Mauritius - not just another volcanic island

Far from home, but somehow not really?

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The Kingdom of Denmark lies towards the north of Europe and far from Mauritius. Mauritius is blessed with tropical climate and is surrounded by kilometres of golden and sandy beaches. There shouldn't be much in common between the two countries. But there might just be anyway...
 
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The day I disembarked the "City of Xiamen" was also the day I met Navin. Navin works for the Mauritian Red Cross and we had been in touch even before I left Madagascar. He's a great guy with more than 25 years of experience within the Red Cross. And Navin immediately became central to my visit to this little island in the Indian Ocean. I say little, but in spite of its moderate size it hosts 1.3 million Mauritians who get along well in spite of being extraordinarily diverse! The bulk is made up of people of Indian decent who came to Mauritius many generations ago. They are generally Hindu or Muslim. The Arabs are also predominantly Muslim. Then there are the Chinese who are mainly Buddhist and likewise have a long lasting heritage on Mauritius. The Christians are predominantly of various African decent and then you also have those of European decent who are mainly Christians. So that's a lot of diversity within culture, appearance, religion, tradition etc. 
 
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If you were to believe that we cannot coexist, then Mauritius should be a war zone, but it's not. It has undergone a rapid development since the 70s and ranks as one of the most developed and peaceful countries I've come upon in a long time. Education and healthcare is provided by government along with a social structure that supports those who slip. Take THAT world!! Chances are that Mauritius is better BECAUSE of its diversity and not in spite of it!
 
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Mauritius is the kind of country where you can get anything!
 
Navin picked me up at the port and told me that he had been looking forward to my visit. Together we would cooperate in promoting the Red Cross and especially try to boost the number of volunteers which had been declining. Navin set me up with wifi and a cup of coffee at a café. Then we proceeded to fit me with a simcard so that we could stay in touch. He left me at Caudan Waterfront which is a top modern shopping mall near a marina in Port Louis. That's the capital by the way...
 
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Turning on your wifi is a good test to tell how modern a country is. This indicates: severely ;)
 
I called Merethe who is a Danish Dane from Denmark who lives in Mauritius with her husband and their 6 year old daughter. I had been put in contact with Merethe through a good friend who has helped me several times before. Both Merethe, my friend Mette and several other ladies share a Facebook group as women expats. Merethe's husband Jeppe has signed a contract to work in Mauritius for a few years and Merethe had agreed to meet with me and host me for a few days.
 
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Pure Viking fuel!! :)
 
An hour later Merethe showed up with her daughter Bianca and Bianca's great grandmother Birte. We immediately proceeded back to their home at the beach to devour some traditional Danish rye bread with Danish toppings. Good stuff!! And quite a coincidence as only the day before I had written an email to someone else describing how I miss 4 things from home: my girlfriend, a run in my neighborhood, the taste of Danish milk and the smell of Danish rye bread. Well, that took care of 25%! :)
 
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So, this is was Navin met me with. It was however only some of my activities and appointments!
 
Before Navin left me he handed me a detailed schedule over my activities from the day I arrived until I would leave. It had been meticulously planned out with appointments and arrangements which involved private companies, Rotary, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, the Red Cross and much more. As it turn out the plan didn't even include everything which had been planned for me! And in addition to the plan I still had all the normal stuff I needed to attend to. Needless to say: I've been quite busy!
 
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My girlfriend makes the front page ;)
 
I spent the first night in Bianca's room while she slept with her parents. The next day Merethe, Bianca and Birte all joined me as I was slowly swallowed into the plan. We started out by meeting Navin at Bagatelle which is also know as "mall of Mauritius". It's a very impressive mall which fits a very impressive capital. Inside I met Emmanuel who is a prominent businessman in Mauritius. He owns 4 stores inside Bagatelle. The first interview followed and then we proceeded to see his stores. Afterwards we enjoyed lunch together at a high end restaurant called Opium. It sits on top of an Audi dealership and you need to walk through the prominent showroom to get to the restaurant. Quite a combination and I think it works well! ;)
 
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At Emmanuel's garment factory (Citadel) www.citadel.mu 
 
We then proceeded to see Emmanuel's factory where he's household brand Citadel is produced. It's predominantly t-shirts, pools and dresses in high quality, which are packed and exported around the world. Emmanuel is in love with Mauritius and is a phenomenal advocate of Mauritius being the best country in the world. He has even produced a short video to prove it: https://youtu.be/9dorlAImguU
 
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The day continued with a press conference and I once again had to ask myself: "How did I become a person who could ever be the center of a press conference?" It wasn't my first and it won't be my last. But I have no trouble remembering, when I was just a young boy climbing trees like everyone else. That night I went out to eat with Merethe and her family.
 
