Between Qatar and UAE / ‘Maersk Kampala’ – passenger no 1
Day 1,758 since October 10th 2013: 152 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
What is significant within the Saga?
For many years I’ve been accused of thinking too much. I wonder if it’s really other people who do not think enough? There’s certainly enough to think about. Like why do we do anything at all? Or do we ever do enough? And what is worth doing? And why the heck have I not gone home yet..? Anyway…this one is written for you onboard a container ship.
I’ve seen a fair bit of this world and I figure that generally people don’t mind complaining. It seems like a worldwide thing so far. Of course some people have a tendency to complain more than others. In Scandinavia we certainly don’t mind complaining. It’s like a natural sport of sorts. “It’s too cold, it’s too wet, it’s too dark, the winter is too long, the summer is to short…” Well, back home in my Viking nation of Denmark, the great kingdom in the high north of Europe, the summer has certainly arrived. My fiancée complains that it’s too hot to sleep. Facebook is full of people posting the temperatures. Farmers complain (but they always do). And my dear mother who’s in Finland felt the need to tell me that she is surviving 25-28 degrees Celsius (77-82 Fahrenheit) and even on occasion up to 32 degrees (89.6 F). Furthermore the ocean temperature is 25 degrees (77 F). That’s definitely hot back home….however for several month now I haven’t experienced temperatures below 37 degrees(98.6 F) and they climb all the way up to 50 (122 F)! While onboard the good ship ‘Maersk Kampala’ I found my way to the bridge and asked the officer on watch what the ocean temperature was? He quickly checked the instruments and reported back that it was 32 degrees (89.6 F). And that measurement wasn’t made anywhere near the shore. Interestingly it gets quite cold here in the Gulf during the winter. So nobody needs to worry about the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Besides, having seen a few of these Gulf countries I wouldn’t be surprised if they built an air conditioned stadium.
My host in Qatar’s capital Doha was Morten from Denmark. He’s a solid guy and we had a bunch of good conversations. One of them related to significance. It began when I quested weather or not it is significant that nobody before me has reached every country on earth completely without flying? If you were to check a box in order to answer weather you believe it would be possible or not to reach every country without flying then you would probably assume that it was possible. After all we have all sorts of transportation available and ships have been around for a very long time. So it definitely seems possible. The main obstacle are all the borders that make up all our countries and the restrictions which follow in relation to crossing those borders. In that sense the achievement of reaching every country becomes one of bureaucracy. If anyone could visit any country visa free then it would be far less of a challenge. Conflict areas do play in as well as psychology and the availability of vessels when needed.
Morten!! You're definately proof: a stranger is a friend you've never met before! :)
So is the accomplishment of reaching every country without flying for the first time significant? It’s hard to answer. Was it significant when we reached the tallest mountain for the first time? Was it significant when we reached the South Pole? Inventing the alphabet, the Europeans discovery of North America and finding the cure for polio all appear obviously significant. Reaching every country without flying – where is the value? Morten and I agreed that the worldwide promotion of the Red Cross Red Crescent is significant and enlightens people towards and important humanitarian cause. We also agreed that giving every country a positive promotion and showing the world in a different light is also significant. Perhaps even more so today than when I left home in 2013. And there’s also significance in setting oneself a difficult goal and not giving up until it has been reached…so the Saga itself possesses plenty of significance. I still wonder, however, if there is any real significance towards reaching every country without flying?
'The Pearl', Doha - it's Qatar's answer to Dubai's 'Palm'.
I’ve been under some attack lately. My skin has grown thicker over the years so I can deal with it. However it was still worth noting. In Yemen I met a taxi driver who sees Saddam Hussein as a hero! Not for Hussein’s actions against the Kurdish people nor for the invasion of Kuwait. I imagine a taxi driver in the east of Yemen knows very little of such history. No, he claimed that Hussein was a hero because he had supported their cause in Yemen. It’s just such an interesting thing who is good and who is bad. To some the president of the USA is the best thing that ever happened and to others he is seen to be a disaster. Dictators, past and present, have all been idolized by some and vilified by others. What is good and what is bad? Anyway, I posted the picture of Saddam Hussein dangling from the rear view mirror and gave a brief summary of the taxi driver’s point of view. And then both the driver and I were verbally attacked for a while on the Saga’s Instagram account for being ignorant.
Then I reached Qatar and as it turned out I liked the country. It was easy for me to promote Qatar as I came across many nice people and I was introduced to many interesting things. Qatar is a modern, wealthy, friendly, art and sports loving country – and it shows. They are among many ongoing projects currently constructing a metro network, a tram and a stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. And to solve the lost opportunity of importing milk during the blockage they “simply’” flew in 4,000 cows from the USA and started a dairy farm. Naturally there’s always a political opposition to be found when you make large arm movements. In this case it has been reported that the cows were unable to lactate, that the farm was full of decease and that it was a fiasco. An interesting thing about that article was that it featured before the cows had reached Qatar?
The "Cow-rousel" ;)
Morten and I headed out to visit the Baladna Dairy Farm and it is definitely a surreal thing to behold. You literally need to drive into the desert which clearly exposes Doha as an oasis in an otherwise very dry country. The dairy farm is an impressive place which has been created with lots of logistics in mind. There is a huge carousel which takes 100 cows for a spin three times a day. The cows step up on to it on one side and are milked as they rotate. Then minutes later they step off after having completed nearly a full round, which makes room for more cows to be milked. It’s a perpetual motion of cows in movement. The entire farm is air conditioned and the cows look healthy. Do they have large green fields of grass to dance around on? No, we are still talking about Qatar here. However they get a lot of movement and they are fed well. You could always elaborate into an existential debate by claiming that we shouldn’t be drinking milk to begin with. And that involves talking about if these cows would even exists at all if we did not desire the dairy products they deliver? Oh well…I was criticized in relation to my posts about the dairy farm too. I like to eat meat and I enjoy drinking milk. In 2018 a sentence like that could be enough to start a war.
The infrastructure of Qatar is very impressive! Often you have four lanes going in each direction, the roads are in good condition and they are being kept clean from sand and dust. Soon enough Doha will have both a metro and a tram to link people around the city. The port I arrived at and left from is brand new, the architecture of Doha is artistic and interesting and the city is getting ready for the 2022 world cup. Now what could people possibly attack in relation to that? Oh yes…I remember! “It is all built by slaves and they are dying like flies!!!” Hang on a minute…that sounds a bit rash? “No it’s true! 2,000 workers have already died during the preliminary construction of the stadium and it is estimated that 4,000 or more will die it total!!” Really? That sounds kind of crazy in a modern country in 2018? In the past I’ve spent a few months traveling around India and in 2011 I worked a full year in Bangladesh. Those are the two countries which make up the majority of the workforce in relation to Qatar’s construction. I’m fairly sure that most workers live vastly better lives in Qatar than they do back home. Something which supports that claim is that many of them do not want to return home when the time comes. The workers receive free state of the art healthcare (including dental) in Qatar, they live in air conditioned buildings, get at least three meals per day and there is virtually no crime in Qatar. Do people die during large construction projects? Yes – that is not uncommon. We have in recent years built some grand bridges in Denmark and they claimed lives during construction. However claiming that 2,000-4,000 should die building a stadium seems far out to me? And as usual the wildest claims cannot be supported by evidence and as a result no lists exist to document that 2,000 have already died. If it sounds too good to be true, or too crazy, then it usually is. What doesn’t sound unlikely is that opposing powers might have interest in spreading such news. Then finally you could add a morbid but realistic thought to the entire debate: out of those who do lose their lives working in Qatar, how many would have lost their lives in their respective home countries?
I will fight for the underdog in many cases. That is something I have come to learn about myself. The funny thing in this case is that Qatar is not really an underdog. Qatar is a tiny country with large neighbors. That much is true. It just so also happens to be the world’s richest country. Qatar has one the earth’s largest known deposits of LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) and Qatar has strong political relations to among other the United States of America. You’ll find one of the USA’s primary airbase’s for the region in Qatar. That does not sound like an underdog to me. I really came to like Qatar during my visit and on one of my last days Salman and I agreed to head out into the desert to see the “East West-West East’ sculpture. Although the country is less than a three hour drive from one side to the other there is still much which I have not seen. Such as the inland sea which meets the sand dunes. Apparently that’s quite a sight and Qatar is one of only two countries which you can see the phenomenon. But I did get to see the unique artwork in Zekreet. We wanted to get there for the sunrise and first light was already at 04:00am. So I was going to bed early. Then just before I went to bed I received a text from Salman in which he asked: “Can you ride a Harley Davidson?” It’s hard to go to sleep after a question like that ;)
The next morning I got up at 03:00am and met Salman at 03:15am. He was waiting in front of the reception in his Jaguar. Then we drove over to his mother’s home where two dusty Harley’s were parked. But we didn’t continue on them. We got into a 4WD and were joined by Margie, Salman’s mother, and Rashid who is a friend of Salman. The four of us set out into the desert and an hour later we had reached the unique piece of desert art. Four massive plates stand perfectly aligned over a distance of a kilometer (1,000 yards). They are each fourteen meters high (46 ft) and the entire setup just gave me a strange sensation. The desert was quiet and serene. The sun was coming up in the horizon and a light wind would pick up a touch of dust. The four large plates stared back at me as if something significant was about to happen. And then the sun rose.
Yeah people of the world…I’m typing this thing in onboard the good ship “Maersk Kampala’. Last week I was heading to Qatar onboard the good ship ‘Maersk Lima’ and the two names respectively salute Peru and Uganda. And they are roughly the same size. I’m grateful to Maersk for once again lending the Saga a hand by honoring me with passage. The ‘Maersk Kampala’ flies a Dutch flag and used to be a part of P&O Nedlloyd’s fleet until it was bought by Maersk. P&O used to be British and Nedlloyd used to be Dutch before the two companies merged. That is all in the past now. ‘Maersk Kampala’ has been painted powder blue and carries a jolly crew from port to port. I’m only onboard for a short ride as the first port of calling after Doha is Jebel Ali in the UAE. That’s a mere 404 km (253 mi) which takes less than a day. These vessels may look slow but they are anything but. We have been setting a cruising speed of 14.2 kt which is 26.3 kph (16.34 mi). That’s significantly faster than what you need to waterski. And although this lady is from 2001 she has no problem going much faster than that.
It’s standard for these container ships to have a gym, a pool, space for recreation and to serve three meals per day. The pools are in most cases out door and empty for water. However they fill up pretty fast with water from the ocean. The Captain onboard, Carl Peter from the Netherlands, has done a great deal to make life onboard more social for the crew. There’s coffee at 10am and again at 3pm. Also the officer’s recreation room is open for all and has books, movies, games etc. ‘Maersk Kampala’ is currently a busy ship with a high frequency of port calls, which keeps the crew busy. Calling ports is usually the busiest time for a container ship as people come on and off, cargo operations take place, there’s extra bureaucracy and everything needs to be done as fast as possible so that the ship can get back to sea. These guys are hardworking and the routine is as I have already so often described: work, eat, sleep, repeat. If you want to know more about container ship travel then I included a lot of info in the first half of last weeks blog.
Margie drove me to the port on my last day in Qatar. Her son Salman picked me up on the first. The circle is complete :)
I wonder if most of you know that the entire route, country by country, had already been planned out before I left home? Where I go within a country is open but the overall plan for which countries I would reach in order was planned out. You pretty much need to have a plan if you’re going to visit every country without flying. I’ve made a few deviations but in the big picture not much has changed since 2013. In January 2017 I was in Djibouti and Leah Harding, a journalist from Al Jazeera, featured a short clip I had sent to her with me talking about my passport. In was in relation to the newly released Passport Index 2017. Back then I promised to let Leah know when I would reach Qatar as that is where Al Jazeera is based. And back then I wrote Leah that I was looking forward to meeting her in country number 152. And Qatar became country number 152 roughly 18 months and 46,000 km (28,583 mi) later. How about that for logistics ;) Well it’s actually a bit of a coincidence as I’ve had to make some adjustments here in the Middle East. But it is still kind of cool though.
From right to left: Leah, Graham and moi.
We turned Morten's apartment into a studio. Thanks! :)
Leah turned out to be super nice! She is sharp as a razor on screen and good fun and pretty adventurous in her private life. She enjoys skydiving, climbing, diving and traveling. I had a chance to meet Leah and her boyfriend Graham privately for dinner a few days before they took off to explore South America. A few days prior to that Leah did an interview with me and I would normally recommend it to you by telling how interesting it is. However I’ve got a completely different sales point this time: my fiancée says that this interview is the best one so far! And that’s kind of a tall order considering that the Saga has now featured in media in more than 100 countries around the world. How about that? That is literally more than every second country and we still have 51 more countries to visit. Which non celebrity can say that? ;) Anyway, listen to my fiancée and take a look :)
I’m grateful to Maersk and its mighty crew! What an honor to come onboard these ships and how the heck would we ever have reached Qatar without it? I was treated with much kindness onboard and received kind smiles although the crew was clearly hot and busy. Imagine heading out in full protective gear, in the summertime, in the Gulf! And yes, people say I’m crazy to be here during the summertime but what else was I supposed to do? The timeline of this project has been shot to pieces by bureaucracy and logistical challenges. I predict you guys will soon enough be telling me that I’m crazy to visit the Caspian region and “Stans’ during the wintertime ;)
THE BIG QUESTION on everybody’s mind was answered yesterday: “will he be able to disembark the ship in the United Arab Emirates after coming straight from Qatar?” With the current political environment there is a blockage between Qatar and the surrounding countries. So would I actually be permitted to disembark the ship? Maersk is super professional and absolutely know what they are doing. This had been cleared in advance and I should have had no problems disembarking once the ship arrived to Jebel Ali (Dubai, UAE). If I could not disembark then I would need to stay onboard and the next three ports of call were all in India!! After that the ‘Maersk Kampala’ is scheduled to return to Jebel Ali again before heading to Salalah in Oman and then continue through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. While wondering if everything would go smooth I couldn’t help thinking about the time I was onboard a ship from Cyprus to Lebanon with clearance to disembark in Beirut. However as the ship arrived the immigration informed that I couldn’t disembark and offered no reason as to why? Well, I disembarked the ‘Maersk Kampala’ yesterday morning and cleared immigration with no delay. So how about that?
An hour after leaving the ship I met up with Iain from Australia. You remember Iain from my first visit to UAE? He helped out with the visa for Yemen and a lot of other bureaucracy. Iain and I continued where we left off 14 days ago. And I promise you that you do not want to lose out on next week’s blog if my current plan works out. It will be another EPIC story! However we will see what happens. Juanita, my friend for more than a decade and the wife of Iain, came home in the evening and gave me a big hug. The three of us were once again back together and ready to catch up on past events. In my past 14 days I have reached 150 countries, stayed at Ananatara’s five star resort in Oman, I visited Yemen and spent a night there, returned to Oman, boarded a container ship, spent a week in Qatar, boarded another container ship and returned to Dubai. Yup, I have a few extra stories to tell and so do they. To be continued…
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - tired and hopeful!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga