“Kota Hening” – passenger no. 1 (my formula for success)
Day 2,290 since October 10th 2013: 194 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).
How on earth did we get this far…on earth?
Do I write these entries for me or for you? The question is certainly valid. In part I write it so that I can remember. My intention have always been to share the Saga with you. I want you to know what I see and notice around the world. I want you to understand my state of mind throughout it. I want you to learn about cultures, people, places, paperwork, transport and borders. Not in a touristy kind of way. I have always wanted you to see it in a genuine way.
Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands is a funny place. I would really not know what to recommend anyone to see or do. It is just not that kind of a place. It is the capital of the Marshall Islands and home to thousands. Laura beach at one end of the atoll is worth a visit and hints what the true paradise of the outer islands could offer those who venture there. I was told that August might be the best time to visit the Marshall Islands. I arrived in December and left in January which was a rather grey, windy and wet experience. And yet I cannot help other than to smile when I think back at Majuro. It was in Majuro I got the US visa in spite of having been to Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, North Korea and other US blacklisted countries. In Majuro I received notice from Pacific International Lines (PIL) in Singapore that they had found a solution in which Hong Kong immigration would allow me to transit between ships. I also think of Majuro as the place where my friend Mike came to visit me so that we could start working on a film for Salomon TV. Mike and I had never met before but having communicated much in the months prior to his visit I already felt like I knew him when his plane touched down in the airport. Mike had rented a nice house with two bedrooms and a view of the lagoon, which I shared with him until I boarded the good ship “Kota Hening” a few days later.
Did the US visa just fall into my lap? Did Hong Kong immigration just suddenly change their mind? Was Mike scheduled to come to Majuro long in advance? No, no and no. In the last few entries I believe I have already made it abundantly clear that the visa was not easy to get. It came as a surprise for many that Hong Kong immigration would change their mind at all. After supplying immigration with more documentation they have accepted to interview me on arrival in Hong Kong. I believe that will fall out in favour to the Saga. And getting Mike to visit on a short notice was simply a play of opportunity. How is it that the Saga always finds a way to move forward and often gets the best out of a situation? I credit that to a specific formula: be kind, be firm, be persistent, collaboration, think out of the box and look for opportunities. Some solutions rely on all of those values while others are a combination of a few. Hard work and loyalty has for many years been of great importance to me. If you are willing to start a little earlier than everyone else and go home a little later then you are bound to create different results than everyone else. Thinking out of the box is hard for most people in my experience. Most people are happy with a copy/paste model of their life: same supermarket, same bus, same breakfast, same streets, same this and same that. “But this is how it has always been done” is very fine however it doesn’t support innovation and evolution. In my experience anything which doesn’t change stagnates and ends. There are a few exceptions but think about how few things have remained the same and continue successfully in our world today? If you always return home through your front door but one day find it locked, however next to an open window, then it isn’t much of an accomplishment to think outside the box and enter through the window. And yet I would say that it is a good start. We all knew how to think out of the box when we were children. If dad says no then ask mom. Yet as we grow up I find that far too many people discontinue to see the world with open eyes. There are very few things in life which cannon be accomplished. Why should it not be you who accomplish them?
People are just people. And kids are just kids! :) I had a chance to share the Saga with the students at Majuro Seveth-Day Adventist School. Great! :)
Day ONE onboard – January 12th 2020
Mike and I had finished with the interviews. We now had five hours of interview footage recorded! We were not at all aiming at making a five hour film so how much can we expect will be used in the edited version? Five minutes? Twenty minutes? That is the way it works. A key sentence here and another one there mixed with other video footage and music. The result will be very interesting to see however we need to wait patiently for it. The film will not be completed until the Saga finishes. Mike is truly an amazing man. He is friendly, generous, committed and highly accomplished. He was once a pro skier and was quickly nicknamed “the godfather of free skiing”. He invented the twin tip ski, had an impressive career, is now a father, a husband, a multiple award winning producer and climate activist. While all of this and much more can be found on various websites, blogs, magazines, interviews and articles then he likely wouldn’t be excited about having it mentioned here. Not because it isn’t true but because he is humble. In fact he spent very little time talking about himself and a lot of time praising me for my persistence and accomplishments with the Saga thus far. He went on about how utterly complicated and impossible the mission I had set myself was and how unlikely it would be to see it repeated by anyone else - EVER. Mike was certainly good for my ego :) Yet I am Danish and while I do not mind recognition and even at times long for it…then I must say that actually getting it feels a little wrong. Because I know I didn’t do this on my own. I had help. Lots and lots of help. All the people I have met, all the project partners, institutions, organisations, companies and friends. A great many hands have carried the Saga forward to where it is today.
Children playing at Laura Beach, Majuro Atoll.
In the early afternoon Mike and I had lunch at the Flame Tree which had become a regular thing. We even had our own booth. Mike had a plate of Sashimi which in Majuro is fresh, high quality and served in big portions. I had a hamburger. It may be an invisible part of the Saga but saying farewell to all of these wonderful people I have met around the world is…well…it is not my favourite part of anything. The agent arrived with a big smile and a handshake. I met Tijo and Jeffrey on my first day and would now see them again on my last. Good men who took good care of me and made sure that everything went smooth when leaving or joining the ships. Mike joined me and came on board for a quick tour on board. Several of the seamen greeted me welcome on board. The officers were highly accommodating. I was given the pilots cabin as I also had on the previous vessel (Kota Hakim). It felt strangely familiar. The two ships “Kota Hening” and “Kota Hakim” are sister ships and nearly identical by design. So there I was: on a similar ship, in a similar cabin, among different people however with the same ranks and functions as the previous one. Odd to come on board a new ship and just know where everything is and how everything works.
Mike heading down the gangway.
I said farewell to Mike who had another night in Majuro before his flight would take him home to Canada. He walked down the gangway and I rushed up to my cabin and scheduled social media for the next few days while I would be offline. I replied to the most important emails and made sure that all was set for Hong Kong. Several speaking engagements, a few meetings and certainly my best chance in the region for getting a new phone and an external HHD. If my phone was a person then it would be in a wheelchair coughing and I fear that one day it may not switch on at all. When the ship left Majuro I texted Mike who was ready with his drone camera. I looked back on that narrow strip of land which had been my home for two weeks. Contrary to when we arrived I could now recognize every building. Lots of memories. A special New Year’s evening. Country number 193.
Drone footage from Mike Douglas. He followed us for about 2km (1.3mi)
Day TWO onboard – January 13th 2020
Nothing but sea all around us. The sky was light blue and the ocean dark. Few clouds. Very little rolling. We had rolled the clock back one hour since leaving Majuro atoll. Time wise I had become closer to home. As this was my 26th containership it was truly business as usual. Breakfast between 07:30am and 08:30am. The curious eyes of crew members surprised to see me on board. Organizing my emails, my luggage, my data, myself…researching and preparing for our next country: Micronesia. Calling Micronesia as such is really confusing to others who simply refer to it as FSM (Federated States of Micronesia). The reason for the confusion is that the Pacific Ocean has been divided into three areas which are named: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The country Micronesia is located in the region of the same name. Much like South Africa is found within south Africa (the southern part of Africa). To keep it simple we will simply call Micronesia FSM. We were scheduled to call two ports (two islands) in FSM: Kosrae and Pohnpei. Gold! Because even if cargo operations would last less than 24 hours then we could never be in FSM for less than 24 hours as long as we called both ports. And as such I would be sure to continue with the ship and not be forced to choose to leave it like I was for the Marshall Islands due to the 24 hour rule. We were set to reach Kosrae already the following day at 05:00am…country number 194. That night I stood on the bridge and watched a beautiful sunset. As it got darker the sky was left with a single bright star directly ahead of us. Except it wasn’t a star. It was Venus. The first “stars” to appear on the night sky are often planets. The Captain told me it was Venus. Then he had the Cadet check to see if he was right. The Captain was right.
Day THREE onboard – January 14th 2020
We had reached Kosrae early in the morning and came along side around 08:00am. I was keen to leave the ship but didn’t get to do that until after lunch. There was no immigration and I was simply free to walk into the country. Kosrae is called “the jewel of Micronesia” and the “island of the sleeping lady”. It is an island of rugged green peaks, pristine coral reefs and mysterious, ancient jungle ruins. You don’t come across a lot of ruins in the Pacific. Civilizations mostly built in wood and palm leafs which parish over time. However FSM is different like that. At the gate I asked around for wifi and was pointed towards a warehouse where a group of friendly men gave me the password and curiously asked me a few questions about who I was. After sending and receiving emails and letting my fiancée know that all was well I arranged for one of the men to take me around the small island. He asked for $20 USD to take me anywhere I wanted to go. Mixen was his name and he worked at the warehouse as a low grade electrician. His car was minutes from falling apart. The windscreen was cracked, there was a hole in the bottom of the floor and the radiator, which was ready to fall out, had to be topped up with water every twenty minutes. The radio worked quite well though. Mixen was 49 years old, unmarried and had no children. He was chewing betelnut and would spit the “sauce” out the open window now and again. Most of it. Some would land on the inside of the door and some ended up on his arm. He didn’t care. He was a good guy though and happy to answer all my questions.
Hitting the road with Mixen, Kosrae, FSM.
Kosrae is the most isolated and untouched of all the islands in FSM. The country consists of four main islands (Pohnpei, Kosrae, Yap, Chuuk) and is made up by 607 islands in total spread out over a distance of almost 2,700 km (1,678 mi). That is a lot of water and not a lot of land. From what I could tell Kosrae was a very lush and beautiful tropical island. Mixen told me that they are not hit by typhoons or tsunamis. Malaria is not an issue, they don’t have dangerous snakes or spiders…it was just paradise. Boring according to Mixen. Within a few hours we managed to see “the sleeping lady” mountain ridge, Leluh megalithic archaeological site, buy a local simcard, buy some toothpaste, see Kosrae State Government, check out some WWII remnants and pay a visit to the Bird Cave. Mixen kept pushing for a six pack but I wasn’t in the mood. He also offered to head back to his place where he could offer me a coconut, we could have some beer and I could spend the night. Kind fellow but I was more interested in returning to the ship. On the way back Mixen wanted an ice cream, a soft drink and some cigarettes which he hinted I should pay for. I could have refused but the total came out to $7 USD, he clearly wasn’t rich and he had been kind enough to take me around and answer my questions.
Ruins at Leluh, Kosrae, FSM.
A Japanese tank from WWII being eaten away by the elements, Kosrae, FSM.
The bird cave on Kosrae which surprisingly had: birds :)
That night I sat on the pier next to our ship and managed social media, emails and my personal life. I look back at my life before 2013 where social media was a fun tool and primarily pleasure. Now it is 2020 and I’m dealing with 50,000 inquisitive, excited and helpful followers which is often a good experience however also a lot of work. No wonder many people get someone to manage it for them. Being away from friends and family is also a heavy burden. A friend of my proposed to his girlfriend and wanted to invite me for his wedding. But I will not be home in time for it. Another friend will graduate as an engineer next week. My fiancée is nearly done with her PhD and I won’t be there. My father just had minor surgery. I chose this life and it comes with a price. The men on board the ship understand it better than anyway. On this night I saw a seaman screaming into a tablet. Emotions were at their highest!! It went on for a while. Sometimes I could hear a woman’s voice. Sometimes I could hear her crying. Thirty minutes later they were calmly talking to each other again. I left the mosquitos and went to bed.
Day FOUR onboard – January 15th 2020
I woke up with the alarm, did my push-ups, washed my face and headed down for breakfast. The Chief Cook and the Steward were both Indonesian which is always a pleasure. The Steward was singing “I’m not an actor I’m not a star” by Michael Learns to Rock. The ship left Kosrae shortly after 08:00am and it was another full day of sea and sky on our way to Pohnpei where the countries capitol Palikir is located.
Eating crab or fish at sea must be like eating chicken when you fly? ;)
The FSM was formerly a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (see last weeks entry). Like the Marshall Islands FSM formed their own constitutional government in 1979 and became a member of the United Nations in 1991. They also enjoy having access to the USA as an extension of their own country. This allows for immigration and employment for Micronesians in the USA without any visa requirements. The ancestors of the Micronesians settled over four thousand years ago and life went on with wars, worship, fishing and the rise and decent of various kingdoms until the Spanish arrived to plant their flag in the ground. Historically you can always count on the Europeans to show up sooner or later. After a while the Germans took over, then the Japanese and finally the USA whom governed them up to independence. The Saudeleur dynasty really makes FSM stand out compared to the other Pacific Island nations I have seen. The dynasty united Pohnpei's estimated 25,000 people from about CE 500 until 1500 and constructed the megalithic structures which today remains a great mystery as very little can be verified about the construction. Archaeological sites can be found on both Pohnpei and Kosrae. Pohnpeian tradition claims that the builders of the Leluh archaeological site on Kosrae migrated to Pohnpei, where they used their skills and experience to build the even more impressive Nan Madol complex. However radiocarbon dating indicates that Nan Madol predates Leluh. No matter which one came first Leluh is by far the most impressive archaeological site I have seen for a while.
Leluh, Kosrae, FSM.
The four main islands have their separate distinct culture with distinct languages and traditions. However by the end of the day they all speak English, they are all island people and they all live slow, easy-going tropical lifestyles. I had been met with nothing but kindness during my first encounter on Kosrae and I fully expected that to continue on Pohnpei.
Far from all sunsets look like this at sea...but some do :)
Day FIVE onboard – January 16th 2020
We reached Pohnpei early in the morning and I was able to leave the ship after breakfast. Island time is island time so it took immigration a little longer than what I would deem necessary to process me. They were kind though. My passport expires on December 4th 2020 but they read that as April 12th (04/12) so at first I couldn’t leave the ship due to the lack of a four month validity. However we solved that ;)
Beautiful Pohnpei, FSM.
I quickly fell in love with FSM!! It is unfair to other countries that Pohnpei gets to be that beautiful!! It took no time at all to realize that the people were friendly, food was plentiful, it’s a safe place, internal and external threats are practically non-existent and I was told that the sharks are friendly too. I had my sights set on Nan Madol however it was at least one hour away from Kolonia where the ship was at port. A taxi driver brought me to the local library for some wifi and afterwards I headed straight to the Micronesia Red Cross Society (MRCS) to pay my respects. Just as I reached the front door a vehicle marked MRCS rolled up beside me and Marson Rosario and Morgan David jumped out. They came from the port where they hoped to great me. The three of us headed inside the office where I was offered coffee and sweets while we talked about their humanitarian efforts and the Saga. This became my 189th visit to the RC across 194 countries. Most people don’t even know how to respond to that. I wouldn’t either. More people joined in around the table including Diaz Joseph who had recently returned from Geneva. Everyone was super kind and accommodating. Because Nan Madol is such a national treasure Diaz offered that MRCS could take me there. Morgan’s uncle just happened to be one of five kings on the island and the one in connection to Nan Madol. MRCS got their legs in 1998 and have been serving their widespread island nation ever since. It is no small task and a very diverse one. Different islands are vulnerable in different ways. Something which they are currently deeply involved with is optimizing evacuation centres. Selected schools and other robust buildings have been outfitted to function as evacuation centres in the event of a typhoon. However not all of the buildings have toilets or showers which would have people running to and from the buildings during an emergency. This is something the MRCS is now trying to remedy. As always the movement is involved where people are vulnerable and that is also the base of the work for the MRCS across FSM. Drought, flooding, landslide and mosquito borne diseases are just some of the activities which keeps them busy. Diabetes is far from uncommon which cuts into the portion of the country that can donate blood. So promoting blood donation is also a vital part of the activities. All in all a bunch of friendly hard working volunteers and staff with their hearts in the right place.
Friendly, kind, good hearted and amazing! It's the Micronesian Red Cross Society :)
Morgan and I got into the MRCS vehicle and rolled out of Kolonia. The island just continued being beautiful no matter where we went. Their highest peak sits at 782 m (2,566 ft) so quite the adjustment from the pancake flat landscape of the Marshall Islands. Everything was green apart from the ocean which was blue. The island was screaming “ADVENTURE” at me!! Man I would love to have time and freedom to scale every one of their majestic green peaks. Someday…
Student under a tree at the National Campus.
Morgan gave me a tour of the island. All of it!! Small place. We drove though Palikir which is the country’s capital and home to all the government buildings. Also home to the National Campus which looked pretty cool. Buildings looked modern and well maintained. The roads were fair. Children seemed happy. Quite a place. Soon enough we reached Nan Madol and went hiking. Morgan led the way as if it was his own backyard. We picked up a few mangos from the ground and ate them as we made our way through the most impressive archaeological site I have seen for a very long time. How the heck did they build this stuff? It certainly dates back 1,000 years and probably a lot more. It is like looking at the Pyramids in Giza and trying to understand how anyone could have moved those large stone boulders. Furthermore the stone came from the other side of the island. Brought through the many waterways? Or did the stones fly there? Magic? Sorcery? Witchcraft? Magic remains a part of the Micronesian culture and there is no confirmed consensus on how else it was constructed. So sure…why not…magic.
Nothing else in the Pacific can match this!!! Why Micronesia and nowhere else?
It is believed the buildings served as a place of worship and burial.
As always I'd like to thank our financial partner and geothermal hero: Ross DK :)
Evidence around the globe would suggest that people certainly used to be stronger than what we are today. There are massive rocks in Iceland which were carried by men but require machinery today. Medieval swords would have demanded a strong arm too. I figure people used to be stronger but by no means strong enough to build Nan Madol with their bare hands. Magic is as good an answer as any. I was certainly impressed and the megalithic structures continued far beyond my line of sight.
That evening I ended up at Seven Stars Inn in Kolonia which had an okay internet connection. I knew that I would soon be offline for another ten days so I had plenty of preparation to do. Running the Saga is probably a lot more administrative and a lot more “looking into a screen” than most people realize. Oh well…
Day SIX onboard – January 16th 2020
It was a short however fruitful visit to FSM. As a tourist I could have stayed for months diving into the intricacies of local life, hospitality and tropical beaches. As a man longing to go home I am happy with the logistics and thrilled that the Saga continues to move forward. Ideally I would board a ship from FSM to our next country Palau. However I do not have access to such a ship. Instead we are now heading from FSM to Nansha (China), to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong I will board another ship which will take us to Guam (US Territory) and from there to Palau. We are talking about a more than 10,000 km (6,250 mi) detour but that is nothing. Just wait until you see how we are getting from Palau to the next country which is Vanuatu. That is logistics without flying for you. I must however confess that I am super curious in regards to having the chance to see Nansha!! I can only imagine how enormous and efficient a Chinese port must be. And for someone like myself, who has a twelve year shipping career behind me, it will be really interesting. Also now that Hong Kong has become a part of the programme I am quite pleased with it. I once visited Hong Kong as a tourist back in 2011 and it is an amazing place. This time I have several meeting and objectives for the visit. All in good time.
See you in Hong Kong...
To the amazing crew on board the good ship “Kota Hening” I have nothing but respect. They lead a hard life in many aspects. Some chose it for themselves and others came from families which offered very little choice. They keep their spirits high and take one day at a time. Which other way is there? I am on board do to the good grace of Pacific International Lines (PIL). A top ten shipping company in the world and a solid friend of the Saga. You’ll hear more next time as we are looking at another ten days on board.
Fair winds and following seas.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - incredibly thankful for your support!
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Once Upon A Saga