March 25, 2001
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Dave Kunst-The Earthwalker
By Jeri Maier, Executive Editor

In 1972, at a private party in Teheran, Iran, the host and his new wife introduced their special guests, two brothers from Waseca, Minnesota...
The Kunst Brothers (Dave and John) were attempting to walk around the world on foot to help promote UNICEF. The brothers were excited about their trips from the US, through part of Europe and their plan to walk to Afghanistan, Pakistan and then to Calcutta, India.
Halfway around the world in Afghanistan, Dave and John walked through the Desert of Death where temperatures hit 128 degrees. But it was in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan that bandits attacked. John Kunst was shot and killed by bandits half way around the world in Afghanistan on October 21, 1972.

Dave and John Kunst walked from Waseca, Minnesota, to New York City and touched the Atlantic Ocean. They then flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Lisbon, Portugal and touched the Atlantic ocean on the other side. Walking across Europe and Asia to Calcutta, India, Dave touched the Indian Ocean. He then flew across the Indian Ocean to Perth, Western Australia and touched the Indian Ocean on the other side. Walking across Australia to Sydney he touched the Pacific Ocean. He then flew across the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles, California, and touched the Pacific Ocean on the other side. He then walked from Newport Beach, California, back to Waseca, Minnesota, where he started, becoming the first person to walk round the earth.

The walk took four years, three months and sixteen days! Kunst walked 14,450 miles crossing four continents and thirteen countries, wearing out 21 pair of shoes, and walking more than 20 million steps.

I often thought about The Kunst Brothers, and finally, after nearly 30 years, I caught up with Dave Kunst. I searched for The Kunst Brothers and found Dave's Earthwalker web site on the Internet!

JERI:   How was the environment and political atmosphere of most of the countries, when you and your brothers walked around the world?

DAVE:   We got lucky when we walked across Europe and Asia in the early 1970's. Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy were great. Friendly, helpful people made our Experience wonderful. Western Yugoslavia was very good but the eastern part of the country was too much like it's neighbor. Bulgaria was a communist country and the people were so afraid of the secret police they didn't dare make contact with us.
Helping or even speaking to Americans might not be the right thing to do. An official at the government tourist bureau put it like this, "If you had walked across the Soviet Union first and the Soviets helped you then we would too." We went into culture shock crossing Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. They seemed reasonably stable and most of the people we had contact with were friendly to Americans but everything was alien to us. We had a few bad experiences because some of the mullahs (religious leaders) didn't want or like any Western influence.
We were chased many times by men and boys while walking through villages in Asian Turkey. In Iran, the Shah was in power and he put the word out to the people that tourists, especially Americans, were to be treated well. We were attacked by bandits in the mountains of Afghanistan. I was shot and John was killed. It was a mistake because of the language barrier. A reporter printed that we were collecting money for UNICEF when actually we were just telling people to send money to UNICEF. What caused things to get deadly was the fact that the six bandits were wanted for murder. Pakistan and India were unbelievable and we were overwhelmed by the masses. "People, people everywhere and not a place to walk," we chanted. Australia reminded us so much of the USA that we felt at home.

JERI:   Was it true that most people in most countries are friendly for Americans to travel around without any fear? I lived in London in 1964 to 1966 and I always felt safe in the street. I was in Dusseldorf, Koln and Bonn in Germany in 1969. There were so many hitchhikers, the bohemians and hippies all over Europe.

DAVE:   I think that is generally true for all tourists if they are respectful and courteous.

JERI: Do you sense that people were not as resentful of Americans as they are now, due to the political situation that developed in the last 30 years?

DAVE:   I revisited France and Italy and I didn't really notice any change. I was well treated and I had a great time. I'm sure there is resentment toward Americans in Yugoslavia, Iran and Afghanistan for reasons we all know. I can only imagine that Pakistan and India are even more over populated than they were in 1972.

JERI:   Do you think that the cultural winds of "times are changing" very much at all? Or are things are pretty much the same?

DAVE:   Americans are inclined to tolerate the beliefs, practices, and traits of others because we are composed of all the peoples of the earth. It seems the rest of the world is slow to learn what this conglomeration called America has accomplished by accepting change and encouraging tolerance.
Sadly some countries are hard pressed to change at all.   To make significant change, a country must be receptive to new ideas and arguments and be tolerant of other religions and customs. I think America has proved that change and tolerance is important so all people can live together in peace. There has been progress but in many areas of the world those in power adhere to antiquated convictions.
Education is the key to change.

JERI:   If the times are changing, do you think that it is safe to travel and or walk around the world as Americans now? I have heard about a few world walkers in the last few years...

DAVE:   I think the area of the world that I walked is about as safe to walk now as it was in the 1970's. The exceptions are Yugoslavia, Iran and Afghanistan.

JERI:   Which country is your most favorite besides Australia?

DAVE:   Portugal!

JERI:   Can you give some advice to younger generations about the world view?

DAVE:   Do whatever you can to influence governments to provide a good education to every child. It is the most important goal we can set. If you don't believe me visit a well educated area of a city and then visit a poorly educated area of the same city. I rest my case. The most important thing a human being can get is a good education. In my opinion there is nothing more important, than making sure all human beings are well educated, to make the world a better place.

JERI:   If you have the chance, would you do it again?

DAVE:   The first time it was well worth the million-dollar experience. I would do it again for a million dollars.

JERI:   It was an experience of a lifetime. Would you advise anyone else to do it?

DAVE:   For me it was definitely the experience of a lifetime and I would definitely advise others to follow in my footsteps, whether that means walking the globe or fulfilling their dream.

JERI:   Thank you Dave for the great insight!

DAVE:   My pleasure.

NOTE From Jeri: Read about Dave and Peter on The Earthwalker's web pages

The brothers in Venice

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