“Kota Hening” – passenger no. 1 (my formula for success)

Day 2,290 since October 10th 2013: 194 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).   

 

How on earth did we get this far…on earth?

pano

Do I write these entries for me or for you? The question is certainly valid. In part I write it so that I can remember. My intention have always been to share the Saga with you. I want you to know what I see and notice around the world. I want you to understand my state of mind throughout it. I want you to learn about cultures, people, places, paperwork, transport and borders. Not in a touristy kind of way. I have always wanted you to see it in a genuine way.

Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands is a funny place. I would really not know what to recommend anyone to see or do. It is just not that kind of a place. It is the capital of the Marshall Islands and home to thousands. Laura beach at one end of the atoll is worth a visit and hints what the true paradise of the outer islands could offer those who venture there. I was told that August might be the best time to visit the Marshall Islands. I arrived in December and left in January which was a rather grey, windy and wet experience. And yet I cannot help other than to smile when I think back at Majuro. It was in Majuro I got the US visa in spite of having been to Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, North Korea and other US blacklisted countries. In Majuro I received notice from Pacific International Lines (PIL) in Singapore that they had found a solution in which Hong Kong immigration would allow me to transit between ships. I also think of Majuro as the place where my friend Mike came to visit me so that we could start working on a film for Salomon TV. Mike and I had never met before but having communicated much in the months prior to his visit I already felt like I knew him when his plane touched down in the airport. Mike had rented a nice house with two bedrooms and a view of the lagoon, which I shared with him until I boarded the good ship “Kota Hening” a few days later.

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#TimeToPlay

Did the US visa just fall into my lap? Did Hong Kong immigration just suddenly change their mind? Was Mike scheduled to come to Majuro long in advance? No, no and no. In the last few entries I believe I have already made it abundantly clear that the visa was not easy to get. It came as a surprise for many that Hong Kong immigration would change their mind at all. After supplying immigration with more documentation they have accepted to interview me on arrival in Hong Kong. I believe that will fall out in favour to the Saga. And getting Mike to visit on a short notice was simply a play of opportunity. How is it that the Saga always finds a way to move forward and often gets the best out of a situation? I credit that to a specific formula: be kind, be firm, be persistent, collaboration, think out of the box and look for opportunities. Some solutions rely on all of those values while others are a combination of a few. Hard work and loyalty has for many years been of great importance to me. If you are willing to start a little earlier than everyone else and go home a little later then you are bound to create different results than everyone else. Thinking out of the box is hard for most people in my experience. Most people are happy with a copy/paste model of their life: same supermarket, same bus, same breakfast, same streets, same this and same that. “But this is how it has always been done” is very fine however it doesn’t support innovation and evolution. In my experience anything which doesn’t change stagnates and ends. There are a few exceptions but think about how few things have remained the same and continue successfully in our world today? If you always return home through your front door but one day find it locked, however next to an open window, then it isn’t much of an accomplishment to think outside the box and enter through the window. And yet I would say that it is a good start. We all knew how to think out of the box when we were children. If dad says no then ask mom. Yet as we grow up I find that far too many people continue to see the world with open eyes. There are very few things in life which cannon be accomplished. Why should it not be you who accomplish them?

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People are just people. And kids are just kids! :) I had a chance to share the Saga with the students at Majuro Seveth-Day Adventist School. Great! :)

 

Day ONE onboard – January 12th 2020

Mike and I had finished with the interviews. We now had five hours of interview footage recorded! We were not at all aiming at making a five hour film so how much can we expect will be used in the edited version? Five minutes? Twenty minutes? That is the way it works. A key sentence here and another one there mixed with other video footage and music. The result will be very interesting to see however we need to wait patiently for it. The film will not be completed until the Saga finishes. Mike is truly an amazing man. He is friendly, generous, committed and highly accomplished. He was once a pro skier and was quickly nicknamed “the godfather of free skiing”. He invented the twin tip ski, had an impressive career, is now a father, a husband, a multiple award winning producer and climate activist. While all of this and much more can be found on various websites, blogs, magazines, interviews and articles then he likely wouldn’t be excited about having it mentioned here. Not because it isn’t true but because he is humble. In fact he spent very little time talking about himself and a lot of time praising me for my persistence and accomplishments with the Saga thus far. He went on about how utterly complicated and impossible the mission I had set myself was and how unlikely it would be to see it repeated by anyone else - EVER. Mike was certainly good for my ego :) Yet I am Danish and while I do not mind recognition and even at times long for it…then I must say that actually getting it feels a little wrong. Because I know I didn’t do this on my own. I had help. Lots and lots of help. All the people I have met, all the project partners, institutions, organisations, companies and friends. A great many hands have carried the Saga forward to where it is today.

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Children playing at Laura Beach, Majuro Atoll.

In the early afternoon Mike and I had lunch at the Flame Tree which had become a regular thing. We even had our own booth. Mike had a plate of Sashimi which in Majuro is fresh, high quality and served in big portions. I had a hamburger. It may be an invisible part of the Saga but saying farewell to all of these wonderful people I have met around the world is…well…it is not my favourite part of anything. The agent arrived with a big smile and a handshake. I met Tijo and Jeffrey on my first day and would now see them again on my last. Good men who took good care of me and made sure that everything went smooth when leaving or joining the ships. Mike joined me and came on board for a quick tour on board. Several of the seamen greeted me welcome on board. The officers were highly accommodating. I was given the pilots cabin as I also had on the previous vessel (Kota Hakim). It felt strangely familiar. The two ships “Kota Hening” and “Kota Hakim” are sister ships and nearly identical by design. So there I was: on a similar ship, in a similar cabin, among different people however with the same ranks and functions as the previous one. Odd to come on board a new ship and just know where everything is and how everything works.

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Mike heading down the gangway.

I said farewell to Mike who had another night in Majuro before his flight would take him home to Canada. He walked down the gangway and I rushed up to my cabin and scheduled social media for the next few days while I would be offline. I replied to the most important emails and made sure that all was set for Hong Kong. Several speaking engagements, a few meetings and certainly my best chance in the region for getting a new phone and an external HHD. If my phone was a person then it would be in a wheelchair coughing and I fear that one day it may not switch on at all. When the ship left Majuro I texted Mike who was ready with his drone camera. I looked back on that narrow strip of land which had been my home for two weeks. Contrary to when we arrived I could now recognize every building. Lots of memories. A special New Year’s evening. Country number 193.

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Drone footage from Mike Douglas. He followed us for about 2km (1.3mi)

 

Day TWO onboard – January 13th 2020

Nothing but sea all around us. The sky was light blue and the ocean dark. Few clouds. Very little rolling. We had rolled the clock back one hour since leaving Majuro atoll. Time wise I had become closer to home. As this was my 26th containership it was truly business as usual. Breakfast between 07:30am and 08:30am. The curious eyes of crew members surprised to see me on board. Organizing my emails, my luggage, my data, myself…researching and preparing for our next country: Micronesia. Calling Micronesia as such is really confusing to others who simply refer to it as FSM (Federated States of Micronesia). The reason for the confusion is that the Pacific Ocean has been divided into three areas which are named: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The country Micronesia is located in the region of the same name. Much like South Africa is found within south Africa (the southern part of Africa). To keep it simple we will simply call Micronesia FSM. We were scheduled to call two ports (two islands) in FSM: Kosrae and Pohnpei. Gold! Because even if cargo operations would last less than 24 hours then we could never be in FSM for less than 24 hours as long as we called both ports. And as such I would be sure to continue with the ship and not be forced to choose to leave it like I was for the Marshall Islands due to the 24 hour rule. We were set to reach Kosrae already the following day at 05:00am…country number 194. That night I stood on the bridge and watched a beautiful sunset. As it got darker the sky was left with a single bright star directly ahead of us. Except it wasn’t a star. It was Venus. The first “stars” to appear on the night sky are often planets. The Captain told me it was Venus. Then he had the Cadet check to see if he was right. The Captain was right.

