Papua New Guinea is something else!! And the Saga turned SIX YEARS!!
Day 2,192 since October 10th 2013: 188 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 Saga got here because we kept on keeping on
I find it rather annoying when someone or something has huge potential and just squanders it away. I cannot carry a tune, I am below or on average in every sport invented, math is not my strong side, I was not born into a rich family, I did not attend a private school….this will all make sense if you keep reading.
Last week I left the good ship “Kota Nebula” and the brave seamen onboard as I set foot in country number 188 in an unbroken journey completely without flying. By doing so the Saga has (conservatively calculated) clocked up 291,000 km (181,000 mi) which is more than seven trips around the planet if you follow the equator. That leaves us with fifteen more countries to go before we reach the target of 203. Yes, yes, yes…United Nations count 193 countries (+2 observatory states), there are 201 states with at least partial recognition, there are 204-207 self-declared countries, the Olympic Games enter around 206 nations, you have 211 FIFA countries eligible for the world cup and the Jehovah Witness’s state they are in every country setting that number at 235. What is a country and how many of them are there is a great topic around a dinner table. There are “about 200”. Papua New Guinea is in no way disputed and is 100% a country. It has been a sovereign nation since 1975 following the handover from Australia. Australia used to be a British colony and back in 1914 (WWI) the Brits asked the Aussies to kick the Germans out of New Guinea…which they did, and the eastern part of New Guinea sort of become a colony of a colony. Meanwhile the Netherlands continued to occupy the western part of New Guinea until that became Indonesia in 1962. You should know that the island of New Guinea is HUGE and full of mystery to this date. It is the world’s second largest island after Greenland and just the eastern part, Papua New Guinea, is slightly larger than Sweden and much larger than e.g. Germany or the UK. As such the world’s third largest rainforest is actually in Papua New Guinea.
At Port Moresby marina.
Papua New Guinea is commonly abbreviated as PNG so we will do that from now on. It is an incredible country with an enormous amount of unleashed potential. Charles who works at Inchcape came to pick me up at “Kota Nebula” and off we went towards Port Moresby, which is the capital city of this country with some 9 million beating hearts. Perhaps even more – it’s really hard to say. Inchcape acts as the agent of Maersk and has a so called Owners Representative of Maersk working in-house at Inchcape. His name is Craig and we had been in touch since June 2019 when Ole from Maersk in Singapore connected us. As soon as Charles and I reached the office I was introduced to Craig who’s originally from New Zealand but is more so an international man of mystery. He has definitely travelled a lot! Within a few minutes Craig asked me if I would mind saying a few words to the staff and we headed up a level where both staff and pizza was waiting for us. I then let my mouth run for some 15-20 minutes before we all had pizza and took this group photo :)
These people are amazing!! They are phonominal ambassadors of PNG and has shown me overwhelming kindness!!
Afterwards Craig took me to his apartment where I was set up in the guestroom and I have been enjoying the life inside the “expat bubble” ever since. That created a predicament for me however a luxury one of the sort. PNG is a country of mass diversity in culture, ethnicity, flora, fauna but not so much in income distribution. There are the “haves”, the “have not’s” and not a whole lot in between. It is estimated that around 85% of the population lives outside of urban development and for some life is really hard. This country is funny like that. Is there even a middleclass or is it juts golden spoons or dirt under your nails? Tourism posters will portray the colourful masks and the amazing face painting which still remains a strong part of the nation’s diversity. This is a country which still harbours tribes untouched by the modern-day way of life. There is a huge difference between not having money on a bank account and being poor. If your family is healthy, everyone has a roof over their head, you feel safe and nobody is hungry then it really doesn’t matter if you have money or not. There are self-sustainable tribes that go about life much like it would have been the case hundreds of years ago.
If you've got money and live in Port Moresby then there are supermarkets full of food.
Society is a tough cookie to balance out and get right. I was born in the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe. That makes me exceedingly privileged in comparison with almost every nation on earth. A lot of things work in Denmark and many things work really well. It’s a safe country and corruption is ranked as the lowest in the world. That is not the case for most countries. And yet in Denmark we see that the rural areas do not benefit from society as much as the cities do. A lot of money is spent on the capital and less on some far away village. The picture is the same in PNG albeit a lot more extreme. Port Moresby (374,500 ppl) has seen major modern investment and so has Lae (101,000 pll) and they are the two largest cities. The third largest is Arawa in Bougainville province and the number of habitants there is only 40,000 people. Keep in mind the country has more than 9 million beating hearts. The majority are spread out over this large mountainous and densely forested nation so I imagine it is super hard to develop. And yet one politician after the other always promises huge change and all the wealth in the world to the people. Politicians are like that. Globally fire fighters and nurses are usually the most trust worthy people and universally we all agree that politicians cannot be trusted. Large parts of PNG have not seen the development they have been promised and it has been especially disappointing for the population when it comes to healthcare, education, new jobs and safety.
While a large part of me is madly in love with PNG and all which this country has to offer there is a sting of disappointment whenever I reach a nation which just has it all! The major mineral commodities in PNG are silver, gold and copper while the economically important industrial minerals of the country include phosphate rock deposits, limestone, sulphur, silica, pozzolan, graphite, diatomite and asbestos. But it doesn’t stop there! PNG has oil, gas, timber, fertile lands (food), water and a lot of manpower. Besides all that the potential for tourism is ridiculously potent!! Hiking, diving, food, culture, great weather…this country has it all!! I’m a foreigner…a guest…I’m heading home...so imagine if I as a by passer can feel some disappointment, then how much disappointment would those who live here feel about the lost potential? There is fatigue in the air. How many times would you try something before you give up? How often can most of us hear the word ‘no’ and not give up? We are here dealing with a country that “wants to see it before they will believe it”. Unfortunately nobody who gave up ever achieved anything in life.
I ran into Tommy Kosi (next to me) and his family. All full of kindness! :)
You may then think that people in PNG are raw, bitter and unfriendly, yet everyone I have met has been kind, welcoming and helpful. The smiles around here are genuine and heart-warming. A lot of people smile and wave at me when I walk down the street. Maybe they are not used to seeing someone like me? Expats generally drive everywhere and only between a few select places. In Port Moresby expats zigzag between their work place, their home, Royal Papua Yacht Club, Aviat Social & Sporting Club, the supermarket, a few restaurants and the airport. Expats are rarely seen walking about in Port Moresby. In fact a lot of people will tell you that it is ill advised as you might not come home with everything you left with. Street muggings are common and everyone has a story. People tell me that I better avoid the taxis and shouldn’t take the bus. And to walk around after dark has been strictly ill-advised in Port Moresby. Hence while I have been treated royally in PNG, have had my own bedroom, my own shower, have been dining well and have been chauffeured around…I have certainly for the most part been inside the “expat bubble”. And really I don’t mind it at all. It has been great. The only downside is that I want to experience PNG, meet people where they are and feel, smell, taste, touch and see the country – and then share it with you. But that just isn’t going to happen.
Royal Papua Yacht Club is safe day and night.
Personally I feel that given all the experience I have built up throughout my life I should be able to walk just about anywhere I want in Port Moresby. As a precaution I just shouldn’t bring my hat, my phone, much money or wear my favourite shoes. Because as an obvious foreigner I am a target to some. And I probably should not expect anyone to jump to my rescue. People here are not cowards. The reason why many would chose not to interfere if I was mugged is that among some people there is a great passion for retaliation. “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”. This phrase, along with the idea of written laws, goes back to ancient Mesopotamian culture (Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey) that prospered long before the Bible was written or the civilizations of the Greeks or Romans flowered. However as 95.6% of citizens in PNG identified themselves as Christian during a 2011 census, perhaps I should share the biblical version: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. According to the bible Jesus Christ said that. Ah yes…retaliation…that endless game of hurting people just because they hurt you. Not everyone in PNG is hungry for retaliation or feels that it is their responsibility to retaliate because of the family, village or region they come from…but some do. That incidentally creates basis for much of the armed violence you can read about in the western highlands. Some of that is also disputes over land.
PNG is seriously diverse, colorful and interesting.
The city is a melting pot of islanders, highlanders, coastal people and you name it. To me they all look like people from PNG but the locals can in many cases look at someone’s facial features and tell which region they are from. That way local people might be able to avoid trouble before it arises – but can you? It’s really not that crazy here. A lot of the violence has been dramatized and the amount of incidents have been inflated. Documentaries have shown the worst of the worst and there is definitely something to report on. But is it the big picture? I think not. I think that at least 9 times out of 10 you’ll be fine walking down a street. Or 999 out of 1,000. People are just people and PNG is no different. Around here most people are just trying to get by and mind their own business. They are foodies and not without reason because the food here is delicious. People here are social. They come from a strong social structure and take care of family. And they came a long time ago!
The national museum in Port Moresby.
PNG is a young country with an old history. Archaeologists believe that humans arrived on the island some 50,000 presumably by sea from Southeast Asia or possibly Africa. So they’ve been rocking those jungle tunes for some time. The central part of the island rises into a wide ridge of mountains known as the Highlands, a territory that is so densely forested and packed with mountain ranges the islands local people remained isolated from each other for millennia!! I regularly speak about Nigeria as a country of great diversity. Nigeria has more than 390 ethnic groups (I’ve told many that they have 774 but just now realized that those are local government areas) and more than 500 spoken languages – so that’s pretty diverse, right? And mind you that Nigeria is only 1 of 54 African countries! So imagine the continental diversity!! But getting back on track PNG has Nigeria beat!! PNG counts more than 1,000 ethnic groups and 851 KNOWN languages. The three most commonly spoken languages in PNG are however English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. Tok Pisin is “pidgin” which is sort of a meltdown between two languages and is found several places around the world. If you speak English then you might be able to pick a word here or there. The name itself is a great example: Tok Pisin = Talk Pidgin :)
If you've ever seen Indiana Jones and the temple of doom then you might remember that Indy and Willie Scott jumped out of a similar airplane, in a life raft, over India ;)
The infrastructure in PNG is….let’s say….fascinating. What they lack in roads they have made up for in small airstrips. Unfortunate for a man that currently isn’t flying however sensible as connecting this country by roads would be a tall order. This island is one of the least explored places in the world due to its dense rainforest and there are certainly many undiscovered species to be found. In that sense PNG reminds me of Greenland which is the world’s largest island. In Greenland you’re also not going anywhere unless you fly or sail. PNG does however possess much more of a road network than Greenland. You can at least go from one town to another by road. However Port Moresby is kind of isolated and I would not be able to reach the Highlands without flying. Lae which is the second largest city is also not connected to Port Moresby by road. The national airline, Air Niugini is by the way another good example of Tok Pisin.
Theresa (my host) served Craig and I some snacks while we watched TV. She's a formidable cook too!
My hosts here have been nothing but amazing! Craig is married to Theresa who is originally from somewhere north of Chicago in the USA. But she is like Craig well-travelled and a true international woman of mystery. They have a grownup son who moved back to Brisbane in Australia which is their base…although they have now been in PNG close to five years. Craig and Theresa are super easy to be around and laugh (friendly) at me when I try to pay for something. They have been showing me around Port Moresby and taking me out to eat or for drinks several times. I can come and go as I please and they even invited me out for dinner on the Saga’s six year anniversary. Yeah that’s right!! I HAVE NOT BEEN HOME FOR SIX YEARS NOW!! I actually do not know if that is something which should be celebrated or mourned. The Saga was not supposed to have taken this long. If I had known that it would take more than six year then I most likely would never have left home. I could have been married and had one or two children. Contrary to what seems logic I do not feel homesick. I never have. However I definitely miss my fiancee, family, friends, familiarity, routine and my country. And I can list a lot of specifics but I won’t.
On October 10th 2013 I set out on a journey which would prove to become much longer, much harder and much different than what I would ever have imagined. A lot of 2013 had been spent in preparation for Once Upon A Saga, a project name, which hardly anyone knew what covered over when we came up with it. I was going to visit every country in the world completely without flying! And I wasn’t going to return home until I had done it.There were several thoughts behind why I would want to do it, and the ideals continue to be valid today. However now, six years later, the project has become full bodied and a much richer project in which people feel inspired, educated, motivated and entertained.
The sun sets well here in PNG.
Not long ago a woman asked me what the Saga contributes with. And as such I replied that we are creating world history by reaching every country without flying. I replied that the Saga also inspires by demonstrating that goals are achievable if we remain motivated and are willing to fight for them. Furthermore I told her that the Saga has symbolically linked the Red Cross and Red Crescent across 180+ countries, as I have paid them a visit and shared information about them, which in turn has lead people to donate blood, donate money, volunteer or in other ways take part in the humanitarian efforts. Finally, I told her, that the Saga has brought a positive focus to countries all around, which has helped in normalizing the world we live in, in the eyes of people. Because people are just people. And you’ll find that in both Syria and Yemen people take selfies, fall in love, get married, enjoy good food and get stuck in traffic.
Dane is an Aussie expat who has lived in PNG for 11 years and works at Inchcape. He invited me out for "a beer". He is a lot of fun! Ended up having a good evening!! :)
Those who think I’m on my own are greatly mistaken. I have time and time again proven the Saga’s motto which is “a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before”. I have received help and support in every country I have set foot upon. A kind smile when I needed it, a finger pointing in the right direction, a free meal, a bed to sleep in, a translation, a connection or sometimes just a kind conversation when I most needed it. Across the world organisations and companies have taken interest and the Saga has enjoyed partnerships and collaborations along the way. The official partners are The Danish Red Cross, Ross DK, Skabertrang, DB Schenker Denmark and Salomon. The very first partnership was agreed upon with Ross DK who originally stood behind the financial sponsorship of Once Upon A Saga. They covered the Saga’s budget for the first 2.5 years however then discontinued to unfavorable market conditions. That unfortunate situation created a financial gap in which I spent everything I had on my bank count, borrowed money twice and sold some of my personal positions. We ran a crown funding campaign a few years ago which kept the Saga going and for a while the Saga has been sustainable though your generous contributions on MobilePay, PayPal and Patreon. There is however a financial gap which I am trying to fill so that I do not return home in debt. And I’m delighted to announce that Ross DK is back since October and will be covering some of the expenses through an official sponsorship until we reach the final country!!
Back before the Saga took off in October 2013 I promised Ross that I would take a picture with their company logo in each country. And that I have done. I continued doing so and have now done it across 188 countries. Ross DK is specialised in well management. They provide a total life-cycle service from project inception through design and engineering to drilling and supervising wells. But more importantly Ross DK and Geoop have for many years been laying out the groundwork for a sustainable future in Denmark within Geothermal energy. That is simplified where you drill deep into the ground until you hit water. Not just to the groundwater but far below that. If you’re in Iceland then you simply scratch the surface but in Denmark your target might be at around 2,700 m (8,860 ft) below the surface. That water is almost at boiling point and you can generate energy from that heat by bringing it to the surface. You drill a second well and lead the water back down into the ground once it has cooled off. The heat from our planets core then heats it up again and the water can now be used again. Clean energy. I happy that a company like Ross DK is attached to Once Upon A Saga. Not only do I know and care about the people in the office but I really think we should hit some more sustainability targets and do it fast.
PNG has around 9 million people and 1 cinema. I went and it is good :)
While I come from a background of having worked more than a decade in shipping and logistics and have often worked 60, 70, 80 or more hours a week, I can honestly say that I have never worked this hard before. The Saga is all consuming and there is always something extra to do. Even this far into the project I still meet people who think I’m “enjoying myself”, “having fun” or am somehow on a sort of long vacation. Who has ever stumbled across 188 countries by accident? Furthermore without flying! It has however been worth it. I could smell the trees in Canada from the ship I was on board, half a day before we could see land. I saw hundreds of whales play among the anchored ships outside of Durban in South Africa. I have made friends all over the world, learned about foreign customs, seen incredible landscapes, learned language, sharpened negotiation skills, become wiser on the world we live in and certainly expanded my knowledge of its geography. It has been an incredible school and an education second to none.
The wonderful ladies at Inchcape wanted me to experience local PNG cuisine and invited me to the office for lunch. They presented me with home cooked meals representing basically every region of PNG. THIS IS WHAT MAKES PAPUA NEW GUINEA AMAZING!!! I couldn't travel out there so they brought it to me!! I could cry!! Thank you!!
An important learning has been that no matter where you go people are just people. It appears to me that harsh words are often said about foreign countries by those who have never been there. Media will often highlight the negatives of the world and neglect what is normal and mundane. As a result we often find ourselves with a skewered perception of reality. Arriving to Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an excellent example. I cannot remember the last time the media shared a positive story about PNG and yet I have encountered nothing but kindness since the day I arrived. People appear to go about their lives just like anyone else in the world. Wherever I have walked people have smiled and waved at me. A quick search on the internet about PNG shows that the country is unimaginably interesting, full of resources and boasts an extreme diversity. One needs only open their eyes to see the beauty: the dense forest, the blue ocean, the colourful sunsets and the blue sky. It may have been hard work to get this far…but it is certainly a privilege as well. And with fifteen more countries to go one can only wonder what still lies ahead. All we know is that the next eleven are all Pacific Island nations and the last four are New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. It will no doubt be a great adventure.
Right, there are two more things I’d like to include in this entry before I bid you all a fabulous weekend. Oh…and I’ll end it with some fun statistics from the past six years. First off is about meeting with the PNG Red Cross Society and then I’ll tell you about snorkelling with Pro Dive PNG (recommended!). So let’s kick off with the Red Cross. They picked me up last Wednesday and drove me to their headquarters. PNG is disaster prone with active volcanos, landslides, droughts, fires, earthquakes and then the manmade disasters as well (conflict). It’s a really large country with many remote places and there are also people who do not have access to safe drinking water or treatment of curable diseases. So don’t think for a second that the PNG Red Cross are not busy!! However haven’t I already told you enough about first aid, disaster response, psychosocial support and many of these humanitarian activities from the 183 other countries in which I have paid a visit to the movement? What I’d like to do here is shine some light on the people I met. Volunteers and staffers are also just people and they have national pride, a love for food, customs, traditions, educations, family and everything else just like everyone else. I was greeted by Secretary General Uvenama Rova. He told me to call him Uve and he is a very warm and down to earth kind of guy. He holds nearly twenty years of experience as a regional service team member at Prison Fellowship International and has played a major role in the wellbeing for inmates along with the implementation of many programs. Uve has also worked as a special projects advisor in relation to PNG parliament. He is furthermore the Development Secretary of the United Church in PNG. And interesting fellow for sure.
Uve's wife made us this local dessert with banana in some sort of sago cream. Delicious!
Uve introduced me to a couple of colleagues from the Australian Red Cross whom they cooperate with and then I was introduced to the staff and far more people than I can mention here. All kind end humble people. We sat down and then Uve asked me to tell them about the Saga and perhaps motivate them if I could. We spoke about the amount of countries in the world, the different regions and what it have been through across the years. I answered a few questions to the best of my ability and afterwards we had tea and a small bite to eat. We finished off with a group photo and then they drove me back to Craig and Theresa’s apartment. The Red Cross, The Red crescent, The Red Crystal…it’s a family which shares values, principles and a global network across 191 nations. I was very happy to meet with them for the 188th time right here in PNG.
The man - the legend: John Miller!!
Okay, the snorkelling! John Miller is a legend!! He’s in his 60s and came to PNG from Australia when he was a child. He grew up in PNG and has made a living. He knows the waters around PNG better than Poseidon. He knows where every little fish is sleeping tonight, he knows where the shipwrecks are hidden, he knows exactly what you need before you do yourself and he is amazing company. John is the owner of Pro Dive PNG and has 25 years of experience (possibly more). I don’t know if he has any competition in Port Moresby but as far as I’m concerned he doesn’t. Who could possibly compete with him? I reached out to him and he offered to show me around Port Moresby. John picked me up and around we went. He knows PNG’s history very well and is a very humoristic story teller. I had a fabulous time with him.
A few days later I happened to run into John at Vision City Mall. I just came out after having seen “Joker” which is an amazingly dark and brilliant movie which is going down in history! That movie is taking Oscars for sure and it’s not just the incredible performance by Joaquin Phoenix but just as much the collaboration and synergy the movie benefits from Joaquin’s collaboration with director Todd Phillips. The movie is scarily realistic and relevant for our time. And it is very well done. Anyway, John saw me on the parking lot and mentioned that he was taking some divers out on his boat and I could join if I wanted to? Sure I wanted to! The next morning John picked me up and brought be to his boat where I met everyone and away we went. PNG is a diver’s paradise and the divers even mentioned how spoiled they were. Colourful corals, a huge variety of marine life and plenty of shipwrecks including a 65 m (213 ft) wreck said to be one of the best in all of PNG. I unfortunately got seasick and ended up feeding the fish several times but that is beside the point. Everything was amazing, the company, the boat, the marine life you name it. John delivers a complete package with collection, equipment, snacks, dives/snorkelling, return and some charming humour along the way. You can book directly on his website: www.prodivepng.com
Thank you everyone! :)
Okay, our friends at Swire Shipping | China Navigation Co. is helping out with the next leg from PNG to Solomon Islands. But it won’t be until next weekend as the vessel got delayed by a typhoon. These things happen. So I have another week in Port Moresby and more to tell you next Friday.
Let’s look at some stats from the past six years:
We have covered over 291,000 km (181,000 mi) which is more than seven trips around the planet!! We have so far reached 188 countries all without flying and 15 to go. We have visited the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 184 countries. And perhaps most importantly we have promoted the good and interesting in each nation, we have never given up and we have times and times again proven that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before!
To get this far we have travelled with:
86 shared taxis
46 motorcycle taxis
28 4WD vehicles
21 container ships
4 shared motorcycle taxis
2 cruise ships
1 horse carriage
1 police car
1 high performance yacht
Thanks for your kindness Craig and Theresa!! :)
If you think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - finding lots of grey hair in my beard!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga