Right. Here’s the deal. It’s Thursday 17th December. If I play my cards right, I reckon I can get to Egypt via Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia before the end of the month to meet my girlfriend Mandy.
We haven’t seen each other all year.
I have just 10 days from today to get to Djibouti (via Burundi) to catch a cargo boat up to Port Said. This is going to be AWESOME.
The race, as they say, is ON!!!
Today we got into port nice and early. Before long I was stamped back into Tanzania (had to buy a new visa – grr). I said my goodbyes to Thomas and Sevine and stepped back onto the continent of Africa.
I hurried over to the bus station to find that there were no buses to Rwanda until Saturday (I just missed the one that left today) so I jumped on the next bus to Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, hoping to ‘bus hop’ my way up to Rwanda instead.
I got into Dodoma around 5pm, but there were no buses going any further today. Buses in Tanzania don’t seem to run at night. This is a problem, especially if I hope to be in Djibouti a week on Saturday.
Dodoma was the most uncapital-like capital city I’ve ever been to (worse than Canberra!) but I’m back in Tanzania and the price is right. Also, it’s named after the general who explains how to blow up the Death Star in Star Wars. I’m staying in a place that is comparable with the dreadful Pension Faida back on Comoros, only this place has a shower (albeit a cold one) and it costs… oh yes…€3. Or in other words, what the Pension Faida should have cost.
I’m writing this in the restaurant of the poshest hotel in town, the New Dodoma, about a mile down the road from my guesthouse. I’m about to sink my teeth into a massive steak that has just been delivered to my table on a sizzling platter. It looks DELICIOUS (if a little hot) and the price? €3.25.
Pinch me, I must be dreaming. Hang on – I’ll go and check I haven’t got the exchange rate wrong.
Nope. It’s right…
I’m so happy I could burst.
Wow. Rwanda. Like, really, wow. I know what I like and I like what I see.
I dragged my reluctant carcass out of bed at some ungodly hour and headed over to the bus station with a local guy called Charles who was also taking the bus somewhere. It was too early for me to focus on anything, but before I knew it I was sitting on the front seat of a minibus heading towards the Rwandan border.
I arrived at 9.30am, glad to discover that the ‘six-hour’ border process took less than ten minutes. And, what’s more NO VISA REQUIRED!! So Rwanda started well and it just got better from there on in. One of the things that was annoying me about Tanzania was that my Vodafone mobile internet thingy wasn’t working, and it took about half an hour just to send a text from it (updating my twitter was a nightmare), but in Rwanda it worked as soon as I crossed the border.
And the scenery… my word. If you like hills (I do) and trees (I do) and you like hills and trees together (I especially do, see my comments on Colombia and Madagascar) then you would LOVE Rwanda. It just looks seven shades of gorgeous from to bottom. And… you’re not going to believe this, but there is no litter. Like seriously, no litter AT ALL. It’s incredible. After slogging it through 40 countries worth of filth and garbage for the last seven months and especially after just coming from the-city-tip-is-the-city Comoros, saying Rwanda is a breath of fresh air is somewhat of an understatement.
They even close the roads for half an hour on the last Saturday of every month so people can clear up any rubbish from the sides of the road. AWESOME!!
Finally, a country where people look after their country.
And then there are the towns. They are splendid, with well built brick buildings (which are – shockhorror – FINISHED and PAINTED), manicured lawns, flowers, trees and playing fields. Christ I could be in the friggin’ Cotswolds. The roads are all sealed, signposted and painted… what the hell is going on here?
And, as if the icing on the cake, the minibuses are brand new (incredible!). Makes a change from being trucked around in vans that were old when the Darma Initiative came to the island.
Finally, and there’s something else Rwanda has that will have me returning one day when I have more time… Gorillas. Oh yeah baby, SHOW ME THE PRIMATES!! No time on this trip I’m afraid, but I’ll be back. Oh yes, I’ll be back.
So yes, Rwanda got me grooving from the word go. I got to the capital, Kigali, at about 2:30pm which was a bit of a worry as I knew the border with Burundi (Nation 126) closed at 6pm and it took at least three hours to get there. But Rwanda had yet more good news for me – it’s an hour behind Tanzania! So it was really 1:30pm. SAFE!
So I trundled towards the Burundian border, excitedly sending Colm my blog entries for the past five weeks (all four of em – heh). At the delightful little town of Budare I changed my mode of transport for a taxi-motorbike and buzzed the last 20km to the border. I got stamped out of Rwanda (why not eh?) and crossed the river into Burundi. I filmed my crossing and had a chat with the border guards on the other side (you can get a three-day visa for $20 on the border, take note overlanders!) before turning back into Rwanda.
Lucky I did, as a my motorbike guy had disappeared and minibus for Budare was just leaving.. I dived onboard, excited at the prospect of racing all the way up to Djibouti this week. Dino has come through with the goods and found me a space on the ship CMA Turquoise next Sunday and if all goes to plan (it won’t!) I should be sitting pretty in Djibouti this time next week ready to meet Mandy before midnight on the 31st.
We rolled into Budare just in the nick of time – the last bus back to Kigali was revving up to leave. Go go go go go!!
Getting back to Kigali around 9pm, I was greeted with the delightful sight of the city by night. A few months ago I read a book by John Steinbeck in which he pointed out that cities that are flat have to try and make up for their lack of drama by building huge skyscrapers. In a town like Kigali that is just not necessary. Rwanda likes to bill itself as the land of a thousand hills and, for once, the place lives up to the hype and Kigali is no exception.. The million multi-coloured points of light scattered over the hillside of this pleasant, breezy capital are just magical.
I’m sorry, I know I have a tendency to gush over places that I like, but in Africa those places are few and far between so I think it’s just a case of credit were credit is due.
I headed over to the main bus station to try and get a ticket for the direct bus to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya (via Uganda) which leaves at 5.30 tomorrow morning. The offices had just closed but the guy there said there should be seats available in the morning, so I hunkered down for the night in the Kigali Guest House, had some goat stew for din-dins (yum!) and got rather excited about the new Forum page on the website.
This was it. The most critical day of The Odyssey so far – make or break, do or die, cake or death. Dino Deasha, that magnificent chap, had cadged me a lift on the MV Turquoise, a huge container ship affiliated with those good folk at CMA-CGM and bound for Suez in Egypt, due to arrive on the 31st December. But first, I had not just to get to Djibouti City, I also needed to get to Somalia and back.
Don’t panic! Somalia is perfectly safe. Well, no, it’s not – it’s the most dangerous country on Earth. What I mean to say is that the part which I intend to visit is perfectly safe – I’m going to Somaliland.
History lesson! (Cos I know you love them soooo…)
In the same way that we had British, Dutch and French Guyana and Portuguese, French and Spanish Guinea, on the east coast of Africa we had Italian, British and French Somalia. French Somalia became the independent state of Djibouti in 1977 while the poor old British Somalia (now known as Somaliland) got dumped with the Italian Somalia which is what we know as Somalia today.
Now as far as basketcases go (and Africa, let’s face it, has a mighty fine collection), Somalia is the basketcase to beat all basketcases. Next time some ill-informed idiot comes up to you at a party and tells you that he’s an anarchist, nut him in the face and Fed-Ex him off to Somalia. With no effective government since 1991, the only law and order in Mogadishu revolves around gangs of armed thugs randomly killing and raping with impunity. Mmm… anarchy… don’t-cha just looove it?
Of course, the international community should really do something about this, if not for the sake of Somalia itself, then surely for the sake of the poor bastards who have to navigate the pirate-infested waters anywhere within a thousand miles of Somalia’s shoreline. I’m sure Djibouti, Yemen, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania and The Seychelles are less than thrilled with the situation. But there it remains, and there it has remained, a horror show for nineteen years now.
But there is one bit of good news – Somaliland. Yep, that old bit of British Somalia that really shouldn’t have been lumped with the madness that was Italian Somalia in the first place, has broken away and now has it’s own parliament, capital, flag, currency, university and (heaven forbid!) multi-party elections. It’s got a damn good historical reason for being an independent nation and it’s got possibly the best current reason in the world for lopping off its malformed and pustulating growth of teeth and hair that is Somalia proper.
So, who thinks, given the circumstances, that Somaliland should be recognised as an independent nation by the world? All of you?! Good, that’s what I thought. If you can give me one good reason why Somaliland should not be recognised as an independent state then I will give a gold star and a jellybaby, because let’s face it, there is no good reason… well, that is if your brains haven’t been recently sucked out through your nose or, of course, you work for the UN. Because the UN says no..
Why does the UN say no?
To be quite frank, I have no f–king idea. The same institution that wants the French to give the island of Mayotte back to Cloud Coup Coup Land and (let’s not forget) facilitates the process in which the most blood-thirsty criminals in the world make trillions of dollars every year by enforcing this idiotic prohibition on drugs, refuses to allow Somaliland the status of being a nation. Blimey, what a bunch of f–ks.
I kinda hated the UN at the start of this trip, but now I really hate the UN, it’s about as much use as a KFC on the moon.
Well, as things are, if you visit Somaliland, it counts as a visit to Somalia, which is useful for me as I have less than no intention of visiting anywhere that might result in my head being chopped off. So that was the plan.
Matt and I jumped the bus from Dira Dawa (Ethiopia) to Djibouti City at midnight, only to find that irritating habit of buses leaving a couple of hours after they say it’s going to leave was still in full force. The latest from Dino was that the boat was leaving today, and I fretted over having time to visit Somalia/Somaliland. After 2am, the bus finally began the long haul to the Djibouti border, arriving at about 9am.
Because the Ethiopian border guards took an age stamping us out, we missed our connecting bus to Djibouti City. At this point, I was beginning to spak out somewhat. The latest intell from Dino (who had been working overtime over Christmas to get me on this ship to Egypt) was that I had to get to the CMA-CGM shipping office as soon as possible, and now it was beginning to look like I would not make it over there until the afternoon (we were supposed to be arriving at 10am).
Matt and I filmed some stuff on the border while we waited for the next bus to fill, and eventually we made it through to the Djibouti side of things. This took another half-hour as the ‘visas’ we had procured from Nairobi was actually a piece of paper telling the border guards to give us visas upon arrival – this confused the hell out of the border guards and I was steeling myself to being told to return to Addis when they stamped us in. Happy days.
What was less than happy was my face a couple of hours later when we were stopped on the outskirts of Djibouti City by a bastard Vogon who found a inconsistency in my visa (the border guards hadn’t filled out the ‘duration’) and wanted me to return to the border to sort it out. By now it was 1pm and time was running short. Unfortunately I only had nothing smaller than a $20 bill to bribe the horrible little toad and, once back on the bus I felt as if my brain was going to E.X.P.L.O.D.E. like the poster for Akira.
I don’t normally get angry enough to contemplate homicide, I’m a lover not a fighter, but since my trials and tribulations at the hands of corrupt African officials, I can’t help but imagine the satisfaction of seeing one of these scumbags heads on a spike and coyly waving at it like Vir in Babylon 5. To add to my chagrin, this was the first bribe I had to pay since I left DR Congo – Southern and East Africa seemed to have sorted out the shop-front (especially were tourists are concerned) and I couldn’t help but feel that the ever-present culture of bribery and corruption that so afflicts West Africa might be on the wane over on this side of the continent. But now I think I just got lucky.
Anyway, fuming and ratty I arrived in Djibouti City only to find that the shipping agency had closed. I was too late.
There was nothing to do but head to the hotel that Matt had booked for the night – the Djibouti Sheraton, no less. Yet more ordeals awaited us. I expected to be able to get on the free wi-fi and contact Dino in the UK and find out what was happening. I mean, I’ve stayed in places that cost less than $5 a night that have free wi-fi, but the UTTERLY RUBBISH Sheraton hotel, which was so rubbish it might as well have been constructed out of used baked bean cans and slop, charged for its wi-fi. And they charged A LOT.
Then Matt got into all kinds of difficulty with regards to his credit card booking. The manager, some latter day Basil Fawlty type, was having trouble getting his head around the fact that Matt had booked through Expedia. Actually, he was having trouble getting his head around a lot of things, how to dial an international number for one. This lead to a hilarious situation in which he demanded to see proof of payment, which would be available online, but refused to give us the wi-fi code so we could actually go online and prove the payment had been made.
