Lebanon - crystals, football and migraines

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

Waiting for what?

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Have you noticed how timers and clocks have appeared at traffic intersections, train stations and other places where people commonly wait? It’s been going for on for a while and it’s because of human psychology. It’s far easier to wait if you know how long you are waiting for. Waiting three minutes can feel much longer than waiting for five minutes when you don’t know how long it will take.

We’ve passed a full month of waiting for the Syrian visa. Yup! I’ve been in Lebanon for more than a month now which is approximately 2.3% of the entire Saga in case you were wondering. It’s not like I’ve been sitting around watching paint dry. I’ve explored various neighborhoods of Beirut, I went to Anjar, the Beqaa Valley, Baalbek, Ksara winery, I saw the great Cedars, Becharreh (the birthplace of Khalil Gibran (famous poet)), Kozhaya and the holy valley, Byblos, Tyre, Ras El Metn, the National Museum, the mineral museum and the list goes on. Lebanon is by far not the worst country to be stuck in. However I’d really like to keep things moving forward so this waiting gets to me. Especially as we have no idea what we are waiting for? The Syrian Embassy may eventually return to say that the visa has been denied? If that’s the case then I may need to start all over again. Someone recently suggested that I may never enter Syria. I can’t even see that as a scenario? Not given everything I’ve been through to get us here? Water is wet, the sky is blue and I will get the Saga to Syria. That much is certain. That’s what makes the waiting so intolerable!! If we already know that I’m going then why make me wait?

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Check out this cool carved out mountain road!! :)

I returned to the mineral museum again. It’s that interesting! I really didn’t think I spent enough time at the museum the first time. It’s truly a special collection of minerals I hardly thought existed. I remember once going through a list of things we as humans don’t know. Something I never thought about was that we actually don’t know what’s inside our own planet? We think we know and the foremost theoretical explanations are likely spot on. However nobody has ever been inside to prove anything deeper than 12,262 meters (40,230 ft). That’s barely past the earth's crust which is often compared to the skin on an apple. The distance to earth's core is a whopping 6,371 km (3,958 mi) which leaves us with A LOT of undiscovered landmass beneath our feet. Imagine what we might be able to find?

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The Mineral Museum is truly worth a visit...or two: www.mim.museum

I also went back to Ras El Metn in the mountains near Beirut. The last time I went it was raining and I really wanted to see its beauty under a blue sky. It was looking good as Nidal picked me up but then it quickly turned to rain? Nidal and I made a short video for you guys.

Before the rain:

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The Green Mountains of Ras El Metn.

After the rain (see video):
https://youtu.be/HeUb-E_-fWQ

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How quickly the weather changed?!? However another great day with Nidal :)

A few weeks ago I got in touch with Front Page Communication (www.frontpage.co.com) which is a public relations firm in Beirut. We set up a meeting and I really liked them but unfortunately for the Saga they mostly operate locally in Lebanon and I’m on the outlook for someone much more international. If you estimate that there are about 200 countries in the world then your country amounts to just 0.5% of the world's countries. Nonetheless Front Page Communications took interest in the Saga and offered to see what they could do. Last week Shereen reached out and said that she had spoken to four tv channels which all showed interest: MTV, OTV, TeleLiban and FutureTV. Good job!! The Saga has been featured in the media in nearly 100 countries and there is definitely a lot of content to dig into by now. I have also been in touch with a fundraising company in Denmark called www.fundraiseren.dk. They are now using their expertise and are helping the Saga out. Apparently it’s better to apply for several small amounts and not a large amount from a single donor. Makes sense but it’s also more work.

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Have patience people. The postcards you ordered during the crowdfunding campaign have all been written. Indiegogo still has not transferred to us but hey? I've tested the postal service and it worked. So have patience and hopefully you'll get your card wherever you are ;) I haven't done this much handwriting since my early school days! 

I wonder if people can distinguish between easy achievements and hard achievements with all the input we receive every day? I have never tried to visit every country in the world having the convenience of flight. However it’s not easily achieved by anyone. I know very competent and experienced travelers who had to give up on reaching every country in the world because of a few hard to get to nations. Doing it without flying is however a completely different ballgame!! In my particular situation I could just have flown to Jordan and returned to Lebanon when there was news regarding my Syrian visa. Eritrea would have been a lot easier as I could have flown to the capital. Equatorial Guinea as well... In fact a number of countries would have been downright easy to visit if I flew: Seychelles, Saõ Tomé and Príncipe, Mauritius, Cape Verde etc. Also if I got tired of a certain part of the world I could simply fly to another continent and relax with some easier countries. Visiting every country without flying and doing so with the convenience of flight cannot be compared. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that anyone could visit every country if they flew, had enough money and enough time...but it all helps. I can’t help to think that I’m doing something wrong? Why is the Saga not more popular? What should I be doing differently? There are 2 billion Facebook accounts in the world. The Saga has 22,000 followers. There are 5.7 million people in Denmark but the Saga is followed by less than 40,000 people worldwide. I’m a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross but hardly anyone knows about the Saga within the head office in Copenhagen. It has happened a few times that the media was waiting for me as I arrived in a new country. However mostly somebody notifies a friend or a journalist a few days after I arrive and a story develops. I wonder if the Saga isn’t interesting enough? However if that was the case then how come it’s been in the media so often and it’s definitely not the response I get when I do public speaking events?

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I love to make people smile and smiles come easy in Lebanon! Here I am after making a presentation at AstraZeneca. What a lovely bunch of people from all over the country...and my 56th presentation ;) www.astrazeneca.com

I recently did two events in the same day. The first one was at a pharmaceutical company called AstraZeneca and then a taxi brought me straight to Maersk Line where I did a second presentation. I love doing those presentations and interacting with people right in front of me. That’s the main upside. The downside is that it drains me for energy and I’m nearly useless afterwards. You can imagine how tired I was after doing two of them and then I agreed to join some of the Maersk guys at football afterwards. I didn’t play. I just tagged along and watched. Afterwards a 21 year old employee drove me back home at the speed of light! You’d really think that we were escaping the police after robbing a bank or something similar!! I got motion sickness from it but nothing too bad. (edit 20/1 - 2018: Habib aka Gordon Flash, went out with me and a bunch of others from the office last night for happy hour. Habib liked this blog but asked that I mentioned his name. He also swore he never went faster than 70 km/h or 44 mph. Yeah right Speedy Gonzáles!!) ;) Afterwards I walked up the stairs to the apartment where I’m staying and a horrible headache began. It was the beginning of a migraine. Let’s get something straight! A migraine is not a headache. I’m underlining this because I used to think that migraines were simply bad headaches but I was wrong. A headache is pain in your head and can be dealt with relatively swiftly. A migraine is something completely different. I received my life’s first migraine in Central Africa and I couldn’t believe the distress! I’ve had it a few times since then. Perhaps 5-6 times in total. A good friend gave me the best description of what it’s like. He said that when you have a migraine and if someone was to offer you a pill, one which would either cure you or which would kill you, then you would consider that to be good odds and take it!! I believe that I’m I reasonable man with a good grip on logical thinking. However the other night as I was twisting in pain I managed to convince myself that I had stumbled upon something completely new to all of mankind and that my brain was being ripped apart from the inside. Not very pleasant at all. Then the nausea took over and I made it to the toilet just before my body violently surrendered my insides. I had horrible cramps and my arms and hands twisted in strange contortions. Not fun at all. The following day I wasn’t quite myself although I was relatively functional. My sense of smell was improved for some reason and all smells came across very strong. Well...I’m better now...

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The wonderful Maersk team in Beirut brought me up on 57 public talks. Visiting Maersk feels like "coming home" by now. Without Maersk's assistance I might still have been fighting bureaucracy somewhere in East Africa. Thank you for having me! :) www.maersk.com

As I mentioned last week I began running again. I’ve been out 5 times now and I have started to increase the distance slightly. It feels good. Also after a month in the same country I’ve made a lot of friends, I have routines, I go for walks, I watch some tv sitcoms and so on. Work is a lot less these days. I once proclaimed that I don’t know anyone who works as hard as me. That was back in Central Africa which is a very beautiful, exciting and friendly part of Africa. I will defend Central Africa until my death!! However the bureaucracy there is mind boggling?!? A good thing that came out of conquering that part of the Saga is, that I feel there’s nothing I can’t handle these days. A funny thing I remember is that a Danish newspaper picked up on the fact that I said “I don’t know anyone that works as hard as me”. I was working well beyond 100 hours a week back then. The newspaper twisted it into a headline that read: “nobody works as hard as me” :) Clickbait of course. There are people on this planet that work harder than I did back then. I just don’t know them ;) These days I’m down to about four hours a work per day so I’m fairly sure most of you have me beaten. My stress levels are pretty high though as I’m gambling with the Syrian visa. Am I doing the right thing? Should I do something else? Worrying about what’s out of our control is useless and I shouldn’t think to much about it. However in the end people are just people and so am I ;)

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My father loves football. It doesn't really appeal to me which is a great shame. As far as I can tell people are passionate about the game all around the world. What I really like about football is that it's easy to set up and that it brings people together. It's basically a language to many and I occasionally try to fake it. Sometimes I like to watch and speculate about the physics: the hardness of a boot, the air pressure in the ball, the angles etc. Sometimes I even like to play although I'm at the lowest possible level. Jad and George from Maersk/Safmarine brought me along which I really enjoyed! :)

I’ve met so many wonderful people within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. I have 443 RC contacts stored in my phone. On a side note I have a couple of hundred Maersk contacts stored ;) Recently my friend from the Red Cross in Paris, Adrian, reached out to hear if I have any contacts in Benin? He’s doing a project where he will be educating schools in Benin regarding International Humanitarian Law (IHL). When I visited Benin I made friends with Thierry who’s a great guy. He’s got a lot of African experience from working at different places for more than 20 years I believe. Thierry earned a nickname which is ‘Grand Sage Africain’. Pretty cool! I earned my own in Zambia which is ‘Lubasi’ (family man). Naturally I connected Adrian with Thierry. I spend a lot of time staring into my smartphone. Research, emails, social media etc...the other day I walked into a store to learn something about laptops. I haven’t bought one for five years and obviously a lot has changed since then. I didn’t bring a laptop for this project which was a mistake. There was an HP laptop which caught my eye but it costs usd 1,200. A friend in Kuwait told me that I can get a good deal on a laptop there. Apparently the many rich people want the latest model and as a result you can get an almost new laptop really cheap. So for now I’m still typing all of this on my smartphone. The phone is definitely smarter than me ;)

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How I see myself...

Do you ever look in the mirror and wonder who you are? I do sometimes and the answer is unclear to me? Am I a traveler? an explorer? a blogger? a Goodwill Ambassador? a fiancé? a brother? a logistic coordinator? a Dane? an adventurer? a businessman? a source of inspiration? a public person? am I nobody? am I somebody? I’m very sure that the way we see ourselves does not correspond to how others see us. I see my belly fat, my slightly crooked nose, my bushy eyebrows, my receding hairline, my imperfect teeth, my feet are not the same size, I’m not good at remembering names... That’s not how others see me? Well I guess someone sees it... We are eventually not better than our actions and most often only our last actions. How will I be remembered? How will I remember my parents? My sisters? Both my parents are turning 70 in the next few months and I won’t be there to celebrate it with them. I thought the Saga would take between 3.5-4 years to complete. Now it looks more like six. I should make it for their 75 year celebration.

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How others see me...

Raymond is a good friend. Age doesn’t matter. He is old enough to have grandchildren and yet we get along really well. He invited me over for steak the other night and afterwards we sat down in his living room and talked about everything and nothing. You remember Raymond? He was the first person to welcome me to Lebanon and he set me up in his friend's apartment. Later on I made a presentation at his school. A great man and friend to me. The world is full of strangers waiting to become a friend. Go out and meet someone ;)

 

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

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

 
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Lebanon - waiting for the sun to shine

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

Hurry up and wait

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Hurry up and wait was a common phrase back in my early youth when I was in the Danish army. It was a way of poking fun at the sergeants who would command us to do something as fast as possible. Afterwards we would sit and wait, sometimes for hours, and wonder what the rush was all about?

Here I am in Lebanon waiting. I just found something extra to do as I accidentally deleted the first blog I wrote so now I’m trying to remember what I wrote? I’m typing this thing on a smartphone just like I have been doing for the past few years. Why? That’s another story for another time. These days I’ve been occupied with administrative task, research, sleeping in, small walks, long walks, watching season 1 of Suits (no spoilers!), seeing friends, making friends and a few other things. I recently received an email from Helen Nichols who is a formidable blogger! She wanted to share this blog about health benefits in respect to any form of travel/vacation. I urge you to read it: http://www.well-beingsecrets.com/health-benefits-of-traveling/ Well done Helen on such a fine and interesting blog!

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Nissrine has hardly changed!! Good to see her again :)

Towards the end of 2015 I was in a deeply frustrated state in a wonderful central african country called Gabon. Gabon is a special country which has enjoyed peace since its independence. That’s a rare thing for most former colonies! It was in Gabon I was invited to speak at an international school which has since then been closed down. Nissrine worked at the school and we stayed in touch over the years which recently lead to a reunion here in Lebanon. Nissrine is Lebanese as you may have guessed and her mountain village is in Ras el Metn. Back in Gabon I was frustrated with my many failed attempts to visit both Saõ Tomé and nearby Equatorial Guinea. I came so close to giving up after several months of hardship...but we succeeded and visited both countries. The key to that success was tied to persistence, optimism, alternative thinking and always getting out of bed and hoping for the best.

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Nada (tourism promotion) on the left and Raja (Vice President of Ras el Metn Municipality) on the right www.raselmetnmunicipality.gov.lb

Back to Lebanon: Ras el Metn is a really green and charming part of the country which happened to have a lot of rain and fog on the day I visited. The weather didn’t matter though as Nissrine arranged for a warm welcome and introduced me to her family. The Lebanese are so friendly. Ras el Matn is worth visiting for a great number of reasons but for me hiking would be the primary one. It’s truly gorgeous nature up there. Did you picture Lebanon with mountains before I started writing about it? Well here’s another one for you: Lebanon is the only country in all of Asia and Africa which has no desert region.

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Great pizza but amazing company!! :)

We did some sightseeing together and enjoyed Lebanon’s (or was it the world's?) best pizza. It was definitely good. Afterwards Nissrine’s brother Nidal took me higher up into the mountains where the rain turned to snow. Some of the ski resorts are open by now. All in all a really nice day in friendly company.

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Freezing with Nidal :)

I’m doing really well on many fronts. Although the Saga is financially tight I’m managing as I have been invited to stay in the guest room of a Danish Red Cross delegate www.rodekors.dk That’s a great benefit to me as my Lebanese stay is really dragging along. It’s also good company and further more a home with a solid WiFi connection! I believe I may have been flirting with a depression lately and skyping with friends and family has been very valuable to me. I was skyping with one particular friend this week and we talked about how I feel. Physical exercise is certainly beneficial to mental health and I’ve been putting off buying new running shoes since I forgot the old ones in Sudan long ago. My friend looked at me and suggested that we would follow up with another skype conversation the following day...in which I could show him my new shoes. There wasn’t really a way out of it after that so I bought the shoes and I have since then been out running twice already. I’m starting up slowly with some really short runs which feels pathetic as I completed a full marathon in 3hrs 40min a few weeks before the Saga took off. Fortunately I can carry my heavy NorthFace duffel forever now so I’m not a completely lost case. The duffel bag was by the way generously supplied by www.friluftsland.dk back home in Denmark. I applied for the Syrian visa on December 15th and they told me that it would take at least a month to process due to Christmas and the New Year. They furthermore said that the outcome would only be 50/50 meaning that there’s a 50% risk I won’t get it or, if you’re an optimist, a 50% chance of taking it.

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I still remember how to cook ;)

If the Saga has taught us anything then it must be that I’m not willing to give up. All those “impossible to visit” countries behind us which “I couldn’t visit” have all been visited. Does anyone seriously believe I won’t visit Syria? Right, so since resistance is futile why can’t I just visit immediately and skip all the waiting? The waiting drives me crazy.

I figure you can travel for six to nine months and really enjoy it. Perhaps even for a year. However over time many things become routine and a lot becomes work. I speak from experience as I’ve been out here for more than four years now. I should have been back home already according to the original plan. In case you’ve never heard about WhatsApp then it’s an online service you can use for “free” VoIP calls, texting or regular calls. I bet you won’t last two days in Lebanon without downloading it! It’s everywhere around here. I didn’t have WhatsApp when I left my home in the Great Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe long ago. As a result nearly all my WhatsApp contacts are people I have met through the Saga which I think is really nice.

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Motivation is important. Motivation to do anything in life. So how do we keep ourselves motivated? I motivate myself in various ways and I have developed a special way of counting to 40 which ends with 9. Don’t ask :) The point is that when I reach 9 then I need to start or stop whatever I decided before I began counting. I really don’t want to let you down but I certainly don’t want to let me down! Here’s what I truly believe in: if you give up then everything stays the same. When you hit a wall then you better start looking for a door. If the door is locked then it won’t help you (in most cases) to sit down and wait. You better start looking for another door, and another one, and another one... You may have to try 1,000 or even 100,000 door handles but one of those doors will open and you will eventually walk through! The sun will shine on your face and you will smile again! Stay creative, stay positive and stay optimistic...and keep trying those door handles!! I’ve been wanting to go to Tyre (Sour) for a while. It’s another historical city here in Lebanon. You basically can’t throw a stick around here without hitting something historical! EVERYONE came here at some point in history. It’s remarkable!! According to the New Testament Jesus came to Tyre but that’s not why I wanted to go. Two nights ago I promised myself that I would get up early and go - as a result I finally went yesterday.

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I went to Tyre because Alexander the Great went. Not just that...his army did something incredible there! Tyre used to be a prominent Phoenician city and is credited with inventing the color purple. Alright, alright...maybe not inventing it per se, but certainly working out how to dye textiles purple. Image there was a time when you couldn’t simply paint something blue or red. You may think you can smear blood on something and it will be red. In reality it will dry and turn brown. How easy is life today? You probably don’t even give it a thought before you reach for a blue or red marker...well there was a time... Anyways, Alex showed up in 332BCE wanting to conquer Tyre and had a hard time doing so. Tyre was an island back then and heavily fortified. The solution was brilliant in its simplicity. Alexander’s army was ordered to dump rocks and whatnot into the ocean until Tyre was connected to the mainland. Then he conquered and destroyed Tyre. As a result Tyre is no longer an island but it is a very charming fisherman’s village which has grown into a modern city.

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Tyrian purple.

The Romans liked this area too and invested heavily in infrastructure and extraordinary buildings. I walked out to the hippodrome which is definitely something! The best part of being at the hippodrome was that I could freely walk around and for that specific reason I decided to walk the entire length of it. The structure is 480 meters (1,575 ft.) from one end to the other and is considered to be one of the largest Roman hippodromes in the world. In its heyday it would seat 20,000 spectators for its death defying chariot races. And now I’ve done a round of it too ;)

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If you think this looks big then keep in mind that I took the picture from the middle!

A typical journalist would probably have told you the following about my visit to Tyre: “he visited old soil tainted with millennia of blood while gunfire raged in the backdrop and a huge guy on steroids beat up anyone he could grab”. In reality it was a peaceful day near the tranquil Mediterranean. Tyre is a modern city open for business. The food was good and people were friendly. I was enjoying a cup of tea with shisha (it’s a bad habit) when I heard gunfire. Some 30-40 shots were fired nearby. It was in connection to a funeral which is a cultural thing in some parts of the world. Celebratory gunfire is somehow to be seen equal to fireworks but most Lebanese appear to be against it. It’s not common in my experience but it does happen. As far as I know it regained popularity in Lebanon in 2008 with certain political parties. Another 3-400 shots were then fired as I finished my tea. The old woman who sold me the tea was super sweet and explained that the gunfire was nothing at all. I guess she doesn’t know where I’ve been...I was minding my own business and hardly raised an eyebrow. It’s always good to stay inside until a few minutes after the gunfire ends. It’s physics: bullets tend to come down again. Before you condemn Lebanon to the stone age you should know that celebratory gunfire takes place in the USA too although illegally.

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This father is watching he's son...who's learning how to fish :)

Later on I was smoking shisha again (it’s a bad habit) at a café near the bus back to Beirut. Actually I didn’t just need one bus to reach Tyre! I had to walk some 40 minutes to the bus terminal, locate a minibus and wait until it was full. Then get off in Sidon and wait for another minibus to fill up before heading to Tyre. All in all a three hour process. Anyway, there I was...smoking shisha when Mahdi approached me. He studied business at the Tyre University but didn’t finish and doesn’t have a job. He appeared really bright though and was a great conversationalist. Next to us this muscular man grabbed a smaller guy by the throat and tried to choke him with one hand. Mahdi and I just continued talking. Later on Mr Muscle was giving another guy a beating fairly close to where we were sitting. However when the guy taking the beating yelled out “ENOUGH” (in Arabic) the big fellow stopped? Later on they were all playing cards together? The big guy looked as if he likes the gym a lot. Tight haircut and a lot of attitude. Looking good is a very typical thing in Lebanon. Beating up people isn’t. I’ve been in Lebanon for about a month now and I haven’t seen any violence apart from that Neanderthal. There is plenty of fancy clothing, well groomed haircuts, plastic surgery and shiny shoes to be seen in this country though ;) As I left Mahdi and a few other guys who had gathered around the table I proceeded to pay...but a Syrian guy stopped me and gestures that it was on the house.

I listen to music a lot. The other day I was listening to music and suddenly I heard this:

“You're a fraud and you know it. But it's too good to throw it all away. Anyone would do the same. You've got 'em going. And you're careful not to show it. Sometimes you even fool yourself a bit. It's like magic. But it's always been a smoke and mirrors game. Anyone would do the same.”
(Gotye)

Then after it finished the next song played and I hear this:

“Is it too late to come on home? Are all those bridges now old stone? Is it too late to come on home? Can the city forgive? I hear its sad song.
I need the clouds to cover me. Pulling them down, surround me. Without your love I'll be. So long and lost, are you missing me?”
(Florence + The Machine)

I do sometimes wonder if I’m a fraud? I think the Saga is magnificent and of great value to the world we live in!! I truly believe in that but I’m having a really hard time selling it to any PR agencies, marketing companies, potential sponsors etc. Maybe I am living in a bubble? I had that thought for the first time during the Saga back in early 2014. I was in Iceland trying to sell the idea of me giving a presentation for an Icelandic shipping company called Eimskip. The woman I spoke to didn’t invite me into her office. We had a brief “hall meeting” where she showed no sign of emotion and had death in her eyes (this is my story). Once I finished explaining how amazing it would be for them to have me as a free speaker she looked at me and said: “we usually have speakers who have been to the top of Everest and ‘that’ kind of people come here.” Then she turned around and walked away. I felt like a complete failure!! It was as if she stabbed my stomach with a frozen dagger! I walked out of the office with my tail between my legs and an hour later I was back at my hostel ( www.bushostelreykjavik.com) where they loved the project and I loved them. The first thing I did was google how many people had summited Mount Everest? More than 5,000 people had done it more than 7,000 times!! Perhaps less than 100 people have reached every country in the world but surely less than 300 to be on the safe side. I’m not a fraud! I’m genuine and honest. I work hard and I will bite my legs off before I give up! I can defend the Saga forwards and backwards. Come at me! Nobody in history has been to every country in the world without flying! Woof! :)

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So here I still am...in Lebanon...waiting for yet another visa. I’ll tell you one thing I especially enjoy about Lebanon: they’ve got sidewalks! :) I’ll grab a few more door handles if you will too. Do we have a deal? ;)

 

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

 

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Once Upon A Saga

 
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Lebanon and the eternal snow

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

“Only” 60 countries left

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Here’s some food for thought: countries are only temporary. It just suddenly dawned on me. Any country which exists today was not a country 10,000 years ago. Most countries are barely a few hundred years old. Naturally whichever country you live in will cease to exist some day. Countries are not permanent.

Every piece of land you’ve ever walked across belonged to someone else at some point. A king, a warlord, an emperor, a self-perpetuating autocracy (thank you Monty Python) or a family would have owned it at some point. Only places like the Antarctic are mutually governed today and yes; I’ll reach Antarctica some day but it’s not a country so not within the Saga ;) Perhaps someday with my wife who still remains my fiancée as we did not get married here in Lebanon due to an endless trail of bureaucracy. We will marry somewhere some day.

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The Pheonicians originated from what is Lebanon today and invented a way of dyeing clothes purple.

So we govern borders and offer lives to protect what we claim to be ours for as long as we live which is simply a moment of a cedar tree's memory...if trees dream and think at all? Keep on keeping on and remember that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. That will perhaps be my legacy but probably not an imaginary temporary border which I have crossed so many of so often in the past four years. We are violent yet friendly - our species I mean. If we can separate ourselves from the other “sheep” then we will momentarily think we are unique. Alan Shepard returned from space in 1971 and said: “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” I figure I would cry too if I was given the chance and space is definitely among my dreams. Why did he cry? Because we live on a tiny blue dot in the middle of a vast ocean of darkness and yet we fight each other? Religion, power, money, love, politics, dreams, ideas...the list is endless and we murder each other for various reasons.

I’ve never claimed someone’s life. Most people haven’t. However millions of people have in the face of time. More than seven billion people call our blue dot home today. A third have Facebook accounts and the VAST majority of everyone are simply just people trying to get on with life. What do we really want? An education? A well paying job? Love? Peace? A bigger car? Adventure? To read a book? To dance? Why am I trying to cross all these borders without flying? “I think therefore I am”, said René Descartes, and was right. We are alive and divided. Born alone? I doubt it. You were born connected to your mother in a real physical sense. Yet divided as we grow up, by the jeans we wear, the language we speak, the friends we make and invisible borders we create. Undivided by our species. Race? There is only one race and it is called human. People are just people. Oh how I ramble on...

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Happy New Year. We have been counting our blue dots journey around the Sun for the past 2018 circumnavigations. And every trip around the Sun we have counted was since the birth of Christ or after common era and did those people living before it know? No they didn’t because we made that system long after they left our blue dot, but the cedar trees were already there. Do trees count? Some plants do. The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) feels touch and can be triggered by movement. Then it counts to about 20 seconds. If it is not triggered again then it resets. If it’s triggered before it reaches 20 then it shuts. The Lebanese cedars are said to live for thousands of years in some cases. Do they count the days as they majestically stand there in the high altitudes? Who knows? Who cares?

No. 1 Upper grotto

The Jeita Grottos are among the most impressive I've ever seen: www.jeitagrotto.com

How does everything above relate to Lebanon? Lebanon is the Saga's first middle Eastern country and I’m counting. 1,548 days since I left Denmark, 143 countries visited, beyond 190,000 kilometers (118,00 miles) travelled, zero flights, 15 visits by my fiancée, 60 countries left, 11 days average per country, perhaps two more years to go, hundreds of new friends, 141 Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies promoted, 191 National Societies in the world, $20,752 collected through crowdfunding, $0 received from Indiegogo since the campaign ended on December 12th 2017, 56 presentations at schools, companies and events, four continents completed, two more to go...how many more days before I get notice regarding my Syrian visa? I count...I do not count everything though. I wonder how many hands I have shaken, smiles I have received, meals I have had, words I have learned, cups of tea I have consumed, beds I have slept in, people I’ve made laugh, people who made me laugh, thoughts I’ve had, things I’ve forgotten, times I’ve wanted to quit, dreams I’ve had, kisses from my fiancée...I know how many blogs I’ve written: 225 including this one ;)

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Byblos has been inhabited for about 10,000 years and is well worth a visit.

Man oh man how I miss my fiancée. Her name is Le. Le and I had a great time together. We didn’t need to “find each other”. We were just together as if she never left. She flew back home a few days ago and the world immediately became empty as if we were the two last people standing on earth but separated by a million miles. I’m privileged. Yes, I know I am. I could go home today although I won’t. I’m nowhere near quitting although I’ve been very close several times before. I chose this Saga and named it. I made the decision to leave home and not return until every country has been visited completely without flying. You have got to be pretty high up on Maslow's Pyramid of needs to make a decision like that. It’s real privilege and I know for a fact that most people couldn’t care less about if I achieve or not. Who cares if someone runs another marathon or another “nutcase” reaches the summit of Everest? That’s not what we care about. We care about personal strength as it motivates. We care about demonstration of grit as it inspires. We care about entertainment and knowledge. Nobody could care less if I cross all the borders without flying and become the first to do so. The only reason anyone would care is because I announced that I would and because I’m completely unwilling to give up until it’s done. Personal accomplishments become something when they are big enough. When sacrifices are made for the right reasons. Such accomplishments however only have value if someone else is able to derive something from it. I hope you do...

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Mim is an extraordinary mineral museum in Beirut with a private collection from 70 countries: www.mim.museum

Le keeps my feet on the ground. She is what I gravitate towards. I love that woman and losing her would be losing a part of myself. We are doing good. We are doing REALLY good. She loves me too. We spoke about the past, the present and the future. The future became so real that I could taste it. We will live together and continue to build a future together. We will grow old together. We even spoke of tiny details which we will arrange for in the future. We upheld our traditions when she was here. We had sushi and went to the cinema. Why did they make the last Star Wars movie? They could have stopped after the initial three as far as I’m concerned. I still want to be a Jedi but I didn’t need the last four movies to know that ;) I won’t get too intimate in the blog because our life is ours. Some things are not to be shared publicly. I’ll just say that I’m even more confirmed in my belief that I’ve found the right one and that I’m less complete out here in the world without her.

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Byblos old town is beyond charming!

Lebanon. It’s one of the most astonishing countries I’ve been to. I always get attached to countries when I stay “too long”. I’d be proud if I was Lebanese because these people have something special. I bet you could give the Lebanese any country in the world and they would create a success out of it. Don’t get me wrong because there are plenty of issues here which need attention. However, as we all like to point fingers and distance ourselves from responsibility, I truly believe that the Lebanese have a stronger case than others. Many issues here are caused by circumstances which these fine people had no control over. The war in Syria pushed more than a million people into Lebanon which naturally pushes the infrastructure to the limit. Water, electricity, the roads...the Lebanese are strong and resilient - they can handle it. I wonder how many other nations could? I also speculate about what it means to be Lebanese? Because around here you have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Armenians, Palestinians, Syrians and a whole lot more within the borders. As far as I’m concerned they are all Lebanese - a special mix of people making it work. Somewhere else that cocktail could result in a failed state. Around here buildings rise, ideas become reality, stores stay open, the future is formed. Why are people outside of Lebanon surprised to hear that Lebanon has a combination of mosques, churches, synagogues, casinos, pork, bacon, vine, gambling, ski resorts, snow, mountains, breweries, flatscreens, WhatsApp, wifi, peace, malls, friendships, families, weddings, humor, food, huge houses, spectacular views, Mediterranean coastline, trekking routes, 10,000 years of well documented local history and hardly any camels to be seen? ;) The destructive civil war ended in 1991 and the first cranes were erected the same year. Sure you can still spot bullet holes because: “Rome wasn’t built in a single day”. However bullet holes are the exception and not the rule.

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Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (Blue Mosque), Beirut.

To be Lebanese is not to be a five thousand year old civilization which came up with the invention of the pink dye and systemising the alphabet. To be Lebanese is in my opinion to stand on the shoulders of giants and reach for the stars. To be Lebanese is also to read everything I’ve just written down and disagree with all of it because there are plenty of opinions to go around in this country :) Another classic Lebanese feature is to order far more food than what anyone could possibly eat and then fight for the right to pay for it afterwards :) To be Lebanese is certainly also to be proud. To be Lebanese is to master a large and almost endless network of people. To be Lebanese is to speak more than one language. To be Lebanese is a lot of things but in particular it is to know that Lebanon is home.

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Beirut has its fair share of facy cars driving around. Especially a great deal of Porsches drive about.

People here are kind...unless they are driving...because put a Lebanese behind the wheels and it’s time to get out of the way!! :) Honking horns, full speed even when the next car is stuck in traffic just seconds away, speaking on the cellphone, listening to music, adjusting the air conditioning and yet delivering a friendly wave is the name of the game in this country. Not the worst drivers I’ve come across but also not the best. Somewhere in between but hard to identify as the kind, hospitable, curious, clever, smiling people you otherwise meet. Just look both ways (twice) before you cross a road.

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It has been raining lately. Not every day but close enough. I looked at the weather forecast for the entire Middle East and it’s only down by Yemen and Oman that it begins to look warm. It’s cold for me and my body which has long ago adjusted to the warm climate which is a reality for most countries in the world. 16-17 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit) and rain. Sometimes thunder and lightning too. Not what I pictured in my head before reaching the Middle East. Learn with me. The eternal snow of Lebanon isn’t all that persistent anymore. For the past 20-30 years the snow up in the mountains has disappeared and returned with the seasons. However I’m certainly sure that Lebanon receives far more snow in the winter than Denmark does. How about that for perspective? More snow in a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean country than in a Scandinavian country. More food for thought.

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I believe it was the first New Year’s Eve I spent with Le. We bought a small bottle of champagne, watched the Danish Queen's speech, shared a bottle of red wine, looked at the fireworks across the city center and had a quiet night in. Just the two of us...and the internet. A few days later we bought a nice souvenir from Lebanon: a handcrafted game of backgammon. It’s beautiful and is among other things ornamented with cedar trees. Backgammon is one of the oldest games we know of and it’s origins can be traced back at least 5,000 years. We had our fair share of games on that board before she flew home.

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In life we can look at what we need and what we want. I kind of need a visa in order to reach Syria but I don’t really need to go to every country in the world. I do need food, sleep, air etc. On the other hand I want a visa, I want to go to every country, I want funding of the Saga, I want a laptop, I want a GoPro camera, I want to inspire, I want to educate, I want to entertain and I want you to know that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. Happy New Year. Make sure you earn another one! ;)

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - freezing in the Middle East!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

 
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