Days 318-348: Don’t Look Back In Anger

Days 318-348: Don’t Look Back In Anger

14.11.09-14.12.09:

Oh Graham, you tease, what’s the meaning of this, compressing an entire MONTH of gallivanting into just one blog entry? Well, truth be told if there was something of any note to tell, I would give you the Full Monty and no mistake. But as is the way of things in The Odyssey, stuff has a disgraceful habit of not going according to plan. It took me just 10 days to get from Dar es Salaam to Mauritius. It took me SEVEN WEEKS to get back.

I ran down to the port in Mahajanga bright and early on the morning of the 14th November eager to jump on the boat that was apparently leaving for Comoros. Ah yes… the boat. Try again tomorrow.

So I checked back into Chez Karon and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The excuses were plentiful (although the one about the cyclone seems true if a little far away), but in the end I didn’t leave until the following Saturday. I’ll spare you the details, but when you think there is a chance that the boat might leave ‘tomorrow’ you end up doing nothing waiting for the damn thing, lest you’re out of town when the boat finally leaves..

Yeah, waiting for boats REALLY sucks. What else do you want to know? Although if you do find yourself stuck in Mahajanga for a few days, I seriously recommend Chez Karon. They can even organise wild-boar hunts for you, sadly for me the boar-hunting season finished at the end of October…! I’ll have to live out my Lord of the Flies fantasies some other time.

So one week to the day after I arrived in Mahajanga we set sail on the Liege (the sister ship of the good Mojangaya that brought me to Madagascar last month) and within a couple of days I had arrived back in Comoros.

Incidentally, (when it finally left) the little Liege was a treat (especially compared to that utter disgrace The Shissiwani) I had a desk with a powersocket so I could work, I got my own bed (fancy that!) and the sea was calmer than Whispering Bob Harris in a coma.

Once in Moroni, the capital of the three Comoros islands, the good Commissioner Madhi looked downcast when I told him of my plan. There are no boats, he said, not for at least a week. My heart sank. And there was worse news – the only boat going would be that DAMN Shissiwani. Things where not good.

To compliment its utter failure as a state, Comoros not only has no running water (or pubs, ATMs, bins, streetlights, backpackers, camp sites, scuba diving, container ports and international roaming networks) – it also has no CouchSurfers. Well, there is one, a guy called Hugh, but he’s on another of the three islands.

It’s hilarious that the UN even pays lip-service to Comoros’s demands that the French Island of Mayotte be ‘returned’ to them! Could you imagine?! Yeah, well, even though 99% of you want to stay with France (good call guys!), I guess we’ll just have to hand you over to the Chuckle Brothers to run the show – hell, why would you want to be a first-world country when you could be a forth-world country instead?! Those Mayottians must have taken their extra-crazy pills before THAT referendum.

Oo la la! Shall we keep this welfare state, health care provision and free schooling or shall we throw it all out the window (like a Comorian’s Trash) and work our nuts off – not for ourselves but for our disgracefully corrupt politicians to stuff their mattresses with ill-gotten Euros – in the spirit of independence?

[Cough]

Comoros is the first country I’ve been to that doesn’t even take Visa. What a joke. Even Sierra Leone takes Visa… as does Iraq, Afghanistan and even parts of Somalia. Ygads!

The first thing that you’ll notice on your arrival in Moroni (the capital) is the STENCH. There is litter EVERYWHERE. It looks like the end of a music festival, only nobody is busy clearing it up. At one point I saw some people in the back of a low loader and thought for one (idiotic) second that they were cleaning up the trash. Ha, no. They were just shovelling loose garbage off the truck and dumping it onto the side of the road. NICE! Just like London. In the middle ages.

The second thing you’ll notice is the price of everything. Seriously, it’s more expensive than Tokyo. Imagine a dirty, cobweb-filled room with a hard floor and a bed that’s second hand from the local jail (whose sheets never get cleaned unless you ask). The electrical sockets hang dangerously out of the wall as if on comedy go-go-gadget springs and the door handles fall off with gay abandon. Your ‘shower’ (not en suite, don’t be silly) is nothing more than a bucket of cold mosquito-infested water which you must scoop up in a plastic jug and pour over yourself. Of course you can forget about telly, air-con, mini-bar or room service; and breakfast – of course – is not included. The floor is so filthy that when you walk from the bucketroom to your bedroom your feet will end up so dirty you might as well have clambered Gollum-like over a coal pile. The only thing that’s complimentary are the ants. And spiders. And mosquitoes.

The price for such princely lodgings? Three Euro? Five would perhaps be a little much. Ten would be outright extortion. Fifteen would be taking the piss.

It was SIXTEEN Euro. A night. Mand and I have stayed in delightful B&Bs in Wales with a full English brekkie in the morning for less. To make matters even more frustrating, the guy who ran the place was a dick, charging me €5 for washing my t-shirts and laughing as I handed him the money for the first ten days of my incarceration.

Pension Faida is the first place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, but if you ever end up in Comoros (unlucky you!) please opt for the much more delightful (and shower-ific) La Grillade on the ocean road or, even better, The Jardin De La Paix nearby (I would nominate Jardin De La Paix as the best place in the whole damn island, for food and lodgings – it’s head and shoulders above the rest). But unfortunately, as well as being the nastiest, Pension Faida is the cheapest place in town.

On top of that, the beer is so expensive you can only drink half a pint a day before you blow your budget, the food is an utter rip, SIM cards are a whopping €15 (everywhere else in Africa they’re €1) and because there are no ATMs, every time you want money it’ll cost you €15 – and it’s not like you can change Comorian Francs into anything useful once you’ve left the country.

The third thing you’ll notice is that the people are rather pleasant. Yes, the service is diabolical (although still not as bad as Cape Verde – phew-eeee!) and if you get your camera out, you’ll meet a lot of angry women (and police – I did), but that aside, there are a lot of good people in Comoros. I never felt conscious about my stuff and was happy to leave my laptop out in the cafe while I went for a burst – it was that kinda place.

I didn’t entirely waste my three weeks on the island from hell. I attempted to climb the volcano – by all accounts the biggest active volcano in the world – but gave up LIKE A BIG FAT WUSS an hour from the summit. After doing bugger-all for the preceding few weeks, clambering up a mighty big volcano at four in the morning had it’s charms, but within an hour I had pulled a muscle in my leg and BLAH BLAH BLAH face it Graham, you wussed out, you wuss. SILENCE INNER DEMON. Ha! You wussed out ‘cos you’re ginger and you’re a quitter.

I AM NOT A QUITTER.

Then why’d yer quit?

MY LEG HURT!! I WALKED FOR FIVE HOURS UPHILL WITH A SORE LEG!!

Anybody else wanna quit?

I ALSO WALKED BACK DOWN FOR FIVE HOURS WITH A BLOODY SORE LEG (AND POSSIBLE SUNSTROKE) YOU BASTARD!

Saddle up people. We’ve got quitters to bury.

OH GET LOST!

After my ordeal on the volcano (I, unlike Sam and Frodo, was not rescued by giant eagles) I spent the proceeding four days picking strips off my sunburnt face, which is strangely satisfying. Like popping bubble wrap. Or bludgeoning Bono to death with his own legs.

After ten days in the BLOODY AWFUL Pension Faida, I took my new-found English buddy Gemma’s advice and checked out the Itsandra Hotel, 4km north of Moroni. The Itsandra Hotel is the best hotel on the island (although that’s a barbed compliment). I found myself a spot at the bar to indulge in my nefarious internet deeds. Ahh, nice views, lovely staff, private beach and free Wi-Fi. Bliss. Two drawbacks – the internet was slower than Steven Hawkins climbing a treacle staircase and the beer was €3 for a half. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS PLACE??

Finding myself homeless, I was taken in my a friendly local called Yaya, who was learning English. He was a top dude and even let me take his bed while he slept on the floor. But like all Comorians, (except the ones in power, of course) he was dirt poor – the government has not paid his wages for eight months. YOU HEAR THAT MAYOTTE? YOU SEE WHAT YOU’RE MISSING YOU CHEESE EATING SURRENDER MONKEYS?!! Now stop behaving like a spoilt brat and come join the povvo fun.

Yaya’s home was in desperate need of some TLC, but you know these guys are great – they just get on with it. I don’t think I could hack it. But then, what’s the alternative? Oh yeah, right – there is none.

The next day, Fanja, one of the guys who worked at the Itsandra Hotel, took me under his wing and I learnt an important lesson in life: YOU’RE NOT DEAD UNTIL JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME KICKS YOU IN THE FACE.

He can shoot you as many times as he likes, you’ll be okay, you’ll still be standing. He can set you on fire, chop your head off, pull your guts out and through them on the floor, but you ain’t going down until he does his roundhouse kick to your FACE! THEN YOU’RE GOING DOWN BITCH!! You hear me? YOU. ARE. GOING. DOWN.

I ended up staying with Fanja for the best part of a week in his one room shack in the ramshackle village/slum next to the Itsandra Hotel. It was a blast and we watched far too many crap action movies and reggae music videos for two guys who weren’t even stoned.

You see, by now I had spent all of the Euros I had taken out when I was in Reunion (canny!) and I was loath to have to go and give Western Union €15 towards an ill-deserved Christmas present just for the pleasure of removing my own money from my own bank account.

Speaking of the festive season… you know how Darth Vader knows what Luke is getting for Christmas?

That’s right! He FELT his presents.

Ah hahahahahaha..

Cracks me up every time.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was getting around to telling you about Alice, Daniel, Keith and Steph who would keep me entertained for the final week of my incarceration.

These crazies (first two were from North Carolina, Keith was from Florida and Steph was from our very own Cambridge) were all on their way to Mayotte to meet up with the boat they are due to crew on – a replica of a 2,600 year old Phoenician ship that has been built by a crazy British guy (who else?) in order to re-create the first circumnavigation of Africa.

So it’s all wood and oars and one mighty big nine-month sail. Check out their website – www.phoenicia.org.uk (and you thought ‘odyssey’ was hard to spell). Madness. Sheer madness. I love it.

Although I don’t actually know who the Phoenicians were (and neither does my spell checker) but I thought it impertinent to ask.

Alice, Daniel, Keith and I went out on a tour of the island one day, the highlight of which was the discovery that, yes, COMOROS HAS LEMURS TOO!! Woo! I meet one called Rambo. Lovely chap, invited me up his tree for a nice hot brew. The lowlight of the day was our guide, Joseph, who was so hilariously miserable he could have given Victor Meldrew a run for his money.

For the last few days I was there, Alice and Daniel (and once they left, Stephanie) allowed me to sleep on the floor in their hotel room like the dog I am.

My days on Grand Comores generally revolved around getting up bright and early, finding out how long my boat had been delayed (or that it simply wasn’t coming) and then heading up to the Itsandra Hotel to abuse that free internet connection. On the plus side, I managed to get fourteen spanking new Odyssey videos edited (much easier when you’re not sitting on a fifty year old bus with no suspension hurtling along a dirt track).

The US Navy dudes that we befriended at the Itsandra Hotel (this is a new initiative – the US are now sending troops to undeveloping nations to help small community projects, kinda like the Peace Corps, only these guys don’t play chess) treated me to dinner and even let me use their hot showers (after three weeks of cold bucket showers IT WAS BLISS).

Now I’ve made a lot of friends in Comoros, so I don’t want to slag it off too much, but when with eager eyes and undoubtable sincerity they as me if I’ll be coming back to Comoros one day with my girlfriend, I had to let them down gently. There is very little that would bring me back here – but the one thing that would certainly keep me away is the godDAMN police. As always in Africa, they are just out for one thing – to brainlessly destroy any tourism industry that might otherwise emerge. On the night I arrived (on my first visit) I was hassled by a bunch of bastard plain-clothers for my passport and, as I found out later from Gemma, had I (sensibly) left my passport in my hotel, they would have fallen over themselves to lock me up for the night. It’s a CRIME!

And I’m supposed to bring my girlfriend to such a place?!! So she too can enjoy the pleasures of an African jail? Two of Gemma’s British friends had been locked up overnight for this reason. WHAT THE ****? Are there swarms of European migrants swimming over to Comoros to abuse the non-existent welfare state? Is there a small legion of white suicide bombers planning to cause death and mayhem in Cloud Coup-Coup Land? Is it more important that everyone who comes for a visit is made to feel like a criminal than to be made to feel welcome?

It would seem so.. It kills me to say all this because, as always in Africa, it’s not the people’s fault that visiting their country for a ‘holiday’ is about as attractive a proposition as having your brains sucked out through your nose – it’s the fault of the bas***d politicians and the bas***d police who conspire to keep everyone poor and everything wretched. God I HATE them.

One day I was arrested for the crime of – get this – having a camera. Because I didn’t have a photo permit (possibly because they don’t frickin’ well EXIST) a horrible little toad-faced gendarme was trying to take me down to the airport and stick me on the next plane out of his country.. Luckily, the nice port police chaps that I had befriended calmed this nasty piece of work down. But seriously man, WTF??

I’m sorry to say this, but I won’t be back. Strike Comoros down as another nation-that-exists-but-possibly-shouldn’t along with Cape Verde and Sao Tome. Too small, too impoverished, too silly, too . The dream that began with being ‘independent’ has turned into a nightmare of poverty, isolation and a failed state held to the crappy whims of petty-minded politicians who are just out to line their own pockets.

At the end of the day, Comoros has had TWENTY-FIVE Coup d’Etats since 1975. It has no less than FOUR presidents at any one time(!) and as basketcases go, it has to be the basketcase to beat all basketcases. The port isn’t even big enough to take container ships – HOW ELSE ARE YOU SUPPOSE TO SUPPLY AN ISLAND WITH STUFF?? I hope I leave you in no state of confusion as to why 99% of the population of the ‘fourth’ island of Mayotte voted to stay with France.

In fact, rather than the UN putting pressure on France to give Mayotte ‘back’ to Comoros, I think they should be putting pressure on Comoros to return the three islands (Grand Comores, Anjouan and the other one) back to France. I’m serious. Just so you don’t think I’m some half-crazed Imperialist pigdog, can I just point out that Moroni, the capital city of Comoros, has gone without running water now for over a year. OVER A YEAR. If you think that the deranged bandits in charge deserve to get away with that kind of thing and that the people of Comoros deserve to suffer in the name of some false sense of independence, then by all means shoot me down on this one; but given the choice, if it was my country, I would want the schools, hospitals, social security, rule of law, freedom of the press, roads, railways, infrastructure, port facilities, electricity and, oh yeah, the FLOWING WATER SUPPLY that my evil French overlords would provide.

A final point: Malaria has been all but wiped out on Mayotte. On the three ‘independent’ islands it is rampant (moreso since the water was shut off – lots of lovely filthy buckets of water lying around to breed your mosquitoes in). People are dying because their government is about as much use as tits on a crocodile.

What have the Romans ever done for us indeed. Ah, Comoros, I love you to bits but my word your government needs a slap.

Country Count: 124



Day 349-50: All Aboard The Good Ship Simacom!

Day 349-50: All Aboard The Good Ship Simacom!

December 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Comoros, Indian Ocean, The Odyssey Expedition

15.12.09-16.12.09:

Yesterday I and 43 other passengers boarded the ‘Simacom’ bound for Dar es Saleem, three weeks to the day since I arrived in Comoros.

It was supposed to have left two weeks ago, then last Saturday, then yesterday. It’s now Tuesday we’re still in port. Time is not money. Time is not money. I’m here with a lovely French couple, Thomas and Sevine, who arrived in Comoros on Sunday. They live in Reunion and they’re trying to get back to France without flying. They spent the last three weeks waiting to leave Mahajanga on a boat – nice to know I’m not the only one!

But, given the choice, I would have preferred to be stuck in Madagascar for three weeks than here. But watchagonnado? The delay today is being caused by some passengers having outstayed their 45 day visa for Comoros (possibly because they’ve been waiting that long for a frickin’ boat…) but we should be out of here today, at some point.

Later that day…

We eventually left port at about noon and I waved my fond farewells to Comoros. I made a lot of good friends there and I’m sorry to see them gone. But Comoros itself… meh. So we’re now on the MV Simacom heading northwest to Dar es Salaam where I left a whopping two months ago. I’m trying not to think about it – I may burst into tears…!

The sea is quite rough today and Thomas and Sevine aren’t liking the mal del mer. I’m just about holding my own. Maybe, heaven forfend, I might be getting used to it. Although grotty as hell and full of scrap metal junk that we had to clamber over to get on board, the Simacom is head, shoulders, knees and toes above the damn Shissiwani (I’m SO glad I did not have to take that nightmare back). We all got wooden benches to sit (and sleep) on and there’s even a telly! They’re currently treating us to a Bond Marathon working backwards from Casino Royale. We’re currently up to Goldeneye. God it makes me want to play the game on Nick’s N64. That stuff was like crack.

Incidentally, I know this has nothing to do with anything but HEY YOU Holocaust/Evolution/Climate Change/Moon Landings/AIDS deniers… Yeah, you… You know what? YEEEEEER RIGHT and EVERYBODY CLEVERER THAN YOU IS WRONG.

Yes.

The Next Day…

By the time I woke up this morning we were up to Octopussy. Ahh… Udaipur. Although I have to point out that one of the baddies has a killer yo-yo. A killer yo-yo? WTF??

The sea today was smooth as silk and with the wind behind us we made good time – we should hit Dar early tomorrow morning. I wasted today watching Mission Impossible III (meh), Angels and Demons (meh) and Wolverine (meh) on my laptop while stuffing my face full of Thomas and Sevine’s lychees while they sat and read. The only annoyance was this snaggletoothed Indian chap who insisted on tapping me on the shoulder every now and again and speaking in a whisper, forcing me pop my headphones out of my ears and to crane closer at which point he would unleash the full force of his killer halitosis. Urgh.

I can’t WAIT to be back in Africa.



Day 351: The Race Is ON!

Day 351: The Race Is ON!

December 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Djibouti, Rwanda, Tanzania, The Odyssey Expedition

17.12.09:

Right. Here’s the deal. It’s Thursday 17th December. If I play my cards right, I reckon I can get to Egypt via Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia before the end of the month to meet my girlfriend Mandy.

We haven’t seen each other all year.

I have just 10 days from today to get to Djibouti (via Burundi) to catch a cargo boat up to Port Said. This is going to be AWESOME.

The race, as they say, is ON!!!

Today we got into port nice and early. Before long I was stamped back into Tanzania (had to buy a new visa – grr). I said my goodbyes to Thomas and Sevine and stepped back onto the continent of Africa.

I hurried over to the bus station to find that there were no buses to Rwanda until Saturday (I just missed the one that left today) so I jumped on the next bus to Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, hoping to ‘bus hop’ my way up to Rwanda instead.

I got into Dodoma around 5pm, but there were no buses going any further today. Buses in Tanzania don’t seem to run at night. This is a problem, especially if I hope to be in Djibouti a week on Saturday.

Dodoma was the most uncapital-like capital city I’ve ever been to (worse than Canberra!) but I’m back in Tanzania and the price is right. Also, it’s named after the general who explains how to blow up the Death Star in Star Wars. I’m staying in a place that is comparable with the dreadful Pension Faida back on Comoros, only this place has a shower (albeit a cold one) and it costs… oh yes…€3. Or in other words, what the Pension Faida should have cost.

I’m writing this in the restaurant of the poshest hotel in town, the New Dodoma, about a mile down the road from my guesthouse. I’m about to sink my teeth into a massive steak that has just been delivered to my table on a sizzling platter. It looks DELICIOUS (if a little hot) and the price? €3.25.

Pinch me, I must be dreaming. Hang on – I’ll go and check I haven’t got the exchange rate wrong.

Nope. It’s right…

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I’m so happy I could burst.



Day 352: In The Shadow of Kilimanjaro

Day 352: In The Shadow of Kilimanjaro

December 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Rwanda, Tanzania, The Odyssey Expedition

18.12.09:

Today’s mission was to get as close to the border of Rwanda as possible. I’m a bit miffed that I got stuck in Dodoma last night as I could have stayed in Dar, hung out with Dylan who I was couchsurfing with last time I was there all those weeks ago and got the direct bus this morning to Kahama, arriving there this evening. As it was, that’s pretty much what I did, only I had to get a couple of different buses and I arrived a few hours earlier than I would have done from Dar.

Met a great guy from Poland called Raphael who worked for Polish television news and had done a few stints in Afghanistan. I got to pick his brains and adjust my route accordingly….! The bus was heading up to Lake Victoria which isn’t where I want to go, so I jumped off at a place called Nzega and got a minibus to Kahama, arriving around 7pm (the direct bus from Dar gets in at 10pm!). Kahama is the crossroads between Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda and has plenty of nice cheap hotels in which to lay your head, although they were having trouble with there water supplies so it was a fecking bucket bath again, although, much to my delight, when it came the water was hot.

I’m a bit knackered and the bus for the border with Rwanda leaves at 5:45 in the morning, so not fancying a late one I ventured out to the bar next door, stuffed my face with barbecued beef and chips (washed down with a bottle of Kilimanjaro beer) and then returned to my hotel room. I intend to watch as much Family Guy as I can (Don, one of the US Navy guys in Comoros, loaded up my hard-drive with all kinds of Audio-Visual delights) on my laptop until I fall asleep. Good night.



Day 353: A Dish Called Rwanda

Day 353: A Dish Called Rwanda

19.12.09:

Wow. Rwanda. Like, really, wow. I know what I like and I like what I see.

I dragged my reluctant carcass out of bed at some ungodly hour and headed over to the bus station with a local guy called Charles who was also taking the bus somewhere. It was too early for me to focus on anything, but before I knew it I was sitting on the front seat of a minibus heading towards the Rwandan border.

I arrived at 9.30am, glad to discover that the ‘six-hour’ border process took less than ten minutes. And, what’s more NO VISA REQUIRED!! So Rwanda started well and it just got better from there on in. One of the things that was annoying me about Tanzania was that my Vodafone mobile internet thingy wasn’t working, and it took about half an hour just to send a text from it (updating my twitter was a nightmare), but in Rwanda it worked as soon as I crossed the border.

And the scenery… my word. If you like hills (I do) and trees (I do) and you like hills and trees together (I especially do, see my comments on Colombia and Madagascar) then you would LOVE Rwanda. It just looks seven shades of gorgeous from to bottom. And… you’re not going to believe this, but there is no litter. Like seriously, no litter AT ALL. It’s incredible. After slogging it through 40 countries worth of filth and garbage for the last seven months and especially after just coming from the-city-tip-is-the-city Comoros, saying Rwanda is a breath of fresh air is somewhat of an understatement.

They even close the roads for half an hour on the last Saturday of every month so people can clear up any rubbish from the sides of the road. AWESOME!!

Finally, a country where people look after their country.

And then there are the towns. They are splendid, with well built brick buildings (which are – shockhorror – FINISHED and PAINTED), manicured lawns, flowers, trees and playing fields. Christ I could be in the friggin’ Cotswolds. The roads are all sealed, signposted and painted… what the hell is going on here?

And, as if the icing on the cake, the minibuses are brand new (incredible!). Makes a change from being trucked around in vans that were old when the Darma Initiative came to the island.

Finally, and there’s something else Rwanda has that will have me returning one day when I have more time… Gorillas. Oh yeah baby, SHOW ME THE PRIMATES!! No time on this trip I’m afraid, but I’ll be back. Oh yes, I’ll be back.

So yes, Rwanda got me grooving from the word go. I got to the capital, Kigali, at about 2:30pm which was a bit of a worry as I knew the border with Burundi (Nation 126) closed at 6pm and it took at least three hours to get there. But Rwanda had yet more good news for me – it’s an hour behind Tanzania! So it was really 1:30pm. SAFE!

So I trundled towards the Burundian border, excitedly sending Colm my blog entries for the past five weeks (all four of em – heh). At the delightful little town of Budare I changed my mode of transport for a taxi-motorbike and buzzed the last 20km to the border. I got stamped out of Rwanda (why not eh?) and crossed the river into Burundi. I filmed my crossing and had a chat with the border guards on the other side (you can get a three-day visa for $20 on the border, take note overlanders!) before turning back into Rwanda.

Lucky I did, as a my motorbike guy had disappeared and minibus for Budare was just leaving.. I dived onboard, excited at the prospect of racing all the way up to Djibouti this week. Dino has come through with the goods and found me a space on the ship CMA Turquoise next Sunday and if all goes to plan (it won’t!) I should be sitting pretty in Djibouti this time next week ready to meet Mandy before midnight on the 31st.

We rolled into Budare just in the nick of time – the last bus back to Kigali was revving up to leave. Go go go go go!!

Getting back to Kigali around 9pm, I was greeted with the delightful sight of the city by night. A few months ago I read a book by John Steinbeck in which he pointed out that cities that are flat have to try and make up for their lack of drama by building huge skyscrapers. In a town like Kigali that is just not necessary. Rwanda likes to bill itself as the land of a thousand hills and, for once, the place lives up to the hype and Kigali is no exception.. The million multi-coloured points of light scattered over the hillside of this pleasant, breezy capital are just magical.

I’m sorry, I know I have a tendency to gush over places that I like, but in Africa those places are few and far between so I think it’s just a case of credit were credit is due.

I headed over to the main bus station to try and get a ticket for the direct bus to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya (via Uganda) which leaves at 5.30 tomorrow morning. The offices had just closed but the guy there said there should be seats available in the morning, so I hunkered down for the night in the Kigali Guest House, had some goat stew for din-dins (yum!) and got rather excited about the new Forum page on the website.



Day 354: Business As Usual

Day 354: Business As Usual

December 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Burundi, Ethiopia, Rants, Rwanda, Tanzania, The Odyssey Expedition, Uganda

20.12.09:

You know when somebody says that something was a breath of fresh air, I can’t describe how apt that saying is when it comes to Rwanda. It is there that you find all that Africa could be if only its scumbag criminal leaders would allow it. But there’s no time to dilly-dally, I’ve got a mission and a damn good reason to get to Egypt in 11 days time… Mandy.

I hopped a motorbike taxi (and for the first time in Africa, crash helmets are mandatory) to the bus station nice and early and before long I was being whisked out of the country towards Uganda, past the green terraced hills and the cute little villages along the way. Since the darkness of 1994, Rwanda has turned itself around like you would not believe. THAT’S what you can achieve with 15 years of half-decent governance and well-structured aid programmes.

Rwanda shouldn’t really be in this position. Don’t forget, it wasn’t just the 1994 genocide which knocked the country sideways, Rwanda was heavily involved in the conflict in DR Congo which claimed the lives of the most number of people since WWII. It’s also totally landlocked with pretty lousy neighbours (the road from Dar es Salaam to Kigali is still not sealed all the way and you can forget about trucking stuff in from DR Congo – there are no roads!) but, against the odds, they have forged a successful state of which all Rwandans (there are no Tutsi or Hutu any more, only Rwandans) should be proud.

Unlike Uganda which sucked the big one. Yup, sorry to report but once over that border (an ordeal and an utter rip off $50 for a one day transit visa) Africa reverted back to its dusty, dirty, unfinished, grimy, sweaty, unpleasant, uncomfortable, stressful, poverty-stricken, pot-holed, manic, dangerous, diseased, dispossessed, corrupt, undemocratic, sticking, grotty, unsanitary, littered, open-drained cesspool that we all kinda expect it to be (and it is).

When you consider that Uganda has only had three leaders since independence back in the sixties (and one of them was Idi Amin) and that the current leader has been in charge since the mid-eighties, you can imagine that this is another place where, to quote the Manics when they were good, democracy is an empty lie. So Uganda finds itself in the same trap as nearly every other African nation – politicians go for the job for the money, not to make things better, the people are nothing more than an inconvenience in the way of the leaders true calling – to skim off a percentage for every bit of oil, gold, diamonds, timber, coltan whatever that is extracted at the behest of the western world with no net gain for the people.

My heart sank as I saw the same skanky shops that line the roads of every country I’ve been through since Morocco. The same shoeless orphans, the same put-upon women carrying the same mosquito-infested buckets of water on their heads, the same grind, the same unfinished concrete hovels, the same the same the same. God it’s depressing. I’ve had seven months of this and I’m sick of it. As I’ve said before, I see no romance in poverty. Life here is brutish, nasty and short. The average life expectancy is 50. The same that it was in Britain 200 years ago. The gap between us developed and them undeveloping is vast and perhaps unimaginable to bridge, but if Rwanda can turn itself around after those dark, dark days of 1994, then there’s a glimmer of hope for the future; if only Africa could rid herself of the gangsters, criminals and thugs that currently run the show. If only…

The mad thing is that these places run by horrible little thieves, bastards and con-men actually get to vote on important issues facing the planet, most pertinent this week being action against climate change. That scum like the miserable turd who is currently running nasty narco-state Guinea into the ground (although I’m kinda intrigued to see how it could possibly sink any lower) are allowed to have a say on any matter beggars belief, but on a matter of such complexity and import as the urgently needed cuts to worldwide carbon emissions it just leaves me dumbfounded. It’s like asking Ian Huntley his opinion on the matter, only he murdered considerably less children. Why are these dreadful men allowed to use international democratic institutions when their concept of domestic democracy involves taking out any opposition with a bullet to the head?

If Hitler were around today, would he get a vote? Looking around the credentials of the current crop of African tin-pot dictators one would have to conclude yes.

Anyway, so what do you want to know? Uganda was same old same old, and that’s all I have to say about it. I’ve seen it forty times before and I’m bored of it now. I think I’ve got poverty fatigue. I just can’t seem to get as excited about it as Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. There is no stoic dignity about seeing half of your children die and having to shit in the streets.

So I passed through Kampala really not caring less, but I will report that – as usual – the people were an utter delight. Incredibly friendly and talkative, and it’s great to see the increasing cross-pollination of the five East African states (Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda & Kenya) in microcosm on the bus. When I have a pop at the state of Africa in 2009, please don’t think for one second that I’m bitching about Africans. I am not. I am bitching about African politicians, who are a breed apart. A breed of psychopaths and sociopaths who don’t deserve the time of day much less a seat in the UN for their twisted cronies and henchmen.

I was a little worried at the Kenyan border that I’d miss the bus as I was last in the queue to get stamped out of Uganda and when I changed my money at the Western Union they took their sweet time about it, so I legged it over the border. Bad call. It was dark and was I really expecting a road in Africa to be, you know, flat? Of course it wasn’t. I went FLYING, scraping my left arm and right hand in the process.

Not an auspicious entry in my 128th Nation I’ve got to say. But an entrance nonetheless and the fact I’ve got to 4 nations in less than two days is a goddamn miracle. I get into the capital of Kenya, Nairobi, at 5am tomorrow. If I can get my Ethiopia AND Djibouti visas in the morning (unlikely) I should be able to get an overnight bus towards Ethiopia and then I really will be on schedule for the boat to Egypt and what lies beyond.

If not, I’m going to be pushing it, not least because Friday is Christmas Day and things (buses, border posts etc.) might shut down. But then again, if I’m in Ethiopia, no worries – they don’t celebrate Christmas until January!

Onward, my friends, onward…



Day 355: Mr Stanley, I Presume

Day 355: Mr Stanley, I Presume

December 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Kenya, The Odyssey Expedition

21.12.09:

Woke up on the bus, which had come to a halt sometime earlier in downtown Nairobbery. It was 5am as I staggered into a taxi and asked the driver to take me to The Comfort Hotel. There I would meet Matt, who would be my cameraman for the last 10 days of The Odyssey 2009. Brilliantly enough, my contract is up at the end of the year so it’s going to be YOUTUBE TASTIC from then on, the only person with a say on what goes up will be big fat me. Woo!

More good news from the road: The Odyssey TV show (and yes, for us Brits, it will be called The Odyssey) is going to broadcast on the BBC next year. No obscure cable channels for this little Odysseus. Matt tells me that the Director General of the beeb has actually seen a chunk of one episode (the Cape Verde shenanigans) and it got the thumbs up. Infamy, here’s I come. BTW, my contract runs out at midnight December 31st, so past that date, ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO ME! Be prepared for more YouTubey goodness than you can handle BABY…YEAH! Incidentally, if any broadcasters want to commission my 2010 adventures (Odyssey Two), please get in touch.

WHOOSH!!

Matt has a habit of waking me up at some ungodly hour when he calls me from Oz (I don’t think he’s got the hang of time zones yet) so I thoughtfully repaid the favour by turning up at his hotel at such an unreasonable hour. He didn’t seem to mind too much, he was much more excited about the fire that happened last night. The building next door went up in flames – Matt was on the 6th Floor of the Comfort, given T.I.A. he was lucky to get out alive. A guy from Belgium apparently slept through the whole shebang. Luckily, Fireman Sam put out the flames before they engulfed the hotel and it was reopened a few hours later.

After brekkie (I had CEREAL!) it was ACTION STATIONS! I needed to get TWO African visa in just ONE MORNING to stay on schedule for Egypt in 10 days time. Could it be done?

We split up (like on Scooby Doo) – I headed to the Ethiopian Embassy, Matt to the Djibouti Embassy. At the Ethiopian Embassy I met up with Aengus Stanley, top chap from Ireland (who incidently DROVE here from Ireland, the nutter) who had contacted me through the website and had offered his assistance clambering over the obstacles Nairobi would no doubt throw up in our path. I was first into the place, got my form filled in within seconds and handed it over. But this being Africa, you can’t just pay your $20 over the counter, you have to pay it into a nearby bank, get a receipt and bring it back. Actually I had to do something very similar when I arrived in Mexico with Captain Johnny after visiting Cuba.

Aengus heroically drove me over to the bank, I got the receipt, then we rushed across town (as fast as you can rush in Nairobi) and met with Matt at the Djibouti Embassy. Djibouti’s claim to fame is possibly that it is the most obscure country in the world, but in this mad mission, it is utterly key to my nefarious plans. I filled out the form, flashed my passport, said I’ll be back. Matt booked a hotel for next Saturday and printed out my letters of accreditation from LP and WaterAid while Aengus and I high-tailed it back to the Ethiopian Embassy.

They kept us waiting, but only for an hour (which given T.I.A. Is lightning fast) and – oh yeah -that was one visa in the bag. Then Aengus took me back to the Djibouti Embassy, we said our goodbyes and I headed up the second floor of International House behind the Hilton Hotel to drop in my passport for Djibouti.

Come back in an hour said the girl on the front desk.

I could have kissed her.

Matt and I grabbed a coffee and had a smashing row about mmmmm mmmmmm and the mmm mmm mmmmmmms before heading back to grab our visas. We were DONE and it wasn’t even 1pm. Oh yeah.

The bus for the border was apparently leaving at 4pm. I’ve been here for seven months now so there was no way I was going to hurry for this one and I guess Matt learned his first lesson about Africa – trust no-one. Especially bus or taxi touts. We didn’t actually leave until 7.30pm. This annoyed somewhat, not because of the added journey time (according to Aengus, the roads in Ethiopia are much better than they say in Lonely Planet, so we should save time there) but because if we had known the bus wouldn’t leave until that time, we could have gone to Carnivore, the famous stuff-your-face-with-more-meat-than-Linda-Lovelace restaurant that everybody raves about. It was the only thing I really wanted to do in Kenya, but ho-hum.

The place where the ‘bus’ (it was minibus) left from was as grotty as hell. The road was stacked high with trash, the buildings were concrete hovels held together with bubble gum and dirty shoeless street urchins begged for coins. I’m beginning to think Rwanda was just some fanciful dream. But it wasn’t. All Rwanda shows that it is possible for Africa, all of Africa, to dig itself out of the mess it’s currently in. It just needs good leaders, good governance and the political will. Why isn’t there a UN Charter of Good Governance?

Stepping off my soap box for a moment, it was dark when we left and after fluking my way through two of the unholy trinity of ‘worst cities in Africa’ (Lagos and Johannesburg) I wasn’t relishing the thought of being done over just because the bus was so late leaving. But not to worry, we made it out of Nairobbery in one piece with all our swag intact.

Sleeping on a minibus is tricky at the best of times (although I’ve had a lot of practice this year) but my word this one was a nightmare – the road was dreadful, utterly dreadful, and the driver had a nasty habit of slamming on the brakes at any given opportunity. This, don’t forget, is the main highway from the capital city up to Ethiopia and it’s made from rocks, dust and decades of human misery. Madness. Sheer madness. Aegnus told me that he got all the way from Ireland to the Kenyan border without a hitch and then from the border down to Nairobi he suffered three separate punctures.

Will we get up to the border without a hitch? I doubt it, but at least today I had a undoubtedly very successful day’s Odysseying.



Day 356: The Special Bus

Day 356: The Special Bus

December 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Kenya, The Odyssey Expedition

22.12.09:

Groan. T.I.A. strikes again! The bus we’re on is equipped to ferry disabled schoolchildren around in Japan. It is not in any way shape or form designed to survive the horror that is an African highway. With a ground clearance of (let’s say) two inches, we bumped, scraped and scratched our way along the road at a respectable five kilometres an hour, dripping oil, water and brake fluid, busting our exhaust, losing fair chunks of metal as we plodded along.

We were supposed to get to the border at around 7pm that night. But by 9am we were still at least 24 hours away and going nowhere fast. After losing a couple of hours while the oil leak was plugged (with bubblegum no doubt) we were told that it would take us two hours to get to the next town. It took eight.

You see there is something you have to understand about quite a few Africans I’ve met on the road; they won’t necessarily tell you the truth, instead they will tell you what they think you want to hear. The trip was torturous. Crammed into the special bus, we picked our way along the road so slowly we might as well have been going backwards.

Usually in The Odyssey, this would be a pain in the ass. When you factor in my burning desire to get to Egypt for New Year to see Mandy again, this was nothing short of a disaster. When we finally reached the next town (it would have been quicker to walk) I dragged Matt out of that bloody minibus and we legged it to the main road.

The minibus would be leaving at 9am, the next day. At the rate we were going we would possibly reach the border in two weeks’ time. This was a rather unacceptable situation but luckily as I got to the main road there was a big truck loaded with cargo with a bunch of people sitting on top of it – if there’s people on board, then it’s public transport as far as I’m concerned. We paid $20 each and clambered onboard.

This bit of the journey was great. High up on top of this truck with the sun setting to the west and the wide expanse of Kenya all around, the wind in my hair and a goofy grin on my face. This is travelling!! The top of the truck was remarkably comfortable (and spacious!) and once the stars came out I had an unparalleled view of the celestial sphere. Wonderful.

The only thing that wasn’t wonderful was the fact that we didn’t make it to the border. At 10pm we stopped at a village a good three hours away from Ethiopia. We grabbed a room in the local guesthouse (grotty as hell, but only $2 – HEAR THAT COMOROS?) and settled down for the night – our journey would resume at 6am the next day.

Bah! Not an unmitigated disaster, but this is really going to make the next few days even more tricky than they already would have been.



Day 357: The Hard Slog

Day 357: The Hard Slog

December 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Ethiopia, Kenya, Rants, The Odyssey Expedition

23.12.09:

Any time frame you are given in Africa, remember to add a few hours, or even days. Matt and I got up at 6am, just in time to jump back on yesterday’s truck and crack on towards Ethiopia. The Pixies blasting in my ears and the sun rising to our left it was possibly the best trip I’ve had in Africa so far. However, our man predicting that we’d be at the border at 9am was ludicrously over-optimistic and we arrived sometime after 11am.

So over the border and into Nation 129: Ethiopia. A nation that has had its fair share of publicity, but for all the wrong reasons. The only African nation not to suffer the horrors of colonisation, one could argue that Ethiopia proves that Africa would be just as stuffed up as it is now whether the damn whities had bothered invading or not.

Before I go on, it’s possibly important that you know the difference between the era of slavery and the era of colonisation. They are two very different stories with a gulf of some eighty years separating them.

Because history is so badly taught in schools (no linear progression – we just jumped from the Egyptians to World War I to the Romans to World War II to the Vikings to Henry VIII to the Normans with gay abandon) it’s easy to think that the dastardly Europeans rucked up in their ships some time in the past, enslaved the population of an African country and set about selling them off like cattle to toothless banjo-players in Alabama.

What really happened was a little more complicated than that.

Before the invention of Gin & Tonic, there was little reason for Europeans to stay in the tropics. With Malaria rife and Europeans having no naturally selected resistance to it, any trip to a mosquito coast would be a one-way ticket to go join the choir invisible. But after the discovery of quinine, the stage was set for the exploitation of the world – Asia, America and, eventually, Africa.

For the first couple of centuries of European interference in Africa, there was no colonisation. There was just trade. Ships would turn up loaded with iPhones and Nintendo Wiis and trade them with the local chiefs for slaves and novelty beer hats, then bugger off to the Americas (at this point it would be remiss of me not to point out that a greater number of slaves were taken to The Caribbean to work under British slave-masters, so you can put your toothless banjo-player away) to sell these poor guys for a handsome profit.

Okay, the first foray into the realms of colonisation in Africa was in 1652 with the crazy Boars rucking up in South Africa, but let’s ignore that for a moment and, yes, one could argue that Sierra Leone was colonised when William Wilberforce and his mates bought a bit of land in present-day Freetown to stick the freed slaves that fought for the British against the Americans in the US War of Independence. After The British finally came to their senses in 1807 and abolished slavery, (unlike the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Germans, Arabs, Yanks and Africans who continued to practise it with gay abandon (some African countries [cough- Mauritania] still do)) Sierra Leone was used to drop off slaves from ships that had been intercepted by the British Navy en route to the Americas.

The Cape of Good Hope may have been annexed by the Brits in 1806, but it would be another seventy-nine years before what has been called ‘The Scramble For Africa’. Precipitated by journalist Henry Morton Stanley (as in Dr. Livingstone, I Presume) and his travels around central Africa under the sponsorship of the evil King Leopold of Belgium, The Scramble For Africa was undoubtedly the crime caper of the century and one which would have put Ocean’s Nineteen and a Half to shame.

In 1885 the European powers met in a brothel in Berlin, baked a cake in the shape of Africa and sliced it into almost 50 bite-sized chunks for themselves before coffee and cocaine snorted off a naked prostitute’s bottom. Things were much more civilised then, you see.

Much of North and West Africa was gobbled up by the French, Central Africa largely went to the Belgians and East and Southern Africa was largely annexed by the Brits. Germany got a few bits and bobs including Togoland and Tanganyika, Portugal got Angola and Mozambique while the Spanish, having conquered almost all of The Americas were (seemingly) happy with just nicking Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara.

The greatest heist in the history of the World? I have no doubt about it.

But there is something else going on here – each country’s experience of colonisation was markably different. In the same way that it’s easy to count Africa as one country (as I hope you have seen over the last seven months, it’s not!), it’s easy to see the history of Africa as one big shared history in which all the colonial powers were proper rotten to the territories they invaded – however, that’s not entirely the case. Some were more rotten than others. It would be fair to say that the Belgians probably have the most to apologise for – their conduct in The Congo is up there with The Holocaust as the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world, but the Brits weren’t blameless, killing 26,000 white Afrikaner woman and children in the world’s first concentration camps in the 1899-1902 Boer War.

Even so, each country in Africa experienced a different form of colonialism to its neighbours, yet all (with the exception of Botwana) collapsed into chaos once the colonial powers pulled out. In countries like Angola, were the Portuguese pulled out overnight leaving just three university graduates in the entire nation, it’s not hard to figure out why the Angolans spent the proceeding thirty years was spent gleefully massacring each other. In countries like Rwanda, in which a successful ‘divide and rule’ policy had been adopted by the Belgians you could almost draw a straight line to the genocide that came close to destroying that nation back in 1994.

But then what’s the story with Sierra Leone? What’s the story with Liberia? Both were set up to be free states in which their citizens could live in harmony. There was no abrupt and inept pull-out, no divide-and-rule tactics to set one ethic group up against another (well, maybe a little in Liberia), there was no rhyme nor reason for the horrific events that took place in the late 90s, just the same old story of greed and corruption that plagues this continent like a reaper of utmost grim.

But my biggest question is what the hell is the story with Ethiopia? Spared from the full horror of slavery (unlike West Africa) by its position near the East coast and spared the tyranny of colonialism, it’s post-colonial history (not that it was colonised) is one of war, war, war a bit more war and a few famines thrown in for good measure. WTF Ethiopia? You should be the glittering jewel of East Africa, the proof that Africa’s modern-day problems are all the fault of colonial greed and reckless European abandon.

Sorry guys, but I’m going to put my cards on the table right now. It’s time to stop the blame-the-past game. In less than twenty years, countries like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria have shrugged off the repressive fifty-year colonialism of the Soviet Union and are now productive kick-ass members of the European Union. India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore… all ex-colonies whose economies are booming while nearly all African economies are operating at the level of a barely audible whimper. Ever driven an African car? Used an African mobile phone? Played an African video game? Worn some clothing ‘Made In xxx, Africa’? Nah.

There is just one group of people that are responsible for the frankly laughable state of modern Africa and that’s the African politicians who are happy to run this great continent into the ground while they feather their own nests of golden straw and Fabergé Eggs. Yes, shit things happened in the past, but that is no reason for shit things to happen today. History is there to stop us repeating our ancestor’s mistakes, not as an excuse for making more of them. Africa today is on the verge of a precipice, and when brave men and women stand up to fight the powers that be, it’s about time we in the West gave them the support they deserve.

Africa is indeed a stain on the conscience of the world, not for what was done in the past, but because of our failure to do what needs to be done today. Band-Aid was actually a very good name, for charity only puts a sticking plaster over the problems of modern Africa. It is only by decisive – and smart – action on behalf of the UN and other inter-governmental bodies that the cancer that is deep-routed in almost all African governments can be cut out and the people here can, for the first time in history, be free. The shame we feel in the West about our colonial past should not hold us back. If we continue to fail, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 will look like small fry compared to the horrors that our grandchildren will be intrigued and sickened to know why we didn’t anything to prevent.

Anyway, back to The Odyssey…

Matt and I crossed the border into Ethiopia around midday, and there we tried to get the first bus to Addis Ababa, the ship I need to be on is leaving on Saturday, so it was fairly important. Unfortunately, all the buses for Addis leave at 6am (bit silly as the border is not even open then, but hey-ho) and the only bus that was of any use at all was one that was heading as far as Yabello, a town just a hundred kilometres north.

Hoping against hope that there would be an overnighter to Addis from Yabello, we clambered aboard this local bus which was fairly yuck and we had the misfortune to be sitting on the back seats so we found ourselves more crammed in than is usual. It took a good five hours to get to Yabello, but at least the road was now sealed (well done Ethiopia, one less mark for Kenya, methinks). We seem to have found ourselves back in the realm of ubiquitous checkpoints, but we only had a few minor problems with the police, and we managed to get all the way to our destination without paying a bribe.

Arriving in Yabello around sunset, we found that there was no bus until tomorrow. I think Matt was just happy to see a fairly nice hotel (three days of The Odyssey will do that to a mortal man), but ha ha it was full and so we wound up hiring a tent (for more than the cost of a room, I might add) and camping for the night on the strangely verdant grounds of the hotel. (Verdant because it was watered pretty much continuously which was a bit odd considering THERE’S A DROUGHT ON, but hey-ho the grass seemed happy enough.)

That night we met a couple of fellow backpackers, Silvia from Swizerland and Asier from Spain. They had been touring around Africa for 16 months now (blimey!), and their favourite place was Madagascar (told you it was good!). They’d be joining us on the bus tomorrow up to Addis so we shared a couple of beers and arranged to meet for the bus at 6am.



Day 358: Birdstrike!

Day 358: Birdstrike!

December 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Ethiopia, The Odyssey Expedition

24.12.09:

Another 6am bus didn’t seem like a lot of fun, but the minibus up to Addis turned out to be quite an eventful one, as after just half an hour on the road we hit a massive vulture at 70mph. It totally SMASHED the windscreen to bits and gave us all a bit of a fright, to put it mildly.

Silvia turns out to be one of those wonderful sheilas who are more than happy to poke a dead animal with a stick, so she jumped out of the minibus and procured a few feathers for our respective hats. The vulture however, turned into state’s evidence and the minibus crew picked it up and threw it on the bus, much to my chagrin, as it was laid out a little too close to number one here for my liking. After managing to get it moved to the front of the bus, we discovered the reason for the roadkill getting a free ride north – it’s illegal to drive with a cracked windscreen in Ethiopia (unlike in Senegal where it is illegal not to) and so the minibus guys had to get the police to write them a letter explaining what had happened or else we’d be high-tailing it back it Yabello and all hope of reaching Egypt by New Year would be dashed.

But we plundered on through dusty villages and dried-up towns. Two things I haven’t seen much of on my journey so far – exceptionally skinny people and flies, legions of flies, cropped up a little too often for comfort, yes there’s a drought here (again) although the government seems more interested in picking the wax out of its ear than doing anything about it.

Lunch in Awasa was pleasant enough, we found a decent restaurant and I used the western flushing lav to squeeze out a dead otter for the first time since Monday morning. I can hold it in for a week if necessary – quite frankly, I refuse to squat. It’s smelly, uncomfortable, demeaning and I hate it. I keep meeting westerners who have lived in Africa for some time and say they prefer it – I find them mad. If you can’t comfortably play Tetris on your Gameboy for an hour then it’s not a trip to the loo as far I’m concerned. The very idea of standing on slippery urine-soaked porcelain and hovering your nethers a few inches from horrors I am not fit to describe fills me with awesome dread. Some other travellers may see this as a weakness, but I don’t care. There’s bog seat on my backpack for a reason – everyone deserves a decent dunny.

Actually, it’s been remarkable how few squatters I’ve used this year. Yes, my friends, we are progressing as a species!

After lunch we pressed on towards Addis, the unlovable sprawling capital city of Ethiopia. About as attractive as John Merrick eating spaghetti. Asier and Silvia joined us in the Dil hotel, the only mid-range place in the guidebook. Notice how I’m suddenly staying in a lot of hotels? Well, unlike me, Matt the Editor gets his expenses back, so I’m happy to abuse that fact for a few days and cadge a free night’s kip courtesy of the powers that be. Of course, if we really wanted to splash out, we could stay at the Sheraton hotel here, where a suite will set you back a cool $8,081 for a night’s accommodation. But, realistically, that place is reserved for African politicians – you know the guys who preside over those people living off less than a dollar a day. Hey, maybe after working for 21 years solid (and living off air) they too could afford one night in the f***ing Addis Sheraton.

When we talk about gaps between rich and poor we really have no idea. These aren’t gaps – they’re parsecs.

Matt got himself an early night while I stayed up with Asier and Silvia drinking and hark-the-heralding in the Christmas cheer.

I’ve come a long way since Comoros, but I’ve got a lot further to go before I’m reunited with Mandy a week from today.

Dar es Salaam to the Pyramids in two weeks, without flying? That’s a world record right there.



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