Ismo Porna is a Finnish traveller who has visited every country in the world and a number of destinations considered countries or territories by some. Destinations like the Vatican City, Taiwan, Kosovo, Palestine, Western Sahara, Somaliland, Transnistria, Northern Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Porna was born in Finland in 1944 and he did his first exotic travels in 1955. First was a bus-flight-steamboat-train trip from Helsinki to Central and Eastern Finland and that he calls a domestic trip abroad. In the same year, he went by train with closed windows through the Soviet Naval Base, which was a rental area of Porkkala in southwest Finland 1947-1956. That was the beginning and his first foreign countries were Sweden and Denmark in 1960. The last independent country so far was South Sudan in 2011. Porna says it is a bit difficult to choose three favourite countries, travel moments or worst experiences. Some countries he has visited many times and for many reasons, but he answers from the world traveller’s point of view.
What are the three of your favourite countries, and why?
Instead of favourite, I’d prefer to say most interesting country. My three interesting countries from travel experience could be Papua New Guinea, North Korea and Rwanda/Uganda due to wildlife.
Papua New Guinea, 1994
It was the 50th-anniversary journey of my birthday. I had been on my fourth working trip in Vietnam in Haiphong from where I flew via Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Singapore, where I went outside shortly to meet my working colleague and mate Torsti Kirvelä. He came three days later to Port Moresby to join our mutual adventure in the mountainous jungle. First I flew to Cairns and arrived there at 8 o’clock in the morning. The international hall was 150 meters long and empty, and I went to the end of it and started to sleep. I slept about two hours and opened my eyes where I saw more than one thousand Japanese walking and running around.
Why one thousand? Because two hours later, there were three Boeing 747 take-offs by Japanese airlines, and then the hall was empty again. In the afternoon, I flew to Port Moresby and was in my first Oceanian country. Mr Lila Ravusiro from the National UNESCO office was waiting for me and took me to my hotel and further to his office. There were political demonstrations all over in the city, and it was a bit difficult to drive and visit places. I met also the director of the Tourist office, whom I had met in Helsinki at the Travel Fair. I bought from him a weekend journey for two to Mt. Bellamy nearby Port Moresby.
On Wednesday, I flew by Air Niugini to the city of Goroka in the middle of the country. At the airport, I got acquainted with a local coffee producer by helping him to knit his bunch of flowers. As a gratitude, he arranged a round trip in the city for me and its neighbourhood and gave me ten packets of local coffee. I saw a very nice performance in Asaro village by Mudmen with their magnificent masks.
The next day I returned to Port Moresby, where Torsti was already waiting for me. On Friday morning, we were taken to the airport, and we went in a small aircraft with five people, two guides, a pilot and us. We were supposed to fly up to Mt. Bellamy, 2500 meters high, for two days and make short trekking there in the jungle during the weekend. The weather was not good, and due to very heavy turbulence, we had to return back. We tried the same next morning on Saturday September 3rd, which was my 50th birthday. Again the turbulence was so strong that our plane dropped twice, at least 50-100 metres in the vacuum air.
Finally, the pilot asked if we would like to go back or land at the lower airport, which we did. The airport is actually a grassy hillside for small planes. We went out, and suddenly I realized that we have to climb up to the top of Mt. Bellamy. The distance there were 7-8 hours and the altitude difference one thousand metres from 1500 meters to 2500 meters. We had one back bag with a bottle of champagne and cognac plus some water bottles. After one and a half hours, we stopped, and I was already exhausted. We ate some sugar cane, and Torsti took the bag. He was in better condition. Then we climbed up in the jungle for about five and a half hours and got up. It was quite an effort for me, but I survived.
At the top, we had to cross over a swamp area on a wooden pavement. Half away, I dropped into the swamp up to my neck, but I was taken safely up, and I was muddy and wet. Then we went on, and finally, we were at our destination. The first sight I saw was a tall white, dressed and white European man, who smiled and shouted: How are you guys? I got mad and tried to attack him, but Torsti took me to the bushes to calm down. I was really quite exhausted. I calmed down, and we had a nice evening with this Dutchman and his friend, an Australian photographer. We also drank our bottles of Champagne and Cognac and celebrated my 50 years’ anniversary under the Southern Cross. I was really proud of myself, of what I had done.
The next morning, we went down, and it took again about eight hours, but now down on a slippery path, where the technics were totally different. We spent the night in a hut on pillars and the temperature was about 5 degrees Celsius, and we had no blankets or mattresses. I have never slept so close to a man. The whole night a huge wild boar tried to knock down our hut, but fortunately without success.
The next morning, we waited more than two hours for our plane, and my schedule to Sydney started to become tricky, but finally, it came, and I stayed at the airport, and Torsti stayed another night in Port Moresby. Quite an exciting anniversary trip, which you never forget.
North Korea and Mongolia, 2004
This 60th-anniversary journey of my birthday was one of my most exciting trips so far. The outward trip via Beijing to North Korea and the return trip again via Beijing to Mongolia was something you cannot forget. I found a small travel agency from Stockholm run by Julia Lambard, of Russian origin, who was authorized to sell individual tourist packages to North Korea.
First, I flew to Beijing, where I picked up my visa, air tickets and voucher from the North Korean consulate. When I arrived in Pyongyang, I was met by two guides, 30 years old Mr Jong and his assistant 20 years old Ms Sobie, with a driver. I was taken to the huge 20-floor tourist hotel, and the view over the capital and its Taedong river was magnificent. Then the programme started by visiting the memorial park of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung followed by a city tour.
There were quite a few people on the streets, even if we were in the capital. I asked to stop and visit a local and ordinary restaurant or bar, where I could taste local beer, and it was ok. The lager beer was good and the atmosphere friendly. The next day I was driven out of the city towards the south and first to Kensong City and then Pammujon on 38th latitude, which was the demilitarized zone between the North and South. I was taken to the room where the peace negotiations took place in 1953.
An army officer told me the North Korean vision about the history, and I knew already the South and US versions. I thought the truth lies somewhere in between. We could look down over the border and see the quite relaxed and a bit provocatively behaving South Korean soldiers, but that was reality. On Thursday, we had another city tour in Pyongyang, including a visit to a small spying boat El Pueblo, which was captured in 1968. Then I was taken to the 30 metres high statue of Kim Il-sung, and they asked if I’d like to put flowers. I did not like to do that, but I put it because it was the custom, and I had not come to North Korea to demonstrate.
On Friday, 3.9.2004, it was finally my 60th birthday. Early in the morning, we started to drive to the north. We drove one and a half hours on a cement covered four-lane highway, and during that drive, I did not see not a single car, human being or animal. We went to the Myohyang mountains, and we settled into a pyramid shape official state hotel.
The hotel management led by an elegant lady and her female staff were waiting for me, and we were drinking together morning beers in a very warm atmosphere. The North Korean representatives officially congratulated me. I was not given any gift, but instead of that, I was taken first to a three-floor building, which was full of domestic and especially international gifts to the Great Leader Kim I-sung. There were at that time 217,616 gifts. I even found some gifts from Finland. The most valuable gift was a German Mercedes car donated by Leonid Brezhnev in the1970s. After that, we went to another gift building for Kim Jong-Il, the present President and Dear Leader. He had only 156,314 gifts in his building at that time.
Then we drove back to the capital and again 150 kilometres of empty road and dead highway. When we arrived at my hotel, I thought that was it and tried to go to my room. They asked me to come to the restaurant and have a small summing up chat. Ok, we went, and I got my beer. There were no other people at that time. Suddenly the lights went off, and the doors to the kitchen opened, and six beautiful ladies came out blowing with fanfare horns and carrying a birthday cake baked especially for me. Then the doors to other customers were opened, and the orchestra started to play, and the BBQ-buffet dinner could start. I had never celebrated my birthday so majestically, and I felt like an honoured state guest! I was at that time fully aware of the terrible problems of North Korea with great hunger among the people. I did not admire the political system nor the dictatorship, but I went there as a tourist, not a journalist. I’d like to behave as an interested tourist and respect their honest concern for me and my pleasure. During my return trip, I had first an excellent and enjoyable lunch in Beijing with the leaders of the Chinese Judo Federation.
After that, I flew to Mongolia, where I stayed for five days and visited, among others, the Guru Ger Camp, where I stayed in a real yurt, which smelled of sheep wool but was comfortable. I ate local Mongolian lamb foot and warm milk flavoured with local spirits. Next, I was taken to Terelje natural park, where I had the possibility to ride with a Mongolian horse together with an Australian couple who just got married. We rode to a magnificent rock called Turtle Rock because its shape reminded one of a turtle. In the end, I got permission to ride alone back to our Ger Camp, and I galloped quite fast, and I felt safe because the Mongolian horse is quite low. Wonderful feeling.
Ugandan wildlife and Rwanda mountain gorillas in 2007
I was on a one month tour in six central and Eastern African countries (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Comoros and Madagascar) with my good and younger friend Anssi, who is a professional photographer and film-maker. Uganda was the first of the six new Central and Eastern African countries for me. I was travelling with my mate Anssi, and our beginning was not too promising, because we had to stay an extra night at Schiphol Airport hotel due to the cancellation of KLM’s night flight. The next morning, we were allowed to travel in business class with our own TV monitor and free champagne.
At Entebbe airport, Ms Margaret and her driver were waiting for us. She was a friend of one Finnish friend of mine. They drove us to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to our tourist hotel. We had a drink with Margaret and then we just walked in the city centre. It was Saturday and a national cleaning day. Everywhere were a lot of people cleaning and Kampala city centre was astonishingly clean to be an African city. We also went to a huge market full of people. I had booked in advance through Internet from Travel Hemisphere Agency a three days’ safari package, and we met our nice guide, Ronnie. We drove a few hours to Murchinson National Park to the South-West part of Uganda. We stayed in Red Chili Resort Camp and made by our 4×4 vehicle day safaris to see wild animals. We also made a short boat trip on Lake Victoria, which is the source of the White Nile river.
We saw the following wild animals living in Murchinson Game Park: elephants, giraffe, buffalo, lion, boar, various antelopes, gnu, Nile crocodile, hippo and various monkeys. On our return, we visited Lake Alberta and Budongo Forest, where we saw quite rare big chimpanzees jumping high on the trees and pooping on us. In Kampala, Ronnie took us to his home to see his family and have some beers. In the evening, we met once again Ms Margaret, whose driver took us to Entebbe airport, and we flew to Kigali.
Rwanda was the second new country on my round trip, which I continued with my friend Anssi. I had read that it’s easy to get a visa at the airport, but this was not the case. We had to wait more than an hour to find a high enough officer to admit the visa. We got it, but the price was quite high, and we got a serious warning, but he let us enter the country. The second problem was the hotel, which I had booked in advance. They did not find the reservation. The hotel was full, and it was quite late in the evening.
They advised us to go to Hotel Ibis, where we got a room after quite a long discussion and not a small bit of extra money. The next morning, we met our guide Patrick from Travel Hemisphere, the same company as in Uganda. We went with him to the city centre, where the traffic was as chaotic as in Kampala, but it was astonishingly clean, too. In the evening we went to a supermarket and bought ingredients with drinks for our own cold buffet in our hotel room, where we also had a small balcony. On Wednesday morning, we started with Patrick and the driver on our trip towards Ruhengeri Park National des Volcanos to meet the mountain gorillas. The Rwandan countryside and roads were really clean. We lost one tyre, and we were helped by half-men of a little village. We were accommodated in Kinigi Lodge Resort, which was a very nice place. Then we went and enrolled us for the next day’s mountain gorilla safari. I had already paid in advance the 500 US$ fee per person.
The next morning, we started in a group of eight tourists, a guide and two armed soldiers. We climbed up Mt. Karisimbi for one and a half hours, and we started to wait for the mountain gorillas. After 15 minutes, there came a group of ten gorillas led by an 800-kilogramme so-called Silverback gorilla. The youngest one was about two months young. We were allowed to look at them for only one hour and stay exactly where we were. The gorillas are some kind of semi-wild because they had become used to us.
There are also fully wild gorillas in that region, but somewhere else. The problem has been heavy poaching, which nearly killed the gorillas into extinction, but now the situation was much better, and the amount of gorillas has increased significantly. We were in the same region as in the famous movie Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey from 1988. After this successful mountain gorilla safari, we went to see the Research and Protection Centre for the Mountain Gorillas. The young Italian female worker did not like gorilla tourists much and tried to blame us. We had to remind her that with our 500 US dollars per tourist, we financed a great part of their work, and every dollar is for the gorillas.
We had a nice evening with good beer and food and Anssi’s excellent digital photos. The next morning, we continued our trip by visiting the region, and due to clear weather, we could see all five mountains. We also drove to Lake Bulera, meeting local fishermen and to the border with the Congo Democratic Republic. We couldn’t cross the border, and thus that’s why I had to leave that country for the future. After this, we drove back to Kigali on Saturday before our flight to Burundi. We visited the 1994 Genocide Museum, which was a shocking experience. Rwanda had amazingly well recovered from that. I had seen the same kind of museum in 1993 in Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Additional story: Afghanistan, 2007
I was within three days again in a war country after Iraq. I had arrived in Helsinki on Monday from Kurdistan Erbil and arrived in Kabul on Thursday. I was on a private judo journey in order to get familiar with IJF Judo in a Peace project run in Kabul by the Norwegian Judo Association. I had a personal invitation from Afghan Judo to participate in an international seminar and make it easier to get the visa, which was just a piece of cake and did not cost anything at the airport.
The international seminar was the Afghans and me! I stayed in the centre in a quiet, safe Naween Guest House, which was protected by surrounding walls. My hosts were the Afghan Judo and its very high civil servant Mr Formuli, who was the President of the State Peace Committee. Wherever we went by car, I had three judokas around me, and if it was Mr Formuli’s car, there were two armed soldiers in the car. I visited the quite small dojo, where I met younger and older judokas training. I also visited the Afghan Olympic Committee. I also met some representatives of an international Aschiana organization who were helping street children and trying to get them back to school instead of selling small items on the street.
Friday is the Islamic Sunday, and I was taken to Karghan artificial lake nearby for a picnic. It was beautiful weather, and the place was full of local families and other people. The feeling was very relaxing and even encouraging. We ate a very tasty shaslik meal with good local beers while military choppers were flying over us. On Saturday, it was the anniversary day of the Islamic revolution, and there was a partial prohibition for free movement, which meant for me staying inside my hotel’s walls.
On Thursday, we got the news that the soldiers had managed to stop a lorry full of explosives, and it was meant to destroy the big national meeting of local tribe chiefs, which President Karzai hosted. The number of explosives was so big that it could have destroyed a huge part of the city. On Thursday, I had visited the Finnish Embassy and informed them about my existence in the city. On Saturday, I managed to make a deal with a street boy to buy me some beers because the hotel did not sell any. We were both satisfied, the boy and me, because I paid well to the boy for his delivery.
What are the three of your favourite moments, and why?
My first trip abroad to Denmark via Sweden in 1960
The purpose of the first journey was a friendship visit by the local branch of Kerava of the Pohjola-Norden (North) Society to Hjørring, the Danish sister town to Kerava. I had the most dramatic start to my foreign journeys as one of my cabin mates broke a veiling lamp to my upper bed, and I was wounded bloodily into my left ankle.
When we arrived at Stockholm port, there was an ambulance to take me to the famous Karolinska Institutet (Caroline Institute), and there I got ten stitches to my leg. But never mind, the journey must go on, and we drove by our bus over 500 kilometres through Sweden on the left side of the road, and this was a great experience for young Finns, who were used to drive on the right side. (I was driving from Tromssa to Umeå via Blåa vägen (Blue highway) on the last day of left-hand traffic in Sweden, and that was Saturday 2 September 1967, one day before my 23rd birthday).
Our first stop in Denmark was in Copenhagen, where I visited the famous seamen’s neighbourhood, Nyhavn. That was quite an experience for a young boy, age of nearly 16, and his three mates, who tried to be more than they were capable of by saying that we have arrived from Finland by a sailing boat. That was too much of a lie to the real sailors, and we managed to rush out of the pub before we got into any serious difficulty.
I was still partly crippled due to the ten stitches in my left ankle, and that restricted my life. I was not allowed to swim, and that was a pity because North Jylland was famous for its white-sand beaches, and the weather was beautiful. But I was also lucky because the young female friends from Hjørring, Denmark, Trollhättan, Sweden and especially a blonde beauty from Kristiansand, Norway, took care of me. What a wonderful feeling of being ‘Sweet Sixteen’.
A breathtaking Bolivia and contra dictionary trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu in Peru, 2002
I was on my second and last South American tour, including Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana. I started from La Paz airport, which is the highest normal airport in the world, at an altitude of 4,000 metres. I went by bus down to La Paz, which is the highest capital. I met a German tourist Andreas on the bus, and we decided to go around the city together. It was the 85th Anniversary of Finland’s independence, and we celebrated with beers and nice Bolivian life.
Unfortunately, we made everything too quickly, and we forgot how high we were. As a result of this hectic first day, I woke up at 2 a.m. and nearly couldn’t breathe at all. It took two hours to breathe normally and meanwhile I really thought that this is the end of my life. This time I was happy to be wrong. The next day I did not rush or drunk beer but ate coca leaves and drank coca tea. I joined a group bus to Chacaltaya mountain, where there was the highest alpine station in the world (5,200 metres). From there, we still climbed up to 5,421 metres, which was and will be the highest place I’ve ever been. The last 200 metres took nearly two hours to walk. On the top, I made a speech to my fellow tourists and congratulated ourselves. The air was really very thin.
From Bolivia, I went via Titicaca, the highest alpine lake, to Peru and to Cusco, the former capital of the Incas. I took a train towards Macchu Picchu. First, the carriage was quite empty, but in the next station, there came 50 Americans from Texas. For the next two hours, they were jumping, running and shouting so terribly that I was totally exhausted when we arrived at Aquas Calientes, from where I took a bus up to Macchu Picchu.
I joined a group of 15 persons, and I was still shivering from the train trip and its American cacophony. The Inca female guide saw how down I was and took my arms, and started to save me. All the time, she held my hand and, while speaking, looked at me. After two hours walking, I became a human again and nearly fell in love with the endogenous Inca lady. Macchu Picchu was and still is a great and magnificent view and experience.
Walking safari in Sahara desert in Mauritania in 2009
I had booked a trip to Mauritania and Atar already in 2008, but then four French tourists were killed by Muslim terrorists, and all the trips and flights from France were cancelled. The new journeys started just in January 2010, and I was in one of the first of them. I was travelling with my old friend and journalist Ms Tuulikki Muller from Paris, and I had managed to persuade her to travel with me for two reasons: she is a nice lady, a good company and secondly, she speaks fluently French, which I don’t.
I had booked for us a one-week trekking trip to the Sahara Desert, including two UNESCO cultural heritage sites: Ouadane desert town from where we started our walking and Cinquetti sand town, where we ended it. We were in a small group of French people: a family of four from Marseilles, a 30-year-old woman from Bretagne, a Berber guide, Mohammad, three camel drivers of whom one was our chef and three camels.
We walked in the sand for five days, about 5-7 hours per day plus a one-hour lunch and rest time, and altogether we walked 30 hours and about 120 kilometres. We spent our nights either in tents or outside under the bright stars or “dormir á la Belle Etoile” (like I had done in Chad’s Sahel area in 2009 and once in Namibia in 1999). One night we spent in Tanousnert oasis in a bungalow. The camels carried all our food ingredients, water and camping equipment. They were also used to carry tired or wounded walkers, and quite many of them had to use them, but not me and the farther from Marseilles.
On the last part before Cinquetti, Tuulikki and I used the camels and rode to the town and searched immediately for a bar with a beer. We managed to get one cold beer and two warm beers before the rest of our group arrived. I had managed to keep my feet well until at the end of the trip when I found some blisters on my feet. I have to be careful for open wounds in my feet because I have Diabetes II, and once I arrived on Monday in Helsinki, I went directly from the airport to a private doctor station and got my feet treated. I also found that I couldn’t hear anything with my right ear because it was full of sand, and the nurse cleaned it thoroughly, and I took the Saharan sand to my children as a souvenir!
Additional story: Iraqi Kurdistan, 2007
I was travelling with Mr Wille Grönqvist, whom I met in late January this year at the airport of Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga in Oceania. He is also collecting countries, but quite far behind from me, but the all-time proceeding. It was easy to fly by Austrian Airlines to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. I dared not to go to Baghdad at that time due to dangerous war circumstances. The Region of Kurdistan is officially part of the Republic of Iraq but has quite strong autonomy with its own flag, army and parliament.
Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the four Kurd areas (Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria). Kurds are the biggest ethnic nation without their own country. We stayed in Hotel Arbil Tower, which was safe and quite old. We walked safely there and made a taxi tour around the city. In our hotel, we saw a warlord, a Member of the Parliament who represented the small special religious minority called Yazidis. He and his bodyguards were fully armed and looked very threatening but no harm. The Yazidis are some kind of mixture between God and Satan worship. Two weeks later, the Iraqi, not Kurdistan, soldiers killed over 200 Yazidis in a massacre in the Kurdistan region. On Sunday we made a whole day tour by car and guiding driver to the countryside. We were checked ten times during our trip, but no problem. We visited a nice water park, cascades and some historical places, and stopped of course, at a local Efes beer pub by the road.
The most interesting and amazing thing happened in the mountain of Galy Ali Berg. Our driver stopped the car on a slope of the road, extinguished the engine and put the gear in a free position. What happened? Instead of starting to roll down, it rolled upwards. He did it again, and the same happened. We did not find any tricks. Finally, we realized that the car was on an exceptionally strong magnetic field, and it drew the metal car upwards. Amazing experience. The rest of the trip had no new surprises except checkpoints. In the evening we ate and drank beer and wine in our hotel restaurant.
What are the three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Malaria from Sierra Leone and burnt leg in Guinea, 2010
I was on y trip to four Guinean Bay countries in May 2010: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia. In Freetown in Sierra Leone, my host was Mr Idrissa, the President of the National Judo and Karate Association. From Freetown, I went by bush taxi to Conakry. From Guinea, I went to Guinea-Bissau on a motorcycle driven by a young local boy, and the enduro type of trip took 6 hours to Guinea-Bissau, and during the ride, I burnt my leg with the exhaust pipe. I came back to Freetown from Guinea-Bissau with two bush taxis via Conakry, and the whole trip took 36 hours, including two hours of sleep on the street pavement in Conakry!
On my departure day, Friday, the 16th of April, Idrissa came in the morning to my hotel and told me that all the flights to Europe had been cancelled due to a huge volcanic explosion in Iceland and its enormous ash cloud spreading all over Europe. We went to the BMI office and tried to change my reservation to the next flight, but we only managed to get a reservation for a flight on Sunday, the 25th of April 2010, ten days later. On next Sunday morning, we went with Idrissa by Bush Taxis to Bo Town, which is the second-largest city in Sierra Leone. Idrissa was building his own house over there few kilometres outside the centre near to the bushes and forest. We spent quite a lot of time at Idrissa’s construction site, and I also participated in the working process with two other men. In between, we were sitting in the bushes and drinking local mud wine. This became fatal for me because I was bitten by a Malaria fly there, which I found out about three days later in Freetown.
There I found that I was not feeling well, and I also had to go to the medical centre to get help with the wound on my leg, which I had got on my way from Guinea to Guinea-Bissau by motorcycle. I had burnt my leg on the hot exhaust pipe, and it was suppurating. I asked Idriss to take me to Luigi island for the last evening because I really felt bad. We found a very humble hotel, and I had a very high fever with hot and cold vibrations. On Saturday morning, one boy escorted me to the airport, and I had to wait 12 hours for my night flight just sitting under a fan and drinking water.
Finally, I started my night flight to London and further to Helsinki, where I arrived on Sunday afternoon. The flights went better, and I could even eat something and drink some wines. But at home, my fever started again and was over 40 degrees Celsius. On Monday morning, my lady friend Kaarina came to meet me at 7 o’clock and found me naked on the floor, and I told her that I’m on my way to the medical centre. She called immediately to a doctor, who came to see me and ordered an ambulance. I was taken to the main hospital in Helsinki and quite soon diagnosed to have serious Malaria. My blood was changed, and I was in dialysis, and half of the doctors said that I wouldn’t survive, but I did. I spent three weeks in that hospital, and I am still living strong.
Car accident in Namibia, 1998 and gun threatening in Nigeria, 1999
I was in Namibia in 1998 with three other Finish men on the first visit of my UNESCO project in Windhoek in Namibia. Our lady host was driving us in the city, and suddenly she drove over a highway without stopping, and suddenly we were hit by a German Mercedes Benz car. Our car spun one and a half horizontal rounds, and we went backwards about 100 meters. I was sitting in front, and the three men were in the back seats. One of them was unconscious, and the other was bleeding in his face. The third man Anssi could jump out together with me.
The driver was in shock and couldn’t even call help. We tried to get the two men out of them, but the door was stuck and we the car was leaking gasoline, and the ground was totally dry, and there was a danger for an explosion. We managed to get them out to the safe area. Finally, the lady managed to call the ambulance and get the men to the hospital. We were lucky that the car hit our car to the rear wheel and not to the mid of the car. If that had happened, we would not have survived. But the next day, my project men got out of the hospital, and the project was ready to start for four years.
Linked to my Namibia project I was travelling next year with my friend and project expert Anssi to Yaoundé, Cameroon to the UNESCO Culture in The Neighbourhood -project’s meeting, but we made a stopover in Nigeria due to my request for another new country, I had been already in Cameroon in 1985. I informed our embassy in advance that we would attend a UNESCO meeting. We were invited to our embassy by the ambassador Eero Saarikoski for a Finnish sauna and dinner. The next morning the driver from the embassy took us to the Eleko beach, which was nice, but a bit dirty and totally empty.
We stopped to take some photos of a Mosque construction site on our way back, and suddenly three men were running towards us, one with a pistol in his hand. He hit first the driver in the face, pointed the gun at me, and asked me to give my camera. Anssi had a video camera in his hand but managed to keep it hidden. It was quite a threatening situation, and I gave my camera, but the gunman was still furious.
Finally, his fellow mate managed to calm him down, and they let us go. The driver hurt his nose, which was bleeding. We told the embassy what had happened, and the embassy secretary Juha jumped to the car and came back two hours later with my camera. It had been a serious attack against a diplomatic car, and Juha was so tough a guy to get those people frightened.
I was for the first time in Haiphong in Vietnam in January, 1993 in order to start a new development project between Finland and Vietnam. After the successful negotiations, the hosts liked to take me to the famous Archipelago of Halong Bay by an old double store motorboat. It was January, and the weather was cold and quite windy. We were a dozen people on the boat, and we started our voyage. After an hour’s drive when we were on the second deck having lunch, I heard the engine stopping, and suddenly the boat swung strongly, and we found ourselves on the deck among all the food and drinks, but I managed to keep my beer in my hand.
The crew of two persons managed to throw only one anchor to the water, but the wind was quite strong, and the boat was still swinging heavily. The next problem was the anchor rope, which started to lose its strands. The captain said that it takes about half an hour before it will break. We were in the middle of the open sea without radio or other alarm equipment. There were only a few life belts, and the nearest coast’s distance was more than 500 metres. Suddenly we saw a ship near the coast, and we started to shout.
I was lying on the second desk peacefully drinking beer and went down and saw the boat. Suddenly the ship responded with its chimney and turned toward us. It came just early enough because once we had managed to move our passengers to the ship, the rope broke, but there was already another one. The ship was a Christian coal boat. Before this voyage, I had been taken to a Buddhist pagoda, and I was allowed to hit the huge bell, which means the Buddhist gods will protect me. Nice combination: Buddhist gods and Christian Vietnamese sailors saved an atheist Finn.
What are your three best travel tips?
Vanuatu in Oceania
Take a flight from Port Vila to the Isle of Tenna. Live in Yasur Tribe Bungalow Resort and finally climb (not too high) to Mt. Yasur, which is an active volcano, where you can safely see it bursting lava up to 200 meters, and the ground is steaming and trembling.
Palau in the North Pacific Ocean
Stay in the Penthouse Hotel in Koror and join a snorkelling group with a guide, which takes you to Jellyfish Maritime Lake, where you can safely snorkel together with millions of jellyfish in a salty lake. Unique in the world!
Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean
Take a six days package from Exotic Tours in Colombo and visit, among others, Pinavela Elephant Camp, which is especially for orphan baby elephants, and Dambulla Cave Temple, where you find the second biggest Buddha statue and a huge underground temple.
Finland and its beautiful lakes in the middle and eastern parts in summer, and wide and open mountainous deserts of Lapland either during the wintertime or in September during the colourful Autumn time.