If ever there were an epic saga to be told in the oral tradition by a Norse skald it would be that of Thor. Not tales of the God, but of the modern-Viking adventurer Torbjørn C. Pedersen “Thor”, whose mission it is to travel to every country on earth without ever using a flight.
But why on [only grounded] Earth would anyone want to start a project like this in the first place? Imagine this; the Himalayan Database from 2017 informs us that 4833 individuals have summited Mount Everest a total of 8306 times. Nasa.gov tells us that 227 people from 17 countries have been on the International Space Station, 7 of them citizen-tourists, and 12 astronauts have walked on the moon, and yet Thor will be the first person in the history of mankind to ever complete this flightless challenge.
This is a mind-blowing concept, and the project is called Once Upon a Saga.
The sheer logistics of border crossings in this day and age for 203 countries seems overwhelming to plan. It is possible that we have all experienced some kind of visa delay when holiday planning but we hopefully have homes, passports, bank accounts, employment, regular income, and places of residence that are “normal” when being considered by various agencies to access particular countries.
What if you are essentially a homeless, unemployed, global wanderer with the spurious reason for the requested visa of, “I want to travel to every country in the world without using a plane.” A likely story. Denied.
There has been a lot of waiting around, requests, re-requests, pleading to Danish embassies for help and then having to exit, go the long way around for re-entry from perhaps a different country which borders the goal country; two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, three steps back sometimes.
But still having gone through all of these setbacks (and more, you have to read the blog), at this point 4 years and 8 months later, Thor refuses to give up. And to meet him you can see it in his eyes that as with each country he gets closer to his goal, Thor even more stubbornly is determined to stay focused on the finish line. “22nd January 2020, that’s the date.”
Thor’s last stop on his journey, the 203rd country, is the Maldives, which will be the closest he will ever have been to getting back to Denmark. But instead of flying to be home quickly, as you would understandably want to be having been away for over six years by then, he will boat it back. Because this saga can’t end by reaching the 203rd country and then jumping on a plane home, as much as he may ever-so-fleetingly have considered it in the past.
He’s getting more pedantic and particular as the journey continues and explains, “I left from Denmark, I didn’t travel to Denmark which is really the point if I am to travel TO every country in the world.” Nearing project completion, Thor doesn’t want to give detractors any scope at all to denigrate his journey nor the achievement, especially on that final leg.
There are a couple of rules that Thor has set for himself which shows that the notching up of every country into his passport is not really a numbers games to him. The first, of course, no planes at all. The second, he must spend a minimum of 24hours in each country. He has been averaging longer, around 11.3 days. He is getting to know the food, the culture and people with a stay of more than 3 months being the longest so far, excruciatingly extending the projected end date, but improving the experience of the explorer’s interaction with the locals, if not the local bureaucracy.
Kuwait has been lucky to host the Danish adventurer for a month, if only due to more challenges around getting visas. You would think that at least this additional time means that there was more time to connect with journalists and bloggers to tell more people about the project but being here during Ramadan meant that there actually wasn’t that much time during the day to access those that could help raise awareness of Once Upon A Saga, and at night (generous hosts that Kuwaitis are) there were many ghabkas to attend. There has been some additional newspaper coverage from Al Qabas and a Marina FM 90.4 radio interview giving a bit more attention to the project’s cause so hopefully the long stay was useful, but the longer this journey goes on, it may lose some traction in this era of instant gratification and #whatstrending generation.
There is an overarching humanitarian effort behind Once Upon a Saga, an effort that is to raise awareness of the Red Cross/Crescent/Crystal. To hear the awe in his voice when Thor describes the incredible achievements of 12 million volunteers completing 150 million acts of kindness each year, no politics, no religion, no division, just pure unity to do good wherever it is humanly possible; that he can be in awe of anything considering his achievements alone, is humbling.
bazaar learned something too. Up until this point, we hadn’t heard of the Red Crystal, a way of unifying the RC symbol so globally it can be recognized instead of “this country has this Red Lion, this other country has this Red Star”. Any good marketeer says don’t dilute your message or name recognition. It is not totally clear to everyone that the Red Cross and the Red Crescent are the same either, but when you do realize this you can see the massive potential scope of this “independent, neutral organization which ensures humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. It takes action in response to emergencies and at the same time promotes respect for international humanitarian law and its implementation in national law.”
So, Thor says, that while of course it’s great to support local charities, when you support the largest humanitarian organization on earth, with the infrastructure in place to do good where possible, this is where you know donating your money or volunteering your time will truly actually do good and make an impact on people’s lives.
Thor has visited RC projects in practically all of the 148 countries he has been in so far. Of the 203 countries in the world only 191 have a Red Cross presence, there isn’t a need for one in the Holy See for example; the Vatican takes care of that. His most recent visit to the Red Crescent in Iran seems pretty impressive with their 24 helicopters, and they have 80 Search and Rescue dogs to look after too. Continue to follow Thor’s adventures and you will learn so much more about the Red Cross/Crescent/Crystal than you ever thought possible.
You will also learn about people, as Thor has, realizing that “A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.” He says in his blog,
“The world is not what most of us believe. The mainstream media is showing us the sensational part of the world. So, we end up hearing a lot about terror, corruption, conflicts, natural disasters, Ebola, ISIS, Boko Haram…the front page is full of terrifying stories. Fortunately, I have so far found, that we share this planet with good well-meaning people with good intentions. Often, I find that these 5 things are far more important: family, food, music, sports and talking about the weather. It is my absolute greatest honor to be able to give every country I visit some form of representation in a positive way. Every country in the world has the right to be viewed as the potentially best country in the world.”
Continue to follow Thor’s adventures on www.onceuponasaga.dk and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @onceuponasaga. Please keep a look out for ways in which the project can continue to be funded until its completion. A corporate sponsor would be ideal as there are currently no ways an individual can donate to the Saga. For corporate enquiries about donating to Once Upon a Saga please DM @onceuponasaga on social media.