It would not be unfair to say that my entire life has been leading up to this point. This day. This moment. This photograph:
The final vindication of my hopes and dreams, my determination, my spirit, my grit and my stubborn refusal to give up no matter what.
+++++++++++++++++++++ I DID IT +++++++++++++++++++++
At 0814 this morning, the 1,426th day of The Odyssey Expedition, I crossed the border from Uganda into South Sudan. After queuing for an hour to be stamped in, it was official.
Some may do the same thing in the future, and they may well do it faster, other may scoff and think the whole thing ridiculous, but NOBODY can ever take this achievement away from me.
I am, and always will be, the first person to visit every country in the world without flying.
A FEW VITAL STATS…
201 Nations Visited
193 of them Full Members of the UN
67 of them More than Once
59 of them Islands
18 Bonus Territories (for good measure)
Distance Travelled: 250,000km
Average Money Spent: $100 a week
Hours of Video Footage: 352
Blog Entries: 736
Blog Word Count: 584,886
Days spent in jail: 12
Days spent at sea: 196
Combined Total Number of All Ships: 157
Container ships: 20
Cruise ships: 4
Leaky Wooden Canoes: 1
Number of Overnight Coach Journeys: Lost Count
I was met at the border by Aegnus Stanley, who avid fans of the TV show will recognise from Episode 8: he’s the lovely Irishman who warns me about the dangerous of travelling through Northern Kenya. He brought along his friend Josh for the ride. Filming at the border was a total no-no, so we went up a nearby hill and filmed this segment.
After champagne and sandwiches, Aengus, Josh and I headed to Juba. It took about 2 hours to get back along the brand-new road that had only been finished 6 weeks ago. I should stress that this is the only good road in South Sudan: an area of the world sadly neglected by both us Brits and then by the government in Khartoum before the split.
Aengus had to go to work so he left me in Josh’s capable hands. My partner in crime Casey had organised for me to meet with a press photographer and a journalist from AFP to let the world know that I had arrived. We did the photos after lunch, but by the time I met with Hannah, the AFP journo, it was already getting dark. We filmed a video segment outside Parliament after persuading some random guy that we weren’t filming something we shouldn’t be. Hannah explained that we needed somewhere with flags and the John Garang memorial was off the agenda since last week when a middle-aged woman was shot through the head for driving her car past while they were lowering the main flag.
John Garang was the leader of the SPLA – the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army, the rather rag-tag bunch of fighters that fought for (and eventually won) independence from the north. He died in a helicopter crash in 2003 and remains a revered figure in South Sudan, appearing on the bank notes and being widely regarded as the father of the this new-fangled nation.
Why the war was necessary is quite beyond me. In 1972 the then “president” (dictator) of Sudan, Colonel Jaafar Nimeiri, signed a peace accord in Addis Ababa granting the south of the country a measure of autonomy that quelled the civil war for over a decade. Then in a fit of what? Madness? Stupidity? Recklessness? In 1983 he binned the autonomy deal and imposed good old fashioned sharia law over the entire country. Surprisingly. the pre-dominantly animist and Christian south of Sudan were not exactly over the moon about the prospect of receiving 40 lashes for being caught drinking their beloved Nile Beer. And so began the second part of the north-south war in Sudan – a war as preventable as it was disastrous for the country as a whole, adding instability to a region bordering the already massively unstable Uganda, DR Congo (the former Zaire) and the Central African Republic – you know, Kony Country.
Although Joseph Kony is still at large (a fact highlighted by this year’s perplexing ‘Get Kony’ campaign), the area is now reasonably stable, with the notable exception of the north-east of the DRC. Shall not be going there on this trip, methinks.
Hannah told me that a combination of paranoia, a lack of education and collective post-traumatic shock – legacies of fifty years of war with the north – had conspired to make the world’s newest nation one of the most difficult to do your job as a journalist, barring warzones. A journo for Al-Jazeera had their £10,000 video camera confiscated a few weeks ago and still hadn’t got it back, despite a direct order from the president to give the damn thing back. “I cannot control these people” is not the response you were looking for from the commander-in-chief.
