Filipinos think they live in a small country

Day 2,122 since October 10th 2013: 186 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). 

Perception is reality


My mother is adorable. First of all she thinks my blogs are unnecessarily long. She could be right. Secondly she recently contacted me having hear that the Philippines had an earthquake so she wanted to know if I was alright!! The Philippines is no small place and on average has around twenty earthquakes per day. I love my mother.

It was however a severe earthquake which costs nine gentle hearts their life. Over 60 were as of July 30th reported injured and nearly 3,000 (the entire population of Itbayat) are currently displaced and sheltering in tents at the town plaza. It was the remote northern Batanes islands which were shook by three successive earthquakes: 5.4 M, 5.9 M and 5.8 M. The island of Itbayat is very remote and it takes three hours to reach - and only by small boats. The Philippine Air Force has transported relief items and the Philippine Red Cross are providing first aid and medical assistance, distributing hot meals to those displaced and to hospital patients as well as providing psycho social support.


When the earthquake took place I was in Manila and did not feel a thing. Manila is 693 km (431 mi) from Itbayat. Most of the daily twenty earthquakes are too weak to be felt by most. The Philippines is home to around 105 million beating hearts, 7,641 islands and this country stretches 1,850 kilometres (1,150 mi) from one end to the other. The great kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe has about 406 islands and extends about 402 km (250 mi) north to south and even less east to west. If you hear that that Somalia has pirates then you might automatically assume that is all there is. And in that capacity you could overlook that Somalia has the longest coastline of any African country. A coastline which boasts amazing white sand beaches, colourful fish and the livelihood of fishermen. You may forget about all the camel traders or the 10,000 year old cave paintings. The high speed internet, the selfies and the cool haircuts. You might just for a second think that every Somali is a pirate? What do you think when you hear there was an earthquake in the Philippines?


Z Hostel is a really cool place and I slept like a baby.

I reached Manila in the most extreme fashion last week entering by ferry from Malaysia at Zamboanga in the south of the Philippines and racing across six islands and a lot of distance in “just” 67 hours until we reached Manila. It was actually a good experience but not one I’m in a hurry to repeat. However for a moment in time it looked like I might have too. We will get back to that later. In Manila I checked in at Z Hostel which is a party hostel in Makati, Manila. Martin, who is a Danish Dane from Denmark, has been working with the hostel for a long time and invited me to come and stay. I’m forty years old so maybe somewhat out of place when it comes to a super hip party hostel inhabited by perfect bodies in their early twenties. However the concept of the hostel is simply amazing, the staff is caring and attentive, the location is phenomenal and the value is great. Besides…just around the corner you can find midget boxing, lady boxing and midget dancer.


Martin is a great guy who focusses on the customer experience and how it can be improved. He grew up in greater Copenhagen but found his way to Manila years ago. We’ve had some good conversations on the hostels rooftop. The beds are good to and I managed to get couple of good night’s sleep before meeting up with Maersk at their Manila office last Monday. There were several reasons for me to make the long way up to Manila. One of these reasons was that I had forgotten my vaccination cards at Bjarke and Kunjungs apartment in Singapore. Bjarke had handed the documents over to Mae who works at Maersk in Singapore. She then handed them over to John who was visiting and John brought them with him to Manila in the Philippines. That is some South East Asian logistics for you! Furthermore when I met Gaya at Maersk’s office in the Philippines she told me that she would soon head back to her office in Manila. She also said she could help me print another batch of the Saga cards which Parth (a Saga project member) has designed. Finally I have ventured into a collaboration with Salomon and they forwarded a package to me at the address in Manila. On top of that I was looking forward to speaking at the Maersk office in Manila and meeting with the Philippines Red Cross in Manila. So Manila it was!


My vaccination cards! Thanks Mae, Bjarke and John!

Saga cards

I've lost count of how many batches we've made? But here's another 1,000.


New and old! Can you tell the difference? The entire Saga has been in footwear from Salomon  - #TimeToPlay :)

Z roof

Ramonne singing her heart out on top of Z Hostel

It could have been easy! I reached Zamboanga with the ferry last Wednesday. The weekly ferry from Zamboanga to Manila left last Tuesday. The Malaysia – Philippine ferry connection is operated by Alyson Shipping and the Zamboanga – Manila connection is operated by 2go. Both Philippine companies. One could wonder if these two Filipino companies couldn’t simply call each other and agree that the ferry from Malaysia should reach Zamboanga the day before the ship to Manila leaves and not the day after? And it gets worse!  Because the weekly ferry from Zamboanga back to Malaysia leaves every Monday while the ferry from Manila to Zamboanga arrives Tuesday?? I spoke to the woman at the ticketing counter at Alyson to confirm the departure and within the conversation I raised the obvious question about the terrible timing of the two vessels. The woman did not see the problem in that I had to wait six days in Zamboanga for the ferry. I then spoke to someone at 2go in order to see if we could find a different route for me from Manila to Zamboanga. We are after all speaking of many islands in this nation and 2go connects a great deal of them. The lady informed that the ferry left Manila every Sunday and reaches Zamboanga on Tuesdays. Yes, that was understood but how about an alternative route? Maybe take a ferry from Manila to Cebu and then connect with a ferry from there to Zamboanga? “But sir, the ferry leaves from Manila Sunday and reaches Zamboanga Tuesday”. Yes – but I need to be there Monday morning or Sunday evening. So which options do we have? “But sir, the ferry leaves from Manila Sunday and reaches Zamboanga Tuesday”. Across this pale blue dot of ours I have found that all too many people have all too many difficulties thinking outside of the box. A while later the telephone conversation ended and I was no wiser.


Amazing crowd!! Great fun!! This is the "whacky" photo ;)

I had a great time meeting up with Maersk in which became my 106th engagement as a public speaker across 56 nations. And it just so happened to be the 49th Maersk office which I spoke at. Maersk is a Danish company and I come from a background within shipping and logistics so it does feel a little like coming “home” when I visit. The Saga is a great deal of things but certainly also a logistical masterpiece of proportions. I’m very much looking forward to the Pacific Ocean where also PIL (Pacific International Line) and Swire Shipping (China Navigation's principal managed liner services) will support. It was great seeing both John and Gaya again, whom I had previously met in Jakarta. And once in the office the idea that I could leave the Philippines onboard a containership from Manila came into play. That would mean I did not need to head all the way down to Zamboanga again.


Gaya :)

Zamboanga is the 6th largest city in the Philippines and is home to about a million beating hearts. It is a fine city on the island of Mindanao. Both the city and the island has received a bad reputation over the years but it wasn’t always so and it might not even be fair. Stone tools and fossils of butchered animal remains tell us that the Philippines where inhabited by early hominins as early as 709,000 years ago. However the oldest remains of modern humans in the islands go back around 50,000 and as you can imagine a lot of history has followed since then. The Philippines isn’t all that far from China so there has been plenty of history with them throughout the years but let’s just fast forward to 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan's expedition arrived in the Philippines and claimed the islands for Spain. Interestingly Magellan often seems to be attributed as the first man to circumnavigate earth. But that is not true. Magellan was busy converting locals into Christianity and had converted as many as 2,200 locals when he encountered resistance from the population on the island of Mactan. So Magellan headed there with a small force and was killed in the following battle. He probably shouldn’t have messed with that of my two rules regarding religion: don’t push it upon others. My other rule is: believe what you want but do not harm anyone. Yeah! So the famous Magellan ended his journey in the Philippines. The honours possibly go to Enrique of Malacca although it is unclear if he actually made the last 1,000 or so miles necessary to actually officially complete the trip, or if he did, when he did it.



Nonetheless Spain then ruled the Philippines for 333 years and named it as such in honour of King Philip II of Spain. Eventually the Spanish-American War followed and the Philippine-American War which the Philippines lost – so then the USA ran the Philippines from 1898 until independence in 1946. Somewhere in there the Japanese also took over for a while. Anyway, long before independence the U.S. began to incorporate the Philippines Muslim areas by force. And much later, in 2001 religious extremist take hostages in the southern Philippines. That was the beginning of a horrible period for that part of the Philippines, which now mostly belongs to the past. However traveling in parts of Mindanao still comes with warnings. Especially for westerners. It is healthy to keep in mind that Mindanao as an island, the second largest in the Philippines, is home to some 26 million beating hearts. And those who wish others harm are as always very few. The beaches in Mindanao are as most Philippine beaches gorgeous, selfies are taken, the people there go to school, go to work, like to dance and love karaoke. Fun fact by the way: while the word karaoke is Japanese the invention of the karaoke machine is Filipino and the Japanese only named it as such much later. And while we’re at it: the yoyo was invited in the Philippines too.


Pasig River runs through Manila and connects the ocean to Laguna Lake.

Yeah, so I’m quite sure I would be fine if I headed back to Mindanao and to Zamboanga. After all I only met kind and helpful people the first time I went there. The countries highest mountain is on Mindanao too. Oh! Before I forget: the video form the Mt Kinabalu “climb” is ready and online. Watch it by clicking HERE!! :) However sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry and while I’m by no means world famous I do have a public profile and might have shown up on somebodies radar by now. So leaving the Philippines from Manila did sound good to me. However the ship in question unfortunately did not have cabin space and then I would have to wait for the next ship a week later. Suddenly it looked like heading down to Zamboanga and catching the ferry back to Malaysia (on Borneo) was once again the best option. I looked into taking a bus to Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao from where I could catch another bus to Zamboanga. The first bus ride would take about 40 hours and the second about 15. Definitely doable. However I needed to have departures and arrival confirmed as I was toying with the idea of visiting the island of Marinduque. Not for tourism sake but for collecting a cash prize and winning the bragging rights. What? Yeah so the story goes that one of the founding members of the Danish Travellers Club (DBK) has offered DKK 2,000 (USD 295) to the first member that spends 24 hrs on the island. It is not a difficult island to reach -  it simply hasn’t been visited by anyone from the club so far. And DBK is a very well-travelled club with several members which have been to every country and many travellers that seek the most obscure places across this planet of ours. I need to thank many of you for funding the Saga. I see the amount of Patrons growing on Patreon, the Danes have been kind to support across MobilePay and now there is even a PayPal account which anyone is welcome too. I had no intention of creating the PayPal account but we have so far not been able to receive any of the donations from Patreon due to the choice of “payout method”. For months I’ve been trying to make it work with something called ‘Payoneer’ which has just been awful, demanding and complicated. So now I’ve created a PayPal account and hopefully the donations will soon be transferred. The Saga is at this point literally funded by fans, friends, family and followers. Thank you :) The prize money from going to Marinduque would however also be welcome.

basket ball

Basketball is incredibly popular in the Philippines. Boxing too. Football...not so much.

Yes…so I was trying to work out my departure by ferry from Zamboanga, the travel time to get down there, the logistics of reaching the city without flying and the possibility of fitting in at least 24 hrs on Marinduque. If you haven’t caught my point from much of this blog yet then let me say it plain and clear: I’ve been spending far too much time in the Philippines on administrative nonsense and travel time than on enjoying this absolutely intriguing, beautiful and friendly country. I know I’m not a tourist but sometimes I just wish I were. There is so much to do and see in the Philippines. The food is great and every island is almost like an entirely new country. There is a great deal of diversity in both language, culture and ethnicity across these 7,641 islands and one could only dream of reaching them all.


The BIG FIFTY!! Who the heck can say they have been to FIFTY Maersk offices?!? By the way: GREAT crowd!! :)

After meeting up with Maersk I was invited to come and do another 90 minute session at Maersk’s GSC office (Global Service Centre). As such I had the pleasure of meeting Erick from Chile who coordinated this talk. We were not sure how great the outcome was going to be but it did not disappoint! As I now have plenty of experience from speaking to various audiences around the world, I cannot help comparing and analysing the various reactions I get. My talks provide a mixture of adventure, achievement, persistence, humour and fun facts. So at times I have the audience laughing while other times they are emotional. On two occasions I have experienced audience members cry. There is something characteristic about the heart-warming high pitched laugh of a Filipino that is really enjoying something! :) And laughter was indeed very common throughout these sessions. The audience was also clearly emotional at certain times and the selfies were almost endless afterwards. There is indeed something very likable about the Philippines and its people.  


Wednesday came and I was scheduled to meet with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) at 10:00am. I showed up and was received by Ysa from the communications department. When you are living in a country with 105 million Facebook happy people then it is no surprise that the PRC has 670k followers on Facebook, 27.8k followers on Instagram and 533k followers on twitter! Ysa runs those accounts and keeps the audience updated on every aspect of their immense humanitarian engagement. I found the PRC to be overwhelmingly impressive but I also met some very impressive people. I had the chance to see the Operations Center and have its importance explained by Maycarol Z. Layugan who is the manager of it. But not just that…she pretty much built it!! It looked super impressive and everyone present was clearly highly dedicated. You obviously have to be when you are dealing with life and death. On their webpage one can read that: “The state-of-the-art 24/7 Operations Center of the Philippine Red Cross serves as the nerve center of the organization that commands, controls and delivers information just in time, on time, all the time”. Its main functions are to manage data and information from all PRC chapters nationwide, monitor incidents through various platforms, mobilize volunteers and staff during incidents, record all reports received from volunteers and staff, monitor progress of all PRC responses to incidents, take charge of dispatching all PRC assets, and handle calls from the PRC 143 Hotline. They operate more than 150 ambulances nationwide and are in a real sense the glue which keeps the Philippines together in the hardest of times. Not just the Operations Center but the PRC as a whole.


Hanging out with the Operations Center.

We are here talking about A VERY dedicated and widespread national society. Keep in mind that they have to operate across 1,850 kilometres (1,150 mi) and 7,641 islands. In visiting the PRC I felt very far from the three ambulances of the Liechtenstein Red Cross, which could reach every corner of the country in just 15 minutes. And while disaster response, disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and disaster recovery is no doubt an important part of the humanitarian work around the world there is simply so much more to it than that. The most vulnerable people in society are to be found in a variety of situations. They are found in villages as well as cities and the PRC responds to them. The PRC runs a national blood service with 88 facilities nationwide. They have some 500,000 (!!) volunteers which need to be coordinated and the most efficient way has turned out to be through Facebook. As Maycarol told me: “people change their phone numbers all the time but they keep their Facebook accounts”. I could once over list all the things the Red Cross does but isn’t it just easier for you to assume that if it involves humanity then the movement is there and is active.


In many ways I cannot believe that I have visited the movement in 182 countries? The Icelandic Red Cross, Venezuela Red Cross, Cuba Red Cross, Mauritania Red Crescent, Mali Red Cross, South Africa Red Cross, Kenya Red Cross, Libya Red Crescent, Portuguese Red Cross, Bahrain Red Crescent, Azerbaijan Red Crescent, Iran Red Crescent, India Red Cross, Chinese Red Cross, North Korea Red Cross, Malaysia Red Crescent…and the beat goes on. The movement is found in 191 United Nation countries along with a great deal of other places.

Argentina beef

Emily up front, Maria in the middle, Erick to the left and Christiaan on the right :)

Erick invited me to join him and his wife Maria at their home for Argentinian beef. They are both from Chile and have two lovely daughters who quickly disappeared into their room. We were joined by two of Erick’s colleagues from the office: Christiaan from the Philippines and Emily from China. It was a fun night with good food in good company and it ended very late. I needed a night like that as the entire afternoon had been spent on searching for options of transport out of the Philippines: head down to Zamboanga…how? Leave onboard a ship from Manila? Martin from Z Hostel happened to know someone at Alyson Shipping and suddenly we were talking possibilities for putting me on one of their freight ships from Manila to Zamboanga. And meanwhile I was trying to work out the most optimal ferry connections throughout the chain of islands. And what about that bus? Did it leave every day and did it take forty hours or more? At one point Clive from Sealand (Maersk) and I were looking into a solution where I went on one ship from Manila to Hong Kong from where I would cross the border into China and take another ship from Yantian to Indonesia. East Timor is our next country and it shares the island of Timor with Indonesia. My friend Paramesh at Swire was helping coordinate and finally PIL delivered the best solution: Manila – Singapore and Singapore Indonesia. Why not just leave from Zamboanga? Well apart from the potential safety risk and the hassle of getting down there I would need to take another ferry from Malaysian Borneo to Indonesian Borneo and another ferry to Sulawesi, find transport down to Makassar and connect with another ferry from there to another island and then another ferry to Timor. And having spent time working out the ferry schedules it became apparent that it was no good idea at all. So via Singapore it is…except immigration is currently saying that I cannot board a containership because I’m a passenger and passengers need to go onboard passenger vessels?!? Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah…the immigration in Beirut, Lebanon, knew the same song. However that got solved when a retired high ranking general went down to the port and asked what the problem was. Does anyone know a high ranking general in Manila?


SM Mall of Asia. It is the largest mall in Asia and located in Manila.

And so we come to end of this one. Was it too long mom? Well it certainly took long to write. If you need to know some important stuff about Filipinos in a sentence then it would be: laughter, a little shyness, food, basketball, karaoke and a lot of kindness. Too be continued…


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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - with 17 to go. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"


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