Lebanon - marhaba to the Middle East
Since October 10th 2013: 143 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Don’t give up on what you believe in
Imagine if I gave up when I was consumed by discomfort fighting malaria? Or how about when the Saga lost its financial sponsorship? I could have gone home a million times when bureaucracy appeared hopeless and endless. My long distance relationship to the beautiful woman who is my fiancée today has been through tremendous stress. I once doubted the value in my work to reach the goal of the Saga and all which it entails. Just imagine if I gave up?
I never did! And as it stands today I never will! I owe so many of you so much. You have supported the Saga in various ways by commenting, sharing contacts, reaching out to friends, donating to the crowdfunding, giving me a place to sleep, cooking me a meal, pointing me in the right direction, smiling when I needed it and so much more. It is beyond me why some people think this project is about me? I could be gone tomorrow and all which we have achieved will still be there. It’s about us. It’s about the way we see each other. It’s about how the media treats people, groups, countries and events. It’s about achievements. It’s about the world's largest humanitarian organisation which happens to be the Red Cross Red Crescent. It’s about humanity. It’s about peace of mind - peace among people - peace among countries. It’s about knowledge. It’s about everything good. And somehow I’m constantly being asked to phrase it all in a single easy to understand sentence? Please be my guest and give it a go if you’re a wordsmith of sorts? My friend and Saga project member Parth gave it a go: “An inspirational Saga of a Viking explorer, befriending every stranger, sharing all the goodness in the world with all the people around entertaining and educating them”. Good try but still rather long :)
Last weeks blog: www.onceuponasaga.com
Last week we finally reached Cyprus again after a month's worth of failed attempts of reaching Lebanon. Simply getting back to Cyprus proved more demanding than expected. The good ship “Irenes Logos” landed me in Limassol, where I had set out a month earlier. It should have been so easy and elegant: get onboard a ship in Limassol, voyage 10 hours across the Mediterranean, arrive to Beirut in Lebanon. It didn’t go like that at all and thus after several adventures at sea and in Egypt I returned to Cyprus. My good friend Natalie welcomed me with open arms and gave me a place to stay. Her dog (Mo) wagged his tail and licked my face. Dinner was served and a few episodes of Friends ran across the screen before it was time for bed. It was good to be back in a friendly home.
Mo is an Honorary member of the Saga :)
I had enough time to meet up with Sergey who’s another friend I’ve made in Cyprus. Sergey and I talked about this and that over a cup of tea near his apartment. I hadn’t returned to Cyprus just to socialise. As always there is a plan to be executed. The plan was to cross over the United Nations buffer zone and into occupied Cyprus. Then make it to the Northern town of Girne and catch a ferry from there to Tasucu in Turkey. From Tasucu I would board the first available ferry to Tripoli in Lebanon and find transportation to Beirut, a city which I had already seen TWICE from two separate container vessels. On that note: how crazy was that adventure?! Within a month I had had been onboard two container carriers operated by two separate companies and I had been to three continents within just 4 days. Two of the continents twice! What kind of traveler gets to do such a crazy thing? I cannot believe my own life sometimes... Well, back to the story. The new plan for reaching Lebanon seemed solid with only a few unknowns. Natalie and I researched that the ferry from Girne (Kyrenia) to Tasucu leaves Monday’s and Friday’s at 15:00.
After two nights in Natalie’s apartment I woke up early to reach the Monday ferry departure. My stomach had been a little upset the night before but nothing quite unusual. I shake hands with so many people, I touch so many different currencies, I sleep and eat at irregular hours, I worry about many things, I don’t always know what I eat, I often drink local water...a little rumbling in the tummy is to be expected now and again. However that Monday morning I woke up exhausted and the bed was calling me back with immense strength. I fought it off and had some breakfast. The toilet called. I packed my bags, said farewell to Mo and Natalie and got into the shared taxi which would bring me to Cyprus’s capital Nicosia. The drive was about an hour and I got off at Ledra street which runs from one side of Nicosia to the other across the checkpoint. I didn’t quite make it to the checkpoint before I saw a café and wondered if they might have a toilet? While seated on the toilet I heard an Indian accent shout: “can you move to another toilet - I need to clean!” I had only been there for a few minutes and I’m not in the habit of striking up conversations through a toilet door! The man with the Indian accent was persistent and I managed to reply: ”wait 5 minutes!”. My Indian friend was desperate: “please sir! You do not understand! I have many toilets to clean!! Please move!!” Unbelievable?!? I ignored the voice but it persisted. Finally I uttered: “I’m not having this conversation” and the voice finally went away. Now tell me: how strange was that?!?
I left the café after finishing a cup of tea and scheduling a few Facebook updates. Then I picked up my bags which seemed a lot heavier than usual. A few minutes later I reached the checkpoint which is at the center of Nicosia. Check point Charlie? Nope: Ledra Street Crossing Point. There was some uncertainty towards how I would be treated at the checkpoint with my large NorthFace duffel bag on my back. I didn’t exactly look like the typical tourist crossing over for a few selfies. The first checkpoint was really easy and after looking at my passport for less than a second I was waved onwards. The second checkpoint was the same. Nobody paid any attention to me or my luggage. Good stuff. I found a bus heading to Girne and jumped onboard. I left my heavy duffel bag at the entrance to the bus and found a seat a few rows behind it. A girl told me to secure the bag a little better so it wouldn’t fall out. I saw her point and smiled: “thank you”. Then I secured my bag and went back to my seat. A few minutes later the bus came to another of its many stops. The driver didn’t close the door, sped up like a bat out of hell and made a quick turn! My duffel bag flew out the open door and quickly got smaller behind the bus!! “STOP! STOP! STOOOOP!!” The driver pulled over, I jumped out and ran back for my bag. I then returned with a huge smile and tossed my duffel back in and secured it more than before. I looked at the girl and smiled: “you were right”.
Honestly, just passing through, there is hardly any difference between the North and the South of Cyprus. Girne in this picture.
It took less that an hour to reach Girne and we passed some spectacular mountains on our way there. The ocean opened up on the other side of the mountains and I got out to hike the 2 km (1.24 mi) to the port which had my heart racing. I was in good time. It wasn’t even midday and the ferry wouldn’t leave until 15:00. I had a break, drank some water and looked at the ocean. Then I picked up my bags again and marched on to the port. My stomach was feeling okay. At the port I learned that the ship doesn’t leave for Tasucu on Monday’s - it departs on Wednesday’s. So I was 2 days early! However there was a ferry departing at 23:00 to Mersin in Turkey. A quick look at the map revealed that Mersin is just a few hours east of Tasucu. I bought the ticket which ran me 132 Turkish lira ($34). I had to get my ticket stamped before it was valid and the guy standing next to the woman who stamped it was able to tell me that the ferry from Tasucu to Tripoli (Turkey - Lebanon) doesn’t exist anymore. He said that it was discontinued more than a year ago! Now what? I suggested there might be another company but he shook his head: “I don’t think so...”. Great? Then I left my luggage at the terminal and went to have a look at Girne. I sat down at a café and had a cup of tea and smoked some water pipe (as usual: don’t smoke - it’s bad for you). Afterwards I got up and felt really horrible. My body felt heavy and wobbly. I was dizzy and a headache was pushing hard to realise itself. I halfway had an out of body experience where I could see myself accidentally cross my legs and stumble face first into the cobblestones beneath my heavy feet. “Come on soldier!! One foot in front of the next! Make it to the bench! Just a few more steps!!” Thanks to the sergeant in my mind I made it and sat down to rest. “This is not good. This is not good” I kept repeating to myself. I was cold and weak. The ferry terminal felt hopelessly far away. Now what? After catching my breath and strength again I made it over to another bench in the sun and laid down to rest. 10 minutes later I made it to a restaurant and had something to eat. Then I located the toilet. Afterwards I had a very long walk back to the terminal but I made it. Then I fell asleep on a bench. A few hours later I woke up and had some paracetamol. Then I rested some more in a sitting position with my arms crossed over my stomach and my body tilted forward. I was rocking back and forth for hours thinking ahead about having to carry my bags onboard the ferry. About the police checkpoint I had to go through. About sleeping on the ferry when I really wanted a bed. As it got dark I began to feel better. I found some dinner, passed the checkpoint, got onboard the ferry and went to sleep on the floor in a corner. The floor was carpeted...as good as it gets!
My bed for the first night. The floor onboard the ferry. Not bad.
Arriving in Mersin in Turkey.
Making my way to immigration and police passing freight trains for whatever reason?
The next morning I woke up as the ferry approached Mersin. I was feeling a lot better but I was really weak. I wonder what had gotten to me? Well...it wasn’t enough to stop me! Around here we keep on keeping on! Disembarking the ferry was pretty straightforward but in an industrial port so not super straightforward. Immigration accepted me in Turkey with a smile when I replied: “my profession: professional traveler!” Passport stamped, welcome back to Turkey. I located some free WiFi near a corporate building and saw that all the people I had reached out to the day before had come up short regarding ferries from Turkey to Lebanon. Great?! Then I reached out to Perçin Imrek, my friend in Istanbul, who took the challenge upon himself. 10 minutes later Perçin got back to me and confirmed that he had spoken to a company in Tasucu. They confirmed they had a departure leaving every Tuesday and Friday but I had to be there before 17:00. Thanks Perçin! I was so weak but my hopes were high now that Perçin had confirmed the departure. I was halfway thinking of a new plan in case there were no ferries and really I just wanted a bed but where to go? With this new information I found a taxi which got me to the main bus terminal, using all the Turkish words I could remember. At the terminal I had a grand meal and then continued to find my bus.
Bus terminal in Mersin.
Everyone was fantastically helpful and kind. A Kurdish Turk walked me all the way to the bus and arranged on my behalf. I got inside the bus and dozed off. A few hours later it was time to leave the bus and get into a minibus. Ten minutes later the driver stopped in front of a booking agency and hinted that I had reached my goal. The writing on the window hinted that the agency offered ferry tickets to Cyprus and Lebanon. Inside a weirdly reserved gentleman told me that there are no ferries from Tasucu to Lebanon anymore. Now if you check out Tasucu on a map you’ll quickly discover that you’ll have a great overview of the entire town just by getting up on a chair. It’s not a big place but it is really charming. This man would know if there was no ferry - wouldn’t he? He works with travel and even more specifically by selling ferry tickets. I insisted that Perçin had spoken to someone and confirmed that there is a ship leaving today. It took a long while before the reserved man gave in and told me to try another company 1 km (0.6 mi) down the road. I found it after walking half the distance. I got my ticket and had to do the entire booking in Arabic! Quite a challenge as I don’t speak the language but apparently I speak enough. That ticket cost me $160!! For that amount of money I was expecting a cabin and food. However it was just the fare and nothing more. I was told to reach the terminal by 19:00.
I had some soup and bread. Then I notified the Lebanese Red Cross, Maersk in Beirut, Raymond (my friend in Beirut) and a few others that I was now only 24 hours away. All of these people have been following my every step closely for the past month in denial of how hard it had been for me. And really my struggles with reaching Lebanon have been surreal! We will get a lot more into the extraordinary history of Lebanon next week but just for now I can mention that Beirut (the capital) used to be seen as the “European gateway to the Middle East” and has often been referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East”. I cannot believe the struggles I’ve had to get there but they have been real!
Back to the story...I was at the terminal at 18:30 and saw Tallal standing there on a parking lot just inside the fence. Port Security waved me in and told me to go and stand on the parking lot too. I briefly met Tallal at the agency when I bought my $160 ticket. It appeared that we were the only two passengers who were not truck drivers. It was cold. It was really cold and Tallal and I stood there stomping our feet for 2.5 hours before we were allowed to go inside the heated terminal and wait. There was nothing at the parking lot. No toilet. No kiosk. Just the tarmac. Inside the terminal I quickly fell asleep sitting on a bench. Finally we cleared immigration and the police checkpoints and made our way onboard the ship just before midnight. There was no bed and no food. The ship appeared to be in good condition but a crew member told us that a cabin would costs an additional $100. That basically meant that I would be sleeping on a bench.
My $160 luxury night on a bench. Night no. 2 for those counting.
The ship was a RORO vessel which means “roll on - roll off”. It ferries trucks across the Mediterranean between Turkey and Lebanon and as far as I can gather management has also made a business out of selling tickets to passengers although that’s not their core line of business. I wouldn't call it a ferry...I’d call it a ship. I fell asleep on a bench and paid little notice of the slightly rough weather which had the ship rolling. Tallal apparently didn’t sleep much and a few of the truck drivers lost their insides to Neptune’s wrath. It was well over midday the following day (Wednesday) before land was in sight.
Arriving in Tripoli, Lebanon.
Tripoli appears to be a city well worth visiting but I wanted to reach Beirut ASAP! As soon as immigration let me into the country, which was rather hassle free although time consuming, a taxi got me to a bus and a two hour bus drive got me to Beirut, where I met up with Raymond. Raymond is a friend of a friend of a friend. He works at LWIS City International School and has set me up with a place to sleep with his friends Margaret and her husband John. A very sweet couple who have been kind enough to open their doors to a complete stranger. Raymond and I went out for some Lebanese cuisine that same evening and got to know each other a little better. We had been communicating online for a long time but this was our first face to face meeting. He’s a really solid guy and once again we prove that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before ;)
So I’m now in Lebanon - finally! The first country of the Middle East. I’ve had a few nights of good rest and I’m feeling much better. I’ve been visiting embassies, arranging for practicalities and setting up meetings. The Saga never sleeps ;)
My first Lebanese meal in Lebanon. About time!! :)
If you’ve been following the blog for a while then you know I’m pretty honest in my writing. That is why I feel I can let you know that I’m not overwhelmingly happy about the results of the crowdfunding campaign. It ended a few days ago and reached 42% of the target amount. That means I need to look for an additional 58% to fund the remaining Saga. However I am thoroughly impressed that the campaign managed to collect $20,752 (€17,625 / kr 131,209) through just 395 donations! That is an incredible average of $53/donation. Some have even donated several times! A big thank you to every person who contributed! In the light of that the Saga has roughly 30,000 online followers I feel I have failed in motivating and reaching people. But heck! $20,752 will go a long way even after the initial costs for Indiegogo and campaign items have been covered. $20,752 divided by $20/day is 1,038 days of travel which is 2 years and 308 days so it should do fine for the remaining project. However it will not pay back the debt from the past few years since the sponsorship came to an end. Besides I really should invest in a PC as this takes way too much time...another blog for you typed out on my smartphone.
Around here we keep on keeping on ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - always trying! ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga