“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
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.
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 ;)
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.
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.
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 :)
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 :)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 ;)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 ;)
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!! :)
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 ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Yes, it's the Saga :)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga