Malta - where a stranger is a friend you've never met before

A small place with a big heart
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There are only 9 countries in the world that are smaller than Malta. Only 1 of those countries are in Africa (Comoros) so it has been a very long time since I've last been in a country as cozy as this one. Malta is a European country in the Mediterranean between the main body of Europe and the African continent. Apparently a lot of you didn't know that? Well now you do :)
 
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That's Malta, just at the end of my henna colored fingernail.
 
The day my father flew back to Denmark was also the day I checked out of the hotel he had booked us into. A Danish Dane from Denmark named Johnny Haarup is a long time supporter of the Saga and we have been in touch several times through the magic world of facebook. A while ago he reached out again and asked if I might be interested in hooking up with some people in Malta? I replied "sure, why not". Before I knew of it I had been approached by a man named David (Dave) Mariner. We corresponded for a while on facebook as he introduced me to his wife Alexandra (Alex) and invited me to come and stay for a while in their apartment. So as I checked out of the hotel I headed straight to the address Alex had given me. This was also my first experience with the exciting landscape which is Malta. On google maps it looked like a short 15-20 minute walk to their apartment. In reality I had to do a fair amount of uphill walking with my heavy luggage. Shortly after passing beneath an overpass bridge (while I was looking more down than up), I suddenly heard a woman's voice from above: "Thor! Thor!" As I looked up to my left it became clear that I had reached my destination. It was Alex standing on their 3rd floor balcony waving at me.
 
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Jules the family cat. He spent a night sleeping on top of me? :)
 
Alex is half Danish and half US American. As I was huffing and puffing having climbed the staircase Alex immediately offered me a glass of water. I mentioned last week that she then went on to reveal that she actually spoke Danish and I think that's pretty much where I left you? Anyway... Dave came home and he is British. Dave and Alex lived together for a while in Denmark so he too speaks the mystical Norse language (a little bit of it anyway). Dave works within the online video game business which is not completely uncommon for foreigners across Malta. Apparently tax laws have made it lucrative for both the online video game business and iGaming (online betting) industry to pick Malta and apparently that means that there are many Swedish people in Malta? It's something I've heard over and over again: "There are many swedes in Malta". Taxi drivers, shop owners, the man on the street... everyone knows that there are a lot of swedes in Malta. Not that anyone minds. Any business which a tiny Mediterranean country can attract is surely welcome. Elections are currently the big thing in Malta and the Maltese are highly political creatures. Around 98% of the population votes on elections which should put many nations to shame! How dare you stay on the couch?!? ;) I'm guessing that one of the candidates has been mentioning the taxation of the iGaming industry as a part of the campaign? At least that would make sense in terms of everyone knowing about it. Or perhaps it's just because Malta is a country with 450,000 people and everyone knows everything anyway?
 
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Creative cooking.
 
Alex and Dave are so easy to be around. They are both working for Karmafy (www.karmafy.com) which is a company they have started together. The aim, as I understand it, is to create a platform for sustainable gaming. By sustainable I mean that someone in the world can play an online game and with each level which is reached someone else receives clean drinking water, or medicine, or education...you get the idea? Suddenly there is a reply to your mother: "but mooooom... I'm helping vulnerable children. I can't go outside and play!" ;)
 
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Watching 'Captain Fantastic' with Alex.
 
Apart for being fun and easy to be around they are both great cooks and self announced "foodies". I have surely not had any food so far which wasn't well above average! A lot of the food they eat is adventurous and off the beaten path and somehow still very cost efficient? They create a lot of food from scratch which might keep the costs down. Nothing is really ever thrown away as it can always be used in some way... eventually the remains can simply go into a stew :). The other day Alex and Dave headed out to pick capers. A few hours later they came back with several bags full. Both the capers and the leaves can be pickled and that's exactly what they do. Capers across Malta is a remnant from the Maltese Knights. Malta is so full of history. Apart from the good food we cozy up on the couch at night and watch a movie or a few episodes of 'Alone'. Alone is a concept where 10 "survival experts" are dropped off into the Canadian wilderness with 10 items each. The one that survives for the longest duration wins $500,000. They are equipped with cameras and do all their own filming. They are truly alone. Some tap out after a few days. The winner of season 1 stayed out there for more than 50 days before the production team came and picked him up. There are elements of the show I identify with... but mostly it's just pretty solid entertainment.
 
Lovin Malta wrote a superior article about my arrival to Malta. Superior because they never contacted me, they never interviewed me and they still managed to get it all right:
 
The article did its rounds in Malta and triggered several invitations from kind Maltese people who wanted to show me Malta. Luke was one of them and we soon met up to go and take a look at the island. You can actually go from one side of Malta to the other in less than an hour. Luke and I drove around, talked about the world, took some pictures and then went back to his place to pick up Luke's girlfriend Anastasia.
 
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Together the 3 of us then proceeded out to see the sunset but that was interrupted by a shower. It was nice to see some rain for a change.
 
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St. Peter's Pool in rough weather. 
 
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Anastasia and the sunset. Minutes before the dust filled rain starting pouring.
 
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Golden Bay with a Red Cross first aid station in the left corner ;)
 
As the evening fell upon us we opted for ice cream before ordering dinner and chilling out. Great people :)
 
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If this looks familiar then it could be because you watch Game of Thrones ;)
 
The following day I met up with Sergio and his father David. Sergio had contacted me through the Sagas social media and suggested that he would show me around his island together with his father who he said knew all the fun and interesting facts.
 
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Mdina.
 
They picked me up and together we drove out to Mdina which is an extraordinary citadel and the former capital of Malta. Sergio's dad David certainly knows a lot! We had a great afternoon in the old crooked streets amongst the charming old buildings.
 
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Then afterwards we stopped for pastizzi and a beer. It doesn't get much more Maltese than that.
 
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Pastizzi and the local Cisk brew.
 
Our joint exploration of Malta continued as we took in the scenic views of this island nation, came across a 100 ton canon France from WWII, wondered at the Ħaġar Qim megalithic temple which dates back about 5,700 years, saw the Mediterranean Film Studios and then drove up and down the narrow streets of Valletta and every town that surrounds it.
 
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Who wouldn't like to sit on that bench for a while and think about life as the boats come in?
 
As it turns out there's a new Maltese town every 50 meters!! Okay, perhaps not that extreme but it shifts rather often and without a guide you're unlikely to notice the change at all. In my ignorance I would quickly call several towns for Valletta under one name. But that would indeed be ignorant. 
 
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If there's one thing Malta has plenty of it's boats...and cars...2 things! :)
 
There are the annual boat races where various towns compete for a full year of bragging rights. There are the festivals where every town appears to have its own character and special fingerprint. Malta is clouded in history, traditions and stories.
 
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A few of the movies made in Malta are: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Midnight Express, Popeye, Cutthroat Island, Gladiator, U-571, The Count of Monte Cristo, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alexander, Troy, Munich, The Da Vinci Code, The Devil's Double, Kon-Tiki, World War Z, Captain Phillips, Assassin's Creed, Risen, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (+ a lot of Game of Thrones).
 
Sergio's dad definitely knows a lot and was happy to share. So while I definitely increased my knowledge I also think it's fair to say that I might have forgotten more about Malta than most people will ever learn. I personally love history and Malta has got enough for everyone.
 
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Finally my friend Mike, whom I've known for more than 10 years, reached out and offered to pay for dinner. Mike works in Italy but knew Michelle in Malta. So he set up a meeting between us. As it happened Michelle already had plans to have lunch with her family during the weekend and she asked if I wanted to come along?
 
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This glass Maltese Cross wine stopper was a gift from Michelle. The shapes origin dates back to the 6th century however was largely adopted and used by the Maltese Knights from 1567 and upwards.
 
Michelle and her husband came to pick me up around midday. They had their 9 year old Sienna Erika and 11 month old Kian with them in the car. Together we all drove off to dine at a spectacular Italian restaurant called L'altro Orso. That's where we met Michelle's oldest daughter Chelsea and her boyfriend Emerson who both joined us for lunch. If there's something I already know about the Maltese then it's that they like to socialize over food and take their time doing so. Great stuff! This was by any definition a wonderful family to spend a Sunday afternoon with. So thank you Mike and thank you Chelsea, Emerson, Sienna Erika, Kian, Kevin and Michelle.
 
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Blue Grotto with the Filfla island in the back.
 
People here in Malta are friendly and curious. People here are also proud and not without reason. Malta has a very long and well documented history of people coming to take it. As you can imagine Malta is of very high strategical value given its exceptional location in the Mediterranean Sea. Nonetheless Malta is now in the process of yet another election for the most competent governance of one the worlds smallest and most densely populated countries. If you feel that you haven't heard anything in the news about this election then it's partially because they don't have any Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump types running for prime minister. And partially because a Maltese election would hardly mean the end of the European Union or the end of the world. Malta is just quite peaceful like that. I feel safe wherever I go and there is a lot to see.
 
