Maldives and beyond / MV MSS Graphene – passenger no. 1 (and 2)
Day 3,523 since October 10th 2013: 203 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).
The show must go on
Well, here we are within the Maldives. The final country in the world. The Saga is a success so do I feel successful? It’s not that straight forward. But the show must go on.
Last week’s entry: History has been made. Greetings from the last country in the world!
I have no formal training for what is currently going on. There is no mentor standing next to me and no publicist to guide me. What do you do when everyone wants a piece of you? It must surely be temporary so does that mean I should make the most of it? Should I work 16hrs/day contributing to all the interviews for as long as it lasts? Should I prioritize certain interviews and postpone others? Will the reporters accept getting pushed into the future or is it all here and now? How do I best prepare for the rest of my life? I have had a taste of this a few times before. Back in 2014 I had a successful “ask me anything session” on Reddit which reached no. 1 and brought massive attention to a back then little-known project. Many years later in 2020, the story broke that a man, with only nine countries left, was caught in Hong Kong during the pandemic. Once again, the searchlight landed on me. As such I have some unformal training in handling press attention and in conducting interviews. Within the Saga we have after all landed interviews in more than 170 countries around the world. So, how unique and rare is the successful completion of the Saga? Let’s look at some numbers: 6,000 people have climbed Mount Everest. 565 people have been to space. 12 have walked on the moon. Less than 300 have been to every country in the world. 3 have been to every country twice. 2 have been to every country without returning home in between. And now, 1 has done it completely without flying. What can I say? Good luck to the second.
The last ship to the last country
The good ship MSS Graphene and her brave crew brought Mike (passenger no. 2) and I from Colombo to Male. That was a relatively short voyage covering some 480nm (895km/556mi) in just about 48hrs. It was the first voyage onboard a container ship for Mike and the 37th for me. Yet, with all of my experience a really nice ship and a wonderful crew. The freeboard wasn’t much higher than you could almost jump onboard from the dock without using the gangway and the treads of the staircase within the accommodation were made of wood. The good ship made her maiden voyage from Damen Shipyards in China back in 2002 so she carries some experience. She measures 142.69m (468.14ft) in overall length and was home to 14 seafarers during our crossover under the command of the kind Maldivian Captain Shareef. For Mike and I it was like joining a family for a few days. There was no upper limit to the hospitality shown to us. They even prepared Maldivian food for us just so we could try it.
BBQ at sea: yes please! :)
The amazing crew of MSS Graphene :)
It wasn’t long before we could see the first Maldivian islands. They have almost 1,200 in total which was a surprise to me when I first found out. Those islands extend more than 820km (510mi) from north to south. The next surprise was the sight of Male!! How on earth did they get away with that? Male is the capital of the Maldives and the island measures only 2km (1.2mi) from one side to the other, yet is home to more than 210,000 beating hearts. MORE THAN 210,000!!! I think it looks like a miniature of Manhattan with concrete construction from one end to the other. A tropical Manhattan so to speak. I have been to a great deal of tropical islands around the globe and nothing I have seen comes close to Male. It was definitely a surprising sight. As we approached anchorage, I had a look around and could count three container vessels as well as a Maersk tanker. Such a high level of activity. Something is going on in the Maldives! The country holds a population of little more than 500,000 beating hearts. What is the secret? Location? Management? Captain Shareef was picked up by a small boat and left the good ship before Mike and I did. Soon after a speedboat came to pick us up and ferry us to the port where I could spot a group of people waving small Danish flags! :)
The welcome committee for my arrival to the Maldives.
So, who was there? Well, Lars Andersen, CEO of Ross Energy, and his wife Gitte. Gunnar Garfors, multiple world record holder and man who has been to every country twice. Mr. Mohamed Fariu Naseem of Maldives State Shipping, along with a delegation from the company. And finally, four members from port security. I was handed flowers, there were hugs, lots of handshakes and plenty of photos and selfies. Then I was escorted out of the port in VIP style with the four security guards flanking me on both sides. Mike and I sent our luggage through the x-ray machine and stepped out onto the street. We had made it! Every country in the world in an unbroken journey completely without flying!! 3,512 days!! 9 years, 7 months and change. 360,000km (223,000mi)! Then someone from customs called my name. I returned to the office behind me and was asked if I had an elephant in my luggage? I answered yes. Captain Rushan onboard the good ship Maersk Gironde had given me a Sri Lankan metal elephant and some Sri Lankan tea. I was asked to open my luggage and find the elephant. What was going on? I found the elephant and presented it to customs with the true story of it being a gift from a captain. That was accepted and I was told that I could put it back in my bag and: Welcome to the Maldives. Okay? Gunnar, a good friend of mine, ran off to finish his story for the Norwegian newspaper Afterposten (the evening post). Mike, Lars, Gitte and I made a stop at Mike’s and my hotel and then we headed out to a café/restaurant.
Male is, if anything, full of life!!
It was May 23rd and the planned resort stay wasn’t until May 25th so we had a few days. The interviews began. Mike and I still had some filming to do. Lars and Gitte returned to the resort. Messages began pouring in. I’ve had help from several friends to write a good press release and get it sent out. The world began to respond to the news. Mike had helped with some excellent photos he had taken in Sri Lanka. Ultra-wifey was due to arrive on the 25th in the morning. What about my arrival post on social media? This was the last country. The post was likely to get more attention than anything before it. What should I write? Which photo should I use? I hardly had any time for my own thoughts. And so, it began…
Looks pretty good - right?
The 25th arrived along with Ultra-wifey. To my surprise so did Jessi Chai!! Jessi is a good friend I made back in Oman, when it became country no. 150. We’ve met up several times since and through her job at Gambit Communications in Dubai, Jessi managed to get OBLU Xperience Ailafushi to offer a complimentary resort stay for the celebration. Jessi wanted to surprise me and she did! The island resort was just a 15-minute boat ride from the airport, which has a boat-hub just outside the arrival gate. To many people the Maldives is a resort destination, which makes sense given the more than 120 resorts you’ll find within the island nation. My head was spinning after 48hrs of nonstop attention through personal encounters and online messages. Now ultra-wifey, Jessi, Mike, and I were on yet another speedboat blasting across the sea towards the four-star resort.
With: Jessi, ultra-wifey, Gitte, Lars and Mike.
Our arrival to the resort was extravagant with a delegation of employees waving letters spelling out XPERIENCE while others were drumming. Drumming is routed in Maldivian culture and has traditionally been in use for occasions such as Eid celebration, when fishermen make a successful catch and sometimes after a hard day of work. Apparently also for welcoming weary travelers.
With: Mike, Lars, ultra-wifey, Jessi, Hashem and Haya. Gitte took this photo.
Ross Energy was in it for the long run! Visit for a deeper understanding.
At the resort we once again teamed up with Lars and Gitte and in the afternoon, we were joined by Haya and Hashem from MBC1. Another two wonderful people and like with Jessi, I also met Haya in Oman when it became country no. 150. Gunnar was supposed to join us too but got caught in an emergency. That was my celebratory committee at the resort. A neat little group of seven familiar and friendly faces: Lars, Gitte, Jessi, Haya, Hashem, Mike, and ultra-wifey. How was I going to spend any time with these wonderful people with everything else which was going on? Late evenings and early mornings. I was pushing my personal limits. Jessi had organized a program/activity plan for the four-day stay. The resort definitely provided some nice surroundings for my workload.
With: Hashem, Haya, Jessi and Mike after a successful recording/interview for MBC1.
Soon!! Soon I will be home again!!
The staff was genuinely kind. I think I can tell having met as many people across as many countries and cultures as I have. I’d say that at least 80% of the staff I came across were genuinely kind while the rest were polite and just doing their jobs. The food was definitely a highlight: breakfast, lunch dinner. Other highlights included the gym which was located above water with a view of the ocean in every direction, the Spa (ELE | NA), and ‘Only Blu’ – a horseshoe-shaped restaurant located 8m (26ft) under water. Just like any James Bond villain would have it. Sharks swimming by the glass windows and all.
"Baby Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo..."
I found my days at the resort stressful. Not because of the resort but because of my situation. Full on engagement with people, emails, messages, interviews and coordination. It could have been much worse though. Jessi agreed to take over on my social media stories by login in on the Saga’s Facebook and Instagram, and Rasmus (Ross Energy in Denmark) got busy responding to the many thousands of messages. Somewhere in the mix of all of that I made a video which quickly gained more than a million views. Hectic to say the least. In many ways I think it was all made easier due to the resort stay as I did not need to worry about meals (or traffic). Lars and Gitte returned home on May 27th. Haya, Hashem, and Jessi left on the morning of May 28th. Ultra-wifey, Mike and I returned to Male in the late afternoon of May 28th and they both flew home to respectively Denmark and Canada the following day leaving me alone for the first time after 18 days with Mike’s companionship (with a camera in my face), including the final days with everyone else.
Male has several beautiful mosques.
The power has to come from somewhere. Male, Maldives.
Before ultra-wifey flew home we managed to walk hand in hand following the coast around Male. That only took about 90 minutes but it opened up Male in a new way to me. Male is one of the worlds most densely populated pieces of land! Ultra-wifey asked me if I thought they had more scooters or phones? Good question! The streets are lined with parked scooters in every direction in addition to the ones on the streets coming from every direction. They do however seem to slow down at pedestrian crossings. We spotted several parks, many beautiful mosques, recreation areas, sports facilities, markets, marinas, many cozy cafes and nice-looking restaurants, an abundance of shops – and more often than not you can see dolphins following the coastline. As far as I’m concerned there are three parts to the Maldives: 1) Male city, 2) resort life, and 3) the local islands. I have yet to visit a local island though but I’ve heard a lot about them from the locals.
Among the many interviews is was particularly pleasurable to speak with Maria at Icelandic RUV. That was the station where I did my first talk show interview, with makeup and all :)
Also nice to see myself on the front page of the paper I used to deliver as a boy.
We’re approaching the end of this entry now. My head is still spinning. I’m not doing 8-10 interviews/day anymore but I’m still doing 2-3. I’m also trying to see if I can do a decent positive promotion of the Maldives across social media. And I’m also trying to coordinate logistics and bureaucracy for the return journey home. Mr. Manish R Varma Namburi who teaches at Brightway International School on Hulhumale (island near Male) reached out to hear if I would stop by at the school as a speaker. Of course, anything for the young and bright minds of the world. At the school Mr. Manish, who also volunteers at the Maldives Red Crescent (which I’m meeting with on Saturday), introduced me to Dr. Haleema Sadia who runs the school. I spoke before 100 students and answered several questions. Afterwards the students wanted autographs, handshakes, high-fives and had more questions. Dr. Haleema, Mr. Manish and everyone else were really sweet and I was given chocolate, a reference letter and the taxi fares.
From my visit to Brightway International School. Talk no. 138 across 65 countries.
I’ve received an abundance of kind messages from people all over the world. Once Upon A Saga has clearly meant a lot to many. And in many cases on a much deeper level than what we might have thought. I have not had any time to reflect about it all yet. I might not really have any “alone time” until I join the Maersk vessel from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Bremerhaven, Germany, later this month. Mr. Mohamed Fariu Naseem of Maldives State Shipping has been helping me look into possibilities for traveling down to the Southern Provinces of the Maldives. Actually, he has already solved that. The voyage takes 2-3 days. However, we don’t know how to get me back to Male in time for the ship to Colombo. As such I may or may not head south. A good friend of mine (Hasse) reached out and invited me to visit some of his colleagues on an island nearby Male called Thilafushi. Does that sound exotic to you? Well, you might be in for a surprise. But that’s a story for next week. For now, I’m enjoying the kind hospitality of Hasse’s colleagues and as such one thing remains true: a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
Off to Thilafushi...
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 Energy / 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 :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - exhausted but grateful
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga