D-Day continued: getting closer (extreme detour)
Day 1,891 since October 10th 2013: 166 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)
Talk is cheap
Have you ever had a door close on you so hard that you decided to go nearly halfway around the world to open another? I have...
I come from a family of stubborn people. Two stubborn parents and two stubborn siblings. We all go about it in separate ways but in our core we are stubborn. Sometimes it gets in the way of what really matters. Other times it serves us well. For the past five years it has served me well. My grandmother passed away some time ago. She was the last of my grandparents and on my mother’s side. She was from Finland; a country which has the most beautiful flag if you ask me. However the design stems from Denmark. The fins just changed the colors. In Finland they have a word which is sisu. It means something along the line of stoic determination and can be compared to grit although it is so much more than just that. I’d like to think that it runs in my blood. Although the way we are programmed, the things we do and the way we act in life is likely more a product of our environment. Psychologists still debate this subject today so who can say for sure.
Plan D is my fourth attempt to reach Pakistan by means of land and sea. It’s quite the logistical challenge if you find yourself in Mongolia and cannot get permission to cross China. The jury is still out on whether I would have been able to get my papers for China in order in Mongolia. And we will never know as I chose something else. I created a plan which in just 14 days would get me to Pakistan. Could I have changed anything in Mongolia over the course of 14 days? I don’t believe so. Were there other solutions? Could I have gone in other directions? Yes, I possibly could. However I neglected to tell you all, that I chose the route through Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Iran because I know those countries. I know the busses, the trains, the distances, the borders and I even know people along that route. It was a safe alternative and something I could keep within relative control. And the first seven days went according to schedule bringing us to Odessa in Ukraine. Reaching Odessa made the first 7,305 km (4,539 mi) of this massive detour. D-day continues:
Plan D - day 8:
The Uber driver did not speak any English but I knew where we were going. The ferry left from Burlacha Balka some 18 km (11 mi) from Odessa. I was told to be at the customs house at 03:00am but the Uber driver showed up in the world’s smallest Skoda and couldn’t keep up with google maps predictions even as the roads were empty. A we approached the customs house the Skoda had to give up, some 500 meters (500 yards) out, because the many trucks lined up for the cargo ferry were blocking the road. So I got out of the Skoda and made my way on foot, in the middle of the night with a row of trucks on both sides of me. There was something familiar about that? Oh yeah...that’s because I’ve done that walk at borders in another fifty countries. A tired woman checked my passport and waved me into a dark dusty room were three other passengers were waiting. I was 10 minutes late but it could not have mattered less. And then we waited. We waited until 04:00am at this ungodly hour. It made me think of my days in the military: hurry up and wait.
After meeting a lot of sleepy people in uniforms, being asked to go here and there, getting some stamps, and waiting some more, we finally got into a cold bus which brought us to the ferry. Then a young guy in a uniform guided us into the ferry and towards the passenger entrance. Normally a straightforward task but in this case we had to crawl under a truck to get there. I can manage stuff like that but one of the other passengers was an old lady. Oh well. Once I reached the reception I was given a key to cabin 8110 where I dropped my bag and got ready to sleep. Ten minutes before that the “hacker genius” within me had guessed the WiFi password in my second attempt: “guest guest”. However only to realize that it was written on the wall behind me for everyone to see. One of the other four passengers arrived to share the room with me. A young guy from Georgia who really needed a shower. The stench of sweat was harsh. However he was friendly enough. He didn’t speak any English and it didn’t matter. I took the lower bunk and he got the top one. At 08:00am the speakers sounded that breakfast was ready. The ferry was still at port. We had lunch at 13:30pm. The ferry was still at port. At 18:00pm the ferry left and headed into the Black Sea. What the heck was all the 03:00am nonsense about? The cargo ferry was now full of passengers. I figure it was all the truck drivers. Once at sea the WiFi stopped working. Who cares? We were in our way...
Plan D - day 9:
My friendly smelly roommate is annoying. There is a small battle within me between being polite and telling him what I think. So far the polite side has prevailed. His social behavior in our confined room is of someone who is alone. What I mean by that is that he speaks loudly on his phone or plays music with no regard to if I’m trying to sleep. He would also pull the drapes away and let light into the room while I tried to sleep. It’s a pretty large boat! He could have gone anywhere. Anyway: breakfast at 08:00am, lunch at 13:30pm and dinner at 19:00pm. There was a tax free liquor store on the boat which didn’t interest me. No one seemingly spoke English. The outside view was nice but the daylight hours are short in the wintertime and it’s somewhere cold...or “fresh” outside as some people might say. The engine resonated throughout the ferry and I wondered if our departure was on schedule or if I would be late for my train in Georgia? Time would tell...
Plan D - day 10:
Once in a while people ask me how much I have planned ahead. In 2013 I sat down with a world map and designed the journey country by country. However while I knew the order I would visit every country in the world I did not plan out which modes of transport, where I would sleep, how long I would spend in each country, which cities I would visit etc. For one I would like to keep it an adventure and leave room for improvisation. And while I do believe you could sit down and plan it all out in detail, all it takes is for you to miss one bus and then it all falls apart. At 01:00am I worked out that the ferry was approximately 250 km (150 mi) away from shore. The train I had booked from Batumi to Tbilisi was due to depart at 07:55am. A quick calculation told me that in order to reach port at 08:00 the ferry would need to go at least 35 kph (21 mph) and ferries generally don’t do that. So I was going to miss my train. The train was a welcome alternative to the minibus which stops a million times and has no legroom. Oh well...
In georgia you can always look forward to a good meal. It's the land of khinkali!
I got up at 07:30am and had breakfast at 08:00am. I could now see land and it was several hours away. I headed back to bed. At noon we were almost ready to disembark the ferry. According to the schedule we were now 12 hours late. If we would have arrived on time then I would have had almost eight hours to catch my train. I thought that left plenty of room for delays. I had no idea! Eventually immigration came onboard and I was finally seated across from an officer:
Immigration officer (IO): country?
IO: have you been here before?
Me: yes, once before...no twice.
IO: I don’t see the stamps?
Me: it was a long time ago.
IO: different passport?
IO: are you traveling alone?
IO: where are you going?
IO: do you know anyone in Georgia?
IO: where are you staying?
Me: Tribeca Hotel in Tbilisi. For one night. Then I’m heading to Armenia.
IO: (stamps passport) Welcome to Georgia...
I left the vessel at 1pm and had located a 15 seat minibus to Tbilisi at 1:30pm. But I was the only passenger. However contrary to what I thought we left 15 minutes later with me as the only passenger? However as per the usual strategy the driver would pick up passengers along the way on his death race to Tbilisi. Georgia is an unbelievably beautiful country and now that we’ve reached December I could clearly see the snow caped mountains left and right. The six hour drive between loose cows and other obstacles offered 3-4 emergency breaks in which we almost rammed into whatever was in front of us. That’s minibuses in Georgia for you. We finally reached Tbilisi around 8:pm and I had to remember the metro stations. Not too hard though. I reached THE BEST HOTEL IN GEORGIA (Tribeca Hotel) around 8:40pm, checked in, had dinner at the restaurant, skyped with my fiancée and then worked until 2:00am (emails, social media, research).
This photo is from October 2018. So great to see Nino and the team again!
Plan D - day 11:
I woke up at 07:30am after a wonderful night in fairytale like conditions. Thank you Nino for setting me up in Tribeca again! Just what I needed. I reached the Iran embassy at around 9:20pm but once I got inside everything had changed. They had opened a new area for the consular service and I didn’t recognize anyone from last time. The service was good though so no worries. Another change was that I could no longer pay at the embassy and had to make my way to TBC bank a taxi ride away. They opened at 10:00am and I was 10 min early surrounded by a million other applicants for the Iran visa. Apparently a new decree required all Iranians to provide a clean criminal record so it was busy both at the bank and at the embassy. However by a stroke of luck I was able to walk straight up to a counter which had no queue. It took a while to process me. I think the clerk might have been somewhat inexperienced. Also I wanted to pay the €75 EUR with a $100 USD bill. I only had €60 EUR on me. Georgia uses Lari. The currency stated by the Iran embassy was in euro. I guess Iran isn’t too fond of USD these days...can’t blame them... Back at the embassy I met the guy who gave me the Iran visa the last time. The place was buzzing with Iranians. I think he recognized me but the entire office appeared busy. The change might have been new. If you’re updated on my blogs then you might remember this guy too? The first time I met him he greeted me with: “hello. It’s me...” It’s a funny thing with Iran and the USA. I’ve never met an Iranian who had anything against the USA as a country nor its citizens. I have met those who oppose certain foreign policies of the USA though. At the embassy I looked around. The guy to my left was wearing jeans branded with Coca Cola. The fellow to my right was wearing a jacket which read: “Vogue sport. American Legend since 1971”. People and governments...
It's like the begining of a joke: "A traditional Iranian woman, an Iranian fashion princes and a German hippie walk into an embassy..."
Well, my opinion about how well things were working at the Iran embassy changed as time went on. At 3pm after waiting for five hours I was pretty much out of patience. I missed my a.m. meeting with Nino, I had not been back to the hotel to check out before noon, I had not purchased my train ticket, I was hungry, I needed a toilet and I was growing worried about my visa for Iran. It turned out they had printer issues and that the ministry in Tehran (Iran) were working on it. Then the Consular asked if I could come back after 90 minutes. Great! My entire day shattered to pieces? There are times when I feel something is pushing me forward and times when I feel like I’m being held back. I used my 90 minutes on getting to the train station where I learned that the train to Yerevan (Armenia) only leaves every second day. “You can have a ticket tomorrow if you’d like?” Hmmm? Then what about busses? Not the most comfortable ride but much cheaper. Definitely possible. Time was however running out on me and I needed to return to the embassy. I got through the evening traffic and made it back to the embassy at 4:30pm. I nodded to the Consular who was on the phone. Then I waited until 5pm when he called me into his office. He explained that President Donald Trump had declared that anyone who went to Iran would no longer be welcome in the USA. For this reason Iran had begun to issue e-visas so that the passport does not get stamped. I was actually issued the very first e-visa from Iran’s embassy in Georgia: no 0000001. What an honor. Apparently since noon the Consular had been on the phone with Tehran several times to get me a regular visa since I already had one in my passport. There went my day but I got the visa. Sort of? Let’s see when I try to cross the border.
Thank you again Nino!! And Levani joined in on the photo while Alex took it. You guys are wonderful!
Absolutely exhausted from a very long and very bureaucratic day I made it back to Hotel Tribeca where I got to see Nino again for the first time since October. She looked lovely. Nino and I had tea and spoke of her travels to New York. Meanwhile she had the reception working on finding me a bus. Unfortunately there were no options for leaving Georgia by bus this evening. However I could leave early next morning which would work as it’s only six hours between Tbilisi and Yerevan. Nino offered me another night at her hotel. She is just amazing! Then I headed out for my first meal in 11 hours. I didn’t get to enjoy my day in Tbilisi. I did not get to see all the things I wanted too. I did not get to relax. Now I was hell bent on getting a shawarma from a place I saw the day before. Guess what? They were out of meat?!? Really not my day. I continued down the street and saw a place with sushi. I like sushi. But sushi is expensive. I couldn’t care less!! I was having sushi!!! I was served and it looked great. Then I dropped my first piece into the soya with a big slash and ended up with soya everywhere!! Please end this day!! It did end. I spoke to my fiancée again and over the course of an hour we recognized that: I did get my visa. I got a piece of chocolate from the Consular. I was first in line at the bank. I got another night at Tribeca. I had sushi. I Skyped with my fiancée. Over and out.
Plan D - day 12:
Levani at Tribeca’s reception booked a seat in a minibus for me. I was told it would leave at 08:20an. My alarm rang at 07:00am. I went to bed at 01:30am. Not quite good enough. I was in a taxi at 07:30am. At the bus terminal at 08:00am. The bus left at 08:20am. Just kidding. At 08:40am we were still at the terminal. At 08:50 we left. I miss Denmark when it comes to leaving on time. I don’t mind busses waiting to fill up before they leave. With cheap busses it’s like that all over the world in my experience. However I do mind being told to be on time and then having to wait another 30 minutes. A practice across a lot of Africa was that a minibus would fill up with passengers and then make its first stop at the petrol station. I haven’t really seen that on other continents? However our first stop after leaving Tbilisi was a petrol station. Anyway, the sunrise was awe inspiring. The Caucasus is certainly a beautiful part of our world and has an abundance to offer.
The way they run water pipes in Armenia is still a mystery to me? Put them in the ground people?
When you run out of smiles...
Armenia's capital Yerevan had a haze above it. The weather was clear all the way up to the city.
Crossing the border was as easy as entering a mall. There was no luggage check and the immigration officers had no questions. It was purely: stamp out / stamp in. At 2pm we reached the bus terminal in Yerevan which I had used to depart Armenia from towards Iran in October. So perfect! - right? I grabbed my bags and walked over to the travel office where I was two months before. “Sorry. If you want to leave today then you need to go to our downtown office”. Okay? No problem. I’ll just take a taxi. Where could I exchange my money so I could pay for one? Oh? - not at the terminal but perhaps downtown. Okay - then where could I find an ATM? That’s right: downtown. Fortunately I had time. The bus wouldn’t depart until 6pm. My basecamp duffel bag is not at all made for long hauls but I managed to carry it downtown. On the way o came across an ATM. I managed to buy my ticket, drop my bags and head into Yerevan to find an exchange office. Then I found a place to eat and soon enough I was on the overnight bus heading towards Iran. At this point we had clocked about 8,900 km (5,500 mi) in 12 days by means of public transportation. And we continued to build upon that...
Plan D - day 13:
A few times during the night we stopped for short breaks. On one such occasion I found myself under the black sky looking at Orion. A fellow passenger from Armenia approached me and wanted to know where I was from? He knew some English but it was severely broken. I picked up: Copenhagen, Legoland, something about his child winning a competition, that he imports rocks from Iran, that business is good, that he prefers his cottage in the forest with the rabbits, he loves Denmark...that’s about it. He had to call someone in the middle of the night for him to deliver the word ‘rabbit’. It’s amazing how some people will go out of their way to avoid a conversation while others will do anything in the power to achieve one. Around 02:30am we reached the border. Nobody is at their sharpest at 02:30am. There was no customs check and the immigration officer stamped me out of Armenia almost immediately. I walked across no-mans-land as I had done it two months earlier. How many countries have I been to this year if you include revisits? The first passport control in Iran to a glance at my paper, smiled and said: “welcome to Iran”. Technically I could still be denied entry as I had not passed immigration yet but those were still nice words to hear. Immigration would be the test for my newly acquired e-visa. I handed it to him along with my passport. He looked at me, looked at the paper, looked at the passport...then he stamped the paper (e-visa) and that was that. It worked. At 03:00am I was in the waiting area holding out for the bus. The Armenian man from before approached me again: “Brin Gamleth...Brin Gamleth. Schaggspar?” After I while I got it: Prince Hamlet. Shakespeare. The castle were the story takes place is in Denmark and there is a famous line from the play which goes: “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. At 03:47am I was back in the bus.
When clouds become hard to tell from snow caped mountains...
I was on a 21 hour bus ride. It was exhausting. The scenery outside left nothing to desire. Dramatic mountain landscapes, snow caped mountains, desert, forest, rivers, villages... Once in Tehran I would need to either activate my old simcard or get a new one so I could coordinate with my contacts. My friend Abbas Dinarvandy was once again helping out with a train reservation as he had done it a few months ago when I headed to Afghanistan. My train was set to leave at 6:05pm and my bus would likely reach Tehran around 2pm. So that should work out well. Tehran is well connected by metro. I did sleep on the bus but always woke up tired. Morteza, my friend from the northeast of Iran, was also setting me up with one of his friends in the southeast of Iran. So I really needed to find some internet to sort it all out. Welcome to 2018.
I found a smile...
Iranians are among the most friendly and hospitable people I know of. Unfortunately Abbas couldn’t make it across town to come and see me. He sent me my reservation for the train electronically. He had paid for me. Why on earth would he do that? When I prompted him he said that I could repay him in Denmark someday. I had something to eat and then I left the bus terminal and headed towards the metro. I knew which trains I needed to take in order to reach the train station but I was a bit unsure about the direction I needed to take? It took less than a second before a friendly man asked me if I needed help. Then he led me to my train and got onboard with me. We small talked until we reached my connecting station at which point we got off and he guided me to my next train. Then he told me to get off after three stops and wished me the best of luck. He wasn’t even going the same way as me? I waited a few hours and got onboard the 6:05pm train to Kerman. I was in the top bunk in bed number six. Sometimes you encounter the strangest things. A man who was supposed to be in the other top bunk (five) wanted to be in number six? I never found out why which really annoyed me. But since I couldn’t see any difference between the bunk beds I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. He also wanted to small talk but spoke nearly no English. He understood that I was from Denmark and that I was going to Kerman. I understood that he wanted to know why I was going there but since he didn’t speak English and I do not speak Farsi the conversation was dead before it began. He however seemed really determined to have a conversation although we didn’t speak the same language. And I was way to tired to play charades. After a while I left to go and have a meal in the train’s restaurant. Due to sanctions against Iran most foreigners will find that their currency holds great value within the country. The interest for USD has however dropped significantly since my first visit in July. €10 EUR will get you really far though. In the restaurant I ended up speaking with Navid and Ehsan. Navid works with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Ehsan is a conscripted soldier for a few more months but really like hiking and backpacking. We spoke a while about the value of various passports before that led to solving all the world’s problems...it was a nice evening.
On the train from Tehran to Kerman. That is Ehsan in the middle and Navid on the right. Good guys!
Plan D - day 14:
The train rolled into Kerman in the southeast of Iran an hour late. It didn’t matter much as I was aiming at catching an overnight train for the last stretch towards Zahedan near the Pakistan border. A two week detour which measures a journey a third around the globe was coming to an end. Navid and I had agreed to meet outside the train and spend the day together. When I got off the train I spotted Navid and Ehsan standing there waiting for me. First things first. Navid wanted to secure me a train ticket so we walked straight to the counter. We couldn’t purchase a ticket but the lady behind the counter assured that there would be space for me and that the train would arrive around midnight. So far so good. Then Ehsan politely said farewell and took off. Navid and I found a taxi and went back to his place. The stream of Iranian hospitality was hereafter endless: my home is yours, breakfast, do you need anything?, I can help you, shall we do some sightseeing?, here’s the wifi password, let’s go for lunch…and no matter how much I insisted to pay it was futile. I never stood a chance. It’s always: “you can pay when I someday visit you in Denmark”. I will be financially ruined when hundreds of people from around the world come marching on my door step. Denmark is an expensive country! ;)
A stranger is a friend you've never met before.
That’s about as much as you’ll get from this entry. It’s Thursday afternoon and I will be getting this entry online while Navid is out playing tennis. He left me on my own in his apartment. Imagine the level of trust as I sit here surrounded by all sorts of valuable items. There was one thing Navid wanted you all to know. He said that if there are any charming women out there then he is more than open for your offers. He is for mixed relationships as he believes we should stir up the gene pool and create some beautiful babies for the next generation ;) He was smiling as he told me this. Navid is in a five year relationship with a Dutch girl who kicks his arse in tennis ;)
On a final note I would like to say that I think a lot of Iranians feel misrepresented. They do not understand what they have done to deserve less flattering comments across social media and in some people’s opinions. They don’t understand why they are being punished politically by foreign powers. Iranians are not Arabs although the media often shows little or no distinction. And in large it is a mystery to most why Iran finds itself in the situation it does among other world powers. I bet that is the case for most people around the world. How the heck did our countries end up being in the state they are today? I bet the majority of us have no chance explaining it to ourselves nor anyone else? People are just people right? Iran is a very sophisticated country with more history than most nations and longstanding traditions for poetry, literature and philosophy. The youth likes to party and have fun. There is a good sense of humor in Iran and the country is strong in resources and even has a young population. One must wonder…
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - "starting to smile again"
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga