Covid-19 puts a stop to man’s plans to visit all countries without flying

Covid-19 puts a stop to man's plans to visit all countries without flying

(CNN) – Torbjørn “Thor” Pedersen’s mission is to visit all the countries of the world in a single trip, without taking a single flight.

After about six and a half years on the road and a budget of US $ 20 per day, Pedersen is only nine countries away from achieving this goal.

There is only one problem: he is stuck in Hong Kong.

As the 41-year-old man waited in town to board a ship until his next stop, the Pacific archipelago of Palau, the release of COVID-19 and the resulting travel restrictions derailed his plans.

But the Danish Red Goodwill Ambassador for the Danish Red Cross is determined to make the most of the situation.

He spent his days tackling Hong Kong’s many hiking trails, working with the local Red Cross society, giving motivational speeches and updating his blog, Once upon a time there was a saga, where he tells his adventures.
When I meet Pedersen for tea at Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, it looks surprisingly brilliant for someone who has been in transit for more than six years.

The 41-year-old athlete, who wears Black Salomon X Ultra hiking sneakers worn on the road and has a beard on his chest, clearly wants to keep moving.

“Every day I spend in Hong Kong is another day when I don’t progress. I am wasting time but trying to make the most of it,” Pedersen told CNN Travel.

“With what’s going on in the world, it will take at least a year to finish. Leaving is a consideration – I died of fatigue [of traveling] and ready to go home. But I am also stubborn and motivated. ”

Born in Denmark, Pedersen had an international education where he always had “one leg in Denmark and one leg elsewhere”.

During his childhood, his family flew between Toronto, Vancouver and New Jersey for his father’s work in the textile industry and visited his mother’s side in Finland during the summer and winter holidays.

“My mother is a travel guide, so she speaks several languages ​​and has always been interested in the world,” he adds.

“When it comes to business and structure, getting up early and getting things done, I got it from my father. I was walking in the forest looking for mushrooms and trolls, thinking outside out of the box and being adventurous from my mom. “

With thefts on the table, Pedersen has relied heavily on container ships.

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen / Once upon a time there was a saga

As an adult, Pedersen served in the Danish military as the Royal Life Guard (similar to the Fur-Hooded Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace in London) and then worked in the shipping and shipping industry. logistics for 12 years, where missions took him from Libya to Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Greenland and Florida.

The idea of ​​taking up this particular challenge – to visit each country without interruption without taking a single flight – came to him by chance, through an article that his father sent him.

“I discovered that you can actually go to any country in the world – I never thought about it before,” says Pedersen.

Six years away from home

After 10 months of careful planning, Pedersen left on October 10, 2013.

He traveled first to Europe, then to North America, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and the distant Pacific islands .

“Since I started working in shipping and logistics, I was used to having several things in the air at the same time, finding solutions and making everything more efficient,” he says. “It helped a lot in a project like this – it could easily take 20 years if you’re not careful.”

There are 195 sovereign nations in the world, according to the United Nations, but Pedersen doesn’t stop there. At the end of his trip, he will have visited 203 countries in total.

Pedersen has imposed exceptionally strict rules: he must spend at least 24 hours in each country and cannot return home until he has finished.

In addition, Pedersen planned to visit the Red Cross (also known as the Red Crescent or Red Crystal, depending on the region) wherever the movement operates to publicize their local initiatives.

So far, he has already visited Red Cross societies in 189 countries – a feat which, according to Pedersen, has never been done before.

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen: Once upon a time there was a saga _5445

Obtaining visas for hard-to-visit destinations such as Syria and Angola was often a challenge, says Pedersen.

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen / Once upon a time there was a saga

And of course, the cardinal rule: no thefts. With the ease of airports on the table, he would need to travel the world via trains, taxis, buses, carsharing, tuk-tuks, ferries and container ships.

Pedersen relied heavily on freighters to travel long distances, working closely with companies such as Maersk, Blue Water Shipping, Swire, MSC, Pacific International Lines, Neptune and Columbia.

“You can’t just show up and get on a container ship,” says Pedersen. “You have to get the company’s approvals ahead of time, which takes a lot of time and patience.”

In some cases, Pedersen relied on his professional relationships. In others, his association with the Red Cross helped, while the monumental nature of this challenge helped cement partnerships.

“Coordinating everything takes a long time. And even if you have all of your connections planned and all aligned, you can’t plan for natural disasters or typhoons,” he said, having repeatedly rerouted his schedule. .

Despite this, he kept all of his promises to himself and the thousands of online followers who invested in his journey.

“There is nothing that prevents this trip from ending, except for me … But I have to ask myself: Do I want to be the person who stopped? Or do I want to be able to say that I never stopped, not even once, not when I had malaria, not when I lost my girlfriend, not when my grandmother died, not when I lost my financial support. Not when I’m in pain, “he says.

“By completing this project, I tell people that you can achieve any goal if you keep working on it.”

Find a way

Although the Danish passport for Pedersen is one of the most powerful in the world in terms of access, many visas have always been difficult to obtain, especially in destinations known to be difficult to visit such as Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nauru and Angola.

It took more than three weeks to obtain a visa for Iran and almost three months for Syria, which he obtained with the help of the Red Cross.

Eventually he crossed the border to Damascus, the capital of Syria. Due to conflicts in the region at the time, he then had to find his way to Jordan on a container ship via the Gulf of Aqaba, which meant backtracking through Lebanon and Egypt.

“So it took a loop to get to Jordan, and it’s been like that many times. If you leave without flying, then you’re really locked in the countries around you. And you have to plan it well.” “

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen: Once upon a time there was a saga_7666

Pedersen poses for a selfie in Petra, Jordan.

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen / Once upon a time there was a saga

In many cases, the bureaucracy has made the processes even more excruciating. On the land border with Angola, for example, he was first turned back because he did not speak native French.

Then they rejected his request because he had used the wrong colored pen. When he redid his forms, his passport photo was false. He obtained new passport photos, but his invitation letter was not clear enough.

Each rejection cost him weeks.

“Some of these situations were really Kafkaesque. It took so long and a lot of help from other people,” said Pedersen.

The globetrotter gave motivational talks in companies throughout his travels, which helped build influential connections.

“In some cases, CEOs with some power have helped me. Other times, I spoke with the consulate or got help from friends.

“Whenever I needed help, someone reached out to me and helped me. But I always found a solution – and I did it the right way. never offered a single bribe. ”

A thoughtless decision

While Pedersen is generally meticulous about planning, an episode in Cameroon sent him into a spiral.

After spending several days jumping through hoops to enter neighboring Gabon, Pedersen could no longer bear it.

“People didn’t understand what I was doing. I wanted to give up and go home, thinking ‘Why the hell am I even doing this? What can it do for anyone at this point? ” I kind of lost it. “

He made the reckless decision to try another crossing, which required an 800-kilometer trip on dusty dirt roads in the middle of the night.

Pedersen says there are far more positive memories of his trip than bad ones.

Pedersen says there are far more positive memories of his trip than bad ones.

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen / Once upon a time there was a saga

At 3 a.m., a pair of headlights flashed forward. Three men in uniform entered the street waving their rifles and demanded that Pedersen and his taxi driver get out of the car.

“They were armed to the teeth and drunk on their minds. This is just a situation of no return,” he recalls.

“My heart has dropped. This is it. It is the end of my life. If my life ends there, they throw me into the forest, ants and animals will eat me in no time, no one will will never know. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it. “

He waited in this state of terror for 45 minutes while the men intimidated him with their rifles, fingers on the strikes. Then, for no reason, they let him go.

“We just came out of there like bats from hell.”

Months of great memories

As he attempts the impossible task of summing up six and a half years in a strong moment, Pedersen tells me that positive memories are considerably more numerous than bad ones.

“We would talk for a few days if I were to talk to you about all the bad things that happened. But we would need months to cover all the good things – it’s balance.”

In Hong Kong, for example, Pedersen encountered incredible hospitality during the global pandemic.

A family living in Sai Kung, about an hour northeast of Central, invited him to stay in his guest room for a few days.

It was before the world stopped. It’s been 86 days, and they insist it’s welcome to stay as long as it takes.

Pedersen encountered similar warmth and generosity when he failed in the Solomon Islands, where a typhoon near Japan delayed his container ship.

He decided to use the extra days to explore the Western Province. While Pedersen was riding alone on a ferry, an elderly man invited him to an island called Vori Vori to discover life in his village.

A few days later, Pedersen took a ferry and then a small motorized canoe to the isolated island, which is home to a hundred people.

“There is no running water, no electricity, just a generator if they absolutely need to power something. They catch the fish they eat every day, they have lots of nuts coconut, you can swim in the stream. It’s an incredible place. “

When the village elder learned that Pedersen had a laptop, he asked if the locals could watch a movie.

That night, they powered the generator and nearly 80 people gathered around Pedersen’s computer to watch the 1998 war drama “The Thin Red Line”, which is set in the Solomon Islands.

“You can’t plan this experience. You can’t buy it. It was just amazing,” says Pedersen.

And then there is the natural beauty of the world, which has repeatedly left it speechless.

Crossing the North Atlantic on a container ship to reach Canada, they struck a terrible storm. For four days, the ship pushed in the wind.

“It was chaos. I thought we were going to sink and die. But when the storm passed, the water was like dark blue oil, so calm and smooth. I have never seen an ocean like that.”

The only interruptions to the glass-like surface were animals – whales came to breathe, dolphins jumped and played. And to top it all off, that night, the sky cleared and the northern lights danced above us.

Towards the end of the voyage, about half a day before their arrival in Canada, strong gusts of wind swept the distinct aroma of the trees and pollen on the deck of the ship.

“Suddenly you could smell the trees in a very powerful way. It felt like I was standing in the forest. So after 12 days of smelling of oil, metal and the ocean, we suddenly felt Canada before seeing it. ”

The finish line

Looking at the distance it has traveled – more than 300,000 kilometers – Pedersen has now traveled the globe seven times in the past 6.5 years.

It reached 194 countries, with only nine to go: Palau, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and the grand finale in the Maldives.

When he reaches the Maldives, he plans a party with his fiance and his globetrotting colleagues, like Lexi Alford, who is the youngest to have visited all the countries of the world, and Gunnar Garfors, one of the rare people to having visited each country twice.

He can’t wait to see his fiance, whom he planned to marry in New Zealand before the pandemic freezes the globe.

“My fiance has been incredibly supportive throughout this process,” said Pedersen. “She came to visit me 21 times.

“In fact, there is a tradition of joke-slash: I only shave it when she goes out to see me!” he said with his impressive beard. “I haven’t seen her in seven months, which is why it is so long.”

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen: Once upon a time there was a saga 17-06-2017, 01.44.28

Pedersen says his main mission is to shed light on people’s inherent goodness.

Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen / Once upon a time there was a saga

According to Pedersen, even if he can finally travel to Palau this summer, the rest of his trip will take at least 10 months to a year.

“It would be easy to go to the airport and go home by plane. Sometimes I think about it. But at some point, this project ceased to concern me and began to concern other people.”

Basically, he says, it is not a travel project but a people project. Its main mission is to shed light on the inherent goodness of people, on what we have in common – not on our differences.

“People are almost always amazing. We all care about the same things: our families, our jobs, education, “Game of Thrones”. We all love good food. We like to dance. We love to relax, we love to laugh … highlighting these similarities is a big part of my goal. ”

There are also a lot of people who depend on it to end up, one way or another.

Over the years, he has received many private messages from people who have been inspired by his determination to persevere in their own lives, from job hunting to weight loss, to study, to learning. ‘a new language or out of bed after losing a loved one. a.

“Again and again, I told the people who follow this project that we will go to the other side,” he said.

“Today, the world could collapse. But, next month, the sun will shine on my face. We did it on this ship, we got this visa, we crossed the border … we does the impossible. ”


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