From Switzerland to Philippines: Thomas Kellenberger reaches Asia after walking 141 days

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 16 January) — After walking for 141 days, Thomas Kellenberger has reached Asia, crossing over on Saturday, January 15, to the Asian part of Istanbul in Turkey, en route to Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao, Philippines. 

Kellenberger, the Swiss who is walking back to the Philippines on a fundraising trek for the Island Kids Foundation in Cagayan de Oro which he founded in 2006, stepped over to Asia on the eastern side of Istanbul, 141 days after he started out in Wilderswil village in Switzerland on August 25 last year. 

But the crossing which he did alone was not without drama – Thomas had started walking over the Bosphorus bridge when the police came to stop him. He was told that pedestrians are not allowed to walk over the bridge. But luckily the police were lenient with him—they stopped a bus on the bridge so that Thomas could hitch a ride and cross over to the other side.   

Thomas Kellenberger with his welcome cake. Photo by GINA IGNACIO

A day earlier, Thomas had reached Istanbul on a cold and rainy day, but had decided to proceed to walk another 26 kilometers further despite a rainstorm to meet up with Filipina supporters as arranged. He has now walked 2,800 kilometers of the way to the Philippines, which is an estimated 15,000 kilometers away. 

On Friday, Thomas had met a group of local Filipinas in Istanbul at “Mama Jens Eatery,” a restaurant opened last year by Jenny Ozdil, a Filipina married to a Turkish citizen. This group was joined by another Filipina supporter who had flown in from Switzerland, Sining Tanedo Bruni.

One of the local hosts, Mariegin Ignacio, said she had brought along a welcome cake for Thomas, of strawberry and chocolate flavor.    

 Ignacio said the group had dined on Filipino food from the eatery- inasal na manok, tinolang baka, beef kare-kare and embutido – and Thomas had enjoyed the meal very much.

“Iba kasi ang picture ni Thomas, sa personal payat pala siya,” replied Ignacio when asked over a zoom call  about their impressions of Thomas.

She added: “Sa tingin namin, Si Thomas ay masayahing tao. Parang na-miss niyang magsalita ng Bisaya, masaya siya pag nag-Bisaya. Sayang at hindi dumating yung kaibigan naming  Bisaya.” 

Starting Friday, Thomas had a rare weekend of rest after walking 15 days straight to catch up with the pre-arranged plan in Istanbul. He managed together with the Filipinas to visit popular tourist attractions in Istanbul like the banks of the Bosphorus strait; the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia and the popular turkish baths.

In a Zoom meeting with this writer, Thomas acknowledged that he had lost maybe 2 weeks of walk due to various reasons  – among them due to the cold or bad weather and bad health including a gastric issue – but said he is confident that he can make up for it because his health has improved. 

Thomas got sick two times in Kosovo with fever and the flu and he said there were times in Kosovo when he was afraid that he would have to give up the trek home. “That in Kosovo was a critical time for me. Without help from friends and other people, I would have been in trouble,” said Thomas. 

This weekend’s meeting with Filipinos in Istanbul was the first for Thomas since Medjugorje in November, when a small group of Filipinas met up with him to give supplies and show their continued support. 

Thomas Kellenberger meets with Filipina supporters in Istanbul on January 14 ,2022.  Kellenberger left Switzerland in August 2021 on a fundraising trek for the Island Kids Foundation in Cagayan de Oro City which he founded in 2006.  Photo by GINA IGNACIO 

In Kosovo when he got sick, an official of the Kosovo Olympic Committee whom he had befriended had arranged for his immediate medical checkup and treatment. 

Thomas said he is also encouraged that in the coming five to six weeks he would have company walking with a friend coming from Switzerland.  While in Sofia in Bulgaria, Thomas also met with Istvan, a Hungarian living in Mindanao (in Baroy, Lanao del Norte) who had also walked with him for a day from Sofia to Plovdiv. 

So far Thomas has crossed Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey and will next move through Asia – first to Iran and the small central Asian republics; then on to China,  Pakistan, and India; before reaching the southeast Asian nations of Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam and then the final push to the Philippines estimated to be reached by the year 2023.  

You can track Thomas on his trek or keep in touch with him via Instagram  accounts (islandkidsphilippines or Kellenberger Thomas), his Facebook account (Kellenberger Thomas)  or on the Island Kids Philippines website (www.islandkids.ch)


(Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)