By: Nada Mawsouf
How many of us have dreamt of travelling the world and making friends with strangers? We know we all have! Well, Torbjørn C. Pedersen, 37, is doing that as we speak!
Pedersen, known as Thor, started his own project, Once Upon A Saga, in partnership with the Danish Red Cross, Redsand Solutions, Kameli, Ross Offshore, DB Schenker and Berghaus.
He started off from Denmark, his home, in 2013, and since then he’s been on an unbroken journey – on his own – to visit every country without taking a single flight.
One of the aims of this project is to share the positive experiences he encounters in every country, and shed the light on the aspects of a country that the media fails to witness.
He spends a minimum of 24 hours in each country (although he usually aims at 7 and spends an average of 9 days), which is enough for him to visit the Red Cross & Red Crescent, take photos of the sunset (as well as a local person’s eyes), deliver a small souvenir to a stranger from the previous country and pick up a new one for the next.
If there are any interesting sights or museums, he arranges to visit them, meet the people, and try local food.
Do you ever get homesick? If so, what’s the thing you miss the most?
I’ve never been homesick, but I do miss home. I miss my girlfriend, my friends and my family. I miss the convenience of calling a friend and spontaneously going out.
I miss the smell of traditional Danish bread with toppings and I miss the taste of Danish milk. It’s funny how I can find good milk all around the world but it’s like only the Danish milk is the right one.
I also miss going for a run in the nature near my apartment. And generally I miss having colleagues and checking in and out of a workplace.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
It has been geographically hard to conquer most island nations since many ferries have been replaced by flight. In that aspect crossing the North Atlantic, navigating the Caribbean or reaching the nations of the Indian Ocean has been tough.
In terms of bureaucracy, Central Africa has been a nightmare. The culture and the people of the region make up for it in their warmth and kindness. But the amount of paperwork, checkpoints and general “red tape” nearly made me give up and go home.
Mentally, it’s hard to be away from home for so long and not being able to skip countries by flying. It’s also hard to make “newcomers” understand that this project is more work than leisure and of great value within inspiration, education and entertainment – it takes time.
Which country has captivated you the most so far (regarding natural landscape… etc.)?
Venezuela is truly stunning!! It’s amazing how beautiful the beaches are in places like Sierra Leone or in São Tomé & Principe. The San Blas region between Panama and Colombia also looks spectacular!
It’s, however, hard to compete with the raw beauty of Greenland. In Greenland the air is so clean that it’s difficult to take a bad picture. And the clean barren landscape is stunningly beautiful and captivating.
Which country have you spent the most time in?
I spent 2 months in Greenland. It turns out that it is ridiculously hard to reach Greenland in the wintertime without flying. And perhaps not surprisingly also to leave Greenland again. I was on the very first ship that left Greenland without returning to Denmark (I cannot return to my country until the end of the project).
What was the biggest misconception you’ve heard about a country, and how did that change when you visited it?
I think I’d have to say Nigeria in general. I only knew Nigeria for Boko Haram and spam emails. In reality it’s a country with more than 200 million people and most of them only know about Boko Haram because they heard about it in the news.
Before visiting Nigeria people wrote to me that I should skip the country! They said that I would get my head chopped off if I crossed the border. In reality I met so many nice people.
“The food culture was superb! There is a large middle class which goes to work, goes to university, get stuck in traffic, dance in the club, shop on the mall, play Pokémon Go and watch Game of Thrones”
Nigerians raise families, go to church, go to the mosque, play sports, talk about the weather and complain about everyday kind of stuff like everyone else.
It’s not often you hear that Nigeria has the highest diversity within butterflies on the planet. Or that it is Africa’s strongest economy with a large film and music industry. In fact Nigeria has more than 500 spoken languages and more than 700 ethnic groups so it’s a real rainbow of discovery.
The humor among those I met was great and I laughed much of the time. And then it’s quite beautiful too.
If you would choose a country from the 116 countries you’ve been to so far to live in, which one would it be?
Iceland. It’s an action-packed country with magnificent volcanic nature. It’s an island nation near the Arctic Circle and you can frequently see the northern lights.
But what really draws me in is their “can do” attitude! It’s like nothing is impossible in Iceland. There are too many people on this planet who say: “that’s impossible”. And that’s a bad thing.
Naturally some things are impossible but often it’s not the case, it’s the attitude. And Iceland is freer of it than most other countries I’ve seen.
You’re more than half-way through your journey, can you tell us how have the different cultures impacted your character?
Most of the world I’ve seen has an open culture, where two strangers can meet on the street and talk to each other.
I come from a part of the world where you do not speak to strangers on the street or in public transportation. Conversation usually starts at social gatherings, sporting events and at the workplace.
So I think the world has influenced me to be more open and approachable. At the same time I have become more of a fighter after “surviving” traveling overland through every Central African country there is.
It’s a severely difficult part of the world to accomplish something in. So completing that part of the journey successfully has given me extra strength to complete anything else.
Now I can say: “it will never get that bad again”. Another thing is the generous hospitality of many strangers which I hope will make me a more generous host in the future… somehow I have to pay it back.
Where do you normally stay in the countries you visit?
Hostels and cheap guest houses have probably been the most dominating form of accommodation. Some places I’ve been able to put my hammock up and often I sleep inside the mode of transport I’m using: train, bus, boat…
It happens that I meet people along the way or get contacted through social media with an offer for accommodation. And once in a while I get to stay at a good hotel.