Donating blood in Nepal, Viking travellers and making world history
Day 1,940 since October 10th 2013: 170 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)
The Himalayas do not just call for me – they roar!
So…five years without returning home, cerebral malaria is in the past, no financial sponsor for years, no grandparents left, I’ve been to every country on earth with armed conflict, I’ve been on 17 containerships, I slept on a bench in Honduras, I thought I was going to die on more than one occasion, less than a year to go? Let’s keep on keeping on!!
I get the sense that some people do not think I miss my family, my friends and my loved ones? That would just be ridiculous. Of course I miss them. I miss my country too. I miss not having a constant workload of more than 50 hours a week. I think about heading home every day. I don’t want to do all the things I do and for a very long time the Saga has felt like work more than adventure. Perhaps you can travel for “fun” for six, seven, eight or even twelve months? But beyond that I think most people would need a break or as minimum a steady address for a while. On average I have reached a new country every 11.4 days. Think about that for a second. And if you keep in mind that I haven’t flown throughout the entire project, you should quickly realize that getting this far has demanded a lot of movement. And it has required that I revisited a lot of countries. So in reality I have ben to a new country much more frequent than every 11.4 days. That is a lot of packing and unpacking. That is a lot of saying hello and farewell. Saying farewell all the time is the worst part of this project. I care about a lot of people I have met. Last week I said farewell to a lot of people again. I am not homesick. I have never been homesick. But I do miss home. Home is just 33 countries away now…
Blocked road, India.
Leaving India wasn’t all that easy. It was in a bureaucratic sense however after leaving the train (where the little boy peed on me), the taxi I took to the border, ran into a blocked road. A group of people had peacefully gathered and the police was present. It was hard to see what was going on but I figured that nothing would change within minutes. So my first instinct was to check Google Maps to see if we could go around. My driver left the car and came back. In the end I trusted his judgement as he said that it would only take another 20 minutes. And it only did. Apparently an old man had died and I thought I understood that it had some relations to medication or overmedication or something…
India immigration - no electricity.
Back on the road we finally approached the border and I had to stamp out of India at the immigration office. However the power was out so they couldn’t enter me in the computer. I did suggest they could just take my details and enter them later but the authorities wanted me to wait. I don’t know if I believe in signs but I do believe in being alert and reading your surroundings. Oh well, the power came back on and I reached the border. It didn’t take long before I found a bus to Kathmandu, which is the capital of Nepal. And off we went. It was a frustratingly slow journey of eleven hours in a bus which was way too small for me. I am 193 cm (6’4) and in that bus I really felt it! There was no way I could sit straight with my legs in front of me. I had to lean to the side and more than halfway block the seat next to me. It began raining and eventually that was accompanied by thunder and lightning. Thor was the God of thunder and lightning. I guess my welcome to Nepal was only befitting. The winding road did not suit everyone and some passengers had to surrender the content of their stomachs. I think I was the only foreigner on the bus.
The buses are pretty lively around these parts.
The bus eventually reached Kathmandu and I soon found my hostel and went to bed. However not until I had done my push-ups and had confirmed to Karin that I would join her the next day for a small hike. What? Push-ups and who is Karin? Well…last month I challenged everyone including myself to do a 30 day challenge which I named #OUAS30dayChallenge. We started out with 15 push-ups on January 1st and by following the schedule we aimed at reached 40 push-ups on January 30th. I tried to do these push-ups at interesting locations and uploaded the videos to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. That turned out to be a lot more work than I thought and I’m pretty happy that it is over now. However I may continue doing push-ups just for myself now. Karin Hansen is another Danish Dane from Denmark in the high north of Europe. A Viking like myself! ;) She is likewise a member of the Danish Travellers Club (DBK) and has visited 86 countries along with 10 territories. She manages her life as a traveller alongside working within IT as a consultant.
Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Shivapuri Nature Park, Kathmandu Valley.
Lene whom I met in Delhi (also DBK) is friends with Karin and told her about me. Karin just so happened to be in Kathmandu at the same time as me so she reached out to hear if I wanted to meet? And that is how I agreed to get up early on my first day in Kathmandu so that I could join Karin on a small hike in the nearby Shivapuri Nature Park. It turned out to be perfect after several days of train and bus travel and the nature also provided me with some much needed fresh air. A guide was required so we were joined by Varat who was a good sport and spotted a few animals for us. We didn’t get to see many animals though which was probably in direct correlation with all the talking we did. It was a really nice park and I quickly began to like Karin who has more than a few stories to tell and has done more than what most women would dare without knowing it. Karin doesn’t see the big deal in having reached 86 countries as a female traveller and neither do I. From my point of view the world is far more friendly, peaceful and normal than what most people perceive it to be. However I really think that Karin’s lust for travel is a great beacon for all those wannabe female travellers who have not dared to cross those borders yet. I don’t know that I am afraid of a lot anymore? I used to be picky with food and afraid of a million different things. However I got less picky when I got hungry and as I got exposed to more and more situations in life the fear slowly began to evaporate. I’m sure I’m still scared of something but I’m not sure what it might be at this point?
There is NOTHING coincidental on a Stupa. Every detail of the design represents something which will enlighten you and make you a better person. It is fascinating to read about.
That's Kathmandu down there below the...fog?
People are just people, Kathmandu.
At my hostel I bumped into Will from the UK. Great guy!! I was curious about “half the dot” he had left on his forehead. Hindus often wear a dot (bindi) of some colour applied in the centre of the forehead close to the eyebrows. It is known as the third eye chakra. Will couldn’t get the dot off his forehead and only managed getting half of it off resulting it in assimilating a scar from head-butting someone. However Will was a super friendly guy and would never do such a thing. Instead he had an amazing story! First you should know that my some estimated around a fifth of the 29 million Nepali’s live below the poverty line. As with all things that means that four fifths live above however that’s not where I am heading with this. Both India and Nepal have a fair amount of beggars on the street and especially in India you hear stories about how organized the begging can be. So when a woman in Kathmandu asked Will for help he called her out. She claimed to have five sick children at home with only one blanket. She said that her husband was alcoholic and had left them. Will did not know what to believe and most people would either have given the woman some change by now or have walked off. I would have walked off. But Will got an invitation to follow the woman home so he could see for himself…and that he did. In a small apartment he found five sick children. He noted that there was only one blanket. The woman on the street had told the truth and that might be a reminder to all of us that we don’t know everything. And upon that confirmation which Will had now received the good Samaritan within him went to great lengths to help the poor woman and her five children. I like this story for two reasons. Too often I think that beggars on the street are lying to me. However the woman was telling the truth and needed help. And how amazing is Will for visiting her home and as a result coming to her aid. Now tell me that it isn’t true: a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
Prayer flags represent the five elements: water, fire, wind, earth and....eh....we've only got four in Denmark ;)
Karin had a busy schedule for her time in Nepal. She had arranged to spend a night at Namo Buddha Resort just a few hours driving outside of Kathmandu. Namo Buddha is a small village which houses very old Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery which is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal and one of the holiest in the world. It is known as the place where the Buddha, in a previous life as a prince, gave his body to a starving tigress and her cubs. I don’t think that a lot of people would accuse me for being spiritual but I do enjoy such stories. Karin had booked herself a cabin with two beds and wanted to know if I would join her? Sure - why not? So the day after hiking for a few hours in Shivapuri Nature Park I met up with Karin again. And what bliss it was to enjoy some fresh air and breath-taking views from Namo Buddha Resort. It is an old place which has been renovated by a German woman named Ingrid. I can’t believe how often I get to practice my German language. Those people are everywhere. Ingrid had successfully combined the charm of Nepal with the efficiency of Germany and that is a really good combination! Besides Kathmandu used to be nicknamed “Dustmandu” and has long had a bad reputation for its air quality. Kathmandu sits in the Kathmandu Valley which has been inhabited for a very long time! Unfortunately the valley holds all the air until rain or heavy wind clears it out. Today Kathmandu is a busy city with lots of vehicles and lots of factories. It does not help on the air quality so it was blissful to stay a night at Namo Buddha.
Nepal is 9% Buddhist and 80% Hindu.
You might think that Nepal is an all mountainous country. If so then you are wrong. Nepal is an astonishing diverse country in every thinkable way. It boasts some of the highest mountains in the world including the highest which is Mount Everest. Funny thing about that is that it wasn’t until 1852 that we noticed it was the highest. George Mallory (“because it’s there”) lost his life to the mountain in 1924 but might have reached the peak before dying on his way down? Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay successfully made it to the peak and back alive in 1953 and today 4,469 people have summited Everest 7,646 times. So yeah…Nepal has mountains. However Nepal also has lowland plains with elephants and rhinos. In terms of biodiversity, Nepal is one of the richest countries in the world. Nepal has more than 900 species of birds, which accounts to 8.9% of the total species of birds all around the world. It has 4.2% of the world’s butterfly species and 3.96% of the world’s mammal species. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Nepal is a lot more than snow and Yeti’s. And before I forget it I would like to mention that Nepali’s call Mount Everest “Sagarmāthā” (forehead in the sky).
This photo is from my 2010 visit when I hiked to Mt. Everest Base Camp (EBC). (this is not Mt. Everest).
Nepal has one of the most astonishing endings to a monarchy in recent time. Since 1769, when the former kingdoms were united, Nepal used to be a kingdom. Some say that the royal family was highly respected and that many believed that the King of Nepal was as a Living God: the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Imagine the shock to the nation when there was a massacre in the royal palace!! King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and SEVEN other members of the royal family were shot dead allegedly by Crown Prince Dipendra, who allegedly committed suicide following the slaughter. Now there are a lot of stories, conspiracies at what have you regarding what really happened. But what we know is that on June 2001 Nepal woke up to an intact royal family and the day ended with ten of them dead. That is such an extreme thing to have within the past 20 years. Today Nepal is a democratic republic and one which has had its fair share of work.
Bakhtapur, Nepal, 2010.
Hiking the Himalayas, 2010 (EBC trek).
Hiking the Himalayas, 2010 (EBC trek).
Hiking the Himalayas, 2010 (EBC trek). Man collecting yak droppings for fire.
At Mt. Everest Base Camp, 2010 (5,300 m / 17,388 ft).
Cam on his Royal Enfield, Nepal, 2010.
I visited Nepal for the first time in 2010 together with my friend Cam Brookes as a part of our four month long motorcycle adventure. Back then I remember Kathmandu’s air being heavily polluted, the traffic being unbearable, I remember constant government shutdowns (hartal) and load shedding of electricity. Load shedding was when the population shared whatever electricity the country had. You could have the power cut at 7pm and come back at 10 pm every day as a part of a schedule where nobody had electricity all the time but everyone had electricity some of the time. Those days are over now. It appears that everyone has electricity all the time now. The roads appeared less congested to me too. The infrastructure has improved. I might be wrong but I felt that the air was better than in 2010? And people told me that the hartals were rare nowadays. So some things are going in the right direction and that is in spite of a devastating blow to the nation in 2015! It is no coincidence that the highest mountains are located in this part of the world. There is a lot of seismic activity and two tectonic plates are pushing against each other creating the heightened landmass. Fun fact: if you shrink our planet to the size of a billiard ball then the planet’s surface would be smoother than an actual billiard ball. That is just to say that the world’s tallest mountain (8,848 m / 29,029 ft) would be insignificant at that scale. Do you feel small now? Sorry…back on track: in 1934 Nepal experienced a devastating earthquake which was one of the worst earthquakes in the history of Nepal. Since then both my parents were born as was I more than forty years ago. I mention that for perspective. Because in 2015 the Nepal earthquake (also known as the Gorkha earthquake) killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. It occurred with a magnitude of 7.8. It displaced 3.5 million people!!
Kathmandu Durbar Square.
It can be hard to relate to people far away and what does the rest of the world really have in common with Nepali’s? Well a lot more than what the media tells you. Facebook is the preferred social media and especially in the cities and towns everyone seems to have a smartphone. Selfies are a common event as well are seeing cool shoes and sharp haircuts. I have seen lots of people wearing Supreme. If you do not know Supreme then you are either too old or too out of vogue ;) What I’m trying to get at here is that Nepali’s are just people and care about family, sports, food, weather and other things like treating their guest as royalty. And given that the last major earthquake was in 1934 I doubt that anyone saw it coming. 3.5 million people homeless and displaced within minutes!! Is it hard to relate to losing your home and most of everything you own in a few minutes? Let me make it relatable: for the next three months you no longer have access to toilets!!! What will you do? You can’t go to toilets at the office, at school, the mall etc. How drastically does your life suddenly change? And that is the least of it.
My Nepali Red Cross family! :)
I had the chance to visit the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) and hear a little about what they do. It turns out they do a lot! The Red Cross is globally not well known for most of what it does. Making neighbourhoods safer by putting up lights, holding the hand of a lonely woman, installing smoke alarms, teaching children to read and write, educating on hygiene, linking family members up, visiting prisons and ensuring humane treatment, raising money for small start-ups and a million other things never make the front page. When an old woman can’t go shopping anymore and a volunteer picks up the money and grocery list then it makes a huge impact for one woman but it hardly entertains anyone. Earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters which destroy homes do make headlines. However the story doesn’t stop there…that is where the story begins. In the wake of the 2015 earthquake Nepal was on her knees! And the world responded with much needed help! Expertise, funds, hands, equipment and compassion from multiple countries poured in over Nepal and began getting the country back on its feet. The NRCS was at the centre of it and has done more than you will ever know. The Danish Red Cross (DRC) is a long-time partner and has been in Nepal for more than twenty years. I met Silvia Crespo who is the DRC Country Coordinator in Nepal and originates from Barcelona, Spain. With a kind smile and serious eyes Silvia introduced me to her team. They play a large role in capacity building of the NRCS as well as working within disaster risk reduction (DRR) in specific areas.
Some of the DRC at NRCS HQ, Kathmandu. Great people!
We can anticipate certain disasters which occur nearly every year. Among them are the floods as a result of the Monsoon rain which wipes away villages and creates catastrophic landslides. Globally the amount of casualties from natural disasters have been more than halved over the past twenty years. That is in spite of more severe and more frequent natural disasters. It is no coincidence. It is because people all over the world are being trained, warning systems are set in place, villages are moved out of harms way, evacuation plans have been created, people are learning first aid and in Nepal the DRC is highly engaged in disaster management and DRR. Mr Dibya Raj Poudel is the Director of Humanitarian Values and Communications at NRCS. He took over for Silvia and guided me around the impressive NRCS headquarters in Kathmandu. I was introduced left and right and told much about what the NRCS does. Among the offices we visited we came across the hotline centre where anyone in Nepal can call 1130 and ask anything they need to know regarding NRCS. You can imagine how busy that call centre was in the time after the earthquake. Questions are fewer today but the hotline is still active and the call centre gets to answer all sorts of questions big and small.
Once we were done shaking hands and taking photos we made it out to the temporary blood transfusion service where they were happy to take my blood!! And I was happy to give!!! I’ve long ago lost count on how many Red Cross blood banks, laboratories and blood transfusion services I have been introduced to over the years…but this was the first time I got to donate!! I used to donate back home in Denmark and they have strict rules where you end up having quarantine for six months for a variety of things. Even just visiting certain countries will have you quarantined. NRCS promised me that they would let me know if there was anything wrong with me as the blood is naturally tested. They are not kidding around. NRCS have more than FIFTY years of experience and meet 85% of Nepal’s needs. They are at the top of the game and before long they will have a new state of the art Central Blood Transfusion Centre.
That was my last day in Kathmandu. I worked until 01:30am that night and then got up at 04:30am to catch my 05:00am bus which didn’t leave until 05:15am. That was a long, winding and cold bus ride with zero legroom for me again. And once again I think I was the only foreigner on the bus and a few of the locals couldn’t stomach the ride so they were sporadically puking all the way. I was freezing until sometime into the afternoon and when we finally reached the border with India it had closed 33 minutes earlier. So I won another night in Nepal which was okay with me.
Kakarbhitta border town, Nepal. Looks kind of nice for a border town.
Tuborg is the peoples beer in Denmark while Carlsberg is the export. However all across Nepal you'll see Tuborg branded everywhere! Some salesman must be pretty happy :)
The next morning I crossed the border slightly worried about if the Indian authorities were okay with my multiple entry visa being in the old passport which has now been cancelled. They were fine with it – no worries! Across the border a super crowded bus full of talkative people got me to Siliguri where I immediately got on a bus to Jaigaon which is the Indian border town across from Bhutanese Phuentsholing. What a name? So by the time you read this I will likely have crossed over the border to country number 170 in a single unbroken journey completely without flying. And it may very well be our most expensive country too so I will be in and out after only two nights. Then we will head into India for the third time and make our way to Bangladesh where I look forward to meeting up with some old friends. I’m not getting nearly enough sleep these days but I’m fortunately done filming push-ups and the next few countries should be a breeze. Or who knows? Every time I think the Saga gets easier something happens. Isn’t that just life… It is not the problems we face - it is how we deal with them.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - I am so zzzzz.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga