationship.
Beliveau, who was fed up with his nine-to-five job, assured her that this was not the case.
"I was not angry -- the project excited me," she said, adding that Beliveau plans to do some public-speaking engagements and to write a book.
"The end is close and I feel so excited. It's wonderful -- as long as he doesn't get in his head another project like that."
Beliveau wouldn't recommend that just anybody follow his exact, gruelling path, but he hopes it will motivate people to push their own boundaries.
He said Terry Fox inspired him to do something different with his own life.
"I said, 'If Terry Fox wanted to (run) through Canada on one leg, then I can do the world with good health,' " he said.
"There are many, many ways to express ourselves."