Hurry up and wait!!! Leaving Indonesia for the third time.

Day 2,171 since October 10th 2013: 187 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country    

Getting closer to country 188

pano

Not much seems to come easy within the Saga. And yet I think we are moving towards easier times. The past week was quite rough. However we prevailed and right now it’s kind of easy. Albeit with the added weight of having been away from home for nearly six years and the never ending bureaucrazy.

Last week I left you as “Captain Facebook” had miraculously brought his minibus to the port town of Labuhan Bajo on the island of Flores (Indonesia). I’m pretty sure I have seen far more of Indonesia than most Indonesians have. The Saga has taken us to West Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Timor, East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara, Lombok, Bali and back to Java. All without flying of course. And yet that was just on eight islands out of Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands. People have been writing me “Oh, Lombok is so beautiful” or “Lucky you – Bali is amazing”. The truth however is that it has all been both beautiful and amazing. The food has been good wherever I have been, the landscape has been astonishing and the people have been kind and friendly. So your “Lombok recommendation” is probably just a product of the keyhole glance you have had of an extraordinary country in an extraordinary corner of our round world. I’m however very happy that you had a good time while here. Please come back again and see some more. My experience of most of these places has been that of a man in transit and certainly not as a tourist. However I did get to appreciate much of it in my own way. Anyone born in Indonesia should consider it a blessing as Indonesia is certainly a country of great richness, opportunity and diversity. However I do get it if some find it hard to smile.

AMA

I'll be doing another Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Sunday September 22nd starting at 09:00am Western Indonesian Time (GMT+7). It will go for about twelve hours giving everyone a chance to join in. I'm sure you have a lot of great questions. You usually do. Save them for Sunday ;)

Let’s continue where we left off last week. My nine dollar (USD) hostel was quite good and I managed to do some laundry while there. It was of course express service which would costs me 25,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($1.80 USD) which was fine by me. In the evening they were showing a movie on a wall which doubled as a screen. The movie the guests had voted for was “The Avengers: End Game”. I opted to watch it while I was uploading the photos to last week’s entry. Then I finished the blog and went to bed. The next day I got up early enough to have breakfast, collect my laundry and take advantage of the free shuttle which ran down to the ferry. I got into a small debate with the staff at the hostel as they now wanted 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah for my express laundry. I had a kind smile on my face throughout the entire debate. If these people only knew the negotiations I’ve had at corrupt checkpoints around the world. A few minutes later I left with my laundry having paid 25,000. The ferry from Labuan Bajo to Sape took seven hours. From there I caught a bus to Bima which was just one hour away. Because in Bima I could catch a bus all the way to Surabaya on Java 935 km (581 mi). We still had far to cover but I was still hopeful that we would make it to Jakarta in time. The clock was however ticking. The world we are living in does not accommodate a journey to every country without flying. Much becomes complicated without flight: conflict zones, visas, reaching islands etc. Pacific International Lines (PIL) is helping to make it possible! PIL is the world’s 10th top container ship operator and owns and operates a fleet of around 160 vessels. PIL had advised that the good ship “Kota Nebula” was scheduled to depart Surabaya on September 23rd and that I would be welcome onboard. Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Indonesian embassy is located in Jakarta 736 km (457 mi) west of Surabaya while PNG is east. Not much we can do about that. The embassy requires four working days to process the visa. September 23rd is a Monday which then meant I had to be at the embassy in Jakarta no later than Tuesday morning in order to give the requested four days before the weekend. But so far we were still good on time.

Komodo

This is as close as I got to Komodo Island with the famous Komodo Dragons.

arm

In Bima I bought the ticket to Surabaya, boarded the bus and off we went. Over the next 17 hours we drove to Poto Tano, took a ferry across to Kayangan and continued by road to Mataram. In Mataram I had to transfer to another bus in order to continue to Surabaya. This in spite of the guy selling me the ticket guaranteeing that it was one bus all the way. But what can you do? The guy handling the transfer between busses spoke English well and managed to convince me that it would be far better for me to board another bus since I was going to Jakarata. It was a direct bus and would be much faster. My plan was to reach Surabaya and catch the train from there to Jakarta but this guy was convincing and I began to believe that it would be faster than the train. Time was of the essence so I had to make the best solutions (huge eye roll). I got on the bus and away we went to the nearby port. A ferry got us to Padangbai from where we again continued by land to Galimanuk, where we stopped for dinner. At this point my phone and all three battery packs had run out of juice which in turn meant no music, no podcasts, no photos, no emails, no work, no research – a modern day tragedy!! Nobody on the bus spoke any significant level of English so there was no chance of a conversation either. Just me and my thoughts. That’s good sometimes. However I found it really annoying. But now that we stopped for dinner I had a chance to charge my devices. We were not far from the port from which the next ferry would bring us to Java (from Bali). Everyone boarded the bus and the driver began to reverse out onto the road. Then he stopped…for a while…people began to get off…I saw my chance to get off and charge my phone some more. I however soon realized that something was out of the ordinary and walked to the back of the bus. The police was there. From some broken English I understood that we had hit a woman on a motorcycle and that she had been brought to the hospital. There was no damage to the back of the bus, no wreckage to be found and certainly no blood.

accident

We all went back inside to wait…and wait…and waaaaaaaaiiiiit… As time went by I began to wonder if I should just take a taxi to the ferry and make it across? Would we leave soon? What was better? Should I abandon ship? Apparently ferries head across the narrow strait between Bali and Java all the time. And the first town I would reach on Java was Banyuwangi which has a train connection to Surabaya. “Should I stay or should I go now? If I go, there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double”. I decided to wait it out a bit longer and several hours later around 02:00am the bus driver got back in his seat and we were on our way again. At this point I was under the clear impression that my bus would reach Surabaya late afternoon and Jakarta the following day (Tuesday) around 4pm at best. Okay – so my plan was now that I would definitely leave the bus in Banyuwangi in order to catch the train to Surabaya and a connecting train onward to Jakarta. I had found the schedules online and the two trains left me with thirteen minutes between the trains which should be enough. We crossed the waters, I said farewell, the bus left without me, I walked over to the train station, sat down to buy a ticket and then discovered that we were talking about two different train stations in Surabaya! And it would take an hour to transit between them and not thirteen minutes! Also it was now 07:00am and the train wouldn’t leave until 09:00am. Would those two hours give me enough time to reach Surabaya by bus? Darn it!! I had made the wrong decision! If only I was still onboard the bus I had arrived on then I would have been fine. Okay – so I got on the back of a motorcycle taxi and raced to the bus terminal where I was fortunate to get on a bus to Surabaya fairly quickly. But I was one our behind the bus I had just arrived on. And this new bus driver, although very friendly, was phenomenally slow!! We are talking speeds of around 30 kph (19 mph). Everything was overtaking us!! And we were stopping to let passengers on and off everywhere. Now what? Abandon this bus and get in a taxi or something?

last bus

Nice but slow driver.

I sat there sweating for hours while the driver promised that we would be in Surabaya at 2pm (the train left at 3:15pm). I was measuring the distance we had to go, our speed, made calculations…it wasn’t looking good. We would definitely be late! However I calculated a cut-off time at which I had to leave the bus if I did not think we would make it. Suddenly we turned off the crowded road and onto a nearly empty highway and for the next hour we were blasting away. We reached Surabaya at 2:10pm from where I caught a Grab (taxi) and made it to the train station on time. I even had time for a quick meal. It worked out. For the next eleven hours I had to be on the train to Jakarta and would arrive at 02:41am. By the way, pop quiz! What does a modern train in Congo, a modern train in Indonesia and a bus in Venezuela have in common? Some joker set the air-conditioning to arctic temperatures on all three modes of transport!!! I swear I saw a penguin at one point!! Oh well…I do not travel light and pulled out some warmer clothing and got a few hours of sleep.

cold

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!

In Jakarta another Grab got me from the station to my hostel and I went to bed at 04:16am when I wrote goodnight to my fiancée. I got up again four hours later, printed my paperwork, caught a Grab to the embassy and submitted my application before 11am. Now it was a waiting game. I was told to collect my visa and my passport Friday (today). If all goes well then I will be on a train heading the eleven hours back to Surabaya Saturday and in time for the good ship next week.

visa

Opposite the PNG embassy you'll find the Pemuda Membangun Monument. The statue was erected in 1971 to inspire people to participate in the nation's building, especially the youths of the new nation.

It has been good to be back in Jakarta. I haven’t really gone anywhere. I have been catching up on food and sleep. Most nights I’ve managed eight hours of sleep and I have had three meals a day. The wifi connection has been good so I have been working my way through the piles of bureaucrazy, paperwork and obligations which have built up. I’ve also been researching PNG, I’ve been helping various travellers, filled out more paperwork, done some shopping, coordinated the upcoming transportation and managed social media. I have however also pulled out some mornings to sit and watch YouTube! Sometimes you’ve got to ;) Quantum Physics are incredibly fascinating! Oh well…let’s leave that for another time.

work

"Throwback Thursday" posts on Facebook have been updated to run until January 30th 2020 :)

haircut

I had a haircut. Do I look handsome now? ;) 

And here we are. Another short entry for you guys. There probably won’t be one for next week as I expect to be at sea. I might write one while onboard though. In other news the Saga’s social media has recently seen quite a jump. Especially Facebook grew with more than a thousand new faces. It has been hard to pinpoint why but I tribute it to at least three things: 1) an excellent article by Andy Leve for ‘The National’ in UAE (read here), 2) a feature in ‘Hjemmet’ which is Norway’s largest weekly magazine and 3) something which I’ve just been wrecking my brain to remember what was but it has slipped my mind? I’ve definitely been thinking about three possible sources lately which sort of all collided all at once. The Saga does see a lot of media. There have definitely been interviews across more than 140 countries by now and remarkably all the press I know of has been positive. I continue to give interviews large and small and suspect that will only increase now that we are left with “only” sixteen countries left. I have the full support of PIL as well as Swire Shipping | The China Navigation Co. and that sets us on a solid path to conquer the Pacific Island nations. So for some foreseeable time I’ll sort of either be on a ship on my way to an island or on an island waiting for a ship. However I will not be spending time chasing ships as this has already fallen into place between the might of PIL and Swire. So (knock on wood) I think the Saga could be getting easier from heron out? Yeah!! How strange would that be? For most of the Saga I have been working some 60-80 hours per week and sometimes above. But I can’t do much onboard a ship and there will be plenty of shipping going on from now on. Let’s see though.

ASIAFYNMB

Probably my favorite from the OUAS-SHOP. Bob in Uganda is managing it competently so why not visit and see if there is something you like :)

I’ve got two things I need to say before rounding this entry off. First of all I want to express huge appreciation to all of you out there who have been helping and supporting in one way or the other. The many of you who continue to cheer me on with the kindest of words! Those of you who have processed paperwork for me! The many who contribute financially to ensure the Saga continues. All of you who have been silent observers throughout the years. Those of you which I have met and those which I have still to meet: THANK YOU! You bring tears to my eyes. The Saga’s family, fans, followers, friends and everyone else now counts above 50,000 accounts across social media and I have no idea who most of you are. However you are definitely a supportive lot!

padlock

The padlock to the right has been with me since Peru 2014. It has traveled 231,268 km (143,703 mi) across five continents before it gave up. Everything breaks in this project. Now it has been replaced by the one to the left.

Secondly a woman asked me a few days ago what the Saga contributes with. And as such I replied that we are creating world history by reaching every country without flying. I replied that the Saga also inspires by demonstrating that goals are achievable if we remain motivated and are willing to fight for them. Furthermore I told her that the Saga has symbolically linked the Red Cross Red Crescent across 180+ countries, as I have paid them all a visit and shared information about them, which in turn has lead people to donate blood, donate money, volunteer or in other ways take part in the humanitarian efforts. Finally, I told her, that the Saga has brought a positive focus to countries all around, which has helped in normalizing the world we live in, in the eyes of people. Because people are just people. And you’ll find that in both Syria and Yemen people take selfies, fall in love, get married, enjoy good food and get stuck in traffic.

TCP

And that’s all I have to say about that :)

 

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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - this entry came to life while I listened to Chopin. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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The secret plan of getting to Papua New Guinea without flying

Day 2,165 since October 10th 2013: 187 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country    

Nice tittle – hey?

Pano

It is 2019. So clickbait sells. There is no secret in how we are going to reach Papua New Guinea (PNG). I think I already revealed it a few entries ago. And now we have left Timor-Leste and are rapidly executing the next step which is getting to PNG. Not as easy as you might think given how close Timor-Leste is to PNG. On a map in any case.

Yeah, my darling fiancée flew back home via several connected flights on a 32hr journey. That is food for thought. 32hrs to reach Denmark from this part of the world if you fly. I figure I could do it in two weeks by land and sea. I believe I made it clear within last week’s entry that I do not enjoy seeing her leave. So I will not delve on that. However I will mention that the hotel room was mighty empty when I returned.

ToiletPaper

My fiancee wanted extra toilet paper. It was there in the room when I returned after seeing her off at the airport.

The RED CROSS!!! Same thing as the RED CRESCENT!!! Two names for the same movement. The names cover the world’s largest humanitarian organization. Woop woop! It’s neutral. It has no religious affiliation. It is simply in place to help the most vulnerable people across the face of our pale blue dot which spins silently in space. And the Danish Red Cross made me a Goodwill Ambassador before I left home in 2013. Mighty brave of them considering they had no idea what would come next. Within that capacity I have visited the movement in 183 countries around the world which is so absolutely a world record and one which nobody seems to care about. I don’t blame anyone as I don’t think it is a record I will pursue to get verified. However it was the Red Cross in Timor-Leste which kept me in Dili for a few more days. As soon as Monday arrived I suited up in my Red Cross attire and headed to their headquarter where I met the wonderful Nichola (Nicky) Hungerford who is the communications and organisation strengthening mentor at the Cruz Vermelha (Red Cross) de Timor-Leste (CVTL). Nicky is Australian and has that charming twang when she speaks. However she has spent years in Timor-Leste dealing with the humanitarian efforts.

RC

Great and hospitable crowd. And quite selfie happy too ;)

CVTL has been a part of the family for decades. In fact the movement has been the difference between life and death for some of the staff throughout the birth of this young nation (2002). In many aspects you’ll find the RC at work when nobody else is there. While Timor-Leste’s capital Dili receives a lot of attention the more rural and remote villages depend on humanitarian assistance which CVTL provides. Timor-Leste is rich in mountains and as such in fresh water sources as well. However is the water getting to the people? Do people know how to treat water without contaminating it? Do people know about sanitation? Well some do and others do not. The RC steps up where needed and provides training. I found the CVTL to be very impressive in its reach and motivated to expand its humanitarian efforts. Did you know that as a part of the vocational training CVTL teaches English and computer skills to those in need? It’s not just all about blood donations, first aid and disaster response.

firstbus

The first bus of many to come until we reach Surabaya.

While the road from Dili in Timor-Leste to Kupang in Indonesia (on Timor) is a mere 424 km (263 mi) it still takes twelve hours to cover by bus. I hear the flight is 45 minutes (sigh). Arwin (Dutch friend from last week’s entry) travelled by bus from Dili to Kupang a week or more ahead of me and was friendly enough to inform me that I should secure a ticket well in advance as the seats get sold out quickly. So I did. However when I showed up with my bags ready for departure on September 10th the lady at the counter could tell me that I was early as my ticket was for September 12th! Darn it!! Fortunately she had a seat available in the back of minibus number two and it all worked out. My fiancée was there with me when I purchased the ticket and we were afterwards sure we booked for Tuesday!? However we did not check the date and the 12th was last Thursday so I figure Tuesday/Thursday might have sounded alike. Always double check. Fortunately it worked out.

immigration

At the border. Waiting to speak with immigration.

It was harder for me to enter Indonesia from Timor-Leste than it was to exit Indonesia and enter Timor-Leste. Leaving Timor-Leste was no problem and I was soon heading to the Indonesian immigration. However the officer at the counter asked me to speak to his superior which took a little time. Most of the time was spent waiting and once it was my turn he wanted to know this and that and demanded that I had an exit ticket and a hotel booking. Technically I do not need neither and have been requested to provide no such thing the first to times we have entered Indonesia this year. This was not my first rodeo and I took it all with ease. Finally I just told him that Timor-Leste was country number 187 in an unbroken journey completely without flying. End of discussion. My passport was stamped and I entered Indonesia for the third time.

fish

Street-food in Kupang. Lots of fresh fish!

By nightfall the bus reached Kupang where I had last been with my fiancée after she arrived in the airport some two weeks earlier. The route of the bus from the border to Kupang had been through Atambua, Kefamenanu and Soe which were all towns my fiancée and I had stayed at on our way to Timor-Leste. The route back was equally beautiful to what it was in the opposite direction. I found a hostel in Kupang and checked in. On arrival I met Napa from Indonesia and Stu from Australia. Napa is an elderly fellow with a large knowledge about Kupang’s ins and outs. He has been assisting sailors of all sorts for at least fifteen years when they come to dock in Kupang. He keeps a scrapbook which I got to write in. It was really interesting. The Danes will recognize this name: “Nordkaperen”. That fine ship was among the many which have found their way into Napa’s capable hands in Kupang. Napa was now helping me find out when the next ferry left in a direction which was useful for me. Stu was another interesting fellow. Stu was in the beginning of his epic motorcycle journey from Australia to the UK. He’s from the “Sunshine Coast” (Queensland) and drove his MC up to Darwin from where it was shipped to Dili. He then drove around a bit in Timor-Leste before making his way to Kupang. He’s a great guy and we got to spend some time together. Because I ended up getting two nights in Kupang before I could leave.

Sunset

The glorious plan for reaching PNG is that I travel overland and sea to Surabaya (east Java), where I drop my bags before continuing to Jakarta. The distance from Dili to Surabaya is “just” 2,331 km (1,448 mi) and takes about three-four days. Then I continue up to Jakarta which is another 781 km (485 mi) and apply for a visa for PNG before returning the same way back to Surabaya. If all goes well then I will be boarding the good ship “Kota Nebula” from PIL’s (Pacific International Lines) large fleet. And that will be glorious as it is the first time I embark one of PIL’s vessels!! I was scheduled to embark one out of Manila (Philippines) but the backwards rules of their immigration laws did not permit for it. So I was sent on a detour. However Indonesia is a completely different country and I feel confident that we will not see any problems this time. The estimated time of departure from Surabaya is September 23rd and the scheduled arrival in Port Moresby (PNG) is October 1st. After a night in Kupang Napa took me for a ride on his scooter to buy a ferry ticket from Kupang. He had called his friend the port master and confirmed that it left that day at 4pm. It took about 30 minutes to reach the port and conclude that no ferries were leaving that day and that the ticket office was closed as well. Napa was clearly disappointed although it wasn’t his fault. We then headed the 30 minutes back to the hostel.

Napa

Riding with Napa :)

Upon further investigation three ferries would be leaving the next day to different ports on the island Flores of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands. And that works for me as it gets us closer to Surabaya. Nothing could be done that day so Stu and I opted to visit Crystal Cave which my fiancée and I had already visited. That was where I got the cold which I have finally gotten rid of. Stu had dismantled the passenger foot pegs on his motorbike before leaving home so it wasn’t practical to carry a passenger. So we travelled to the cave in a bemo (minibus). I had told Stu about how serene the cave was and that we were less than a handful people there when I went the first time. To our surprise there were some twenty people there this time! Most did not enter the water and nearly everyone were tourists from Indonesia. Stu and I got in the crystal blue water which the cave is named after. After a while we were the only ones in the water while everyone was just on land taking photos. When Stu left the water to go and dry himself I was alone…I thought? But as I sat there all alone and disappeared into my own thoughts a MONSTER suddenly came out of the water right next to me and said: “hi, where are you from?” I was shocked!! But I quickly realized that monsters do not exists and that it was an Indonesian local who was free diving deep below us. Down to 20 meters (66 feet)! He was downs there for two minutes before he came up and startled me. Good guy though.

Stu

Hanging with Stu the Australian.

Stu and I left the cave and caught a cup of coffee and a sunset at the same spot where my fiancée, the two Dutchmen (Arwin and Laurent) and I had sat together not long ago. It is a nice place for a nice sunset. Stu has some amazing adventures ahead of him and something he can really look forward to. You can join him online and experience it with him at @worldmotoadventure on Facebook and Instagram.

Ninja

Onboard the ferry I managed to cross all of these people without waking anybody up! #LikeANinja

The next day Napa and I headed back to the port. I was really tired as I had been working until 2am the night before but I got a lot of stuff done. The webshop is coming along nicely and it is now easier to pay than ever before. I hope you’ll take a look as any purchase will support the Saga while Bob in Uganda makes 10%. And there is some cool stuff for sale. The first orders have already gone out and have been delivered to some very satisfied (I imagine) customers :)

SagaShop

"Time Flies - I Don't" Access the OUAS-SHOP here or by clicking on the image :)

I boarded a ridiculously crowded ferry which would be my home for the night. It was still early afternoon. It was quite windy but the port master had given his blessings for a safe departure. I couldn’t find a free spot for me anywhere onboard the ferry. All seats and tables were taken. I kept going up until I couldn’t get higher and up there I spotted a group of Indonesian Policemen. One of them invited me to come and sit with him. Great guy. They all were. We had a bit of a chat but their English was limited and I was getting drowsy from the motion sickness pill I had popped as a precaution. After a while I rolled out my sleeping bag as a “mattress” on the iron floor and went to sleep. I woke up after dark and maneuvered my way to the on board kiosk for some “pop mie” (instant soup noodles). Then I went back to my police friends and fell asleep again. Sleeping is a generous word when it comes to laying on an iron floor in the open wind. I was pretty knackered when I left the ferry at 7am the following day. A driver heading to Labuhan Bajo offered me a fair price. I was in Aimere only 240 km (150 mi) away. We left shortly before 8am and it was all looking fine until I discovered the driver had a severe facebook addiction which slowed us down immensely!! Quite often he would drive super slow as he was reading a text. He was also quite busy shouting greetings to people all along the way for which he would also slow down. He seemed hyperactive but preoccupied with anything else than driving. I figured that if we reached Labuhan Bajo in six hours then we would be going at a slow but fair pace. It took more than eight hours!

facebook

"Captain Facebook" behind the wheel. Hopeless!!

And that is where we are at now. I found myself a nine dollar (USD) hostel, had a shower, a cup of coffee, saw the sunset, met some cool people from the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and USA – and then I had diner and went to work on this entry. The ferry leaves tomorrow (Saturday) around 8-9am. While we are not moving as fast as I hoped we are moving ahead and Mother Nature does not disappoint.

end

Thank you Mother Nature.

Let’s keep on keeping on.

 

If you think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. Thank you :)

 

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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - in transit. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Timor-Leste, Timor, a chieftain, exquisite beauty and a little love

Day 2,159 since October 10th 2013: 187 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country   

Christmas came early in Dili

pano

If I had to recap EVERYTHING which has happened in the past two weeks then you would be reading a novel right now. So in trying to keep it “short” I’ve left a great many things out and have gone superficially across much. And yet this entry is still quite something! Enjoy.

Timor is an Island in South East Asia bordering the Pacific Ocean. It is in the far east of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 diverse islands and home to the first new country of this century. Do not be fooled by that sentence. South Sudan is the newest country in the world since it came into existence in 2011. But Timor-Leste (East Timor) officially became a country in 2002 (newest of this century). Timor is not a large island but it is large enough and full of heart. It is basically split down the middle in east and west. The western part is Indonesia with the exception of a small Timorese exclave called Oecusse, where the Portuguese first landed in 1515. The exclave reminds me of the Russian exclave Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania. You might think that the people of Timor-Leste originate from Indonesia but you would be wrong. The first people appear to have arrived from Australia. "Timor" derives from timur, the word for "east" so when we say East Timor or Timor-Leste then we are saying “east east”. That sort of thing is called a tautological toponym.

LandT 

Why the heck would I not shave for this woman!! ;) 

I reached Kupang on the Indonesian side of Timor after four nights onboard the good ship “KM Bukit Siguntang” from Pelni’s fleet. Pelni is the national ferry/cargo company of Indonesia and has helped out several times. I was bound to meet my fiancée for the 21st time since the Saga took off in 2013. So I did not linger at the ferry. Disembarking went swift and I soon found myself in a taxi (Grab) heading towards the hotel we had booked. My fiancée had arrived a few hours before me so I did not have the chance to greet her in the airport. On route to the hotel the driver and I followed the coast and I spotted several monkeys on the roadside. Naturally this made me think I would see many more but in reality those would be the only wild ones I saw on Timor for the next two weeks. We reached the hotel and there she was!! The woman I proposed to on top of Mt. Kenya, the woman who has supported me throughout the Saga, the woman who recently completed her 2nd Ironman, the woman I will someday marry; the woman I love! If you think I got this far on my own during the past near six years then you are gravely mistaken. I had a lot of support. Family, friends, fans, followers and many more have assisted in a great deal of ways. My fiancée has been especially supportive in every way imaginable. Long distance relationships are hard work and we have had our ups and downs. But we are strong together and we are a committed team. It takes no time at all for us to “find” each other when we reunite. It took her three flights to come and find me this time.

cave

Bathing in surreal surroundings (picture by Arwin)

The next day we went exploring. Timor is not well developed in terms of tourism but the island has a lot to offer. It’s just more work. Some speak English but many do not. Googling can give you some ideas of what to see and how to get there. But a lot of information is vague and outdated. Timor felt completely safe to me and extraordinarily friendly. Like really over the top friendly. So if you are looking for a good adventure then Timor could be a great destination for you. Our target for the day was “Gua Kristal” (crystal cave) and after shanghaiing a local driver we managed to arrive. The cave appeared to be surrounded by a stone wall and some young boys had followed us from the road to the locked gate. Once we arrived one of the boys shouted out a name and another kid appeared with a key and requested a very small amount of money. After that we were free to head towards the cave entrance. As we approached the hole in the ground we encountered a French couple coming out. We quickly greeted them and headed underground. The stones were slippery but it was manageable. As we approached the crystal clear blue cave water we heard voices and quickly discovered that we were not alone. Within the water two Dutch friends were enjoying a swim. One wearing swimming trunks and the other as God intended him. This was our first meeting with Arwin and Laurent. Two childhood friends since some forty years ago who were on a joint holiday. Laurent has made a life for himself in Melbourne, Australia, while Arwin lives with his family in the Netherlands. Great guys!

PeopleArePeople

The Saga shop is open for business and the first orders have already been delivered. Bob in Uganda is running it with strict competence :) Click on the image or HERE to go browsing and see if we have something for you. Maybe this "People Are Just People' t-shirt :)

We spent a few hours in the cave to the point where I got cold and got a cold. My fiancée was fine and so were the Dutch. We all left the cave together and decided to join forces on a walk along the coast. Arwin was particularly interested in finding some good coffee. We caught a “bemo” (small local bus) to the coast and walked from there. Enjoyed the sunset and the company. It turned out that Arwin and Laurent were staying at the same hotel as us. Furthermore my fiancée and I were planning on heading to Soe the following day and so were they. Albeit the Dutch had already organized visiting the unique island of Menipo on their way there making a daytrip out of it. We were soon invited to join them and the four of us split the costs. That night my fiancée, whos name is Le, and I had some super disgusting sushi. It is one of our traditions when we meet. We try to see movie in the theatres when possible, we play cards and we have sushi. Not necessarily on the same day. But that night we found a “sushi restaurant” at a mall and ordered way too much. The amount would have been fine if the sushi had not been covered in mayonnaise, ketchup and melted cheese!?! What the heck?! Our terrible meal was accompanied by an amateur song contest in which amateur is the key word. It was very loud though and since the “sushi restaurant” was open to the centre of the mall where the contest took place…well…yeah. Not a great meal. The restaurant could of course not be blamed for the volume – but the staff was drawn to the contest like magnets so service was pretty low. We quit halfway through our meal which has never happened before. And it should be said that eating sushi in Indonesia is kind of wrong anyway as the local food is excellent as it is. But tradition is tradition.

sushi

Sushi with melted cheese and mayonnaise anyone?

The next day we had breakfast, packed our bags and met up with Arwin and Laurent in the lobby. And the adventure began. The main roads on Timor are quite good but the minor roads surely are not. We made a stop at a triple waterfall before reaching a dirt road (in horrible condition) which over the next many hours led us through some very local life. Timor is predominantly Christian and often we would find three large crosses erected next to another on the roadside. Basic houses formed basic villages and I would on and off be reminded of rural areas I have seen across the African continent. The roadsides were also often decorated with colourful flags and banners which likely celebrated Indonesia’s 74th year of independence (from the Dutch). We finally reached a ranger station near Menipo Island and signed in. A fee was paid and then we were accompanied by some ten rangers or similar. We headed towards the river, the men brought a mounted a motor on a boat, we all got in and away we went. We were scouting for crocodiles but our first encounter with nature became hundreds of thousands of massive bats! Eventually the rangers spotted a crocodile on land. It was well hid between the mangrove forest and far above the water given the low tide. The rangers startled the croc, while still in the boat, and it made a run for the water and flew for a second before breaking the surface with a splash! I would have loved to get a photo or video of that but I was nowhere near expecting it!

bats

Those are huge bats - not birds!

islandarrive

Arriving at Menipo Island.

LeAndTCP

Getting that perfect beach photo takes a few tries (photos by Arwin).

We landed on the nearby shore of Menipo and walked across the beautiful landscape. Turtles come to the seaside of Menipo and lay their eggs. Crocodiles live there. The island has dear and monkeys too. We did not see the monkeys but we did encounter a dear tame enough for us to touch it. An hour later we left the island and continued on our way to Soe. In the process our small car had to cross a river which was quite something given that it was certainly no 4WD. However our driver was by no means phased by it so I guess it was normal. Soon we found a brilliant piece of newly constructed road which was a relief as we headed into the sunset. The evening ended in Soe at a hotel which to me resembled a cross between a motel, a truck stop and an Austrian alpine hut! Weird but comfortable. It just so happened to be overrun by some thirty World Vision humanitarians as we were there. By the way: if you dream of becoming famous then I think you should visit Indonesia just to try it on for size. Especially if you look like a westerner. People are very kind and very forthcoming. And a lot of people are not shy in asking you if you are up for a selfie. Within a few hours you are easily approached by 30-50 people and you will quickly realize that walking down the street has become an exhausting affair if you want to stay polite and say hello to everyone. Privacy is mostly found behind closed doors. It is “hello mister” and “hello madam” left and right all the time. If that appeals to you then you might just like being famous. I don’t think it’s a life for me.

TheDutch

Amazing company! As they traveled ahead of us we have been fed all sorts of tips in advance long after we parted :)

The next day Le and I wanted to reach Fatumnasi in the mountains and the Dutch had plans for visiting a few cultural villages before slowly making their way towards Timor-Leste. We were also heading towards Timor-Leste but had more time on our hands so we said farewell and split up. We really enjoyed our time with Arwin and Laurent who are both super interesting and curious people. They clearly loved diving into local culture, learning and using the local language and speaking with people. Isn’t that just the way it should be when you visit a country? Before noon Arwin and Laurent had secured a driver, price and ride to their next destination and away they went. Le and I were still trying to work out how to reach Fatumnasi, a small village, which was merely 30 km (19 mi) away. However it was rural life and finding transport when nobody spoke English was work. If you are just backpacking then I’m sure you could make it from one village to the next and eventually reach Fatumnasi from Soe at low cost. However we wanted some efficiency and comfort so we kept asking around. Meanwhile I bought a simcard, drew some extra cash from an ATM and together we had some noodles at a surprisingly modern café. It didn’t take long before we were on the phone with the owner of the café and she organized a 4WD to come and pick us up and bring us the two hours to Fatumnasi. The landscape was unbelievably gorgeous. The people of Fatumnasi certainly know how to pick a spot!! Fields left and right. Great views. Very idyllic! A regular car could have made the way to Fatumnasi with an experienced driver behind the wheel but still a 4WD seemed appropriate. If you are ever in the region then try to reach out for Jemry Saluk (+62 852-5328-2332). You can find him on WhatsApp and he speaks English well. Jemry is a tour operator and will offer you a fair price. The Dutch used him and passed the number to Le and I. We ended up using him a few days later. Highly recommended.

chieftain

From our photo-shoot with Mateos who is far more modern than he looks here. He encouraged the photos. Not sure we would have had any with him if he had not suggested it :)

In Fatumnasi Le and I were planning to visit a homestay but couldn’t get a hold of the host. It turned out that the host is the chieftain of Fatumnasi and that his grandfather or great grandfather was the first to settle there. His name is Mateos Anin and he is somewhat legendary. I think he has been featured on TV as well. His number is 085239890563 and you may want to try calling him several times as reception in the area isn’t the best. We just showed up and were immediately welcomed. There was a gathering of people at his address when we arrived. Perhaps some forty people or more under a thatched roof. They were listening to a man in traditional dress speaking. That man was Mateos. He speaks some English, stopped addressing the others for a moment and invited us to come and sit front centre while he then continued speaking a language to the others which we did not understand a word of. We sat there for some fifteen minutes before Mateos once again approached us and invited us for coffee in a nearby hut while he once again returned to the others and continued speaking to his audience. Later we learned it was a delegation from Kupang and a meeting relating to tourism in the area. I guess our arrival proved appropriate given the subject.

holetree

forest

We enjoyed staying at Mateos place where we were given a traditional round hut to sleep in. My cold from the crystal cave had worsened but no more than I could still function. We slept well and the next day Mateos drew a basic map for us as we attempted to hike up Mt. Mutis which peaks at 2,417 meters (7,929 ft). The nature reserve which surrounds the mountain is just stunning. I don’t know if I’ve seen forest like that before and it was hard to believe we were in Indonesia. I guess it speaks to the diversity of the islands? At times I thought we could have been in Austria, Swaziland or Denmark? Or perhaps in Fangorn forest in J.R.R. Tokien’s fictional world of Middle-earth. Several of the trees could certainly have been Ents. It was well worth the effort to get there. We had to cover quite some distance to reach the peak and return though. And we quickly realized that we would be returning in the dark. We pushed ahead regardless and made it to the summit…turned around and made it as far as we could before the sun had set. As it got dark the stars appeared on the night sky. All of them!! The Milky Way was clear and the forest was pitch dark. My cold had been bothering me the entire way up and down and eventually I ran out of battery. I knew I could make it back but I also knew I had far to go…sort of too far. Le was feeding me crackers and we drank the remaining water. A person can live for three days without water. However it would have been nice if we had brought more. At one point I had to lie down to recuperate a bit before soldiering on. Le was fine. My little Iron-woman. While on my back (chewing crackers) I saw a shooting star cross the night sky. We carried on and reached Mateos again around 9pm. He told us that he would have sent some family members out to look for us if we were not back by 10pm. That day we hiked 29.5 km (18.3 mi).

Le forest

Le overlooking the landscape. People have been guessing where she is from. Guesses have ranged from Japan to Canadian-Chinese (how specific)! We laughed a lot about that one. She was raised in Denmark and has a danish passport. What more is relevant? ;)

The next day a driver we had arranged through Jemry came to pick us up and drove us back to Soe. From there Jemry took over and drove us to Kefamenanu where we spent the night and had our laundry done. Street food is great in this part of the world and often consists of rice with something: meatballs, chicken, fish, beef… We had some delicious fish that night and the next day Jemry was ready to take us to Temkesi, which is a local and very interesting village. Timor is traditionally made up of several kingdoms and there is much to explore. We had our sights set on Temkesi and Jemry of course offered to drive/guide us there. We reached the sacred village and paid our respect (and some Indonesian Rupiah) to the family we visited. Jemry brought betel nut with him which he had passed out to various people along the way and now sat and chewed together with the family in the sacred village. Le and I walked around for a while and explored the rural life. Every so often all the families would assemble and climb a nearby sacred mountain to perform sacred rituals at a sacred rock. Each family in the village had a piece of the sacred mountain near their round hut for everyday small rituals. I’m a little weak on the details but I believe that the number seven had a lot of significance. Like the families assembled every seven years and repairs to the village could only be done every seven years etc.

solarpanel

Even in a rural traditional sacred village people need power ;)

That night we made it to Atambua which is near the border of Timor-Leste (the Saga’s 187th country). We said farewell to Jemry and booked ourselves into a hotel near a bus company which runs buses to Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Unfortunately all seats were sold out. There was another company but the same scenario. Le and I had begun to backup photos and videos from the Saga as we do every time she visits. The hotel in Atambua had a good internet connection so we took advantage of that. We had diner at another hotel which resulted in my MasterCard being temporarily closed but I did not know that yet. It didn’t matter much anyway as Visa Card is the credit card of choice across Timor on both sides of the border. The next morning we got on two different motorcycles which brought us to the local market. From there we boarded a bemo to the border which had me highly suspicious the entire 23 km (14 mi) to the border. Because nowhere in the world do minibuses leave half empty!! We were only four passengers in the bemo with room for at least eleven passengers so something was wrong! I was highly alert and uncomfortable with the situation. What was the driver pulling here? Was he going to try to charge us overprice as the tourists we were? However there was no need to worry. Once we reached the border we paid the driver less than $2 USD and said farewell to a smiling driver.

children

School children in Indonesia saw us as their prime attraction :)

Together Le and I walked across the border. It was our fifth border crossing together within the Saga: Bolivia/Chile, Germany/France/Spain, Zimbabwe/Zambia and now Indonesia/Timor-Leste. The facilities on the Indonesian side were brand new and looked good. As Denmark is a “Schengen country” we could cross into Timor-Leste as easy as entering a mall. Everyone on both sides of the border were easy going and made it easy for us. Welcome to “east east”.

TimorLeste

As soon as we crossed the border and found ourselves in Timor-Leste we began looking for transport to Dili. However almost immediately upon arrival a highly pregnant woman approached us and offered us a ride. She spoke English well and seemed quite nice. It was hot outside. We had about three hours from the border to Dili due to road conditions. I had to feel out the situation before accepting the woman’s offer. How often do you cross a border and immediately get offered a ride by a stranger? But as we spoke to her I began to trust her. She was Indonesian (from Kupang) and married to a Timorese (Timor-Leste). Her visa had expired so she was at the border to get it renewed. Soon after we met her husband who was slightly surprised that his pregnant wife had offered us a ride? But he went with it. I feel ashamed that I did not note their names because these two proved to be utterly wonderful people, great ambassadors for Timor-Leste and definitely more proof that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.

Beach2

Beach near Dili.

We left in their 4WD and chatted along the way. He was educated within tourism and works for the government. She is a lecturer at the university. The coastline of Timor-Leste was jaw dropping beautiful! I pity the people who fly to Dili as they surely miss out on something quite spectacular. A great deal of the road was under construction which slowed us down. Also traffic on the relatively narrow road and the nature of the road curving along the coastline slowed us down. The route from the border to Dili is just 110 km (68 mi) but it takes three hours or more. The lovely couple were expecting their first new born. Their lives were about to change forever. They suggested we stopped along the way to enjoy a seaside lunch and that meal turned out to be the best we had in all our time together on Timor! Amazing fish, rice boiled in coconut milk, and meat on a stick. Brilliant! A few cars rolled up and some people came out. The couple looked surprised and showed great respect to a certain lady among the newly arrived group. The respect consisted of a polite nod and a greeting. The group was seated near the shore and life continued. It was a very simple roadside place and the woman who had just arrived turned out to be non-other than former first lady of Timor-Leste Kirsty Sword Gusmão! She is a highly respected and decorated activists. Oh well…with a population of just slightly more than a million people you are bound to run into people now and again but this was just two hours into our visit. How remarkable.

JC

As in many other countries Timor-Leste has two religions: God and football! this statue of Jesus is 27 meters (88.6 ft) tall. The one in Rio de Janeiro is 30 m (98 ft).

On arrival to Dili Agostinho (as I later learned from Instagram his name is) and his lovely wife dropped us off at our chosen destination and we said farewell. Le and I checked into a hostel/hotel/diveshop, left our baggage and went exploring. Dili is a rather small capital and it feels very local an un-international. It feels quite authentic, very charming, friendly and safe. People greeted us left and right but never asked for selfies. Portuguese is the formal language but everyone speaks Tetum, which is also an official language of Timor-Leste. Several other languages are spoken but Portuguese and Tetum are the main ones. Looking across the landscape of people it varies from more traditional clothing to the modern. You’d easily spot young people with tattoos, piercings, cool haircuts and hip shoes. It is traditional life mixed with modern life as long as you’re in Dili. Once you leave Dili it gets a lot more rural but not so rural that people do not have smartphones. Welcome to 2019. We headed to Timor Plaza which is the local mall and bought a simcard. We checked out which movies were running at the cinema and had a milkshake. Back at the hotel we decided to visit the nearby paradise island of Atauru and began investigating which options we had. It did not take long before we had accepted a package deal with a hotel on the island: boat to and from, food and accommodation included. It wasn’t crazy expensive. $300 USD per person for three nights four days. Definitely above my $20 USD / day budget but to heck with that! My fiancée was by my side and we should be collecting experiences to form a good life. The ferry to and from the island leaves twice a week: Thursday and Saturday. It was Sunday but the hotel had its own boat and could ferry us across. So we went for it.

boat

Off to Atauro as fast as possible (without flying).

The next morning we went on a hunt for some USD. The currency of Timor-Leste is USD and we succeeded in trying five ATM’s before we found one which dispensed cash. It was Monday morning so I figured that they had been emptied over the weekend and that it was too early for the staff to fill them. My nose was still running and accompanied by a cough now and again. We had tried to offer the hotel a deal in which I promote them in a collaboration but they did not take the offer. It’s a common thing I have found that countries of a certain living standard do not possess the awareness of the value a promotion can give them. We found the speedboat which goes across to Atauro in just an hour (the ferry takes three). We were greeted on the beach by some men who did not identify themselves as associated with the hotel. However they were friendly and ready to take us there. They looked surprised when we asked if we had to pay for transport on their motorized tricycles. Atauro has no banks, no ATM’s, no crocodiles, no paved roads and not much of anything except for tranquillity, beauty and kindness. We reached the hotel which was empty apart from the staff. Timor-Leste is not well accustomed to conventional tourism yet so you might wonder about a thing or two. We were greeted with a cup of coffee (something Timor-Leste is famous for) but then we were left on our own for a while. We had communicated with Mia from the hotel prior to our arrival and she said that we could pay at the reception and that we would meet her upon arrival. The next day we learned that she was married to the owner and located in Dili. We never met her. Everyone was friendly but nobody at the empty hotel was very proactive. Eventually we were shown to our room. It was a nice place with a nice view.

LeBeach

Some get tanned, others burn :)

A few days later we met a German who told us that he made it to the island onboard a fishing boat and paid $10 USD. Meals can likely be found quite costs efficient and I’m sure you can put up a hammock nearly anywhere you want. There are also plenty of round huts/beach huts which you can almost certainly stay in for a small amount of money. We were however comfortable with our package deal solution and the price. I’m just saying. The next four days became extraordinary relaxing. I even got burned by the sun. Who would have guessed? (I always wear long pants, a rolled up long-sleeved t-shirt and a hat but let the sun look at my beautiful pale body). My cold continued but the saltwater was good for it. We went snorkelling several times and it was well worth it! Timor-Leste is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the world’s most formidable dive spots.

Beach1

The waters between Dili and Atauro frequently see turtles, dolphins and whales. We didn’t see any though. There are some very colourful and beautiful corals and the beaches were okay. Le and I have experienced better beaches in Sao Tome but those were also top of the line in my opinion. The food was good, the staff was friendly, we went on a daytrip with a small fishing boat and saw a bit more of the island…same, same but different. The days passed by, we enjoyed being together, Le got tanned, I got red, my sinuses cleared out (a bit) and eventually the day came when we had to return to Dili. We took the ferry back and said farewell to Atauro.

cinema

If you wanted to see "Once upon a time...in Hollywood" then you had to get up early. It was only showing at 10:15am? How bizarre :)

Back in Dili we managed to find some good sushi although they only had salmon. We saw a movie at the theatre and went for a few walks in the city. Our meals were mostly local such as bakso (meatballs) or mie (noodles) but one night we went to a very authentic Italian restaurant and had some delicious pasta. A lot of people hardly noticed us as their faces were buried deep into their phones. Yup – its 2019 everywhere. “Merry Christmas” was painted all over town so I guess they are ready for December? The final sand ran out of the hourglass and I brought Le to President Nicolau Lobato International Airport for her first of four flights back to Denmark. The airport was a cute small thing and I couldn’t even locate an ATM. However they did have a Red Cross collection box and a Burger King. As per William Shakespeare “parting is such sweet sorrow”. I second that. Saying farewell and leaving the airport left me with a lonely feeling of emptiness. Like as if I had lost something dear to me. Longing for something I could no longer reach. How lucky I am to have someone that important to me in my life.

Xmas

Christmas came early this year.

 

The last 16 countries are far apart. In time and in distance. Stay tuned as we keep on keeping on.  

 

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

 

Thor emblem

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