Khartoum to Cairo - Egypt at last! (Milestone)

Don't listen to people who say things are impossible - unless it motivates you ;)
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When you meet as fine people as I have been fortunate to cross paths with, leaving any place becomes so much harder. But I left Khartoum.
 
For years I've had this idea that a great deal of people probably have set out to pay a visit to every country. But then they get tired. Or perhaps they get comfortable somewhere? Or perhaps they lose track of what the point was to begin with. Less than 200 people in history have reached every country within their lifetime. In comparison more than 5,000 have summited Mt. Everest. So what do you think is the hardest? I know the two cannot be compared... But I promise you this is not easy ;)
 
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Marwan made Sudan for me as a souvenir to remember my time there. 
 
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Some of my Sudanese family :)
 
I got a little sidetracked. But back to my point. If you fall in love with a country, a town or someone's heart then that might anchor you forever and you'll never reach every country. Personally parts of my heart has now been spread across more than half the world. Let's hope it recovers. Never before has one man owed so much to so many.
 
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More Sudanese family :)
 
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Fortunate to meet up with some Great Danes before leaving :)
 
I left Khartoum on a bus much against my will. I wanted the train but couldn't wait around for the next one which would leave a week later. The scenery was splendid though. Sudan is beautiful!
 
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Near the Egyptian border while still in Sudan you will find Wadi Halfa. A quiet but interesting border town neatly on the eastern side of the Nile. I spent a night at an average hotel and wondered if everything would go well the following day. I had a ticket for the steamboat but was told that I needed to confirm it as early as possible. Also I was told that the boat would leave at 5pm. Great because I would then get the sunset across the Nile and as a unique bonus I would get to see the spectacular temple at Abu Simbel. What more could a traveler dream of?
 
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The next day I was told that my ticket was fine and that I didn't need to confirm anything. I've had my share of bad information but trusted this anyway. Then I was told that there was no need to be at the boat before 6pm? Was everything going to be alright? Just before 6pm I got a ride to the terminal. They took my ticket and registered me. No problem. Then I waited as I saw the sun set through the terminal window. No boat sunset then...and it got dark...no temple then. And it got late...
 
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The fellow who wanted exit tax. Sure...take my money...
 
With a lot of chaos all passengers needed to clear immigration and I had to pay an extra departure fee of SDG 80? Not a fortune but come on Sudan? USD 100 visa, USD 50 for registration and now a departure fee? Most expensive country so far. From many countries I have experience with non legitimate fees and assessed that this one was legit. It wasn't just another authoritarian figure trying to pocket some money so I paid. Then with more chaos than necessary we all went through a luggage control. Why didn't we do this while waiting for all this time? Oh well...
 
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All of these people wanted their luggage checked before everyone else...
 
I got to walk out to the boat around 9pm. I boarded and walked down the stairs to second class because the first class sleeping cabins were sold out days in advance. Second class wasn't to rough but they had air conditioning which was set at penguin! Can someone explain to me why warm countries on various continents always set it at penguin? I managed to secure myself a bench and fell asleep. I guess we were about 100 passengers onboard and it was a mix of various Sudanese people. Quite a few were sick and heading for a hospital in Egypt. Some were businessmen dreaming about securing a great deal and bring merchandise back home to Sudan. Yet again some were just family or friends looking to visit.
 
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Second class before it filled up.
 
When I woke up the next morning I was in more pain than I had been in for a while. All my muscles were sore, my nose was clogged and I remember thinking: "what if every morning the rest of my life would be like this?" Could I stand living like that? I went up on deck and let the sun warm my body. An hour later I was back to my normal self and enjoying the beautiful scenery along the Nile.
 
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The White Nile sees its beginning in Uganda and I remember seeing it in all its glory sparkling under the Sun in South Sudan. The Blue Nile comes down from Ethiopia's mountains and they join each other in Khartoum from were they make their way as the Nile to Egypt - and I was on it! What an entry! The boat made its way to Aswan Dam and at times the Nile was so wide that you could hardly see from one side to the other. I had a look at Google Maps and the Nile looked so tiny on this huge continent. I zoomed all the way out on my map and concluded that I was officially in Egypt: country no. 127. Only with 3 more African countries to go, however Libya is one of them and that may really complicate the finale. 
 
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People onboard were nice. Disembarking was more chaotic than what was required. I had handed over my passport when I embarked and immigration was now onboard. I waited my turn and after what seemed a million years it was my turn. "From Denmark?" Yes I am. A proud Danish Dane from the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe! "Welcome to Egypt! You will get your passport in the immigration building". Getting into the immigration building was easier said than done with 100 eager Sudanese all wanting to enter Egypt. The Egyptian immigration police were clearly frustrated with the lack of order: "I SAID FIVE OF YOU COULD GO AHEAD!!! NOT SIX!!" Immigration shouted in Arabic to a woman. You didn't need to know Arabic to understand that :). When I entered as one of the last they picked my luggage for a security check. As I was opening my black Northface basecamp duffel-bag another policeman waived me on giving me a smile and an okay signal. Further on another immigration officer (the one from the boat) waived me over to the side: "come with me".
 
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I haven't cut my hair since I reached Africa. I won't cut it until I leave.
 
Everyone was so super sweet. The guy explained that they didn't have any visas but that they stamped my passport anyway. I was told to go to any bank in Aswan and buy the visa sticker for USD 25 and stick it next to the stamp. If I didn't, it would cause problems when I would exit Egypt. Finally I was shown a backdoor exit to the street which was quite convenient. Now that was a lot easier than I had ever dreamed of! :)
 
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A minibus got me to Aswan for USD 1. Aswan is beautiful and exotic. Temperatures were somewhat lower than they had been in Khartoum, and people were friendly and helpful. Egyptians have this nasty reputation of being schemish and always looking for an angle to spin a dime or two off you. And that's actually how I remembered Egyptians from prior visits to Cairo and Luxor before the Saga. And of course they are when you're in touristic areas. However, the normal everyday people walk in between those types and in Egypt, like everywhere else, people are just people. I found my home for the night which was the Nubian Oasis Hotel. A place that offers more than you need without much luxury. Great location and friendly staff. I bargained the price with its owner Mezo. He gave in a promised that he had never before given a price so low ;).
 
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Aswan was an absolute delight. I had long ago forgotten how easy life can be! I arranged for a simcard and 3G internet which was fast enough to Skype with a few VoIP appointments which had been waiting. I then had a delicious street meal, a fresh juice, bought my train ticket for Cairo, had more street food, a shower, texted those I needed to tell I had arrived and went to bed. The next day I went hunting for a bank to secure my visa. The first bank looked at my as if I was asking for a visa at McDonalds?!? "Do you mean a Visa card like a master card?" Neither, I need an entry visa.
 
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Didn't ask McD for my entry visa. Perhaps I should have?
 
I pretty much had the same experience at the second bank at which point I asked if they were a private bank or a government bank? They were a private bank. Perhaps that was the problem? I went to a government bank and had the same experience?? The fourth bank pretty much gave me the same reaction at which point I asked the man at the desk to ask around a bit. He complied and after a while he told me to come back at 3pm at which point they would have the visa for me.
 
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Aswan has a lot of charm.
 
At 3pm I was standing at the bank which was closed? But the man from the desk waived me over from a backdoor and I followed him inside the bank (Masr Bank) through the staff entrance. How did I reach a point in my life were this stuff feels normal to me? Inside the bank there were other customers and I was told to wait. 20 minutes later I was handed the sticker and paid USD 25. Done! :)
 
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(That's 99 trains since the Saga began) 
 
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The train left at 7pm and it left on time. I was there early and got my sleeper compartment which had cost me USD 80. That's 4 days in the budget but I wanted to be in the train. Quite peculiar I couldn't pay for the ticket with Egyptian pounds. I had to pay in US Dollar. I did a quick online check and saw that the price online was USD 125. So I didn't complain...however I also noticed that the local prices were much lower. I guess it would have been both cheaper and faster to go from Khartoum to Cairo by various buses. But I wanted this experience - and I got it! :) The cabin was luxurious and had room for two, but it was mine alone. The steward was chewing gum and was friendly. To my surprise the fair included dinner and breakfast.
 
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Tasted a lot better than what it looks ;)
 
I sat there alone and enjoyed my dinner and 3G internet while the landscape outside went by under the cover of the night. Just to socialize a bit I went looking for the dining wagon as I like to call it. It was quite a precious sight! No women and only what appeared to be local men sitting and enjoying beverages in relative silence.
 
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No socializing but it felt nice to sit among other people. I enjoyed a cup of tea before heading back to my compartment. The gum chewing steward made my bed and I ended the day closing my eyes to the sound of the train against the tracks...ka-dunk, ka-dunk, ka-dunk, ka-zzzz...
 
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223 days after the Saga set out from Cape Town in South Africa...we rolled into Cairo!!! I am now a member of the "Cape Town to Cairo" club for overlanders. We did it extra hardcore though as we also included the African nations in the Indian Ocean along with a very rare land entry to Eritrea. Mission accomplished! We reached that landmark and it feels soooo good! Cairo has been on my mind as a distant dream a great many times during these 223 days. At times it felt completely impossible. But look at us today! You, me...we did it!
 
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Ramses Station, Cairo. Beautiful!! :) 
 
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Dabbing like a boss :)
 
As a proud Dane I might just tell you that we are 5.6 million crazy Danes. Egypt boast around 100 million crazy Egyptians and somewhere around 20 million of them are found in Cairo alone!! So when I walk about in Cairo I keep thinking that about 4 times as many as my Danish population lives here!! There have recently been three tragic and very pointless terror attacks in Egypt. Two in Alexandria and one in Cairo. That shouldn't frighten anyone as it's terror and terror has no effect if it doesn't terrify you. But it should make us all a little sad. In cold and cynical mathematical terms a single terror attack in Cairo is equal to a quarter of a terror attack in all of Denmark. Life goes on even in hard times. People are just people and we always find a way.
Cairo is everything in one place! Think about it? 20 million lives are being lived in this city all at once. That is a serious amount of Facebook updates!? Life here is far cheaper than in Sudan. Living on a USD 20/day budget shouldn't break a sweat. I figure I could get by for less than USD 10...and I'm in a capital! The pyramids are here not far from where I sit and write all of this. I haven't seen them yet but I went to see them back in 2009. While the pyramids in Sudan are big as houses the three pyramids of Giza are like mountains! Egypt also has the smaller ones, as Nubian history and culture is shared by both nations.
 
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The street food in Cairo is incredible!
 
Thanks to my friends in Sudan I have friends in Egypt and my calendar looks fully booked already. I'm fond of how well the metro works in Cairo. Uber is nearly a necessity and Egypt has its own called "Misr Cab" as well. Just like Sudan has its "Mishwar". Uber is not alone in this world and I see it as a groundbreaking foundation to what is to come with driverless automated minibuses, which we will some day pick us up by the command of our phones and drop us off by the command of our voice. That reminds me that I have been wondering why Google hasn't introduced driverless farm equipment for the fields yet? I seems like a good place to start?
 
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What a joy it is for me to be in Egypt. For those of you that read last weeks blog entry you will know that the Saga isn't all dance and laughter. But this my friends- this is the good stuff! 
 
WELCOME TO EGYPT!! :)
 
 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - made it so far!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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Traveling the world isn't always fun

I've had my fair share of frustrations - haven't you?
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There's this common misconception that it must be "so much fun" to spend your life traveling. I guess most people think of their 1-2 week vacations from normal life, where they spend up to usd 200/day and have a great time. 
 
Now money isn't everything. We all know that and I'm sure Trump will work that out too sooner or later ;) You can have a ball without money and money isn't what this entry is about. Although I'd just quickly remind you that we will "soon" be launching a YUGE crowdfunding campaign and it's going to be THE BIGGEST and BEST you've ever seen!! Just kidding...but we are going to launch it and I hope you'll help keep the Saga going when the time comes. I'm not traveling for free as a lot of people seem to think? :)
 
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The Sudanese Airforce showing off above Khartoum.
 
Why would traveling the world full time be anything else than normal on the emotional roller coaster? Sure, I've got some spectacular and unparalleled memories to look back on. But it also comes with everything else: Sadness, fatigue, doubt, disgust, surprise, failure, fear...on the other side I have joy, enlightenment, victory, success, love, friendship, laughter and so much more. Don't you? I imagine you do? I certainly had before leaving home 3 years and 5 months ago. Within the Saga I simply can't stay upbeat constantly with my eyes full of wonder. Anything can become ordinary here in life if you're exposed to it long enough. You can sleep next to a busy road or an airport and not even be bothered by the sound after some time. I've done both in my early youth back home in Denmark. As a student I had a cheap student apartment right next to a noisy road. After 3 days I was so tired that I just slept through it and it never bothered me again.
 
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If Sudan ever ran out of tea (and sugar) then I recon it would be considered a national crisis ;)
 
I don't think I'll ever get used to looking into my fiancées eyes. And sunsets and rainbows haven't grown old yet. Some things stay delightful. But pushing myself everyday trying to deliver and complete the Saga does become old. A part of the problem is that I might be trying to deliver too much. If the Saga was for me alone then it wouldn't be "The Saga". Why would I even name it? I would cut out the Red Cross Red Crescent, I'd get rid of all social media and I would not have a target or a timeline. I'd just go wherever I wanted to go and leave whenever I wanted to leave. Then it would be for me. Some day I will get back home and then it will largely be for me. I'll look back at fond memories and I might even spin a dollar or two on all of this. But who's to say I'll get home? Who's to say I have what it takes to complete this insanely large project? Who's to say I won't get into my fatal last bus somewhere? Now please don't worry about any of that. I don not consider myself normal in the meaning of the word. I do believe I've got what it takes and that I'll cross the finish line some day. And meanwhile it's the journey and not the destination - right? ;) But man oh man...what a lonely journey this can be. In a mental sense...because I'm nearly always around people. But who on this planet can relate to what I feel considering having traveled 163,000 km (100,000 mi) across 4 continents and 126 countries on a flightless journey on a $20/day budget...without returning home? I can't explain it. But just as it has its unique rewards it also has its price.
 
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David, Country Manager of GSS, has along with his staff been a tremendous support: www.gss-contracting.com
 
If you're familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow's pyramid) then we should be able to establish that I was quite high on that one when I decided to leave home. If I was to worried about shelter and food then I wouldn't do this to begin with. But just consider this; while I'm often told that "I chose this upon myself" I do find that I'm delivering quite the service to people all around the world. And if I wasn't doing this then you and everyone else wouldn't have the Saga. "So what's so important about this self righteous mission you have Thor?!? Aren't you just a little full of yourself?" I hear a voice ask...let's break it down:
 
There is (in my opinion) a large gap between how most people perceive the world and the world we actually live in. This is what I call "perception versus reality". I GUARANTEE you that the world is a far better and downright normal place than you could possibly imagine. Most people have no way of knowing that given the way the world is portrayed in the media. By definition the most sensational material makes it in "the news". And by definition most of the world is not sensational. So there you have it. Most people are just people trying to get by in life. Even in the most disappointing parts of the world you find friendship, schools, markets, workplaces, football, families, smiles, weather, food and all that makes up life. Try to picture a scale with hell at the bottom and heaven at the top. Life as we know it is somewhere in between. We all know that we're not living in the biblical portrayal of hell with fire and torture for ever. Likewise we are not free of decease, fear, hate, death, loss, hunger and we definitely don't have wings.
 
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Curious kids near mosque. They wanted a selfie with me :)
 
So let's get back to the scale I was talking about. As I wrote we are somewhere in between and you can make up your own mind where to place us. What I argue is that you are placing us too low. Maybe not by much...but too low compared to reality. In other words your perception is rated below actual reality - and that's the gap I'm trying to close. If you're not ready to believe a man who has spent more than 3 years across more than half the world then I'm not your guy :)
 
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My favorite street in Khartoum - I don't really know why? Just like being there.
 
Then there's the whole "every single country, in a single unbroken journey, completely without flight" thing. It has never been completed before although it has been attempted at least once. Is it significant? What the world get as Amundsen reached the South Pole for the first time in humanity? What did we win when they scaled Mount Everest, planet earths highest mountain, in 1953? If nothing else then we won a great deal of inspiration. These were people who did not give up even if it would cost them everything. They did the impossible until it was no longer impossible. While that might not hold great value to everyone it certainly does hold value for me. Great people and the likes of them. Don't you just sometimes feel like we live in a world where everything of significance has already been done by someone somewhere? Doesn't it somehow feel like everything has been said and done? 
 
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My friend Dafaalla on the left and our friend Abdalwahid (singer) on the right. At the recording studio.
 
Well, today "awesome" is an everyday word which can be used about a hamburger (thank you Eddie Izzard). Everyday you can see someone do something spectacular on YouTube, in the news or somewhere else. You can't "just" run a marathon anymore. You need to do it within an acceptable time or else some couch potato will say: "only 4 hours?" Honestly, how many people will ever have the determination to complete a 42.195 m (26.219 mi) run? Anyone who can should at least have some respect for their momentous achievement? But we're not like that anymore. It's all about the time. Or "when will you do an iron man?" On the flip side all of that naturally also comes down to your relationship with Maslow. But I think my point is valid; we are becoming numb to achievements.
 
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That brings me to the Red Cross Red Crescent. It was founded in 1863 and spans across 190 countries today!! We are talking about 17 MILLION volunteers reaching 150 MILLION vulnerable people EVERY DAY!! It's like trying to comprehend infinity...or simply the distance to the sun. It's pretty hard to understand the momentous achievement which lies within the humanitarian work. The Red Cross Red Crescent is the worlds largest humanitarian organization in an ocean of humanitarian organizations. And to borrow something I recently heard, then the Red Cross Red Crescent are the ones with one eye open in the land of the blind. I can support that having visited and written about the movement in 124 countries by now. My heart bleeds for the work which is carried out and simultaneously I'm deeply frustrated with the lack of engagement regarding the Saga. I'm doing this for free! Not a penny of the Sagas budget comes from the movement. And I've walked through the doors of more than half the the countries where it's found. And yet I can say with certainty that almost no one knows that. I've visited the movement in 50 of Africa's 54 countries. And the last 4 do not know. How is that even possible? Why would the world not spread? It keeps my mind occupied and adds to the workload of singlehandedly spending time on communicating my arrival in advance, which is a lot harder than you might think. For one I need to combat the language barrier of people receiving an email who might not understand English. But also the Red Cross or Red Crescent does receive a fair bit of spam from people saying that they are in need or that they are Red Cross...when they are not. So who would believe an outrageous claim as mine: I have been to 126 countries without flying and your office is next. Trust me, I spend a fair amount of time explaining to the Red Cross Red Crescent in each country who I am and how this can benefit them. And just for the record I'm creating awareness, I'm inspiring and inviting volunteers and I'm inviting donations as well. Through the Saga we have collected €464 (usd 493) so far:
 
 
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The 3G here is way slower than the 4G. I'll never get it all used (wanted to save money).
 
Let's move on to the social media. I'm unsure how many online followers we have now, but it must be around 30,000. Can you imagine the amount of questions coming from that many people? Not to ignore the constant flow of entertainment I need to upload on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and last but not least the blog. If nothing else then I have certainly proven than internet is available worldwide. 126 countries so far and probably the rest as well. I find myself fighting algorithms and staring into my smartphone more than I'd like to admit. What should I post? At what time? How much? How often? You might not know this, but there are certain times during the day that the average user is more active on various social media. And according to expert advise you need to upload "something" to Facebook every day in order to keep the algorithms happy. Just think about it? The Facebook account is approaching 20,000 followers and the best of the best content I can provide might get 400 likes while an average post gets between 50-100 likes. Does that sound right out of 20,000 people? It's the algorithms which dictate that you only get to see anywhere between 3-6% of the posts until it receives likes, shares and comments. That's why hardly anyone knows that you posted "my friend is looking for an apartment ". So please add a curtesy "like" one in a while so it will reach more people ;) I receive a lot of online love...but it's also a lot of work.
 
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If you work for your goal - you'll reach it!
 
Finally we need to keep on keeping on. Africa is a wonderful full-sized continent with a lot of very different countries. I love this continent as much as any other. But please let me go now!!! I entered in April 2015 thinking that the 54 countries would take us 1 year and 2 weeks. Laughable today :) Especially the region known as Central Africa (which in a map is the armpit area on the west coast) drained me in anyway you can imagine. It literally broke me and I continued as a zombie for a while. I maintain that you won't know what I'm talking about even if you go there. Because it's incredibly beautiful, it's historically and culturally interesting, people are enormously sweet and I loved the food. But just try going overland between ALL of them without a break. Just try it ;) The bureaucracy is overwhelming and there's a fair amount of racism and power play from most authorities. And there are a lot of authorities there. However as a tourist your bound to have a wonderful time at paid resorts with your visas already settled from home. So don't stay away from there :)
 
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Goal accomplished!! PS2 connected: gaming time ;)
 
It's visas, visas, visas for me on this continent. And a fair bit of travel permits in some regions. Your tour guide will handle all that nonsense for you. But I don't have a tour guide. What I do have is a "push on" attitude, a smile for most strangers and proof that A Stranger Is A Friend You've Never Met Before! ;) It's still hard enough though which brings us up to today. In Eritrea I got a transit visa for Sudan surprisingly easy. It only took a few hours in comparison with the 2 weeks it took while I was sick in Djibouti. Noticed what I just did there? ;) I do get sick from time to time, but in the big picture it's not that often. It's however never fun to be sick alone away from home. Now, from Eritrea I was trying to confirm when the train leaves from Khartoum (Sudan) to Wadi Halfa near the border of Egypt (north). There's only one train in Sudan and it leaves every second Saturday. How hard can it be to find out which date? You would be surprised. I texted a friend in Sudan and asked him to find out. "No problem" he said but the days went on. In Arabic you call that kind of people "Al Masura". You know, the people who are always late and and constantly underachieve. So after 3 4-5 days I grew impatient and asked someone I knew I could trust. I suspected that the train would be leaving on Saturday April 8th (and I was right), but my accountable friend corrected me and said it would leave on April 15th (which was wrong). But I trusted the information and after all where would we be in this world without trust? We simply can't do everything ourselves and as stated: How hard could it possibly be to confirm? I mean 1 train every 14 days? Oh well. So saddened by the news I still left Eritrea early enough to make the train on the 8th and possibly wait a week. You see I've got this dream of riding the train across Sudan up to Wadi Halfa, then board the overnight steamboat to Aswan in Egypt and continue with another train to Cairo. But you need to get it right: every 14 days. By the way, my Sudanese transit visa is only good for 14 days in Sudan so I don't have unlimited time. Besides I want to get a move on things so I was considering a bus to safe days...but I really wanted the train-ferry-train experience. You must be able to understand that?
 
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Nadeem, Country Manager at Maersk Line, has likewise been a tremendous support! Here we are seen with the Pakistani Ambassador Zahid Ali after lunch at the Rotana luxury hotel: www.maerskline.com
 
Then there was some doubt if I could even get the visa for Egypt at the border? Tensions have lately been growing between the two countries (Sudan and Egypt). Some said I could and some said I couldn't? Who should I believe? Was online information updated? What did the embassy say? The Egyptian embassy in Eritrea had a really hard time giving me a response. And as I mentioned in last weeks entry: if the embassy can't tell you then who can? Eventually they came up with the answer that I could. But I've had false information from embassies before. The Egyptian consulate in Khartoum also said I could. Meanwhile they needed 3-4 weeks to give me a visa I had received in 4-5 HOURS just a month earlier. So something had changed? The interior ministry in Cairo first said I couldn't get the visa on the land border...but then days later said I could at a post called "Kastel" or "Qastal"? In either case I couldn't locate that border post online, but perhaps think it could be in Aswan having done a lot of research? What should I believe? Some said no problem while others said no way! And I do have prior experience turning up at a border and having to return to the capital I came from to get a visa. And sometimes that takes days! You won't believe how hard it can be to come by good trustworthy information sometimes? It's probably easier for you to relate to how quickly things can change in some countries. I was once working in Libya and left the country for a few weeks. After that I suddenly couldn't return without an Arabic translation of the first page? It's that kind of stuff. Oh yeah...spoiler alert: I've been to Libya before - but soon we're going back ;)
 
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My Sudanese friends keep me sane...and sometimes drive me insane :)
 
I've reached a point where I'm going to the Egyptian border and we'll just see what happens. Hopefully its be fine and I'll pay usd 25, get my passport stamped and cross the border into country number 127. I've already made my bus reservation and ferry reservation. A bus because yesterday I was at the train station early in the morning hoping to get a ticket. And that's when I learned that the train left LAST SATURDAY!
 
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Lunch or dinner? Can't remember. There's always enough and it's always good!
 
If you're wondering why it's taking so long for the crowdfunding campaign to come online then it's down to just two things now. Firstly my own bank doesn't want to create an account for it, because "we don't know where the money will be coming from". My bank was so unlucky to be involved in some media scandal with deposits of illicit money. Money laundering or something like that. Probably not my banks fault, but you know how the media can be. From personal media experience I can read that I'm traveling to every country in the world FOR FREE? And I'm only traveling with container ships - even to the landlocked countries? The Saga has been featured in media across more than 80 countries now so it's hard to keep up. The second issue delaying us is that I want a smashing video to go along with the campaign and I have a friend who's asked a friend to do a cool little cartoon. It will be great! But something went sour out of nobody's fault and that's causing some delay. I think we'll get the video, but it's not that important as long as we are trying to create an account. I've got friends helping with all of this in 3 countries on 3 continents: Canada, Rwanda and Denmark. I'm in Sudan :)
 
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Do you remember Abdallah who got married? (I was at the wedding). He could hardly lift my bags :)
 
Besides the sun warming this part of Sudan up to 44 degrees C (112 F) in the daytime and 28 C (82 F) at night, the above are a few of the things that are frustrating me these days. Oh you know, the same old finance-work-world promotion-Red Cross Red Crescent promotion- logistics-foreign culture-away from home for 3.5 years-social media-kind of thing.
 
But here's the good stuff!! Sudan is such a pearl!! I've had the pleasure of speaking at schools, businesses and universities and relating directly to hundreds of Sudanese. I've spoken with media several times to the degree where I was recently recognized on the street. I've boated on the Nile. I've drunken water from the Nile. I've seen the pyramids and snorkeled in the Red Sea. I've been to a wedding and a graduation. I've been to the top of the NTC tower and I've been cared for by so many people. I've made so many new friend and some that I hope to keep for ever. And to top it off I'm living together with a Sudanese family who keeps saying that I'm family too. I sleep in a room with whoever is home and wants one of the 3 beds in that room. I share all meals with the family and we usually eat out of the same bowl with our hands. I risk getting deported anytime I suggest I should pay for something. And I'm so incredibly safe with them and feel loved by all of them. My Sudanese mother sometimes brings me a freshly squeezed lemonade and a smile - just because :)
 
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My good friend Dafaalla was DESTROYED on the tennis court. Don't believe if he says otherwise ;)
 
On Sunday at 5am my bus leaves from Bahari (Khartoum) to Wadi Halfa. Sunday evening I arrive. Monday I board the ferry. Tuesday it arrives to Aswan in Egypt. Hopefully Wednesday I'll board a train to Cairo. It has now been 217 days since we set out from Cape Town in South Africa on our way to Cairo in Egypt. We've meanwhile covered the African island nations in the Indian Ocean. Now what can go wrong? Just a bus, a boat, a visa and a train :)

 

 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 4 countries left in Africa 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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Eritrea - the land where I am "China"

You'll never fully understand what this means to me
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A question has been popping up a lot lately: "How did you manage to enter Eritrea without flying?"
 
For most people that question doesn't hold much interest. And the majority who read this will not fully understand just exactly what we did with the Saga as I crossed the border. But the community of world travelers will continue to wonder as they know how remarkably difficult it is. In turn the Sudanese will scratch the back of their head and say: "Difficult? How? Why? It's not difficult...you just go".
 
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Man has been created equal although some are certainly more equal than others. And while the Sudanese, as a bordering nation, enjoy easy access to enter Eritrea, the same cannot be said for most who venture to try. So how did I get across the border? The truthful answer is: I'm not quite sure. But it's safe to say that the Red Cross played a pivotal role in all of this.
 
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Khartoum, Sudan.
 
Together with a few friends I created the Saga during 2013 and left Denmark on October 10th that same year. The Saga has never been funded by the Red Cross however the Red Cross takes part as a partner for mutual benefit. Mostly in favor of the Red Cross. As such I was given the honor of traveling the world as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross before leaving home. Since then it can be said that the Danish Red Cross has taken very little interest in the Saga. But I have been taking my role very seriously. I was tasked with writing an "always present" story about each of the existing national societies of the Red Cross Red Crescent around the world. Today I have written about the Red Cross Red Crescent in 124 of the 126 countries I have visited. In total you will find the movement in 190 countries around the world. Why the Danish Red Cross takes as little interest in the Saga as they do is left for us to wonder. But nobody knows for sure. However I have met with several national societies around the world whom have been delighted by my efforts and which have treated me with great warmth upon arrival. Eritrea Red Cross would do more than that! But only after receiving an official introduction from the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) www.ifrc.org. Fortunately my relationship with the IFRC is very good and the ball started rolling.
 
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Khartoum, Sudan.
 
I had known for a very long time that Eritrea could go ahead and cause me trouble. Many travelers have had to turn away and give up. It's slightly easier to obtain a visa if you're flying to Eritrea. But I happen to know that the Danish Honerary Consul in Sudan has so far been waiting more than 6 months without receiving a visa. It's that level we are at! If you all remember David from World Adventurer (world-adventurer.com) then I can tell you that he has reached more than 170 countries now and has been trying to get his Eritrean visa without success. Eritrea does have tourism. Especially Italians and Germans as far as I understand. And then naturally a lot of Sudanese which unfortunately have a bad reputation in Eritrea for womanizing and drinking alcohol. But tourism is still a very limited business in Eritrea in spite of all it has to offer visitors.
 
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Sudan.
 
As I knew I was probably going to face difficulties I began work long in advance. More than a year before reaching Eritrea I had been in dialog with various people including Tekeste who is the owner of Asmara Grande, a touring agency located in Asmara (www.asmaragrande.com). I try hard not to involve the Red Cross in the logistics of the Saga. The money you donate should go to improve the life of vulnerable people and not to get me across a border. However if the Red Cross can effortlessly help me without cost then I'm sometimes for it. As such an invitation letter can at times be helpful but generally I don't get them from the Red Cross as they don't know who I am or that I'm coming. You can probably appreciate how frustrating that can be to me at times. 
 
As such I had 4 plans for Eritrea:
 
A) Get the visa through Tekeste at Asmara Grande: www.asmaragrande.com
 
B) Get the visa through the Eritrean Red Cross.
 
C) Get the visa by approaching the Eritrean embassy in Khartoum and explaining how my visit would help Eritreas image.
 
D) Go to Port Sudan and hope to find a boat to Eritrea. Visas are given on arrival at the port.
 
Now, plan D would by far have been the most adventurous one. But it's not easy finding a boat/ship to Eritrea. Also immigration might just disagree with the whole visa on arrival thing and send you back. But how will you leave the port to get back? Just hope for another boat? Prison or deportation could also be added to the risk. So I wasn't preferring plan D. Plan A failed. Tekeste is a great guy but it became obvious that he wasn't going to get immigrations permission to bring me across the land border. I would only be welcome if I flew. The ambassador to Eritrea in Sudan is from the intelligence department and I stand out like a sore thumb. The word on the street was that the more times you visit the embassy the harder it gets to receive a visa. This could be true or untrue? Who can say? But it's not wise to gamble with it. Therefore the Red Cross became plan B and bargaining became plan C.
 
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Kassala, Sudan.
 
 
Guess what? The Eritrean Red Cross came through! They applied for a visa on my behalf and when the time was right I could go to the border. Exactly why the Eritrean Red Cross chose to assist is somewhat unclear to me? I wonder if any of the kind danish delegates I know from Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan played a role in this? But really I think it was my solid relationship with the IFRC after all the work I have put into this project. I just can't know for sure. Do you remember Dafaalla? Dafaalla is my friend from last weeks blog. The one who brought me to the top of the NTC tower in Khartoum. Well Dafaalla decided he wanted to see Eritrea and accompany me if I was okay with it. Generally I appreciate company but I wasn't sure if he was going to slow me down or perhaps create difficulties in relation to the Red Cross somehow. However he is a really solid guy so I told him that he was welcome. It took me 2 weeks to get the visa after the Eritrean Red Cross got involved. Together Dafaalla and I left Khartoum early in the morning aiming for the bus terminal. Dafaalla was 20 minutes late which didn't give me much confidence. But he more than made up for that over the next few days.
 
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You should be as lucky as to have a friend like Dafaalla! :)
 
Dafaalla is a pretty big fellow and I don't want to fight him. But I also don't want him to pay for everything on my behalf. However he insisted and as long as I was next to him I didn't pay a thing. We caught a bus to Kassala in Sudan near the border. 7 hours later we reached our destination and found a taxi to the border. At this point we were unsure if Dafaalla would be able to cross with me as we suspected he would need an exit visa first. At the border we learned that he couldn't get the exit visa there and needed to return to Kassala to meet with immigration. But that couldn't happen until after the weekend so he had to wait two days. We said farewell at the border and agreed to meet in Eritreas capital Asmara asap. To my surprise a small delegation of the Eritrean Red Cross were there to meet me at the border. I was surprised because email and phone communication with them hadn't been good. I knew they wanted to know when I was planing on crossing but I didn't have any further confirmation. As such the Eritrean Red Cross became the first national society to come and greet me at the border anywhere in the world. Together we continued to Teseney to spend the night. I had finally arrived: I was in Eritrea, country no 126!
 
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Eritrea boast both traditional round huts and exquisite Italian colonial architecture.
 
Eritrea is unbelievably beautiful and I couldn't help to wonder how much tourist from around the world would pay to go on scenic photo safaris to see what I was experiencing? After a night in Teseney we drove up through  the country. It was early morning when we started and a lot of monkeys were sitting on the paved road as we began our long drive up into the mountains. The road took us to Barentu where we stopped for a traditional coffee ceremony. In Eritrea they like to mix the coffee with ginger and serve it with popcorn. Lovely - and lots of sugar of course!
 
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Traditional coffee in Barentu.
 
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In the lowlands you can find elephants - if you're lucky.
 
We eventually continued our road trip and made our next stop in the exceptionally scenic and very historic city of Keren. Immigration tried to give me a hard time in Keren for not having a travel permit. But eventually we discovered that this was the fault of the immigration at the border who should have handed it to me. It took a lot of coffee, a lunch and 3 hours to solve that because it was Friday which is the holy day for Muslims. Eritrea roughly has a 50/50 mixture of Muslims and Christians and that seems to work fine. In the lowlands where we were I think there was still a Muslim majority and people commonly spoke Arabic as well as Tigrinya. It took 3 hours because the key personnel at immigration were praying.
 
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Keren on a lazy Friday afternoon.
 
Eventually we could leave and headed on up to Asmara. Asmara is the capital city of Eritrea and is found high up in the mountains at an elevation of 2,325 m (7,628 ft) where it's nice and cool. To my surprise it started raining? Not much but enough to catch my attention.
 
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Eventually we had made it all the way up to Asmara and then we pulled over to the side of the road. It was slightly raining and the sun was setting. Another car was there waiting for me. It was another delegation from the Eritrean Red Cross which included Madam Nura, Secretary General of the national society. I was handed a colorful bouquet of flowers and then I was applauded and congratulated for my achievement!!! WOW?!?
 
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Secretary General, Madam Nura, gave me these flowers and told me that it was a good omen that I came with rain.
 
Together we drove into Asmara and made a stop at a trendy café called Dolce Vita. More coffee accompanied by cake. They insisted! Then we small talked for a while before I was brought to my hotel. A classy old place in the center of town. Now I'm not trying to put any other National Societies down. However if this was the norm throughout the entire Saga then I would be a lot less tired! Frankly I would probably be done visiting every country in the world by now. But this isn't the norm. This is a world first and I'm ever so grateful!
 
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Asmara.
 
The next few days went by exploring the city. It was weekend and I wasn't going to visit the Red Cross until Monday. However Yonas and Aman from the Red Cross decided to show me around town. And it's such an adorable and completely charming town. But it wasn't my first time there! In fact I had spent around 7 months in Asmara 17 years earlier as a United Nations peacekeeper. Surprised? Well I've been keeping it rather quiet due to the potential negative impact such information could have. Why would it have a negative impact? Well I don't know that it would - but it could. And as such I had been advised not to bring it up as I was applying for a visa. But I was a peacekeeper in the 2000-2001 United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE). I was a different man back then. In fact I was just a boy. 20 years old and I knew nothing of value about culture and people. But I was a well trained and disciplined soldier who knew what I needed to know.
 
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Now 17 years later I was back in what long ago became my very first African country. Who would have known that I would ever return? As Yonas and I strolled the streets of Asmara I really struggled remembering the buildings and places. It felt like trying to remember a dream where it just gets more difficult the harder you try. I almost started doubting that I had ever been there as even the most obvious buildings didn't remind me of anything. Apparently there is a very big difference between what you pay attention to as a kid and what you notice later on in life. Why was it so hard to remember? Well I'm part I guess because I never really had a chance to talk about those 7 months. I remember coming back from the mission and all people seemed to ask was: "Did you shoot anyone?" As a twenty year young soldier I experienced 7 months of living in a conflicted African country with all the good and all the bad that came with it. All the meals I had. All my thoughts. Eventually I came home and every time I thought I had the chance to speak about it for more than a minute someone would interrupt and say something like: "I just bought a new toaster!!" People couldn't relate to it. They didn't know what to ask me. And as I never got to speak about it my memories got locked away deep inside.
 
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Something was still left of the camp.
 
 
 
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I might have helped to pack this container 17 years ago.
 
"China! China!! China, China, China!!" Some children on the street were enthusiastically screaming at me with widely open eyes and contagious smiles. Yonas explained that the children didn't know the word foreigner and certainly didn't have any idea about what a Dane is. But that several Chinese investors in Eritrea had made "China" a well known word - so that's what they called me :) Yonas told me many times that nothing had changed since I was there 17 years ago. But that is far from true. The fact of the matter is that you don't always notice change when you're in it. 17 years ago I remember one soldier who had a digital camera. I certainly didn't and smartphones had still to be invented. "Selfies" were not a thing yet. Nobody had heard about Facebook or flat screen tv's. It was a different world. The Nokia 3310 was still king and my laptop had an astonishing 1GB hard disk which I thought would last me a lifetime. The cars on the streets of Asmara were anything but modern. I remember getting in the back of a taxi which was from the 50s. The stores were half empty and cafes and restaurants usually only served one or two things in spite of having a complete menu.
 
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Yonas' children and I after a full meal of traditional cooking followed by coffee...of course.
 
When you look at Asmara today you see people dressed in fashion, you see smartphones, modern vehicles, you see shops with washing machines, you see DVD's and Blu-ray... it's not the same. Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and many of the buildings are over 100 years old. That doesn't mean that Copenhagen hasn't changed. And I get that the buildings and the roads are the same as they used to be in Asmara. But much has changed. And particularly Asmara has been very well taken care of. The houses and buildings are well maintained and painted. It's a city with sidewalks for the pedestrians. There are many gardens and flowers all around Asmara. The roads are good and traffic isn't heavy. Besides there is one particular thing which makes Eritrea a very pleasant country: There is always time for a macchiato.
 
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There are countless cool places like this all around Asmara.
 
Eritrea is heavily influenced by its history as an Italian colony and only gained its independence in 1991 after a fierce war with Ethiopia. Border disputes still spark armed conflict today. People in Eritrea are REALLY tired of war. You'll often hear them say that 30 years of war is more than enough. They want change. They want peace. And really there's no obvious reason why they shouldn't have it? I was recently in Ethiopia where I heard the same thing over and over again: Ethiopians like Eritreans. And now I got to hear what the Eritreans had to say and guess what: The Eritreans like the Ethiopians? It makes me wonder if it isn't really the weapons manufacturers that are keeping armed conflicts alive and not people with Pokémon Go and Candy Crush? Anyway to get back on track it's outstanding to be able to sit in a hip environment and sip a macchiato from a perfectly working expresso machine from the 1920s. And that's what many Eritreans do.
 
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Downtown Asmara.
 
Finally Dafaalla reached Asmara. He arrived 2 days after me and when we had a quiet moment to sit down he said something which made me smile: "I don't know how you do it?" he said. "I don't know how you find the strength to keep traveling for more than 3 years?" The 1,008 km (626 mi) from Khartoum to Asmara had taken a toll on Dafaalla. Ah yes :) I don't know how I keep going either? But we are now ringing in at an impressive 163,000 km (100,000 mi) and have long ago beaten my all time traveling hero from Morocco Ibn Battuta (1304-1368). Before Dafaalla arrived I managed to walk out to see if I had more luck remembering anything from the area where our UNMEE camp used to be. It turned out to be quite a walk from Asmara city center. As soon as I reached the old camp the memories began to poor down over me. I kept a journal from back then and it will be a blast to read through it some day. The outer perimeter of the camp still existed. "Camp Bifrost" was the name but the sign hanging over the entrance had long disappeared. "Bifrost" is the name for the rainbow which would connect the Gods world with earth in Norse Mythology.
 
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Market place in Asmara.
 
Over the next few days I would hang out with Dafaalla or have meetings with the Red Cross. I felt energized from the altitude which is sort of the opposite of how that should work. But perhaps it was the fresh air? I've always enjoyed altitude. Unfortunately I was in a lot of pain from a neck injury I got in the bus heading to the Eritrean border a few days earlier. I was sleeping with my head hanging down in front of me when we hit a bump on the road. My head bounced up and then hard towards my chest and a pain struck into my neck. That pain severely intensified 2 days later while in Asmara and eventually developed into a stiff neck which I partially still have. The Saga has put some mileage on me...
 
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I shared a bowl of Fata together with Yonas and Aman: torn bread pieces, tomato, chili, onion and sometimes meat.
 
I managed to get a new Sudanese visa at the embassy in Asmara. It only took 3 hours and it is a transit visa valid for 14 days. Dafaalla helped me get it and signed himself as my Sudanese sponsor. Easy as can be!! The Egyptian embassy where a bit of a heavy dance and eventually I decided to dance right out of there. The wanted 2-3 days for giving me a visa I can get on arrival in the airport (although naturally we are not flying). They couldn't tell me if I could get my visa on arrival at the land border between Sudan and Egypt. And honestly people! If the Egyptian embassy can't tell me then who can? Furthermore the Egyptian consulate in Khartoum (Sudan) could give me an Egyptian visa the same day I applied. The trouble is that I didn't manage to use that visa before it expired and now they told me to wait a month before applying again. Here's the ringer: both the consulate in Khartoum and the embassy in Asmara have told me that I can take my visa upon arrival to the border. But I have conflicting information from a good source telling me that I cannot. It wouldn't be the first time an embassy sends me to the border and I need to come back. Luckily I do learn as we move along and it's certainly true that even embassies can be wrong...quite often in fact.
 
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My friend Tekeste who invited me out for dinner. He can get you in to a Eritrea and arrange everything for you! :)
 
The Deputy Secretary General of the Eritrean Red Cross had a meeting in Teseney Thursday afternoon and was planing to leave early Thursday morning. Teseney is right at the Sudanese border so that was very convenient for me. Both Dafaalla and I were offered a ride and with that in mind I chose to put the Egyptian embassy behind me. Time will tell how wise that was? We said farewell to Asmara and made our way back down through the mountains scenic landscape. We had a macchiato in Keren and breakfast in Barentu. My breakfast consisted of a bowl of yoghurt as I had been told that Barentu is famous for it. Generally it was good but quite lumpy and watery at the same time which needed me overcome my gag reflexes. It's just me being a girl. The yoghurt was fine :)
 
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Keren.
 
I couldn't believe the heat as we got back down. Both Dafaalla's and my smartphone overheated and shut down. Was it this hot when we left? We said farewell to the Deputy Secretary General and crossed back into Sudan where we had to spend the night in Kassala before making an early morning bus to Khartoum the next day. And that is where I am now. I feel personally connected to Eritrea. Visiting wasn't just making it to country no 126. It was in some odd way like coming home. Perhaps of the impact it once had on a young soldier from Denmark. Or perhaps because I've been away from home for more that 3 years and finally reached a country I identified with. It's hard to say. Eritrea is a young country and it's not perfect yet. But I'm fairly convinced that it's being unfairly treated by the media and that life in Eritrea isn't what it's made out to be. Not based on my recent 6 day visit but based on the many conversations I had while there. As referenced I've brought you to 126 countries and none of them have been perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect country. They all come with their own set of problems. However the dumbest thing I have heard is that Eritrea is the "North Korea of Africa"?!? If you say that To my face then I reserve the right to smack you around a bit. Anyone who says that doesn't know at least 3 things: They don't know Eritrea, they don't know North Korea and they don't know what they are talking about. They just heard something which they have no way of justifying.
 
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Sometimes I wonder how formations like these came to be?
 
The Eritrean Red Cross told me that I was the first white man to arrive at the National Society by road from Sudan. That may be true. But I checked with immigration at the border and 2 Russians came across the border 2 months ago. So while it is rare and bureaucratically challenging it isn't impossible.
 
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Eritreans are fiercely independent, kind and hospitable.
 
Eritrea is such a spectacular country and I should only be so lucky to return once again. Eritrea might have a bright economic adventure through an upcoming potash mining project. It's history dates back far, Eritrea is culturally rich and the hospitality of the people is among the finest you'll ever find anywhere. I hope to return with my wife some day. I didn't have enough time to do everything I wanted and something which should rank high on everyone's list is getting into the water around the Dahlak islands in the Red Sea. It's untouched paradise!! The best snorkeling of diving you've ever seen! It might be hard to get in - but it's definitely well worth while! :)
 
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Oh well, that's all you get this week. Have a nice weekend wherever you are! ;)
 
 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - king in the land of the blind ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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