Days 1,380-3: The Beginning of the End
Fri 12.10.12 – Mon 15.10.12:
I said thank you and goodbye to Shaun and was at the RCL offices for noon. After more photos with the staff and Sajith, I was put in the company minibus and sent off towards the port. In the Sri Lankan immigration office I tried to act as cool as cucumber, when really I was freaking out inside. The moment the guy stamped my passport out I felt like punching the air and going WOOOOOOOO!!!, but I didn’t think it would go down so well. The immigration guy might think I’m really happy to be leaving Sri Lanka, when in reality I’m just REALLY HAPPY TO BE LEAVING SRI LANKA!!
I have to be honest, I didn’t breathe easily until I was not just onboard the Vira Bhum but we were exiting Colombo seaport, following the setting sun west towards my next goal: The Maldives. Somewhat inconveniently, I would have to get there via Bombay, 1000 miles to the north. It’s a bit like getting to France from the UK via America, but I’m not complaining. So long as I get there, so long as I get home for December. I’ve broken too many promises on this journey, I’ll be damned if I break this one too.
The Vira Bhum is a Thai-registered ship and, fittingly, most of the officers and crew are from Thailand (including the Captain) and the remainder is made up of guys from Burma. Captain Buntheam is a top guy. I thought he was a bit young to be a captain, turns out he’s been a captain for 19 years. He definitely enjoys that Thai blessing of looking way younger than he actually is. Everybody has been really friendly, the cook is obsessed with feeding me, which is no bad thing: the food onboard is excellent. Imagine being at a top Thai restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you might understand my enthusiasm.
At 0000h on Friday night we crossed 78° East of Greenwich, hitting the Somali pirate High Risk Area (HRA) which will be my playground until I reach Diego Suarez in Madagascar at the end of the month. We’re at security level 2 now, which isn’t the lock-down freak-out state of Level 3, but there must be three crewmembers on watch at any one time, we have a couple of dummies on the back of the ship pretending to be look-outs and I’m not allowed to go out on deck without a chaperone. This is no great inconvenience as it’s much nicer too look out over the azure Indian Ocean from the starboard wing of the bridge.
Saturday and Sunday passed without incident. I watched Drive on DVD. Excellent film, bit miffed they used *that* title. I wanted to make a film called Drive. It was going to be a road movie, but instead of American kids crossing America in a Ford Thunderbird, it would be British kids crossing America in a Ford Thunderbird. Kinda like The Inbetweeners meets Fear and Loathing. It would have been THAT good. Never mind, I’ll just focus on my other named-after-a-song-on-REM’s-Automatic-For-The-People film script, Monty Got A Raw Deal. We’ve done systematic tests and you can never have enough films named after songs from that particular album.
Talking of film scripts, over the weekend I did a massive re-write of my period adventure film, The Amazon. It’s now looking shiner than an Italian businessman’s suit. It’s one of the great things about being on board a cargo ship, it really gives you time and space to disconnect from the outside world and focus on something whole-heartedly. Next I think I’ll concentrate on polishing off my Indiana Jones fan script, Indiana Jones and the Heart of Darkness. I know it’ll never get made, but goddamn it, how many other Indiana Jones scripts were dreamt up in a Congolese jail cell? None. That’s how many. NONE.
We arrived at the Bombay anchorage at around 0100 on Monday morning, several hours early (this ship is like the Millennium Falcon, I tells ya!). We weren’t supposed to be getting our pilot until around 1500 and not come alongside until 1800. However, as if the gods of Mount Olympus are finally somewhat impressed by my tenacity after all these years, the pilot was on board for 1100 and we were making our way into Mumbai Harbour before lunch. And what’s this to port? Is it a cruise ship I see before me? I get on our ship’s AIS (Automatic Identity System) and there it is: the Costa neoRomantica. Sitting in port here in Bombay, waiting to take me away-ha-ha.
However. TII. THIS IS INDIA. My visa states that I may only exit the country from Cochin. But, if you think about it, I wouldn’t be leaving the country, would I? I’d be hitching a ride on the cruise down to Cochin, and then yes, exiting from Cochin when the time comes. Hmm… watch this space.
We pulled into port around 1300. By 1600 I was still on the ship, still sitting waiting. I had to write out a letter explaining why I was here. So did the captain. After all the hoops these damn Vogons made me jump through to get my “special” visa, “Because f— you” was my initial response.
OKAY OKAY INDIA, I get it, YOU DON’T LIKE VISITORS. I understand that, which is why I keep telling anyone who’ll listen to go somewhere – anywhere – else instead. I know tourists and travellers are a constant headache for you, that we wear out your rubber stamps and make unnecessary paperwork for you. We know that we are vermin and not fit to walk on the hallowed shit-covered streets of your beautiful caste-ridden nation. But please, India, I’m just passing through, I won’t leave a mess, I promise. Just give me 3 days, that’s all I ask. In return I will double my efforts to shout far and wide – to anybody who is in earshot – to not upset the Indians by actually visiting India and spending money. Heaven knows India has more than enough wealth to go around as it is, it’s not like millions of people are living in slums or anything.
Oh for the love of……
At 1900 I was finally on the ferry across Mumbai Harbour heading towards the Gateway of India. Would have been nice to see it in the day immigration guys!! I met with my CouchSurf host for the evening, the awesome Sandeep, for drinkies at the (in)famous Leopold Café. I was here last time…
My great and eternal thanks to Sanjith and the guys and gals at RCL and Delmage Forsyth Colombo, Captain Panneer at Emirates Shipping in Singapore and to Captain Buntheam, Chief Inthachod, 2nd Yarungsee, 3rd Somsuay, Chief Engineer Tosakul and the crew of the MV Vita Bhum for being *quite literally* the saviours of The Odyssey Expedition. I can’t thank you all enough. I can see my pathway home illuminated before me – I’ve never felt confident enough to say this before, but this truly is The Beginning of The End of The Odyssey Expedition.
You’ve come with me this far with me, now pray come a wee bit farther…
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