The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Since October 10th 2013: 145 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

Keep calm and Saga on

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Jordan is a lot of things. One of them being a perfect host for its guest from far and near. My friend Timo told me that the typical “Jordan tourist” is more adventurous than the average tourist. Perhaps so? There is nothing to fear here and hospitality is through the roof. My friend Rakan told me that Jordanian’s are people of the heart. That sounds just about right.

Everyone who watched the Titanic movie from 1997 already knew the ending. My fiancée departed this Kingdom a few days ago and it’s like loosing a leg to me. She becomes a bigger and bigger part of me and next time it might be like loosing a leg and an arm ;) Parting is such sweet sorrow. That’s William Shakespeare and not me. However the sentence rings very clear. Talking about legs, I injured my left leg two days ago when my brain for a second told me that I’m a ninja! I thought I could make a quick move and bypass some concrete near the Saudi embassy. Apparently I’m not a ninja and my foot slipped into a crack while my entire body weight pushed down from above. Ouch! Fortunately my leg didn’t break but I’m limping a bit these days. Enough about that. Let’s talk Jordan.

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Did you ever picture the Middle east could look like this?

The Hashemites are a royal family which has reigned over Iraq, Syria and the former kingdom of Hejaz (which you should look up). The royal family here pull a lot of weight in Jordan and are highly respected. You’ll see a winged crown on many private vehicles, on clothing and on buildings. People here proudly portray it and it’s not without reason. You’ll see the gently smiling face of the late king, the present king and the crown prince all over Jordan. Not in a fearful way but in a loving way. The Hashemite’s are direct descendants of the prophet Muhammed and they are also directly linked to the peace Jordan enjoys along with this countries good relationship to other nations. This kingdom borders Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Saudi Arabia which are all countries you know from the evening news. And yet it’s incredibly peaceful here in Jordan. Come and feel it for yourself.

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The Kings Highway.

What would you do when the love of your life arrives to the Middle East and makes it her 16th visits in an already four and a half year project? You get the best out of it and we definitely did! Jordan is the perfect host to visitors with its great hospitality and an endless amount of see worthy attractions. At the top of many visitors list you’ll find Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea. So that’s where we began. We rented a car, switched on the gps and drove south on the Kings Highway. It’s a really old road which has been upgraded with asphalt and might be incorrectly translated from Hebrew. Some say that the original name would simply translate into “the main road”. On the road to Petra, as our first main attraction, we drove past beautiful green fields and friendly villages. We stopped at Wadi al Mujib and took in the sight of the great dam along with the fishermen at the still waters. 

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Wadi al Mujib.

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Al Karak Castle.

Then we drove on until we reached Al Karak Castle which was once a crusader stronghold protecting caravans. It’s history stretches far back before the crusaders and reportedly you can see Jerusalem from its majestic position at the top of a hill. So many historical warlords and conquerers have expanded on its magnificent structure over the years. If the rocks and dirt could only whisper their story. Perhaps they do if you listen closely?

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Al Karak Castle.

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Sunset at Dana.

The Kings Highway continues and we continued with it. Our next stop was Wadi al Hasa which is a beautiful gorge that we only got to see on pictures because google maps sent us to the wrong location. However as I asked a man at a farm for directions we were immediately invited for tea. Further down the road we stopped to enjoy the sunset across Dana. A tourist bus had the same idea and a local man offered us yet another cup of tea. We bypassed Shobak Castle saving it for later and rolled into Petra shortly after the sun had set. My friends, Bernhard (Bernie) and Liis, had recommended a guesthouse for us and we booked two nights. That same evening we opted to venture into Petra and experience the “Petra by Night” event which takes place most nights. 

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Petra by Night.

Entering the Petra visitors center is not completely unlike entering Disneyland. It’s very modern and well developed. From the visitors center we followed a long dirt road which was lit up by candles in brown paper bags on both sides of the path. After 20 minutes we reached “the Siq” which is a 1,200 meter (1,300 yard) long narrow passageway through an impressive gorge. Romantic and adventurous all at the same time. Hundreds of people were being seated at the end of the Siq in front of “the treasury” which is Petra’s most famous temple. The temple is called Al-Khazneh and is among other places famous from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade. It was dark apart from the many candles however on and off you would catch a glimpse of the temple from the many people trying to take pictures using their flash. A hopeless task but it did not stop people from trying. People are just people ;) I will not reveal the full program but I’ll tell you that I think this was the best possible introduction to Petra we could possibly have. Like seeing a trailer before the movie.

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Well alright...mostly on foot ;)

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The Siq.

The next morning (early) we ventured back to the visitors center and explored Petra on foot. Petra is one of those things you simply cannot comprehend unless you see it with your own eyes! It is one of the Saga’s foremost highlights and to summarize it in one word I would say: BIG! Petra is far from just the one famous temple. It’s a massive area of cities and city states. The landscape would be worthy of a visit on its own without all the rock carvings, houses and temples. The temples would be worthy of a visit without the landscape. The combination of both is truly worthy of its recent title as a modern wonder of the world. Its construction and development is largely contributed to the Nabataeans who are the pride of the region much like Danes pride themselves as Vikings and the Lebanese pride them selves as decedents of Phoenicians. It’s funny how we pick a period in our history and identify with it. As an example Denmark rose as a powerful and highly influential kingdom long after the short Viking period. We had a massive and feared army but we just reference Vikings most of the time. And forget about the horned helmets because that was never a thing. The horned helmets appeared in Wagner’s ‘Valkyrie’ a few hundred years ago and the image stuck. A thousand years ago the Vikings didn’t add horns to their helmets. Why would they?

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Al-Khazneh temple.

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When Denmark meets Jordan. Lunch ;)

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Ad Deir temple.

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The Royal Tombs, Petra.

I could write several blogs about Petra, Nabateans, Roman influence and so on. I’ll just say that we hiked up to the “monastery” which is really called Ad Deir and wasn’t a monastery at all but very much worth the hike! Then we hiked back and ended a brilliant seven hour day inside Petra. The following morning (early) we headed back for more and completed a great hike called the Al-Khubtha trail which we mostly had to ourselves and it boasted a great view of Al-Khazneh. As we returned to the gorge hundreds of tourist had arrived and a cheeky guide leading a group coming in our direction shouted at us: “HI! DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” I replied yes and the guide smiled while saying: “why are you so tall and she’s so low?” I sensed he was setting us up for a punchline and in a split second I heard myself saying: “I don’t know? - why are you so low?!” The guides group laughed out loud while the guide clearly lost his momentum. Then the (short) guide laughed and moved on with his group. Oh me oh my...the amount of times I’ve thought of what to say just minutes after it’s to late! This was great for a change. Do you know that feeling? :)

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Al-Khazneh temple.

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Sand dune in Wadi Rum.

We left Petra before noon and continued on our way to Wadi Rum. It’s in the desert and was the setting for Matt Damon’s 2015 movie: “The Martian”. However the protected desert area is perhaps best known for its connection with British officer T.E. Lawrence’s (Lawrence of Arabia) role in the Arab Revolt of 1917-1918. We had mansaf for lunch and met our guide Hashem. We parked the car and boarded the 4x4 where we sat in the back under a blanket roof. We saw a few sites, rock formations, ancient rock carvings and ended up at the Desert Moon Camp, where we would spend the night. Wadi Rum is definitely worth a visit however it’s also very touristic and we were far from alone. The area we were in reminded me a bit of the area you first get to drive in as you’re taking your drivers license and before you hit the road. As such I mean it’s really safe and kind of boxed in by mountains protecting you from “the real desert”. It’s magnificent though and far more exiting than taking your drivers license ;) The camp was great and we were introduced to bits and pieces of the Bedouin lifestyle. The Bedouin’s are really kind and there was also plenty of humor.

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Wadi Rum.

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Wadi Rum.

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Wadi Rum.

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Desert Moon Camp, Wadi Rum.

The highlight for me was however holding my fiancée under the star spangled night sky. It was silent and for a while we were the only two people in the world. We tried to make out a few constellations and managed to spot the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. We couldn’t see Orion...there were simply to many stars. Did you know that on a night when you think you can see millions of stars you’re really only looking at 2,000-3,000 stars? Also the first stars that appear on the night sky are usually planets and not stars so chances are that you’ve been wishing upon planets ;) We were also looking for satellites which you can sometimes see as “stars” moving slowly across the darkness between the stars.

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Our guide Hashem.

The next day we made it back to our car. We said farewell to Hashem at the camp and a boy who couldn’t be older than twelve drove the 4x4 back to the parking lot. As we approached our car another kid was riding a camel into the desert. Bedouin life. Never underestimate the ability of children. They do not lack ability. They lack experience.

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There were 16 guards at Shobak Castle.

Back in our rented Toyota Yaris we headed towards the Dead Sea making a stop at Shobak Castle. At the castle we decided to take a guide which was a good choice. He was kind and full of interesting knowledge. Shobak was another crusader stronghold and also has a lot of history both before and after. Our guide showed us the entrance to one of the castles three secret passageways. A 450 step decent into darkness. I asked if it was still accessible and the guide replied: “yes, it leads down to where they used to collect water when the castle was under siege”. Can you sense how a plan immediately formed in my dim brain? We finished the guided tour and I then revealed my plan to my fiancée: “let’s exit the castle through the tunnel!!” At first she wasn’t keen on the idea but I persuaded her and it became a great adventure. A few other tourist caught up with us as we moved into the pitch dark hole very slowly. After a very long time I heard my relieved partner in crime utter: “Ican see light!!” We finally exited Shobak Castle on a road far below the hillside which the castle is located on. Brilliant! :)

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Would you enter? ;)

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We stopped to buy us some lunch and ordered four falafel sandwiches. We small taked with the guy making them and he offered the meal for free. That's Jordan for you! :)

I turned the key in the ignition and the Toyota brought us back on the Kings Highway. It wasn’t long before the mountains opened up. From the mountains we could see the Dead Sea far down below. The winding road took us deeper and deeper down to the lake which borders Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Hurry if you want to see it because the lake is dropping about one meter (three feet) each year. This one is not credited to global warning but to human interference. Rivers which feed the lake are being diverted for agriculture and the factories at the southern end are also a major factor. My fiancée decided it was time for luxury and splurged on a two day stay at a resort. I was anticipating a smell coming from the extremely salty water but there wasn’t any. It was however really hot! Some 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re in the USA ;)

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Dead Sea.

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Invested...

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Fully invested! ;)

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That is a lot of water which has gone missing!

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Physics at play will make your body unbelievably buoyant in water which is 30-40% salt. They say don’t taste it, don’t swim on your belly, don’t get it in your eyes. As the idiot I am I did all of that of course and now I will tell you:  don’t taste it, don’t swim on your belly, don’t get it in your eyes! :) Good call on my fiancées part. We had an excellent time at the resort, covered ourselves in the mud, floated on our backs and enjoyed several great meals. On our second day we didn’t even leave the resort. I’ve never been that low in my life and felt that good about it! ;) Denmark is a fairly flat country and I like playing mind games when I’m in the mountains by pointing at the ground and saying: “Denmark is now 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) below us. It’s however really strange to be floating on a lake while pointing up at the sky and saying: “Denmark is now 450 meters (1,476 feet) above me!?” Even the tourist t-shirts for sale couldn’t keep up as they read: “the lowest point on earth. 390 meters (1,280 feet) below sea level. You are here: Dead Sea”.

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As we left the Dead Sea to drive back towards Amman we made a stop at Mount Nebo which is accredited for being the mountain which the prophet Moses climbed to see the promised land before he passed away. It’s a holy sight and you’ll find a nice church on top which contains archeological remnants of buildings and old mosaics. You’ll also have a view of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. We continued through Madaba which is yet another ancient city but we didn’t stop. We pushed on to Amman which by the way is located 800 meters (2,625 feet) above sea level. Amman is also rich in history and boasts itself as one of the oldest continuously inhabited capitals in the world. We are (like with Damascus in Syria) taking at least 10,000 years. Oh Jordan...where does it end? We saw so much and we hardly saw anything!

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On our last night together we upheld an expensive tradition we started in Greenland back in 2014. We went for sushi. And we had a boatload of sushi!! The following day we sorted out everything I wanted to send home and finally dropped in on Amman’s well preserved Roman amphitheater which is located downtown not far from the Citadel. Our last trip in the Toyota was to the Queen Alia airport which I have now been to three times in a completely flightless journey? Think about that. Funny thing...I had a dream not long ago in which I was in a bus which suddenly flew across dense traffic in an unnamed city. Just slightly above traffic but it was flying and I panicked thinking that I had broken one of the cardinal rules within the Saga. Fortunately it was just a dream and the Saga can continue untainted ;)

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Amman Roman Amphitheater.

Then the Titanic sank. “Jack, Jaaaack!” Rose, Rooooose!!!” And off she went after a fantastic week together in an amazing country. I was left alone with 58 more countries to reach which could end this project in January 2020 if Once Upon A Saga keeps its 11 day average/country. It’s the journey not the destination - right? Let’s keep on keeping on.

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I’m now looking into visas (as if I ever stopped). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is not far from here but the borders are well guarded. KSA has not been open for tourism for MANY years however there are signs that it may be changing. Resent developments have reopened cinemas in KSA where both men and woman can sit together. Women are being allowed to drive and the rumors of proper tourism visas are on many people’s lips. It just hasn’t happened yet and I’m networking as usual. As such I have had help from Rakan at Maersk who introduced me to the Danish embassy in Lebanon who tried to get me in touch with the Danish embassy in KSA. Instead I received a solid contact which I will be happy to share with you later on. That contact is invested in the Saga and it could lead to yet another hard to believe solution for us to move forward. When I say “us” I mean you and me because we are in this together ;)

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That is Aya to the left and her mother Rania to the right :)

I have a great network of people here in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Some are from my visit at the Maersk office, some are from my visit at the Jordan Red Crescent (JRC) and some are from my hotel or from the Saga’s ever growing social media. As such Rania picked me up in her hybrid car two nights ago. We went for dinner together with her twelve year old daughter Aya, who isn’t just a good student but also an entrepreneur. There’s a current trend with slime which you buy and play with. Aya is importing components and manufacturing various forms of slime which she markets and sells online. Apparently it has abilities to reduce stress. Twelve years old!! Her page on instagram is called: cloudberriesslimes2. The first account was hacked and she lost her followers which explains the “2”. Don’t underestimate children ;)

How about we end this entry with Saga values? Be polite. Think outside the box. Treat people with kindness. Work hard but smart. Be open minded. And whatever you do: keep on keeping on! In fact:

Keep calm and Saga on ;)

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

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Jordan - the easy life

Since October 10th 2013: 145 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

Jordan is a welcome oasis to me

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They say it takes seven good impressions to weigh out a single bad one. “They” say a lot. I clearly remember most of the hardship I’ve been through to get this far. Now, for some reason I always smile when I see the Jordanian flag and I simply don’t know why?

 

Back in the Caribbean Erik from USA asked me if I could really call my outfit a uniform since I was the only one wearing it? That’s a pretty good question because I’ve thought a lot about it for years now. I have several of the same polo shirts and t-shirts which I wear everyday. As such I am uniform with myself. I’ve actually got two uniforms now. The one I started out with which is grey and carries the Red Cross emblem. And since the Saga turned four years; the navy blue one with the Saga's logo you guys voted for. If you are wondering why this project hasn’t taken off in a big way yet then join the club. I have no idea but I can talk about it in great length. After all some of the major challenges within the Saga, which now are behind us, would hardly be overcome by anyone else.

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I got to rehearse my Danish when I suddently ran into these three wonderful people from back home. We had a great time together.

And the Saga itself is very unique in many ways. For starters this has never been done before which should go a long way in a world where nearly everything else has been tried or done? It’s a good project and I feel I have reason to be proud. The Saga has seen media across about one hundred countries now which is no small thing. My best guess is that we live in an age where it’s hard to distinguish between all the information we receive every day. Is it amazing to snowboard down a massive mountain during the night wearing nothing but fluorescent light? Sure it is! Is it amazing to walk from South Africa to China? Sure is! Now you have a man going to every single country in the world in a single unbroken journey completely without flying for the first time in history. Meh...not that impressive? Well what about the keep on keeping on attitude? Meh...what else do you have? There’s the positive promotion of every country! Look at all the negative media today and the growth of fear in people’s eyes? Meh... Something I hear a lot is people telling me: “just wait...suddenly it will explode!” That sounds right but it has been four and a half year of this now. Let’s see what the future brings...

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The Jordan Red Crescent made this wonderful video from my visit: VIDEO :)

The grey uniform is in use when I visit the Red Cross or Red Crescent. It wasn’t appropriate in Syria and I was even requested to turn down a 15 minute Syrian interview on television. Sometimes it’s good to have a low profile. I’ve walked through the front door of the Red Cross or Red Crescent of nearly every one of our 145 countries so far. Looking back I estimate I have spent an average of two days at each National Society which would amount to roughly 400 days across the entire project. That means I would wear it for at least a full year within a six year project. So the grey uniform is certainly in use. The Jordan Red Crescent National Society is really something! I’m quite impressed and sort of sad that they also are feeling the decline in volunteers which is present in most countries. I was in fact corrected as I wrote in last week's entry that the movement has 17 million volunteers world wide. Apparently there is roughly 12 million but really it’s hard to estimate. How much would you need to volunteer to be counted? There are actually official numbers to go by in order to note who’s a volunteer and who isn’t. I’m not a volunteer as I’m a Goodwill Ambassador and I’m not paid for all the work I put into promoting the movement. Except last week the Jordan Red Crescent would't take no for an answer and handed me a check thanking me for what I do. That was a dilemma for me as I’d really like to keep a clean line in terms of finances within Once Upon A Saga. Movement money should go to humanitarian work. However in some cultures more than others it’s very impolite to turn down hospitality and gifts. I didn’t see the amount before the check was cashed. It was $500 DOLLARS!! That was a lot more than what I was comfortable with! Meanwhile my bank account is bleeding dry. Ross Offshore had to pull the financial sponsorship back in 2016 although they love the Saga. I fully understand and that’s sometimes how companies need to prioritize. I sold some of my belongings back home, borrowed money twice and we ran a semi successful crowdfunding campaign last year. The crowdfunded money would only be enough to pay back the loans but hey...there’s always a way. So what happened with the much needed funds I got in Jordan? I donated the full amount to the movements work in Syria. Now here’s how easy it is to donate to the movement. I’m Danish, I’m in Jordan, I donated on the German Red Cross webpage, the money goes to Syria.

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Such an honor to be seated with H.E. President and the Secretary General of the Jordan Red Crescent as well as the head delegates from both ICRC and IFRC.

Since the Saga completed its first four continents (Europe, North America, South America and Africa) and reached four years of age, I have been wearing the navy blue uniform outside of movement visits (the Red Cross Red Crescent likes to call itself a movement). My clothing is largely supplied by Berghaus in Norway: jacket, fleece, pants and thermo undergarments. My shoes have since the beginning been Solomon. My two bags have been Northface all the way. Berghaus in Norway is a project partner. I doubt Northface not Salomon know that they have been along from the beginning :)

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The fantastic Maersk team in Amman, Jordan.

Maersk Line is highly visible throughout the Saga. They are however not an official partner although Maersk has been a great friend. I’ve been on several of their ships and in return I offer free motivational speeches at their offices wherever I can. I did such a presentation in Amman and had a great time with the Maersk team. I’ve done 59 presentations now and 23 of them have been at Maersk offices. I often think of the various people I have met along my now very long way to Jordan. Rakan is a new friend. He is the managing director for Maersk Line in Jordan and has gone out of his way to help me with various things. So have several of his employees. The case being that my fiancée finally arrived and I shaved my beard off! :)

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My fiancée is here in Jordan which is great news for the country. I rarely see any of the tourist sites for most countries I visit. The Saga most often demands somewhere between 60-80 hours of work per week. However whenever my fiancée visits we play the part of tourists! And Jordan is just perfect for that. It’s yet another country with an unreasonable amount of tourist attractions compared to its size. How about sending some of those millennia old constructions up to Denmark. From one kingdom to another ;)

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At the Citadel in Amman, Jordan.

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You could easily book a guided tour from home before coming here. However I wouldn’t bother. I would just book my flight to Jordan (if I was flying) and then make my arrangements here. Jordan is among the world's most hospitable countries and you will have plenty of trustworthy help to arrange for anything you want to do here. The infrastructure is quite good and if you’re not keen on busses then it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to rent a car. That’s what we did! After a day in Amman where we took in some of the sights and devoured several delicious meals, we picked up our car and headed south. Jordan is already a very beautiful country but I figure it did something special for us on our first day out! 

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Turns out the Middle East doesn't only have snow (Lebanon) it can be green too ;) Jordan you are beautiful!

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We decided that with limited time together we wanted to: reach Petra, see Wadi Rum and swim in the Dead Sea. So far so good. On our way to Petra we managed to stop at Wadi Al Moujeb, Karak Castle and also get a stunning view at Dana.

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Karak Castle.

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Karak Castle.

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Karak Castle.

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Do you remember Bernhard (Bernie) and Liis from last weeks blog? Well they were able to give us some tips as they also rented a car and they recommended a nice hostel in Wadi Musa near Petra. Petra is not a temple. Petra is a region, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the new Great Wonders of the world. It’s really not hard to comprehend why!! Petra is magnificent!! It’s a massive area so we decided to give it two days. The most famous building in Petra is the Al-Khazneh temple which half the world already knows from Indiana Jones. It is truly amazing especially due to the long narrow canyon which leads right up to it. However it’s far from the largest or most impressive temple in the Petra complex in my opinion. 

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Petra, Jordan.

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Petra, Jordan.

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It’s actually really difficult for me to say what is more impressive and awe-striking at Petra: the intricate structures within the area or nature’s own architecture. The nature is absolutely stunning and would definitely be worth a visit even without the temples and rock-carvings. Petra as a complex is highly well developed for tourism. The visitors center reminded me of entering Disneyland and then it leads on into the canyon which is the perfect way to begin your adventure. There are toilets and opportunities for refreshments throughout the area and it’s clean and organized. Just think of the logistics to freight Coca Cola and souvenirs deep into the canyons and mountains. And the logistics of hauling garbage out. It’s not hard to find souvenirs inside Petra and I’d really encourage you to get something from one of the Bedouin shops just to support their lifestyle.

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Petra, Jordan.

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Petra, Jordan.

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For unfair reasons tourism is down in Jordan and its mind boggling when you begin to realize what the country has to offer in sights, hospitality, cuisine and how safe and friendly Jordan is...then you just begin to feel like something is wrong? I would suspect that media is at fault for much of the decline. I had an American Lebanese contact me while I was in Lebanon. She lives in the USA and wanted to know if I felt it would be safe for her to visit Lebanon? Lebanon is amazing!! And definitely safe. Jordan is if possible even safer. The media gives the Middle East a bad reputation and to be fair the Middle East does have its share of conflicts. However people are still living here and the Middle Eastern hospitality will surprise you no matter how well you’ve prepared yourself for it. It’s right up there at the very finest level.

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Petra at Night, Jordan. Brilliant!

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Jordan borders Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Those are countries we all know from the media but rarely for uplifting stories. Media has its way and the Saga has its own way. I’m out here to remind you that Saudi Arabia is opening up like never before, Iraq is in many places so safe that most people believe I could travel across land to Baghdad unharmed and that Jordan is full of wonderful experiences just waiting for you to discover.

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April 10th, 2018.

How lucky Jordan is to have my fiancée visiting. Now you get to see so much more of Jordan than you otherwise would. And how lucky I am to have her too. Just in general ;)

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

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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“Yes, it’s Jordan” #OUAStoJordan

 

Since October 10th 2013: 145 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

You can adapt to almost anything in life

Photo 04 04 2018 18.42.09

In last week's entry we had “escaped” Lebanon on our third attempt. We had boarded the good ship ‘MSC Rhiannon’ and we had safely returned to the shores of Egypt. Now we just had to reach Jordan.

This would be the third time the Saga brought us to Egypt. There was the first time when it became country number 127. There was the second time as transit to reach Lebanon. And now the third as transit to reach Jordan. It was ‘wasta’ which got us out of Lebanon. You can fly in and out of Lebanon as much as you like. However boarding a cargo vessel in Beirut as a passenger is not straightforward. I have written about ‘wasta’ before and to put it in a single sentence it is: the ability to influence a situation through someone who can’t refuse to help. I didn’t have any ‘wasta’ for the particular situation but a friend of mine did. That will become relevant later on in this blog.

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Hatem is a dear friend from Alexandria. We first met in Sudan (country number 126) where he was working in Khartoum. He happened to be in Alexandria when the ship arrived and naturally we had to meet. It was great to see him in his natural environment where he could share a small anecdote about EVERY SINGLE building we walked past. Hatem is a lawyer but works with HSE for the moment. However he is planing to start a restaurant with a friend in Alexandria. The following day we were joined by two friends from Sudan. Mayda and Alshaymaa flew in to spend a few days by the Mediterranean coast. Now we had a proper reunion which in 2018 naturally called for a selfie ;)

to jordan

 

You can view the video by clicking here.

 

Then I set out on yet another ridiculous detour. Sometimes it’s logistics which hinders the Saga while in other situations it's bureaucracy. As the border between Syria and Jordan was closed last month I had to find another way. The distance between Damascus (Syria) and Amman (Jordan) is only a mere 202 km (126 mi). My detour would measure 2,149 km (1,343 mi) and include a 4WD, 2 taxis, a containership, 2 busses and a ferry. Fortunately this is 2018 so I called an Uber to bring me to the bus terminal where I had already made an online reservation for GoBus. I don’t speak a lot of Arabic but whatever I know is constantly in use and most often delights those I interact with. Among other things I know a few numbers and when the lady at the GoBus counter was struggling to tell me that the bus would leave from platform six I just said it in Arabic and a huge smile appeared on her face.

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I got exhausted really fast.

It’s a three hour drive to Cairo where I had to wait a few hours for my second GoBus reservation. A little past midnight I boarded that bus, which would be my home for the next 13 hours. The bus would take me across Sinai but the long route. The political situation in certain parts of Sinai have intensified to a degree where a number of roads are blocked for civilians. However Sharm El-Sheikh in Sinai’s extreme south remains a popular tourism destination. So by “crossing” Sinai we really went all the way south to Sharm and then north again on the opposite coast until the bus reached Nuweibaa. During the 13 hour ride we encountered a high number of military checkpoints which all were professionally efficient: get out the bus, find your luggage, line up next to the other passengers, open your luggage, let the contents be inspected, close your luggage, place your luggage back in the bus, return to your seat inside the bus. In my experience most checkpoints around the world are superficial and relatively casual. I do however have a few stories from the past in which the officials took everything apart and inspected every cutton swab I had during a several hour long process. The only nuisance of these casual checkpoints are when they wake you up in the middle of the night to show your identification or even worse get out of the bus for a luggage inspection. 

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Most of Sinai looked like this.

It got really warm on the road down to Sharm. I had read in advance that most travelers stay a night in Nuweibaa and board the ferry the following day. There are two ferries and one leaves at midday with the other leaving and hour later. I had read that the process of getting a ticket can be long, that the process of clearing security and immigration can be long and that the ships are often delayed but that you still need to be there hours in advance. My bus reached Nuweibaa a few minutes before 1pm. In my heart I was hoping to get a ticket somehow and avoid the rather high costs of a tourist hotel in Nuweibaa. Besides I like to move forward when I can. Once off the bus I walked for five minutes in the heat...in the wrong direction. I quickly thought to myself that those lost minutes could cost me my chance to get onboard. When I finally reached the counter I immediately spoke Arabic which I think inclined the man behind the desk to help out. He said: you can get a ticket for today but you REALLY need to hurry!” With my ticket in hand I dashed off to the port and felt a mix of weakness from having had a rough night and no food all day...combined with the excitement of actually being able to reach the ferry!! The security checks went pretty seamless, the immigration process went pretty fast and I beat the heat with my heavy bag on my back reaching the ferry in time! Great! Onboard I had a basic (overpriced) meal and filtered some tap water through my LifeSaver water bottle. Check out the short video I made on how I use that bottle :)

lifesaver

You can view the video by clicking here.

On a side note it’s hard being back on the road. Between October 10th 2017 and March 4th 2018 we have only reached three new countries! And it’s not for the lack of trying. That however also means that my aging body has grown unaccustomed to jumping in and out of busses all night. I’m also out of training when it comes to sleeping on busses. Something which for years within the Saga has been second nature to me. Now just imagine the last months for me as I have been sleeping in the same bed for more than three months. I rarely sleep in the same bed for more than two days. The many past months have been more of a bureaucratic challenge and not so much a logistical one. For me that means a lot of stress related to networking and looking for options nobody else sees. The long stay in Lebanon has also made me more “soft”. I need to toughen up a bit once again. I miss my host in Beirut :)

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The ferry from Nuweibaa brought me across the Gulf of Aqaba to Aqaba in Jordan making it country number 145. ONE COUNTRY CLOSER TO HOME! :) It was a relatively short voyage which lasted roughly four hours. While onboard I could observe Saudi Arabia on my right and Egypt on my left. Straight ahead I could see Israel which borders Jordan. I love the logistics of when countries meet. It is excellent for international trade.

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Timo the Finnish Apollo employee and former tour guide. Said that if he ever met me he would buy me lunch. And he did! :)

In Aqaba I met Timo who works for Apollo. Timo used to work together with my sister in law and he has been following the Saga since 2013. He just happened to be in Aqaba for a few days when I arrived so naturally we met up. He’s a great guy! Timo is from Finland and takes care of Apollo’s Finnish guests. As it turned out we shared a lot of interests and had a good time together eating local food and talking over tea. My favorite movie is ‘Casablanca’. It takes place in french occupied Morocco during Second World War and the protagonists owns a successful bar called ‘Café Americain’ aka “Rick’s”. Timo would love to open such a bar in Aqaba. And Aqaba’s name certainly rings a clear sound of adventure. It’s kind of like Timbuktu to me. A name which invites adventure.

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Sharif Hussein bin Ali mosque, Aqaba.

Let me take you back to 2010. I was eight years younger and I guess you were too? ;) “Bernie” (Bernhard) was enjoying an exceptional motorcycle journey in Asia. He was rolling down a highway in India when a mindless driver suddenly drove his tractor right up in front of him. BANG! Bernie was unconscious!! An ambulance immediately brought him to a nearby clinic.

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In Aqaba I got a complimentary hisbiscus drink from Adel the Egyptian who worked at the cafe I was at. And he had no idea who I was. Hospitality :)

Minutes later my friend Cam and I rolled the same way. The police stopped us thinking that the three of us were riding together. After all, how unlikely must it be for an Indian policeman to see three foreigners on motorcycles in the same area within a few minutes - and not think they are together? Cam and I were escorted to the clinic where we met Bernie. He had suffered a blow to the head. But was conscious. His collarbone and his knee was badly injured. His face was severely scratched!  Thankfully Bernie was wearing all the proper equipment! Without it he might not have been with us today. Cam and I did what we could to help him. We stayed the night and the next day Bernie was doing much better so we decided to continue our own epic journey. It was a brief but dramatic encounter! 

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Fast forward to last month. Bernie wrote to me on Facebook that he would be in Jordan. So we met up in Aqaba where I met him for the first time since 2010. I was also introduced to his beautiful girlfriend Liis from Estonia. Bernie is by the way from Austria and Cam is Australian while I remain Danish. How international this story is ;) We had a great ride up to Amman where we talked about the good old days, about travel and about the world.

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As Liis, Berhard and I got ready to leave a random service station between Aqaba and Amman, the attendent came running with three complimentary cups of water and three complimentary bags of dates. Hospitality :)

The scenic beauty of Jordan passed by as we moved forward. The landscape changed from arid desert to more fertile green as we approached the capital. Now and then we spotted a few camels and at a petrol station we saw a Tesla charging station. I’ve never seen one of those before. Jordan is looking great to me. Bernie healed long ago. I’m now in Amman. And you must know that it is true: a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.

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Reaching Amman.

My first impression of Amman was: “wow! That is certainly a lot of concrete!” However as you dive into the streets of Amman, on the seven hills it was built on, the charm instantly hits you. This city is something else. Amman has mostly been kept flat which in turn means that it reaches really far to host its many inhabitants. Something else which struck me was that the entire city appears to be kept in beige or white? It looks remarkable in its own special way. It reminds me of looking across Rome from the top of a hill. Rome also possesses this uniform color when seen from afar. The following day I met up with Liis and Bernie again to have dinner before they flew home. They both live in Berlin and I shared yet another one of my observations with them: “I’m surprised how quiet the city is and how relatively clean the air is” I said. Liis and Bernie looked at me as if I had lost my mind?!? You see...it’s a about perspective. Liis and Bernie came from Berlin to Amman. I arrived from Beirut and Cairo. In Beirut and Cairo you sometimes can’t breathe due to the heavy exhaust from vehicles. Furthermore I would wager that drivers spend more time on the horn than on the brake. You rarely hear anyone using the horn in Amman and there are far less vehicles in the streets. Perspective is reality ;)

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Mansaf is a delicious Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice. It was a little like risotto with meat :)

Jordan is looking really good to me. There are a number of things I do in each country. As goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross I always seek out a meeting with the national society (NS). In Jordan the NS is called Jordan Red Crescent (JRC). I also aim to meet with Maersk Line and offer a motivational presentation of the Saga. Maersk has been very supportive throughout this complex logistical challenge and it’s always good to meet with the office and give something back. 

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Enjoying lunch with the JRC :)

Here in Jordan both lined up really quickly. JRC forwarded me a very professional program days in advance and invited me to meet with them yesterday. Maersk has invited me to their office on Sunday. My fiancée is arriving in Amman on Tuesday. I will visit the Saudi embassy first thing next week. It all looks pretty smooth to me for now.

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It is not an unusual program when I meet a NS. It is however only the second time I have had such an organized plan days in advance of a visit. Well done JRC! :)

The NS of any country is in many ways a mirror of the country itself. JRC is no different. The backbone of the movement is based of voluntary work and as a result you often have thousands of volunteers working within the country. In other words Danish volunteers are volunteering in Denmark, Japanese volunteers are volunteering in Japan and Jordanian volunteers are carrying out humanitarian work in Jordan. However uniquely JRC also has Syrian volunteers. As a result of a nation having its own people volunteer in its NS you will feel the country within the NS. As an example you can imagine the efficiency of German volunteers carrying out humanitarian work in Germany. Or the kindness of Ugandan volunteers in the Ugandan Red Cross.

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Amazing what the women at the JRC vocational training were capable of making. I was especially taken with the high quality. They also learn other trades such as hairdressing and working with computers.

What I am getting at is that I was treated with an immense amount of kindness and respect by the JRC. And having visited more than 140 NS’s in five continents I truly believe that paints a picture of what kind of country Jordan is. Before our meeting I did my research my scanning their socialmedia and reading through the JRC webpage. It’s a very good website! The way I was greeted, the execution of the entire day and the spirit of the NS was something to behold. I left tired and impressed. You wouldn’t perhaps think about but there is competition within humanitarian work. You might assume that they all get along and serve the same purpose of improving humanity for the most vulnerable people. To some extent you would be  right. The Red Cross and Red certainly works together with NGO’s and organizations all around the world. However there is an element of financing humanitarian projects which obviously leads to competition for funds and donations from companies and international organizations. There is also an element of competition to attract volunteers. Perhaps more so in Jordan than in many other countries. I spoke with Rania who is Head of Youth Section. She said that Jordan hosts 5,000 NGO’s and organizations. You may wonder if there would ever be a need for so many? 

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I joined in on a refresher course for the volunteers and had to show my skills. I could need another refresher ;)

The Red Cross was founded in 1863 and has proven itself over time. It is the world's largest humanitarian organization and counts more than 17 million volunteers across 191 nations. If you think that anything manmade is perfect then you are out of your mind!! Humans are flawed and there aren’t many good examples to contradict it. However while the Red Cross Red Crescent might not be divine perfection I can assure you that it does an immense amount of good in the world. In fact so much that I would argue it’s beyond any one person to comprehend the actual scale of it. Sure it’s not perfect but it’s also not a 50/50 hit and miss. It’s perhaps a 10/90 or 5/95. The decline of volunteering is prevalent globally. Young people do not appear to take the same interests in volunteering as the case used to be. There’s a general “me first” attitude among many in such a way that it’s hard to imagine some people doing anything without receiving physical reward. Sleeping well at night just isn’t always enough. I would still say that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before and if that is true, which I believe it is, then the world is full of volunteers ;)

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Jordan Red Crescent National Society, Amman, Jordan - Head Quarters.

As with most things in life it often boils down to incentive. If you can offer the right incentive then you’ll see a man travel to every single country in the world in a single unbroken journey completely without flying ;) Now let’s finish this entry as we started it...with ‘wasta’. Because among the many people I met in at the JRC I also met Monther who works in the communication department. He told me that in Jordan they have a nickname for ‘wasta’ which is “vitamin wow” ;) How funny is that!! :)

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Now finally, why did I call this blog “Yes, It’s Jordan”? Simply because it’s the official tourism slogan for the kingdom. But how are you supposed to pronounce it? Do you pronounce the “yes” as if you just won a million dollars or do you pronounce it as a child that doesn’t want to go to school? I’m going with the first one ;)

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Yes, it's the Saga :)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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