Lebanon - marhaba to the Middle East

Since October 10th 2013: 143 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country. 

Don’t give up on what you believe in

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Imagine if I gave up when I was consumed by discomfort fighting malaria? Or how about when the Saga lost its financial sponsorship? I could have gone home a million times when bureaucracy appeared hopeless and endless. My long distance relationship to the beautiful woman who is my fiancée today has been through tremendous stress. I once doubted the value in my work to reach the goal of the Saga and all which it entails. Just imagine if I gave up?

I never did! And as it stands today I never will! I owe so many of you so much. You have supported the Saga in various ways by commenting, sharing contacts, reaching out to friends, donating to the crowdfunding, giving me a place to sleep, cooking me a meal, pointing me in the right direction, smiling when I needed it and so much more. It is beyond me why some people think this project is about me? I could be gone tomorrow and all which we have achieved will still be there. It’s about us. It’s about the way we see each other. It’s about how the media treats people, groups, countries and events. It’s about achievements. It’s about the world's largest humanitarian organisation which happens to be the Red Cross Red Crescent. It’s about humanity. It’s about peace of mind - peace among people - peace among countries. It’s about knowledge. It’s about everything good. And somehow I’m constantly being asked to phrase it all in a single easy to understand sentence? Please be my guest and give it a go if you’re a wordsmith of sorts? My friend and Saga project member Parth gave it a go: “An inspirational Saga of a Viking explorer, befriending every stranger, sharing all the goodness in the world with all the people around entertaining and educating them”. Good try but still rather long :)

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Last weeks blog: www.onceuponasaga.com

Last week we finally reached Cyprus again after a month's worth of failed attempts of reaching Lebanon. Simply getting back to Cyprus proved more demanding than expected. The good ship “Irenes Logos” landed me in Limassol, where I had set out a month earlier. It should have been so easy and elegant: get onboard a ship in Limassol, voyage 10 hours across the Mediterranean, arrive to Beirut in Lebanon. It didn’t go like that at all and thus after several adventures at sea and in Egypt I returned to Cyprus. My good friend Natalie welcomed me with open arms and gave me a place to stay. Her dog (Mo) wagged his tail and licked my face. Dinner was served and a few episodes of Friends ran across the screen before it was time for bed. It was good to be back in a friendly home.

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Mo is an Honorary member of the Saga :)

I had enough time to meet up with Sergey who’s another friend I’ve made in Cyprus. Sergey and I talked about this and that over a cup of tea near his apartment. I hadn’t returned to Cyprus just to socialise. As always there is a plan to be executed. The plan was to cross over the United Nations buffer zone and into occupied Cyprus. Then make it to the Northern town of Girne and catch a ferry from there to Tasucu in Turkey. From Tasucu I would board the first available ferry to Tripoli in Lebanon and find transportation to Beirut, a city which I had already seen TWICE from two separate container vessels. On that note: how crazy was that adventure?! Within a month I had had been onboard two container carriers operated by two separate companies and I had been to three continents within just 4 days. Two of the continents twice! What kind of traveler gets to do such a crazy thing? I cannot believe my own life sometimes... Well, back to the story. The new plan for reaching Lebanon seemed solid with only a few unknowns. Natalie and I researched that the ferry from Girne (Kyrenia) to Tasucu leaves Monday’s and Friday’s at 15:00.

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After two nights in Natalie’s apartment I woke up early to reach the Monday ferry departure. My stomach had been a little upset the night before but nothing quite unusual. I shake hands with so many people, I touch so many different currencies, I sleep and eat at irregular hours, I worry about many things, I don’t always know what I eat, I often drink local water...a little rumbling in the tummy is to be expected now and again. However that Monday morning I woke up exhausted and the bed was calling me back with immense strength. I fought it off and had some breakfast. The toilet called. I packed my bags, said farewell to Mo and Natalie and got into the shared taxi which would bring me to Cyprus’s capital Nicosia. The drive was about an hour and I got off at Ledra street which runs from one side of Nicosia to the other across the checkpoint. I didn’t quite make it to the checkpoint before I saw a café and wondered if they might have a toilet? While seated on the toilet I heard an Indian accent shout: “can you move to another toilet - I need to clean!” I had only been there for a few minutes and I’m not in the habit of striking up conversations through a toilet door! The man with the Indian accent was persistent and I managed to reply: ”wait 5 minutes!”. My Indian friend was desperate: “please sir! You do not understand! I have many toilets to clean!! Please move!!” Unbelievable?!? I ignored the voice but it persisted. Finally I uttered: “I’m not having this conversation” and the voice finally went away. Now tell me: how strange was that?!?

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I left the café after finishing a cup of tea and scheduling a few Facebook updates. Then I picked up my bags which seemed a lot heavier than usual. A few minutes later I reached the checkpoint which is at the center of Nicosia. Check point Charlie? Nope: Ledra Street Crossing Point. There was some uncertainty towards how I would be treated at the checkpoint with my large NorthFace duffel bag on my back. I didn’t exactly look like the typical tourist crossing over for a few selfies. The first checkpoint was really easy and after looking at my passport for less than a second I was waved onwards. The second checkpoint was the same. Nobody paid any attention to me or my luggage. Good stuff. I found a bus heading to Girne and jumped onboard. I left my heavy duffel bag at the entrance to the bus and found a seat a few rows behind it. A girl told me to secure the bag a little better so it wouldn’t fall out. I saw her point and smiled: “thank you”. Then I secured my bag and went back to my seat. A few minutes later the bus came to another of its many stops. The driver didn’t close the door, sped up like a bat out of hell and made a quick turn! My duffel bag flew out the open door and quickly got smaller behind the bus!! “STOP! STOP! STOOOOP!!” The driver pulled over, I jumped out and ran back for my bag. I then returned with a huge smile and tossed my duffel back in and secured it more than before. I looked at the girl and smiled: “you were right”.

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Honestly, just passing through, there is hardly any difference between the North and the South of Cyprus. Girne in this picture.

It took less that an hour to reach Girne and we passed some spectacular mountains on our way there. The ocean opened up on the other side of the mountains and I got out to hike the 2 km (1.24 mi) to the port which had my heart racing. I was in good time. It wasn’t even midday and the ferry wouldn’t leave until 15:00. I had a break, drank some water and looked at the ocean. Then I picked up my bags again and marched on to the port. My stomach was feeling okay. At the port I learned that the ship doesn’t leave for Tasucu on Monday’s - it departs on Wednesday’s. So I was 2 days early! However there was a ferry departing at 23:00 to Mersin in Turkey. A quick look at the map revealed that Mersin is just a few hours east of Tasucu. I bought the ticket which ran me 132 Turkish lira ($34). I had to get my ticket stamped before it was valid and the guy standing next to the woman who stamped it was able to tell me that the ferry from Tasucu to Tripoli (Turkey - Lebanon) doesn’t exist anymore. He said that it was discontinued more than a year ago! Now what? I suggested there might be another company but he shook his head: “I don’t think so...”. Great? Then I left my luggage at the terminal and went to have a look at Girne. I sat down at a café and had a cup of tea and smoked some water pipe (as usual: don’t smoke - it’s bad for you). Afterwards I got up and felt really horrible. My body felt heavy and wobbly. I was dizzy and a headache was pushing hard to realise itself. I halfway had an out of body experience where I could see myself accidentally cross my legs and stumble face first into the cobblestones beneath my heavy feet. “Come on soldier!! One foot in front of the next! Make it to the bench! Just a few more steps!!” Thanks to the sergeant in my mind I made it and sat down to rest. “This is not good. This is not good” I kept repeating to myself. I was cold and weak. The ferry terminal felt hopelessly far away. Now what? After catching my breath and strength again I made it over to another bench in the sun and laid down to rest. 10 minutes later I made it to a restaurant and had something to eat. Then I located the toilet. Afterwards I had a very long walk back to the terminal but I made it. Then I fell asleep on a bench. A few hours later I woke up and had some paracetamol. Then I rested some more in a sitting position with my arms crossed over my stomach and my body tilted forward. I was rocking back and forth for hours thinking ahead about having to carry my bags onboard the ferry. About the police checkpoint I had to go through. About sleeping on the ferry when I really wanted a bed. As it got dark I began to feel better. I found some dinner, passed the checkpoint, got onboard the ferry and went to sleep on the floor in a corner. The floor was carpeted...as good as it gets!

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My bed for the first night. The floor onboard the ferry. Not bad.

 

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Arriving in Mersin in Turkey.

 

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Making my way to immigration and police passing freight trains for whatever reason?

The next morning I woke up as the ferry approached Mersin. I was feeling a lot better but I was really weak. I wonder what had gotten to me? Well...it wasn’t enough to stop me! Around here we keep on keeping on! Disembarking the ferry was pretty straightforward but in an industrial port so not super straightforward. Immigration accepted me in Turkey with a smile when I replied: “my profession: professional traveler!” Passport stamped, welcome back to Turkey. I located some free WiFi near a corporate building and saw that all the people I had reached out to the day before had come up short regarding ferries from Turkey to Lebanon. Great?! Then I reached out to Perçin Imrek, my friend in Istanbul, who took the challenge upon himself. 10 minutes later Perçin got back to me and confirmed that he had spoken to a company in Tasucu. They confirmed they had a departure leaving every Tuesday and Friday but I had to be there before 17:00. Thanks Perçin! I was so weak but my hopes were high now that Perçin had confirmed the departure. I was halfway thinking of a new plan in case there were no ferries and really I just wanted a bed but where to go? With this new information I found a taxi which got me to the main bus terminal, using all the Turkish words I could remember. At the terminal I had a grand meal and then continued to find my bus.

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Bus terminal in Mersin.

Everyone was fantastically helpful and kind. A Kurdish Turk walked me all the way to the bus and arranged on my behalf. I got inside the bus and dozed off. A few hours later it was time to leave the bus and get into a minibus. Ten minutes later the driver stopped in front of a booking agency and hinted that I had reached my goal. The writing on the window hinted that the agency offered ferry tickets to Cyprus and Lebanon. Inside a weirdly reserved gentleman told me that there are no ferries from Tasucu to Lebanon anymore. Now if you check out Tasucu on a map you’ll quickly discover that you’ll have a great overview of the entire town just by getting up on a chair. It’s not a big place but it is really charming. This man would know if there was no ferry - wouldn’t he? He works with travel and even more specifically by selling ferry tickets. I insisted that Perçin had spoken to someone and confirmed that there is a ship leaving today. It took a long while before the reserved man gave in and told me to try another company 1 km (0.6 mi) down the road. I found it after walking half the distance. I got my ticket and had to do the entire booking in Arabic! Quite a challenge as I don’t speak the language but apparently I speak enough. That ticket cost me $160!! For that amount of money I was expecting a cabin and food. However it was just the fare and nothing more. I was told to reach the terminal by 19:00.

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Tasucu, Turkey.

I had some soup and bread. Then I notified the Lebanese Red Cross, Maersk in Beirut, Raymond (my friend in Beirut) and a few others that I was now only 24 hours away. All of these people have been following my every step closely for the past month in denial of how hard it had been for me. And really my struggles with reaching Lebanon have been surreal! We will get a lot more into the extraordinary history of Lebanon next week but just for now I can mention that Beirut (the capital) used to be seen as the “European gateway to the Middle East” and has often been referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East”. I cannot believe the struggles I’ve had to get there but they have been real!

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Back to the story...I was at the terminal at 18:30 and saw Tallal standing there on a parking lot just inside the fence. Port Security waved me in and told me to go and stand on the parking lot too. I briefly met Tallal at the agency when I bought my $160 ticket. It appeared that we were the only two passengers who were not truck drivers. It was cold. It was really cold and Tallal and I stood there stomping our feet for 2.5 hours before we were allowed to go inside the heated terminal and wait. There was nothing at the parking lot. No toilet. No kiosk. Just the tarmac. Inside the terminal I quickly fell asleep sitting on a bench. Finally we cleared immigration and the police checkpoints and made our way onboard the ship just before midnight. There was no bed and no food. The ship appeared to be in good condition but a crew member told us that a cabin would costs an additional $100. That basically meant that I would be sleeping on a bench.

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My $160 luxury night on a bench. Night no. 2 for those counting.

The ship was a RORO vessel which means “roll on - roll off”. It ferries trucks across the Mediterranean between Turkey and Lebanon and as far as I can gather management has also made a business out of selling tickets to passengers although that’s not their core line of business. I wouldn't call it a ferry...I’d call it a ship. I fell asleep on a bench and paid little notice of the slightly rough weather which had the ship rolling. Tallal apparently didn’t sleep much and a few of the truck drivers lost their insides to Neptune’s wrath. It was well over midday the following day (Wednesday) before land was in sight.

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Arriving in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Tripoli appears to be a city well worth visiting but I wanted to reach Beirut ASAP! As soon as immigration let me into the country, which was rather hassle free although time consuming, a taxi got me to a bus and a two hour bus drive got me to Beirut, where I met up with Raymond. Raymond is a friend of a friend of a friend. He works at LWIS City International School and has set me up with a place to sleep with his friends Margaret and her husband John. A very sweet couple who have been kind enough to open their doors to a complete stranger. Raymond and I went out for some Lebanese cuisine that same evening and got to know each other a little better. We had been communicating online for a long time but this was our first face to face meeting. He’s a really solid guy and once again we prove that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before ;)

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So I’m now in Lebanon - finally! The first country of the Middle East. I’ve had a few nights of good rest and I’m feeling much better. I’ve been visiting embassies, arranging for practicalities and setting up meetings. The Saga never sleeps ;)

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My first Lebanese meal in Lebanon. About time!! :)

If you’ve been following the blog for a while then you know I’m pretty honest in my writing. That is why I feel I can let you know that I’m not overwhelmingly happy about the results of the crowdfunding campaign. It ended a few days ago and reached 42% of the target amount. That means I need to look for an additional 58% to fund the remaining Saga. However I am thoroughly impressed that the campaign managed to collect $20,752 (€17,625 / kr 131,209) through just 395 donations! That is an incredible average of $53/donation. Some have even donated several times! A big thank you to every person who contributed!  In the light of that the Saga has roughly 30,000 online followers I feel I have failed in motivating and reaching people. But heck! $20,752 will go a long way even after the initial costs for Indiegogo and campaign items have been covered. $20,752 divided by $20/day is 1,038 days of travel which is 2 years and 308 days so it should do fine for the remaining project. However it will not pay back the debt from the past few years since the sponsorship came to an end. Besides I really should invest in a PC as this takes way too much time...another blog for you typed out on my smartphone.

Around here we keep on keeping on ;)

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - always trying! ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga 

 
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Reset and rewind: back in Cyprus

 Since October 10th 2013: 142 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

This was new for the Saga?!

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Even after all these years of going from one country to the next we have stumbled upon something new. Let’s just look at it as positively as we possibly can.

I left Limassol (Cyprus) on November 11th onboard the good ship “MSC Augusta”, which reached Beirut (Lebanon) in the evening on that same day. Immigration did not allow me to disembark the ship so “MSC Augusta” brought me onward to Alexandria in Egypt. In Alexandria I quickly secured a multiple entry visa for Lebanon valid for 3 months. Meanwhile I requested permission to come onboard another containership leaving Port Said (Egypt) heading to Beirut via Limassol. Due to excessive paperwork I did not make it onboard that ship before she left.

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Mr. Mohamed Salah ElAgha of Handelsflådens Velfærdsråd (Danish Government Seaman's Service) offered me a cup of tea and printed out the Jyllands Posten (Danish national newspaper) of the day :) www.hfv.dk

I relocated to Cairo (Egypt) which is between Alexandria and Port Said, and hoped to get onboard the next vessel. A week later I actually managed to get onboard the vessel (in Port Said) however after learning from the ships agent in Beirut that immigration was still not willing to allow me to disembark in Lebanon there was no point of bringing me onboard. Therefore I disembarked again and checked into a hotel in Port Said. At this point I requested to board the good ship “Irenes Logos”, which was scheduled to leave Port Said and go straight to Limassol, from where I had formed a new plan. “Irenes Logos” called Port Said a few days late due to bad weather in Beirut, where she was coming from. I think you must have gathered by now that there is plenty of traffic in the Mediterranean between Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt! ;)

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My cabin :)

On December 2nd I came onboard “Irenes Logos” and met with Captain Tzintzos Alexandros. Among the crew the Captain is generally referred to as the Master. He had a friendly smile on his face and welcomed me onboard. As it turned out I was his first passenger apart from his wife who’s been traveling with him in the past. Both the Master and the Chief Engineer were Greek, the Chief Officer was Romanian, the 3rd Officer was Ukrainian and basically everyone else was Philippino so you know there was music onboard. There always is when you are dealing with Philippinos :) The good ship was built in Japan back in 1994/1995 and it’s safe to assume that she is well traveled. Her name has been changed twice since her launch. I have recently come to realize that I am only well traveled by certain definitions. In the past 4 years I have reached an accumulative distance of roughly 190,000 km (118,060 mi). That’s a great deal of traveling as it’s more than 4.5 times around our planet or the same as going half way to the moon. I guess that’s nothing compared to most long distance truckers, seafarers, taxi drivers etc. “Irenes Logos” certainly has me beaten by lengths! She possessed her own special charm and became the first ship I have encountered which was built in Japan. A part of that charm included shared toilet and bathroom facilities for everyone onboard apart from the Master and Chief Engineer who get their own. I have never encountered that before but I suppose most container carriers I have ventured onboard were built long after 1994.

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Every container ship I've been onboard has made a lot of effort to impact environment as little as possible. It doesn't make it clean but it does help.

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The assistant steward introduced himself as “Jerry” and might have been among the happiest people I’ve ever encountered. I checked the crew list and his name is not Jerry...but then my name isn’t technically Thor either. Jerry is always singing or laughing. I believe that’s a very good thing because it boosts the morale onboard. The assistant steward assists the cook and therefore gets to see everyone onboard the ship three times a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Imagine if he was grumpy... On the same day as I boarded “Irenes Logos” we all learned that she would return to Beirut before reaching Limassol instead of going straight to Cyprus. Adapt and improvise. Later that day a larger ship arrived near us and drew all the attention from dock workers and stevedores. “Irenes Logos” isn’t small with her 194 meters (636 ft) and capacity to carry 1,625 twenty foot containers. However nowadays the largest ships can carry 20,000 or more and measure twice the length. In my experience it’s very rare that the ships cause any delay. It’s almost always external circumstances. With the attention drawn away from “Irenes Logos” cargo operations came to a complete stop. As a result an 8-10 hour operation ended up taking a couple of days and we left for Beirut on December 4th.

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Different territories have different regulations for waste disposal into the ocean. These apply to the United States. In the Mediterranean where we were you cannot throw any food waste in the water unless it has been grinded into tiny pieces.

It’s a short trip to Beirut which we reached early the following morning however we had to wait at anchor until we could come along side which caused more delay. As we finally came along side cargo operations began but came to an end as the wind picked up. A small storm hit Beirut and made it impossible for the cranes to operate. December 5th became December 6th, December 7th and December 8th. Then we finally left and after about 10 hours at sea we eventually reached Limassol and I was back in Cyprus. However it was late and I had to wait until the following day before I could disembark. Normally if I leave a destination and return a month later then it’s with progress! E.g. I left Athens (Greece) on August 28th and visited 8 new countries before returning to Athens on October 8th before catching a ship to Cyprus. In the same period I was visited by my fiancée in Moldova, my sister in Turkey and I walked into a cloud of tear gas in Greece. All in all pretty productive! :) However with this round trip from Cyprus to Cyprus there has been nearly no new progress. Sure I’ve made a few new friends and I have met with a few old friends too. However in the grand scheme of things there’s been no geographical progress. I left Cyprus having visited 142 countries without flying and as I returned status quo remained the same. Weird! And yet I would have done nothing differently if you sent me back in time. The elegant and most simple solution to reach Lebanon from Cyprus without flying is by boarding a vessel and going straight between Limassol and Beirut. That’s beautiful logistics. When that failed the most elegant solution became to obtain a visa (although it is unnecessary for me as a Danish citizen) and return to Beirut directly from Egypt. That’s also beautiful logistics. Knowing what I know now I shouldn’t have done it of course...but if you can predict the future then I’d like to hear from you...

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Leaving Beirut, Lebanon, for the second time without visiting. You can see the snow on the mountains if you look closely.

I’m grateful to MCL Feeder (www.mclfeeders.com) who invited me onboard “Irenes Logos”. MCL Feeder is chartering the ship from Tsakos Columbia Shipmanagement (www.tsakoshellas.gr) who were also kind enough to have me onboard. “Irenes Logos” normally circles around between Limassol, Port Said, Beirut and back which is nominated to take 5 days in total. The distances are relatively short but what can you do when external circumstances interfere...adapt and improvise. So what was life like onboard? Pretty easy for a passenger. Breakfast from 07:00-08:00, lunch from 12:00-13:00 and dinner between 17:00-18:00. No WiFi onboard, no gym, no pool and no sauna. There was however a small basketball court outside (don’t lose the ball) and there were recreational areas inside too. The Master permitted me to send a couple of emails from the ship's computer on the bridge, which is connected by a satellite link. Food was good and plentiful. The crew was kind to me. I did laundry (twice). I finished a book and got started on a new one. I binge watched season 1 of West World and saw about 8 movies. Also I wrote this blog for you. The “Irenes Logos” became my 12th container carrier since the Saga began and just for fun I have compiled this list for you:

1: “Baltic Bright” from Tananger (Norway) to Immingham (UK). 1 day.

2: “Irina Arctica” from Qaqortoq (Greenland) to Nuuk (Greenland). 1 day.

3: “Westerkade” from Reykjavik (Iceland) to Halifax (Canada). 12 days.

4: “Vega Saturn” from Port of Prince (Haiti) to Kingston (Jamaica). 1 day.

5: “Maersk Carolina” from Norfolk (USA) to Bremerhaven (Germany). 16 days.

6: “Clara Maersk” from Praia (Cape Verde) to Bissau (Guinea). 9 days.

7: “Cape Moss” from Tamatave (Madagascar) to Victoria (Seyschelles). 4 days.

8: “City of Xiamen” from Victoria (Seyschelles) to Port Louis (Mauritius). 13 days.

9: “Northern Magnitude” from Port Louis (Mauritius) to Port Elizabeth (South Africa). 15 days.

10: “Gunhilde Maersk” from Port Said (Egypt) to Marsaxlokk (Malta). 3 days.

11: “MSC Augusta“ from Limassol (Cyprus) to Alexandria (Egypt). 3 days.

12: “Irenes Logos” from Port Said (Egypt) to Limassol (Cyprus). 7 days.

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This is not photoshop...and yes; it was due to the involvement of a woman :)

That’s 85 days onboard container carriers according to my math skills. And I left home 1,521 days ago so all in all those container carriers have been a tiny albeit vital part of the Saga. And for each of those 12 accounts I am very grateful! Now let’s keep on keeping on!! ;)

There are a few days left of the crowdfunding campaign if you want your chance to support financially. I'm grateful for those who have brought us up to 34%. There's no way we will reach 100% now...that would require some sort of miracle...it is December though...who knows? :) https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/once-upon-a-saga-never-give-up-people#/

 

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

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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Welcome to my world

 Since October 10th 2013: 142 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country. 

Logistics, logistics, Logistics...

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At this point I have no idea where my strength comes from? Military checkpoints, risk of imprisonment, malaria, racism, conflict zones, being told that things are impossible, failure, loneliness, absence of friends, absence of family, the list goes on...let’s keep on keeping on...

I want to show you the best of the world. After all that’s really what surrounds us on a day to day basis. It’s simply not in the spotlight most of the time which in my opinion makes us scared and pushes us to abandon hope. I have hope. I believe I can pull this off. Every single country in a single unbroken journey completely without flying. Does it sound easy to you? Every country? I certainly thought it would be easier than this when I left home. I knew there would be challenges. I’m not an idiot. I simply didn’t think it would be this exhausting?

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Follow me down, down, deeper, deeper...

Most people are helpful. A few are not. By far the majority of every person on earth doesn’t care at all. Am I doing this for me or for you? I will return home some day: victorious. That will really be something! I’ve even made plans for once I get home. If I’m not married by then it will be on top of my list. I have a wonderful woman in my life and we have now been together for more than five years. We got engaged on top of Mount Kenya little more that a year ago. Who on earth gets engaged on top of Mount Kenya?!? We did, and it’s a fond memory of mine. She knew something was coming but did she know I would pop the question? She was wearing red nail polish while hiking up Africa’s 2nd highest mountain. Women know stuff... I’d like to write a book or two about the Saga. I’ve never written a book before although a few of my words have now been featured in other people’s books. I have an appointment in Copenhagen. My apartment is rented out to a couple I’ve never met. When I left Denmark I rented my apartment out to a very nice British couple. I lose a bit of money on renting it out but my apartment is also an investment so overall I’m not really losing money if you think long term. The British couple had to leave Denmark long before they expected so only one year into the Saga I had to find new tenants. That cost me money as well but the new couple have been amazing and they are still there. Unfortunately the new couple recently sent me an email regarding their wish to move out and into something of their own. So now I need to find new tenants again - from out here abroad!? Fortunately I’ve got a good friend in Denmark who can do that for me. Rasmus Brohl is his name and he did it twice before. His company is called http://homeconnector.dk. I had a small sailboat when I left home. Nothing special. A tiny old sailboat which I cared dearly for. I sold it with the help of some friends last year in order to raise money for the Saga. I want to hang out with my friends. I want to see my family. I want to walk the streets of Copenhagen. I want to wake up in my apartment next to my fiancée. I want, I want, I want...

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Perspective: it's the one on the left which is the largest.

Recently I went to visit the great Pyramids at Giza. It is said that man fears time but time fears the pyramids. Do the pyramids know what life has in store for me? How could they? They are just made of stones. 2.3 million stones stacked on top of each other in perfect harmony. My respect for the pyramids of Giza has been renewed. What a sight they must have been thousands of years ago. What a sight they are today. I don’t spend much time focusing on religion within my blogs. If you ask me then people can believe in exactly what they want as long as it doesn’t harm others. In many cases religion strengthens people and gives them both order and hope. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhist...I’m friends with them all. Last week there was a horrible attack on a mosque here in Egypt. Horrendous!! Why would anyone do such a thing?! Hundreds died in a very well executed plan. The Egyptian Red Crescent responded swiftly. You can always count on the Red Cross and Red Crescent to respond to the needs of humanity. You can also count on me being out here until we reach the very last country. I was a royal guard in my youth and guarded the Queen's palaces across the great kingdom of Denmark. The guards duty is ancient and while you read this you can be assured that the royal guard is pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. They do that day and night year after year while people play football, listen to music, get married, do the dishes, attend school, go to work, buy new shoes, feed the dog, sleep, balance their economy, pray to God, read the news, update Facebook, smoke a cigarette, practice yoga, laugh, cry, dream, hope, plan and everything in between. You can always count on people being people. Day and night people are just people. I find strength in knowing that some guard is right now pacing back and forth in front of a palace.

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Port Said is stockpiled with charming colonial architecture.

I should long ago have reached Lebanon as the first country in the Middle East. Lebanon was supposed to be easy. Isn’t that just life for you? Expect and plan for the unexpected. I’ve had more than a few surprises come my way since I left my home in 2013. Time flies - I don’t ;) MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) supported the Saga as I boarded their ship in Cyprus on November 11th. The plan was to reach Lebanon 12 hours later which we did. To everyone’s surprise immigration did not allow me to disembark? Why? Nobody knows! Well of course somebody in Lebanon knows but I’m in the dark and have still received no explanation. MSC (www.msc.com/cyp) was kind enough not to let me walk the plank. I could have stayed onboard with their wonderful Ukrainian crew all the way back to Europe. It was my choice to disembark in Africa and at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. I would not have done anything differently today. Albeit if I knew what I know now I would never have boarded that ship in Cyprus. MSC was and is great. They did everything they possibly could and even went beyond. The reason why I wouldn’t have boarded the ship is found in this quote from the Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard: “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. In Egypt’s great city Alexandria, I managed to obtain my Lebanese visa in record time! My plan was to race to Port Said (also Egypt) and board a ship from there back to Beirut in Lebanon. I should have received my visa on arrival but I now had a visa in advance so what could go wrong? Plan for the unexpected...

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The story of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta - and why I’m still in Egypt:

Let’s imagine that there’s a long wall with a locked door which can only be opened once a week but you’ll need a specific key.

Luckily my friend Alpha usually has the key so I called him. Unfortunately Alpha didn’t have the key for this particular door but asked Bravo to help out. Bravo wasn’t really in a hurry to help because Bravo has no clue who I am. However Bravo respects Alpha so I did get help to open the door. Unfortunately we just missed the time slot for opening the door so I had to wait a week at the wall.

The day before it was time to open the door again, Bravo introduced me to Charlie. Charlie has to be involved. Charlie is a great guy but he needs at least 3 days to arrange for all the formalities. That was no good as I’d loose another time slot and everything quickly got a little hectic! Fortunately the time-lock for the door was delayed and furthermore Charlie was well connected so everything got ready in just 2 days. As Charlie and I walked towards the door Delta suddenly arrived and claimed that the key was really his!

Since Delta had never had the chance to check if the other side of the wall was safe, there was no way I was getting to walk through that door. After all...the key did belong to Delta. I had no idea Delta existed so I called Alpha and Bravo who took immediate action. As a result Delta eventually invited me to walk though the door with him but I narrowly missed the time slot and got stuck on the wrong side of the wall.

While that doesn’t sound like a big deal: IT WAS! Because Charlie had prepared all my documents and I was no longer legally on his side of the wall! That meant that I was in risk of going to prison...yes! Real actual prison out of no fault of my own! However Charlie worked day and night helping me out so after 14 hours I was once again legally on his side of the wall. However on THIS side of the wall...

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My friend Mohamed.

As it turns out the door is pretty much permanently locked now. At least for me. Fortunately there’s another door which opens up soon. There’s a great Mediterranean company called MCL Feeder (www.mclfeeders.com) who have offered to help out. Their agent here in Port Said is a group of hardworking people. The agent is called Fair Trans (http://www.fairtrans.com) and Yasser, Haitham, Mohamed and Omar have all become friends in the past few days. They have gone over and beyond to help me and we didn’t even know each other just a week ago. Yasser, Haitham, Mohamed and Omar are just some of the people I’m always going on about. Most people are kind and generous and are willing to help you if it’s within their reach. Do you ever wonder about who you’re standing in line with or sitting next to in a train, bus or waiting room? They may have no idea what you have accomplished in life before you got there. You probably have no idea where they came from or where they are heading. It’s the world we live in. It’s the real world and not the world which the media pulls down over our faces. We all have an abundance of information stored inside of us. Can you tell much about those people by looking at their shoes, their hair or a tattoo?

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If I bring you back to the pyramids for a moment then it should be no surprise that the area is stockpiled with opportunistic people who want to offer tourists either this or that. It quickly becomes overwhelming and after leaving the sight I found myself in a low key café where I sat down to enjoy some tea and a moment of solitude. It didn’t last for long as an obnoxious perfume salesman approached me and interrupted my train of thought. After a while of typical tourism chat our conversation turned deeper and I decided to tell him who I was and why I was there. He listened as I spoke of countries and grit. He was no longer obnoxious. I showed him a video interview from Sudan, which I have stored on my phone. He listened to the Arabic narration until the interview was over and looked at me: “you are a good man” he said. Now I don’t know about that, but I do know that I try hard. One thing lead to the next and moments later I was in his home enjoying dinner with his wife, mother and father. It was delicious and afterwards we enjoyed tea. Someone else might have screamed: “GO AWAY!!” at this man and would have lost a moment of true Egyptian hospitality. I have pushed thousands of salesmen away over the course of the Saga. We simply cannot let everyone in. However if we do then sometimes we become richer in every way.

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My friends Haitham on the left and Omar on the right. Omar has 20,000 followers on Instagram? Superstar and office employee ;)

Traveling onboard containerships is not common. I must have told you this several times already. It’s a true privilege which is not bestowed on everyone. And it’s very hard work to gain access. VERY HARD! ;) At times I should think that swimming across the ocean is far easier. I’ve made some solid contacts over the years and I’m frightened that they may perish if I somehow misstep. These connections can be brittle and at times I fear that I’m no better than my last actions. Cyprus is a small country but a great shipping nation. Columbia Shipmanagement is based in Cyprus and manage hundreds of ships. They helped the Saga reach the Seychelles from Madagascar long ago. The Cyprus Shipping Chamber (CSC) is a very competent and powerful entity which strives to enlarge Cyprus as an even stronger shipping nation.

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My meeting with CSC a few months ago. Alex and Chrysostomos on the right and Mila and Bruno from www.beflexi.com on the left.

I recently reached out to my friend Alex who is the Director Deputy Manager and Marine Manager of CSC (http://csc-cy.org). He was pleased to hear from me and as always very helpful. There is so much which goes on behind the curtains of the Saga. Too many emails have been written, received and replied to - I can’t remember half of them. Phone calls, meetings, text messages, WhatsApp, messenger and everything short of smoke signals have accompanied my daily work and routines. CSC was instrumental in getting me onboard MSC’s vessel from Cyprus to Lebanon. They are once again supporting me in getting back to Cyprus. Can you believe this: I was actually onboard a ship just a few days ago here in Port Said ready to head back to Lebanon for our 2nd attempt!! I reached the ship in pure James Bond style, in the middle of the night, onboard a wooden boat. I reached the ship from the seaside and climbed up the gangway with my bag on my back. At 02:00am I had to leave the ship again after having spoken to a devastated Captain. He was really hoping it would work out but immigration in Lebanon had for the second time denied my entry to the country. Therefore there was no point in bringing me onboard to Beirut only to bring me back again. Expect the unexpected. If you have any idea regarding the backflips I need to make in order to get onboard a ship?! The paperwork alone encompasses a clean criminal record, proof of vaccinations, seafarers medical certificate, passport copies, letter of intent etc. Then the shipowners, charters and shipbrokers need to accept your presence onboard. Obviously immigration needs to accept your embarkation and then there’s the physical logistics in order to actually reach the ship: port security, guards, military, police... I was onboard the ship and had to return to shore. That’s like winning the lottery and having your ticket swept away with the wind! If only I knew why the Lebanese immigration is denying me entrance? Nobody knows. Somebody knows. I’m in the dark.

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Heading up just before midnight. Heading down two hours later.

Egypt’s a good country to be “stuck” in. Everything appears to costs a dollar or two. Unfortunately living costs are higher in Port Said. In Alexandria and Cairo I can easily find accommodation for $6 but in Port Said I’ve found nothing for less than $20. The 4 hour bus ride back to Cairo costs $3 so I thought about going back there just to save some money. Two nights in Port Said would buy me 6 nights in Cairo including transport to and from. However my usual place in Cairo was fully booked when I checked and I couldn’t muster the strength to head into the unknown so I opted for 4 nights in Port Said at the high rate. Here’s a story for you which I heard from someone I trust: if a foreigner rents a room for e.g. LE 100/night ($6) then the owner must register the foreigners passport with the authorities. However prices have gone up in Egypt in recent years while salaries have remained low. In effect this means that you quite often need to pay as much as Le 400 in order to register a foreign passport. Now if you’re charging LE 100 but need to pay LE 400 for the registration then you need your guest to stay for at least 5 nights before you make any money at all. In this case the guesthouse costs the owner LE 5,000/month. Business is tough so the temptation is there not to register the passport and hope that the authorities do not notice. Now the guest might be unaware that the host didn’t register the passport and the guest might think that everything is okay having paid the host LE 100. If the authorities make a surprise visit and discover that your passport is unregistered then you risk prison along with the host. Perhaps just a night but that would be more than enough I imagine. And you were of no fault as you were unaware. Times are tough for many people and they simply do the best they can with whatever they have. As it turns out I have lately been at risk of imprisonment twice within 3 days. Well, that’s twice that I’m now aware of. I’ve never been to prison in my life and I don’t know if that is something I wish to check off my to do list. Especially if it was of no fault of my own.

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Anyway, here’s the plan now for reaching Lebanon. I will board another containership and return back to Cyprus from Egypt. Then I intend on crossing into occupied Cyprus and catching the ferry to Turkey. From Turkey I will catch another ferry which will take me to Tripoli in Lebanon. From Tripoli I will travel overland to Beirut and meet with the Lebanese Red Cross which has been expecting me for some time now. I’m also scheduled to make a presentation at LWIS City International School, which I’m looking forward to. For those of you looking at the map I cannot cross the border between Israel and Lebanon due to political reasons. Furthermore the border between Syria and Jordan is closed to the best of my knowledge. Generally it is ill advised to visit Israel before a number of Middle Eastern countries for political reasons which would complicate the Saga further. I appreciate all your advice but keep in mind that I’m a public person and that I do not have the luxury of flight. What’s otherwise simple becomes a lot more complicated if your aim is to reach every single country in the world in a single single unbroken journey completely without flying ;)

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With a little paint and some tender care Port Said could be unbelievable.

On a final note: the crowdfunding campaign has picked up a bit since the last blog I wrote. I’m grateful for your contributions and it will take us a long way. I’m not confident that the followers of the Saga are motivated to help us reach the target of $50,000 and I might initiate my final plan to reach that goal. It’s not a plan that everyone will like but it’s a plan nonetheless :) I used to be a guy without a backup plan. I remember clearly when that changed about 20 years ago. Back then I ended my 12 months duty as a royal guard and I was standing in civilian clothing together with all the other soldiers. Families were there to welcome everyone back to “the real world”. Everyone had a plan: start a job, back to school, travel or something else. I stood there dumbfounded with no idea about what was coming next? 12 months of pushups and being told what to do had derailed me. My mind drew a blank while I stood there on the lawn. An officer approached me asking if he could see my papers? He looked at them and responded that I had done vey well. I was then invited into his office where we could speak about international duty. 45 minutes later I had signed the documents which would set me on a different course. It was a Friday. The following Monday I returned and was issued a new uniform along with a blue beret. Since then I vowed never to be caught off guard again. Since then I have always had a plan B no matter what ;)

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Port Said has got beaches too. They remind me of Libya.

If you can’t spare a few bucks to support the Saga then don’t worry - I’ll reach the last country one way or the other. However if you feel promoting the world in a positive way is a worthwhile cause then please follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/once-upon-a-saga-never-give-up-people#/

Have a great day wherever you are :)

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - wiser today than yesterday.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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