Struggling with inner demons in a very beautiful country
Day 3,193 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Caught in a trap. I can’t walk out.
The most interesting thing I have ever done within my life has been to create a project loved and supported by thousands, complex and demanding beyond most peoples understanding, and which is slowly grinding my wits into dust
Last week’s entry: NZ 12 days later: I always think I’m leaving tomorrow
I was saddened this week by the untimely death of three of my countrymen. Two of them were only seventeen years old. In all, ten were shot. This happened at a mall 1.6km (1mi) from my apartment back home in Denmark. A mall I have been to many times. We were many who were saddened by the tragic and unnecessary attack. Fortunately, such occurrences are very rare in Denmark. In my often-privileged home nation we have mental health problems. Fortunately, we do not have a gun problem - or things might be much worse. Sadly, we often have to sympathize with other countries which frequently need to deal with mass shootings. One country in particular. In Denmark the shooter was apprehended by police only 13 minutes after the first shot was fired. The efficiency speaks for itself. The shooter can now be questioned and we may learn what lead to this real-life nightmare.
Still testing negative. Twice this week.
There will be good and happy stories within this entry if you read on. However, as I write this my mind is on overdrive and my heart is heavy. I often struggle to get people to understand that Once Upon A Saga has not taken eight years and nine months because I’m madly in love with traveling. Travel is at best a by-product of this project. It has taken this long because it is demanding and comprehensive. It has taken this long because at times the help and assistance I must rely on is not readily available. It has taken this long because a global pandemic broke out in 2020 and its long tail is still wiping about. I may be over my limit in social engagements, collaborations, partnerships, ambitions, experiences, personal connections etc. We have reached three new countries this year under STRICT COVID-19 regulations in the midst of a pandemic which is still visible and dominant within shipping and within the Pacific. A ship arrived to Auckland on July 5th which in writing still appears to be alongside. She is heading to Vanuatu which appears to have opened its borders on July 1st. The ship operators have assisted the Saga before and have offered to help. But they are not replying to me. There may be valid reasons? I do not know. The next time she is scheduled to come to Auckland is in another three weeks. What is three weeks you ask? With a few extra days on either side, it is a month. With such a delay for each of the remaining six countries we are dealing with a six-month delay. Six months of my life which could have been (could be) saved. I understand that people have other priorities. I just can’t do this on my own.
Always good to chat with Ric. He runs a world class podcast in which he interviews people who have been to every country and people who are on their way.
People are often also mistaken to believe that we have come this far due to one mans efforts. That could not be further from the truth. The support across nations has been immense. The success of the Saga is a shared one. I know I have much to be grateful for. I have a wife that loves me, both my parents are still alive and well, my family cares for me, I eat three times a day, I have a bed to sleep in, I have clean clothes, plenty of attention, I run a successful project, and many other things. But I am so, so tired and as many of you know, I have been wanting to go home since 2015. Just a little longer. Just push a little longer. Give it a little more time. A little more effort. I’m so tired of solving problems, so tired of pushing, and so tired of seeing the finish line being drawn into the darkness again and again.
I don’t know how to quit. How can I possibly quit this far in and this close to the goal? I know I should listen to myself and to those who care about me. I should not listen to those I do not know. Or should I? I get so many messages from so many people. Not long ago I received this one:
I watched your TVNZ Breakfast guesting from a hospital bed in a cardiovascular recovery room in Auckland, and aside from being in awe of your amazing, amazing feat, I was affected the most by your statement about inspiring others to reach for their goals whatever they may be.
You will be a great inspiration as I start my personal journey towards full recovery and a more healthier lifestyle in the weeks and months to come. In moments of difficulties which I know will come, I will remember a guy somewhere out there is riding buses and trains and cargo ships, braving all sorts of challenges to prove to the world that everything - with grit, passion and determination --is achievable.
Good luck on your next journey to the Pacific islands!
Okay, let’s agree that we now made it across the heavy part of this entry and that it will now be lighter, happier, and will focus more on Aotearoa New Zealand. Well, we might just focus a bit on Denmark first. Kiwiland and Vikingland has a bit of friendly rivalry as far as I am concerned. We both have impressive ocean navigators within our past. The Vikings built the perhaps most impressive ships of their time and explored four different continents: Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia. They were expert navigators and tough to the bone. The Māori navigators which made it to Kiwiland were definitely also experts. They built large impressive vessels and navigated by the stars, the current, the waves, the swell, the wind, the sun, and the clouds. Who were best? ;) Well, for one night at Danish House in Auckland the Vikings won! I had the pleasure of speaking on an invitation from Danish Society NZ last weekend. A lovely evening which began with a delicious home cooked meal thanks to Jacob, the current Presidents, efforts in the kitchen. For dinner we were joined by Inger who’s a previous President.
Thank you to everyone who showed up to hear what I had to say. It turned out to be a lovely evening with laughter and thoughtfulness.
And thanks for dinner Jacob!! Simply brilliant.
That same weekend I ventured out under a blue sky aiming at completing the Coast to Coast Walkway (new video) which is exactly what it sounds like. While Kiwiland is 1.5 times larger than England, it is narrow in some parts. And around Auckland you can follow a poorly marked walkway 16km (10mi) from one coast to the other. I found it to be a great way to observe some more of Auckland and understand a bit more about where in the world we are right now. While Auckland is most definitely a city with its 1.5 million beating hearts, it sometimes offers village mentality with more kindness than you might expect. The path also offers some great viewpoints, brings you past historical and cultural sights, and brings you through a variety of different neighbourhoods. I gained great benefit from completing it.
Perhaps it's because of citrus plants like these that Kiwis think they live in a warm country.
Inger's husband Robert keeps telling me I'll find unique vegetation in Kiwiland. He's been right. I've seen a lot.
Acacia Cottage is Auckland's oldest wooden building (1840).
Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill
Getting back to Verandah’s Parkside Lodge was more complicated than what I hoped for. I was aiming for public transportation but as I have come to learn this week it is not very reliable. Kind of surprising for a city like Auckland? I hold Kiwiland aka Aotearoa aka New Zealand in high regard. As I’ve already told many people: I fell in love with this country back in 2008 and nothing has changed since. I’ve had mixed success with the buses in Auckland with about half of them being quite late or not showing up at all. The drivers are friendly though and so are the passengers. It’s not uncommon for a passenger to get off the bus and shout: “thank you driver”. On my return from the Coast to Coast the issue was however likely something else. The legendary (read: LEGENDARY) All Blacks were playing Ireland (rugby). Roads were blocked, there were visibility vests everywhere, electricity in the air! Eden Park was packed with the maximum number of spectators! I wish I had been there. But I was instead hanging out waiting for buses not to get me.
Go All Blacks!! (Eden Stadium in the background)
We’re still on last weekend. Sunday, I met with Selena which was a big win. You can’t really know how the chemistry will be when you meet a new person. But Selena is very easy to hang out with. She reached out and offered to show me a bit of Kiwiland and as a photographer she offered to do a bit of a photoshoot as well. She picked me up in Auckland and drove me out to the coast where we did a small hike up to KiteKite Falls. Afterwards we paid Lion Rock (Te Piha) a visit too. Kiwi landscape never fails to impress!! And it does wonders for my portrayal to have a photographer by my side :) Selena is really interesting. She has bungee jumped more than 150 times, she loves surfing, she’s talented, friendly, and she’s Kiwi. We spent the afternoon together before she drove me back to Verandah’s (which was out of her way). A truly kind soul and a bit more proof (as if we needed it by now) that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
The insane beauty of Kiwiland!!!
The Māori people were truly something! Beautiful culture. Sophisticated society. Gifted navigators. Capable warriors. They turned out to be quite the match for the British Army back in the olden days when the Brits were sailing about planting their flag in the ground wherever they could. There are some that argue that the British learned about trench warfare from the Māori but that doesn’t seem to be completely accurate. In any case, trench warfare was common in the world long before New Zealand was inhabited by humans. Undoubtfully the Māori knew about trench warfare and used it against the British along with underground bunkers and escape tunnels. They were skillful war tacticians and must have impressed the British.
A visual presentation of how the Pacific Ocean was populated.
Māori settlement pre-colonial times.
It would have been absolutely intimidating to see several of these full of Māori warriors heading in your direction!
I paid the Auckland Museum a visit which in every way resembled a national museum. It had a lot of information on Māori history, culture, and artifacts. The museum is also a war memorial, and furthermore covers natural history, volcanic information, war history, British colonization, and much more. Did you know NZ used to be home to a 3.6m (12ft) tall flightless bird? The Māori killed them all. Apart from the Māori there also used to be Moriori people. But again, the Māori killed them (with some help from European deceases).
There is something fearful about the Māori. Like being friends with a bear. The world-famous Haka is a ceremonial dance in Māori culture. It is often performed in a group and there are several Haka’s. It is one of the most awe-inspiring performances I have seen. I have yet to see it in person. So far, I have only seen it on screen. The All Blacks do one before every rugby match. It looks incredibly powerful! There is something good going on here in Aotearoa with decedents of Māori and European settlers bringing the gap of the past and creating an integrated and mixed culture/society. Horrible things happened in the past. Not only here but in many countries around the world. Not every country is maturing equally well. Kiwiland is on to something.
Next to me: Brigitte, Jill and John.
I had a really good time meeting Brigitte, John, and Jill. Mostly Brigitte and John. Jill just randomly showed up. Brigitte is the Community Activator at NZ Red Cross Auckland Service Centre. And John’s fancy title is Chair Auckland Red Cross Area Council. Yup, I met with the New Zealand Red Cross and it was really lovely. It was raining but we sat at a street café under a large umbrella and had a good chat about humanitarian work, Once Upon A Saga, communication, support, and how I might reach any of the remaining countries. Looking into Brigitte and john’s eyes there was no doubt that these were two really good people as Kiwis are most. Sometimes you can spot kindness in people’s eyes. At one point John sprung the surprise that he was actually 1/8th Moriori (so they still live on). The last known full-blooded Moriori died in 1933. John has been working as a Red Cross refugee support volunteer to build community connections between new Kiwis and their neighbours. Good stuff. When Jill coincidently walked by she sat down for a brief moment together with her husband Tim. Jill is also Red Cross. When she heard my story, she gave Tim a nudge and said: “don’t you think John can help?” John is a maritime lawyer at Matson, which is an American shipping company which also operates in the Pacific. As such I ended up having a meeting with John later that day.
NZ Red Cross: Disaster Welfare Response Team Training! A wonderful and engaged team. Nice to meet them and share a few stories.
It’s the thing about the Saga. It has as mentioned never been one mans journey. It has always been a collaborative effort between thousands of people. There’s no way I will ever make it to the remaining countries without support from a great deal of people. And networking has been the name of the game ever since we left Europe and had to cross the North Atlantic. That brings us to Maersk. Yes, our good old friends at Maersk. My goodness the involvement of Maersk has been grand over the years and the stories are endless. I never got to meet the Hong Kong office in person due to the pandemic. But we managed to set up an online session. I was in touch with the Sydney office in Australia but they unfortunately couldn’t make it work. But when I reached out to Khadeeja Luckhun whom I met at Maersk in Mauritius she immediately connected me with Moshe Loberant at Maersk Auckland. As it turns out Moshe and I already met at Maersk in Germany back in 2017. Well, here's the thing: I’ve given Saga-talks at Maersk offices in fifty-two countries!! Can you imagine the contacts I have made? The stories I can tell? Moshe happens to know the legendary Savagars (Maersk family) who housed me for five months in Hong Kong. And Craig Lyon who hosted me in both Port Moresby (PNG) and in Brisbane (AUS).
Soooooo nice to be back in front of a Maersk audience. We took a serious and a crazy photo. Guess which one this is :)
I had a great time with the Maersk team in Auckland although I must admit my presentation wasn’t nearly as “bubbly” as they have been in the past. I’m mentally exhausted and feel like I’m caught within my own ambitions. So instead of giving the team a polished image of the Saga I shared some of the hard truths with them during the first half of my talk. Then during the second half I lifted the mood back up and shared some of the nice and uplifting stories. I can’t believe some of the stuff they have since shared on LinkedIn! I’m deeply humbled by the wonderful post made public by Maersk employees. Maersk is the worlds largest shipping company and has its HQ in Denmark. Maersk works with “constant care” and “all the way”. I can subscribe to both.
My friend Phil (HK) connected me with his friends in Auckland: Kim and Ryan!! As tired as I might be, it never gets old meeting nice people and having a good time! :)
I cannot possibly describe everything I did this week. My days are always busy and there seems to be no end to the madness. Project partners, collaborations, social engagements, interviews, speaking engagements, social media, long-distance relationship, project management, research, and much more. Sometimes I just need to “sign out” for some scheduled escapism. This week I booked a ticket to see Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” in Kiwiland’s only IMAX theatre. What a story! What a life!! One line from “suspicious minds” especially stuck with me: “We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out. Because I love you too much baby”.
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - another week without quitting.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga