Three countries from home (written in Fiji)

Day 3,347 since October 10th 2013: 200 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). 

Bureaucracy, logistics, connections, and fundraising for Ukraine


I guess the truth is to be found in the numbers. The last two entries have had less than 1,000 hits which is poor performance. Maybe I am a poor writer. Maybe the art of blogging is dead? Maybe I don’t understand the art of it at all.


Last week’s entry: Am I the BIGGEST TRAVELLER of 2022? And other stuff (more Fiji)


A lot has happened during the past 30 days here in Fiji. I’ve been housesitting, I’ve been walking a dog, I’ve met new friends, I’ve made new connections, a full week of filming for the documentary, I won a travel award, I got my 4th Covid jab, I got “drunk” on kava, I’ve met some truly well-travelled people, we’ve raised DKK 25,000 (USD 3,500) more for the Red Cross in Ukraine (and counting), and yadda yadda yadda…can I please go home now? In a recent conversation with my friend Ric Gazarian (check out his podcast “Counting Countries”), I mentioned that while I do joke around, while I do at times smile, while I can still laugh…I’m not at all kidding when I say I have been wanting to go home since 2015. This project MUST come to an end! The topic came up as Ric somewhat perplexed asked how I could consider flying home from the final country? Well, I badly want to go home and doing so without flying is more work and will take a few months. But let’s see. Time will tell. I’m not homesick and have never been. I’m fed up with the constant workload and the overall stress of accomplishment. It was supposed to be four years or less. Not close to ten.


Great meeting up with Paramesh Prasad and Shyam Reddy from Swire Shipping. They are both in management and have been helping and supporting the Saga move forward.

Extreme travel is for most people a misunderstood discipline. I was just musing about this today. It is not as well understood as popular sports are. Most people understand that they can engage in sports on a low-level basis but that competing on a professional level is out of reach. Sure, you can dream – but the numbers are against you. You are not going to be a top musician, a top politician, a top athlete, a social media star, or the top of anything. Or are you? Most people don’t even want to reach those levels. Especially not when they realize what it takes to get there. And this is my segway to Riza Rasco and Charles Veley. Last week I wrote a bit about Harry Mitsidis. Harry and Charles are arguably the two most accomplished travelers in the world. They are certainly among the top ten best traveled people. I am among the 300 most traveled people which puts me in the top 0.00000004% of the world. Pretty much astronomical numbers. Harry and Charles make me look like an amateur when it comes to travel statistics!! Riza is a highly accomplished woman from the Philippines who was only two countries from reaching every country when I met her earlier this week. Her launching point for reaching Tuvalu (as her second last country) was Fiji and we met up. Charles is Riza’s partner and he also flew in to give her a well-deserved sendoff. So, in fact, the three of us met up.


The three of us at the "world infinity pool". I rarely meet people who have traveled more than me these days but Charles has traveled to far more places than I. Riza (in the middle) is only missing North Korea from reaching every country in the world. What a trio we make :)

There are many ways to travel the world. Some do it for sport, some for pleasure, some for social media likes, some for themselves and the list goes on. Riza is very talented in diving deep into cultures and sharing them with her humble online following. As of 2021 she has been able to call herself an award-winning traveler but I don’t think she ever will. She’s too humble. Riza and Charles made it to Suva (Fiji’s capital) Sunday evening and was flying to Tuvalu Tuesday morning. Most people might have wanted to rest and prepare for the journey. Riza wanted to explore Fiji’s first capital on a separate island some four hours travel time away. I was happy to join.


On one hand I admire the few women who are making it into the tiny club of women who have made it to every country. We are probably talking less than 30 women in total. On the other hand, I’m not in awe as it has now been done dozens of times. And from my perspective reaching every country with the luxury of flying, returning home, and limiting visits to less than 24 hours is not as much an accomplishment as it was a few decades ago. I mean, some 250-300 people have done so already and numbers are climbing. It’s impressive – but not awe-inspiring. Rach and Marty from Very Hungry Nomads recently entered the club. I’m full of support but honestly also a little “congrats to a few more from the flying club”. I guess I’m not only growing entitled but also snobbish ;)


Levuka Bowling Club was established in 1871. It has now been repurposed as a kindergarten. Graduation is coming up soon ;) 

What a power couple!! Riza and Charles. Charles’ level of travel is next level stuff. I mean, in terms of numbers “all” I need to do is reach every country. That man has long since done that and is down to the last few states, territories, dependencies, islands, enclaves etc. To give you some idea about the difference I can illustrate it in numbers. My target is 203 (countries). Most Traveled People (MTP), which was founded by Charles, challenges its members by dividing the land area of Earth into 995 distinct regions (soon to become 1,301 with further division). Charles has been to most of them. Next level stuff. It requires so much more than money and time. Good on them.


Fiji's first Police station was established in Levuka in 1874. It is still active today. We met this kind policeman.


Elections are coming up. You mostly see posters of the sitting party (Fiji First) and rarely the opposition. Fiji experienced two coups in 1987, one in 2000, and the latest in 2006. People are holding their breath waiting to see what will happen come December 14th 2022.


Riza really wanted to meet the Chief of Levuka. But he was in Suva for the elections. Instead we met with two of his nieces who were sweet as could be :)

Between 1874 and only until 1882 Levuka was the capital of Fiji. It was a busy place back then with a population of around 10,000 people in its heyday. Now it’s a sleepy but very beautiful and very charming UNESCO World Heritage Site with around 1,200 beating hearts. Riza, Charles and I met at Suva bus terminal at 05:30am and a bus brought us to Natovi Jetty from where we made it to Levuka by ferry. We were only planning on having three hours in Levuka before making the four hour return journey. In a way three hours was enough as Levuka is small. But if you want to dig deeper and perhaps also explore the small island itself, then several days are required. People in Levuka were super friendly and accommodating. And the main street gave off some heavy wild west vibes. Well worth the journey. But I was first and foremost there to meet Riza.


On our way back I received a text message from my friend Oliver at NPDL. It read: “I’ve just received advice that our team is clearing a tug leaving for Tuvalu either tomorrow or Wednesday”. We immediately began working on the possibility of getting me onboard. Meanwhile the lush green landscape of Viti Levu and the occasional small villages were whizzing by outside the bus. It has been an exceptionally hot week with temperatures circling around 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 F) with a humidity of 77%. Yet, Christmas decorations have appeared all over Fiji. For several days I had been working on getting an extension for my Visitor Permit which was coming to the end of its 30-days. If I could get on that tug then I wouldn’t need to extend my permit, which is more work than need be. A win-win situation. I began musing about the prospects of reaching Tuvalu so early that I could possibly return after just a few days, if Tuvalu was going to send its government owned ferries to Fiji? This was interesting!! Oliver worked on it and for a while it looked promising. But it came to an end with this message: “They just called. The tug is only permitted to carry 12 crew members. So they don’t have room for a passenger. Sorry mate.” Close but no cigar. The emotional ups and down of the Saga.


Joji Tamani on his porch. Sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words.

Immigration is serious business for the Saga. I don’t think people understand how serious it is out here in the Pacific Ocean. Sure, there’s a laid-backness on tropical islands nations all over the world. Island time and a friendly smile. But there are no guarantees. A fear I had back during the Saga’s Hong Kong days was getting deported. Not for bad behavior but if a visa extension was not granted. There is no way that a government will go through the trouble of securing ship passage for me. Deportation means the airport and the end of Once Upon A Saga. It never came to that in Hong Kong and once Hong Kong Immigration warned me (after 9 months) that my extension periods would get shorter and shorter, I was given a job at the Danish Seamen’s Club and my immigration status changed. How many hoops must you jump through to obtain an extension in Fiji? Well let's see:


It must be Christmas!! Why else was I watching Die Hard! Yippee ki-yay ;)

I suspect the immigration process of Fiji might still contain remnants of British colonial bureaucracy. It was quite the dance! Maybe I should start with a disclaimer and add that I have only had good experience with the Fijian Immigration Department and furthermore that everyone at immigration was really kind and helpful to their capacity. Okay, so I needed to fill out the application form, I needed a certified copy of my current arrival stamp (this one is interesting!), I needed a confirmed return ticket (which I don’t have), a local sponsor letter, copy of sponsor valid ID/passport/permit, and finally they wanted a bank statement. I’m no stranger to bureaucracy nor bureauCRAZY. It’s just that I have fond memories of being in and out of the immigration building in Hong Kong with a visa extension in less than 15 minutes.


So nice to run into Suzie!! I met her in 2019 and stayed at her guesthouse in Suva. Met her in Suva for the second time back in August this year. And now for a third time by chance. Three for three :)

The most puzzling element of the documentation requirements in Fiji was “a certified copy of my current arrival stamp”. Immigration literally required me to visit a law firm and have a solicitor verify a copy of my current arrival stamp. Why on earth would it not be enough to present my passport to the immigration officer while handing over my paperwork? Well, there might be a reason. I’m just a guest in Fiji…but it did have me wondering. I visited three law firms before I found one with a solicitor who was not in court. And once my passport copy had been stamped and signed “Certified True Copy by Radhika V. Prasad, Justice of the Peace” I had to ask: “do you spend a lot of time verifying documents like these?” The answer was delivered with heavy eyes: “yes!”. The most perplexing thing about all of this was perhaps that the verification was free of costs!? What do you think about this? Guess what I’m thinking…


Ominous? The Chinese construction of the WG International Real Estate Hotel in Suva, Fiji. Should pop up if you search the internet for the definition of "contradictions".

The Letter of Invitation (LOI) was another matter. I’m also no stranger in acquiring one and have often done so when applying for some of the more complicated visas around the world. I guess I just find it funny that my face and passport is enough to give me a 30 days visitor visa on arrival in Fiji. But to stay for an extended period requires a LOI from a third party. It is almost as if the first 30 days are different compared to what comes after. Joji and Lisa to the rescue! Joji and his partner Lisa have been kind enough to host me ever since I returned to Suva on November 12th. Actually, a little less as I lived somewhere else the week, we filmed for the Salomon TV documentary. So maybe three weeks in total by now. I keep joking that they better watch out because the Savagars only expected to host me for four days in Hong Kong but it turned into five months :) In reality it is overwhelming how people time and again invite me into their homes. When I was expressing this to Joji he just looked dumbfounded at me and said: “that’s just normal here in Fiji”. Maybe so, but I am highly grateful to Joji and Lisa, not just for setting me up in their guestroom – but also for all the kindness they have been showing. Lisa is a true blue Aussie so we decided it would be better if the LOI came from Joji. After a team effort between Joji and Lisa I soon had a heartwarming LOI on my hands.


Joji and Lisa. What a lovely couple! :)

Did I remember to mention that everyone at the Fijian Immigration Department were kind? I showed up and went to the area which relates to passport extensions. It seemed to be counter 1-5. There were several rows of seats in the waiting area in front of the counters – but no apparent system? At least twenty people were already seated in the highly airconditioned room. I think I saw a penguin run across the floor at one point. Such a contrast to the outdoor conditions. I sat down next to a woman and asked her if she knew the system? She didn’t and just suggested that I would move to the counter once one became available. Hmm? Nah – I didn’t want conflict with the others in the room. After a while I observed that people would stand in the back until there was a seat available on the back row. Then they would move forward to the next row and the next until they were up front. A lot of moving about. After 90 minutes of waiting my polo-shirt was almost stiff from frost, and I was called to the counter. After a bit of typing the kind lady at the counter said: “your arrival has not been registered in the computer”. This was a problem as she could not go forward with my application. It did not matter that my passport was stamped. I was told to wait. After another 30 minutes I was called to the counter again, handed my application, told to collect my passport from upstairs, and wait to receive a phone call or email that day before I could apply. I asked if it would be a phone call or an email. The answer was: “yes”. I was never contacted and the day came to an end. With two days left on my Visitor Permit I had to cancel my plans the next day and show up at immigration again. A real shame as Joji and I were doing a daytrip to the other side of the island. My concerns: what if I overstayed because of immigrations internal error and a heartless bureaucrat deports me on that basis? Or what if a heartless bureaucrat denies my application based on me not having a return ticket? Or what if I’m denied and deported for no good reason at all – because that kind of stuff happens. Trust me! What if this would force me on a flight after 200 countries and nine years of…don’t even think about it. The stress levels I operate with as I place the final three cards on the card house. No room for error. The stakes are high.


At the end of day two, the Fijian Immigration Department had sorted out the computer and accepted my application. The tricky element pertaining to my case seemed to be that it was immigration in Lautoka that should have entered me into the system as my first port of call back on November 9th. But I continued with Swire’s ship until Suva and disembarked on November 12th, when customs cleared me off the ship. Oh well – while far from “a quick in and out in 15 minutes Hong Kong scenario” we got to end of it. My application has been handed over, payment has been made (FJD 91/USD 41), and I’ve been told to collect my extension after five business days. When I hinted that it was premised on whether my application being approved or not the lady looked at me and said: “it will be”. I think she is right. But nobody knows for sure.


Riza flew to Funafuti in Tuvalu the day after I met her and Charles. She’s just a top shelf human being! Before we parted she asked if there was anything she could do for me while in Tuvalu? I said it would be nice if she could ask around regarding the ferries returning to Fiji. Everything has been rumor based so far. Riza had been in Tuvalu for less than 24 hours before she sent me a photo of her next to Acting Director Nito Lipine of the Marine Office. The director could confirm that MV Manu Folau is scheduled to depart for Suva on December 15th and arrive on December 19th. She is scheduled to depart Suva one or two days later and arrive in Tuvalu around December 24th. That is the best intelligence I’ve received so far!! Hands down! Well done Riza :)


Local showers may occur... 

To round up this entry I want to mention a little about the “Once Upon A Saga for Ukraine” campaign. This is important to me. I think it should be important to everyone but just know that it is to me. There are several armed conflicts and wars that warrant our attention. All of them. But in my opinion, there is none which is as impactful to the world as the war Russia is waging on Ukraine. Tragic as the situation is in e.g. Afghanistan or Somalia they simply don’t have the impact on the rest of the world as the war in Ukraine does. Just look at energy prices and food prices globally. This war isn’t just about Ukraine’s 43 million beating hearts but about the world. It is nothing short of tragic. And it is a topic which I am updated on every day. The Danish Red Cross has been involved in Ukraine since before 2014 and is in a close collaboration with the Ukraine Red Cross. The Red Cross is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and it is impartial, independent, and neutral. It should furthermore be mentioned that New Zealand and Denmark are the world’s two least corrupt countries. As such I would argue that supporting the Danish Red Cross in Ukraine is high value for your money. I’m not just talk. On behalf of Once Upon A Saga ApS I have made a donation of DKK 20,000 (USD 2,800) to the humanitarian work. And I kindly ask that that you will contribute too. Amazingly we have raised more than DKK 25,000 (USD 3,500) in the first two days. Thank you for your generosity.


Donate by tapping the image or click HERE.

If people are wondering how a man on a USD 20/day budget can afford to donate USD 2,800 (140 days) to the campaign then the answer is simply. Because of the generosity of others. I have spent a considerable amount of time onboard container ships this year which has cost me nothing but my time. I have been hosted by kind people such as the Hon. Leatinu’u Wayne So’oilo and his family in Samoa, as well as Joji and Lisa here in Fiji, which cuts down my spending considerably. And while the Saga is by no means a financially rich project I was able to put some money aside while working in Hong Kong. I happen to like Hugo Pratts fictional character Corto Maltese and last week I read a passage in which Corto said: “I’ve left Guido half of my money; he needed it more than I do”. Just imagine that…thank you.



I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

Hi Res with Geoop


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 :)


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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Ain't nothing gonna break my stride.

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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