Back in Beirut and beyond...
Since October 10th 2013: 144 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Forward, always forward...
I spoke to my father on skype. He just turned 70 years young ;) In our conversation he spoke of a hypothetical T-section and said you have two choices: you can turn right or you can turn left. I replied: “you can also turn back and look for another way” ;)
That is the essence of the Saga. There is always a way that nobody else sees. But can you find it? So far so good. We put Syria behind us in a logistical sense, however that country, as so many others, will stay within me forever. I hope you enjoyed last weeks blog. It was very emotional for me to write it. I had to stop writing twice when my eyes turned red and I headed to a mirror to look deep inside me. What a wonderful country full of extraordinary fine people. I wish they will have the best possible future ahead.
I have been hanging out a lot at Food Style in Beirut. Yesterday I was treated this complimentary meal :)
Now I’m back in Lebanon. I’ve been back for a while however I let the social media run with updates from Syria after I returned to Lebanon. There was so much to show and tell you all. Thank you all for your wonderful support.
Streetart in Beirut.
People sometimes ask me what motivates me to continue after more than four years of this. Four years and five months to be exact. I’m not solely motivated by a single thing. It’s a lot of different things and it shifts around a lot. I’m very proud of what we have achieved so far. I see this to be a good project which continues to be under constant development. I would be devastated to quit so that alone is a motivation for continuing. People from around the world write me and thank me for all sorts of things. That motivates me too. The logistics to complete this project is massive and I’m a logistics coordinator by profession and heart so that motivates me too. I’m a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross and through that I have interacted with the Red Cross and Red Crescent throughout the entire journey. Some of my memories are absolutely devastating and I sometimes feel like screaming “ENOUGH!!!” However the beauty of the overall picture within what's the world's largest humanitarian organization is uplifting. I have seen so much good in so many volunteers and their actions. I have looked into the eyes of thankful beneficiaries and that alone can certainly motivate. I have good friends within the movement and their persistence to carry out their work motivates me.
I’m still curious about the world which I have still to see. The people I have yet to meet. The handshakes that are yet to come. I still want to learn and I still want to develop myself. I REALLY want to go home though. I’m not homesick because that’s something else. To be homesick would mean to be unable to do anything because the only cure would be to return home. I’ve met homesick people in my life and I know from that, that I have never been homesick. I still see myself as a person who’s in a tunnel of countries and that is the only way home. 59 more countries to go. We can do it. ‘WE’ because nobody travels to every country in the world on their own. My network is at this point unbelievably large and thousands of people across the world have come together to push the Saga this far ahead. The work year in Denmark is approximately 250 days in total. The rest is weekends, holidays etc. Both 2017 and 2018 count 252 workdays in Denmark. I’m out here 365 days a year and converted to Danish work days it would mean that my four years and five months would be six years and five months in comparison. Have no doubt: what I do is a lot of work. In its most basic form I’m sure you would agree that I couldn’t possibly have reached 144 countries by accident ;)
There’s stuff at home as well. I come from a good life in Denmark and when I left home I had money in my account, an small old sailboat and an apartment which I rented out. I still have the apartment but the money and boat is now gone. The first tenants chose to go back to the UK after living in Denmark for a year. They were wonderful. However imagine trying to rent out an apartment when you are far away from home? It’s a lot of effort. Thankfully I have a good friend in Rasmus Brohl. He has a company called Home Connector and he found me some new tenants. Then last year my new tenants (who were perfect) decided that they didn’t want to rent anymore and began looking for something they could buy. What can I do about that? I wished them all the best of course but I wanted to keep them. They moved out last month and I had to find new tenants again. This time while finding a way into Syria on my mind. The market in Copenhagen (Denmark’s capital city) has changed and while I have a nice apartment we struggled to find new tenants this time. Rasmus fortunately succeeded again but there was an overlap and I had to pay one month's rent. I’m not complaining. I’m merely trying to convey that I have a lot of other stuff on my mind while I still try to move us forward. My new tenant seems nice and hopefully this will keep until I return home in a few years.
There are oh so many reasons to love Lebanon. Food is certainly one of them.
I have a fiancée too. We were together before I left home and we got engaged when I brought us to Kenya. If you’ve ever been in a relationship then you know that takes effort too. If you’ve ever been in a long distance relationship then you might be puzzled about how we made it last this long? She’s an amazing woman so that’s a big part of the success. We both work hard at it and we have managed to grow stronger in spite of the distance. I usually shave my beard off when she comes to visit. She has been out to visit me 15 times already and I ended up shaving 13 times. As such you can nearly always look at my beard and judge how long it has been ;)
THANK YOU Farid!! :)
I’m now traveling with a laptop. It was gifted to me by Farid soon after we met. It is seven years old and initially it gave me some grief as I couldn’t make it work after just two days. I found someone who could install a new HDD and now it’s a blessing! Thank you so much Farid!
It could soon be time to shave?!? :)
I have the most wonderful host here in Lebanon. My host has asked to stay neutral so let’s keep it like that. Can you imagine having a guest staying in your guest room for more than two months?!? I personally have a three day rule for guests. I once heard that “people and fish smell after three days”. However having been hosted for this long I need to rethink my rule of thumb. My host is absolutely phenomenal and I’m ever so grateful!! Imagine how else my long wait in Lebanon would have turned out going from one bed to the next? Or financially for that matter? People are just people however sometimes they are amazing!
There’s a walking tour in Beirut which you absolutely cannot miss out on! I joined in on it last Saturday and the guide is incredible. Marc Ghazali is behind the tour and the tour itself is called: “layers of a ghost city”. Beirut has some 5,000 years of history to boast from and has been rebuilt seven times. Marc takes somewhere between 20-40 guest with him every Saturday through the downtown area of Beirut. It’s really well developed and there is access to toilets throughout the four hour walk. Marc greeted us with a bottle of water and there was a break in the middle of the tour so you could grab a small snack. At every stop Marc would present us with two stories: one which supports the actions of what has happened and one which opposes it. Afterwards you have both sides of the story and can make up your own mind. Brilliant!! I sincerely believe that Marc is some sort of genius! In order not to appear biased he will ask the group which version you want to hear first. Well done Marc! He only asks for $10 dollars per person and that is worth every penny! Afterwards you will find yourself much more educated and enriched. I mean; I had 79 days in Lebanon waiting for access to Syria. I have done plenty of research on Lebanon and seen much of Beirut. However having been in the tour I still learned a lot. Remember to book the tour because it’s popular. You can reach Marc on WhatsApp +961 70 347 571 or on the Facebook group.
Moking around! Taking a selfie with my old Nokia 1100 :)
This was a great group! I got to speak to a lot of them :)
After the tour this gentleman asked if anyone wanted to sit down for a drink. I said okay and it turns out that this is the former Minister of Transportation in Syria. His name is Yarob and he is now the regional Advisor for Transport and Logistics at the United Nations here in Lebanon. You just never know :)
For a while I wanted to tell you all about the hippodrome here in Beirut. Beirut actually has two: one from the Roman era which is buried beneath the city and the other which is called Hippodrome du parc de Beyrouth. The latter one is a horse racing facility which built upon reestablished traditions which open up in Bir Hassan in 1893. Horse racing bears long traditions in Lebanon but were banned by the church in the 4th and 5th centuries. The Hippodrome du parc de Beyrouth was effectively achieved in 1921 along with a cinema and a casino. In the 1960s it became one of the busiest racetracks in the entire world. Naturally I had to go and have a look. I had never been to a racetrack before but chose to join in on the gambling. Five horses were racing to begin with. I chose to gamble on number one because of its name and nothing else. By mistake I got a ticket for number five and didn’t care since I didn’t know anything anyway. Number one won the race! I gambled again for the second round and picked number five. Number five won the race! I gambled again for the third race and picked number two...which also won!! That’s when I decided to stop and leave with my winnings. It was enough to pay for a few days of the Saga's budget.
People went all in for the races. Some would scream and cry. Others would cheer!! For the second race a man ran onto the track after winning, took off his shirt and ran around half naked in joy. He also began taking off his pants and made thrusting movements with his pelvis out of pure excitement!! A lot of men were smoking cigars and it was clear that people were there from all layers of society. There were hardly any women present but free access is open to the upper class area for those women who should choose to join. Apparently the same is true for foreigners. Photos are not permitted and telephones are banned.
It’s a rather peaceful location walled away from busy Beirut’s outside traffic. While there you can hear the birdsong and see a few of Beirut’s remaining pine trees. It’s an oasis within the city. Unfortunately I hear that the hippodromes future is unsettled. It may be torn down to make way for more modern high rises or it may be restored to its former glory? Time will tell... I couldn’t share this story with you before now as my friend Minna was writing a piece on this historical part of Beirut and asked me to withhold my adventures in the hippodrome until her story was published. Anyone can be lucky and pick the right horse out of five. It’s a 20% chance. However doing it twice is really unrealistic! I did it three times so that is directly implausible!! Last Sunday I went back and tried my luck again. My first horse came in third. My second horse didn’t even complete the race. My third horse won and that’s when I quit. I made my money back on the third horse so I can say I left the hippodrome twice while I was ahead. You can gamble different amounts but I only gambled around $3 dollars each time :)
It may not always seem like it but I have actually been moving forward as fast as I possibly could since I left home. Sometimes logistics slows me down, sometimes bureacracy slows me down...and at times my physical limitations is what holds progress back. I came across this old photo from Gabon in 2015 and chuckled. It's still appropriate :)
Next up for the Saga is Jordan. The borders are closed between Syria and Jordan although the distance would only have been a few hours. It’s unfortunate but not news for me. I’ve known about the closed borders for a long time. The border between Lebanon and Israel is also closed. I wouldn’t travel that way anyway as it would complicate the Saga unnecessarily if I visited Israel before a number of other countries in the region. That means I’m still sticking to the plan I developed long ago. I now need a ship to take me away from Lebanon. It will likely be a containership and I’m not going to go into great detail about how difficult it is to gain access to travel onboard such ships. My friend Niall Doherty has written an excellent piece on the subject. I’m a part of his article where I give some of my hard earned wisdom on the subject. If I return to Egypt as planned then I need to make my way overland to the Gulf of Aqaba, which is more complicated today then just a few months ago. Fortunately my network has provided me with good intel on how to execute that part of the Saga so I’m hopeful. Across the Gulf we will reach Jordan and make it country number 145. And who knows...I might have to shave again ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - looking at the horizon.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga