Reaching the United Arab Emirates without flying
Day 1,737 since October 10th 2013: 149 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
I was surprised by what I learned
I’m very happy to say that much has changed to the better since I reached Dubai! And just for the record I should mention that Dubai is one of seven emirates which combined make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But first let’s briefly go back to Iran…
Iran is a country which has been close to my heart ever since I first visited Iran in 2010 together with my friend Cam. Cam is from Australia and we will return to him in a while as it ties into almost everything which has happened in the UAE. Last week I was being hosted by Masoud in Bandar Abbas (Iran). He was a formidable host and we had a great time together. On the day of my departure he drove me to the port and I promised I would look into finding him a Danish wife…not quite sure if he was joking or not? I get asked a lot about finding people Danish wifes and generally I think that while Danish women are both lovely and beautiful – they also tend to be fiercely independent, which might come as a shock to a lot of the men I meet. All I’m saying is: don’t expect Danish women to be mothering you. They are far more likely to be the alpha’s around the house. You’ve been warned ;)
My host and friend Masoud in Bandar Abbas. If you are a Danish woman and interested then call! ;)
On that note my own little alpha is kicking some serious arse these days. She is a medical doctor who is currently well into doing her PhD. But as if that wasn’t enough to fill up the calendar she is now also approaching the day for her lifetime dream of completing an Ironman! Maybe Ironwoman in this case as the famed triathlon involves first swimming 3.86 km (2.4 mi), followed by a 180.25 km (112 mi) bicycle ride and then finishing with a full marathon (42.2 km / 26.22 mi)! So if you are wondering why my beard has grown so long then it’s simply because while juggling a PhD, friends, family, work and a long distance relationship she is also training some 16-18 hours of week these days (biking, running, swimming etc).
These countries along with the pacific ocean is all which is left of the Saga.
I’m a bit busy myself one could say. Around this part of the world it mostly feels like my daily schedule is mostly made up out of solving the most complex riddles in the world. Like getting a special visa for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which only few have received over the past 40 years? Or like finding out how one visits Qatar without flying when the country is politically disconnected from most of its neighbors and there are no ferries operating to and from the peninsula? And how do you tackle Yemen at a time when the otherwise gem of a country is undergoing hardship and turmoil to a degree where warnings are more common than invitations? So how do you get a visa when the authorities of a country appear completely uninterested? And how do you cross waters which are to vast to swim when there are no ferries? And furthermore what are you to do when visiting one country eliminates the possibility for visiting another country due to political relations? Well, I can promise you that there are no easy answers to any of those questions. And while so many people have shown interest in helping, these challenges are often well beyond what regular people are able to solve. The easy solution is often to fly or simply not visit. But that is not what we do within the Saga. To give up is simply not an option and neither is exclusion. There is only one thing ahead and that is to: keep on keeping on…
On the ferry heading to UAE.
And so we keep on. Onboard the ferry from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Sharjah in the UAE I met Lars and Mali from Germany. The two are both students on a massive overland journey and had made it from Germany to Iran. Now they were on the same ferry as I and it made sense to spend some time together and get to know each other on the overnight voyage. I noticed their wooden cups for coffee and tea and their wooden spoons for meals. They were both vegans and they were great company. Being a meat eating Viking myself I had to ask the obvious question? And Lars made a good point as he explained that we spend an enormous amount of resources feeding and raising animals. Basically he suggested that we might as well just eat the food we feed the animals and the entire process might be far more efficient. I didn’t need to ask about the wooden spoons and cups. I’ve seen far too much plastic waste all around the world on roadsides and in the ocean not to understand. Personally I’m very happy with the Lifesaver water bottle which I was sent as I can instantly clean water and safely drink it without creating plastic waste. We also spoke about the massive food waste which goes on in the world and how to combat it. Lars and Mali will occasionally go “dumpster diving” in Germany, which is essentially fishing out food from garbage containers you find behind supermarkets. Lars explained that while it sounds smelly and disgusting it really often isn’t. He went on to say, that often supermarkets through away perfectly good food in large quantities and you simply walk up to the dumpster and pick it like you would an apple from a tree.
Lars, Mali and I managed to hike about 5 km (3 mi) in the heat before we found WIFI.
While I clearly see a need for change on our planet I’m not sure that I’m ready to quit meat, carry a wooden cup and pick food out of a dumpster. But I clearly see how it makes sense and really hope that more people would live like that. It’s easy to be a hypocrite…”be the change you want to see in the world” they say…well I have my own agenda… On arrival to Sharjah Lars, Mali and I disembarked the ferry together and approached immigration which went smooth. The UAE is perhaps one of the most open countries to foreigners you will come across in your life. We all soared through and soon found ourselves in the infamous Middle Eastern heat looking for WIFI. I asked an Indian security guard for a place with WIFI and he just smiled and laughed saying that I would need to walk a bit for that. Taxis are a bit expensive in the UAE and I’m on a USD 20/day budget so our little trio decided to walk into our new country and explore. Surely we would soon find a kiosk with simcards, a café with WIFI or something similar? Not in that part of Sharjah! While the area was interesting with plenty of Dhow boats and lots of cargo there was nothing of the sort we sought.
Do you remember Cam from Australia? Well Cam and I met by chance in Bangkok many years ago and developed many great adventures together. One of them was backpacking through Cambodia and Vietnam in 2007. Back then I joined Cam and his friend Juanita for a few weeks of South East Asian exploration. Juanita turned out to be a lot of fun!! She would randomly run up to complete strangers when they were taking group photos and pose with them. Most often to their delight ;) Juanita eventually went on to marry a guy named Iain and the two Aussies moved out to the UAE, where they have been living as expats for the past seven years. Juanita and Iain had been expecting me for a while and Iain was ready to head out and pick me up as soon as I gave notice of my arrival. I was eventually able to connect to some WIFI at a Subway restaurant and that is where Lars, Mali and I parted when Iain showed up to greet me welcome!
Iain teaches physical education at a school in Sharjah and Juanita does physiotherapy. They are living the expat life here in Dubai and that is far from unique within this country. The UAE consists of roughly 2 million Emiratis and 8 million expats! It’s certainly a country that caters to the lifestyle away from home and Dubai is wildly impressive. There are seven emirates in this federation and they are as follows: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. I arrived to Sharjah and Iain brought me to Dubai. So I’m currently missing out on five emirates including Abu Dhabi which serves as the capital. I might get there sooner or later though.
Once in a while you are reminded about Dubai's sandy past. But very rarely.
It’s absolutely true that all of this was just a desert but it is completely untrue that there was nothing here 50 years ago. The history of this region is very rich and dates back to at least 6000 BCE. Well actually it dates back over 127,000 years as stone tools have been found proving early African settlements. But we don’t know much about that compared to the rich history over the past 8000 years. Given the close proximity to Iran and Mesopotamia this part of the world has obviously been heavily influenced by those civilizations for thousands of years. Copper trade played an important role as early as 5000 years ago. If we skip forward a few thousand years then remains have been found of an early church from around 600 CE. Islam later on had its spread across the region which would have brought amazing advances to the region during the Islamic Golden Age. The history here also involves influence from the Ottoman Empire, piracy and colonial forces from the Portuguese, the English and the Dutch. There was much international trade in the region for centuries before the federation was formed and it would have been an interesting and magnificent time to visit and see, hear, touch and smell things for the first time.
Dhow boats are as active today as hundreds of years ago. And the ones we spoke to go back and forth between Dubai and Iran.
There was lots of rivalry amongst local tribes and in newer time one of the defining moments of the regions development is easily the agreement to join forces and stop fighting over land, territory, power and influence. There is plenty of history around these parts and I even completely skipped everything about the Trucial States which sort of lays the foundation for the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Of course there’s also the history of the pearling industry which was vital to both income and employment until artificial cultivated peals completely destroyed the business model. The first oil was exported in 1968 and that obviously a big part of the history too. Actually I’m just going to call it quits here because there is too much history to tell about. And I think I made my point ;)
It's not just taller. It appears to be ten times taller than anything else!! The Burj Khalifa is something else!
The UAE has successfully managed to build a strong and modern country based on not only oil but indeed on tourism and international commerce. And I’d argue that there is literally nothing you cannot get in the UAE. Driving around in Dubai you need to stand in awe of the human achievement. Because there is hardly any sand in the streets and there are plenty of mind boggling buildings to leave you breathless.
Nita got me out of bed early on my first day. And on to the treadmill before breakfast. She's super fit and prefers to run outside. But nobody runs outside during the hot months!
I have known Juanita (Nita) since 2007 but my visit here is actually the first time we have met each other since we traveled together in Cambodia and Vietnam. Somehow she has not aged a day and I think the only logical explanation must be that she is a witch. What else? It can’t possibly be her healthy diet and all the exercise. Iain and Nita are “weekday’s vegans” and then they occasionally eat animal based food during the weekend. They have a great home high up in an apartment building and no children nor pets. It’s just the free expat life for them and with Dubai being an international hub they have traveled to an impressive amount of countries making them true global citizens. Nita has reached 70 countries while Iain rings in at 77. I had been to 54 countries prior to the Saga which used to be a lot (I think it still is). Times change :)
Iain and I had a victorious run at several embassies!! :)
Ironically Nita has had to work while Iain has been free due to school holidays. So I have been spending most of my time with Iain which is no bad thing. He has a great energy which is really motivating and he has been happy to help out by driving me around, printing documents, visiting embassies, making phone calls, and showing me a ton of sights. We have been to the Yemen consulate three times, the Saudi embassy twice, the Omani consulate once and the Royal Danish Consulate General twice. We actually only needed to visit the Danish consulate once but I forgot my credit card at the counter ;) And let’s just start with the Danish foreign mission here in Dubai because they have completely restored my wavering faith in the establishment!! YEAH BABY! I personally think that a large part of the recent success has been directly linked to Iain’s Aussie twang and good energy. We walked into the Danish consulate without an appointment and immediately met with the ever so fantastic, charming, talented and even beautiful Vice Consul. Her name is Roaia and a few minutes into my story she smiled and offered her support. Thank you SO MUCH! That is really all I needed and that fast tracked the events at the Saudi embassy.
The Emirates Red Crescent Authority in Dubai donated USD 100 million to the USA during the relief work after hurricane Katrina in 2005. Think about that.
While the Saga is good for many things I might just list a few. Lots of people tell me they are inspired by the positive outlook on life as well as the perpetual persistence that drives the Saga forward. The Saga also shows the world in a different light which is refreshing to many. I promote, connect and inform about the world of the Red Cross and Red Crescent which is also of interest to many. Some say they learn new things while others say they feel entertained. As an endeavor such as this has never before been completed it brings lots of positive attention through interviews all around the world. This in term falls back positively on those involved. The Red Cross Red Crescent receives more attention, donations, volunteers and goodwill. My great Viking nation, the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe, gets more publicity…and is in the big picture host to something massively international and hopefully overwhelmingly positive. Yeah…I’m so happy that Roaia was so quick to step in and deliver. We were in and out of the consulate in less than 30 minutes. Scandinavian efficiancy at its very best! :)
The UAE is actually another revisit for me. I was in Dubai more than ten years ago and among other things went skiing at Mall of the Emirates. Fun to be back.
The Saudi consulate in Dubai is located in an impressive building which resembles an old Arabian citadel. The visa section was likewise very impressive with a sky roof letting light inside the modern the modern building. The first clerk I spoke to was not open to anything and quickly brush me off with the usual “only business and commercial visa” story, which I have been listening to for months. And if you’re not fully up to date then that involves flying and applying from your resident country. However I soon got in touch with a woman behind the counter who realized that this was no normal request. She asked me to wait and then returned after a while with a list of seven requirements for a “traveler visa”. Iain and I left hopeful. We were even more helpful after having received the swift support from the Danish consulate and returned to the Saudi embassy the following day. This time we were told to wait and after a while Iain and I were called back up to the large glass window. This time we met with the head of the visa section who with superb Middle Eastern hospitality congratulated me on a truly unique project and told me that he had been looking though my website. He was very forthcoming and told me that they had never before had such a unique request. He also said that if I could provide the requested documentation then he would be more than happy to forward the request for a special visa to the authorities in Saudi Arabia!
They LOVE Guinness World Records in Dubai. How about this 58.686 kg 21 karat gold ring!!
Can you just imagine that?!? Iain and I came well prepared and could immediately hand over the required documentation. Unfortunately the glass wall prohibited me from giving a handshake but at least he saw us leave smiling. I’ve worked on getting this far in relation to the Saudi visa for over six months and I have never been this close before. So while there are no guarantees THIS is certainly good news. And I may soon be able to show and tell all of you more about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. How about that?! :)
Spices have been traded across the gulf and all the way to and from India for centuries.
At the Consulate General of Oman they were also super friendly and forthcoming. Oman is however a very easy country for me to visit and I was simply at the embassy to hear if I should get a multiple entry visa or a single entry visa. That will make more sense for you in a while. And on that note I have a great surprise for you for next week in Oman! As you may know Oman is going to be a major landmark as it becomes country number 150 without flying or going home. But I wouldn’t be a surprise if I tell you now ;) The Consulate General of Yemen was likewise very accommodating and it didn’t take long before Iain and I found ourselves seated in front of the Consular General himself. While perplexed about why I wanted to go to Yemen during these unfortunate times he was very accommodating. Actually he immediately offered to put in a special request on my behalf. So that was quite amazing!
Two Guinness World Records: largest OLED screen and beneath it the worlds largest acrylic panel. they just love them!
I gather that I’ll need to bring Iain with me for the rest of the Saga just to ensure the successful completion of the project. Nah…you know I’m kidding but it has definitely been good to have such a support from Nita and Iain. I have come far now…and it isn’t just me. Apart from bringing you with me I can also say that there is no way that we would ever have gotten this far without the kind help from strangers all over the world. So you see, a stranger really is a friend you’ve never met before ;)
Thanks to Rabab Boulos (Head of West Central Asia Liner Operations Cluster) for inviting and introducing me! She's Egyptian so I've visited her country three times in the Saga ;)
Now I mentioned all of that but nothing about Qatar? Hmmm…so does that mean there is still no solution in place for that? Nope people…we’ve got Qatar sorted as well. Maersk Line will pick me up in Salalah (Oman) and safely bring me to Qatar. Then a week later they will pick me up again and then bring me on quite a detour before we once again return to Salalah. But you will hear much more about that later on. While on the subject of Maersk I had the great pleasure of meeting their team here in Dubai. But not only that! I got to see Sharon for the third time! Sharon used to be the HR manager for Maersk in Nairobi, Kenya. That is when we first met. Then she just happened to be visiting the Maersk office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when I passed by there. And now she is managing Pakistan and the UAE from her new office in Dubai. Maersk has offices in about 140 countries around the world so I wonder if we just might meet again? I am aiming at meeting up with Steve in India whom I also first met in Nairobi. Meeting with the Maersk team in Dubai became by 61st motivation speaking event and the 26th at a Maersk office. It is always good fun and it was no different here. If I remember correctly then Sharon said they have 16 different nationalities at the office. Some from countries I have been to and some which are still to come. And certainly a perfect reflection of the multinational society which the UAE is.
And also thanks to Steve and Sharon for making this happen. Steve is in India but you can spot Sharon on the far left of this photo ;)
Well done! You made it through to the end of this whopping story from a scorching hot country. Especially at this time of the year. Stay tuned for next week. You’re unlikely to believe what will be going on over the next few weeks! ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - very hopeful these days!!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga