You know the theme song for the TV series Red Dwarf makes no frikkin’ sense at all? Have you ever stopped to consider why? It’s because the composer, Howard Goodall, originally intended to write different lyrics for each episode, as he did for Blackadder II. A passing remark in the first episode ‘The End’ alludes to Lister’s wish to live in Fiji: hence fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun. Obviously Goodall has spent a week in Suva in cyclone season. Not that Fiji’s capital city isn’t fun, but overcast skies and incessant rain mean the ‘sun’ part probably doesn’t warrant saying three times in a row.
The good ship Pacific Pearl drew into Suva port on Monday morning. The second most expensive ferry ride of The Odyssey Expedition (after the ill-fated trip to Cape Verde) was over. 1,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean and now, thanks to daylight savings, my time zone was GMT+13. Oh my God I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home…
For the others onboard, the ship would be turning around and heading back towards Australia, but it was time for me to check out. After having a mini-heart attack when presented with my bar bill, I had my passport stamped into Fiji and set off to say goodbye to as many of my new chums as I could find. The good time I had on board was mostly down to the excellent company of George and Donna, Stef and Crystal, Christy, Bryson, Wil from Trinidad and the Ents crew – Willy, Gareth, Rocky who gallantly put up with my antics with aplomb. Around 1pm I disembarked, taking advantage of the free minibus to the city centre. Again, if you’re expecting palm trees and ukuleles, Suva is sure to disappoint: set around a working container port and with a busy, noisy, mostly concrete city centre, Suva isn’t your Pacific picture postcard town. But with over 300 islands to explore in Fiji, there’s usually little reason for a tourist to linger.
One final story that I’d like to tell about the cruise ship is this: one of the crew (and – of course – I’m not going to say who) and I had an interesting conversation about the morgue on board. Yes, cruise ships have a morgue. There are a hell of a lot of old people out to sea, eating too much and drinking too much… if anybody pops their clogs it’s not like you can just throw them overboard (unless you’re really lucky and they happen to be Osama bin Laden). And so, down in the bowels of the ship is a refrigerated room whose sole purpose is to provide accommodation to the occasional cadaver or two. Or three, as it happens. But no more than three. So I ask the question that you’ve all now got in your head. What if more than three people die on a single cruise?
Well, there are other refrigeration units on board. Their primary purpose is for food, but when needs must, they can have the food removed and replaced by a stiff. And has this ever happened? Well, not on the Pacific Pearl, but yes, it has happened.
I know death is no laughing matter, but somewhere in my fetid imagination a new recruit to the kitchens – Bob – has been told by the head chef to go get the ‘longpig’ from freezer F326. Not wanting to appear ignorant of this particular cut of pork strangely missing from his course in catering college, he sets off while the rest of the kitchen staff do their best to contain their giggles. ‘Longpig’ is the Melanesian slang for ‘dead human that we intend to eat’. Bob opens freezer F326 and screams like a little girl. Inside the freezer is old Aunt Margery, rather frosty and incredibly dead, preferably in that ‘leaping tiger’ pose that dead bodies tend to adopt in Indiana Jones films. The rest of the kitchen staff, meanwhile, laugh themselves to tears.
Longpig! They cry. Bob’s a good sport: he takes it on the chin… although the nightmare plague him for the rest of his life.
Talking of edible humans; before the missionaries turned up in the 1800s and spoilt everybody’s fun, Fiji, in keeping with most Melanesian and Polynesian islands, was notorious for its cannibalism. Why the hell not eh? We’re made of meat: why feed the worms when you can feed a family of 4 for a week? Apparently, some took it to rather icky extremes: stories abound of victims being kept alive for days while slowly being relived of their fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms and legs in that order – sometimes being forced to eat parts of themselves, like Ray Liotta in Hannibal. Human skin would be smoked and kept as a light snack when the kids fancied something a bit crunchy but also a little chewy. Eating your enemy was the ultimate insult: it meant you controlled their soul in the afterlife. Strangely enough, this fine young cannibals would also eat their deceased elders, presumably to keep their spirit in the family.
However, the popular image of missionaries being thrown in a big cooking pot is, sadly, not accurate. The indigenous people of Melanesia and Polynesia didn’t have the metallurgy skills required to make a massive cast-iron cauldron – the best you could hope for would be to be chopped up and cooked in several clay cooking jars. Although I am assured that the tribal chief would most definitely steal the missionary’s top hat.
There is a train of thought that the reason that pig is off the menu in Judaism (and some of its derivatives) is not owing to lack of Bronze-aged refrigeration techniques (pork rots at pretty much the same rate as other meats), but because (as the name ‘longpig’ suggests) human flesh and pork taste pretty damn similar. Maybe it was the one good thing to come out of the desert djinns dreamt up by the illiterate tribes of the Middle East – a distaste for cannibalism. I don’t know, being an immensely religious person, I have never eaten pork, but the grilled cheese and human sandwich I ate in Vanuatu didn’t half smell like bacon to me.
The next stage in my plan for world domination is to get to Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. With the shipping companies Pacific Direct and Neptune agreeing to let me on board the MV Southern Pearl (not be confused with the Pacific Pearl – that was the cruise ship) next Saturday, I had just under a week to explore the island of Viti Levu. If only it would stop raining…! The weather forecast did not bode well for ferry travel to the other islands, and after burning so much cash on the cruise, I was in the mood for laying low and keeping my meagre coffers in the black.
I arranged to meet Sandy, my CouchSurf host, after work. Sandy’s CouchSurf profile is pretty impeccable: a local Fijian with over 100 friends and about 18 people prepared to vouch for her (I’ve been vouched for 8 times), there was little question as to who I would prefer to stay with. Sandy, like me, is 32, a graduate of History and Politics, an avid globetrotter and really really loves a nice hot cup of tea. She runs Dialogue Fiji, an organisation bravely trying to get the various political parties, charities, aid groups, military bigwigs, tribal chiefs, community heads and religious leaders together and talking. Talking about what does not matter, so long as they are sitting down in a room together and acknowledging each other. The political history of independent Fiji has been fraught with factionalism, in-fighting and coups d’etat, so any dialogue is better than none.
Sandy will be moving to the UK next year to do an MA in Peace Studies, so this could be the beginning of what Humphrey Bogart would call a beautiful friendship. Knackered from the cruise (yes, I know), I opted for a night in. After Sandy and I put the world to rights over a cup of tea, I settled down to see what my GPS had picked up on the ship over her. I was more than happy with the result.
But it got me thinking: is there a way to put all my GPS logs from the last 3 years into one big fancy map? After some DIY HTML and two days of copying and pasting, I came up with this, which is now on the front page of the website. If you click on the map it’ll open a new tab which is fully zoomable.
But you know the best bit? Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there can be little doubt that my journey around the Gulf of Mexico makes a great ‘O’, there’s definitely a ‘D’ to be found in somewhere Europe if you squint. The Red Sea provides the first ‘Y’. There’s an ‘S’ in India and another in South East Asia. You can’t look at Indonesia and tell me that my trips to The Philippines, East Timor and West Papua don’t make an ‘E’. And the final, flamboyant ‘Y’ made by my voyage to Melbourne, the bus ride to Sydney and the Pacific Pearl towards Fiji is beyond all doubt…
Yes, ladies and gentleman, not only have I travelled to 188 countries without flying, I’ve also inadvertently managed to write the word ODYSSEY across the surface of the Earth. In case you weren’t already aware of this fact, I F—ING ROCK!!!
Kava is the tipple around these parts. Like beer and wine in Europe, it’s the one strand of commonality that runs through this disparate set of islands. Brewed (that’s probably not the right word) from the mulched up root of a tree, it looks a lot like muddy water and tastes like cold nettle soup, with some mud thrown in for good measure. I had a blast of it in Vanuatu and found it somewhat lacking in the taste department, although it did make my mouth go numb, which I suppose is a blessing if you’re intent on having a second helping. It’s served in a half coconut shell (or the skull of your enemy in less prissy times) and passed around from person to person with a CLAP before you drink and a CLAP CLAP afterwards. For years Kava was tapu (taboo) for woman to drink, although they used to have the job of chewing up the root before spitting it into the water bowl for the menfolk to then enjoy. Feminism, germ theory and the missionaries put a end to that noble tradition.
What effects, narcotic or otherwise, that Fijian Kava (other islands make stronger brews) has on your body and soul is much open to debate. From my experience, it makes you a little drowsy but that might also be the natural effect of it being late at night.
After a few stuff of the brown stuff, the taste becomes less obnoxious and it’s perfectly possible to drink the night away with good company. Sandy’s friends Peter and Ann provided that good company around at their place on Friday night. Peter is a Fijian and Ann is originally from Illinois, but has been here long enough to drink Kava like a local. After a few shells (for me – Sandy doesn’t drink), Sandy and I headed out into Suva to meet with CouchSurfing friends of hers in the Bad Dog Café, the epicentre of Suvan nightlife.
After Bad Dog, we headed over to I-Crave, a swanky little nightspot not far from the British High Commission (Fiji is currently suspended from the Commonwealth, but it still ain’t no embassy baby). Sandy left me in the capable hands of her mates and I set out to get rather squiffy with Cassie, Losana, Jakara, Cat and Kat. We ended up in a nightclub whose name has been lost to the vagaries of the beer vortex. I can’t quite remember how I got home to Sandy’s, but I’m jolly glad I just about managed it.
I was rather expecting the old Southern Pearl to be leaving today, but its ETA in Suva has been pushed back by a day so it wouldn’t be leaving until Monday… at the earliest. Ah well, thinks I, so long as Sandy doesn’t object to the strange hairy man from the other side of the world staying a couple more nights… On Saturday night, Sandy and I headed back over to Peter and Ann’s for round two of my Kava Initiation ceremony. Losana from last night was there (laughing at my drunk n’ disorderly behaviour the night before) along with a few others who had popped around for Kava and the Super Sevens Rugby, in which Fiji was doing remarkably well. So remarkably well that they went on to beat New Zealand and take the first round of the international tournament: and deservedly so – where else do you see grown rugby men cry during the National Anthem? Christ, if only English footballers could muster that amount of passion, we might actually win something.
The next day, it being Sunday, Sandy invited me around to her mum’s house to hang out with her family. Nephews and nieces running about getting up to no good and enough food to feed a passing army. We talked shop, ate birthday cake (happy birthday Wah!) played cards, played chess and watched a wonderfully godawful film on TV (The Next Best Thing: AVOID). All in all, a perfect Sunday afternoon. All that was left at the end of the day was to thank everybody for such a good time and head back to Sandy’s place for one of her massive cups of tea and one final push to get my blogs up to date before I left at 7am tomorrow.
7am on Monday morning, I was just about mustering up the energy to drag myself out of the bed when my mobile rang. It was Lopeti, the port agent from Neptune Shipping. The ship was delayed so I didn’t need to come down the docks until 2pm. After staying up until half three last night getting my blogs uploaded, I was so relieved for the extra lie-in I would have happily danced a jig, if it didn’t mean getting out of bed. So I turned over and went back to sleep. I eventually got up around 10am. Sandy had left for work hours ago. I made myself a massive cup of tea and started getting my things together. At noon came a second phone call from Lopeti: the ship wouldn’t be leaving until tomorrow.
Leaving that afternoon is one thing, having to ask the lovely Sandy for yet another night’s free room and board is a little too cheeky, even for my liking. So I called Sandy, explained the situation, offered to take her out for dinner and swore that no matter what I would be out of her hair tomorrow morning at seven.
Sandy, bless her, took it all in her stride and said I was welcome for one more night. I made good on my promise of dinner and we dined on some yummy chow at the new Chinese restaurant next to McDonald’s. I set my alarm for 6.45. My bags were packed and I was all ready to rock n’ roll.
By 8am the next morning I was at the Neptune Shipping office on George Street, where I was told that the ship wouldn’t be leaving until tonight. No worries: I’ll ‘check in’ now and hang about until we’re ready to go. Lopeti took me in the Neptune minibus over to the ship yard and I finally got to clamber on board the Southern Pearl. I met with Captain Don (originally from Scotland, now a Kiwi), Chief Engineer Max and various other officers and crew. After lunch, the captain suggested that I go ashore for a bit, as we probably wouldn’t be leaving until midnight. So I went and got a haircut.
In Fiji it is taboo to touch the chief’s hair. Before the missionaries turned up and made everything all boring and civilised, it was customary for the chief to have the biggest hairdo in the tribe. There are stories of men with hair that spanned five metres. Nobody was allowed to have a bigger ’do than the chief, under pain of death. Back in the 1800s a rather silly missionary touched a chief’s head and was summarily eaten. The message is simple: hands off the ’fro, Delilah.
Funnily enough, my hair was becoming increasingly chief-like, in that it probably needed a trim. It’s not that I’m morally adverse to having my hair cut, I just worry that the barber might go temporarily insane and cut off way too much hair, thus diminishing both my superpowers and my trademark tramp-like appearance.
Which is exactly what happened.
After put my glasses back on and I saw the carnage wrought on my noggin’ by the barbarian with the snip-snips, I can see why even today, hairdressers in Fiji are not allowed to touch the chief’s hairdo. It seems the word ‘trim’ has no Fijian equivalent. Either that or it means ‘destroy’. And now instead of a valiant adventurer I look like a rather distressed coconut.
I took to the Bad Dog Café to drown my sorrows. Unfortunately, happy hour didn’t end (for me) at 6pm and after a call from Peter, the watchman on board the ship telling me that the ship would now not be leaving until tomorrow (or even – those dreaded words – “tomorrow after tomorrow”) the demon drink held sway over my actions and I’m not proud to say that for a second night this week I have no idea how I got home: this time to my cabin onboard the Southern Pearl.
Although it is a rather marvellous feeling that it must take a phenomenal amount of alcohol to knock out my internal homing beacon.
Wednesday morning I woke up feeling muchly worse for wear. I looked at the stupid coconut in the mirror and decided if he went to my school I’d probably pick on him too. Somewhat relieved that the ship still hadn’t left, (my sea legs had been replaced by wibbly-wobbly jelly legs) I was more than happy to lay in my bunk and watch episodes of The Pacific, which is like Band of Brothers only (sadly) nowhere near as good. I’d like to spend sometime figuring out exactly why it wasn’t as good, but I have the feeling it’s because the main characters were about as loveable as pubic lice. A bit like Star Wars Episode I.
Talking of pubic lice, I’ve also been indulging in The West Wing, which I never watched on its original run, and about a series and a half into it I now know why. I would honestly prefer a night on the tiles with George W. Bush’s staff than President Bartlett’s. Sam, CJ, Josh and that cretin Toby: they’re all so wholesome, mealy-mouthed, lovey-dovey, oh-so-earnest and painfully smug they make me wish Jack Bauer would pay them a visit. And kill them all.
Every time I see that pathetic excuse of a man Toby make his stupid mopey puppy-dog face and those stupid mumbly puppy-dog noises, all sorts of violent ways and means of despatching him off to Tartarus spring to mind. The only character I like is Bartlett himself, but the poor guy is surrounded by the worst kind of dicks. No wonder the Democrats never won an election in real-life when this saccharine-sweet mulch was being shown on TV. Hey America! Look what total dicks these Democrats are! Do you want your country run by men who can make a decision or mumbly puppy-dog eyed morons who look like they’re about to bust into tears at any given moment?
I am fairly convinced that Aaron Sorkin is on the Republican payroll. I shudder to think what Toby’s reaction to September 11th is going to be: unless they replace his character with Droopy Dog for the rest of the series I don’t see how it’s possible for him to get even more mopey.
And the godawful music at the end? What the hell is that? Murder She Wrote? In short, The West Wing: it’s like Friends except not funny and every character is Ross.
And now back to The Odyssey…
The subsequent ship I intend to take – The Southern Lily 2 (in order to progress to Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand) – departs after Christmas, so I’m not really pressed for time when it comes to the departure of The Southern Pearl: so long as it returns to Suva before December 25th, I should (hopefully) be laughing. Peter’s estimation of ‘tomorrow after tomorrow’ was actually quite accurate: we left Suva around midday on Thursday 1st December. If I had known we were going to hang around for so long I would have taken in more of the island of Viti Levu, but no worries: I’ll do it when I get back.
The route we’re taking goes to Wallis and Futuna (both French territories) then Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, then Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, then Majuro, the capital of The Marshall Islands, and then back to Fiji. In other words: three birds, one stone, The Southern Pearl YOU ROCK MY WORLD!
But the ship is a little heavy at the moment, so we’re actually going to Funafuti first, to drop off some containers and reduce the draught, whatever that means. Only then will we double back to Wallis and Futuna, both of which have shallow ports. We don’t want to be scraping along the bottom of the ocean now do we? Then we’ll head back to Funafuti to retrieve the containers and go about our way. Doing this will add another day or so onto the trip, but like I say, so long as we are back for Christmas, I couldn’t care less. I’ve got food, drink, Kava, good company and over 1000 miles of open ocean ahead of me. When this voyage is over I’ll have just 10 countries left to visit. I really can’t thank Pacific Direct and Neptune enough. We’re getting there, my loyal Odysseans, we’re getting there!!
Meet Tuvalu, the modern day Atlantis. If anyone fancies their chances taking on my Guinness World Record, you better get your skates on because very soon Tuvalu will cease to exist. If you have any friends who proudly swagger around in their pig-ignorance and brand themselves ‘climate change sceptics’, punch them in the face and shout ‘That’s For Tuvalu, Bitch!’. Because, like Atlantis, all nine islands of the nation of Tuvalu will soon disappear under the waves. And all the crackpot books and theories written by morons without a real science doctorate, PhD or Nobel Prize between them won’t save them. An entire nation destroyed while the same lousy arguments are trotted out… The water isn’t rising! The islands are sinking! It’s a cyclical thing! There are too many people in the world anyhows! Al Gore is rich! There was one insignificant email out of thousands which proves it’s all a hoax! CO2 is a minor gas! Er… we’ll think of something!
These arguments (as well as being breathtakingly idiotic, contradictory and about as logical as a David Lynch movie) are f—ing dangerous. Politicians don’t care about you, or your mum, or the environment, or the giant panda… all they care about is being re-elected. If that means playing up to the paranoid (but somehow comforting) notion that climate change is a big hoax, then so be it. Arguing to me that ‘there’s money to be made out of climate change stuff’ is as inane as it is weird. In 2006, 84,000,000 barrels of oil were sold worldwide per day. That’s 30,660,000,000 barrels over the course of a year.
Considering oil recently hit a high of $150 a barrel, that’s a worldwide turnover in excess of $4,599,000,000,000. If the noughts are making your head hurt, that’s four and a half TRILLION dollars.
In a year! That’s more than the GDP of most countries. Now, being a Bond Villain (with a moustache and a cat and everything), I know a thing or two about being an evil, moneygrabbing bastard… and given the choice between training to be an evil scientist or becoming an evil oilman, well, I’m never going to make my first billion studying evil iron molecules in the evil Antarctic. Myself and the Beverly frikkin’ Hillbillies can’t be the only ones who understand this BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS FACT: if you want to make a mountain of dough, sell fossil fuel. That’s why Roman Abramovich owns Chelsea football club and Steven Hawking doesn’t even own a football. Although, credit where credit’s due: he is good at dribbling.
But, oh well, only 9,500 people live in Tuvalu. They’ll all just move to New Zealand, right? Along with the 96,000 I-Kiribati who also live on coral atolls just inches above sea level. And the good people of the Marshall Islands, most of French Polynesia and the Federated States of Micronesia: I’m sure they’ll be welcomed with open arms into that completely non-xenophobic-at-all continent of Australia. It’s the 200,000,000 Bangladeshis who are also going to (quite literally) find themselves up shit creek without a paddle that I worry about; but I’m sure the already incredibly over-populated sub-continent of India will be happy to give them all new homes and new jobs. Maybe they’ll even buy them a car each, just in case the oil companies need to burn us some more fossils. Hell, they might need a bigger yacht or something.
But look on the bright side, once EVERY BEACH IN THE WORLD is underwater (it would only take a few inches, people!), I will no longer have to concern myself with making excuses for not going to the beach. See ya later Bondi, Copacabana, Miami, Cannes and Blackpool. Woohahahahaha.
Yes Mrs Lincoln, but how was the play…?
Well, since you asked, we entered Funafuti, the capital atoll of Tuvalu, on Saturday morning. The atoll is shaped like a ring with a lagoon in the middle. I love the word ‘lagoon’, you should say it out loud while you’re reading this. Go on… LAGOOOOOON! See? I bet you feel better already. Coral atolls are fascinating things. How they came into existence was first correctly postulated (like most things) by a Brit.
Say THANK YOU BRITAIN. Out loud. Good, now you may continue.
The Brit in question was none other than Mr. C-to-the-D, Charlie Darwin himself; the big clever-clogs who has made the American Mid-West seem lacking in their mental capacities since 1859. He saw an atoll or two on his famous voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle (think Star Trek without the wrestling with rubber aliens) and thought maybe they were formed by volcanoes that rose to the surface, gained a fringing coral reef, then after a few million years sank beneath the waves, leaving the coral reef surrounding a lagooooon. Simple and, even better, subsequently proven correct by modern science. Way to go, Ape-Man Slim!
To get to the port of Funafuti, you have to enter the lagooooon. It’s a tricky business, even in these days of GPS navigation. The channel into the lagooooooon is incredibly narrow and not particularly well marked by buoys. You know how Americans say the word ‘buoy’? They say boo-ee. A-hahahahaha. Idiots! No wonder they allow mentally ill people to own assault rifles. To make things even more tricky, the US Coastguard had parked their big fancy ship just a few metres back from where we needed to park ours. Happily, Captain Don and Captain Malfi (who is acting Pilot on this adventure) spun the Southern Pearl on a sixpence and slid us into place like a long piece in Tetris.
I hoped that the US Coastguard wasn’t onto me after I took that naughty little trip from Key West to Cuba back in March 2009.
The atoll looked magnificent. Some of it is submerged so there are gaps in the ring of green, but the coral only drops a few inches below the surface, creating a natural barrier against ships that did not invest in Admiralty Charts. How all the green got on top of the coral is again, something rather fantabulous: when the coral dies, its hard shell remains. After millions of years, these shells are compressed and provide the solid ground: limestone.
I recently learnt that the top of Mount Everest is limestone. Yes, the top of the highest mountain in the world is made from crushed-up coral. Nine kilometres above sea level. Seriously: coral is amazing stuff.
Anyway, this limestone atoll gets bleached by the sun and is, generally speaking, about as hospitable as a gang of Muslim fundamentalists clutching blasphemous cartoons. However, there is one plant on this planet hardy enough to grow in this harsh environment. And it’s one that can survive as a mighty big seed (carrying all the food and fresh water it needs to germinate) for weeks at sea, so getting to these places is just a matter of time: yes folks, let’s hear it for the humble coconut.
Once you get a few coconut trees, word gets around the seabird community pretty fast… soon this otherwise barren atoll will be stop-off point for thousands of migrating birds, all wanting rest their weary wings and leave their mark. Their mark being guano, or bird poo. Over the course of untold millennia, these splats of nitrate-rich bumgravy team up with the rotting vegetation from the coconut trees to create a fertile top soil. And thus, a rich coral atoll covered in plants and trees (the seeds of which are also carried in bumbricks) is born.
Hurrah! Well done, Tuvalu.
After breakfast and customs, I headed down the gangplank and busted a groove as I stepped into country number 189 of The Odyssey Expedition. Only 12 more countries to go! I’m beginning to think I might actually finish this stupid adventure before start drawing a pension.
I walked out of the port, turned right and headed towards the airport, passing a police shed full of what looked like a bunch of young Americans drinking. Maybe they were something to do with the large US Coastguard ship that had been hogging our dock. I could have stopped and asked, but I was on a mission: I had been told that it would be easy to hire a little motorbike to explore the islet, so I headed into town and started asking around. Well, I say town, but when your country is only a few metres wide, I guess the best descriptor is ‘the place near the airport’.
After walking for the best part of an hour, I arrived at the airport. The first seventeen attempts to secure me a run-around were unsuccessful, but I managed to snag the use of one off a lad called Ola for the princely sum of ten Aussie Dollars. They use Aussie Dollars in Tuvalu. I had it for 24 hours and could just leave it near the port when I was done. Bike theft here is not a problem: good luck riding it to the next islet, loser.
I headed south, intending to see the end of this long, narrow, C-shaped island. Sadly for Tuvalu, the concept of sustainable waste disposal techniques is as alien as a motorway service station and it was with great disappointment that I found that the islet’s southern tip was actually a tip. A rubbish tip. Maybe the good people of Funafuti are planning to use small mounds of plastic bags and used beer cans in order to fend off the inevitable effects of global warming. Ack, the tide has washed over the entire islet! Quick! To the tip!
The smell was pretty bad so I turned around and headed along the road towards the northern end of the islet. On the way I stopped off at the airport, the centre of island life. Here you’ll find kids running about, men playing cricket and big old ladies playing volleyball in their brightly-coloured Sunday dresses. It’s okay: only two planes land here each week, and the next one is not due for three days.
I was filming the old ladies when I was joined by another would-be cameraman. Only this cameraman had a semi-professional camera (mine’s a hemi-demi-semi professional camera). Leon had arrived from Germany a couple of weeks ago and was fulfilling a life-long dream to come to Tuvalu. It wasn’t long before we were joined by another couple of Germans (of all the atolls in all the world…), Martin and Corinna, who were on a yacht (one of two in the lagoon), sailing around the Pacific, and heading to Palau in February. Via Kiribati, The Marshalls and Micronesia.
Wait. What? Crikey… that’s exactly where I need to go!
I asked for a place on their yacht and they said yes. But then the cogs in my head creaked into action…
If I went with them, I would still have to get to Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Nauru. All those countries, thanks to Pacific Direct, Neptune and Reef are within my grasp. The Southern Pearl is taking me to Kiribati and The Marshalls anyway. That just leaves Micronesia and Palau that Martin and Corinna could help me get to. I could go with them now and then head back to Oz to do the others from The Philippines next March. But, on the other hand, if all goes well and I get on all the cargo ships I need to travel upon, I could stick with Plan A and have ALL of the islands of The Pacific visited by next March.
Hell, maybe they could come and pick me up from Nauru next February and take me straight to Micronesia and Palau without me having to a) go back to Oz b) bum a ride up to Taiwan and c) then take a ship via The Northern Marianas and Guam. But then Nauru is in the Southern Hemisphere and probably way out of their way, and who the hell wants to go to Nauru?
For the moment, I opted to stick with Plan A. But further conversation on this matter would be an excellent idea, so I arranged to meet them at the beach after I checked out the northern end of the islet. Back on my little motorbike, I trundled up to the end of the road only to find another damn rubbish tip at this end too. This did not make me happy. However, I could see that the rocky (corally) beach lead up much further north past the rubbish tip. I abandoned my scooter and headed off on foot.
By this time, the sun was setting so I had to pick over the beach as fast as I could. My phone wasn’t working, so I had no way of getting help in an emergency. Even worse, there was no way for me to update my Twitter feed. Crabs scuttled under rocks as my rapidly-falling-apart Vans did little to a) help my grip b) protect my ankles or c) keep my feet dry. I scrambled over the wet stones for about a kilometre and just about reached the end of the islet as the sun descended below the horizon. I got some lovely photos of the sea, the clouds, the atoll and the lagooooon and was impressed by the newly-acquired knowledge that presumably as an effect of the moon’s gravitational pull, the lagoooooon is a couple of inches lower than the surrounding sea water… you could sea the Pacific Ocean gently trickling into the lagoooooon. But then had to race back in the failing light. In hindsight, not the best idea I’ve ever had.
I got back to the beach by the airport just after dark, but unfortunately Martin and Corinna were nowhere to be seen. So I headed back to the seaport, and more importantly, to that shed full of Yanks and, even more importantly, their rather impressive supply of beer which still hadn’t run out. A group of Tuvaluan police officers had gathered around outside the shed. Chatting with one of them I learnt that after a joint operation between the US Coastguard and the Tuvaluan police, they had snagged a couple of ships for illegally fishing in Tuvaluan waters. One ship was Taiwanese and the other was Chinese. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree eh, Taipei? Anyway, the next time you hippies moan about the USA being the world’s police force, bear in mind that Tuvalu didn’t get any assistance from your stinking piehole of nation. Or mine for that matter. And my flag is in the corner of their flag. Ygads.
The Americans were due to leave the next day, so in fine maritime tradition, they were getting wasted the night before. But first… the dancing girls! No, really. There were dancing girls. And then the Prime Minister of Tuvalu got up and made a speech. No, really, here’s a pic of me with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu:
At this juncture I was considering asking the Prime Minister for an interview in the morning about the threat climate change poses to his fragile nation, but I was informed of the hogroast going on inside the shed and so opted to stuff my face with pig instead. I was then left to explain my presence with a mouthful of pork crackling, but the Yanks liked my tall tale about traversing the globe with nothing but a camcorder, boundless enthusiasm and a over-optimistic sense of reality. They also liked the fact that I introduced them to the game of ‘Wanker’, you know the one where you all put your hands through the loops of a plastic beer can holder, all quickly pull away on the count of three and then point to the person left with the plastic around their wrist and shout ‘Wanker!’ at them until they cry. Not only is it a marvellous wheeze, it saves dolphins, which is more than I can say for Ludo.
Damn you, Ludo.
After drinking the port police station dry, me and my new team of miscreants from the other side of the pond teamed up with a gang of Polynesian ladyboys (I swear I am making none of this up) and headed back to the airport to the only club on the island. And possibly in the nation. After paying $10 a bottle for horrible Aussie lager for the best part of a year, it was an incredible relief to only have to pay $2.50 a bottle for horrible Aussie lager and, since I was the only Boy Scout in town (yes I have Aussie dollars, and American dollars, and Euros, and Pounds… and a 50 Billion Dollar note from Zimbabwe) I was actually happy to get a round in. The club closed at midnight and as we finished our lagers sitting on the airport runway under the starry starry South Pacific sky, I started to wonder if this wasn’t all some sort of surreal dream sequence.
But, believe it or not, there was more drinking to be done. Back to the police station! And so there I was as what was left of the constabulary of Funafuti doled out portions of Johnny Walker Black Label in a cut-open lip-gouging half-can of Coca-Cola. My new top chum Jim from Minnesota (I knew my knowledge that St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota would come in handy someday) and I fought valiantly into the night, he being a Catholic, gun-owning libertarian and me being an atheist, gun-hating librarian. But by the end, I think we both totally agreed that I was in the right: there is no God, guns are bad and rich people like Bono and Penn Gillette should most definitely pay tax.
Then again, I’m probably making that bit up. The next thing I remember was waking up in my cabin at midday wondering if anybody got the number of the train that hit me.
The less said about Sunday, the better. Hangovers are not something I tremendously suffer from unless a) I drink more than my bodyweight in alcohol the night before b) it’s stinking hot or c) I’m on a ship.
As on this occasion boxes a), b) and c) were most definitely ticked, I attempted to sleep all day until I felt better, or at least until my mouth didn’t feel like the Atacama desert. I lasted until 7pm and then puked my guts up.
The ship had left Tuvalu around 3pm and we were on our way to Wallis of Wallis and Futuna fame. By fame, I mean abject obscurity. Funnily enough, Martin and Corinna and the other German guy had come to the Southern Pearl looking for me the night before and had ended up drinking Kava with the crew. Oops. Oh well, we’ll probably see them again in Kiribati.
So anyway, Wallis. Wallis, when not hanging around with Gromit, is a volcanic island located somewhere between Fiji and Tuvalu. We were going back on ourselves somewhat, but this was the most sensible way of doing things. A damn sight more sensible than grounding ourselves on a reef because our ship was too heavy, okay? It’s too dangerous to enter these coral atolls or coral-fringed islands at night, so Captain Don planned for us to enter the lagooooon at daybreak on Tuesday. This meant a repulsively early wake-up call for me to film the action as the Southern Pearl picked its way though Wallis’s maze-like lagoooooon much in the manner of one of those steady hand games that buzz when the loop at the end of your wand touches the fat bendy wire.
Only instead of buzz, it would sound more like a metallic ripping noise and the black oily death of a thousand seabirds.
We safely ported in port around 7am and after breakfast I headed out onto this most forbidden of isles to see what was going down. And that was very little. Wallis is a French island, so it’s technically part of the EU. It’s also incredibly quiet. Like, eerily quiet. Like Twilight Zone quiet. Like just-before-the-zombies-attack quiet. For miles in any direction there was nobody about, no shops, no bank, no nothing. It was the diametric opposite of India. There wasn’t even any rubbish. A few unfinished houses perhaps, but jeez, this place is quieter than a photograph of a mute swan.
Well, I guess if you like to party you don’t come to a tiny speck of land 2,000 miles from the nearest continental landmass. A shame really: I was looking forward to giving my rusty French a bit of a polish. I walked towards the south of the island, but the bank did not present itself, and neither did the supermarket which the Lonely Planet had promised me would offer internet access. Like on Tuvalu, my phone was only useful as a paperweight, and I have a feeling that Twitter accounts self-destruct if you go longer than a week without telling an indifferent world exactly what you’re up to.
After a good couple hours of hiking along an empty road, I reasoned that I had come the wrong way. Well, given that there were no street names, the landmarks that did exist bore no name and signposts were a thing for other islands, getting lost on Wallis wasn’t too difficult. But then an empty bus stopped in front of me. I tried talking to the driver in French, but he insisted on talking back to me in English. I told him that I wanted to go to Lake Lalolalo, not just for its outstanding name, but because it is an almost perfectly spherical crater lake that apparently has to be seen to be believed. The driver agreed to take me over there. Hell, it’s not like he had any other passengers. Eventually, he dropped me off at a junction and told me it was 500 metres along the gravel track to the lake. It was more like 2km and by the time I got there I was running dangerously low on water.
In the sweltering noonday sun, I was sweating like a nun in a field of cucumbers. Mosquitoes – nasty ones with stripy stockings – were buzzing around my face. I walked towards the lake and there it was: a perfect hole in the ground half a mile wide and over 100 metres deep. It was a good 30 metres (straight) down to the waterline. The locals reckon that the American military threw their equipment down there at the end of WWII. It’s worth noting that Wallis and Futuna was one of the only French colonies to support the collaborative Vichy government, so they got 6000 invading Yanks for committing such a moralistic faux pas.
Before then, I’m sure the locals would through ne’er-do-wells and Twilight novels into the lake: because once you’re in, it doesn’t look like there’s anyway of getting out. Having said that, I did find a path running downwards. Being what clever people would call an idiot, I decided to investigate. On my own. On a seemingly deserted island. In the middle of the Pacific. When my phone wasn’t working. Wearing an old pair of Vans that lost what little grip they had around the same time that people stopped using Betamax.
But I was so hot, and the water looked so cool… so inviting… so deadly…
I scrambled down and was doing fairly well considering how loose the soil was and how moist and covered in moss the rocks were. And then, with the water still a good thirty feet below me, I lost my footing, slipped onto my ass and started sliding inexorably towards the edge of the precipice… a precipice that would have almost surely ended in broken bones: if I was lucky.
Speaking of being lucky, do you have a lucky pair of underpants? The ones you wear if you think you might get laid? I don’t. But I must have been wearing my lucky underpants today because the elastic waistband caught on a twig and, like the living cartoon character that I suppose I am, I was rescued from the clutches of the Grim Reaper by the virtue of a damn well-stitched pair of boxer shorts which refused to rip all the way round. Yes, last night a wedgie saved my life from a broken arm…
Seeing the error of my ways, I continued to grapple down alone and unaided only to give up about fifteen feet above the waterline as the path – such as it was – disappeared into a confusing mess of jungly jungle. I’m all for following a well-beaten path, but I’m no pioneer, and anyway, I left my whip at home. Bah. I climbed back up to the top (it took a while) and upon returning defeated along that gravel track I discovered I was now out of water.
Lovely, life-affirming water.
I followed what I thought was a main road, but turned out to dead end alongside the edge of the encircling lagooooooon. Now of course, there were people about, otherwise I would have totally done a Reggie Perrin, but I didn’t intend to spend a night in the cells for indecent exposure. So I turned around and, under the intense heat of the tropical sun, headed back the way I came from. I mean: a car would have to pass me at some point, wouldn’t it?
I walked for an hour. The muddy puddles at the side of the road started looking good enough to drink. Maybe I could pretend it was Kava. Then I heard the unmistakable trundle of a French car. I stuck out my thumb and he stopped. I asked, in my best schoolboy French, if the chap driving could take me to the next village where I could go to a shop and buy some water, or some Coke, or some Um Bongo. He told me to get in. His name was Pierre and he didn’t speak a word of English. He asked how I got to Wallis and I explained that I was a passenger on the Southern Pearl. He picked his nose through the whole journey… back to the port. Voila! La Magazin.
I guess it was the only one on the island. I returned to the ship to have a shower, chucked my filthy, sweaty, clothes in the washing machine and threw my magic underpants, ripped beyond repair, in the bin.
Wallis had defeated me. I hoped for better Futuna on Futuna.
We left Wallis in the afternoon and headed for the other island of Wallis and Futuna: Futuna! We arrived at Dawn’s crack the next day and, after a bit of fancy manoeuvring (tug boats are for wimps!) we shimmied up against the quayside and gently pressed ourselves again the wooden wharf. Futuna looked great: with high rocky peaks covered in lush greenery thrusting up into the interior of the island, it’s the closest thing to Jurassic Park I’ve ever seen. Well, without the dinosaurs, obviously.
The Southern Pearl is the only supply ship to come to this island, so you might expect dancing girls, garlands, a barbecue or something, but no, our presence was met with the same blissful indifference that I’ve come to expect from France and her colonies.
After the rain stopped, I set out from the dock for a mooch into the steamy interior. If Wallis could be adequately described as ‘dead’, the best description I can think of for Futuna would be ‘like a zombie/mummy/vampire that was dead but then came back from the dead but was then killed again by the hero, ie. double dead’.
To do anything on the island requires readies in the form of French Pacific Francs, but the ‘occasional’ bank wasn’t open today, so no matter what nationalities were being represented in my wallet, none could muster even the measliest form of purchasing power. This meant I could only walk as far as my bottled water from the ship could get me, which since I’m about as fit as Jabba The Hutt these days is a few kilometres at best.
Next to the island’s post office was the biggest goddamn satellite dish I’ve seen this side of Jodrell Bank. I assume that this would be a good place for ET to phone home. But with phone calls costing 1000 Francs per 25 minutes and my general lack of Pacific Francage, I would have to wait a few more days before hearing the dulcet tones of my beloved once again. So I kept walking. I met no fellow wayfarers along the way.
I passed a rather bizarre church that looked like something from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and I learnt a little bit about Pierre Chanel, the patron saint of Oceania. Monsieur Chanel came to Futuna to spread the word of Jesus Christ back in the 1800s. The locals, being cannibals, loved the bit about eating Jesus’s body and drinking his magic blood (which – unlike real blood – gets you pissed! Result!). Unfortunately for Monsieur Chanel, the locals, being cannibals, promptly ate Monsieur Chanel. Did I mention they were cannibals? Anyway, Monsieur Chanel was perceived to have performed some miracle or other (a trick more tricky to pull off in these days of video phones and not everyone being a credulous moron) and was promptly made a saint. Another missionary was eaten two years earlier, but he was a protestant and so therefore doesn’t count. A-ha! In your face, Martin Luther. Or should I say, Martin Loooooser!
The road (there’s only one) runs all the way around the island, but like the cast of Lost, I really couldn’t be arsed walking all the way around the island, not without money to secure me a ride back to the dock. So after a goodly constitutional, I returned to the ship forthwith in order to shelter from the afternoon rains. I considered climbing to the top of Futuna’s highest mountain, but decided against it when I saw the name. Yes, a contender for the most unfortunately-named geographic entity on the planet, it’s called Mt. Puke.
So Futuna, I guess I’ll never see you again, but it was nonetheless nice to meet you just this once. I now totally know where to hide my secret volcano base, far away from the beady eyes of British Intelligence. We left the port that night, heading back towards Tuvalu to pick up our erstwhile containers. As with most (if not all) of the islands we’ll be visiting on the mighty Southern Pearl, it’s too dangerous to attempt to enter the lagoooooon at night, so on Friday afternoon the captain cut the engines we floated on top of a shallow for a few hours to kill some time. The crew, keen as mustard, threw their fishing hooks overboard and the fishing competition was ON!
The red snappers were coming thick and fast, a few big old mackerel and possibly a tuna or two. By the end of the afternoon, the crew had caught enough for their Christmas dinners as well as din-dins for us all on board tonight. See my fishy friends? That’s what you get for not evolving opposable thumbs. Or legs. Do we rock or do we rock? I say we rock. What’s more, we’ll be back in Tuvalu by two past two tomorrow for round two, too. Can’t wait.
10.12.11: So then back to Tuvalu to pick up those containers we left here last weekend. This all reminds me of a riddle involving taking animals over a river. Back in Tuvalu hey? I better use this opportunity to write another inspiring rant about the undisputable (except by idiots!) fact of life that is Global Warming…
We arrived at around 7am and, after a hearty breakfast, I set off in search of adventure on the island that, quite frankly, will not be here for much longer. Here’s a clip from the BBC documentary series ‘South Pacific’ highlighting the plight of the nation of Tuvalu.
Those king tide floods used to happen once a year, but now the country is flooding pretty much every month. And it’s not just that people’s feet and Persian rugs are getting wet, it’s that the soil is becoming saturated in salt, destroying any and all vegetables or crops that the Tuvaluan people are trying to grow. And no, they can’t farm seaweed, Poindexter: seaweed only grows in temperate climes, the waters here are too warm. While coral is great for building reefs, atolls and Mount Everest, it tastes lousy on a sandwich. By 2050 Tuvalu will be underwater, but it will be rendered uninhabitable long before then.
Like I said last time I was here, Tuvalu will be the first country to be completely destroyed since, well, forever. It’s never happened before. Yep, that’s right: in all the murdering, pillaging, witch-hunting, slave-keeping, warmongering days of yore, never has the landmass of an entire country been literally wiped from the face of the Earth. But look on the Mr. Brightside: you get to be the generation to finally do it! Hell, we might all live long enough to watch the salty brine envelop Kiribati and the Maldives while we’re at it.
Yey! Ugly buildings, autotune, faltering economies, unwinnable wars, conspiracy nuts, overpopulation, World of Warcraft, unserviceable Apple products and global warming: what a truly loathsome legacy we’re leaving for our grandchildren.
Our grandparent’s generation fought and died so that future generations could live and prosper. We can’t even be arsed turning off the office lights at night. At this rate, we’ll go down in history as Generation Fail: the ones who accurately foresaw the future but then dismissed the concerns of every accredited scientist in the world on the grounds that they were ‘depressing’. The generation that had the opportunity to construct a sustainable model for the world: a sustainable model for the next 50,000 years of human civilisation, but failed miserably. We are the first generation – so, so lucky are we – to have all of humanity’s collective knowledge quite literally at our fingertips (Praise Be To The Internet!) but we are blowing it, we are blowing it big style.
How about I get up on a podium and claim to speak for everyone on the planet who isn’t evil or a moron? A bit too strong you say? Is everyone who disagrees with me an idiot? Well no, I think we can all have a healthy debate on the merits of Anchorman (I honestly don’t get it), and yes you are entitled to your own beliefs, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. The facts are:
1. Burning Carbon-based fuel releases Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere.
2. There is more CO2¬¬¬ in the atmosphere today than there has been at any time in the last million years.
3. Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
4. The world is getting warmer.
5. Sea levels are rising.
If you disagree with any of these statements, then I would wager that when you popped out of your mother the midwife heralded your arrival on planet Earth with the words ‘Congratulations! It’s a moron!’ – because these are facts, and, unlike opinions, beliefs and religions, facts are falsifiable. Go launch some CO2 monitoring weather balloons, go drill for ice core samples in the Antarctic, rig the world’s shipping fleets with delicate sea-temperature recording equipment, launch a network of temperature-monitoring fixed-position satellites, go stick a ruler in the ground in Tuvalu… go on, prove every single scientist working in the field wrong, I dares ya.
But let’s face it, even if you got off your fat arse and did all these things, you’ll only have wasted millions of dollars proving what all those Nobel-award winning scientists have been saying for years: Global Warming is real, is happening right now and it is up to us, ALL OF US, to damn well do something about it: not dither for the next four years and then maybe come up with a workable solution in 2015. Or 2017. Maybe.
Soylent Green. 1973. Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson, set in a dystopian future in which the world is overpopulated and – as a result of GLOBAL WARMING – can no longer feed itself. 1973. 38 years ago.
If and when I return to Liverpool, I do fully intend to set my home town a goal: to become the first carbon-neutral city in the world… and use my considerable powers of persuasion (I’ve got this far, haven’t I?) to help make it happen. After The Odyssey Expedition, I’ll need another seemingly impossible challenge to get my teeth into: hey Manchester, we’ll race ya!
In fact, let’s have everybody reading this blog go for it in whatever city or town you call home. Your local politicians will, no doubt, be a bunch of slack-jawed yokels. I’m sure being a genius as cunning, erudite, debonair and insanely good-looking as all my faithful readers are, you could whip them into shape and start your hometown on the yellow-brick road to energy self-sufficiency and the planting of lots of lovely lovely trees. Since I’m a modest chap, I think we should call it ‘The Graham Hughes Challenge’.
Just after disembarking the Southern Pearl, I met two French ladies, Gillian and Fanny, who were in the port filming the container operation on a fancy video camera. After a quick introduction, we arranged to meet at the hotel (there’s only one) at 7pm for drinkies.
I spent the day mooching around. After updating my blog I managed to grab a quick conversation with Mandy for the first time since I left Fiji. Tuvalu has a surprisingly speedy internet connection, but that makes sense when you consider how much wonga these guys have made out of selling their .tv domain. If only my country of xxxonia was recognised by the UN…
Today I decided not to rent a bike on the grounds that it was easy enough to grab a ride by just asking the bikes passing by. I went to see if anything was going down at the airport, but today was particularly scorchio and we all know that only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the noonday sun. Most of the locals took to the shade, enjoying their toddy (fermented palm juice) and shooting what little breeze they could find. The kids cooled off by splashing around in the lagooooooon, capping off a perfectly lazy, happy Saturday afternoon.
Come the evening, I headed over to the hotel to meet up with Gillian and Fanny. The hotel was closed for a private function, but not to worry, we headed out to the nearby Chinese restaurant. On the way I met a couple of British lads, Andy and Jay, who were here helping to set up a scout pack here in Funafuti. I told them what I was doing here and said they should check out my website, before continuing on my way.
I had already eaten on board the ship, but was more than happy to down a beer or two while Gillian and Fanny ate their din-dins. Gillian is a film-maker, much like myself, and has been coming to Tuvalu for the last ten years to document the slow death of this great little nation. Gillian and Fanny run a charity called ‘Alofa Tuvalu’ which seeks to raise awareness of Tuvalu’s plight and set out what we can do to help. After dinner, we headed back to their flat as they wanted to interview me about my travels and my opinions on climate change. We ended up chatting away until well after midnight. It’s great to meet people who are passionate and articulate about the same stuff I’m passionate and articulate about.
After saying my bon voyage and bon chance, I ended up walking most of the way back to the ship, as all the bikes zooming past already carried a passenger. Happily, for the final stretch the shipping agent picked me up on his quad bike. Turning into the port, I found Andy and Jay waiting for me. They had checked out my website and didn’t want me to leave without us having a good yarn about life, the universe and everything.
Being not particularly tired and excited by the lunar eclipse that I could see starting to happen up in the night sky, I invited them onto the Southern Pearl for tea and a natter. Andy has plans to travel back to the UK without flying, so he had a bunch of questions concerning the process of blagging oneself aboard cargo ships and the like. The thing I particularly enjoyed was being able to talk about British stuff like Derren Brown and Jimmy Saville without having to explain who they are (or were): I’ve been surrounded by Aussies and Kiwis for too long!
The eclipse was pretty damn sweet and, unlike the international treaty on nuclear proliferation, was total. We sat out in the barbecue area at the stern of the ship and put the world to rights until the moon was back in full working order and the first light of the next day’s sun began to peak over the eastern horizon. In just a few hours I would set sail for my 190th country, but you know what Tuvalu? You rock my world.
11.12.11: An early departure saw us clear Funafuti’s lagoooooon by 8am and once more we long afloat on shipless oceans. I did all my best to smile, but my aching bones and fingers drew me lazy back to my bunk. Should I stand and get some breakfast, or should I lie with Dell my laptop… and watch Futurama?
I didn’t rise until noon. I took this opportunity of supreme disconnection to work on my scripts that I’m always banging on about. It’s a really good idea, when you’re an easily distracted professional procrastinator like myself, to be able to shut yourself off from the outside world for a few days: no phone calls, no emails, no barbecues or bar mitzvahs to attend. However, today was a bit of a special day as not only is it the 1075th day of The Odyssey Expedition, it’s also my dad’s 75th birthday. For those of you who know their history (or saw ‘The Kings Speech’), my dad was born on the exact same day that Edward VIII abdicated the throne, thrusting poor old B-B-B-Bertie into the limelight.
Since I’m not back in Liverpool sitting around the dinner table arguing over the exact number of dimensions in the universe (my dad stubbornly refuses to understand that ‘space’ is not a dimension. I keep telling him: maybe ‘space-time’, but definitely not ‘space’… tsk!), I might as well use this opportunity to say a few things about the infuriating lunatic who is more responsible than any other person in the world for me being here today en route to my 190th country: I’m talking, of course, about my father.
My brother Mike doesn’t understand our father: he believes that one day he’ll change and stop being a big meanie. I clocked on to the fact that he’ll never change (blokes never do, girls!) several years ago, and since then none of his barbed remarks have really bothered me that much. Mike still smarts after being told that UMIST ‘wasn’t a real university’, my other brother Alex probably still harbours ill-feelings for the time he, giggling and nervous, brought his first girlfriend home only to be told to ‘play the field son, play the field’. I myself was shot down in flames after getting into Manchester University and being told that ‘you can’t build a bridge with History and Politics’, but I consoled myself with the fact that one day I might well order somebody else to build a bridge on my behalf. And name it after me.
But putting to one side the dark side of Graham Hughes Senior (yep, I’m named after him), there are certain aspects of my own personality for which I most definitely have my dad to thank (or blame). My love of booze, live music and house parties, for starters… but also the spirit of adventure, the wanderlust and the immense self-confidence (which some mistake for arrogance) required to quite literally take on the world. My trivia-addled mind, my cast-iron constitution, my aptitude for telling stories and/or jokes, my lack of tact and my wilful inability to suffer fools gladly all comes from my father.
Luckily for me, I don’t take after my dad in my political outlook, sense of paranoia or when it comes to anger management – that’s where my mum’s genes of zen-like serenity come in. It takes a lot to really piss me off to the point at which I will scream and shout, which is why I’ve never started a fight in my life (although I have, on occasion, finished them… arf arf arf). My dad, meanwhile, flies off the handle at the slightest provocation – an affliction he has passed onto Alex, who every so often transforms into Mr. Furious from Mystery Men. My dad is also way more obsessive compulsive than me – although I have to admit I can’t play a good computer game and not finish every level, find every secret and unlock every Easter egg. Or live on this planet without visiting every country.
Anyway, my point is that there’s a lot of my personality that I get from my father, and today on his 75th birthday I’d just like to say thanks for giving me the tools I needed to embark on this crazy mission and for the idiot courage I need to see it through. Happy birthday, Dad.
12.12.11: We’re at sea, so now’s a good time to give you some sort of timetable of my movements over the next few months. It’s worth you knowing that there is no way the Odyssey Expedition will be finished before July at the very earliest. Don’t forget I’ve still got to infiltrate Fortress Seychelles (200) as well as return to Africa to finish my journey in South Sudan (201).
After the Southern Pearl stops off in Kiribati (190) and The Marshall Islands (191), it returns to Fiji around Dec 22. I’ll be in Fiji for Christmas and New Year (woo!) and then, thanks to the wonderful guys at Pacific Direct and Reef Shipping, I’ve been invited to join the crew of the Southern Lily 2, a cargo ship that runs to Samoa (192), Tonga (193) and New Zealand (194).
Mandy hasn’t had a holiday since she met me in Egypt two years ago, so she’ll be flying over to New Zealand to meet me for a two week breather. We’re planning to hurtle around North Island and, at some point, blag our way onto the set of The Hobbit. The reason that there is no great hurry to get on with the journey at this point is that the Scarlett Lucy, the ship I’m hoping to take me to Nauru (195), doesn’t leave Brisbane until Feb 15: and there’s no way I can make the January sailing.
On Jan 29, I’ll be saying my farewells to Mandy as the good people at Carnival have blagged me onboard a Princess Cruise ship back to Australia. I have to go back to Oz to meet with the aforementioned Scarlett Lucy, my one and only chance of making it to Nauru (195).
The Scarlett Lucy will return to Australia in March and then the challenge will be to secure passage on a ship leaving for Taiwan. Why Taiwan you ask? Because it’s from there that Mariana Shipping run a ship once every two weeks which stops at Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia (196) and Palau (197). I can’t find any ships going to Palau from the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s really the only way. If all goes like clockwork, it’s conceivable (but not likely) that I’d have it done by the end of April.
So then, May will involve a merry jaunt down to Singapore and then a trip across to Sri Lanka (198). By the time I convince a cargo ship to take me to the Maldives (199) and back to Sri Lanka it’ll be June. I then face the even more difficult challenge of finding a ship happy to take me back to Madagascar (although Mauritius or Reunion would be just as good), so let’s call that the rest of June.
July will start with me begging a yachtie in Nosy Be to take me to one of the most southerly of the Seychelles Islands (200). This would (at the very least) take a couple of weeks. I would then have to get back from Nosy Be to Africa. This could take a few days or a few weeks depending on how long I get stuck in Comoros again.
Once back in Dar Es Salaam, I know I could get to South Sudan (201) in just a few days via Uganda, visas permitting. I crack open a Juba beer and bring The Odyssey Expedition to a fitting (but long-overdue) conclusion.
Then… well, after three and a half years of surface-based travel hilarity, I hope you’re not expecting me to spoil it all by flying back to the UK are you?!