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Traffic and more traffic. At least it moves.
 
A very common sight across Malta is traffic! With a population of around 450,000 people and about 380,000 registered vehicles traffic takes up a lot of space. I heard that 30 new cars are registered every day? On top of these statistics you need to add all the foreign vehicles from nearby Italy... and potentially Sweden I guess? ;) Traffic here is pretty bad. But it's not bad in comparison to many other places. I recently left the African continent having spent more than 2 years across it. Nairobi traffic and Cairo traffic is truly bad. I lived a year in Bangladesh and the capital (Dhaka) has truly horrendous traffic!! All across the world people are moving towards urban settlements and cities are growing. Traffic will only get worse. As I recently watched a brief video with Elon Musk (business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor) he explained something I never realized before? He said that once vehicles become fully automated and will be able to drive themselves we will have more traffic - not less. That makes sense! Electric cars will get very cheap someday and you might just have a car that picks up your children from school and takes them to after school activities. Meanwhile you'll have a vehicle that brings yourself around and so does your spouse. Also taxi services will be offering more of these vehicles to meet the a growing demand. It could quickly become cheaper than taking the bus. So more vehicles and more traffic awaits us.
 
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Malta is a rather religious country. Catholicism is the state religion.
 
A classic American mistake has been to build cities around vehicles and not around people. So now many US Americans find themselves in situations where walking simply isn't a real option anymore. Malta also appears to have been structured to accommodate vehicles over people. I tried walking from Luqa (near the airport) to St. Julian (near Valletta). The distance covered roughly 8 km (5 mi) and was highly unwalkable. Meanwhile several new overpasses are under construction so that traffic can be in layers! Malta is a very beautiful country with some very charming landscape and architecture. It is in my opinion a shame that increasing traffic has been given so much priority and not public transportation. Our planet has rapidly grown from a population of 3 billion people to more than 7 billion. If you increase the width of the roads then you will just have more vehicles as the middle class keeps growing all over the world. Expansion will never be sufficient. Collective transportation is the only solution. Besides I missed the bus and that's why I ended up walking from Luqa to St. Julian ;)
 
I'm working on reaching the final 3 countries in Africa and will soon go back to the continent. I'm keeping my cards pretty close as you never know who might be reading this. What I can say is that Libya is quite a challenge. Both logistically, bureaucratically and in terms of safety. I'm taking it very serious of course, however there will be a solution to enter and exit safely. I believe that there isn't a single branch of the Red Cross or Red Crescent which wants me to go. I have actually been warned not to go. This is where I would like to take a moment to remind everyone that the basis of this entire project is as follows: "I am traveling to every single country in the world in a single unbroken journey completely without the use of flight". This is something which has never before been accomplished throughout history. There is a reason why it hasn't been accomplished: It's hard! Anything else is an "add on" to the project: The Red Cross Red Crescent, the social media, the blog, the interviews, the friendships, the positive promotions... all of it! The core element is that it is EVERY COUNTRY and that it is WITHOUT FLYING. If you can't get with the program then that's to bad. However that exact "program" is what enables everything else. Especially the inspiration, the education and the entertainment.
 
Fortunately I'm in really good hands while I'm trying to work all of this out. There is always a way. And be sure that I will find it ;) The base which Alex and Dave have provided me with is an oasis in the storm of information I am trying to sort out. The good food is like a warm smile when everything else seems to fall apart. Finally their friendship and kindness is simply priceless!
 
A Stranger Is A Friend You've Never Met Before ;)
 
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The Maltese Red Cross is rather impressive.
 
Now, I could have written a lot about the Maltese Red Cross and their very impressive exercise earlier this week. It included a real Cruise Ship!! I'll do a post on Facebook this upcoming Sunday and the exercise will be included within the 'Always present' story which I write for each National Society.
 
That's all for know. Take care and stay open minded :)

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - my own worst enemy 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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Reaching Malta - patchwork nation

"Gunhilde Maersk" - passenger no 1!
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The ships agent of the 367 m (1,204 ft) long containership rushed me onboard a day before departure. That threw a lot of my last minute planning sideways, however it ensured that I came onboard in time. These huge ships are effected by so many outside parameters: high tide, low tide, crane failure, pilots, congestion, late deliveries, weather and so much more. In my personal experience I find that the ships are almost never at fault when they are behind schedule - it's always something else...
 
I wasn't that "something else" as the agent picked me up and drove me to the immigration office. A few crew members were disembarking from "Gunhilde Maersk" and we met in passing and exchanged a few kind words. It was already dark outside. The agent was tired. It had been a long day and he couldn't go back to the office before he had dropped me off. After clearing immigration and officially exiting Egypt the agent and I got back into his car and drove onboard a small ferry which brought us to an industrial island in the Suez Canal. We proceeded to drive across the small island while small talking about things long forgotten. As we reached the water on the far side of the island the agent pointed at a motorboat and said: "I'll leave you here and head back to the office. Just throw your bags onboard and go inside. They will bring you to the ship".
 
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Coming along side of "Gunhilde Maersk".
 
There is something "secret agent like" about meeting a couple of Arabic sailors on a dark night and boating into the unknown. So while feeling (slightly) like Jason Bourne we tugged away across the black water. After 15-20 minutes we came along side of the majestic and absolutely gigantic ship. Gunhilde was still along side being loaded with containers. To my surprise we didn't go along side to the quay so I could embark the ship from there. No, my Jason Bourne skills were tested as we went along side the ship in open water. A long gangway ran from the ship's deck and directly towards the water, where I climbed onboard and began to make my way up. The boat that brought me there disappeared back to where it came from as I stepped onboard a shook hands with a seaman who brought me to the deck office. Sivan, the chief officer, greeted me warmly and explained that the Master (captain) had already gone to bed but I would meet him the following day. Sivan then instructed the seaman to show me to my cabin. We took the elevator up and I was shown to the "Pilot's cabin" which is a cabin inbetween the Master and the Chief Engineer's cabins. What a luxury!
 
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Perfect accomodation! Couldn't be happier :)
 
A ship like Gunhilde can carry more than 9,000 x 20' containers. A truck can load 2 x 20' containers so think: 4,500 trucks! Or how about this; these ships are fueled by something called "bunker", which along with the cargo brings the ships weight up to about 160,000 tons. Now picture the ship unloaded and unfueled...that would weigh approximately the same as 20,000 elephants! Yup! It's a pretty sizable workplace.
 
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The following day I met Captain Meinhard Jacobsen, who is Faroese and has been sailing for many years. The Faroe Islands (which are counted as a country within the Saga) are a part of the Danish Kingdom so he spoke Danish as well as Faroese and English. I met Meinhard as he was working behind his desk in his office. Being at port is often the busiest time onboard and the days when seamen would explore each port, the nightlife and its social creatures are mostly over. In many cases the seamen never leave the ship before they go home. Meinhard had kind eyes and a firm handshake: "Welcome onboard!" 
 
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Breakfast with a view of Denmark.
 
With the crossover from Egypt to Malta it became my 10th passage onboard a container ship. That might sound like a lot but it really isn't compared to 3.6 years of traveling across 128 countries on 4 continents. We've passed 170,000 km (105,633 mi) now. I would estimate I have spent less than 2 months onboard containerships which equals 40 months not spent onboard containerships.
 
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Chief Engineer T. Simun Nielsen in front of the 4 storeys tall engine! 
 
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A clean engine room may sound like an oxymoron - however not on this ship.
 
Maersk Line invited me onboard and what an honor!! Taking passengers onboard such ships is mostly unheard of. Your chances are slim to none. So I am quite privileged to be in such good company. A while ago Niall Doherty wrote an excellent blog on containership travel based on his own experiences, where he also asked me about a few things: http://www.ndoherty.com/cargo-ship-tr
 
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Great crew! :)
 
Captain Meinhard has a spectacular crew onboard the Gunhilde Maersk. Too often I have heard about how the social aspect of life onboard is rapidly fading away. I personally believe the decline in social life onboard must have come with the advance within personal laptops. When the laptops became capable of showing movies many seamen decided to watch whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to. Now wifi is also making its way onboard the ships and with that I have seen social interactions fading away in the flesh. That is not at all the case onboard Gunhilde, where the seamen speak with each other during meals, briefly meet up for coffee in the morning and afternoon, watch a movie together after dinner and play games and get this: we even managed a BBQ accompanied with (nonalcoholic) beer!
 
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My theory is that if the crew is well balanced and the ship runs well, it's because the top dog knows what he is doing. Well done Captain Meinhard Jacobsen.
 
As I have referenced many times before these ships are workplaces with strict routines. The economy within shipping has been going through some very tough times in recent years and competition is fierce! The men onboard these ships are hard working. They get up early, follow their routine, go to sleep and start all over the next day. It's a workplace - not a cruise. For me it was also a workplace. I got to close my door and sit down at my desk for a few days. While onboard I managed to write the "always present stories" from my visit at both Eritrea Red Cross and the Egyptian Red Crescent. I also replied to most of all the emails which had been building up in my inbox. I got to do laundry, edit photos, repair equipment and best of all: I slept in a great bed, had plenty of food and I could take long warm showers without feeling guilty about the environment (the ship desalinates seawater).
 
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Knowing what to do in an emergency is vital to safety. The crew was kept up to date with a drill while I was onboard.
 
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I got my laundry done too :)
 
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Overall the crossing between Port Said in Egypt and Marsaxlokk in Malta reached a distance of about 1,730 km (1,075 mi) and took about 48 hours. I had 3 memorable nights onboard. We reached Malta on time but couldn't come along side because another ship was in our space. So we ended up waiting outside the port for several hours. As I said; these ships themselves are usually not at fault when delays occur. The sun was setting as we finally came along side and once the agent finally arrived, Captain Meinhard handed me my passport and we said farewell. It was a great pleasure for me to be onboard with such fine company. It is with great appreciation that I say thank you to everyone onboard and everyone involved.
 
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Now, that's how we reached Malta. What happened next was that the kind ship's agent gave me a ride from Gunhilde to the gates, where my father was waiving a large Danish flag! We hugged in what was our first reunion since I entered Africa more than 2 years earlier. Back then he declared that whenever I reached Malta he would come to visit. And he kept that promise. A taxi brought us to Gzira which is a stone's throw away from Malta's capital Valletta. He had arranged for rooms for us and as soon soon as I had dropped my bags at the hotel we headed out for dinner. I had 3 beers that night and an Irish coffee, which combined might be more alcohol than what I've had throughout 2017! My dad's a businessman and 69 years old. He's used to it...me not so much. 
 
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Valletta has had many years to build up its excessive charm. Well done!
 
The next morning we got up early, had breakfast and headed out to see a little bit of Malta. It's an absolutely picturesque country with a lot to see and do. We walked around the narrow streets of Valletta as I got to know my new surroundings. I've come to the conclusion that if you do not speak at least 2 languages then you're probably not Maltese. People joke a lot about there being more cars than people. It's not quite true but a solid estimate is that there might be more cars than people with drivers' licenses. If Malta is anything then it is certainly desirable. History has proven that over and over again. Throughout thousands of years the governance has changed hands and here's a brief overview of how colorful the history has been: colonized by Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. It became involved in the Muslim–Byzantine War, was invaded by the Normans shortly after their invasion of England, was absorbed by the Holy Roman Empire, then Anjou (France), then Spain, then France again. It was home to the Knights Hospitaller, starting in 1099, the world's oldest surviving chivalric order. And with compliments to the Brits the many Maltese registered vehicles battle traffic driving on the left side of the road. Not the RIGHT side of the road ;)
 
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This looks like the Danish flag. However it's the St. John's flag (The Knight). I just pretend Malta is crazy about Denmark ;)
 
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My father stops to see what I mean photographing :)
 
I managed to have about 36 hours with my father before he flew back home. It was great to see him and talk through life and everything which has happened since we last met. On our 2nd day together I had a glass of wine, then half a bottle of wine and finally an Irish coffee. That was all accompanied by his great company and lots of delicious food. He got up early Monday morning and headed to the airport. I was then on my own again. Fortunately Johnny Haarup, who's been following the Saga from the very beginning, got me in touch with a couple of his friends, who live in Malta. So after checking out of the hotel I wandered off to find Dave and Alex in St. Julian. You never really know what to expect the first time you meet strangers? Dave and Alex had invited me to come and stay in a spare room in their apartment. I knocked on the door and was greeted by Alex' beautiful smile: "Come on inside!" After a while of speaking English she revealed that she speaks Danish too! :) Her father is from the USA and her mother is Danish so she got the best of both countries. Dave came home and introduced himself in a perfect British accent. A solid giveaway that he's from the U.K. However they both once lived in Denmark so he also speaks that mystical language to some degree.
 
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Alex isn't just an excellent cook. She is absolutely brilliant! :)
 
These are two great people! Easy to talk to, fun to be around and they both love food. "Foodies" as they call themselves. When people ask me if there's anything I don't eat I usually reply by saying no. I've had crocodile, snake, bashed goats brain, cow skin, various insects, cows tits and lots of other stuff I don't even know. So I usually come out quite superior. When seated with Dave and Alex I'm quite inferior! I suspect there is nothing those two wouldn't eat! However most of all they are into good food and there has been plenty of it. You'll hear more about them next week.
 
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Malta is currently undergoing some kind of economic building boom. Cranes are everywhere.
 
We are left with 3 more countries to visit in Africa before we can move on. Those 3 continue to be Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. Tunisia is likely to be next but it will depend on planning and opportunity. Algeria is likely to be the last. It's possible to take a ferry from Malta to Sicily and another ferry from Sicily to Tunisia. However there are also ships which go straight. In either case I have a lot of logistics to work on these days to find out how it will all work out. Visas and travel routes are the main issues here. The crowdfunding campaign which we have been working on throughout the year is coming closer to being a reality. Hopefully it can be launched in about a month. The Saga has been without financial sponsorship since March 2015 so it's about time.
 
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Malta Red Cross training exercise. This is an extraordinary National Society: www.redcrossmalta.org.mt/
 
I'm tired. Both physically and mentally. However I'm surrounded by great people and lots of opportunity. Several Maltese have been reaching out to meet me and to show me Malta. Dave and Alex have "adopted" me. The Saga has reached its country number 128 and I'm in touch with the Maltese Red Cross. The Saga is on track. Let's keep on keeping on ;)
 
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Highly relavant slogan ;)
 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - keeping on!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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Farewell Egypt - 3 countries left

Here we go again
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Quite a few people have been congratulating me on completing all the African countries? That's a little premature as we have 3 more left to go. And it's not going to be easy.
 
Libya neighbors Egypt and on a map it all looks so easy. Libya has an extraordinary history of Berbers, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and so much more to boast about. And some of the most spectacular Roman ruins are to be found in Libya. However Libya is not a tourist destination and never was. During the days of Ghadaffi it was very hard to obtain a visa so the endless Mediterranean coastline of beautiful white sands, meeting clear blue water, was pretty much left to the crabs and starfish. Today Libya is even less of a tourist destination with all that has been going on. Various regions are being held by various groups with various interests. The newly formed government is doing what it can to hold on to the country and create stability. Meanwhile ISIS has taken a stronghold in Libya as well. If you think you had a stressful day then consider knowing that you will soon be going to Libya.
 
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I have done whatever research I possibly could on entering from the Egyptian side. Everything points towards that it's a better idea to enter from the Tunisian side. Or perhaps find a boat going straight to the capital: Tripoli. With that in mind I had to find a way from Egypt to Tunisia without flying? The solution became going from Egypt to Malta on a container ship making Malta the Sagas 128th country before returning to Africa. Maersk Line (www.maersk.com) has provided me with access to the beautiful "Gunhilde Maersk" which is as large as 3 football fields! I know a lot of you dream about traveling on a container ship. However I must once again stress that it is nearly impossible to gain access unless you go through a booking agency and pay for it. These regular container ships have no incentive to bring a passenger and you might want to work yourself through the exercise of asking: "why would they bring me onboard?" More than anything you add the ship with an unwanted risk. My privilege comes through the strength of the Saga and all the hard work it has taken to get this far. As such I'm happy to announce that "Gunhilde Maersk" will be the Sagas 10th container ship since October 10th 2013.
 
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The good ship "Gunhilde Maersk".
 
Last week I left to go and see my old friend Moneim having heard that he was in Luxor recovering from brain surgery. A benign tumor had been found on his pituitary gland. So they opened up his head and took it out! Cool stuff!! Now he is 2 months into his 6 month recovery period.
 
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Moneim 2009.
 
It was great to see Moneim, his brothers, cousins, friends and family again. I had not seen them since I first visited Luxor in 2009 for Moneim's brothers wedding. Much has happened since then. There was the Arab spring which brought along a lot of change. Some for the better and some for the worse. Moneim appeared to be his good old self although he naturally needs to rest and eat according to a schedule as well as take his medication and stay out of the sun. It's amazing to sit and have a conversation with someone who just recently had THEIR BRAIN OPEN! This is however no news for the Egyptians who have been doing it for the past 2,000 years...although not as complex as today.
 
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Moneim after the operation. 
 
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Moneim today! :)
 
Moneim started having issues with his vision which led to the tests which led to the surgery. That's how fast it goes. Because Moneim could not go out under the sun and needed to rest I saw my chance to visit Luxor and Karnak Temple. Unbelievable! So old and so magnificent! Mind boggling too if you try to consider where most European countries where at when these Egyptian structures towered high above the Pharos. 
 
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Luxor Temple is 2 km (1.2 mi) from Karnak temple. It's located near the east bank of the Nile in what used Tom be ancient Thebes (today Luxor). It was constructed approximately 1,400 BCE (3,400 years ago!!)
 
I have a little bit of an issue with Egypt being degraded to pyramids and Egyptology. Egypt became far more after the demise of the Pharos. However when you try to do online research about Egypt then it's all about ancient Egypt. Almost as if nothing really happened in the past 1,700 years. Fair enough...tourism drives a big part of Egyptian economy and if it's ancient Egypt you want to see then there is plenty of it. Cleopatra, Ramses, Tutankhamen, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Herodes, Saladin...there are lots of great names which worked their way into Egyptian history.
 
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Karnak temple was built over a timespan of approximately 2,000 years and began to take form under Senusret I roughly 3,900 years ago!! 30-pharaos contributed to it over the years while it remained a major religious center. It consists of huge pillars, towering columns, massive avenues of sphinxes and an obelisk that stands 30 meters (97 feet) tall and weighs 323-tons! The Karnak temple is Egypts most visited site after the Great pyramids of Giza.
 
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After a few days with Moneim I caught the train back north to Cairo where I met David (www.world-adventurer.com) who's in Iraq now making that his 189th country. David and I managed to have yet another day together, which celebrates our 4th mutual country since we first met in Gabon. It's not that long ago we last met up. We were both in Sudan at the same time. This world travel thing is very much mentally exhausting and that is partially because no one can really relate to what I have been through and what it all means on a personal level. David can relate to so much of my struggles, frustrations and joys which makes for a great vent with solid conversations. It's always much appreciated.
 
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Together we headed out to visit the citadel in Cairo. Cairo is so much more than pyramids. The Saladin Citadel of Cairo was a medieval Islamic fortification. It is now a preserved historic site, with mosques and museums. The Citadel was fortified by Salah al-Din (Saladin) between 1176 and 1183 CE, to protect it from the Crusaders.
 
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The heavily fortified and tactically located citadel remained the heart of Egyptian government until the 19th century. Saladin, by the way, was the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. Saladin famously led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Upper Mesopotamia, the Hejaz, Yemen and other parts of North Africa. An image of the Eagle of Saladin became the coat of arms of Egypt and other Arab nations. It is found on the Egyptian flag today.
 
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Mohammed Ali's mosque (a tiny part of the citadel).
 
Afterwards David and I headed back to my $5/night room on the 11th floor to pick up my swimming trunks. David was as usual staying at a fancy high end hotel, which he then promotes online through his blog. The Conrad would have charged $170/night for Davids room. Not a bad concept David is traveling with. At The Conrad we headed to the pool area and I dove in. Something I quickly regretted as that pool was abnormally cold! So a few minutes later I was back in the sun drying my pale seasoned body.
 
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Not long after that we went to the complimentary happy hour for the executive suites, which David had access to. Happy hour included beer, cocktails and food! Good stuff! :) We said farewell to each other and David flew directly to Iraq making that his 189th country. I went back to my $5/night room.
 
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Egyptians are overall very proud people and I would say rightfully so. It's quite a country which has a dateline of advanced civilizations which endangers creationists belief in the age of our planet. I had a great debate with 2 Egyptian muslims about belief vs non belief. It's so much harder to debate with muslims than with Christians as the Bible is riddled with postulates that are in direct contradiction with provable science. However the Quran has always been far more accommodating towards science so any good debate becomes far more philosophical. In the end of it all we already have our opinions set and we are ready to defend whatever contradicts our beliefs. As such I find that muslims will sometimes fall back on one of two statements if anyone points to a scientific error in the Quran: 1) it depends on interpretation of the Quran. 2) Science will later on prove that it is wrong about its current claim. I love these debates as long as they stay friendly. It's really good brain exercise and it often develops a deeper cultural understanding.
 
