Is the Saga now a guaranteed success? (leaving Papua New Guinea)

Day 2,199 since October 10th 2013: 188 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross). 

The questions I ask myself

pano

There has always been room for plenty of thinking within Once Upon A Saga. Not necessarily high level thinking but thinking nonetheless. I can’t believe everything which has happened over the past six years?!? I don’t think we got this far because I’m motivated. I think we got this far because I’m stubborn.

In last week’s entry I wrote about having reached a milestone on the Gregorian calendar: six years away from home! It has not been for nothing. Many good things have come out of the Saga both for me and for others. And at various times I have been motivated by a rainbow of different things: achievement, curiosity, humanity, obligation etc. However at times I have had no motivation. There have been times when there was no reason to continue. Times when I couldn’t find the words to keep myself keeping on. And yet the Saga never stopped but always continued forward. I figure that I’m mostly motivated by some factor which can change from one day to the next. However when there is no motivation left then it is my stubbornness which kicks in and bridges the gap. How do you explain stubbornness?

hanuabada2

Hunuabada, Port Moresby, PNG.

The sadness is back. I’ve been looking around me and have absolutely no reason to be sad. I’m also not completely sad. I still smile, laugh and get distracted. It is when nothing else is there to occupy my thoughts…then I get sad. We’ve been through this a few times before. It has even been far worse than what it is now. I hesitate to call it depression as it would mock those who are truly depressed. And yet I find that if depression is a bottomless dark lake then I am sinking slowly below the surface however not further than still being able to see the outline of the sun. It is a weird place to be. Why would I be sad at all? I have a beautiful fiancée who loves me, I have caring parents that are in good health, I have friends, I’m reasonably healthy, I’m eating well, the workload is less, the end of this project is in sight and I have been hosted by two amazing people here in Papua New Guinea (PNG) while I’ve met a number of wonderful people and had many wonderful experiences.

hosts

My amazing hosts: Theresa and Craig! :)

My hosts have truly been amazing. Craig and Theresa have taken very good care of me and when we had notice of my ship being delayed due to a typhoon it was no problem for me to continue staying in their home. Craig represents Maersk (world's biggest container shipper) in Melanesia and his wife Theresa works at the National Bank where she plays a key part in optimizing the process of interbank transactions which will eventually transition into an upgrade for banking as a whole across the nation. I’ve spent a lot of time with them which is a good thing as they are really nice and it is always good to be around people like that. The downside is of course that the more you get to know someone the more you care about them and the harder it gets to say farewell. I have nothing to complain about. I have a large comfortable bed with clean white sheets and four pillows. I have my own bathroom with a nice large shower, soaps, towels, skin lotion and what not. Craig and Theresa have included me in social events, they’ve given me a key to their home and they have covered nearly all my expenses. I’m really well taken care of. I’ve been by Craig’s office a few times and the staff there have shown me absolutely incredible hospitality! The people I have met in PNG have been kind and friendly to me. The sky is blue and the sun shines throughout the day. Basically every complicated aspect of the Saga is behind us: hard to get visas, conflicted countries, financial difficulties, senseless bureaucrazy (yes that’s how we spell it in the Saga) and we have never before been closer to the goal than now. Why would I be sad?

bed

I've been living very well! :)

I will relatively soon be reunited with friends, family and loved ones. I will relatively soon be able to wear my own clothes, speak my language and wake up next to my fiancée. The remaining fifteen countries are projected to take six months and there is support for reaching all of them. The Saga is supported by friends at Maersk, MSC, PIL, Swire and lately also Neptune Pacific Line (NPL)!! That is all the company we need to get to the final fifteen nations. With the sole exception of Nauru visas are no longer an issue and neither is transportation. I will not need to spend a single minute looking for ships as the five mentioned companies connect it all. Are we home free? Is it just a question of time now before I set foot within the final country? Likely not. There is always the unforeseen and I imagine we will still be dealing with storms, sickness, bureaucrazy etc…it’s more than 45,000 km (28,000 mi) we are talking about. But…well you know…it’s not like visiting every country in Africa again…

article

Made the local news thanks to the wonderful ladies at Inchcape :)

I thought that I was perhaps feeling slightly sad because I have been stationary for a while and I do not cope to well with the waiting. However I’m never sad while onboard a ship although I’m waiting for us to reach the port. My friend Kris suggested that the difference is set in that a ship has well defined boundaries of water while waiting on land is a mental border. I know that I will be departing PNG soon onboard a vessel facilitated by Swire Shipping | China Navigation Co | China Navigation Co. A few days later we will reach Solomon Islands as country number 189. There we will be stationary for about three weeks until I can board a vessel facilitated by NPL. That good ship will bring us to Nauru (190) where the ship’s cargo operations are estimated to take at least eight days before heading to Fiji making that country number 191. Hopefully I’ll be able to leave the ship in Nauru and explore the tiny island nation which incidentally is the world’s least visited country. Fiji will afterwards function as a hub. I believe I’ll be taking us back to Fiji three times before we move on. The remaining fifteen countries have all been mapped out. In large thanks to the planning of Paramesh who’s based in Singapore. Paramesh has been a great help in solving the puzzle of the various shipping routes. Who am I kidding? So many people have been overwhelmingly helpful in getting us to where we are now and planning for the future as well.

map

Sadness is just an emotion. Right? Depression is a state of mind. I feel like my torso is a bowl of emotions which fills up with wonder, joy, interest, concern, amazement and more as long as it is in an active environment. However those emotions fade away until the bowl is empty and then I feel the sadness slowly filling it up. Does this make any sense to any of you? The closest explanation I have for this is from a video I watched last night on Salomon TV. It was a 3+ minute video in which Ski pro & film director, Mike Douglas, talked about adrenaline, loss & depression in the ski world. Essentially I think I have been getting a lot of adrenaline rushes over the years as this project is getting more and more extreme and now they are fading away and I’m not getting them anymore. I am realizing that I will soon be stepping off the map as the guy who has been trying to accomplish a journey to every country without flying and into a role as the man who has done it…and then what is next? How do you top that? Well the answer is: you don’t. Man, I hope I am going to be okay…

city centre

Down Town Port Moresby.

Right…enough about that. Let’s talk PNG. If you did not read last week’s entry then you should really consider doing that as it touched upon a lot of interesting things regarding PNG. Consider this a continuation. This massive country is renowned for cannibalism and there was certainly a time when it was a reality that certain tribes would eat other people. I think we should consider those days gone. The unfathomable diversity PNG holds will probably always keep the stories alive because who can truly know what all of those ethnic groups are up to at any exact moment? However if you hear about cannibalism from PNG then it is likely more so a rumour than a reality. Stay sceptic about stuff like that and keep in mind that good stories get a lot of traction even when they are not true. There are most likely also no dinosaurs here. Yup! That is also a thing you’ll hear about PNG. PNG is home to the world’s thirds largest rain-forest and that leaves plenty of room for speculation. So do grave yards at night if you are looking for ghosts. There are no documented sightings, no scientific proof and there is no consensus among scientist that there would be any dinosaurs here or anywhere else. Naturally it’s always fun to speculate – right? The planet could be flat and this entire “round thing” could all be a conspiracy.

Ela beach

Ela beach which is exclusively used by locals (no expats) and the APEC Haus.

Port Moresby is the capital and largest city of PNG and also the largest city in the South Pacific outside of Australia and New Zealand. A lot can be said about Port Moresby and a lot has. The city is located beautifully but that’s a given as PNG is a very beautiful country. I’ve been based in Port Moresby for the entire twelve days I’ve already been here. It is frankly a bit hard to go anywhere from Port Moresby without flying. There are a few roads that lead out of the city and I have had a chance to see a few things but it has been limited. The city incidentally got its name from Captain John Moresby who in 1873 became the first Briton to see it. I imagine he would have been looking at a small village on stilts. Perhaps not unlike the village the Italians encountered on the other side of the planet which reminded them of Venice so they named the region Veneziola, or "Little Venice" (the Spanish version of Veneziola is Venezuela). Well the Italians never came here and Captain Moresby might have been looking at Hanuabada which today is a coastal village on stilts located on the outskirts Port Moresby.“Hanuabada” translated in Motu means "big village" and has a population of over 15,000 beating hearts. I have read that it is known for producing a large number of PNG's cricket players including more than half of the current PNG national cricket team which is just great…although it doesn’t seem like anyone cares about anything else than rugby.

hanuabada

Hanuabada in the foreground and Port Moresby downtown in the back.

Port Moresby feels like an assembly of many smaller towns/villages. The landscape is hilly and many of the hilltops are still green and have not been urbanized. As such you need to move about between the hilltops and coming around a hill sort of feels like arriving at a new place. It is all captured under the umbrella of Port Moresby though. In terms of the vibe I would draw parallels to Kingston in Jamaica, Port-au-Prince in Haiti or Johannesburg in South Africa. Three cities I’ve been to and have lived to tell the tail. I’ve met great people in all three cities and have much good to share about them. Yet those are cities in which you might not want to walk about in after the sun sets. They hold certain reputations and so does Port Moresby. Whether you have a bad experience or not largely comes down to how you carry yourself, if you act stupidly, how well you read people, where you go and timing. I’ve been trying hard to convince myself that Port Moresby is not as bad as its reputation and that I could probably have travelled about with local taxis and local buses just like in the rest of the world. And I probably could have. Yet the statistics speak towards that you might want to check the travel advisory before showing up. Again: nothing has happened to me and 100% of everyone I have met and engaged with have been kind to me and offered a great deal of warm hospitality. And yet it should be said that I have been very careful and well looked after.

graves

Port Moresby (Bomana) War cemetery holds a lot of unknown graves and a lot of graves with soldiers in their early twenties.

I hear that the countryside is lovely! I’ve heard that I just need to get out of the city and follow the coast to the many villages where I would be treated as a king! Sounds good to me! I’ve had this information confirmed from multiple sources and feel confident that I would be safe out in the villages. I haven’t been able to go though. Last week we were in the process of organizing a trip but I was told it got complicated. PNG is a highly male dominated society and if the men of a village do not approve of a visitor then it is better to find something else to do. I highly recommend visiting Port Moresby Nature Park which is really well done and acts as a cross over between a zoo, a cultural park and a refuge into nature. You can and should also visit the National Museum which has some spectacular displays. A cruise ship arrived one morning and I bet they went to both of those places. I was fortunate to get invited by Adam and Melissa for a daytrip to Owens Corner which is at one end of the Kokoda Trail. A somewhat famous trail if you are from Australia and fairly unknown trail to the rest of us. It is pretty spectacular though!

Adam and Mel

I had a great time in Melissa and Adam's company! Thanks guys! :)

I met Adam on my first day in PNG at a social function regarding the new and improved webpage for the new port. How exciting my life is!! Craig had brought me :) Adam was there with his boss Dean, who by the way handed me 100 Kina (USD 29) after hearing what I do. That was mighty kind of him and it was a waste of my time trying to convince him that he shouldn’t give me any money. Anyway, Adam and Melissa picked me up and we made a stop at Port Moresby (Bomana) War cemetery which commemorates fallen soldiers during WWII. There were some seriously forceful military campaigns in New Guinea during WWII and a lot of lives were lost. A great deal of local lives were lost too although Japanese and Australian lives tend to be highlighted. If you like war history then check out the Kokoda Trail as that is an impossible terrain to battle in and yet thousands of very young men did exactly that on the 50 km (31 mi) stretch of the trail which in reality is twice as long due to the mountain ranges.

waterfall

Papua New Guinea is fantastically beautiful.

The sound of the canons have long since silenced and the trail now generates tourism income for the local porters and the tour operators. I would LOVE TO do that trail! They say it takes 6+ days from one end to the other and that it is an extreme workout for the body. You are supposed to train and get fit before attempting the trek. The reward is unspeakable beauty, a memory for a lifetime and a chance to immerse yourself in the culture of the local communities. While there we met a group of porters who had just returned after leading a group of more than twelve people to Kokoda on the other side. That took them eight days and then it took the porters another four days to trek back again. They looked both fit and exhausted. Regarding fitness I have found that a lot of the local men look strong. Strong necks, shoulders and arms. Solid genetics I suppose. Regarding the trek most tourists would hike in one direction and then fly back. Anyway – the fastest recorded time is 16 hours and 34 minutes from one side to the other!! There is always someone! ;)

yacht

Port Moresby Royal Yacht Club.

Adam was kind enough to give the porters a ride back to the intersection. They all jumped up onto the back of Adam’s pickup truck and away we went. Good people those two. Adam is Australian and Melissa is part Australian part PNG. They got engaged earlier this year and form a really cute couple. Meanwhile this perennial project we call Once Upon A Saga continues. And how can I be in PNG and not mention Bougainville. PNG has 22 province-level divisions which include the autonomous province of Bougainville. Bougainville is a part of the Solomon Islands archipelago but not the country called Solomon Islands. If you are wondering about how that happened then it traces back to European colonial meddling prior to independence (look at map further up above). Well, a referendum to decide on Bougainville’s future political status is set for November 23rd 2019. You should know that Bougainville is rich in minerals and that PNG and Bougainville had a violent conflict between 1988 and 1997. When the conflict ended the Bougainville referendum was written into the Bougainville Peace Agreement which stated that the referendum should be held between 15-20 years later. It is now 19 years later. If they vote for independence from PNG then it does not mean that they will automatically get it. PNG gets to decide if it want to comply with the people of Bougainville’s will or not. There hasn’t been a new country in the world since South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Bougainville could become the world’s newest country. Is it in their best interest? Hmmm…hard to say but probably not. PNG has experienced over a decade of comparatively robust economic growth and benefits greatly from gas production and mining. If PNG continues its trajectory then it might be better for Bougainville to stay associated with PNG although with greater autonomy. Bougainville is no doubt both beautiful and resource strong but it is small in both population and size and the islands infrastructure is not well developed. They would need a lot of help in order to become an efficiently functioning country. There are nations which are hungry to “help” them which might not be a good thing. If they did become an independent nation and a UN membership country then I would raise the Saga’s count from 203 to 204 and visit them. However it is too early to say what will happen and we are unlikely to know before the year ends.

ships

One day a cruise ship showed up at the old port!! (to the right). Great! tourism! And for days the Chinese navy has been hanging around too (left side of photo).

China has entered the world stage in a big way in recent years. The Saga took us to China earlier this year, twice. Before and after North Korea. I’m greatly fascinated by China and have a lot of respect for the country. In 2013, which is the same year the saga took off, Chinas President Xi Jinping announced their plans to the world in what is called the belt and road initiative. It is a massive global infrastructural project which connect China to at least 65 countries by land and sea. In short it is a trade and resource strategy which has been nicknamed the modern Silk Road. If you’ve been following the blog long enough then you may remember the corridor China has created from Western China through Pakistan to the coast at the Arabian Sea. Well China has shown great interest in PNG too and is responsible for a lot of construction and development in recent years. The skyline of Port Moresby is rising, while large housing developments, malls and shops are being built in the suburbs and countryside connected by modern road networks. The list is long but a few notable projects have been an upgrade of Jacksons International Airport, Star Mountain Plaza which includes a 212-room Hilton Hotel, the APEC Haus, Ela Beach, OPH Tower, Rangeview Heights and Paga Hill Estate. Traditionally PNG has been in close cooperation with nearby Australia but China has certainly been busy around here in the past years. Will there be a shift in “friendship”. Former French president Charles de Gaulle once said: “No nation has friend’s only interests”. I say a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before but that relates to people. It is a safe bet that China has its eyes set on a “friendship” with Bougainville. How does that play into Australia’s interests?

APEC

The famous APEC Haus which people say has hardly been used since the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in 2018.

field

Port Moresby.

Let’s move on. I find that this entry has been hard to write. It has taken me forever to get this far and I mostly feel like bringing it to an end. I however really do want to firmly anchor into your brain that I find the people here in PNG to have been lovely!! I’ve had a lot of random conversations with people and the tone has always been kind. Many ask me what I think about PNG and I could just say that I think it is beautiful, friendly, interesting, rich in many ways and worth returning to. All of that would be true. Sometimes I tell them a bit more than that.

coffee

PNG makes both coffee and chocolate! Great sales points for any country ;)

Did you hear that Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in less than two hours? I’ve been waiting for that news for years. I’ve always thought it would be possible but nobody had ever done it until now. There must surely be a limit. I wonder where it is? To run a marathon in less than two hours is ridiculously fast. I would not be able to keep that pace for more than a minute and that man did it for 119 minutes without stopping! It made me think about another reason why I should continue and complete the Saga. Surely it must be possible to reach every country in an unbroken journey without flying – right? After all we have roads, buses, trains, boats and everything we need in order to do it. Well…it is all good and well until it has been done…

TCP cartoon

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Papua New Guinea is something else!! And the Saga turned SIX YEARS!!

Day 2,192 since October 10th 2013: 188 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross). 

The Saga got here because we kept on keeping on

pano

I find it rather annoying when someone or something has huge potential and just squanders it away. I cannot carry a tune, I am below or on average in every sport invented, math is not my strong side, I was not born into a rich family, I did not attend a private school….this will all make sense if you keep reading.

Last week I left the good ship “Kota Nebula” and the brave seamen onboard as I set foot in country number 188 in an unbroken journey completely without flying. By doing so the Saga has (conservatively calculated) clocked up 291,000 km (181,000 mi) which is more than seven trips around the planet if you follow the equator. That leaves us with fifteen more countries to go before we reach the target of 203. Yes, yes, yes…United Nations count 193 countries (+2 observatory states), there are 201 states with at least partial recognition, there are 204-207 self-declared countries, the Olympic Games enter around 206 nations, you have 211 FIFA countries eligible for the world cup and the Jehovah Witness’s state they are in every country setting that number at 235. What is a country and how many of them are there is a great topic around a dinner table. There are “about 200”. Papua New Guinea is in no way disputed and is 100% a country. It has been a sovereign nation since 1975 following the handover from Australia. Australia used to be a British colony and back in 1914 (WWI) the Brits asked the Aussies to kick the Germans out of New Guinea…which they did, and the eastern part of New Guinea sort of become a colony of a colony. Meanwhile the Netherlands continued to occupy the western part of New Guinea until that became Indonesia in 1962. You should know that the island of New Guinea is HUGE and full of mystery to this date. It is the world’s second largest island after Greenland and just the eastern part, Papua New Guinea, is slightly larger than Sweden and much larger than e.g. Germany or the UK. As such the world’s third largest rainforest is actually in Papua New Guinea.

sailboat

At Port Moresby marina.

Papua New Guinea is commonly abbreviated as PNG so we will do that from now on. It is an incredible country with an enormous amount of unleashed potential. Charles who works at Inchcape came to pick me up at “Kota Nebula” and off we went towards Port Moresby, which is the capital city of this country with some 9 million beating hearts. Perhaps even more – it’s really hard to say. Inchcape acts as the agent of Maersk and has a so called Owners Representative of Maersk working in-house at Inchcape. His name is Craig and we had been in touch since June 2019 when Ole from Maersk in Singapore connected us. As soon as Charles and I reached the office I was introduced to Craig who’s originally from New Zealand but is more so an international man of mystery. He has definitely travelled a lot! Within a few minutes Craig asked me if I would mind saying a few words to the staff and we headed up a level where both staff and pizza was waiting for us. I then let my mouth run for some 15-20 minutes before we all had pizza and took this group photo :)

Inchcape

These people are amazing!! They are phonominal ambassadors of PNG and has shown me overwhelming kindness!!

Afterwards Craig took me to his apartment where I was set up in the guestroom and I have been enjoying the life inside the “expat bubble” ever since. That created a predicament for me however a luxury one of the sort. PNG is a country of mass diversity in culture, ethnicity, flora, fauna but not so much in income distribution. There are the “haves”, the “have not’s” and not a whole lot in between. It is estimated that around 85% of the population lives outside of urban development and for some life is really hard. This country is funny like that. Is there even a middleclass or is it juts golden spoons or dirt under your nails? Tourism posters will portray the colourful masks and the amazing face painting which still remains a strong part of the nation’s diversity. This is a country which still harbours tribes untouched by the modern-day way of life. There is a huge difference between not having money on a bank account and being poor. If your family is healthy, everyone has a roof over their head, you feel safe and nobody is hungry then it really doesn’t matter if you have money or not. There are self-sustainable tribes that go about life much like it would have been the case hundreds of years ago.

cans

If you've got money and live in Port Moresby then there are supermarkets full of food.

Society is a tough cookie to balance out and get right. I was born in the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe. That makes me exceedingly privileged in comparison with almost every nation on earth. A lot of things work in Denmark and many things work really well. It’s a safe country and corruption is ranked as the lowest in the world. That is not the case for most countries. And yet in Denmark we see that the rural areas do not benefit from society as much as the cities do. A lot of money is spent on the capital and less on some far away village. The picture is the same in PNG albeit a lot more extreme. Port Moresby (374,500 ppl) has seen major modern investment and so has Lae (101,000 pll) and they are the two largest cities. The third largest is Arawa in Bougainville province and the number of habitants there is only 40,000 people. Keep in mind the country has more than 9 million beating hearts. The majority are spread out over this large mountainous and densely forested nation so I imagine it is super hard to develop. And yet one politician after the other always promises huge change and all the wealth in the world to the people. Politicians are like that. Globally fire fighters and nurses are usually the most trust worthy people and universally we all agree that politicians cannot be trusted. Large parts of PNG have not seen the development they have been promised and it has been especially disappointing for the population when it comes to healthcare, education, new jobs and safety.

statues

Port Moresby.

While a large part of me is madly in love with PNG and all which this country has to offer there is a sting of disappointment whenever I reach a nation which just has it all! The major mineral commodities in PNG are silver, gold and copper while the economically important industrial minerals of the country include phosphate rock deposits, limestone, sulphur, silica, pozzolan, graphite, diatomite and asbestos. But it doesn’t stop there! PNG has oil, gas, timber, fertile lands (food), water and a lot of manpower. Besides all that the potential for tourism is ridiculously potent!! Hiking, diving, food, culture, great weather…this country has it all!! I’m a foreigner…a guest…I’m heading home...so imagine if I as a by passer can feel some disappointment, then how much disappointment would those who live here feel about the lost potential? There is fatigue in the air. How many times would you try something before you give up? How often can most of us hear the word ‘no’ and not give up? We are here dealing with a country that “wants to see it before they will believe it”. Unfortunately nobody who gave up ever achieved anything in life.

Tommy Kosi

I ran into Tommy Kosi (next to me) and his family. All full of kindness! :)

You may then think that people in PNG are raw, bitter and unfriendly, yet everyone I have met has been kind, welcoming and helpful. The smiles around here are genuine and heart-warming. A lot of people smile and wave at me when I walk down the street. Maybe they are not used to seeing someone like me? Expats generally drive everywhere and only between a few select places. In Port Moresby expats zigzag between their work place, their home, Royal Papua Yacht Club, Aviat Social & Sporting Club, the supermarket, a few restaurants and the airport. Expats are rarely seen walking about in Port Moresby. In fact a lot of people will tell you that it is ill advised as you might not come home with everything you left with. Street muggings are common and everyone has a story. People tell me that I better avoid the taxis and shouldn’t take the bus. And to walk around after dark has been strictly ill-advised in Port Moresby. Hence while I have been treated royally in PNG, have had my own bedroom, my own shower, have been dining well and have been chauffeured around…I have certainly for the most part been inside the “expat bubble”. And really I don’t mind it at all. It has been great. The only downside is that I want to experience PNG, meet people where they are and feel, smell, taste, touch and see the country – and then share it with you. But that just isn’t going to happen.

yacht night

Royal Papua Yacht Club is safe day and night.

Personally I feel that given all the experience I have built up throughout my life I should be able to walk just about anywhere I want in Port Moresby. As a precaution I just shouldn’t bring my hat, my phone, much money or wear my favourite shoes. Because as an obvious foreigner I am a target to some. And I probably should not expect anyone to jump to my rescue. People here are not cowards. The reason why many would chose not to interfere if I was mugged is that among some people there is a great passion for retaliation. “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”. This phrase, along with the idea of written laws, goes back to ancient Mesopotamian culture (Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey) that prospered long before the Bible was written or the civilizations of the Greeks or Romans flowered. However as 95.6% of citizens in PNG identified themselves as Christian during a 2011 census, perhaps I should share the biblical version: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. According to the bible Jesus Christ said that. Ah yes…retaliation…that endless game of hurting people just because they hurt you. Not everyone in PNG is hungry for retaliation or feels that it is their responsibility to retaliate because of the family, village or region they come from…but some do. That incidentally creates basis for much of the armed violence you can read about in the western highlands. Some of that is also disputes over land.

faces

PNG is seriously diverse, colorful and interesting.

The city is a melting pot of islanders, highlanders, coastal people and you name it. To me they all look like people from PNG but the locals can in many cases look at someone’s facial features and tell which region they are from. That way local people might be able to avoid trouble before it arises – but can you? It’s really not that crazy here. A lot of the violence has been dramatized and the amount of incidents have been inflated. Documentaries have shown the worst of the worst and there is definitely something to report on. But is it the big picture? I think not. I think that at least 9 times out of 10 you’ll be fine walking down a street. Or 999 out of 1,000. People are just people and PNG is no different. Around here most people are just trying to get by and mind their own business. They are foodies and not without reason because the food here is delicious. People here are social. They come from a strong social structure and take care of family. And they came a long time ago!

nationalmuseeum

The national museum in Port Moresby.

PNG is a young country with an old history. Archaeologists believe that humans arrived on the island some 50,000 presumably by sea from Southeast Asia or possibly Africa. So they’ve been rocking those jungle tunes for some time. The central part of the island rises into a wide ridge of mountains known as the Highlands, a territory that is so densely forested and packed with mountain ranges the islands local people remained isolated from each other for millennia!! I regularly speak about Nigeria as a country of great diversity. Nigeria has more than 390 ethnic groups (I’ve told many that they have 774 but just now realized that those are local government areas) and more than 500 spoken languages – so that’s pretty diverse, right? And mind you that Nigeria is only 1 of 54 African countries! So imagine the continental diversity!! But getting back on track PNG has Nigeria beat!! PNG counts more than 1,000 ethnic groups and 851 KNOWN languages. The three most commonly spoken languages in PNG are however English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. Tok Pisin is “pidgin” which is sort of a meltdown between two languages and is found several places around the world. If you speak English then you might be able to pick a word here or there. The name itself is a great example: Tok Pisin = Talk Pidgin :)

indyplane

If you've ever seen Indiana Jones and the temple of doom then you might remember that Indy and Willie Scott jumped out of a similar airplane, in a life raft, over India ;)

The infrastructure in PNG is….let’s say….fascinating. What they lack in roads they have made up for in small airstrips. Unfortunate for a man that currently isn’t flying however sensible as connecting this country by roads would be a tall order. This island is one of the least explored places in the world due to its dense rainforest and there are certainly many undiscovered species to be found. In that sense PNG reminds me of Greenland which is the world’s largest island. In Greenland you’re also not going anywhere unless you fly or sail. PNG does however possess much more of a road network than Greenland. You can at least go from one town to another by road. However Port Moresby is kind of isolated and I would not be able to reach the Highlands without flying. Lae which is the second largest city is also not connected to Port Moresby by road. The national airline, Air Niugini is by the way another good example of Tok Pisin.

foodplatter

Theresa (my host) served Craig and I some snacks while we watched TV. She's a formidable cook too!

My hosts here have been nothing but amazing! Craig is married to Theresa who is originally from somewhere north of Chicago in the USA. But she is like Craig well-travelled and a true international woman of mystery. They have a grownup son who moved back to Brisbane in Australia which is their base…although they have now been in PNG close to five years. Craig and Theresa are super easy to be around and laugh (friendly) at me when I try to pay for something. They have been showing me around Port Moresby and taking me out to eat or for drinks several times. I can come and go as I please and they even invited me out for dinner on the Saga’s six year anniversary. Yeah that’s right!! I HAVE NOT BEEN HOME FOR SIX YEARS NOW!! I actually do not know if that is something which should be celebrated or mourned. The Saga was not supposed to have taken this long. If I had known that it would take more than six year then I most likely would never have left home. I could have been married and had one or two children. Contrary to what seems logic I do not feel homesick. I never have. However I definitely miss my fiancee, family, friends, familiarity, routine and my country. And I can list a lot of specifics but I won’t.

6years

On October 10th 2013 I set out on a journey which would prove to become much longer, much harder and much different than what I would ever have imagined. A lot of 2013 had been spent in preparation for Once Upon A Saga, a project name, which hardly anyone knew what covered over when we came up with it. I was going to visit every country in the world completely without flying! And I wasn’t going to return home until I had done it.There were several thoughts behind why I would want to do it, and the ideals continue to be valid today. However now, six years later, the project has become full bodied and a much richer project in which people feel inspired, educated, motivated and entertained.

sunset

The sun sets well here in PNG.

Not long ago a woman asked me what the Saga contributes with. And as such I replied that we are creating world history by reaching every country without flying. I replied that the Saga also inspires by demonstrating that goals are achievable if we remain motivated and are willing to fight for them. Furthermore I told her that the Saga has symbolically linked the Red Cross and Red Crescent across 180+ countries, as I have paid them a visit and shared information about them, which in turn has lead people to donate blood, donate money, volunteer or in other ways take part in the humanitarian efforts. Finally, I told her, that the Saga has brought a positive focus to countries all around, which has helped in normalizing the world we live in, in the eyes of people. Because people are just people. And you’ll find that in both Syria and Yemen people take selfies, fall in love, get married, enjoy good food and get stuck in traffic.

Dane

Dane is an Aussie expat who has lived in PNG for 11 years and works at Inchcape. He invited me out for "a beer". He is a lot of fun! Ended up having a good evening!! :)

Those who think I’m on my own are greatly mistaken. I have time and time again proven the Saga’s motto which is “a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before”. I have received help and support in every country I have set foot upon. A kind smile when I needed it, a finger pointing in the right direction, a free meal, a bed to sleep in, a translation, a connection or sometimes just a kind conversation when I most needed it. Across the world organisations and companies have taken interest and the Saga has enjoyed partnerships and collaborations along the way. The official partners are The Danish Red Cross, Ross DK, Skabertrang, DB Schenker Denmark and Salomon. The very first partnership was agreed upon with Ross DK who originally stood behind the financial sponsorship of Once Upon A Saga. They covered the Saga’s budget for the first 2.5 years however then discontinued to unfavorable market conditions. That unfortunate situation created a financial gap in which I spent everything I had on my bank count, borrowed money twice and sold some of my personal positions. We ran a crown funding campaign a few years ago which kept the Saga going and for a while the Saga has been sustainable though your generous contributions on MobilePay, PayPal and Patreon. There is however a financial gap which I am trying to fill so that I do not return home in debt. And I’m delighted to announce that Ross DK is back since October and will be covering some of the expenses through an official sponsorship until we reach the final country!!

Ross

Back before the Saga took off in October 2013 I promised Ross that I would take a picture with their company logo in each country. And that I have done. I continued doing so and have now done it across 188 countries. Ross DK is specialised in well management. They provide a total life-cycle service from project inception through design and engineering to drilling and supervising wells. But more importantly Ross DK and Geoop have for many years been laying out the groundwork for a sustainable future in Denmark within Geothermal energy. That is simplified where you drill deep into the ground until you hit water. Not just to the groundwater but far below that. If you’re in Iceland then you simply scratch the surface but in Denmark your target might be at around 2,700 m (8,860 ft) below the surface. That water is almost at boiling point and you can generate energy from that heat by bringing it to the surface. You drill a second well and lead the water back down into the ground once it has cooled off. The heat from our planets core then heats it up again and the water can now be used again. Clean energy. I happy that a company like Ross DK is attached to Once Upon A Saga. Not only do I know and care about the people in the office but I really think we should hit some more sustainability targets and do it fast.

Cinema

PNG has around 9 million people and 1 cinema. I went and it is good :)

While I come from a background of having worked more than a decade in shipping and logistics and have often worked 60, 70, 80 or more hours a week, I can honestly say that I have never worked this hard before. The Saga is all consuming and there is always something extra to do. Even this far into the project I still meet people who think I’m “enjoying myself”, “having fun” or am somehow on a sort of long vacation. Who has ever stumbled across 188 countries by accident? Furthermore without flying! It has however been worth it. I could smell the trees in Canada from the ship I was on board, half a day before we could see land. I saw hundreds of whales play among the anchored ships outside of Durban in South Africa. I have made friends all over the world, learned about foreign customs, seen incredible landscapes, learned language, sharpened negotiation skills, become wiser on the world we live in and certainly expanded my knowledge of its geography. It has been an incredible school and an education second to none.

localfood

The wonderful ladies at Inchcape wanted me to experience local PNG cuisine and invited me to the office for lunch. They presented me with home cooked meals representing basically every region of PNG. THIS IS WHAT MAKES PAPUA NEW GUINEA AMAZING!!! I couldn't travel out there so they brought it to me!! I could cry!! Thank you!! 

An important learning has been that no matter where you go people are just people. It appears to me that harsh words are often said about foreign countries by those who have never been there. Media will often highlight the negatives of the world and neglect what is normal and mundane. As a result we often find ourselves with a skewered perception of reality. Arriving to Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an excellent example. I cannot remember the last time the media shared a positive story about PNG and yet I have encountered nothing but kindness since the day I arrived. People appear to go about their lives just like anyone else in the world. Wherever I have walked people have smiled and waved at me. A quick search on the internet about PNG shows that the country is unimaginably interesting, full of resources and boasts an extreme diversity. One needs only open their eyes to see the beauty: the dense forest, the blue ocean, the colourful sunsets and the blue sky. It may have been hard work to get this far…but it is certainly a privilege as well. And with fifteen more countries to go one can only wonder what still lies ahead. All we know is that the next eleven are all Pacific Island nations and the last four are New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. It will no doubt be a great adventure.

RC door

Right, there are two more things I’d like to include in this entry before I bid you all a fabulous weekend. Oh…and I’ll end it with some fun statistics from the past six years. First off is about meeting with the PNG Red Cross Society and then I’ll tell you about snorkelling with Pro Dive PNG (recommended!). So let’s kick off with the Red Cross. They picked me up last Wednesday and drove me to their headquarters. PNG is disaster prone with active volcanos, landslides, droughts, fires, earthquakes and then the manmade disasters as well (conflict). It’s a really large country with many remote places and there are also people who do not have access to safe drinking water or treatment of curable diseases. So don’t think for a second that the PNG Red Cross are not busy!! However haven’t I already told you enough about first aid, disaster response, psychosocial support and many of these humanitarian activities from the 183 other countries in which I have paid a visit to the movement? What I’d like to do here is shine some light on the people I met. Volunteers and staffers are also just people and they have national pride, a love for food, customs, traditions, educations, family and everything else just like everyone else. I was greeted by Secretary General Uvenama Rova. He told me to call him Uve and he is a very warm and down to earth kind of guy. He holds nearly twenty years of experience as a regional service team member at Prison Fellowship International and has played a major role in the wellbeing for inmates along with the implementation of many programs. Uve has also worked as a special projects advisor in relation to PNG parliament. He is furthermore the Development Secretary of the United Church in PNG. And interesting fellow for sure.

RCfood

Uve's wife made us this local dessert with banana in some sort of sago cream. Delicious!

Uve introduced me to a couple of colleagues from the Australian Red Cross whom they cooperate with and then I was introduced to the staff and far more people than I can mention here. All kind end humble people. We sat down and then Uve asked me to tell them about the Saga and perhaps motivate them if I could. We spoke about the amount of countries in the world, the different regions and what it have been through across the years. I answered a few questions to the best of my ability and afterwards we had tea and a small bite to eat. We finished off with a group photo and then they drove me back to Craig and Theresa’s apartment. The Red Cross, The Red crescent, The Red Crystal…it’s a family which shares values, principles and a global network across 191 nations. I was very happy to meet with them for the 188th time right here in PNG.

John

The man - the legend: John Miller!!

Okay, the snorkelling! John Miller is a legend!! He’s in his 60s and came to PNG from Australia when he was a child. He grew up in PNG and has made a living. He knows the waters around PNG better than Poseidon. He knows where every little fish is sleeping tonight, he knows where the shipwrecks are hidden, he knows exactly what you need before you do yourself and he is amazing company. John is the owner of Pro Dive PNG and has 25 years of experience (possibly more). I don’t know if he has any competition in Port Moresby but as far as I’m concerned he doesn’t. Who could possibly compete with him? I reached out to him and he offered to show me around Port Moresby. John picked me up and around we went. He knows PNG’s history very well and is a very humoristic story teller. I had a fabulous time with him.

John2

A few days later I happened to run into John at Vision City Mall. I just came out after having seen “Joker” which is an amazingly dark and brilliant movie which is going down in history! That movie is taking Oscars for sure and it’s not just the incredible performance by Joaquin Phoenix but just as much the collaboration and synergy the movie benefits from Joaquin’s collaboration with director Todd Phillips. The movie is scarily realistic and relevant for our time. And it is very well done. Anyway, John saw me on the parking lot and mentioned that he was taking some divers out on his boat and I could join if I wanted to? Sure I wanted to! The next morning John picked me up and brought be to his boat where I met everyone and away we went. PNG is a diver’s paradise and the divers even mentioned how spoiled they were. Colourful corals, a huge variety of marine life and plenty of shipwrecks including a 65 m (213 ft) wreck said to be one of the best in all of PNG. I unfortunately got seasick and ended up feeding the fish several times but that is beside the point. Everything was amazing, the company, the boat, the marine life you name it. John delivers a complete package with collection, equipment, snacks, dives/snorkelling, return and some charming humour along the way. You can book directly on his website: www.prodivepng.com

John3

Thank you everyone! :)

Okay, our friends at Swire Shipping | China Navigation Co. is helping out with the next leg from PNG to Solomon Islands. But it won’t be until next weekend as the vessel got delayed by a typhoon. These things happen. So I have another week in Port Moresby and more to tell you next Friday.

Let’s look at some stats from the past six years:

We have covered over 291,000 km (181,000 mi) which is more than seven trips around the planet!! We have so far reached 188 countries all without flying and 15 to go. We have visited the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 184 countries. And perhaps most importantly we have promoted the good and interesting in each nation, we have never given up and we have times and times again proven that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before!

To get this far we have travelled with:

336 buses

158 trains

214 taxis

126 metros

86 shared taxis

65 minibuses

46 motorcycle taxis

33 boats

34 rickshaws/tuctucs

28 ferries

28 4WD vehicles

21 container ships

19 trams

9 trucks

4 shared motorcycle taxis

3 sailboats

2 cruise ships

1 horse carriage

1 police car

1 high performance yacht

0 flights!!

final Lyon

Thanks for your kindness Craig and Theresa!! :)

 

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - finding lots of grey hair in my beard! 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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“Kota Nebula” – passenger no. 1 (containership travel)

Day 2,185 since October 10th 2013: 188 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross). 

Life as a passenger on board a container ship

pano

The good ship “Kota Nebula” became the 21st container ship which I have fared on board as a passenger within the Saga. And I’ve written quite a lot about life on board throughout the years. However since it has been a while and people keep asking…let’s do it again ;)

Let’s continue from where I left you a few weeks ago. We had raced (a considerable distance) against the clock in order to make it to Jakarta on time and apply for the Papua New Guinea (PNG) visa on time. PNG is among the few last countries which require a visa in advance from a Danish, Dane from Denmark. At least of the kind which must be obtained at the embassy. And PNG is another example of why surface travel is harder than flying since PNG offers visa on arrival to those who fly…but not to those who arrive by sea. It is furthermore another example of how the otherwise strong Danish passport is weakened for those who do not fly. I applied on time and picked my visa up four days later. So far so good. While I waited for the visa I had been informed that the good ship “Kota Nebula” (which I think is a super cool name for a vessel), was going to reach Surabaya port a few days later than estimated. container ships follow a fixed schedule which is comparable to how a city bus operates. They go round and round and call the same ports over and over again. For that reason it is in most cases known exactly when the ship will arrive long in advance. And yet delays occur. It may not be possible for a ship to come along side at a port if another ship hasn’t yet left. A storm can cause several types of delay. For one a storm can make it necessary for a ship to reroute, slow down or cast anchor. A storm can also make it impossible for the cranes at a port to operate due to high winds. In my experience the ships themselves are rarely the cause for delay. It is usually something external.

trio

In Jakarta I was fortunate to meet with Chancil Chan (in front) who is a brilliant artist and kind Indonesian, and with Gustav Rosted from Denmark who's been to 126 countries in the past seven years and is chasing them all. Both really interesting people in completely different ways :)

Roughly 215 people have reached every country in the world. They all flew at some point to achieve that goal. At foresee that number rising for several reasons. It is definitely getting easier to reach every country as long as you fly. Reaching every country without flying is getting harder every day and it might become literally impossible in the future. September 11th 2001 changed many things for many lives. The terror attack on New York’s World Trade Center generated a lot of change to security regulations worldwide. Port security at most industrial ports has been lifted to a level where it is no longer possible to enter without a permit. And even if you could enter the port it would not be able to come on board a ship without a valid reason. And even if you could come on board the only person who could give you permission to travel with the ship would be the captain. And while the captain could technically give you permission as the master of the ship, he most certainly would not! He would want such directives to come from the company. So you would need to reach out to the company and now you need to deal with incentive. But we will get back to that later. Now we are taking security and you simply shouldn’t be able to a) get inside the port, b) get on board the ship, or c) get near the captain. Furthermore some ports will not accept a passenger to disembark from a ship. This problem set the Saga back with more than a month in Beirut (2017). If you are a seaman then you have an education, you have the required certificates, training and a seaman’s-book. In this case the ships agent can arrange for you to disembark the ship (often to reach the airport and return home). However immigration police might become suspicious of a passenger arriving on board a container ship. And it is much easier in life to say no than yes, so that is often the outcome when something out of the ordinary happens. And it is definitely out of the ordinary for passengers to travel on board container ships.

cinema

Having made the twelve hour train ride from Jakarta to Surabaya I checked into a hostel and got ready for the ship to arrive. I managed to catch a few movies in the cinema which was high quality and low price. The Hollywood blockbusters went for only $2.50 USD. The same movies would have run me six times as much in a cinema in Denmark.

I love Indonesia. South East Asia in general is home to several of my favorite countries. However Indonesia can also drive you mad. Much which should be possible is not…and much which should not be possible is. In order to make things run smooth the word “candy” comes up now and again. If you offer “candy” then everything is possible. I’m proud to say that we have reached 187 countries within Once Upon A Saga without indulging in any form of corruption. Not a single bribe has been paid out at any point. The day after I applied for the PNG visa, while my passport was still at the embassy, I received notice that I might not be let on board the ship if I did not have the type 211 visa for Indonesia. With my Danish passport I am offered a cost free ‘visa exemption” stamp when I enter the country. A type 211 visa must be specifically applied for. The preliminary information was that immigration would not allow me to embark the ship without that visa. Something which I have found peculiar since I first came across it. I can to some degree understand how immigration would want to prevent a passenger from disembarking a ship and entering a country…but why the heck would they try to prevent me from leaving the country? Shouldn’t immigration be happy to see foreigners leave? Isn’t it pretty much their job to process exactly that? It becomes even more perplexing to me why immigration would prevent anyone from boarding a ship, on which the passenger is welcome? Now what if I wanted to swim home from Indonesia? Or if I wanted to paddle back to Denmark from Indonesia? Wouldn’t immigration need to process my papers and stamp me out of Indonesia before I did so? Is how I leave a country not my choice? Well, bureaucrazy has been on the menu for many years and bureaucrats can get away with anything in this world as long as they make use of one little word: safety.

passport

My entry stamp (Indonesia).

Now, as if in a Christopher Nolan movie, let’s jump back in time to when the Saga had reached another of my favorite countries: Singapore. That means June 2019 which isn’t all that long ago. However back then I decided to prolong my stay with an additional week in order to set up a few additional meetings. One of those meetings was with the general manager of Pacific International Line’s fleet division, Captain RS Minhas. He’s a good guy and we soon got talking about how Pacific International Line (PIL) could help the Saga get around in the pacific. PIL is the world’s 10th largest container ship operator and one of the largest ship-owners in South East Asia. As such they own and operate around 160 vessels and offers services in more than 500 locations in 100 countries around the world. I had a good time in Singapore with Captain Minhas, his staff and everyone whom I met while there. “Kota Nebula” is owned and operated by PIL and it did not take the fleet division long to coordinate with PIL’s local agent in Surabaya. I soon received an email with information regarding my visa issue being solved and that I was expected on board. The motto of PIL is by the way: “Our Promise, Your Satisfaction”. Yes indeed it is :)

PIL logo

CaptainChief

Amazing welcome by Captain Zay Maung Maung Aung (right) and Chief Officer Zaw Zaw Han who made the welcome sign (left).

I was warmly welcomed on board the ship as the Captain and Chief Officer both greeted me with a huge welcome sign, handshakes and a photo session. Wow! That was a first. And shortly thereafter I was shown to my cabin which was on F deck just below the bridge and on the same deck as the Captain. A week does not pass without someone asking me if they can travel on board a container ship, if I can help them or how I get to do it? And frankly I have long ago written down a reply which I copy/paste and it is not very encouraging. As I promised earlier I would get back to the topic of incentive. Now first of all I should mention that a few shipping companies offer that passengers can buy a ticket and schedule themselves to travel on board a container ship. I have no experience with this but from what I understand it is for certain routes during certain times of the year and it costs a lot more than it would to fly. It is truly only a few companies that offer this service in comparison to the many ship operators which would do no such thing. In most cases I am told by seamen that they have never before experienced having a passenger on board. In the few cases where someone has experienced it, it has been an officer’s wife, an office trainee or perhaps a journalist. My official tittle or label on board is ‘supernumerary’ and I do not work on board. I don’t even think I am permitted to work on board as I do not have the required training, insurance, certificates etc. I am strictly the only one on board who does not play any role on the ship. In other words I’m not necessary.

KNE

So how does a passenger get to come on board? Well I believe it comes down to incentive. Here are some reasons why the company would turn your request down: it’s extra paperwork, insurance, lack of cabin space, you could be sick on board, you could bring a decease on board, you could be annoying, you could be demanding, you could break something, you could fall overboard etc. If the ship calls a port where the immigration police somehow sees a passenger as a threat (or inconvenience) then that can also cause difficulties or problems for the ship. Now see if you can think of any reason why the company should allow you to come on board? What can you offer the company which they want or need? If your answer to that is “nothing” then you are in line with 99.99% of everyone else who wants to board a container ship as a passenger. There is hardly any incentive which you can offer a company. Think of it as walking into an office in the middle of a city and ask if you can sleep there for a few days. That is basically what you are doing when you request traveling on board a container ship. If you think you could offer money then consider that the shipping industry is big business and the fee for a midsize ship to pass through the Suez Canal is around $500,000 USD. So how much money do you think you would need to offer a shipping company before it generates enough incentive? And on top of all of this I can once again say that it is a lot easier to say no than yes. Everyone is busy. Your request to travel on board a container ship is just more work for whoever receives the request.

stairs

The staircase is a vivid memory from any container ship I have been on board. There were 85 steps between my cabin on F deck and the the laundry room on upper deck. 70 steps between my cabin and the dinning room on A deck and an additional 14 steps from my cabin to the bridge. I know. I've counted ;) 

What kind of incentive can I bring since I’ve done it so often? Well there are numerous answers to that and they are not always the same. First of all I have taken an enormous challenge upon myself in trying to reach every country in the world, in an unbroken journey, completely without flying, for the first time in history. I’m not on a holiday, a gap year or anything of the sort. Taking part in Once Upon A Saga is taking part of the creation of history. That does sound quite grandiose but it is nonetheless incentive. In addition to that there are the values of the Saga which within themselves can motivate a collaboration (inspiration, education, entertainment). Social media plays a role too, however I’m not by any means convinced that the social media of the Saga is large enough to make any real difference. However it should be clear to most people that if you have 200 followers on Facebook then nobody cares and if you have 200 million followers then you have a bargaining chip. Now it cannot be ruled out that my status as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross has weighed in on the decision of some companies to let me on board as a passenger. However it is not something I use to bargain my way on board. I do not proclaim that by having me on board the ship a company is helping the Red Cross. In fact I refrain from mentioning my affiliation with the Red Cross as I want to protect the movements name and not tarnish it for “favors”. Yet the information on what I do and have done to further the visibility of the humanitarian work is publicly available and can easily have influenced the decision to grant me access once or twice. Finally I have a lot of reference. First of all I have throughout the Saga been able to generate an enormous network within several shipping companies. Moreover I can today say that I have experience as a passenger from more than twenty ships, I can reference companies which have assisted in the past and prove that I know how to behave on board. Incentive.

plastic waste

The ships adhere to a mountain of regulations, laws and guidelines. Safety has a very high priority and the environment is protected. In fact the industry is striving towards delivering a carbon neutral future. I've never observed a seaman throwing anything into the ocean. There are bins for every type of waste. Both safety and the protection of environment is taken seriously. 

Life on board a container ship is often far from the romantic notions people they carry. Life on board for the seamen boils down to routine: work, meals, sleep, recreation, repeat. These guys are not on board for the sake of fun. They work under conditions which most people would do their best to avoid. Not only are you away from home for long periods at a time but you are also bound to a highly restricted area. The ship spends most its time at sea at which point there is obviously no leaving it. And the days of having a woman in every port is also mostly a thing of the past. There simply often isn’t any time to leave the ship while alongside. Being alongside at a port is super expensive so the name of the game is to get in and out as fast as possible. And the activity is at its greatest: maneuvering in and out, pilot comes on board, pilot disembarks, customs, immigration, police, stevedores, offloading, loading, cranes, spare parts, all sorts of paperwork, coordinating with the agent, crew change…cargo operations rarely take more than 24 hours in most ports and most hands are needed. And most ports today are located far from the city so even if you could leave for a few hours then you might need to go far to make it worthwhile. So life on board is sometimes referenced as “the blue cage” which can be a hard life born out of necessity, while for others it is the best possible life and a dream come true. Blessing or a curse? There are those who were simply born to live a life at sea :)

rearview

There is rarely anything to see at sea. Water and the horizon is mostly it. It is beautiful though but doesn't keep my attention for long.

Now, unfortunately there is something, which life at sea affects…no matter who you are. As you are away from home for months at the time without the possibility of returning home, you are definitely going to lose out on many aspects of life. You may try to plan being home for the holidays or other important family events – but a ship can easily get delayed and you may miss out. Lots of seamen have missed out on being there when their wife gave birth, lots of first steps and first words have been missed, lots of friends in need have been let down, huge chunks of those moments in life which matter the most have been lost to the sea. That is the life and what can you do about it. I myself can relate to losing out and not being there for those of my friends who need a hug and not a skype conversation. I lost out last week. My father got married…and I was not there. The Saga was never supposed to have taken this long. I was supposed to have been home years ago. However there are still countries left and the Saga has not been completed. It is with great regret that I was not there to celebrate my father get married. Within my forty years on this planet it has never happened before and will never happen again. I am very happy for my father and his wife. I am very happy that so many people were there to celebrate them and share that special moment with them. Who am I to complain about missing out when I am on board a ship full of men who have a life where they miss out over and over again. And yet…it hurts. How much must it hurt not to be there for….well fill in the gap. The men at sea have experienced loss of every kind.

wedding

The beautiful bride and my father the groom. They have been living together for 25 years. Now husband and wife! :)

Some are on board for 3-4 months while others are on board for 10+ months. It all depends on rank, contracts and companies. “Kota Nebula” had 24 men on board including myself. We were a melting pot of five nationalities: Chinese, Indian, Myanmar, Indonesian and Danish. A good crew on board a good ship which was built in China in 2010. Among seamen ships built in Europe seem to be favored while Korean built ships are second followed by the rest. It seems to be a matter of quality. The good ship “Kota Nebula” measures 179.7 meters (589.6 feet) and is capable of carrying 1,810 twenty foot containers. So she is actually a small lady all things considered given that there are plenty of ships out there which carry 10,000+ containers! And yet small becomes relative when you consider that she has the capacity to carry 25,985 ton – or the equivalent of 4,331 African elephants.

aquaman

Of course I watched Aquaman while on board. What else?!? ;)

Life on board for me is always a welcome “vacation” from the 24/7/365 project we call Once Upon A Saga. The Saga has been all consuming for nearly six years now and is hard to escape. And yet when I embark a container ship everything changes. Especially if I have no internet access. These days more and more ships have wifi on board which the seamen can connect to. Often the internet speed is rather slow but with some patience it is possible to access social media and receive/send emails. A while back I was on board a ship which was in the process of installing 4G. It may seem like a necessity in today’s world but it certainly has its downsides too. I will return to that in a bit. This ship did (thankfully) not have wifi on board, which meant that as soon as we left the coast I became disconnected from the world…and the world disconnected from me. I have sometimes been able to keep myself occupied with work for the first 3-4 days: offline emails, editing video, laundry, fixing equipment, cleaning equipment, organizing files, updating lists, offline research etc. But then when there is nothing more I can do, I become free of any obligation and am effectively on “vacation”. I do not play a role on board the ship and nothing is expected of me. I can sleep all day if I want. I can shower when I want to. I can watch as many movies as I please, read a book, stare at the ocean, go to the gym, have a cup of coffee/tea on the bridge, take pictures and occasionally speak with the crew if they have time.

lunch

I thought the food on board was great. This was my very first meal (notice the milk).

Meals are served three times a day like clockwork. With several nationalities on board it can be hard to please everyone but I for one found the food to be very good! And I got to drink milk with every meal which was amazing!! Breakfast starts at 7:30am and dinner ends at 6:30pm. If you are hungry outside of the predetermined hours then there is always some bread or soup available. The cook and steward on board were both Indonesian so I got to say thank you after every meal in their local tongue, which is one of the few words I remember in bahasa (terimah kasih). As I’m provided with accommodation on board, three meals a day and the knowledge of that I am moving in the direction I need to go, no matter what I do, I can relax. Everyone on board was super kind to me and I truly felt welcome on board. During my first day and a half on board I mostly slept. I slept so much during the daytime that I worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night – but it was no problem at all. I got into the rhythm of having breakfast at 8am, lunch at midday and dinner at 6pm. That brought stability and a fixed routine into my life and my body quickly adjusted to it. After a few days on board I began to feel less tired. I didn’t have much work I could do offline so my time was mostly spent watching movies, series and reading. The bridge is my favorite place to be on board a ship. It is calm, there’s usually a great view and it’s a centre of information. There is always an officer present on the bridge and if he has time then there is often a foundation for a good conversation. I write ‘he’ as I have yet to come across a female officer and in general I rarely see any women on board while it has happened once or twice. Life at sea is still a man’s world.

KNE group

The amazing crew of the good ship "Kota Nebula"!! :)

Let’s get a few terms right. At sea ‘left’ is known as ‘port’ and ‘right’ is known as ‘starboard’. If the waves, swell or wind has the ship rocking in a motion from port to starboard then it is called ‘rolling’. If the ship is “rolling” from front to back then it is known as ‘pitching’. I generally do not suffer from motion sickness on board these large vessels and the weather is furthermore usually calm. However if the ship is both rolling and pitching at the same time then I may become slightly uncomfortable and go to bed. For the ten days I spent on board the ocean was mostly flat as a pancake apart from the last night which had me walking into the wall a few times as I lost my footing :)

Phone

DB Schenker in Denmark has done it again!! Over the years they have successfully help out with several courier shipments. The latest is this of my brand new OUAS phone cover from the OUAS shop to Port Moresby, PNG. If you haven't seen the shop yet then you can find it HERE or by clicking on the image :) 

Life on board is not what it once was. With my forty years of age 2/3 of the seamen on board were younger than me and might not have known anything else than what life on board is like today. However when you speak to the older guys then you will find them singing the same song: life on board used to be far more social than what it is today. In my opinion the great disruption in social life on board was when laptops became cheap enough for anyone to own one. So probably around the late 90s. From what I’ve been told, back in the day seamen used to sit down together, play games, have a drink and talk about family, life, work or anything else which came to mind. Or they would hang out in the recreation room and watch a movie together. Alcohol is now banned from most ships and with the introduction of the affordable laptop everyone retreats to their cabin, closes the door and the recreation rooms are deserted. Coming back to the subject of wifi on board ships it is evident that the social life will suffer further. When the seamen have wifi they end up looking into their devices just like any other zombie on earth. I think it is a shame. But before you judge think about yourself and those around you. What does an evening look like in your family? Board games or tablets? Fortunately “Kota Nebula” did not have wifi on board so I was not distracted by that. It seems to me that there are still people out there who think I’m online all the time? The “secret” is that I’m able to schedule posts on both Facebook and Instagram so that there is new content everyday ;)

AUS

Approaching Darwin Port in Northern Australia.

The good ship had a stop on route in Darwin, Australia. We were alongside long enough for me to leave the ship and pay a visit to the seaman’s club (seafarers centre) which is located inside the port area. It was Sunday so there was no staff present but the doors are always open, the air-condition was on and there was access to a good wifi connection. The place was completely overrun by Australian soldiers who were either sleeping or on their devices. Outside some 35-40 military vehicles were neatly parked and waiting to be shipped out. I wonder where those boys are off to? While I was definitely in Australia for several hours I do not count that as a visit within the Saga for two simple reasons: 1) I did not spend 24 hours in Australia and 2) I was not attempting to spend 24 hours in Australia. Australia is set to become country number 201 early next year. This was pure transit. And yet I had a huge smile on my face walking about in the port knowing that it was Australia. There was great satisfaction knowing that we have come this far.

Darwin

Darwin Port was quiet apart from us. It was Sunday.

Darwin2

And yet the crane operator and everyone else worked through the night. Being along side is expensive and time is money.

What’s on board a container ship? Well…I’m not sleeping inside a container as a journalist once suggested. Everyone has their own cabin with a window, bed, table, toilet and bathroom. I even had a sofa and a closet. I’ve been on the topic of showering on board container ships before. I’ve said that I felt it was the only place where I could have an hour long shower without feeling any guilt towards the environment. The ship desalinates water from the ocean and heats it up. However I’ve been corrected somewhat in regards to how neutral it is. What I can say for sure is that the ship desalinates water from the ocean so the water is not being drawn from the freshwater sources which already exists on our planet. And the water is being heated by a boiler which is being heated by excess heat living the stack (as the chimney is called on a ship). So the heat is there any way as long as the ship is moving and the water is plentiful as the ocean is huge. Have you ever heard about the seven seas? Well there is in fact only one ;) Right, so a great deal of energy obviously goes into desalinating water so that is not neutral to the environment. However I’d still argue that it’s pretty good. Okay – so the ship has accommodation for everyone on board, a crew’s recreation room and an officer’s recreation room, a hospital (clinic), a crews dining room and an officers dining room, a galley (kitchen), a ships office, a laundry room and a gym. The separation of crew and officers seems to be a remnant of the past but ships are still built with it. Since both recreational rooms are often empty a ship might be able to do with one and many new ships have combined the dining space. Some argue that the separation is due to the different levels of cleanliness due to separate jobs (officers stay clean while crew gets oil, rust, paint etc. on their boiler suits. Many ships have a pool but they are often not in use. Some ships even have a sauna on board.

cabin

My cabin was simple but good. And had everything I needed.

As I have been on a great deal of container ships I’m no longer interested in a full tour. I have long ago worked out that I feel more comfortable on the bridge where it’s clean, quiet and full of navigational equipment, than being in the engine room where there’s oil, it’s noisy, hot and I hardly know what I’m looking at. I do not have a great understanding for mechanics and doubt that it will ever change. I barely understand how a car works – but I can drive one. For the same reason I mostly got to speak to the chief officer (Myanmar), 2nd officer (India), 3rd officer (Myanmar) and deck cadet (India). And I didn’t mingle much with the engineers or crew apart from kind greetings in passing. Captain Zay Maung Maung Aung (Myanmar) was very kind and welcoming. Unfortunately I did not have the pleasure of getting into any deep conversations with him and to be fair I did spend a lot of time in my cabin on my own. There is a blessing in being offline. While reading and watching movies/series I stumbled upon several English words of which I did not understand the meaning: semaphore, paragon, syllabus, perennially, self-flagellate, antithetical and despondent were some of them. In 2019 you can often just google the stuff you do not know and have an answer immediately. However when offline you get to write stuff down or train your memory.

bridge

Looking forward from the bridge.

I really enjoyed the kindness from everyone on board. While I spent most time speaking to the officers on watch I did have several memorable encounters with many others on board and in my humble opinion the seamen on board seemed to be thriving and in harmony. The weather was calm until the very last night. The sea is almost always calm and whatever little wind or small waves I’ve ever encountered have been no match for the huge ships I’ve been honored to be a part of for a brief moment. However on the last night the winds picked up and reached speeds of up to 35 knots which categorizes as gale. In comparison 22-27 knots categorizes as strong breeze while 48-55 is storm. It wasn’t very rough but at times I would lose foothold and run into a wall. And I did feel a pressure developing behind my eyes which are among my first symptoms of seasickness. I was however fine and went to bed. Once I fell asleep I didn’t wake up again until the alarm went off.

Moresby

First glimpse of PNG! What a beautiful country!!

It was with some degree of sadness that I had to leave the ship in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. I’m thankful to PIL, the Captain and the brave seamen for having me on board and treating me so well. Alas everything must come to an end at I was of course also very happy to have reached PNG which as of October 4th 2019 became country number 188 in an unbroken journey completely without flying. That leaves us with fifteen more countries to go. But first let’s see what PNG is all about.

I wish all the seamen on board the good ship “Kota Nebula” fair winds and following seas.

Thank you.

 

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Thankful to more than I can mention. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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