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
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?
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.
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?
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…
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.
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…
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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! ;)
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.
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?
The famous APEC Haus which people say has hardly been used since the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in 2018.
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.
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…
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 8/2(2+2) = 16 ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
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