Hello and welcome to all you newbies to The Odyssey blog. I got a little press coverage in the UK last week, so I’m guessing that some of you will be wanting to know what the hell happened to me when I arrived in Cape Verde. I’m not one to stand on ceremony, so here we go…
We passed the island of Maio (no doubt first discovered by Captain Teddlis) at around 4am and pressed on to the island of Santiago, getting there about 7am. We were accompanied into port by a bunch of curious Cape Verde fishermen and once we got there, we found a friendly police boat to tell us where we could dock. Only…they had machine guns.
At this point, I thought nothing untoward. In fact, I expected to be questioned upon our arrival, but with the backing of the Cape Verde representative in the UK, and others, all it would take was a phone call to iron any kind of misunderstanding out and send us on our way.
That didn’t happen now, did it?
Instead, we were confronted by a team of armed police officers, a crowd of rubber-necking dock workers and even a local news crew.
Here’s the video of the whole sorry journey:
The police relieved me of my wallet, my money, my mobile phone, my camera, my bags, everything.
We were then told to get off the boat. I protested, trying to explain that we were at a national border and these guys don’t have passports and that we just wanted to turn around now and go back to Dakar. But the police had guns, so we did what we were told. It was all a little crazy, but hell, I thought, as soon as they let me make my phone call as per the Geneva Convention, we’ll be back on the boat within the hour. I left my leather jacket on the boat. It was hot and I thought I’d pick it up later.
Then all eleven of us were bundled into a couple of minibuses and driven in siren-blaring procession to a police station.
The police took my belt, my shoelaces, that stupid fish necklace that I won on the Costa Cruise trivia quiz and pointed down at the cells. Now I’ve never been properly arrested before, but I have watched enough episodes of The Bill to know that they have to tell you what you’ve done wrong before they can throw you in a cell.
They wouldn’t say.
At this point, what had started out as a merry little adventure at the expense of the (obviously bored) Cape Verde police started to turn rather sinister. We were forced down into the lock up, a long narrow room with a staircase in the middle that had a locked cage door on it. Along one side of the lock up were three cells, each perhaps ten foot by ten foot, each with an incredibly smelly squat toilet in the corner.
It was now about 11am. We would be left down there all day, and my requests for Habeas Corpus, a statement of arrest, a phone call, a lawyer or even my malaria medication fell on deaf ears.
What the hell had I got myself into?
By the evening I was beginning to panic – the whole Odyssey project was in danger of going completely off track and to make matters worse, NOBODY knew where I was.
At 8pm they instructed us into one of the cells, slammed the door and locked it.
There was me, sitting with ten rather bemused (but not angry, bless them) fishermen. The cell had no beds. I used my jumper as a pillow and fell asleep on the concrete, trying not to breath through my nose.
We were awoken at 6am by the guards. Still no phone call or anything. I began (very vocally) protesting against my treatment. At the very least, I should be allowed to call my family. Most of the day we were kept in the cells, only being allowed out for a few hours into the larger lock-up, as if for exercise. I spent my time constructively demanding a phone call off every one who had the misfortune of walking past the lock-up. My pleas fell on deaf ears.
Certain policemen muttered something about the Frontier police, others blamed the chief of police. Either way, whilst some of the police where content in the knowledge that they were breaking several international laws by holding me without charge or a phone call, the smarter ones began to shy away from making eye-contact.
At this point, I sensed I was in the right, these guys KNEW they were screwing up big style keeping me locked up and so I pressed my case.
Time and time and time again.
Telefono! Por mi família!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!
I’m surprised that none of them gave me my phone call just to shut me the hell up. But they didn’t.
The worst thing about being locked up? There is NOTHING to do. I had no book, no pen, nothing.
I couldn’t even chat to the fisherman – Captain Mbeye, Modou, Saliou, Ablaye, Adama, Aleen, Aleen, Mahmoud, Doudou and Elage; and I couldn’t even play football with a bottle as the bizzies had taken my damn laces. But at least my compass watch came in handy when finding the direction of Mecca for them.
So in the spirit of JJ Abrams, I came up in my head with the plot of a re-imagined Star Wars Prequel trilogy. AND OH MY WORD, IT’S BLOOMIN’ MARVELLOUS.
In my version, Anakin is an already grown-up space pirate with dubious morals, Obi-Wan is in love with Amidala and has been since they were kids, Amidala is a kick-ass Jedi Queen, the clones are evil clones of the Ten Dark Lords of the Sith and to cut a long story short, THERE IS A LIGHTSABER FIGHT IN HYPERSPACE.
Now if you don’t want to watch that, you don’t deserve eyes.
We spent a second night locked in that damn cell with nothing but my over-active imagination for company.
Although, the scene when Obi-Wan force jumps over Anakin’s K-Wing kamikaze attack is just AWESOME!
I felt like one of the ‘victims’ of the Milgram experiment. Only I wasn’t pretending. I was given no change of clothes, there was no shower and by now it was either drop the browns off at the pool or risk bowel cancer. I hadn’t gone since last Sunday.
Luckily, I befriended one of the cops, a guy called George. He’s a top bloke and will get my recommendation for Chief of Police once all this is over. He went out and bought me some bog roll (I have no intention of EVER using the old wet left-hand trick favoured by the less salubrious areas of the world) and I used the toilet to say goodbye to all the stuff I had eaten that week.
Talking of food (kinda), they did feed me well – we had two decent meals a day (usually rice and meat in gravy), but ‘original’ bottled water was a little difficult to come by, so I had to do with tap water. Actually, the fact that I still haven’t had the runs for this entire journey despite some pretty damn insanitary conditions, only goes to prove that my DNA should be extracted and analysed in order to create the race of super-soldiers that games designers keep telling us will one day RULE THE WORLD.
Anyway, today I tried to get as many coppers on my side as possible. I’ve already mentioned George, but there were others who really helped me out. However, the majority of them could give a flying monkey’s behind about my situation. The most fun bit of the day was, after banging on my cell door for an hour solid (luckily my cellmates where those peaceful Muslim types you read a lot about but never see on the news) the door was opened by one of the cops. Seizing my opportunity for a little bit of amateur dramatics, I put on the waterworks, got down on my knees and explained that my mother will think I’m dead. I may have even dribbled a bit, it was a jolly good show. I think everyone was quite impressed.
But the copper didn’t yield. He just threw me back in the cell and went upstairs.
That night, the Senegalese Ambassador (who was really a policeman) gave me one of my bags back. Inside were wetwipes (JOY!), my malaria tablets, my Lonely Planet West Africa, some money, a pen and my iPod. But, sadly, no phone.
No phone call for me.
I stuffed my earphones into my lugholes and started scrolling through to Johnny Cash (seemed appropriate), but before I got there the bloody thing ran out of juice.
Anyone got a spare laptop and new version iPod USB cable?
You Dream of Blondes and You Dream of Beer
And Life Gets Terribly Stale
It’s Dead In The Morgue, but it’s Deader In Here
There’s No Night Out In The Jail
There’s No Night Out In The Jail
There’s No Night Out In The Jail
At least I still, incredibly, had my hat on. But I was getting really worried now. NOBODY knew where I was. What was to stop the cops doing me in and making out that we had been lost at sea?
We had now hit the fourth day of my illegal incarceration on the island of Santiago. I had been held beyond the 24-hour limit of Habeas Corpus, and even beyond the 48-hour limit of extenuating circumstances, so unless I was suspected of being a terrorist or I had somehow been teleported to Guantanamo Bay in the reign of the Great Ignoramus, I was now certainly more sinned against than sinning.
On top of that, it being Saturday, my girlfriend Mandy and my mum would be worrying about the fact I hadn’t checked in with them. They would think I was dead. The police told me that the British consulate had been informed; they told me they had spoken to my family; they told me a lawyer was on the way. But I wasn’t born yesterday. If my parent’s knew I was here, there would be a lawyer kicking these coppers back into the 1970s where they belong.
Something had to be done.
I had surveyed my possibilities of escape, timed the appearance of cops (totally random), attempted to scrape away at the walls Shawshank-style with a spoon that I had stolen at dinnertime (all concrete, no sedimentary rock; more’s the pity), had a go at the window bars with a large bit of scaffolding that the cops had left in the lock-up (along with, inexplicably enough, two broken gas cookers, a bicycle with no chain and an original Nintendo Entertainment System – get out of THAT one, Guybrush!) but it was no use.
The only way out was to injure myself sufficiently in order to be taken to hospital and then seducing a nurse to get her on side and pulling a fast one dressed as a doctor before heading under cover of darkness to the relative safety of the US Embassy (directions out of the Lonely Planet scrawled in Biro on my hand).
So I took up my position on the shouting step and started my oft-repeated plea.
Telefono! Por mi família!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
Once I had the bizzie’s attention, I started hitting my head on the bars like Vyvian out of the Young Ones – only with more conviction.
Unfortunately, I’m bloody difficult to knock out (hence the necessary of super-soldier clones to be made from my DNA to protect the Earth from the invading nasties from Dimension X). I guess my head is just too fat to cause any real damage. Or maybe I’m just a wuss, who couldn’t headbutt a large blancmange without pulling my punches. Either way, I had to pretend to be knocked unconscious (more bloody acting – where’s my Oscar eh?).
The copper on duty took the hysterical-woman-out-of-Airplane method of treatment and slimly slapped me ‘awake’ and pulled me out of the way of the door.
Let’s try that again shall we.
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
This time, I lay there on the floor for over an hour, not moving (but thinking of even more unbelievable groovy scenes for my version of Star Wars Episodes I to III, including one where Mace Windu, Amidala, Obi-Wan and Anakin are hanging off a spaceship (above a the huge frozen sea of Sullust) and Obi-Wan is forced to cut the cord on Anakin Touching-The-Void-style to save everyone else’s life. So Anakin plunges down to almost certain death before (at the last moment) using the Force to break the ice beneath him).
No wonder he’s so angry off at the end of Episode III.
In my version anyway. I still can’t quite work out what his problem was in the GL version. Sand-People killed my mom! Well, you could have perhaps dropped in on her sometime in the past decade, you selfish mook. I wanna be a Jedi Master! Okay, here’s your seat on the council. I had a bad dream about my wife! Aw, diddums. Now KILL ALL THESE CHILDREN…!
Anyway, after an hour, I was getting pins and needles so I got up and dusted myself down.
After a while, I was finally allowed five minutes to make a call, but the phone was all in Portuguese. I spent the first minute trying to unlock the damn thing. I only know a handful of numbers off the top of my head. I dialled my parents. The call connected, but all I could hear was my own voice repeated back at me. Kafkaesque or what? So I tried my brother Mike. No answer.
Then I texted Mike. My hands where shaking like Michael J Fox sitting on a washing machine. In an earthquake.
I couldn’t find the damn button for space.
The copper was coming back. One last try. I rang Mike’s mobile number. I got to speak to him for just enough time to confirm he got my text message and to say in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t playing around here.
It was done. The word was out. Now, where’s my lawyer?
I would find out later that my parents sussed out where I was being held and spent all day yesterday trying to phone me, but it wasn’t until my fifth day being held at El Presidente’s pleasure that somebody finally got through to me.
That wasn’t before our early morning wake up call. I staggered from the cell into the lock-up area to find some of the other prisoners gathered around what I can only describe as the biggest mess of a human I have ever seen. A guy who had drank so much that he pulled down his pants and had defecated EVERYWHERE, rolled in it, got sick, pee’d himself and then passed out. Now I’ve been to some seriously messed up house parties and attended
some truly drunken festivals, but this was on a whole new level of JUST PLAIN WRONG.
Why had the police brought him in? To punish us? Why couldn’t they have just left him on the street – it’s not like he could catch pneumonia here, it’s too damn warm. He STANK. He had excrement all over his feet, it was in his hair, all over the floor. My word, I would LOVE to know what this cack monster had been drinking because I would like to use it on my enemies.
The other prisoners were trying to hose him down when I got summoned upstairs – the first time I had left the lock-up in over 120 hours. Isabelle, the assistant to the British Consulate. You angel. She told me that they were doing everything they could to get me out. Once I had answered one call, they couldn’t really stop me – I spent the best part of the day upstairs talking to my Mum and Dad, my girlfriend Mandy, my brothers Alex and Mike… I even did an interview for Granada Reports (North West UK TV). Although everyone had to ring me, I STILL wasn’t allowed to call out. Behind the scenes, people like John Roberto, the Cape Verde Representative in the UK, were doing everything they could to get me out.
Every time the phone went silent for more than ten minutes, I was sent downstairs, back to the cack monster. He had crawled Gollum-like to around the corner of the lock-up, beside the bike with the broken chain. He had managed to defecate himself even more and the whole jail was now resembling the aftermath of a German scat orgy. The fishermen were pressed against the back wall, praying for the wind to change and deliver them from the stench.
And we thought the squat toilets stank. Oh my word.
I felt awful that the fishermen didn’t have the opportunity to go and use the phone. In fact, I felt awful for putting them in this situation in the first place. If the Police had let me make a phone call on the Wednesday, we would have been out on Thursday at the latest, and here we were, five days later and the police where STILL not telling us what was going on.
After a while, the police stopped answering the phone and I had to sit downstairs. The cack monster was returned from whence he came, unlike his cack, which was left all over the floor and up the walls.
At least I knew this would be our last night in the damn jail.
On Monday morning, Captain Mbeye and I were taken away with four others. We (typically) weren’t told were they were taking us, but it turned out to be the courthouse, the Palácio Da Justiça. There I met Maria, the wonderful lawyer that my parents had organised for me. She assured me we’d be out before we knew it – the police had no case and no right to hold us for so long without following the correct procedure of Habeas Corpus. However, they didn’t have a translator for the fishermen, so we had to go back to the cells until 2pm. I spent the time singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs. The fishermen and I ate our last lunch together and just after 2pm, I left the illegal custody of the Cape Verde police for the last time.
At the courthouse, I met a dapper Englishman by the name of Piran. He was from Sheffield and had taken the day off work to help out a fellow Brit in need. He worked as translator as Maria and I explained the whole sordid affair to the Judge. The court case was not even about the fact we had turned up on a wooden fishing boat, it was just based on the fact that the police had broken the law of Habeas Corpus.
While we waited for each of the fishermen to be interviewed by the Judge (the first time ANY of us were asked any questions!), I found out the ‘Senegalese Ambassador’ was in fact a copper and I chatted to local reporters. It was 6pm before the judgement came out.
The prosecution said that it was his considered opinion that we should all be set free immediately, so that made Maria’s job a little easier. The Judge set us all free immediately.
Anyway, as the police left, Piran and Maria found somewhere for the fishermen to stay for the night. Luckily, Maria knows the minister responsible for these people and he ensured that all of my Senegalese chums had a pension for the night. Piran gave us all a lift in his 4×4 monster truck (just the right size for 11 ‘illegal’ immigrants!) to the hotel, and there I said my goodbyes to the guys. Captain Mbeye, Modou, Saliou, Ablaye, Adama, Aleen, Aleen, Mahmoud, Doudou and Elage; what a bunch of legends. If I get any compensation out of this traumatic and frustrating experience, I’ll be sure to pass it on to them. Heaven knows they deserve it.
Piran and I then went for a pizza of liberation, washed down by copious amounts of alcohol. We met up with some other British ex-pats and as we clinked our drinks together, I thanked my lucky stars that I was born in what is still the best country in the world, and nowhere I’ve been since has even come close to knocking it off that position.
Ah, who cares? I was free.
ON WITH THE SHOW.
If you haven’t done so already, please, please sponsor this mad journey by throwing some money in the pot for WaterAid, so at least some good will come of this whole debacle – www.justgiving.com/theodysseyexpedition Thanks.
Huge hugs and desperate thanks to Mandy, Mum and Dad, Mike, Alex, Leo, Yvonne, Dino, Michelle, John Howell, John Roberto, Maria, Piran, Mito, Mel from WaterAid and everyone else who helped me out this week. You are all Odyssey Legends and you were there for me when I needed you the most, and that will never be forgotten.
This morning I woke up at Piran’s place with a little bit of a hangover (no wonder! Those pints last night were actually litres) but it was nothing I couldn’t handle! Piran loaned me a T-shirt, so at least I looked presentable. We then headed over to Piran’s office – he runs a company called Sambala that’s involved in property development over here in Cape Verde. There I met Mito, who is quite possibly the most heroic of all the Odyssey heroes so far. He took me to the maritime police, the frontier police and the passport police in a vain attempt to get my stuff back.
This is when I learned that the police had thrown away my ultra-groovy leather jacket. They have made getting my stuff back, getting the fisherman’s boat back to Dakar and letting me leave the island, as difficult as humanly possible. In fact, it would have been totally impossible if it wasn’t for Mito, Piran and Maria helping me out. I’d be up the creek without a paddle.
We then asked around the shipping agencies for a boat out of here. Nothing until the 21st June. Seriously?! My legs went a bit shaky. You have to understand – every day that I spend on this island is another day I don’t get to spend with my feet up watching Battlestar Galactica with Mandy. But there may be hope – a boat called the Micau would be leaving from Sal, another island, in a few days, perhaps even tomorrow. It will be going to Dakar, then Guinea Bissau. I met the owner and he agreed to allow me passage. I might be out of here before I know it!!
Later on, I did an interview for the local paper with Mito acting as translator. Then we went out to Kappa, a restaurant bar on the seafront, and drank until Piran turned up and then we drank some more.
I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour.
Woke up at Piran’s place only to discover that over the last two nights he had been sleeping on the floor in the lounge having given me his bed. I felt dreadful – I thought I was in the spare room! I resolved that if I didn’t escape Cape Verde’s vile clutches today, I would put myself in a hotel.
I accompanied Piran to the office and then I spent the day, with Piran’s help, faffing about trying to get my ass off this rock, but to no avail. The Micau wouldn’t be leaving for a couple of days, but you know, Friday, I should be out of here. I did, however, get my camcorder – ‘Al’ – back, which meant I could start filming stuff again, which is good because I felt as though I’d lost a limb. Although, truth be told, there’s not much worth filming in Praia. I was only supposed to be here an hour!!
Here I am a week later. Humph. The good news is that I was the feature on the second and last page of the national paper! The picture of me sitting in the courthouse with the fishermen is just utter class.
That night, Mito and I grabbed some barbecued chicken, met a bunch of girls from Yale University and then we went to a basketball game. Afterwards, we got rotten drunk and I staggered into my newly-acquainted hotel at about 3am. Class.
Was hoping for some good news today, but got none. The Micau is actually going to leave Sal and come here to Santiago, which saves me a trip, but also means it’s going to take longer to leave the islands – it may not leave now until Sunday. Gutted, but ploughing on regardless, I managed (with the help of Mito and Maria) to get my stuff back (except for my passport) which meant at last that I could use my mobile phone.
I wasted away the day writing up my blogs. I have taken to hanging out at Café Sophia, a cybercafé with outside seating and parasols. It’s quite cool – loads of locals who saw me on the news keep coming over and asking me about my adventures.
Today passed as if in a dream.
I spent the entire day at Café Sophia reading a book, waiting for something to happen. It didn’t. I was worried that if the boat left on Sunday, I wouldn’t have my passport, but I need not have worried. I’d be leaving Monday. Well, so I had been told.
I want to leave this place so badly it hurts. What am I still doing here?!
I didn’t see Piran or Mito today. I felt bad bugging them all the time. I just wanted to crawl under a rock and hide until the time came for me to be set free. I’ve come out of a jail into a bigger jail.
Tonight, I ate at a little restaurant around the corner from Café Sophia. There I met a guy from The Netherlands called Garrett, who was hanging out with a woman who worked in the Sophia. We had a couple of drinks and then headed over to Kappa, the real nightspot around these parts. There I saw Maria, my lawyer, Piran’s mates from Monday night and even (keeping my head down) the chief of police.