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About 1% of the Egyptians are Christian which might not sound like much. But with a population of 100 million people Christmas still keeps Santa pretty busy. Egypts president is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and there are about as many opinions about him as there are Egyptians. Some feel that he is not delivering on his promise while others are saying he is pulling Egypt out of an economic slump. These are trying times for many Egyptians and the countries economy isn't what it used to be. For a lot of people it means change in everyday life like selling the car and taking the bus as a replacement. Egypt is among the 5 strongest economies in Africa along with South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Algeria. But that too all depends on how you chose to measure it. In any case Egypt is in the high end and most Egyptians hardly regard themselves as Africans and identify more with the Middle East.
 
As you walk about in Cairo you get a kind of Cuban sense from looking at the beautifully ornamented buildings which mostly look like they need some renovation. What I mean is that just from looking at these extravagant door entries or windows you can easily create an idea about how extraordinary times must have been...at least for some. At the same time Egyptians have caught on to the same decease as everyone else and are in large numbers glaring into those magical boxes everyone seems to have in their hand these days. While walking I often nearly bump into someone who's more busy looking at their phone than looking where they are going. Finally Egyptians are completely bonkers for football. It does not appear to matter which team is playing. If there's football on the tele then that takes the focus.
 
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I got a LE 33 ($1.80) train ticket from Cairo to Port Said to meet with a special heavy set lady who wouldn't wait for me forever. Before heading to Luxor Maersk had confirmed that I had been given the green light to board "Gunhilde Maersk" which is a G-class container carrier, which is as large as 3 football fields!
 
My train left Cairo at 06:15am so I was up at 04:30am to ensure that it all went well. I had about 1 hour of sleep that night but it all went smooth. The train ride to Port Said is only about 4-5 hours so that didn't provide much shut eye. In Port Said my AirBNB reservation failed me and I never got in touch with the host. Quite unfortunate as the money was already gone. Instead I opted for a proper hotel and caught a few more hours of sleep before I decided that I couldn't live on air alone. Apparently I hadn't even had as much as a glass of water. Port Said is the northern exit from the Suez Canal and I have a feeling you can find just about anything in Port Said. About 60 ships pass through every day and a ship of "Gunhilde Maersk's" size will probably pay around $600,000 for the privilege. That's still far more cost effective than going around Africa. Remember that to go around Africa is the same distance as going around the planet.
 
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Port Said as seen from its best side ;)
 
While looking for food the ships agent called me to ask if I was ready? What?!? I thought we would leave Thursday? "Correct sir, but the ship might leave early depending on the loading so it's better to get you onboard now". Adapt and improvise once again and 2 hours later I had been refunded 50% of the hotel and was heading towards immigration. The agent then brought me to a ferry which brought us to an industrial island in the middle of the canal. The agent then drove me to a smaller boat which brought me alongside "Gunhilde Maersk". I've never before boarded a containership from the seaside...however it felt as normal as anything else. This will be the 10th time I travel by container ship and it's always a great privilege! I'm looking forward to meeting the captain who I hear is Danish! I cannot remember when I last met a Danish captain?
 
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www.maersk.com
 
Maersk is an integrated transport & logistics company with multiple brands and is a global leader in container shipping and ports. Including a stand-alone Energy division, the company employs roughly 88,000 employees across operations in 130 countries.
 
For a long while now I have had the pleasure of visiting their offices in various countries and telling them about the adventures of the Saga. This provides inspiration, education and entertainment which in many cases opens up a deeper understanding of why I would set out on such a large endeavor. There's a point and a plan behind it all. Maersk employees are in my opinion always kind and hard working so it is a great pleasure for me to meet up with them wherever I can.
 
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Reaching Malta is going to be great! It should take 2 days to make the distance so I get to sleep onboard 3 times. Then when I disembark I will see my father for the first time in more than 2 years!! He has decided to fly to Malta for a few days to come and encourage me and take care of me with a nice hotel and good food. Probably a drink or two as well ;)
 
It has been 760 days since I entered Africa and now I will briefly leave her to return in a few weeks in a different country. In a this time I have not cut my hair for various reasons...mostly just for fun. I intend to cut that hair in Algeria when we reach the last country in Africa. Hopefully long before I start stepping on my hair...
 
 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - leaving Africa
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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