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Day THREE onboard – January 14th 2020

We had reached Kosrae early in the morning and came along side around 08:00am. I was keen to leave the ship but didn’t get to do that until after lunch. There was no immigration and I was simply free to walk into the country. Kosrae is called “the jewel of Micronesia” and the “island of the sleeping lady”. It is an island of rugged green peaks, pristine coral reefs and mysterious, ancient jungle ruins. You don’t come across a lot of ruins in the Pacific. Civilizations mostly built in wood and palm leafs which parish over time. However FSM is different like that. At the gate I asked around for wifi and was pointed towards a warehouse where a group of friendly men gave me the password and curiously asked me a few questions about who I was. After sending and receiving emails and letting my fiancée know that all was well I arranged for one of the men to take me around the small island. He asked for $20 USD to take me anywhere I wanted to go. Mixen was his name and he worked at the warehouse as a low grade electrician. His car was minutes from falling apart. The windscreen was cracked, there was a hole in the bottom of the floor and the radiator, which was ready to fall out, had to be topped up with water every twenty minutes. The radio worked quite well though. Mixen was 49 years old, unmarried and had no children. He was chewing betelnut and would spit the “sauce” out the open window now and again. Most of it. Some would land on the inside of the door and some ended up on his arm. He didn’t care. He was a good guy though and happy to answer all my questions.

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Hitting the road with Mixen, Kosrae, FSM.

Kosrae is the most isolated and untouched of all the islands in FSM. The country consists of four main islands (Pohnpei, Kosrae, Yap, Chuuk) and is made up by 607 islands in total spread out over a distance of almost 2,700 km (1,678 mi). That is a lot of water and not a lot of land. From what I could tell Kosrae was a very lush and beautiful tropical island. Mixen told me that they are not hit by typhoons or tsunamis. Malaria is not an issue, they don’t have dangerous snakes or spiders…it was just paradise. Boring according to Mixen. Within a few hours we managed to see “the sleeping lady” mountain ridge, Leluh megalithic archaeological site, buy a local simcard, buy some toothpaste, see Kosrae State Government, check out some WWII remnants and pay a visit to the Bird Cave. Mixen kept pushing for a six pack but I wasn’t in the mood. He also offered to head back to his place where he could offer me a coconut, we could have some beer and I could spend the night. Kind fellow but I was more interested in returning to the ship. On the way back Mixen wanted an ice cream, a soft drink and some cigarettes which he hinted I should pay for. I could have refused but the total came out to $7 USD, he clearly wasn’t rich and he had been kind enough to take me around and answer my questions.

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Ruins at Leluh, Kosrae, FSM.

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A Japanese tank from WWII being eaten away by the elements, Kosrae, FSM.

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The bird cave on Kosrae which surprisingly had: birds :)

That night I sat on the pier next to our ship and managed social media, emails and my personal life. I look back at my life before 2013 where social media was a fun tool and primarily pleasure. Now it is 2020 and I’m dealing with 50,000 inquisitive, excited and helpful followers which is often a good experience however also a lot of work. No wonder many people get someone to manage it for them. Being away from friends and family is also a heavy burden. A friend of my proposed to his girlfriend and wanted to invite me for his wedding. But I will not be home in time for it. Another friend will graduate as an engineer next week. My fiancée is nearly done with her PhD and I won’t be there. My father just had minor surgery. I chose this life and it comes with a price. The men on board the ship understand it better than anyway. On this night I saw a seaman screaming into a tablet. Emotions were at their highest!! It went on for a while. Sometimes I could hear a woman’s voice. Sometimes I could hear her crying. Thirty minutes later they were calmly talking to each other again. I left the mosquitos and went to bed.

 

Day FOUR onboard – January 15th 2020

I woke up with the alarm, did my push-ups, washed my face and headed down for breakfast. The Chief Cook and the Steward were both Indonesian which is always a pleasure. The Steward was singing “I’m not an actor I’m not a star” by Michael Learns to Rock. The ship left Kosrae shortly after 08:00am and it was another full day of sea and sky on our way to Pohnpei where the countries capitol Palikir is located.

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Eating crab or fish at sea must be like eating chicken when you fly? ;)

The FSM was formerly a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (see last weeks entry). Like the Marshall Islands FSM formed their own constitutional government in 1979 and became a member of the United Nations in 1991. They also enjoy having access to the USA as an extension of their own country. This allows for immigration and employment for Micronesians in the USA without any visa requirements. The ancestors of the Micronesians settled over four thousand years ago and life went on with wars, worship, fishing and the rise and decent of various kingdoms until the Spanish arrived to plant their flag in the ground. Historically you can always count on the Europeans to show up sooner or later. After a while the Germans took over, then the Japanese and finally the USA whom governed them up to independence. The Saudeleur dynasty really makes FSM stand out compared to the other Pacific Island nations I have seen. The dynasty united Pohnpei's estimated 25,000 people from about CE 500 until 1500 and constructed the megalithic structures which today remains a great mystery as very little can be verified about the construction. Archaeological sites can be found on both Pohnpei and Kosrae. Pohnpeian tradition claims that the builders of the Leluh archaeological site on Kosrae migrated to Pohnpei, where they used their skills and experience to build the even more impressive Nan Madol complex. However radiocarbon dating indicates that Nan Madol predates Leluh. No matter which one came first Leluh is by far the most impressive archaeological site I have seen for a while.

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Leluh, Kosrae, FSM.

The four main islands have their separate distinct culture with distinct languages and traditions. However by the end of the day they all speak English, they are all island people and they all live slow, easy-going tropical lifestyles. I had been met with nothing but kindness during my first encounter on Kosrae and I fully expected that to continue on Pohnpei.

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Far from all sunsets look like this at sea...but some do :)

 

Day FIVE onboard – January 16th 2020

We reached Pohnpei early in the morning and I was able to leave the ship after breakfast. Island time is island time so it took immigration a little longer than what I would deem necessary to process me. They were kind though. My passport expires on December 4th 2020 but they read that as April 12th (04/12) so at first I couldn’t leave the ship due to the lack of a four month validity. However we solved that ;)

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Beautiful Pohnpei, FSM.

I quickly fell in love with FSM!! It is unfair to other countries that Pohnpei gets to be that beautiful!! It took no time at all to realize that the people were friendly, food was plentiful, it’s a safe place, internal and external threats are practically non-existent and I was told that the sharks are friendly too. I had my sights set on Nan Madol however it was at least one hour away from Kolonia where the ship was at port. A taxi driver brought me to the local library for some wifi and afterwards I headed straight to the Micronesia Red Cross Society (MRCS) to pay my respects. Just as I reached the front door a vehicle marked MRCS rolled up beside me and Marson Rosario and Morgan David jumped out. They came from the port where they hoped to great me. The three of us headed inside the office where I was offered coffee and sweets while we talked about their humanitarian efforts and the Saga. This became my 189th visit to the RC across 194 countries. Most people don’t even know how to respond to that. I wouldn’t either. More people joined in around the table including Diaz Joseph who had recently returned from Geneva. Everyone was super kind and accommodating. Because Nan Madol is such a national treasure Diaz offered that MRCS could take me there. Morgan’s uncle just happened to be one of five kings on the island and the one in connection to Nan Madol. MRCS got their legs in 1998 and have been serving their widespread island nation ever since. It is no small task and a very diverse one. Different islands are vulnerable in different ways. Something which they are currently deeply involved with is optimizing evacuation centres. Selected schools and other robust buildings have been outfitted to function as evacuation centres in the event of a typhoon. However not all of the buildings have toilets or showers which would have people running to and from the buildings during an emergency. This is something the MRCS is now trying to remedy. As always the movement is involved where people are vulnerable and that is also the base of the work for the MRCS across FSM. Drought, flooding, landslide and mosquito borne diseases are just some of the activities which keeps them busy. Diabetes is far from uncommon which cuts into the portion of the country that can donate blood. So promoting blood donation is also a vital part of the activities. All in all a bunch of friendly hard working volunteers and staff with their hearts in the right place.

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Friendly, kind, good hearted and amazing! It's the Micronesian Red Cross Society :)

Morgan and I got into the MRCS vehicle and rolled out of Kolonia. The island just continued being beautiful no matter where we went. Their highest peak sits at 782 m (2,566 ft) so quite the adjustment from the pancake flat landscape of the Marshall Islands. Everything was green apart from the ocean which was blue. The island was screaming “ADVENTURE” at me!! Man I would love to have time and freedom to scale every one of their majestic green peaks. Someday…

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Student under a tree at the National Campus.

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Pohnpei, FSM.

Morgan gave me a tour of the island. All of it!! Small place. We drove though Palikir which is the country’s capital and home to all the government buildings. Also home to the National Campus which looked pretty cool. Buildings looked modern and well maintained. The roads were fair. Children seemed happy. Quite a place. Soon enough we reached Nan Madol and went hiking. Morgan led the way as if it was his own backyard. We picked up a few mangos from the ground and ate them as we made our way through the most impressive archaeological site I have seen for a very long time. How the heck did they build this stuff? It certainly dates back 1,000 years and probably a lot more. It is like looking at the Pyramids in Giza and trying to understand how anyone could have moved those large stone boulders. Furthermore the stone came from the other side of the island. Brought through the many waterways? Or did the stones fly there? Magic? Sorcery? Witchcraft? Magic remains a part of the Micronesian culture and there is no confirmed consensus on how else it was constructed. So sure…why not…magic.

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Nothing else in the Pacific can match this!!! Why Micronesia and nowhere else?

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It is believed the buildings served as a place of worship and burial.

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As always I'd like to thank our financial partner and geothermal hero: Ross DK :)

Evidence around the globe would suggest that people certainly used to be stronger than what we are today. There are massive rocks in Iceland which were carried by men but require machinery today. Medieval swords would have demanded a strong arm too. I figure people used to be stronger but by no means strong enough to build Nan Madol with their bare hands. Magic is as good an answer as any. I was certainly impressed and the megalithic structures continued far beyond my line of sight.

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Impressive island...

That evening I ended up at Seven Stars Inn in Kolonia which had an okay internet connection. I knew that I would soon be offline for another ten days so I had plenty of preparation to do. Running the Saga is probably a lot more administrative and a lot more “looking into a screen” than most people realize. Oh well…

 

Day SIX onboard – January 16th 2020

It was a short however fruitful visit to FSM. As a tourist I could have stayed for months diving into the intricacies of local life, hospitality and tropical beaches. As a man longing to go home I am happy with the logistics and thrilled that the Saga continues to move forward. Ideally I would board a ship from FSM to our next country Palau. However I do not have access to such a ship. Instead we are now heading from FSM to Nansha (China), to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong I will board another ship which will take us to Guam (US Territory) and from there to Palau. We are talking about a more than 10,000 km (6,250 mi) detour but that is nothing. Just wait until you see how we are getting from Palau to the next country which is Vanuatu. That is logistics without flying for you. I must however confess that I am super curious in regards to having the chance to see Nansha!! I can only imagine how enormous and efficient a Chinese port must be. And for someone like myself, who has a twelve year shipping career behind me, it will be really interesting. Also now that Hong Kong has become a part of the programme I am quite pleased with it. I once visited Hong Kong as a tourist back in 2011 and it is an amazing place. This time I have several meeting and objectives for the visit. All in good time.

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See you in Hong Kong...

To the amazing crew on board the good ship “Kota Hening” I have nothing but respect. They lead a hard life in many aspects. Some chose it for themselves and others came from families which offered very little choice. They keep their spirits high and take one day at a time. Which other way is there? I am on board do to the good grace of Pacific International Lines (PIL). A top ten shipping company in the world and a solid friend of the Saga. You’ll hear more next time as we are looking at another ten days on board.

Fair winds and following seas.

 

 

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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - incredibly thankful for your support! 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Ten countries from becoming the first in history to reach them all without flying (Marshall Islands)

Day 2,283 since October 10th 2013: 193 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).   

My mood has improved - it had to ;)

pano

The past two entries may have been a little dark. Some of you appreciate it and want to see the real side of things. Some of you don’t want that at all. Some of you want short blogs. Some of you want longer ones!! The Saga’s online community keeps growing and I will never be able to make everyone happy. And I don’t need to.

In last week’s entry I explained how the gentle nature of the Marshallese saved my heart. My heart needed some saving. I am feeling much better. I’m perhaps down to being 10% angry at this point which leaves a lot of room for more positive emotions. Anger can be turned into something useful. I can be quite productive when angry. Remember the time we had to do a 12,000 km (7,500 mi) detour from Mongolia to Pakistan? I was upset for the first 4-5 days of that before I calmed down. Anger however rarely fuels this project. Sometimes I am motivated by all of you. You have been so generous in so many ways. While I am by no means swimming in money I can honestly say that the many donations and contributions have made the Saga a lot easier. Thank you! And furthermore I (finally) managed to get the US visa this week!! What a bureaucratic battle when you’ve been to Yemen, North Korea, Afghanistan etc. However the US embassy made it easy for me and were super kind and supportive. I poke a lot of fun about the USA. It is only jokes and I think most people understand that. It is the nature of the game: protect the weak and poke fun of the strong. Me oh my I have applied for many visas over the years!! I sometimes choose not to inform that I am visiting every country without flying and have an online presence along with interviews in more than a hundred countries. I figure that kind of information can complicate matters. So often I simply apply for a tourist visa and pretend that I am a tourist. There is no “historical journey” checkbox to be filled in anyway ;) In some cases I also avoid to mention which countries I have been to as visiting some countries can be the reason why a visa is denied in another. However there are two countries where I have given full disclosure: USA and Israel. There are two reasons for that: 1) I believe those countries have the ability to tell me more about myself than I know!!! In other words I don’t believe I can hide anything from them. 2) I trust those countries to be fair and understand what I am trying to do, even though my travel profile looks highly suspicious, as long as I am honest. As such I offered the USA full disclosure and they gave me a B1/B2 multiple entry visa valid for ten years. As of this moment I am however being told by another source that immigration might want me to have a C1/D visa so here we go again :)

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Thank you 'Murica ;)

I am in awe over the past in this country. The Marshall Islands has stories, upon stories, upon stories… These people used to be kings of the sea!! Not unlike many of the other Pacific island nations but today the focus is on Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands comprise of 33 atolls spread out over a relatively large area. If you are in a low lying boat like a canoe then it is hard to see land from a distance as the islands are rather flat. By the way…what the heck is an atoll? An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. So now you know that. Furthermore an atoll is created as a ring of coral surrounds an undersea volcano that has risen above the water's surface. Long after the volcano has receded into the ocean, the atoll remains. Fascinating stuff as the depths of the ocean surrounding these atolls are once again impossibly deep!

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They did this stuff 2,000 years ahead of the Viking Age!

At least 2,000 years BCE these brave seamen were building quite large canoes, fitted them with sails and stabilized them with a parallel hull much like how a catamaran appears. And then they crossed unbelievable distances across the ocean navigating by wave and current patterns, the position of the sun and the stars at night. In the Marshall Islands they developed a stick chart navigational system called “Meto”. So as we today use maps/charts they used these intricate webs of sticks and shells which they used for teaching the islands locations, the currents and presumably many other things. Meto was however never brought to sea. It was all memorized!! Do you remember the age before the mobile phone when you could remember ten telephone number or a lot more? Well our brains are certainly capable although I fear we might be heading in the wrong direction. Back in “the good old days” the Marshallese were not even called Marshallese. Because Captain John Marshall didn’t show up until 1788. Family, fishing, religion and warfare would have been key elements of life. Food came from the ocean and water came from the rain or from coconuts. There are no fresh water sources in the Marshall Islands which is fine as long as the population is small. However it is much more of a problem today. They were smart back then. They knew exactly how much wood was needed for a canoe and made sure to plant and maintain the vegetation so there was a harmony with nature. Theories on the doom of the advanced civilizations of Easter Island (Chile) state that those people destroyed themselves when they cut the last tree.

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Astonishing details!

Throughout Micronesia, and presumably much more of the Pacific, the Marshallese are known for their high quality handicrafts, quality of workmanship and originality for their use of local products (woven baskets, fans, hats, wall hangings, purses, mats, coasters etc.) And tattoos used to be a massive part of culture until the Europeans arrived and condemned it as pagan. Back before that everyone used to be tattooed which would be an easy way to tell where people were from, their status in society, which family they belonged too and likely much more. Tattoos have definitely come back to the Marshallese now in the modern age but it is rarely the traditional tattoos but the more fashionable ones which people wear.

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Tattoo display.

Outside influence has had a devastating effect on these 33 atolls. It is likely a fallacy to believe that all was good and life was pure heaven until the Europeans arrived. However the effects of European influence are clear today. As per everything I wrote here above, I visited the museum in Majuro and enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading the information provided. There was little which I did not already know having done research before arriving to the Marshall Islands. However I was surprised to see how much of the museum was dedicated to the US nuclear testing over the decades. The involuntary movement of entire populations from one island to another along with the destruction and contamination has obviously placed its mark on the country. However I hear that what really concerns most Marshallese is global warming and the water levels rising. Due to the US/Marshallese past there are arrangements were any Marshallese can freely move to the USA and use the USA as an extension of their own country. However living costs in the USA are higher and many cannot afford to take the opportunity. Another element is naturally that the USA is not home…Marshall Islands is home. The concept of a home is truly a fascinating thing. “Wherever I hang my hat, that’s my home”? I did a DNA test a few years ago and discovered that a percentile of me stems from the Balkan region. I immediately felt more connected to the Balkans having that knowledge no matter how silly that might be.

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This poster was created by Roger Muller, MIRCS.

Most refugees around this globe do not want to stay away from their homeland permanently. It is not a question of better opportunities. They want to return home when they can. Switzerland may be a better country than Denmark in many ways but I don’t want to give up Denmark to go and live in Switzerland permanently. You may look at a country and say “what a dump!” Someone else looks at it and calls it home. They grew up there, feel safe there, have memories there, know the language, know the insects, know the temperatures, the smells, the people and more. They would never give it up! If you don’t like the place and think your own place is better, then that is perfectly fine. But to someone else that place you think is “a dump” is the best place in the world. I’ve experienced an extreme case of this in Kenya once. Kenya is a very fine country with a lot of culture, nature and different social classes. There is a large slum area in the heart of Nairobi (the capital city) and in 2016 I met a motorcycle taxi (boda-boda) driver who invited me to come and visit his home. The slum is called Kibera (Kibra) and I rode there on the back of his motorcycle. Slum is slum…it is not appealing to me. Very crowded, poor, filthy…we stepped into his home which was simple. People were nice and the hospitality was top notch. We talked about many things. At one point we talked about what he earned every day and I quickly worked out that he could easily afford living outside of Kibera – but he did not want to. He knew the neighbours, he felt safe…Kibera was home. Majuro is the capital of Marshall Islands. It is not the kind of capital that boasts impressive architecture, sublime infrastructure and grand parks with fountains. It is more like a village with some fine shops, some closed down facilities, some nice houses, some rusty containers, some walls that scream for paint and some full to the brim garbage cans. It is not Paris. However most of these people would never trade Majuro for Paris. Paris is not home…Majuro is.

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Tropical rain can come down really hard and flood everything in minutes.

In doing some research I noticed that both Marshall Islands and our next country, The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), share some dates: forming their own constitutional government in 1979 and becoming members of the United Nations in 1991. So I looked into that. The pacific was a battlefield in WWII and islands were primarily occupied by either the Japanese or the USA. After the war the USA had control over much of it. Prior to WWII the islands had all been colonies. The modern concept of a country among these small pacific island nations did not exists prior to 1970 when Fiji as the first gained UN membership. In 1947, after WWII had ended, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands was created. It was a United Nations trust territory in Micronesia (region in Northern Pacific) administered by the USA from 1947 to 1994. On December 22nd 1990 the United Nations Security Council resolution 683 was adopted which ended the Trusteeship of the USA. It had been decided that the objectives of the Trusteeship Agreement had been completed and therefore they ended it. Interestingly enough this was agreed by an almost unanimous vote with only Cuba voting against stating that the Council had not properly discharged its responsibilities. Marshall Islands and FSM became UN members in 1991, Palau in 1994 and the Northern Mariana Islands became a US territory which they still remain today (hence all my recent visa madness).

7

I decided to walk to the end of the atoll and back (12km/7.5mi). Had I walked to the other end it would have been 40km/25mi (one way).

One day has taken the next here in Majuro. I have been able to fill most of the days with work. A lot of emails have been going back and forth in regards to whether I will be permitted to transfer between two ships in Hong Kong or not. Hong Kong is generally very open to visitors being a huge business hub and tourist destination. However for some reason the initial information is that I am welcome to fly there but I can forget about arriving on a container ship. There is some nuance to it but that is the headline. The ship which is supposed to bring the Saga to Hong Kong is the good ship “Kota Hening” in Pacific International Lines fleet. I was scheduled to speak at two Maersk Offices in Hong Kong plus I am getting fairly desperate in terms of procuring a new phone and Hong Kong would have been the best place. I recently ran a pole on Twitter which ended with 5% believing that reaching every country in the world by flying or without is about the same. 2% said that without flying is somewhat harder, 35% answered that it’s a lot harder and the majority (58%) voted that it is mission impossible :) So I guess that at least among those who follow the Saga it is recognized that this is no picnic. And yet I frequently run into those who believe that I’m on some kind of holiday. It is perplexing to me how I can be so good at communicating certain things and absolutely hopeless at communicating other things? I really struggle to reach the masses in regards to conveying the complex nature of this project.

8

I am in such a strange place within my life. Ten countries from becoming the first person to reach them all without flying. By far the person within the Red Cross Red Crescent to have paid a visit and made a promotion of the movement in the highest amount of countries. A huge inspiration and source of motivation to some and a bearded bum to others. A funny story is what happened last Monday. Some kid on Instagram reached out asking if I would help him take a representational photo in Majuro as he wanted to surprise his girlfriend for their 3rd anniversary. He sent me an example of a picture with a congratulatory note being held out in front of a beautiful church in Bulgaria. I’m pretty busy but told him I would see what I could do. Majuro isn’t a capital full of iconic buildings. He was riding me for a bit in regards to when I would get it done. Last Monday I got caught in the rain and had to wait for it to pass. Meanwhile I had some rice and chicken and afterwards wrote congratulations blah, blah, blah on a note, held it out in front of my phone and took a picture with it and some men sitting in the background. Granted…not the best picture but it had a nice greeting and featured a few Marshallese men hanging out. It turned out the fellow from Instagram wasn’t satisfied. He got pretty snobby about it at which point I just stopped writing him back. Because come on…if he is trying to collect pictures from around the world then good on him. But I can’t spend my time realizing his dream and I don’t have any relationship to him. That same day I sent a signed photo of me to a generous man in Hawaii who requested it from me. He paid me $100 USD for that!! Yup…a kind man paid $100 USD for a signed photo…of me? Who would have thought? Anyway…same day: demanding kid and huge appreciation. Welcome to my life.

9

Not just a silver lining...I got a golden one!

In the good year 2020 I am on Wikipedia!! That feels rather big!! Someone created the page and did a really good job out of it!! Let’s say if Wikipedia lets it stay online or if the take it down. They have gotten quite strict with content in recent years. I know for a fact that other people have tried to create a Wikipedia before and have not succeeded. Looking at the page I thought that perhaps I should tell you all why I call myself Thor when my name is in fact Torbjørn. Torbjørn is a very old and very rare name. At least in Denmark it is only held by about 200 people. It dates back at least 1,000 years and translates to “Thor bear” or “Thor’s bear”. Thor is spelled Tor where I come from. And Thor used to be the second mightiest of the Norse Gods. He was the protector and the strongest of all the gods. Thor was also in charge of the weather and in particular well known for thunder and lightning. In Germanic languages Thor has given name to Thursday (Thorsday). His hammer became a symbol of the old religion when the official conversion to Christianity occurred during the reign of King Harald Bluetooth back in the tenth century. On a side note he has given name to the contemporary use of the word Bluetooth. The Bluetooth symbol you know from your phone is in fact his initials written in runes.

10 

Fiji Red Cross Society should be pretty happy with the photo ;)

What else, what else. The people around here continue to be a delight. It is not hard to make people laugh which is always nice. People are always willing to go really far to make sure you get what you need. Some dress kind of “gangsta” but they are all sweat as sugar and I find the concept of a “Marshallese gangster” to be an excellent description of an oxymoron. In fact I feel perfectly safe wherever I go in Majuro…except for a few dogs that have gotten the jump on me! Man!! Just when I lower my guards and sink deep into my own thoughts there’s a noisy BARK BARK BARK!!! They scare easily but I get startled when it happens. It has also taught me something about myself about who I am today. I am ready to fight! The flight or fight response was first described by Walter Cannon in the 1920s as a theory that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system. When I get startled by those dogs I quickly turn and am SO READY to fight. Strange thing to observe about one self. It also translates to my mental state for this project. I am quite tired of trying to visit every country without flying. Tired of the tiny budget. Tired of living out of a bag. Tired of constantly being on the move. Tired. It began on October 10th 2013 and has never stopped. Think back at what you were doing in 2013 and what your life was like. So much has happened since then. Sometimes it is okay to give up. Sometimes the best thing is in fact to give in and give up. Giving up is not always a sign of weakness. Sometimes it is truly the sensible thing to do. So if I gave up I would be sending that message. On the other hand if we did get the Saga to the very last country in an unbroken journey all without flying – then we would be saying something else! We would be saying that goals are achievable even when they are impossibly difficult as long as you NEVER give in and NEVER give up. As long as you FIGHT and knock on every available door. One door will open and if you do it enough then it will someday be the last door. Yeah: fight or flight? FIGHT!!! I know you are with me! THIS CAN BE DONE.

11

Children plaing by the shore shortly before sunset.

Righto…well here we still are. In the capital of Marshall Islands. I’ve poured out my heart to you people over the years, shared my photos, created a few videos, spoken for live audiences all over the world…and I am slowly falling apart and at times being put back together again. I too am just human. A person. We are people. And people are just people. In the Marshall Islands too consists of people being people. They no longer teach their young ones the ocean and island from a “stick chart”. They look deep into their smartphones. Because the “good old days” are gone and the future is here. Even in the tiniest Pacific Island nations. This one isn’t all that tiny but it is all relative. I met some wonderful people at the Marshallese Red Cross Society (MIRCS). They are “the new kid on the block”. In December 2019 MIRCS was admitted as the 191st National Society of the movement. At the same occasion our friends at the Bhutanese Red Cross Society became number 192. Roger Muller is the Communications Officer at MIRCS and said something beautiful to me. He said that it was a special thing to have a friend from Denmark come and visit MIRCS under such unique circumstances. Because the Saga began in October 2013 while MIRCS was founded in November 2013. And I arrived to the Marshall Islands in December 2019 while MIRCS became the 192nd member in December 2019. I like stuff like that. The Seychelles became country number 116 and consists of 116 islands. Qatar Red Crescent Society was founded in 1978 and I was born in 1978. And England was country number 007 within the Saga ;)

12

I just happened to hop into the one taxi which used to belong to MIRCS.

The Marshall Islands Red Cross Society began as a small but dedicated group of volunteers who wanted to help drought-stricken communities in 2013. It has now grown into an organization that focuses on health, disaster management, climate change adaptation and volunteer mobilization, and building up an ever growing number of volunteers. Volunteers are the backbone of the movement and I have been fortunate to meet some dedicated ones both at the HQ and at their relief station during New Year’s Eve. There has been a dengue outbreak in the Pacific and it is still going now in 2020. Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection causing a severe flu-like illness and sometimes causing a potentially lethal complication called severe dengue. Most people with dengue fever can get better just by drinking enough. However a small number of people get dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome. It can be truly horrific! MIRCS took up the fight and have distributed hundreds of mosquito nets and disseminating information in a success which stopped the spread of dengue fever on Ebeye Island! If you ever wonder why stories like these do not spread then you are not alone. That is a fantastic example for why the movement is important, needs more funding, more attention and more volunteers. And a sublime example on how MIRCS has already been of great service to the Marshallese ;)

13

A picture speaks a thousand words :)

The more I speak to people the more I realize that it is a mistake to come to the Marshall Islands and not to visit the outer islands of this little country. That is clearly where the beauty lies. I have personally seen plenty of beautiful beaches, coconut trees, crystal clear water and azure blue lagoons. However it is what draws in the increasing amount of tourist that come to the Marshall Islands every year. The US embassy, The Marshallese Red Cross, and my special friend who flew in and arrived on January 9th have been what kept me in Majuro. And of course that I am unable to fly within this project. You can venture far within Marshall Islands without flying. There are boats and ferries. However it is time consuming and I have not had that luxury.

14

My friend Mike Douglas from Switchback Entertainment has arrived! :)

Okay people. It has been years of this nonsense project and I am still not ready to quit it. Some value what I do and some do not. It will probably always be that way. I certainly hold true to the values of showing countries and people from their good sides, promoting the Red Cross Red Crescent in a positive fashion, proving that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before, looking for the less told stories about the Red Cross Red Crescent, never paying any bribes, sticking to a low budget and always keeping on keeping on! The world is no perfect place and there is no such thing as a perfect country. However every country is the best country in the world to someone. I fight with a lot of bureaucrazy and I’m fortunate that I do not need to do that on my own. Pacific International Lines (PIL) and Swire Shipping/CNCo are really supportive which makes a world of difference! Recently I’ve had some help from old friends at Maersk and Sealand too. On my own I would never have been able to reach 193 countries which is why I often write “we” and not “me”. We got this far. I don’t feel like the Saga is almost over. I literally need to cross several oceans to get home. And ten more months if all goes well….more if not. It is not ten months of waiting for everything to fall into place. It is a lot of logistics which needs to fall into place and bureaucrazy which needs to be solved. Will I become the first to reach every country completely without flying? Will people care? Does it serve a purpose? Well nobody can say for sure and again I must stress that we are far from the target. Yes ten months is not much compared to six years. And 10 countries are not a lot compared to 193. However let’s see how it goes...it only took a single straw to break the camels back.

15

Mike "the godfather of freeskiing" Douglas and Thor "the godfather of long blogs". Together we are working on a film for Salomon TV! ;) #TimeToPlay

Some things I know for sure by now are that people all over the world are just trying to carve out a corner for themselves and those they love. People want to play sports, feel safe, watch cat videos and complain about the weather. They get stuck in traffic, frustrated at work and at school. They fall in love and do silly things. No countries have people with six arms and three eyes. It is always the women who give birth and so far I have not stepped into a bus where everyone was a terrorist or set foot in a country where everyone was sick. If you want to know what I intend on doing when this project comes to an end then please feel free to check out the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on this website. I’ve put some effort into it ;) For now let’s just keep on keeping on :) 

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - turning lemons into lemonade. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Marshall Islands – the storm maker!

Day 2,276 since October 10th 2013: 193 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).  

From 11 hours to 14 days

pano

My discontent, anger and smouldering rage is by no means the fault of this fine country. So I will briefly cover it and move on.

Welcome to 2020!! Same as 2019 but more futuristic!!

In last year’s last entry I had to make a choice: leave the Marshall Islands after just eleven hours or wait fourteen days for the next vessel. While Once Upon A Saga has developed greatly since its beginning on October 10th 2013 there are some elements which have never changed: absolutely no flights, no return home until the end and a minimum of 24 hours in every country. Not 23 hours and 59 minutes. 24 hours or more! What a pain that rule has been. It took four months before we could cover 24 hours in Equatorial Guinea back in 2016. Long before we succeeded in that I had been offered a special 12 hour pass across the border. But that isn’t 24 hours. Also, the Saga first reached the Vatican See in late 2013 however I left after only 3 hours realizing that we would not get 24 hours back then. We got the full 24 hours (and 17 minutes) in 2018 when the Saga returned. Marshall Islands main island where the capital Majuro is located is a relatively small place and much can be seen in a few hours. What is this crazy obsession with 24 hours? Well it is not the 24 hours in themselves which are important. That is just a number which corresponds with earth’s full rotation of its axis. The real value lies within setting down ground rules and sticking with them. People swear to “until death do us part” and then they get divorced. People claim to have read books they never opened. Others say they go to the gym twice a week when it’s really just once. Cutting corners is very human and yet the world we have built depends on rules: certain age before you can vote or have a driver’s licence, certain grade before you pass your exam, certain laws, certain regulations…the list is endless. You have not been to the top of Mount Everest is you stopped a little short of it. You have not completed a full marathon if you did not run all 42,195m (26.2mi). You have not been to a country according to the Saga if you left before the 24 hours were up. This being a brand new year I bet many of you have made resolutions. Are you going to keep them? Really keep them? Or will you cut corners and give in when it gets inconvenient or hard? ;)

1

We reached this milestone by arriving to Marshall Islands.

Once Upon A Saga is nearly impossible! The three rules ensure it. 24 hours means that if a visa is required you can’t tick off a country by stepping over the border. You need to apply for the visa. And a certain amount of countries require that you apply for it in your resident country. Since there is no return home until the end of the project then that is already a problem. Meanwhile more and more countries are opening up for access through their airports. However crossing land borders is far more complicated for certain nations. E.g. Iran will allow a Danish citizen to fly into any of four international airports and get a visa on arrival. Wonderful. And Iran, which I have been to four times, is a wonderful country. However if you intend on crossing a land border to Iran then you are required to apply for the visa in advance. And that proved hard within the Saga for a couple of reasons. In addition to all of that I see ferries disappearing and flight becoming far more common. It was hard getting around the Caribbean but even harder getting around the Indian Ocean island nations (Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles and Mauritius). Reaching Qatar without flying required two containerships as the land border with Saudi Arabia had been closed. Lift any of the three cardinal rules and the Saga will instantly become far easier: go home a few times, stay less than 24 hours in a country, fly just once or twice… What would be the point? If it was easy then anyone could do it. And why do anything at all? Paraphrasing U.S. President JFK we do some things: “…not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” The Saga is hard physically, mentally, logistically and bureaucratically. Downright hard and demanding. Not long ago I could see the light at the end of the tunnel but it was painfully removed and yet only by moving forward will I see it again. What most fail to understand is that travel is in fact a byproduct of the Saga. Clearly you cannot reach every country without flying without traveling. However conventional traveling is a completely different matter. Going to the moon in 1969 was also travel but the goal was reaching the moon and returning safely. Heading to the top of Mount Everest in 1953 was travel but the goal was to conquer the summit. So was reaching the South Pole in 1911. As such you’ll find that achievement is clearly a goal within Once Upon A Saga. And so is promoting every country positively and promoting the Red Cross and Red Crescent worldwide. It is a full bodied project and I’m tired of it.

2

A lot of Majuro looks something like this. The ocean is on either side of the buildings.

Hang in there people…I’ll get to how wonderful the Marshallese are in a moment. It is just that when plans changed on arrival (to this beautiful country made out of 29 atolls) and I had to stay true to the 24 hours, then that meant waiting for the next ship and coming home two weeks later. “Oh” you say, “what is another two weeks on top of six years already”. It is everything! It was another two weeks here and two weeks there which pushed the Saga from a four year project to a potential seven year project. I’m not on the hunt for a ten year project here. Time management is as vitally important as managing the budget of the Saga. The unexpected is always there when you are doing what has never been done before. Extra two weeks did not sit well with me. I also had to reschedule appointments in upcoming countries. I was very unhappy with it and to some degree I still am. But that really isn’t any fault of the Marshallese who also deserve a positive promotion. The weather didn’t help though. Rain, wind and grey skies. Typhoon season although the Marshall Islands apparently do not get affected much by storms. It appears that the storms start here and then move west attempting to destroy Guam. I’ve seen beautiful islands before. Plenty of them. The main island which I’m on is called “DUD” (Dulap-Uliga-Djarrit) and comprises of three narrow islands. Being an atoll it is basically just a main road lined by a string of buildings on each side along with the Pacific Ocean. You can literally walk across a lot of the islands in less than a minute. That is how narrow it is. Going to the end of it is however a 40 km (25 mi) drive. As with most small Pacific islands there is a garbage problem which shows in the azure blue water and on the white sand beaches. Dengue is present so some precaution is required. There are several derelict buildings: a once was cinema, a once was sports facility, a once was bowling alley…what the heck was I going to promote? The answer came soon enough.

3

The roads don't take to well to the rain.

Meanwhile I needed to find accommodation and get a simcard so I had internet access. The Flame Tree is an interesting establishment. It is a guesthouse in connection to a bar/restaurant. When I first entered the bar/restaurant area I was instantly reminded of the movie “Roadhouse” in which Patrick Swayze had to clean out a rowdy bar. The setting was right but it was quiet being a Sunday. Tiny air-conditioned rooms with private toilet and shower facilities went for $40 USD in the guesthouse, which is considered really cheap in Marshall Islands. However the Flame Tree also offers a “backpackers” establishment with dorm rooms and shared facilities. The dorm also reminded me of a movie. This time “The Beach” staring Leonardo DiCaprio as Richard. My room looked like the room Richard is in when he receives the map to the secret island. But quiet. Flame Tree has a reputation for being a noisy place due to the bar and its “lively” clientele. However I was alone. I had eight rooms, a living room and a combined toilet/bathroom to myself: $20/night USD. I’ll take it. Mosquitos could fly freely so I invested in some mosquito coils and aimed a fan towards my bed. Done. I needn’t worry about food because the good crew on board “Kota Hakim” supplied me with plenty of instant noodles and in fact wanted me to take far more :)

4

The good ship "Kota Hakim" still keeping me well fed.

Getting a simcard was a bit of an adventure. The main street was lined with plenty of palm trees carrying heavy coconuts and the wind was at times strong. Getting hit by a coconut can crack your skull. I should say that at this point everyone I had met first of all seemed shy and reserved but enormously kind and helpful once approached. Simcards are not sold on Sundays so I had to walk back to the port where I had the code for some nearby wifi.

5

Hanging out at the port fence for free wifi under a dauntingly grey sky.

The next day I was ready to get that simcard and the kind ladies at Flame Tree sent me on my way to the National Telecommunication Authority (NTA). Surely I could just pick up a simcard in a kiosk somewhere? Nope. It has to be at NTA. Taxis are quite cheap in Majuro but I prefer walking. Having been on board a ship for a while walking would do me some good. But by walking I also get to observe more and meet some people along my way. Everyone was shy but kind. It was often hard to get eye contact but easy to get help. How long does it take to get a simcard? Well often less than a minute and in Fiji I walked into Digicell and was set up within five minutes. In Majuro I got to wait for more than an hour even though there were only two people ahead of me. Once it was my turn I found out I had a challenge. The lady there, Shuny, was nice and competent however the setup time-consuming. My challenge consisted in that my busted up smartphone no longer reads simcards. That is just one of its newly adapted quirks since I stupidly got it really wet in Solomon Islands. The solution to the faulty simcard port is to use a mobile wifi device and I carry such a thing since Hatem the Egyptian I met in Sudan gave me one. Through the device I can connect the phone to a wifi signal. Easy! Well…for whatever reason Marshall Islands simcard is a single frequency simcard and could not be read by my mobile wifi device. I plan to get a new phone in Hong Kong as that would be the best place to make a bargain. What should I do with my faulty phone in Marshall Islands? How about buying a new mobile wifi device? Sure: $93 USD. The simcard itself was $15 USD and there was a special Christmas offer of 50gb for $35 USD. Normally that would be the cost of 12gb. In Fiji the simcard was free and 7gb cost $3.5 USD (and most social media was also free). When I raised my eyebrows at all of this Shuny smiled and said: “welcome to Marshall Islands”. Everyone laughed. I couldn’t borrow a mobile wifi device and they didn’t have a cheaper one. Ah – monopoly :) However Shuny agreed to buy it back from me for $50 USD the day I leave :) I left having paid $143 USD to get online!!! However this project would look vastly different without internet. Someone once said: “you must need internet like you need oxygen”. True…very true… I sat down near a palm tree and inserted the simcard so I could see if it worked. It did. Then three loud “thumps” came from the ground nearby. Three coconuts now rested in the grass next to me. Good thing I wasn’t standing there when they fell.

6

My brand new $93 USD mobile wifi device. Soon to be Shuny's.

8

Constructed in 1997 the sports stadium closed down in 2011 due to termites. Now it just waits.

I wasn’t in the game. I wasn’t feeling much love for Marshall Islands. It was just yet another place and it was hard to comprehend that I needed to spend two weeks in it. But that changed. Making the best of things I quickly sat up a meeting with the US Embassy. I also organized having a special friend come and visit me on January 9th. Not the kind I shave for but someone interesting you are unlikely to guess. Making the best of time. The US Embassy delivered!! Much easier than I would have thought having heard rumours about how some applicants were treated in Suva (Fiji). And it was quite exciting too. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a US Embassy before? It is generally not needed when you are from Denmark but it does become a requirement once you visit every country on their “no no list”. It wasn’t one of those huge fortress looking embassies which the USA now has all over the world. It was a nice residence and I met a lot of kind people there. A German couple who had been sailing around the world for six years and were now slowly on their way home through US territory. A Kenyan missionary working as a teacher at a school. And then some seemingly local people. Soon enough I was asked to pay $160 USD and not long after that I had a rather informal interview through a glass wall with a kind employee who just smiled when I said I was planning on going through US territory on board a containership in an attempt to reach every country without flying. Have no doubt people. The United States of America is a formidable country. Not always due to its actions but certainly because of its people. 330 million strong they stand with a diversity unrivalled across this planet. I am willing to bet you that no matter which nation you may think of then the USA has someone representing it somewhere within their borders. Every religion, every meal, every culture, every type of smile or tear. The USA has it all and that is unique. A little more unique in Majuro though. We were told to come back to collect our passports on Friday January 3rd. But we were not told what time. Since the visa interview was at 08:30am I figured that 10:00am would be good enough. Too be continued!!! (crazy story coming up at the end of this entry).

Enock

Mr Enock. A Kenyan and a Dane faaaaaar away from home :)

Walking back toward the Flame Tree a friendly fellow stopped to offer me a ride. It was Mr Enock from Kenya. Imagine that. All the cars passing by and the one who offers a ride was from Kenya :) He is such a good fellow. I have a huge heart for all of Africa and a special place in it for Kenya which was the country where I asked my little rock star to marry me…and she said yes. Marshall Islands is a small and rather funny place. DUD might not be the most scenic part of it. It has become very urbanized but it is a good launching point for adventures to the other islands which I hear are pure paradise. I have no doubt it is true. Marshall Islands was home to extraordinary seafarers for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived to plant flags in the sand. The outside world brought its wars with it and eventually the Japanese invaded. The USA pushed them out and decided to stay long after the war had ended. Then the USA figured that Bikini Island was a great place for testing atomic weapons and lots of islands were soon contaminated with radiation. Some islands do not even exists anymore. In the process a lot of Marshallese were relocated to other islands. Marshall Islands was under a USA trusteeship back then but along with the rest of the world Marshall Islands began looking towards independence. In 1979 government was formed and in 1986 independence was obtained from the USA. In 1991 Marshall Islands became a UN member and today the two countries remain closely related with the USA being home to about half of the roughly 60,000 Marshallese population. They like basketball (like the Filipinos), they use USD as currency as legal tender (like Ecuador does), distance is measured in miles (as in Liberia) and temperature is measured in Fahrenheit (why does anyone still do that?). I still had not quite warmed up to this country but it came very soon after this.

RC

Marshall Islands Red Cross Society ready to respond at the Block Party.

The last day of the year arrived and I was somewhat worried that it would be a lonely evening. I had asked around and apparently the big thing was the “block party” where a part of the main road (often the only road) would be blocked off for the public to gather. This would take place at the “sort of town centre” by Robert Reimers Enterprises (RRE). I got there around 8pm which was probably a little too early. However I met Roger and Bruce from Marshall Islands Red Cross Society (MIRCS) whom I had briefly met a few days before. They had set up a first air station in the heart of the event and I got to meet the dedicated team. MIRCS is along with the Bhutanese Red Cross Society the two newest countries to tag along in the world’s largest humanitarian organisation. It is officially found in 192 countries now although I’m not sure how that is counted given that the movement is not present in Oman and Nauru? Probably they are counting UN 193 + 2 observatory states = 195 – 2 – Vatican = 192? I have asked several people in the movement but they don’t know and it is not obvious on movement websites. Anyway…nearly every country now. They seem to be catching up to me. I think the movement was in 187 countries when I left Denmark. Defenders and protectors of the most vulnerable people in the world. We are into our seventh year of promoting the movement. One for each fundamental principle ;)

9

Majuro Block Party 2019/20.

I wasn’t too early for the New Year party. I was right on time. There weren’t many people yet but they came. There was good food, a good mood, nice weather, music and a strong sense of community. I feel like I understand small society mentality. I grew up in a village with 1,200 people before I landed in Copenhagen (Denmark’s capital). Growing up in a 1,200 kind of place teaches you a thing or two. Everybody kind of knows everyone and nothing ever happens without everyone knowing it. If you misstep then you are bound to get caught. A true sense of community. The beauty of it is that people know each other’s best and worst and live together in a sense of unity in spite of it. Maybe because of it? I headed over to a stand and bought myself some raw salmon with salad and rice. The only drink available was a coconut. Sure – why not :) Super kind people selling it!! I walked back and forth a few times. I decided to buy a $1 USD raffle ticket for the red 2004 special edition Ford Mustang. Basically I figured it would be spectacular if I won it as I could donate it to the MIRCS. Red Mustang, Red Cross. Genius!! ;) But seriously I figured they could sell it or raise money through an auction. And of course I would win it!! Right?

10

(okay - so I didn't win it. Some fellow off island won. But it was a good idea)

The evening went on. I sat down to listen to a local cover band which was performing “Mustang Sally”, “have you ever seen the rain” and then on a request they performed: “Creep” by Radiohead.Not perfectly but we all loved it!! That almost brought tears to my eyes. At this point I had finished my dinner and was standing among the crowd. What a feeling to be singing among likeminded strangers: “I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here”. As the night went on I heard a man shout: “hey Thor!?” That was Hilary from the national newspaper. He had been tipped off regarding my visit to the country and had seen a few of the Saga’s YouTube videos. So he knew my face and we hung out together for a while. Hilary is a great guy and introduced me left and right. I also ran into Mr Enock from Kenya. A man very easy to spot as he was the only one of thousands in the crowd dancing to Rosie Delmah’s reggae covers. Rosie has a really nice voice and flew in from Solomon Islands, where she is from, to perform at the Block Party. She was doing her best to get the party started but struggled getting the kind hearted Marshallese to engage much. The audience (apart from Mr Enock) were as still as if they were watching TV. Mr Enock was as surprised as I was. He swore that if it had been Kenya then people would have been all over the place :)

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I spent a great deal of time people watching. Looking at curious children with angels smiles. Looking at mothers chasing them. Looking at those holding hands. Looking at the ones in conversation with a beer in hand. Looking at the elderly slowly moving forward. Looking at the ones buying food. Looking at people admiring the Mustang. Looking at people listening to music. Looking at people taking selfies. And somewhere among all of that observing my heart gave in and I fell in love with these people. I could hardly imagine any of them ever harming anyone. They seem so friendly, kind and polite. The police do not carry weapons. There is no need. Even when people got drunk they just seemed to be happy and slightly sleepy. It was a kind and safe place to savour the last hours of 2019 and welcome 2020 into our lives. I think the Marshallese saved my heart on New Year’s Eve. It was rapidly turning bad and sinking into a tarry pit of darkness. I don’t think I was meant to see as much as I have. I don’t know if I can cope with all the memories of all the people from around the world. All which I have discovered, learned, observed, suffered and enjoyed. However after a night in the fine company of thousands of Marshallese strangers with enormous friend potential…I felt a thousand times better.

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I have more stories for you but there will also be another entry from Marshall Islands as my ship is not due until January 11th. And since this is the first entry of 2020 I would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that most things are in fact getting better. Sure the Marshallese are keeping a close eye on global warming and the raising water levels. But what people are not keeping an eye on is that globally extreme poverty has plummeted, basic education has risen to unprecedented levels, the same goes for literacy, democracy and vaccinations while child mortality is at an all-time low. While this planet is seeing more frequent and much harsher environmental disasters we are seeing fewer casualties as we have become better at warning and protecting ourselves. The figures for tiger populations have upped significantly and giant pandas are no longer an endangered species. More girls are in school than ever before. Huge companies are today actively fighting ocean pollution and I believe that we have long ago proven that most walks of life are regular, normal, mundane and that people are generally goodhearted and helpful no matter which country we point to. This is NOT the time to rest!! This is the time to get more active and see even greater change!! Go out there and be a part of it. I will not quit the Saga. That is my promise to you. Which goals will you achieve in 2020? Never quit! Keep on keeping on!!

 

Tony Giles

If you’re looking for REAL inspiration in 2020 then check out my friend Tony the Traveller and please support his quest to raise money for Galloway's Society for the Blind and to trek the Inka Trail in Peru!! Tony is totally blind, 80% deaf and has visited over 130 countries!!! Support here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser

 

 

Edit: Friday, January 3rd (the day I was told to collect the US visa)

I wanted to reach the embassy around 10am but encountered some delay and arrived at 10:55am at the same time as the Germans. We approched the window together at 10:57am and were told to wait until they opened at 11:00am. So we waited three minutes while the Germans commented with a smile: "how very German of them". At 11:00am we walked through the door, cleared security and were told to wait another 15 minutes. Finally we reached the office and approched the lady who could tell us that only one passport was ready for collection and that there were "technical issues". "Can you please come back before 3pm?" Eh? Well it was already before 3pm?...so I enquired when we could come back which turned out to be after 1pm. As soon as we (the Germans and I) had left the embassy I tried to text Mr Enock to tell him that the visas were not ready. But the moment I pressed send was the moment he arrived. I told him face to face and together we drove off after saying farewell to the Germans whom lived nearby. Then Mr Enock and I decided to pay a visit to his school which we did. Good guy. I was back at the embassy at 2pm at which point I was told that they still had issues and asked me to come back Monday January 6th at 3pm. All the visas had to be redone and any visas they had handed out had to be recalled and redone too. So that was unexpected? I mean: if that is from the worlds only superpower then the rest of us are doomed ;) However I still felt confident that I would get the visa...it would just take more time. I left the embassy feeling like I had lost most of my day running to and from the embassy. Mr Enock however showed up at that moment and I could tell him the news. Together we walked back towards town talking about ignorance among people around the world :) Not long after that I received an email revealing that immigration has denied me to disembark an upcoming ship at an upcomming destination. Oh welcome 2020!! Not much different than 2019 I see. But will I give up? Heck no!!! We keep on keeping on!! ;) 

 

If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga needs funding. Thank you :)

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Happy New Year. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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