I think it was three hours before it was all resolved. Don’t you just love true customer service? SHERATON HOTELS, YOU SUCK. I will never stay in one of your flea-ridden hell-holes again as long as I live and I will encourage everyone I know to avoid your embarrassing chain of joke hotels like the PLAGUE.
While Matt was busy battling Basil in order to get into the room he had paid a lot of money for, I returned to the Shipping Agency under the behest of Dino, who was now acting as my Ed Harris in Apollo 13. If I didn’t make this boat, I would be spending New Year on my own, but more worryingly so would Mandy.
Back at the shipping office, I was greeted by Deyan, Abdourahman and Adbi-Chakour, three of the best guys in the world. For all the trials and tribulations that Djibouti had put me through, I was ready to sling it down amongst Congo, Guinea and Cape Verde as a circle of hell to which I would vow never to return – that was until I met these guys. Now Djibouti is a shining beacon of loveliness and wonder (albeit one that nobody’s heard of). Plus they filmed the original Planet of the Apes here, YOU MANIACS!
Deyan, Abdourahman and Abdi-Chakour not only sorted me out with the ship, the MV Turquoise, they also drove me to the border with Somalia/Somaliland and because they knew the guys on the border, managed to get me across, no questions asked. Huzzah!
Stepping foot in Somalia was a strange experience. On one hand, it was like edging closer to Mordor than anyone but a foolhardy hobbit would ever go (the borderlands were a rubbish tip like you’ve never imagined), on the other hand it was very normal, like stepping over any other rubbish-choked hell-hole frontier. The knowledge that I was actually entering a peaceful, stable area of an otherwise horrifically failed state was reassuring, but there was something about the place… the look on people’s faces that spoke of unspeakable evil happening on their doorstep.
Or maybe I’m just being melodramatic AND IT’S ALL IN MY HEAD.
Ah well, who cares? I made it out alive and everybody got their cut. The guys dropped me off at the Sheraton where I found Matt who was just about ready to kill, kill and kill again. The fact that everything was sorted for the boat and, barring a major disaster, I would be seeing my girlie again in just five days had put a spring in my step. Matt, on the other hand, had been put through HELL by these utter fools in the Sheraton – the funniest thing was that they were so completely unrepentant, like it was Matt’s fault they had all the mental faculties of a recently shredded gerbil who was suffering from Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease.
Matt bought me a beer and we called it a night just before midnight.
3am phone calls are not my favourite form of wake-up call. When I picked up the phone it somehow integrated it into my dream so much that I assumed it to be part of my dream and therefore completely acceptable to ignore. The next call five minutes later was not so easy to dismiss.. It was Abdi-Chakour telling me the ship was leaving early and I had to be on it within the hour or else I’d be swimming to Egypt.
Biggidybiggidybong and whoosh, before I had shook the sleep out of my eyes I whisked away from the rathole that was the Sheraton Djibouti and plonked aboard the good ship Turquoise, shown my cabin and promptly dived into the bed and fell asleep faster than you can say Coco-Pops.
I simply can’t thank those guys from Djibouti’s CMA-CGM office enough. They made my year. But it was the mad skills of a certain Dino Deasha that made this all possible. He set all this up for me to knock it out of the stadium. We had done it. I had to leave Matt the cameraman behind in Djibouti, he would be flying up to meet me in Egypt. It was hard enough getting me on the ship, we weren’t going to bust a gut (and possibly jeopardize my passage) by asking if I could bring a mate along.
In the event, it wasn’t until 11am that the Turquoise left port, but ah, I wasn’t complainin’. I made friends with the Abdul Naser the cook (always the best guy to know on a ship) met Captain Elbishbishi (who looked and sounded like a Egyptian Tim Curry – how cool is that?) and chief officer Lomongo. Once again, the crew was largely Filipino, but in a departure from the norm, they were outnumbered by the good few Burmese guys on board. The officers (with the exception of Chief Lomongo) were all Egyptian and once again the guys on board made me feel more welcome than a stripper at a bachelor party. Travel by container ship is just several shades of awesome. With a stack of brand new DVDs to watch and more yummy food available than even I could cram into my piehole, I settled down for a relaxing, and entertaining, few days on the ocean wave.