MSC Don Giovanni – passenger no 1 / farewell Middle East

Day 1,819 since October 10th 2013: 157 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.  

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross)

What if you had to relearn everything again?


I once read that doctors who go through medical school do so, knowing that roughly 50% of what they learn, will be proven wrong over the course of time. This is because we are constantly making advances in the field of science. The trouble of course is to figure out which 50% of the accumulated knowledge is wrong and which half is right? As such doctors stay updated throughout their entire career – always learning. Why does that not apply to the rest of us?

I recently made a post on Facebook which included a fun fact about sunsets. You see, you’ve never actually watched the sun set throughout your entire life. You have seen a mirage of the sunset. It sounds absolutely crazy but it is nonetheless true. The moment you see the bottom of the sun touch the horizon is actually the moment the actual sun disappeared below the horizon. The illusion occurs in much the same way as when you push a stick through the water in a swimming pool. You will notice that it looks like the stick is bending when in fact it isn’t. What you see in the water is a reflection and not actually where the stick really is. In regards to the sun you have a similar effect through the layers of the atmosphere. This can be hard to accept as it feels counter intuitive. How old are you? Did you only just learn this now? What else do you not know which is a part of your everyday life? It makes your head spin – doesn’t it?

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This “fake news” era which we are currently living through is an interesting thing. The news has for many decades had a certain authority which we would not contest. We would assume that the news team had done their research and made proper preparations prior to presenting the news before us. These days there is much more skepticism among people when news is reported. Especially if the news doesn’t sit right with the one observing it. There is so much information out there that you would be able to find whatever you need to back your worldview and ignore the rest. If you want to believe that the world is flat then there is plenty of “proof” to support that. And a lot of that “proof” is backed by claims that go beyond a normal person’s understanding of science so you won’t be able to disprove some of the claims. At this point you need to ask yourself what do you believe in and why? You don’t know how many planets there are in our solar system. And if you answer that there are eight then it is only because you trust what you have been told. Because truthfully you have probably not seen eight planets throughout your entire life apart from in various illustrations.

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Unfortunately I had to leave my wonderful hosts just as they were about to embark on yet another religious holiday. It had been nothing but holidays since I reached Israel :) Trevor had built this wonderful Sukkot for the occation and all thoughout Israel you can spot similar ones on balconies, in backyards etc. For some it represents a commemoration of the forty years the Jews traveled in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. For others it's a harvest festival. Two Jews three opinions. I would have loved to stay a little longer :)

On one hand I think it’s good to be skeptic because truth be told we do live in a highly manipulative time, where all our informational channels are flooded with all sorts of half-truths, semi truths and flat out lies. Question everything! That is a healthy mantra to have…except you just can’t do that. You can’t constantly question everything because then everything would fall apart. So you need some level of trust. And you award that trust to certain people, institutions, sources etc. And that is how society works. I guess we can now conclude that trust is an important factor in life? So how about this: Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world. True or false? Well, it is the highest mountain if you assume that we are measuring from the surface of the ocean and upwards. However is that the best way to measure how tall the tallest mountain is? Mt. Everest measures 8,848 meters (29,000 ft) from the ocean surface and to its top. However Mt. Everest is actually located on a high plateau and “only” measures 5,400 meters (17,700 ft) from the foot of Mt. Everest to the top. Hawaii has a mountain called Mauna Kea which “only” measures 4,207 meters (13,800 ft) above sea level but measuring from the bottom of the mountain, below the sea, its total height comes to more than 10,000 meters (32,800 ft). The top of Mt. Everest also does not reach the farthest from the center of earth. In Ecuador you find a mountain called Chimborazo which peak reaches more than 2,000 meters (6,560 ft) further from the center of earth than Mt. Everest does. So tell me again…what is the tallest mountain on earth?

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The good ship MSC Don Giovanni became my 17th container ship. Don Giovanni is an opera by Mozart based on the legends of Don Juan :)

Here’s my point: I have recently left Palestine and Israel after doing a lot of research on both and having shared multiple updates across the Saga’s social media. And I wrote a blog about my visit to Israel as well as I wrote one about my visit to Palestine. And in both cases I was told that I had written my best blog ever…as well as others told me that I was highly biased, that I was wrong and that I had written things that were incorrect. As such I have been told to change sentences, delete paragraphs and use different words. The word “hypocrite” comes to mind when such suggestions come from people with objective “truths” and who are provably highly biased. One minute I’m representing someone or something and the next I’m a complete outsider. In the case of Israel and Palestine I chose neither side. There isn’t even a side to be on if you ask me. There is however a large cesspool of opinionated people who have done just enough research to validate their own “truths”. Emotions have long ago begun to weigh heavier than reasoning and you find a situation not unlike the one we see in the USA between Democrats and Republicans. Where in life do you see people searching for information to undermine their own opinions? It doesn’t happen a lot – does it?

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The Saga is now leaving the Middle East behind. That in itself is a mighty accomplishment when done without flying. Heck, even if you flew you might not reach them all as you might remember I have met people who went to every country except for Saudi Arabia. And it wasn’t for the lack of trying. The Middle East is a slightly crazy part of our world. It’s a part of our world where you will see foreign nations back countries they oppose for the sake of good oil prices. It’s a part of our world where you will see mindboggling constructions proving that the sky is the limit. It’s a part of our world where a solution to a problem can be to fly in 4,000 cows from the USA and start a dairy farm. It’s a part of our world where western civilization began. It is a part of our world where you can visit a country and because of it be denied entry to another. It is a part of our world where political statements will at times make you question if you heard what you heard? However more importantly it is a part of the world which provides an abundance of hospitality and where I have made a great deal of new friends. My route through the Middle East went more or less like this: Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, UAE, Oman, Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel and Palestine. And at this point I feel like listing all the friends I have made and all the people who have helped me through this entire region. And as I began to compile a list of names I quickly realized that it would grow far too long! We are talking about hundreds of names which I have stored on my phone. Interestingly there isn’t a lot of variety for about 40% of the names with a lot of Mohammed’s, Omar’s and Ahmed’s on the list :)   

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Onboard it's mostly work, work, work, work, work as Rihanna would say. The crew is a busy bunch of people.

I have been treated with so much kindness and with so much support that it pretty much drowns out anything bad which I might still recall. And it is not without a great sense of accomplishment that I now look back at 75% of the world and can say: we have left nothing behind! There are still challenges ahead and I’m sure that we will encounter several locked doors before the Saga reaches its final country. However the challenges ahead do appear miniscule compared to what is found in its wake. And it would be easy to point my nose to the sky, smile and conclude that every success was because of me and my particular set of skills. However it should be abundantly clear to anyone who has followed the Saga long enough, that there is no one person on this planet who will reach every country on their own. The more than five times I have now encircled this planet in sheer distance and the nearly five years which I have spent doing so overwhelmingly prove that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. I pay for this project with my dedication, my time and frankly speaking with much more than that. The misconception that I am doing all of this for fun or that I am a tourist persists and will likely do so forever. In reality I work hard but that is not always enough. At times I fall to my knees and all which is needed for me to get back on my feet is the kindness of a stranger. I have ever so often received a kind word of encouragement, a chair to sit on and a cup of tea. At times I’m given a meal, a bed and the comfort of a home. It is far harder for me to say farewell than it is to say hello and I have said farewell a great many times by now… And as I turn away from the Middle East I know that I owe many people a part of the success which has brought us this far. So thank you one and all.

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If you're not stuck in the engine room all the time you might just catch breattaking moments like these while onboard.

Do you think that it is possible to travel to every country in the world in an unbroken journey completely without flying? Well the most obvious answer appears to be yes. However it really might not be. I’ll explain in a moment. But let’s start with why it seems so obvious that it can be done. We have ships, busses, trains, taxis and any form of transportation you may need to accomplish the task. We’ve all seen a map and it shouldn’t take too long to draw out a line that connects all the countries on it. So there you go. Done deal. Well, in reality you need more than money and a good passport to accomplish the task. Often you’ll find that there are no ferries available when you need to reach an island nation. And multiple visas must be applied for in your resident country and cannot easily be obtained on route. And to top it all off you also need to deal with conflict zones. I will give you a real example from right now. I needed to go from Israel to Georgia without flying. By looking at the map it seems easy enough: just cross the border to Lebanon, continue through Syria, cross over Turkey and voila! However in reality the border between Israel and Lebanon is basically airtight and impossible to cross. The visa for Syria is nearly impossible to get and even if you achieved it then you would still need to cross the country overland. So what other options exist? A ferry from Israel? Sorry, there used to be one but there isn’t any longer. How about backtracking into Jordan? Reaching Jordan would be easy but then what? Cross Iraq again or spend decades waiting for Saudi Arabia to issue tourist visas? No…in this case it is good to have a friend with a container ship :)

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Logistics, logistics, logistics...

MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) stepped up and invited me onboard the good ship “MSC Don Giovanni”. MSC is the second largest shipping company in the world and they have helped out a few times before. I was originally introduced to them through BeFlexi in Cyprus and CSC (Cyprus Shipping Chamber) has also been supportive in the same capacity. I was actually hoping that I could go via Cyprus to Turkey as that would enable me to say hi to a friend or two while in transit. However I was quick to accept when MSC offered me to come onboard as a passenger from Ashdod in Israel to Istanbul in Turkey. The good ship measures 202 meters (663 ft) from bow to aft and is 50 meters (164 ft) high. She can carry 2,480 x 20’ containers and her engine has been spinning for the past 22 years. “MSC Don Giovanni was built at a German shipyard and is now making rounds in the Mediterranean Sea. A roundtrip takes her about 15 days although a number of things can play in on the schedule such as: weather, congestion, holidays, inspections etc.

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A simple but effective dessert :)

I feel like I have educated the lot of you plenty in regards to life onboard container ships with this fair lady being the 17th I have had the privilege to board as a passenger. And yet as I weekly receive requests from people wanting advice on how to do the same, I feel obligated to once more say that it is nearly impossible. These ships are workplaces and they do not carry passengers. It is highly unusual and only under special circumstances that a container ship will carry a passenger unless the company has made a business out of it. So obviously I am very thankful for this opportunity. And while onboard I have turned slightly Indian with an almost entirely Indian crew onboard. Apart from me and a single seaman from the Philippines everyone else onboard was from India. And that is a good warm-up as India is only 11 countries away now. Captain Sunil KR Srivastava greeted me onboard and provided me with the “owner’s cabin”. Slightly fearful for whether I could handle the at times hot Indian food I was offered a supplementary diet onboard. I had most of my meals with the Captain and Chief Engineer Porus Sorabji when they weren’t busy working. When a ship calls a new port every second day the administrative work easily piles up and “MSC Don Giovanni sometimes calls two ports in a single day so you can only imagine. It was however relatively quiet going across the Mediterranean Sea from Ashdod to Gemlik which was our first port of call.

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Honestly I made good of a break from the Saga. Onboard I am a passenger. I am not that guy who is traveling to every country without flying. Conversations fall on everyday kind of stuff and a limitation of 90 minutes of WIFI / day offers a natural break from the online world. No meetings, no interviews, no obligations… I had a chance to go thoroughly through my luggage and found 173 business cards which had not yet been typed into my address book. I know because I counted them. I got to do my laundry, I did some reading, watched a few movies, worked my way through unanswered emails, slept, ate, wrote this blog and prepared for the next step of the Saga. We be heading east now! As we approached the Turkish shoreline the weather turned a lot colder than what my body has gotten used to. And that put a huge smile on my face as it for a second reminded me of being back home. I figure I’ll be wearing my jacket throughout the upcoming months. That should make my bag slightly easier to close.

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Captain Sunil KR Srivastava and I had some really intersting conversations onboard...when time permitted for it.

A year ago I was in Cyprus and made a presentation at the MSC office in Limassol. That is when I first met Captain S.K. Sinha and we have stayed in touch ever since. MSC is a well-oiled company which values family a lot. And you sense that. Captain Sinha frequently sends me a message to check on how I am doing. Having reached Turkey and with solid ground under my feet I suspect it will be a while before I shall require the assistance of a containership again. We are cornering off the Caspian region next which will bridge us to the “Stan’s”. Yup, seven countries which all end in “Stan”. Stan is of course Farsi for country/land which is to say that e.g. Pakistan and Kazakhstan become “land of the Kazakhs” and “land of the Paki’s”. But I’m sure you knew that too ;)   

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A final shout out to the crew onboard "MSC Don Giovanni"! I wish you all fair winds and following seas! :)



Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - beating the odds and heading east.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"


Thor emblem

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