We spent a good 20 minutes filming me talking about my adventures and were just grabbing some cutaways of me walking up and down with my bags when another curious party arrived and set about trying to confiscate the camera and/or arrest us. Hannah and I managed to talk our way out of the situation, but we weren’t up for hanging about for another round of this nonsense and so headed off to the Ministry of Roads to quickly snap this pic:
Engine running, getaway car just inches away, Hannah managed a couple of snaps before we heard the inevitable ‘Hey! Hey!’ I didn’t even turn to look at who was shouting at us, neither did Hannah. We just got back in the car and floored it. It would be somewhat unfortunate (although perhaps rather fitting) for me to spend tonight of all nights in an African jail cell.
Hannah set off to file her report and I met back up with Josh and Aengus for dinner – a fantastic curry of victory washed down with a bottle of Nile Beer.
People kept asking me how I felt now I had finished. Happy? Sad? Exhausted? I didn’t really have an answer for them. To be perfectly honest, I just felt like another beer.
A QUICK THANK YOU
I don’t have the time or the battery power to list everybody who has helped The Odyssey Expedition along. I will produce a comprehensive list for Christmas, but I’d quickly like to thank:
TEAM ODYSSEY: Mum & Dad, Mandy, Lindsey, Si, Dino, Lorna, Christian, Alex Z, Alex H, Scott, Leo, Anna, Colm, Rocco, Grethe, Stan, Matt, John H and Hugh… for your patience, your time, your generosity and support. If I have travelled further, it’s by cadging a lift on the shoulders of giants.
Everybody who hosted me, given me a bed/couch/hammock/floor for the night. Your hospitality is a credit to the human race. You all have a friend for life and place to stay any time you’re in the UK.
Everybody at Costa, Princess, PIL, CMA-CGM, Neptune, Swire, Eimskip, PDL, Maersk, Dioryx, Rickmers, DAL, Emirates Line, Bengal Tiger Line, Mariana Express Lines, China Navigation, PAE, Reef and Hamburg Sud It is no feint praise to say I could not do this without you.
The officers, crew and support staff of The Melinda II, The Costa Fortuna, The Linge Trader, The Reykjavoss, The Dettifoss, The DAL Madagascar, The CMA-CGM Turquoise, The CMA-CGM Jade, The Papuan Chief, The Pacific Pearl, The Southern Pearl, The Southern Lily II, The Sea Princess, The Scarlett Lucy, The Kota Juta, The Mell Sembawang, The Kota Wirawan, The Vira Bhum, The Costa neoRomantica and The Maersk Seberok.
Everyone who donated to WaterAid. You gave me the impetus to soldier on no matter what. Through your immense generosity, we have raised over $10,000 so far and helped save the lives of children all over the world. I hope to add to this total before the end.
Everyone who chipped in to help get me home last summer, with a particular shout out to Sarah and Mave. They say that friends are the family you choose for yourself, and I couldn’t wish to be in better company.
Everyone who shared a joke, a story, a cup of tea or a pint of beer. Everyone who sat next to me on the bus, bought me a beer or pointed me in the right direction. Everyone who, just by being themselves, solidified my belief that the vast majority of humans are good good people.
Everyone who followed me over the years, shout outs to segacs, gavinmac, GrahamStalker, Nomadic Translator, Matthew Lumby and all our subscribers, for defending me against the haters, keeping me motivated and giving me a kick up the arse when I was beginning to dawdle!
Everyone who just, you know, *got it*. Many didn’t. Or don’t. But some did. Thank you.
And, last but by no means least, Casey. You joined the adventure at the eleventh hour, but in the last couple of months you have done more for me and this journey than I thought possible. Thank you for catching me as I was falling, thank you being the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel and thank you for giving this expedition the happy ending it deserves.