Twenty countries left – world history on the horizon
Day 2,088 since October 10th 2013: 184 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).
It starts with a dream, then a plan and finally a step
There is more beauty in this world than most people will ever know or understand. Beauty in people, beauty in nature, beauty in community, beauty in words…beauty is plentiful. Obvious beauty is found in deep blue mountain lakes surrounded by green forests. You may see such beauty in the Austrian Alps. Less obvious is the beauty of the black and brown volcanos across Lanzerote – one of the Spanish Canary Islands. However after about three days I saw its remarkable beauty anyway. There is beauty in passion, beauty in anger and beauty in tears. Does it belong to us?
Long ago I predicted that Singapore would become a vital logistical hub for the Saga. It was in Singapore I hoped to create a better overview for the remaining twenty countries and my way home. This “endless” tunnel of countries has kept me for longer than what I ever imagined. It is oddly a voluntary prison of sorts. And why would anyone volunteer years of their life to a voluntary prison? Well it is best answered in the words of famed mountaineer George Mallory who said: “because it is there!!” The Challenge stood before my feet back in 2013 as I discovered that nobody had ever managed to find a route to every country in the world completely without flying. And yet I am often reminded of a Brit who claims to have done exactly that. However I find that his claim has thoroughly been debunked at this point as that gentleman decided to fly on several occasions for reasons concerning family, vacations and visas. While any flight on his part would have involved flying the latter is the least forgivable. Under the stress of the Saga I might have allowed myself to fly away for a mental break although that has never been the case. And if someone close to my heart had to suffer through the horror of the worst imaginable then that flight might also have been excusable. However I would never allow myself to fly because a border was too hard to cross or a ship was too difficult to board. If all borders were open and all ships available then I fail to see the challenge in reaching every country without flying. And now I can look back at my tired reflection in the mirror and say: “This can be done. There is a way. It will work out”. And that is no small thing.
I had the honor of speaking before Swire's staff at the historical venue: The Projector!!
A few weeks ago I had to look myself in the eyes and muster the strength to carry on. The path forward was beyond clouded and every atom which makes up who I am was once again asking if this struggle would ever be rewarded? I find it peculiar when people think I’m a tourist, a backpacker or someone on a “gap year”. Who the heck stumbles into 183 countries in an unbroken journey completely without flying - by accident? Sir Edmund Hillary wore a backpack. That didn’t make him a backpacker. I once wrote that I felt like I was doing what I was meant to do in life and that I at times felt like I was being lifted up and carried forward towards the goal. Well at times that is still the case although I just as often feel like I am moving forward in knee-deep cement which is hardening for each step I take forward. You cannot possibly imagine the mental stress of being on the constant move for far more than five years, while dealing with an above average workload. A few of you might however be able to comprehend the fear which has run through my body during several dark moments of the Saga. And a few of you will also to some degree be able to imagine the endless array of near impossible challenges which have been solved over the years like one Gordian knot after the other. And yet here we are. I will tell you this: after having been promised support from Swire Shipping and PIL within the Pacific I feel like the crowded room I have been standing in for so long suddenly cleared up and left a path ahead for me, in which I can see my way home. I finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
The staff at PIL and I had a few laughs as I spoke about the Saga at "The Penthouse" at their office. Good stuff.
That the Saga has come this far is something which I contribute to many people across this spinning blue dot of ours. I wonder how small or large a part my own unwillingness in giving up might have been? In some cases I had to connect the dots when nobody else could. I had to involve the “players” and point out the direction. However there is hardly an end to the list of the many people who have help and supported me in one way or the other. All the strangers which have become friends. All the families which have invited me inside. All the free meals. All the cups of tea. Everyone who has introduced me to someone. Everyone who has given me directions. Everyone who has translated for me. Every face which has smiled at me with affection in the eyes. Most recently in Singapore I am grateful for the accommodation and friendship first shown by Kamilla and Michael as I stayed in their apartment and later on Bjarke and Kunjung as they took over as hosts. And while the topic is on accommodation in Singapore I am likewise grateful to Peter for giving me two nights at Marina Bay Sands Hotel and in turn to Jan for introducing me to Peter. In fact I know have forty contacts in my telephone for Singapore alone. So while you surely deserve to be mentioned I hope it will suffice that I write thank you and you will know it is meant for you ;) Where would I be today without my family, my friends, and across the social media all the followers and fans? Having twenty countries left is a credit to all of us.
Most tourists do not venture far from Marina Bay. And it certainly is an iconic part of Singapore.
I ended up leaving Singapore a few days later than initially planned. I thought I could easily have taken a ferry to Jakarta (Indonesia) from either Batam or Bintan which are two Indonesian islands just 30-45 minutes away from Singapore. However the schedules had changed and with that the frequency. Bjarke suggested I looked closer into ferries from Bintan and that soon proved to be my best option as a ferry was due to make the voyage from Bintan to Jakarta (28 hours) on Thursday the 27th of June. However getting the ticket turned out to be a regular nightmare!! I filled in the online form which was quite straightforward. However when it came to payment the only option it offered was that I sought out the nearest ATM for a specific Indonesian bank and punched in a code which I had received at the end of my booking? WOW?! Seriously? This is 2019 – why could I not simply pay with a credit card online? To complicate it further a countdown of two hours began after which the booking would be erased? Somewhat disgruntled I found the bank on Google Maps and began walking the twenty minute route. On arrival I couldn’t locate an ATM and walked once around the building. Then I walked inside which was ill received. The insides of the building were very posh, it was late at night and an old man behind a desk wanted to know what I wanted long before I had reached him. There was some posh artwork in the room and every step I took left an echo. The security guard in the corner was alert. I smiled and asked for an ATM. The old man relaxed and then assured me that there was no ATM at this bank and that Singapore had no other branches. Apparently this particular branch was some sort of high end business transaction bank. The old man then referred me to another Indonesian bank just ten minutes away. Left without a choice I made my way there and eventually found the ATM. The good news was that the interface of the ATM looked like the instructions the website had displayed for the transfer. So I stuck in my MasterCard and punched in my code. My card was then quickly returned with instructions that they could not accept that card. Then I tried with my Visa Card but got the same result. I then tried the ATM next to it and got the same result with both cards. Seriously!! Why was I even trying this? 2019!! Then I walked back and sent the ferry company an email before going to bed.
If excited to tell you that Salomon has embarked on a collaboration with the Saga. More to come! ;)
The next day I had lunch with Clive at The Republic of Singapore Yacht Club. We were joined by his wife and daughter. Clive is South African and runs Sealand in Singapore. Sealand is Maersk Company and Clive is in charge of a great many vessels which connect just about anything between Bangladesh and the east of Russia. During lunch I told them my “Indonesia ferry anecdote” to which Clive said: “Why don’t you just go with one of our ships? We have four vessels between Singapore and Jakarta every week”. Well? It was hard to come with a good answer…except that I always try to seek out public transportation whenever possible and hadn’t thought much more about that. We finished lunch, went down to see Clive’s sailboat and after a few calls I was as good as onboard. South Africans…beer, meat and good times. Gotta love those people.
Had a good time with Ronny and Leon and Ronny's favorite hawker centre! Good guys! :)
I never knew I could have a Michelin rated meal for $3 USD or less? Great!
And here they are: Michelin rated dumplings in Singapore :)
Saying farewell is the worst part of the Saga. Unfortunately it is a large part of the Saga. I have come to care greatly for Singapore which I find is a formidable country. It is a country with order and discipline. A country with clean air, drinkable tap water and plenty of trees. Singapore is a city state and classifies as a “garden city”. The policy has been to plant trees and preserve as much of the natural environment as a 5.6 million population possibly can on such a small speck of land. It wouldn’t take you long to drive from one end of Singapore to the other. Everyone I have met across Singapore has been nice and humble. Many are well educated and know their past quite well while having an eye on the future. There is no such thing as a perfect country and some Singaporeans complain about this or that. I’m not much of car person and do not foresee myself investing in a vehicle once I get back home. If you are a car person and live in Singapore then you better have a good income as Singapore is probably one of the world’s most expensive countries for car owners. Now, as mentioned that does not affect me and public transportation is great in Singapore anyway. So is the housing situations, education and healthcare. I’m madly in love with the hawker centres, where just about anyone from any layer of society drops in for a low cost high quality meal. Good stuff. Singapore is great for running. There are plenty of green areas within reach and as already mentioned: the air is clean.
Yeah - Singapore is nothing but a concrete jungle ;)
The "tree top walk" at MacRitchie Nature Reserve is a 250m (656ft) long freestanding suspention bridge. Access is free of charge :)
I don't know why I was surprised to see people kajaking in Singapore? Maybe because I learned how to in Greenland where it originates from ;)
Technically Singapore’s history stretches back about a thousand years but there really isn’t much left of that in today’s Singapore. The Singapore we know of today started 200 years ago when there were about 50 settlers. Then that developed as a trade station and quickly had success attracting merchants from both Africa and the Middle East as well as China. The city grew on trade, drugs and prostitution which is already quite a legacy! It was under British control which influenced Singapore’s position during 1st and 2nd World War. During World War II the Brits had to surrender Singapore to the then aggressive Japanese. The Japanese had already taken control over large parts of China, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. Those were tough days for the people under Japanese rule. However the end to World War II is well known and with that Japan lost all its territory. So from 1945 and during several years which followed Singapore was a third world country which is hard to believe when you see it today! Today’s Singapore shines bright across the world as an efficient, wealthy and attractive country. You can get by on a $20 USD / day budget but like in any other first world country it is a lot more fun with money. I did not need a visa and accommodation was taken care of for me which only left meals and transport as real costs. And that was no problem on $20 USD / day. However I managed to locate a hostel where a dorm bed goes for $13 USD / day and you could eat and move about for $7 USD / day if you really wanted to. It just wouldn’t be much fun.
Relatively not long ago this was all which Singapore was. Different times for sure. Singapore has a BRILLIANT National Museum!
In the downtown area of Singapore you'll be reminded of its not to distant past.
Yeah! So I like Singapore!! I got to see a lot of that small country. Much more than most realize. I kept myself busy with meetings and meeting people in general. And in return I learned and saw a lot. You might just get surprised ;) Another thing which is very likable about Singapore is that they have a great deal of attractive people. Both men and women generally look healthy and often fit. Many seem to dress nice and fashionable. It doesn’t hurt when you are judging a country ;) However all good things come to an end but I will be back to pluck some more of those precious fruits someday.
Around Singapore you'll see plenty of electrical vehicles such as small mopeds, segways, scooters, unicycles etc. Welcome to the future of transport :)
Call me a child. But I love it when the upper deck of a bus is empty and I get to sit all the way up front! ;)
Yeah! So don't break the rules in Singapore!! however I did find the country far more relaxed than what I imagined.
I had to go back to "Spectra" light and water show and see it again. It is by far the best I've ever seen. Check out the crappy video I made of it HERE :)
Sealand notified their agent in Singapore and a kind-hearted driver showed up to collect me. He had clearly done this many times before and knew exactly what needed to be done and in which order. Immigration was pretty much “business as usual” however I got a light-hearted scolding by one of the officers for blinking when they took my photo. I gently remarked that I tend to blink my eyes several times throughout the day at suggested that the officer surely also had to blink every so often. That resulted in a starring contest which he easily won. The man simply didn’t blink at all. Then he laughed and I was quickly processed. It was the second mate (Stefan) who greeted me onboard the vessel. A kind tall man from Romania. I happen to like Romania a lot and dream about going back again. Stefan was tired after a long shift and I was his first passenger – ever. It really isn’t a common thing for working ships to carry passengers. However Stefan did great and it didn’t take long before I had been shown to my cabin and was given three bottles of water.
My cabin onboard. Neatly prepared for my arrival.
The good ship “Jackson Bay” became my twentieth container ship so I happened to have some experience as a passenger. This beautiful lady was built in 2007 and measures 261m (856ft) in her overall length. So that is more than twice the length of a football field no matter if you are European or North American. Her gross tonnage measures 39,912 which is the equivalent to 6,652 African Elephants (that is always handy to know). I am absolutely grateful to the dedicated Sealand team for arranging this passage between Singapore and Indonesia, and in that getting the Saga across the equator for the ninth time within the Saga. Yes ladies and gentlemen! Jakarta is located south of the equator. About 600km (370mi) south of the equator. And the equator is about 40,000 km (24,860 mi) around the planet which is incidentally also the approximate length of following the coast around Africa. Have I ever mentioned that before? ;) Anyway, thanks for getting me to country number 184 in a single unbroken journey completely without flying.
Safety firsts! And we also had to ajust the time one hour back. Retard ;)
Safety first! Who has not heard that line uttered at least once or twice before? Well onboard working ships safety is certainly a high priority. In theory many things can go wrong and by being well prepared accidents can be avoided. In the event that an accident happens then lives can be saved if the ship is sufficiently prepared and everyone knows what to do in a given situation: man overboard, fire, abandon ship etc. I was not the only newcomer to the good ship. A crew change of five seamen took place which with me accounted for 25% of the ship. So the very next day while at sea we had a few safety drills scheduled for 15:30 hrs. I don’t always get to take part however it is always interesting when I do. My assigned muster station is always to report to the bridge and sometimes the captain will simply tell me that I can go back to my cabin. I’ve observed a great deal of drills over the years but it is always good to have the basics refreshed. And onboard the good ship “Jackson Bay” I was once again instructed in how to lower and start the lifeboat. Then the crew continued with another drill while I was instructed to report to the bridge.
Life at sea. Lots of ocean...not many mermaids.
The captain onboard was another Romanian. Captain Nistorescu Manuel has a kind and hospitable personality and ensured me that I was welcome onboard. On my very first day onboard he introduced me to some costs which he had been advised from Jakarta about for my arrival. He found them quite peculiar and wanted to notify me asap. Apparently some authority which shall not be mentioned here wanted to make an extra dime on an “unwitting” passenger. The charges were: Immigration arrangement: USD 500, Escorting cost: USD 100, Transportation: USD 60, Hotel: USD 100 and Arrangement fee: USD 100. Keep in mind that Indonesia is by no means an expensive country to visit. A simcard with data would run you about USD 3 and a really good hotel would be about USD 7. You can have a decent meal for USD 2. Denmark happens to be the least corrupt country in the world and Singapore ranks as number three. Indonesia ranks as number 89 worldwide. So it could be worse if you’re a cups half full kind of person. Oh well…I can’t say that I haven’t tried to (and often with success) invoice one time customers extra back in my early shipping days. The captain and I made a phone call to the right person and all costs were immediately remitted. I have 4,132 contacts in my phones address book ;)
Moving Maersk cargo ahead across the deep blue.
It was a quite passage across a quite sea. I had my meals at a round table which I shared with the captain, the chief engineer (Romania) and the chief officer (Russia). Spectacular company for conversation around the round table. You need to understand that those are three of the top four rankings onboard a ship. And you normally do not reach such ranks at an early age. In other words these men had plenty of experiences to share from all over the world. And a lot of insight in various matters as well. The golden years for seamen might have been as far back as thirty years. Those days are synonymous with the colourful life which the men of the sea are still thought to have. However as I have often written those days are mostly gone. The ships are less social now that everyone has a laptop, a smartphone and often access to internet too. And the ships are far busier these days now that everything has become efficient. The name of the game is to limit the time alongside at ports as that is highly costly. There is seldom any time to go ashore. Our conversations would however fall on all sorts of subjects: what does the future hold? Why have we not returned to the moon since 1973? Did man really walk on the moon? Family, life at sea, perception of countries and being away from home for a long time. That last one is a subject I know something about and so do seamen all over the world.
Following the flow...moving ahead but looking back.
I enjoyed being onboard. I mostly kept to myself in my cabin. However I did also enjoy some conversations with the crew when possible. The third officer, Liam from England, Showed me around the ship in what is called “familiarization”. That’s basically where you get to know your way around the ship and especially the safety features onboard: where they are located and how they are used. Liam is a sparkling new third officer and I can tell he will do really well. He is attentive, alert and curious – how can that go wrong :) I also got to speak quite a bit with the ships steward Sundeep from India. Another good man onboard who would take good care of me during mealtimes. There will come a day when I disembark my last working ship and I will surely miss being onboard. However that day is nowhere nearby…very soon we will be heading deep into the Pacific Ocean.
It with great appreciation to the crew onboard the good ship “Jackson Bay” that I will end this entry. And for everyone onboard I wish for fair winds and following seas! :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 19 countries left!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga