Reaching the United Arab Emirates without flying

Day 1,737 since October 10th 2013: 149 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.  

I was surprised by what I learned

pano

I’m very happy to say that much has changed to the better since I reached Dubai! And just for the record I should mention that Dubai is one of seven emirates which combined make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But first let’s briefly go back to Iran…

Iran is a country which has been close to my heart ever since I first visited Iran in 2010 together with my friend Cam. Cam is from Australia and we will return to him in a while as it ties into almost everything which has happened in the UAE. Last week I was being hosted by Masoud in Bandar Abbas (Iran). He was a formidable host and we had a great time together. On the day of my departure he drove me to the port and I promised I would look into finding him a Danish wife…not quite sure if he was joking or not? I get asked a lot about finding people Danish wifes and generally I think that while Danish women are both lovely and beautiful – they also tend to be fiercely independent, which might come as a shock to a lot of the men I meet. All I’m saying is: don’t expect Danish women to be mothering you. They are far more likely to be the alpha’s around the house. You’ve been warned ;)

Iran Masoud

My host and friend Masoud in Bandar Abbas. If you are a Danish woman and interested then call! ;)

On that note my own little alpha is kicking some serious arse these days. She is a medical doctor who is currently well into doing her PhD. But as if that wasn’t enough to fill up the calendar she is now also approaching the day for her lifetime dream of completing an Ironman! Maybe Ironwoman in this case as the famed triathlon involves first swimming 3.86 km (2.4 mi), followed by a 180.25 km (112 mi) bicycle ride and then finishing with a full marathon (42.2 km / 26.22 mi)! So if you are wondering why my beard has grown so long then it’s simply because while juggling a PhD, friends, family, work and a long distance relationship she is also training some 16-18 hours of week these days (biking, running, swimming etc).

map

These countries along with the pacific ocean is all which is left of the Saga.

I’m a bit busy myself one could say. Around this part of the world it mostly feels like my daily schedule is mostly made up out of solving the most complex riddles in the world. Like getting a special visa for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which only few have received over the past 40 years? Or like finding out how one visits Qatar without flying when the country is politically disconnected from most of its neighbors and there are no ferries operating to and from the peninsula? And how do you tackle Yemen at a time when the otherwise gem of a country is undergoing hardship and turmoil to a degree where warnings are more common than invitations? So how do you get a visa when the authorities of a country appear completely uninterested? And how do you cross waters which are to vast to swim when there are no ferries? And furthermore what are you to do when visiting one country eliminates the possibility for visiting another country due to political relations? Well, I can promise you that there are no easy answers to any of those questions. And while so many people have shown interest in helping, these challenges are often well beyond what regular people are able to solve. The easy solution is often to fly or simply not visit. But that is not what we do within the Saga. To give up is simply not an option and neither is exclusion. There is only one thing ahead and that is to: keep on keeping on…

Ferry 2

On the ferry heading to UAE.

And so we keep on. Onboard the ferry from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Sharjah in the UAE I met Lars and Mali from Germany. The two are both students on a massive overland journey and had made it from Germany to Iran. Now they were on the same ferry as I and it made sense to spend some time together and get to know each other on the overnight voyage. I noticed their wooden cups for coffee and tea and their wooden spoons for meals. They were both vegans and they were great company. Being a meat eating Viking myself I had to ask the obvious question? And Lars made a good point as he explained that we spend an enormous amount of resources feeding and raising animals. Basically he suggested that we might as well just eat the food we feed the animals and the entire process might be far more efficient. I didn’t need to ask about the wooden spoons and cups. I’ve seen far too much plastic waste all around the world on roadsides and in the ocean not to understand. Personally I’m very happy with the Lifesaver water bottle which I was sent as I can instantly clean water and safely drink it without creating plastic waste. We also spoke about the massive food waste which goes on in the world and how to combat it. Lars and Mali will occasionally go “dumpster diving” in Germany, which is essentially fishing out food from garbage containers you find behind supermarkets. Lars explained that while it sounds smelly and disgusting it really often isn’t. He went on to say, that often supermarkets through away perfectly good food in large quantities and you simply walk up to the dumpster and pick it like you would an apple from a tree.

heat walk 2

Lars, Mali and I managed to hike about 5 km (3 mi) in the heat before we found WIFI.

While I clearly see a need for change on our planet I’m not sure that I’m ready to quit meat, carry a wooden cup and pick food out of a dumpster. But I clearly see how it makes sense and really hope that more people would live like that. It’s easy to be a hypocrite…”be the change you want to see in the world” they say…well I have my own agenda… On arrival to Sharjah Lars, Mali and I disembarked the ferry together and approached immigration which went smooth. The UAE is perhaps one of the most open countries to foreigners you will come across in your life. We all soared through and soon found ourselves in the infamous Middle Eastern heat looking for WIFI. I asked an Indian security guard for a place with WIFI and he just smiled and laughed saying that I would need to walk a bit for that. Taxis are a bit expensive in the UAE and I’m on a USD 20/day budget so our little trio decided to walk into our new country and explore. Surely we would soon find a kiosk with simcards, a café with WIFI or something similar? Not in that part of Sharjah! While the area was interesting with plenty of Dhow boats and lots of cargo there was nothing of the sort we sought.

UAE 

Do you remember Cam from Australia? Well Cam and I met by chance in Bangkok many years ago and developed many great adventures together. One of them was backpacking through Cambodia and Vietnam in 2007. Back then I joined Cam and his friend Juanita for a few weeks of South East Asian exploration. Juanita turned out to be a lot of fun!! She would randomly run up to complete strangers when they were taking group photos and pose with them. Most often to their delight ;) Juanita eventually went on to marry a guy named Iain and the two Aussies moved out to the UAE, where they have been living as expats for the past seven years. Juanita and Iain had been expecting me for a while and Iain was ready to head out and pick me up as soon as I gave notice of my arrival. I was eventually able to connect to some WIFI at a Subway restaurant and that is where Lars, Mali and I parted when Iain showed up to greet me welcome!

nita iain

Iain teaches physical education at a school in Sharjah and Juanita does physiotherapy. They are living the expat life here in Dubai and that is far from unique within this country. The UAE consists of roughly 2 million Emiratis and 8 million expats! It’s certainly a country that caters to the lifestyle away from home and Dubai is wildly impressive. There are seven emirates in this federation and they are as follows: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. I arrived to Sharjah and Iain brought me to Dubai. So I’m currently missing out on five emirates including Abu Dhabi which serves as the capital. I might get there sooner or later though.

sand

Once in a while you are reminded about Dubai's sandy past. But very rarely.

It’s absolutely true that all of this was just a desert but it is completely untrue that there was nothing here 50 years ago. The history of this region is very rich and dates back to at least 6000 BCE. Well actually it dates back over 127,000 years as stone tools have been found proving early African settlements. But we don’t know much about that compared to the rich history over the past 8000 years. Given the close proximity to Iran and Mesopotamia this part of the world has obviously been heavily influenced by those civilizations for thousands of years. Copper trade played an important role as early as 5000 years ago. If we skip forward a few thousand years then remains have been found of an early church from around 600 CE. Islam later on had its spread across the region which would have brought amazing advances to the region during the Islamic Golden Age. The history here also involves influence from the Ottoman Empire, piracy and colonial forces from the Portuguese, the English and the Dutch. There was much international trade in the region for centuries before the federation was formed and it would have been an interesting and magnificent time to visit and see, hear, touch and smell things for the first time.

dhow

Dhow boats are as active today as hundreds of years ago. And the ones we spoke to go back and forth between Dubai and Iran.

There was lots of rivalry amongst local tribes and in newer time one of the defining moments of the regions development is easily the agreement to join forces and stop fighting over land, territory, power and influence. There is plenty of history around these parts and I even completely skipped everything about the Trucial States which sort of lays the foundation for the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Of course there’s also the history of the pearling industry which was vital to both income and employment until artificial cultivated peals completely destroyed the business model. The first oil was exported in 1968 and that obviously a big part of the history too. Actually I’m just going to call it quits here because there is too much history to tell about. And I think I made my point ;)

Khalifa 2

It's not just taller. It appears to be ten times taller than anything else!! The Burj Khalifa is something else!

The UAE has successfully managed to build a strong and modern country based on not only oil but indeed on tourism and international commerce. And I’d argue that there is literally nothing you cannot get in the UAE. Driving around in Dubai you need to stand in awe of the human achievement. Because there is hardly any sand in the streets and there are plenty of mind boggling buildings to leave you breathless.

fitness 2

Nita got me out of bed early on my first day. And on to the treadmill before breakfast. She's super fit and prefers to run outside. But nobody runs outside during the hot months!

I have known Juanita (Nita) since 2007 but my visit here is actually the first time we have met each other since we traveled together in Cambodia and Vietnam. Somehow she has not aged a day and I think the only logical explanation must be that she is a witch. What else? It can’t possibly be her healthy diet and all the exercise. Iain and Nita are “weekday’s vegans” and then they occasionally eat animal based food during the weekend. They have a great home high up in an apartment building and no children nor pets. It’s just the free expat life for them and with Dubai being an international hub they have traveled to an impressive amount of countries making them true global citizens. Nita has reached 70 countries while Iain rings in at 77. I had been to 54 countries prior to the Saga which used to be a lot (I think it still is). Times change :)

DK embassy

Iain and I had a victorious run at several embassies!! :)

Ironically Nita has had to work while Iain has been free due to school holidays. So I have been spending most of my time with Iain which is no bad thing. He has a great energy which is really motivating and he has been happy to help out by driving me around, printing documents, visiting embassies, making phone calls, and showing me a ton of sights. We have been to the Yemen consulate three times, the Saudi embassy twice, the Omani consulate once and the Royal Danish Consulate General twice. We actually only needed to visit the Danish consulate once but I forgot my credit card at the counter ;) And let’s just start with the Danish foreign mission here in Dubai because they have completely restored my wavering faith in the establishment!! YEAH BABY! I personally think that a large part of the recent success has been directly linked to Iain’s Aussie twang and good energy. We walked into the Danish consulate without an appointment and immediately met with the ever so fantastic, charming, talented and even beautiful Vice Consul. Her name is Roaia and a few minutes into my story she smiled and offered her support. Thank you SO MUCH! That is really all I needed and that fast tracked the events at the Saudi embassy.

RC 2

The Emirates Red Crescent Authority in Dubai donated USD 100 million to the USA during the relief work after hurricane Katrina in 2005. Think about that.

While the Saga is good for many things I might just list a few. Lots of people tell me they are inspired by the positive outlook on life as well as the perpetual persistence that drives the Saga forward. The Saga also shows the world in a different light which is refreshing to many. I promote, connect and inform about the world of the Red Cross and Red Crescent which is also of interest to many. Some say they learn new things while others say they feel entertained. As an endeavor such as this has never before been completed it brings lots of positive attention through interviews all around the world. This in term falls back positively on those involved. The Red Cross Red Crescent receives more attention, donations, volunteers and goodwill. My great Viking nation, the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe, gets more publicity…and is in the big picture host to something massively international and hopefully overwhelmingly positive. Yeah…I’m so happy that Roaia was so quick to step in and deliver. We were in and out of the consulate in less than 30 minutes. Scandinavian efficiancy at its very best! :)

ski

The UAE is actually another revisit for me. I was in Dubai more than ten years ago and among other things went skiing at Mall of the Emirates. Fun to be back.

The Saudi consulate in Dubai is located in an impressive building which resembles an old Arabian citadel. The visa section was likewise very impressive with a sky roof letting light inside the modern the modern building. The first clerk I spoke to was not open to anything and quickly brush me off with the usual “only business and commercial visa” story, which I have been listening to for months. And if you’re not fully up to date then that involves flying and applying from your resident country. However I soon got in touch with a woman behind the counter who realized that this was no normal request. She asked me to wait and then returned after a while with a list of seven requirements for a “traveler visa”. Iain and I left hopeful. We were even more helpful after having received the swift support from the Danish consulate and returned to the Saudi embassy the following day. This time we were told to wait and after a while Iain and I were called back up to the large glass window. This time we met with the head of the visa section who with superb Middle Eastern hospitality congratulated me on a truly unique project and told me that he had been looking though my website. He was very forthcoming and told me that they had never before had such a unique request. He also said that if I could provide the requested documentation then he would be more than happy to forward the request for a special visa to the authorities in Saudi Arabia!

ring record

They LOVE Guinness World Records in Dubai. How about this 58.686 kg 21 karat gold ring!!

Can you just imagine that?!? Iain and I came well prepared and could immediately hand over the required documentation. Unfortunately the glass wall prohibited me from giving a handshake but at least he saw us leave smiling. I’ve worked on getting this far in relation to the Saudi visa for over six months and I have never been this close before. So while there are no guarantees THIS is certainly good news. And I may soon be able to show and tell all of you more about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. How about that?! :)

spice1

Spices have been traded across the gulf and all the way to and from India for centuries.

At the Consulate General of Oman they were also super friendly and forthcoming. Oman is however a very easy country for me to visit and I was simply at the embassy to hear if I should get a multiple entry visa or a single entry visa. That will make more sense for you in a while. And on that note I have a great surprise for you for next week in Oman! As you may know Oman is going to be a major landmark as it becomes country number 150 without flying or going home. But I wouldn’t be a surprise if I tell you now ;) The Consulate General of Yemen was likewise very accommodating and it didn’t take long before Iain and I found ourselves seated in front of the Consular General himself. While perplexed about why I wanted to go to Yemen during these unfortunate times he was very accommodating. Actually he immediately offered to put in a special request on my behalf. So that was quite amazing!

screen

Two Guinness World Records: largest OLED screen and beneath it the worlds largest acrylic panel. they just love them!

I gather that I’ll need to bring Iain with me for the rest of the Saga just to ensure the successful completion of the project. Nah…you know I’m kidding but it has definitely been good to have such a support from Nita and Iain. I have come far now…and it isn’t just me. Apart from bringing you with me I can also say that there is no way that we would ever have gotten this far without the kind help from strangers all over the world. So you see, a stranger really is a friend you’ve never met before ;)

msk1

Thanks to Rabab Boulos (Head of West Central Asia Liner Operations Cluster) for inviting and introducing me! She's Egyptian so I've visited her country three times in the Saga ;)

Now I mentioned all of that but nothing about Qatar? Hmmm…so does that mean there is still no solution in place for that? Nope people…we’ve got Qatar sorted as well. Maersk Line will pick me up in Salalah (Oman) and safely bring me to Qatar. Then a week later they will pick me up again and then bring me on quite a detour before we once again return to Salalah. But you will hear much more about that later on. While on the subject of Maersk I had the great pleasure of meeting their team here in Dubai. But not only that! I got to see Sharon for the third time! Sharon used to be the HR manager for Maersk in Nairobi, Kenya. That is when we first met. Then she just happened to be visiting the Maersk office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when I passed by there. And now she is managing Pakistan and the UAE from her new office in Dubai. Maersk has offices in about 140 countries around the world so I wonder if we just might meet again? I am aiming at meeting up with Steve in India whom I also first met in Nairobi. Meeting with the Maersk team in Dubai became by 61st motivation speaking event and the 26th at a Maersk office. It is always good fun and it was no different here. If I remember correctly then Sharon said they have 16 different nationalities at the office. Some from countries I have been to and some which are still to come. And certainly a perfect reflection of the multinational society which the UAE is.

msk2

And also thanks to Steve and Sharon for making this happen. Steve is in India but you can spot Sharon on the far left of this photo ;)

 

Well done! You made it through to the end of this whopping story from a scorching hot country. Especially at this time of the year. Stay tuned for next week. You’re unlikely to believe what will be going on over the next few weeks! ;)

               

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - very hopeful these days!!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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Iran’s perpetual kindness

Day 1,730 since October 10th 2013: 148 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country. 

Mission Impossible continues

tehran 2

The further I get into the Saga the more obvious it becomes why no one has ever done this before. It’s downright nearly impossible.

So, I boarded the ferry from Kuwait to Iran. It was fairly hassle free and I tried to get some sleep onboard but failed at that. Soon enough the ferry had reached Khorramshahr. The last hour of the voyage was a narrow body of water with Iraq on my left side and Iran on my right. It was a really peaceful part of our planet with lots of mud on both sides and plenty of fishing boats.

iraqiran

Looking at Iran from the ferry (with Iraq on the other side).

Immigration went smooth and before I knew it the Saga had reached its country number 148. But for me Iran was a revisit. I had the extraordinary pleasure of experiencing Iran in 2010 as a good friend and I cruised around on two small motorbikes for about three weeks. Back then Cam and I visited Tabriz, Tehran, Qom, Isfahan, Shiraz and Kerman. That was an epic adventure!

2010bikes

Cam and I back in 2010 - somewhere in Iran :)

Now I was back again and quickly rediscovered how friendly and curious the population is. The usual taxi hassle is less of a hassle in Iran as it appears more polite and less aggressive. However the driving of the less aggressive and in many ways elegant people makes up for the aggressiveness. Try crossing a road in Iran and you will immediately know what I mean ;) Fortunately I had some practice in maneuvering aggressive traffic as I have already taken us to Albania! What is it with kind gentle people when they get behind the wheel?

packing

You might have heard this a billion times before but I’ll just hit the last nail in the coffin anyway: IRAN IS NOT ARABIC!!! Iran is Persian and that is a completely different culture and history all together. They do not speak Arabic. In Iran the most common language is Farsi and I speak about five words of it so let me lead the way. In Khorramshahr it didn’t take me long to work out that I either had to spend the night and take the bus the next day or take a taxi to Ahwaz which is couple of hours and $10 USD away from there. I wanted to get moving so a taxi driver helped me exchange some money and off we went. In Ahwaz we reached the bus just in time and then I was off to Iran’s capital Tehran which was another 10 hour journey. Unfortunately there were no more seats left but the driver solved that by giving me a blanket and a pillow and letting me sleep in the isle. The next morning I spotted a free seat and figured that someone must have left the bus. But apparently not. However given the exceptionally high level of Iranian hospitality everyone insisted that I should keep the seat. One muscular guy wanted to get in touch with me but didn’t speak English. So instead he began to massage my arms and legs which was a bit weird? Then a young man seated nearby stepped in and told the muscular man to stop as I might interpret it for him being homosexual. The young guy was an English teacher and we spoke for a few minutes before he presented me with a problem of his which he needed some help to tackle. He was in love with a girl and she was in love with him. But it was a long distance relationship which costs them both a lot of time and money. And he confide in me that they could never be together. What should he do? Eeehhh..? What was this…some sort of Persian Romeo and Juliet? What do you say in a situation like that?

abbas 2

Abbas and I 12 years later :)

In Tehran I was received by Abbas Dinarvandy whom I have known for 12 years…kind of. Back when I worked in Libya I was the shipping manager on the construction of a cement factory. And back then Abbas was the company representative for IRISL (Iranian shipping company) and we met up several time to discuss business. As I now approached Iran I went through my phone to see if I knew anyone and Abbas’s name came up. I found him on LinkedIn and we connected on email a few weeks before I left Kuwait. Abbas is a great guy and had been waiting for me at the bus terminal for two hours before I arrived! When we finally met he drove me to Tehran’s historical area and helped me find a cheap hotel.

RC2

The HQ for Iranian Red Crescent Society.

The next day I was scheduled to meet with the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS). I have met with the Red Cross or Red Crescent (same thing different emblems) in nearly every country I have brought you to. So in many ways there are few surprises for me by now: first aid, blood drives, disaster relief, disaster prevention, disaster preparedness, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), search and rescue, psychosocial support, awareness, dissemination and basically anything which relates to alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable people in society. The movement is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and it has been around for a very, VERY long time. I’m acting as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross thoughout Once Upon A Saga, which easily makes this project history’s greatest attempt to unify the entire movement in a single journey. And it is completely free of cost for the movement...

RC1

For my Red Cross Red Crescent collection.

As I just mentioned there are few surprises by now. I remember visiting Haiti and being told about the five star luxury hotel in Nairobi which is being run by the Kenyan Red Cross. The Boma, as it is called, is indeed something special. It acts as an income generating activity and thus supports humanitarian activities. I think it was also back in Haiti I was told about IRCS’s helicopters? But meeting up with the national society was a bigger surprise than that. IRCS is a top professional part of the global family and they are heavily involved both within and beyond the borders of Iran. Leili Khaleghi is the Director General for Internal Protocol & Communication. She is a kind and competent woman who introduced me to her team and informed me further about IRCS activities. It turns out that they own 24 helicopters!! That’s a fleet! When I asked how that was funded Ali Reza, who also attended, explained that a lot of it is funded by the proceedings from their factory. Their factory? Yes! The IRCS has a factory and manufactures various clothing, uniforms, tents, blankets, sleeping bags, mosquito nets and a number of various relief items. The relief items are also sold to other National Societies around the world. I can go on and on about how unique the IRCS is but let’s just say we should be happy to have them in the family and I might also just add that they also have 80 sniffer dogs for search and rescue. And who doesn’t like dogs? ;)

football

government

mail

path

On another note I'm pretty fed up. Sorry to say that. I know many think that I’m living the dream and that I am incredibly privileged to be traveling the world. But that’s the thing: I’m not “traveling the world”. I’m working hard on pulling off the near impossible: an unbroken flightless journey to every country. And on top of that I’m making a positive and informative promotion of every country I reach as well as providing the Red Cross Red Crescent with lots of visibility. And it is mostly really ungrateful. I sincerely hope this pays off in the end because often it just feels like a job I don’t want to have. Especially these days where I get to hear the words “no” and “impossible” over and over again. And although the Saga by now has pulled off “the impossible” multiple times I’m often still regarded as a jobless backpacker on a gap year. Most of you which have been following the Saga for a long time know that isn’t true at all and that we are actually accomplishing something with the Saga in this often sinister world of ours. Can you believe it? I had only just arrived to Iran before I was informed about a tweet from USA’s president Donald Trump.

EXCUSE ME

President Trump got 153.000 likes...I got 30. So why even try? Well who ever achived anything by giving up! ;)

Historically Iran is a country which has had to learn the hard way that there are no friends among countries. At best countries can be allies but it’s always for gain. Friendship is something which is found among people and not countries. Some very clear examples throughout recent history have for Iran involved interactions with the United Kingdom, USA and Russia. And a lot of people do not get the hostility? On and off someone would walk up to me and ask me where I am from. Somewhat funny they often guess Russia by saying: "Rus?" And Vikings used to be called "Rus" which then fits just fine. So what should I answer when they say "Rus"? Anyway, some conversations would turn to football and others would be political. I do not debate politics with complete strangers however that doesn’t stop others from trying. More than once I have heard Iranian’s say: “we don’t understand why USA is treating us like this? We like the USA”. Recent sanctions have once again crippled Iran which in a different world could have been a super power. Iran has got it all. It’s a country with a young population, it has plenty of oil, lots of minerals, mountains, lakes, forest, desert, coastline, a well educated population, thousands of years of culture, a superb location on the world map, great opportunity for agriculture, snow in the winter, sun in the summer…Iran is an amazing country.

landscape

Photo from 2010.

When we are talking Iranian history then they certainly do not fall short! Iran has had thousands of years of invading and being invaded. There was a time when the Persian Empire essentially ruled the known world. Culturally I find such a history to be very interesting. I picture a painter holding his palette with all its colors. Then a country invades and mixes with one color. Another color mixes and another invasion occurs. Eventually you have some of the original color along with traces of the surrounding colors and that is in some aspect what Iran is today. Iran stands with solid feet in its history of powerful empires, culture, inventions, philosophy, poetry and yet…the alphabet is now Arabic and there are many French words in the language. In turn many Farsi words are found in English, French and Spanish. It’s a colorful palette we live on.

cranium

bazaar

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palace1

As I’m no tourist and definitely a man with a plan I immediately got to work after reaching Tehran. I snapped a few quick photos for the social media and then got on with the logistics. With the current political situation in the Gulf region (which on this side is the Persian Gulf) Qatar is unreasonably difficult to reach without flying. You can do an internet search for "the whys” on the matter but Qatar is being ostracized by most of its neighboring countries. Regionally Qatar is still on good terms with Iran and Oman. And I have heard that there are cargo vessels going between Kuwait and Qatar although I don’t know much about it. There are certainly ships calling Qatar from Iran but none of them are officially licensed to carry passengers across the Gulf. In Tehran I quickly made a lot of contacts who could help out locating a vessel for me. And there are at least four potential ports in Iran so it seemed like a better option for me to stay in Tehran for a while opposed to traveling to a few ports and trying my luck. It’s incredibly stressful not knowing what to do. If you are dedicated to visiting every country in the world but fall short of one country then you didn’t do it. That is the margin for failure. So I had a few days where I more or less walked around feeling angry deep inside my stomach. What to do about reaching Qatar? Iran is such a friendly country and I’ll share an anecdote with you in a second. But Iran also appears to have a very dense culture in terms of accomplishing a task. Being a tourist is up and beyond nice. Visiting sights and dining at restaurants. But finding out how to get permission to board a ship legally and be cleared by immigration...? Good luck…

money

run

swimming

Abbas invited me to join him, his two sons (Mohammed & Parsa) and his cousin Masoud for swimming (pool) and dinner. Masoud likes my beard and would spend time staring into it counting the colors :)

Fortunately several people where there to help me. Abbas was one of them and he spent a lot of time making phone calls and getting in touch with people. I do believe that Abbas and I would be able to solve this bureaucratic issue of putting me (as a passenger) on a cargo vessel with the necessary permissions from Immigration. However the question is always: how much time will it take? On and off people say to me: “why don’t you just get your friends at the Red Cross to help you?” While it is true that I am doing all of this as a good will ambassador of the Danish Red Cross, it is also true that they have several times repeated that I can have no logistical support. And in the four years and eight months that the Saga has been going I have yet to see the Danish Red Cross share or retweet anything I have posted. So the support is unlikely to come from there. And if anyone read how I was treated by the Danish Embassy in Saudi Arabia then you would also understand that I’m unlikely to get my help from there. Nope, I’m alone out here in the world. It’s just me, you and the other 38.000 supporters of the Saga I can rely on. And then naturally also the truth in the Saga’s motto: A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.

museum

The IRCS also has an art museum in Tehran featuring the work of Ali Akbar Sanati! Hussein gave me a tour and Tirdad and I had a good chat.

And now an anecdote from 2010. Cam and I were on our bikes and stopped near a village to ask for directions. A young man gave us directions and then kindly requested that we would join him at his home for tea? We accepted his invitation which quickly developed into an afternoon picnic in the nearby mountains. We were promised spectacular views so we couldn’t say no. A friend of the young man joined us and we drove up into the mountains in a pickup truck. After a bit of walking the young man revealed a watermelon he had brought along. He dumped the watermelon into a small cool creek where it tumbled round and round while cooling off. After taking in the spectacular views we carved out the cool watermelon and enjoyed the simple mountain life we were in. On our way back to the house where we left our bikes Cam and I got ready to say farewell and get back on the road. But the young man told us that his parents had already begun to prepare dinner for us and that there would be too much food if we left. In the nicest way possible we ended up having an amazing meal and afterwards we were invited to enjoy another cup of tea and rest for a while in a lounge. When we were once again ready to leave Cam and I were told that it was too late and that it was now dark outside. That it would be much better to spend the night and avoid any dangers of traveling during nighttime as the traffic could be harsh. So we stayed for the night and the next day we were served a huge breakfast! Then as we once again tried to get back on the road we were invited to stay for lunch at which point Cam and I had to draw the line…

2010cam

Cam rests up after our picnic in 2010. The "young man" makes tea for us before heading back for lunch.

That is Iran to me in a nutshell! Relentless hospitality and perpetual kindness. Cam and I managed to get back on the road but only by breaking the cycle which could otherwise have gone on forever. Dear Mr. President…which turmoil in Iran? Wherever I have gone I have been treated with much more kindness than anything else. As someone told me this week: “Iranians are peace loving people. When they go home after work they think about how we can all live in peace”. Well, the trees might not grow all the way into the sky but Iranians are definitely very kind and friendly people as far as what I have witnessed. And you know that people are just people. Politics and religion is certainly present in this world of ours. But it’s in my opinion a layer outside of values such as family, sports, food, the weather, taking selfies, updating facebook and stuff like that ;)

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I'll tell you one thing the USA has in comon with Iran: both countries have a great love for big flags! ;)

After several days in Tehran I decided it was time to leave and head to Bandar Abbas which is the main port of Iran. From there I can board a ferry to UAE. UAE borders Oman so that will become country number 150 very shortly. Next up is Yemen and then I will return to Oman from where I hope to reach Qatar. Then probably return to Oman again and once again return to UAE. From UAE I should be able to reach Bahrain by boat and then we just need a miracle so I can get the Saudi visa. How hard can that be? ;)

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The road from Tehran to Bandar Abbas. 20 hours in a bus.

I’m now in Bandar Abbas and have been well received by my couchsurfing host Masoud. He’s a great guy who left me behind in his penthouse apartment on my first day while he went to pray with his family for a special event. That’s a lot of trust as the apartment has a huge flat screen television and other accessories. But it was perfect for me as I was able to hook up to his wifi and get some time to write you this blog. Something which made me smile was that a minute after leaving the apartment Masoud returned with watermelon :)

newspaper

Yup, Game of Thrones and football are also popular in Iran ;)

There was another thing I wanted to tell you about the IRCS. They also have a newspaper! Yes! A real newspaper which circulates daily. I was curious as to how a newspaper could stay neutral as neutrality is one of the seven fundamental principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent? But I was assured that it was pure reporting on the facts along with sports updates and the occasional Red Crescent information. The idea behind it was that a pure Red Crescent newspaper would only be picked up by those interested in humanitarian work. Whereas mixing Red Cross Red Crescent information with unrelated issues may catch the attention of those otherwise not interested. Does this sound familiar to you? ;)    

Photo Jul 06 15 38 38 

My wonderful host Masoud says that you are all welcome to Iran! Contact him on Instagram @masoud.ameri1986 or on Couchsurfing under Masoud Ameri. 

Oh yeah, on a final note: Iran is super modern and I have always thought that in many ways they are way ahead of the west. However in other ways there is room for improvement. A lot of sites are blocked so the population turns to various VPN's in order to access Facebook, Couchsurfing and other otherwise inaccessible sites. Rhino-plastic surgery, Botox, hair implants, laser hair removal and all that stuff is a big thing in Iran and it's both good business but also a very skillful profession today. They don't use Uber bot they have Snapp as a replacement. And while many use WhatsApp most prefer to use Telegram which I haven't even heard about before I came here. Apparently it's Russian :)

 

               

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - grateful for everyones help.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Yeah – it’s sadly time to leave Kuwait

Day 1,723 since October 10th 2013: 147 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

When you’re doing the undone who can help you?

pano

I cannot stress this enough: nobody in history has reached every country completely without flying. Certainly not in an unbroken journey and by spending more than 24 hours in each nation. So why is that important? Well on and off you get into situations where nobody has the answer. Then what do you do?

I’d like to begin this entry by thanking a few people: Abdullah, Fatemah, Ahlam, Bashar, Jassem, Khaled, Kinan, Ghada, Umika, Dina, Yasmine, Hind, Islam, Jassim, Jennifer, Abdurrahman, Lama, Susanne, Aaron, Talal, Manar, Massimo, Mira, Zainab, Max, Shrikant, Ossama, Silas, Jafar, Greg, Khin, Farah, Steve and a lot of Mohammed’s ;) These are some (but not all) of the many wonderful people who have made my stay in Kuwait so much easier than it could have otherwise been. I’d like to thank EVERYONE bot those names were the ones stored in my phone. I originally imagined that I would only be in Kuwait for 3-4 days before moving on to Iran. However it turned out to be a 35 day long stay as it took a lot longer to get the Iranian visa than I ever expected I applied already in Jordan) and then of course I suddenly had a unique shot at getting the visa for Saudi Arabia (which is pretty much next to impossible). If you want to know more about that then you should check out last week’s Friday Blog. The follow up to last week has been that I revisited the Saudi embassy a few days ago hoping to persuade them to accept my application without the confirmation from the hopelessly unhelpful Danish embassy in Riyadh. Unfortunately the helpful Saudi Consular I spoke to at the Saudi embassy was now on holiday for the next 14 days. The man who has temporarily taken over for him was not quite as helpful but however offered that I could apply for my visa and expect that the process would take at least two months. So now what? Apply and wait it out? Keep fighting for some cooperation from my embassy in Riyadh and wait for the Consular to return? Or get out of here in the realization that I had a chance but a series of unfortunate events killed it?

heat

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". That applies to much in life.

It is amazing how reaching every country without flying alters between being straight forward and then suddenly like trying to solve the Gordian knot. And the Gordian knot is definitely the best possible metaphor I can come up with for some of the challenges I so recently constantly face. Alright then…just book a ticket for the ferry to Iran? Well is there even a ferry? The internet says there is but the latest updates are six years old and the numbers are out of order. Anyone I spoke to said “I don’t know” or “I don’t think so”. My hosts Ahlam and Mohammed helped out by asking around and calling various shipping companies, which all denied that there were any ferries to Iran these days. I was even met with stories about how embargoes had stopped all vessels going to Iran. Now in my experience locals unfortunately do not know as much as you would sometimes hope for. So a “no” generally never really means no until I have done a thorough examination and exhausted all opportunities. And here’s what you need to know if you wish to travel between Iran and Kuwait by boat in 2018:

The ferry leaves from Kuwait City (Kuwait) to Khorramshahr (Iran) twice a week: on Thursdays and Sundays. The departure time is approx. 10:30-11:00am with a check-in at 08:00am. The ferry is operated by Valfajr Shipping Co. and they are located at Shuwaikh port, Kuwait City, on Jamal Abdul Naser str. 50 in a big blue glass building. You can reach the booking office on +965 22458116. A one-way ticket costs 33 KD (USD 109), including food, tea and Iranian movies as entertainment. The voyage takes 5-6 hours. You are welcome…

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Dust storms remain common. After a few minutes it becomes hard to keep your eyes open.

For whatever strange reason you are required to show up with your luggage the day before departure in order to have it weighed. That’s a little inconvenient and also I wonder why there would be any weight regulations for personal luggage on a boat? But just go with it…I’m not alive to change ferries operational regulations. However as I went to the office it was closed? And everyone there told me to come back the next day (day of departure) and I would be fine? From Iran I need to get back to the Gulf countries and Qatar is my highest priority which is another complication. As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, Qatar has been ostracized by other GCC countries (Gulf Cooperation Council) for political reasons. So now you cannot reach Qatar from most GCC countries which naturally complicates this already nearly impossible project further. This isn’t news though and I’ve known about it for a long time. I hope to find a vessel from Iran to Qatar but all my research has so far told me that there are no longer any connections to be found and flying is the only way. If only I had a penny for every time someone suggested that I should just fly. Well, I might just find some cargo vessel that nobody I’ve been in touch with knows anything about and thus we might just prove people wrong again. Otherwise I’ll need to take the ferry from Iran to UAE and work my way from there.

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Making new friends on a desert hike. Kuwait City is a grand testimony to what mankind can accomplish given that Kuwait at the end of the day...is a desert.

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I really wouldn’t recommend anyone to try to reach every country without flying. Certainly not if you are not fond of riddles. Because this is often one riddle after the other and you will not always have the necessary support to solve them. However sometimes you will. The support for my last blog was overwhelming and while you might argue that I’m preaching to the choir it still felt good to hear from so many sympathetic people. Thank you all!! I’m really looking forward to putting the last few difficult countries behind the Saga and just cruise for a while. If you do want to challenge yourself (and the world) on a somewhat similar project as the Saga, then why not start with your “Big 100 Tour”. Pick 80 countries you want to visit and 20 you have no interest in. Once you are done with those you can assess if you’re still into reaching every country. 100 would still big a HUGE achievement and you wouldn’t have promised yourself or anyone else anything more ;)

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Mutla Ridge is the highest geographical point in Kuwait. It stands at 306 meters (1,004 feet) well above Denmark ;)

tcpdesert

On that topic I might just add that I often wonder how we will continue to fund the Saga? I have nearly returned on all the perks from the crowd funding campaign which ended last year. And I might open a Patreon account once I have delivered on the crowd funding – but not before. How can I ask for more without delivering what was promised the first time? Really I just want some international company to wise up and see the opportunity in getting behind the Saga. It is pocket change I’m asking for compared to so many things. In the light of the subject I decided to see how wealthy these Arabs are and it turns out they are less so than I thought? Another cliché? Here are the richest people per continent:

North America:

Jeff Bezos, net worth USD 112 billion (USA)

Europe:

Bernard Arnault, net worth USD 72 billion (France)

South America:

Jorge Paulo Lemann, net worth USD 25.6 billion (Brazil)

Asia:

Ma Huateng, net worth USD 51 billion (China)

Africa:

Aliko Dangote, net worth 12.2 billion (Nigeria)

Australia:

Fiona Gamender, net worth 2.6 billion (Australia)

 

Now if you compare that to the Middle East’s most wealthy then you will find that number one is not from any of the GCC countries. It’s actually an Egyptian named Nassef Sawiris with a net worth of USD 6.6 billion. He ranks in between the wealthiest people on the two continents of Africa and Australia. So that kind of changes the perception for the image of ridiculously wealthy Arabs? However you would still be fine having USD 1 billion for golden cars and private jets ;)   

syre

The Saga featured in the Swedish magazine Tidningen Syre for the second time! :) Check it out HERE if Swedish or any viking language is your superpower!

So that’s about all for now. Kuwait has proven to be far more than a gas station. While it is a very oil rich country and predominantly a desert it is still a country of people. And as my friend Jennifer said: “wherever you find people you will find culture, music, food, art and more”. Where might I have heard that before? ;) What Jennifer says is true. People are just people and in Kuwait I will stick to that the real gold is the people. I do wonder what will happen to Kuwait when the oil runs out? However I actually don’t believe that the oil will run out at all. I believe that the world will have a rapid shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy forms such as wind, sun and certainly geothermal energy. I have been told that the Kuwaiti Government can be secretive in terms of its future plans. So who knows: perhaps Kuwait is ready for the future and even more so than what we know? Let’s hope so.

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Gasoline prices remain below the cost of water. Think about that.

camelgrafitti

Mohammed and Ahlam have been wonderful hosts to me. I was introduced to them by Max who once couchsurfed with them. Mohammed and Ahlam have something I envy. They left a few days ago to go on holiday in Serbia. So for the last few days I have had their apartment all to myself. Imagine the trust and hospitality! The choice landed on Serbia as it had to be a country where both Mohammed (Egyptian) and Ahlam (Tunisian) could easily visit with their respective passports. They are in for a real treat as Beograd is a wonderful capital which is deeply rooted in history. I watched Mohammed and Ahlam pack and get ready for their trip to Beograd. They shopped for new clothes, they both got haircuts, Mohammed unveiled a special electrical toothbrush which he would bring and so on. The process of getting ready and packing took about a week. The joy and anticipation was remarkable and not unlike children running towards the Christmas tree or a nervous father waiting to see his newborn child. How I envy that feeling of anticipation and joy.

hosts

The most wonderful hosts I could ever imagine to have in Kuwait. Thank you Ahlam and Mohammed!!

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Last night in company with Ossama from Maersk, Kuwait. Thank you for everything.

 

Alright then…off to Iran it is…let’s keep on keeping on.

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - on the move.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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