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The next day Merethe and the others followed me again as I was giving a talk at Aberystwyth University. It was my last day together with Merethe and the family as they were all heading on vacation to Madagascar. After we returned from the university we were all packing and getting ready to leave. But then as we were about to part Merethe and Jeppe called me into the bedroom. They wanted to propose something extraordinary!! "Hey Thor, how about we give you the keys to the apartment and then you can look out for it while we're gone?" Can you comprehend the amount of trust that goes with that?!? This family had only just met me! And that's as you know a huge point within the Saga: A stranger is a friend you've never met before! :)
 
They left me with a car as well! So I guess you can say I was well set from thereon and out.
 
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This pretty much blows the top off the cuteness scale!!
 
The day's continues and the Tourist Ministry took over. They have the MTPA (Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority) which keeps itself busy with many things. One of these things involves structuring introduction trips for journalist, celebrities, bloggers and apparently people like me. Jean-noël picked me up the morning after Merethe and the family had left. I was told to be ready at 09:00 and he was there 08:55am! When you get to warm countries and especially islands then time becomes...less important. Islands often have what we refer to as "island time", but that doesn't seem to be as prevalent in Mauritius and certainly not with Jean-noël who is a very kind and very professional employee at MTPA. He has 2 sons and on weekends they head out together hunting for Pikachu with their smartphones. Oh yes, Pokémon Go has reached Mauritius too...
 
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The Aldabra Giant Tortoises easily grow to be a hundred years old. This one is in www.lavanille-reserve.com which is definitely worth a visit.
 
Mauritius doesn't naturally have crocodiles, lions, tigers, rhinos, hippos, camels, giraffes and long list of other animals, I would see over the coming days. And at first I though it was silly to import them. But then I realized that we have done the same in Denmark for our nature parks and zoological gardens. And as that though entered my mind I suddenly started to realize how amazing Mauritius really is! Apart from the spectacular beaches and crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius can also boast some spectacular views of a dramatical volcanic creation. All of that was provided by nature. But in reality Mauritians are very good at ceasing opportunities and making the best out of them. At this point Mauritius can offer you sun, sand and the Indian Ocean on par with other countries. But even moreover they can also offer a modern society and an almost endless amount of activities on par with Iceland! By keeping this up many people around the world may very well be questioning why they should go anywhere else for their holiday?
 
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On my quad just above the many colors at www.lavalleedescouleurs.com 
 
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Ready to "fly" down the worlds 3rd longest zip line and getting "saved" at the end ;)
 
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Feeding a Pygmy Hippo at www.caselapark.com who have specialized in offering personal interaction with animals.
 
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"Swimming with dolphins" - this picture speaks a thousand words.
 
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The massive botanical garden is well worth a visit! Good luck with your guide ;) www.ssrbg.govmu.org 
 
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The worlds best submarine pilot! Rastaman style!! :) www.blue-safari.com 
 
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The Suger World museum includes a rum tasting and is an ABSOLUTE must for anyone who wants to undestand the history of Mauritius. It's brilliantly set inside the old sugar factory: www.aventuredusucre.com 
 
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Mauritians basically all speak at least 3 languages. Creole is their common tongue while French and English are inherited from the colonial days, where English was the later. Historically the Arabs found the island first, but the Dutch were the first to colonize it only many years later. And seemingly only to exterminate the famous Dodo bird which apparently tasted horrible. Anyway the Dutch left and the French arrived followed by the English, which is why everyone in Mauritius is driving on the wrong side of the road ;) That by the way, demanded more of me than I initially thought it would. But thinking back I've only driven a few times during the past 3 years, so adding that half the car is on the wrong side of me created a small challenge for me. However I managed not to kill anyone and that's apparently an important part of maneuvering a motorized vehicle ;)
 
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It's called the RIGHT side of the road for a reason! And no Khadeeja, just because I'm sitting on the right side of the car doesn't make it right ;)
 
Oh yes! Mauritius is modern! Modern, modern, modern! But can the people, the soul and the spirit of the country keep up with the rapid development? Yes actually - I believe they can. But it's not easy for everyone. I'm a visitor and I see a formidable country which boast some spectacular scenery!! But many Mauritians have told me that they have gotten used to the scenery by law Bing in it everyday. That reminds me of Denmark. Throughout 2011 I was working in Bangladesh and didn't see Denmark for a full year. When I came home to Denmark I saw the sun shine through the green leaves above me while the light danced upon a nearby lake. A few tears appeared as I had forgotten how beautiful my own country was. And as the Mauritians, we too grow accustomed to the beauty around us and it fades within our eyes. I wonder which poison we all took? Because I recently visited the Seychelles where so many people were eager to tell me how beautiful their country was.
 
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Regarding the development I can understand a certain detachment from elements of society. Most people shun change and resist it to a certain extent. Some find it hard to keep up as a modern world imposes higher prices and makes life more expensive. Some feel that they are developing slower that society. And some are... But change is the only thing we can be absolutely sure of. And as far as that goes the change Mauritius is seeing is pushing in the right direction. Most Mauritians I've spoken to have said the following of their country: "We are a diverse population that gets along well with each other. We have beautiful beaches and lots of sun. We are friendly and easy to speak to". And in addition to that many are happy to benefit from multiple holidays from multiple religions ;)
 
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Getting a street Roti can make the sun shine ;)
 
I have felt a change within the Saga lately. It is such a pleasure for me to see how many have started embracing this project, which took its beginning nearly 3 years ago. Perhaps it's something which will pass as I leave the Indian Ocean or maybe it's here to stay? But right now I see how people, companies, organizations, media and the Red Cross have embraced the Saga like nowhere before. I can understand why it can be hard for some to understand the Saga as it is a complex, deep and broad project. But in general terms it includes 3 distinct areas:
 
1) Complex logistics
2) Promoting the Red Cross Red Crescent
3) Promoting the good in every country
 
When you look at it like that then it becomes more clear. Overall the Saga is in place to inspire, entertain and educate. And I think we're doing pretty well ;)
 
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Girija invited me for dinner with her family. Great stuff! :)
 
My deepest appreciation to everyone I have met, everyone who has helped, everyone I have spoken to, everyone who has shook my hand and all who have looked me in the eyes. I apologize for not being able to include everyone and everything within this blog. But I'm not writing a book...not today ;)

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - in second gear
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
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City of Xiamen - passenger number 1 / Indian Ocean

What is it like being onboard a containership for 13 days?
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Well, generally you cannot generalize like this, but I'm going to do so anyway or at least say something about being onboard the "City of Xiamen". And to do that I will begin with some information about the ship.
 
The "City of Xiamen" is a Panama class 2600 TEU container. What that sentence tells us is that is a very commonly sized containership and not among the largest in the world. "TEU" is an acronym for: twenty foot equivalent unit. It basically means: 20' container. And as such the "City of Xiamen" can carry 2,600 containers. It sounds like a lot and it is. But the largest ones can carry over 16,000!! They are however too large to pass through the Panama Canal and this one isn't. Hence: Panama class.
 
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Full speed ahead is 37kph (23mph).
 
The "City of Xiamen" is 212m (695ft) long. So that's more than the area of 2 football fields! And remember this ship isn't even that large all things considered.
 
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My bedroom.
 
I'm treated with respect onboard most ships. Basically like an officer and therefore given a proper cabin. Everyone onboard have their own cabins which include showers and toilets. This time I was given the "supercargo's" cabin as we didn't have one onboard. That meant I had a larger bedroom (with 2 beds) and even some living quarters.
 
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My room. 
 
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The "City of Xiamen" is from October 2007 and was built in China for Reederei M. Lauterjung and it's being managed by Sunship. However Maersk is time leasing her so all together this means:
 
- Reederei M. Lauterjung owns it.
- Sunship manages it.
- Maersk operates the cargo.
 
After I get onboard a ship like this, they request to have my passport and vaccination card which are then both stored with the captain until I disembark. While all three of the above mentioned parties can approve my request to travel onboard, the captain can always deny me access. The captain is the master and commander of the ship. He makes the final decision and he is the boss. Think of him as an office manager.
 
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Barbwire makes it even more difficult for pirates to board.
 
The "City of Xiamen" has a crew of 19 members onboard plus armed security guards as our route took us through a "high risk area". The high risk is in regards to pirates off the coast of Somalia. I've decided not to reveal how many guards as this blog is no doubt being followed by a bunch of pirates looking for good intelligence. Or probably not...but anyway...
 
So in this case the crew was:
 
- captain
- chief officer
- 2nd officer
- 3rd officer
- chief engineer
- 2nd engineer
- 3rd engineer
- electrical engineer
- bosun
- 2 x able bodied seamen
- 2 x ordinary seamen 
- engine fitter 
- deck fitter
- oiler 
- cook
- steward
- engineer cadet
 
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Bridge on 12th, Capt and Chief Eng. on 11th, me on 10th, crew on 9th and 8th, food on 7th, office on poop deck, laundry, gym and access to engine room on main deck.
 
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It makes for a lot of up and down the stairs.
 
The captain mostly does administrative work, while the 3 officers steer the ship. The engineers are in the engine room. The bosun delegates work to the deck crew which includes the seamen so he is a bit like a worksite foreman. The steward is a bit like a waiter who serves food, coffee and runs errands.
 
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Officers mess.
 
I always dine in the officers mess and I'm generally welcome to move about freely on the ship. But I'm naturally restricted regarding touching things and pushing buttons. Everyone is busy as the ship is their workplace. Sometimes I get a chance to engage in conversation, but generally the routine for everyone is: Work, eat, sleep. On the bridge I find it easiest to engage in conversation as the officers normally can manage talking, while the ship is moving forward. But I need to tread lightly in case they want to be left alone with their thoughts and the never ending ocean. I can be unwanted and a crew member can have a hard time understanding why I'm onboard since it's not a passenger vessel. Everyone has a job. Everyone has a function. I'm "just" a passenger. It's hardly ever an issue and I'm almost always treated like a welcome guest and treated with outmost respect.
 
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Crews mess.
 
As soon as I get onboard a containership and have been seen to my cabin, I'm usually guided around the ship by an officer and given a safety briefing. This involves learning about the location of the muster point in case of emergency as well as lifeboats, life jackets, fire extinguishers etc. 
 
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We did a fire drill somewhere on the Indian Ocean.
 
You can constantly hear the sound of an engine while onboard. However the engine might be off while at anchor or at port. What you hear is the generator. You can even feel the vibrations and might think it's the engine if you don't know better. So the ship is never quiet. When you feel the engine for the first time you'll never again mistake the generator for the engine, because the engine is a severely powerful entity! It sends a lot stronger vibrations up through the ship. This was my 8th journey onboard a containership and yet I'm not sure about what follows, but I felt like there were more vibrations on this ship than normally, and it really got to me sometimes. But perhaps it was just like going mad from listening to a water tap dripping. Once you  notice you can't stop thinking about it? Who knows? I forgot about it every time I was occupied by something.
 
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Engine room.
 
The ship generates its own water by an evaporation process which desalinates the saltwater. And there is plenty of power and heat onboard the ship to heat the water. So for me, taking a hot shower onboard the ship which lasts 2 hours is pretty much the only place I think I can do it without feeling guilty about destroying Mother Nature. But I get too hot and too tired already after 15 minutes anyway :)
 
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My bathroom.
 
Food is served 3 times a day:
- breakfast at 07:00-07:30am
- lunch at midday
- dinner at 5:00pm
 
On some ships you get snacks and fruit between meals along with juice, milk and soft drinks. On some ships you don't. On this ship there was water included for meals and tea/coffee ad libitum. In any case you were welcome to buy juice, soft drinks, water, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving equipment, phone cards, snacks and other stuff by informing the steward who will fetch it from the store. You pay the captain and while writing this, I just realized that I owe the ship $8.00 for 12 bottles of water, 1 liter mixed juice and toothpaste?! How will I get that to the ship now? Crap! Sorry guys!
 
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Gym.
 
There is usually a gym onboard, but this one was kind of empty. The ship is for sale and it wouldn't make sense to fill it up with treadmills and stuff now. There were a few weights and a table for table tennis. Table tennis?!? Who ever though that was a good idea on a ship? :) Other forms of entertainment include the officers and the crews recreation rooms. Often there is a television, a DVD player and a lot of DVDs. If the crew has a lot of Filipinos onboard then karaoke is GUARANTEED! But this ship was mostly a mix of people from Poland, Ukraine and Sri Lanka. 
 
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Crews recreation room.
 
Something the crew often mentions is that ships used to be more lively "back in the day". They used to get together in their spare time and play cards, watch a movie together and other social activities. Laptops have killed that. These days everyone usually go to their separate cabins and watch something on their laptop. The recreation rooms are commonly empty. Some ships even have wifi and then everyone stares into their phones in their free time. There was no wifi available for the crew onboard the "City of Xiamen". But there is a satellite connection on the bridge for work purposes. Generally I must say that I personally enjoy getting offline and having a forced break from social media. So I'm not particularly bothered. But some crew members can be onboard for 12 months between going home and that is quite different. Many port cities however have a seaman's club which provides shuttle service to and from the ship so that's the place they get connected.
 
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The ships wheel on a modern ship doesn't quite have the charm as the large wooden ones.
 
Unless the ship is docked at port there is always an officer on the bridge. That's 24/7. Pretty boring I imagine, if the ship is at anchor for 3-4 months as the "City of Xiamen" was not long ago. But it doesn't matter. It's safety first and there is enough which needs an alert eye even at anchor...just in case.
 
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As you may recall I pretty much exhausted myself on an improvised extreme hike the day before I left the Seychelles. My fingers and hands were torn and my entire body was aching from doing stuff in the wild, which I was barely fit enough to pull off. So I slept a lot the first 48 hours while onboard. It took 9-10 days for my hands to heal completely. I did some reading, I watched a lot of movies and managed to watch season 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of Boardwalk Empire while onboard. That's 56 episodes of 50 minutes each! I also did ANYTHING I could think of which didn't require being online. It turns out that was actually a lot spanning from cleaning equipment and sewing my pants, to backing up my dying iPhone and writing Red Cross stories. I was pretty productive.
 
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I would frequent the bridge as that's my favorite place onboard. On the bridge you have all information in one place and sometimes a spectacular view. The ocean was less eventful on this voyage though. No whales, no dolphins, no pirates and no storms or cyclones. Just pretty smooth sailing. There is no line on the ocean when you cross the equator. Just water ;) We crossed the equator twice. First going north to Salalah in Oman and then while returning south to Reunion (French territory) and reaching Mauritius.
 
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Salalah, Oman. Couldn't leave the port without a visa.
 
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Reunion (French territory). I left port to have a look around.
 
Food is usually good and plentiful onboard container ships. The food was generally okay, but sometimes a little strange for me? One evening I was served tongue. It really looked like what it was...a big fat tongue on my plate. A had some of it, but then decided I wasn't hungry enough.
 
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Breakfast. 
 
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Lunch.
 
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Dinner.
 
Then one morning I was served white rice with fruit salad on top? They called it sweet rice. First I thought it was a joke, but everyone else has the same. And on my final morning before disembarking I had hotdogs. At 07:00am in the morning? Well, it's an experience...
 
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I would like to thank Capt. Borucki Mariusz Roland and his crew for having me onboard as their passenger. Capt. Roland has an astonishing 51 years at sea! I would also like to extend my great appreciation to Reederei M. Lauterjung, Sunship and Maersk for assisting in an important and difficult leg of this project by getting me to Mauritius. Anyone reading this should know that passengers do not commonly get access to travel on such ships and that this has been a very special occasion.
 
I know I should perhaps encourage people and say "if I can do it then so can you". But frankly the odds are against you. I don't think you can do this. But good luck to you if you try.
 
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On August 21st another containership will arrive to Mauritius and bring me to Durban in South Africa. From there I will backtrack up to Tanzania through Zimbabwe and Zambia to Dar es Salaam and be back on track. The total distance over land will be 4,406km (2,738mi) and I hope to conclude that in less than 10 days. Conquering the Indian Ocean has been an extreme journey which is yet not concluded. But my plan for it has surely been the most economic and time efficient for covering these great lengths.
 
That was a little bit about that :)
 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - moving forward
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
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The Seychelles - 115 islands of love

The Seychelles official theme for 2016 is: I love Seychelles 
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Is it really that wonderful? Well, we'll get to that. But it's certainly much more than palm trees, coconut oil and beautiful beaches. People actually live here! That shouldn't really surprise you. However a country is nothing without people and people have problems.
 
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Why so negative? I'm not trying to go negative here. I'm simply trying to state that I've never been to a country without problems. That's a simple fact to me. Paradise doesn't exist in the real world. Paradise is a memory of brief moments added together. No one, or at least very few, are in love with someone for an entire lifetime like they are in the first few weeks of a relationship. And here's my point: If the Seychelles have any problems then you're highly unlikely to discover them on a 2 week vacation.
 
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The Seychelles is "something else"! The mere fact that the inner islands, of this 115 island rich nation, are granite - baffles me!? How? If you pull out a map then you might discover that we are really, really far into the Indian Ocean. And the inner islands are made of granite? Most islands I've been to have been coralline or volcanic. This is different...
 
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Capt. Zoidze.
 
I reached the Seychelles main island (Mahe) on a ship. It was the good ship "Cape Moss" that got me all the way out here. It was under the command of captain Zoidze and with the kind courtesy of Columbia Shipmanagement (www.columbia-shipmanagement.com), which I still remain grateful to.
 
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A bit of the "Cape Moss" crew.
 
The ships agent in the Seychelles, Alex from Hunt, Deltel & Co.(www.huntdeltel.com), picked me up and welcomed me to the Seychelles. Was there anything special about that? Yes, there was! Normally I meet with immigration and after that I'm on my own. The very polite Alex brought me to his car and suggested that we would go straight to the Red Cross office for a quick greet and meet. The Seychelles is "a small place" and everyone knows everyone. Word gets around quick. On the road to the Red Cross Alex informed that his boss, Christophe, had heard about the Saga and wanted to meet me. So if I was up for it, he could take me there afterwards.
 
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I had a lovely meeting with the Red Cross and we agreed to meet again after the weekend. A short drive later and I was sitting in front of Christophe, who is the Managing Director of Hunt, Deltel & Co. Alex had left to go and handle immigration on my behalf. Christophe and I chatted for a bit in the office before he said: "Let's go and have lunch". So we did. During lunch Christophe explained that he had arranged for a place for me to stay. 10 minutes later Alex was by my side and fitted me with a company simcard with plenty of credit along with my passport which had been stamped by immigration. Then he drove me to "Marie Laure Suites" (www.marielauresuites.com) which became my home in a luxury apartment throughout my entire stay. It even included breakfast and dinner. There I met Jack who took it upon himself to make my stay as pleasurable as possible. This was all on the same Friday as I disembarked the "Cape Moss". What the heck was going on?!?
 
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Top from left: Alex and "the captain" (Christophe's father).
bottom right: Mr. Christophe in person! :)
 
Saturday was kind of quiet. I needn't worry about leaving the Seychelles as that had already been arranged for by Maersk (www.maerskline.com). I would be leaving onboard the "City of Xiamen" (containership) the following week. A bit new to know that ahead of time as that isn't as it normally goes with the Saga. New is good! :)
 
On that Saturday Alex called me to say that Christophe had booked a return ticket for me (business lounge) on the fast ferry to and from Praslin. Praslin is a nearby island and I was told that the fast ferry would get me there in an hour. All I needed to do was sleep well, then Ameen (also Hunt, Deltel & co.) would pick me up the next day (Sunday) and drive me to the ferry. At the port in Praslin the office supervisor of Hunt, Deltel & co. would collect me and bring me to Cote D'Or Footprints Hotel (www.seychellesfootprints.com). Another place in complete luxury!! After a night at "footprints" I would return the way I came with the same amount of service and chauffeuring. If the Saga would have been like this from the beginning then the Saga would have been SOMETHING ELSE! :)
 
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My room view from "footprints".
 
It all went as planed and I stuck my feet in the white sand, at the beach, in front of "footprints" the very next day. It was a pleasure to stand there and glaze across the light blue water...and far into the horizon. The Indian Ocean softly spilled over my white Scandinavian feet...and time stood still...
 
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The beach at "footprints" on Praslin.
 
At "footprints" it was "self catering", which meant I had to pay for my own food. I had arrived to the Seychelles Thursday late in the evening. I left the ship Friday morning. It was now Sunday afternoon and I was about to spend my first money in the Seychelles! Boom! Such a different experience!! Sheltered and protected from my very arrival. Had this happened to me before? Anywhere? Perhaps the time I reached Cat Kay in the Bahamas? Or sort of like when I was greeted by press on arrival to Latvia and then chauffeured around for a while? No...this was different. 
 
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I expected a few things of the Seychelles prior to my arrival: 
 
1) That it would be a tropical paradise.
2) That it would be really expensive.
3) That immigration would be tough on me.
 
Number 1 was true. Number 2 is true as well...but it wasn't for me. Number 3 could have been true...but not in my case. Number 3 is interesting though! The Seychelles is all about knowing someone. Once you know someone you're in a completely different situation. It's like Greenland...or most Caribbean islands...or most small island nations...or small societies anywhere... I grew up in a village with around 1,200 people and went to a school with around 325 students. I know the feeling of "everyone knows everyone". It would be impossible for anyone in the Seychelles to know "everyone". There is at least a population of 90,000 people across the 115 islands. Most of them live on Mahe which is the larger island. But you don't actually need to know everyone. Some people are more relevant to know in a society than others. You might know the butcher, but not his 90 year old grandmother. And in a society like the one on Mahe you definitely know a lot of people...and whoever you don't know is known by someone you do know...you know? ;)
 
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Downtown in Victoria - the capital of the Seychelles.
 
Then you also have the few dominating families that everyone knows. They are the ones that run things. And they exist in the Seychelles too. But no one I met seemed posh. Everyone I've ever met in the Seychelles has been down to earth. It's a beautiful country with beautiful people. And the people have an honest desire to make a stranger feel welcome and at home. Christophe is a true ambassador of that spirit.
 
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Can you spot the T-Rex? ;)
 
While still on Praslin and with my feet out of the water I went to visit Vallée de Mai. Somewhere I read a sentence which went something like this: "Anyone can travel far, but only few can travel back in time". That was a reference to Vallée de Mai. It's untouched primary forest from the time of the dinosaurs. Walking among  the palms in the unique atmosphere of the UNESCO world heritage site could easily provoke notions of time travel. It's home to a parade of endemic flora and fauna, but the most famous one is the Coco de Mer palm. It produces the worlds largest seeds which is no joke! They are huge and heavy and erotically shaped. It has become the trademark for the Seychelles as they are endemic to the Vallée de Mai and hardly grow anywhere else. In fact you'll get this question a lot around here: "Have you been to Vallée de Mai?" If you haven't then I think you might be deported from the country or as a minimum publicly flogged! Of course you won't :) But it's regarded as a "must do"! So is a visit to nearby La Digue. That's another granite island which is host to a life of tranquility among old giant tortoises and remarkably beautiful beaches. So beautiful that people can't stop photographing them! It's a big problem as cameras and smartphones overheat and explode from the thousands of photos!! People are literally unstoppable when it comes to taking photos of the beaches...and chasing Pikachu! Yeah? You though I was disconnected from the world and I don't know about Donald Trump, terror attacks, BREXIT and Pokémon go? Sadly I do. I live more "in the world" than most people and what I lose out on are children's first steps, friends birthdays, relatives funerals, friends weddings, a cold beer with an old friend and holding my girlfriends hand. 
 
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The huge seed is the famous Coco de Mer. In my other hand the produce from the male plant. Use your imagination ;)
 
Did I get off track there for a moment? Hmmm...not really. So the part about phones and cameras exploding was complete fiction. But it might as well be true :) La Digue being another paradise is true as far as I can tell. I know that from doing some research on it. But I won't go there without my girlfriend. And that's the holding hand part. See...it all came around ;)
 
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Not all is expensive. 35 rupees is about $2.80.
 
There were no people on any of the 115 islands in 1509 when Vasco de Gama's ship first discovered the outer islands. Don't tell me you don't know who Vasco de Gama was?!? He was the first man to discover the sea route from Europe to India. He did this by sailing south of Africa on an incredible voyage thus challenging the inland silk route between Europe and Asia. He was Portuguese and a bit of a vicious pirate kind of type as well. But a formidable explorer! That makes the Seychelles the 3rd African country I visit which had no population until the Europeans arrived (the others are Cape Verde and São Tomé & Príncipe).
 
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Jack from my luxury suite at Marie Laure.
 
The entire time while I visited Praslin most of my belongings remained in the luxury apartment on Mahe. No need to check out of luxury in one place before I go to next. That's not my style anymore ;) Here's a real luxury problem: What to do with all this luxury without my girlfriend? The Seychelles is that kind of place to me. It's very beautiful in the kind of way that easily pleases the eye. Some beauty is more easily recognizable than other. Have you ever noticed that something only became beautiful after a few days? Well, the Seychelles is "right in your face beautiful". And there's stuff to do. Besides every beach activity, imaginable you can obviously go diving as well. But there's rock climbing, hiking, shopping, arts, casinos and so much more.
 
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The lovely Anya from "footprints".
 
After getting back to Mahe the Red Cross arranged for me to meet with the Red Cross club at the Anse Royale Secondary School. Some journalist showed up for that. Afterwards we had a press conference at the Red Cross HQ and I had a chance to tell more about the Saga. The following day there was a radio interview with the lovely Dawn at Pure FM. After all of that I got the feeling that everyone knew who I was. The news on tv was repeated in both English and Creole. My Creole only stretches to: Mon Kontan Sesel ;)
 
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I enjoyed the interview by Dawn at Pure FM.
 
If I'm to round up this blog then I would say this is an extraordinary country. Apart from hosting a highly pleasing population I also feel that the Seychelles is not a country that lets any opportunities pass. And I personally figure that's the reason for the very high level of development. It's also an immensely clean country. You'll hardly find an empty can on the side of the road. Now why would the Comoros be unbelievably well adapted to tourism, but at the same time isn't. And Comoros is a friendly but poor country. And meanwhile not far away you find the Seychelles which is shinning bright among the stars. Why the difference? It must be many things but overall I credit mentality. The Seychellois are "go getters". They make the best of a situation and they cooperate. It's valuable and around here it's visible. 
 
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I usually take a photo when I spot a phone booth. In this day and age everyone has a smartphone. But they run out of power I guess?
 
Someone from the Seychelles will read this and say: "That's not true? We fight each other. We let opportunities pass. It's not that clean". Well...sometimes the perspective is clearer when seen from the outside.
 
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Jerry and Corrie invited me to see Eden Island which is a very cool project! Check it out: www.edenisland.sc
 
In the Seychelles they are completing an artificial island on a reef near the capital. It's almost done with all its splendor of residencies, a mall, parks, gardens, beaches, restaurants, marinas and more. In Libreville (Gabon) the sand has been delivered for a waterfront project. But that's where the Gabonese project has ended.
 
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In the Seychelles everyone is talking about solar cells and alternative energy. When you arrive to the port you will see a number of wind turbines which feed the power plant with additional electricity. This was a test. Now everyone seems to be looking towards solar energy. One idea is that every roof on every building should have solar panels which all feed into the grid. And many have it already. Then they have a meter which measures how much they use and how much they produce. What isn't used go into the grid so someone can have it. And vise versa. That kind of development is light years ahead of other countries!
 
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I went on quite an adventurous hike. Would you climb through this if you had no idea if it would fall on you? I did. There are times when you need to take a calculated risk.
 
So I'll end this blog now. There will be no blog next Friday as I'll be at sea. I'm boarding the "City of Xiamen" today. Arrangements have been made with the offers by the curtesy of Maersk (www.maerskline.com)
 
Final words on the Seychelles: I've never been to a country that doesn't have problems. I still haven't. But your highly unlikely to notice any of them by visiting the Seychelles, because it's pretty close to bliss.
 
General Charles George Gordon of Khartoum (1833-1885) was convinced that Vallée de Mai was the Biblical "Garden of Eden". Perhaps he was right...but I never found the apple tree ;)
 
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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Mon Kontan Sesel
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
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Once Upon a Saga
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