I rushed to get my visas for Equatorial Guinea, DR Congo and Gabon. The visas for DR Congo and Gabon were straight forward, but the Equatorial Guinea guys suggested I come back tomorrow. Then it was a case of twiddling my thumbs for the day, discovering that one of my hard drives had died (with all the footage from Cuba to Malta on it!) and then finding somewhere to while away the evening eating and drinking.
Yaoundé has a nice climate, it’s up in the hills, so it’s surprisingly cool. But as a city, it’s very very 70s concrete office blocks, which is never going to turn me on. But they have a cracking boulangerie called Calafata’s which supplied us with disgracefully tasty chocolate éclairs, so it gets a gold star and a jellybaby from me.
Last night we made friends with a girl called Vivian who said she would help us do the old border hop into Equatorial Guinea (the border wasn’t closed, the lying tykes). And true to her word, this morning we bribed the guards and got in as far as the local supermarket were we bought a big bottle of Spanish Whiskey to celebrate.
When we got back, Vivian’s little brother, Kamikaze (I’m guessing that’s his nickname) entertained us with a bit of his comedy routine, which involved him pretending to have a mental illness. Hmm… could do with a bit of work if he’s going to run with that one in the West, but then again Mr. Bean is improbably popular in France and Germany, so who knows?
So after a fun morning we headed to the frontier with Gabon. I managed a successful crossover of my passports, giving Passport #2 to Rocco to take back to Oz (I don’t trust the African postal service as far as I can spit!).
We (amazingly) had the minibus from the border to Libreville, the capital of Gabon, pretty much to ourselves. It was wonderful. We arrived fairly late and checked into a horrible little overpriced hovel called Somotel. We scouted out a local night club (another hellhole where the music is set to DISTORTION BLAST – it’s the rule in Africa) before coming to the conclusion that Libreville is a little dull and returning to our hovel.
A week in one blog entry? Lazy I know, but whatchagonnado? Quick rundown of the last week: no boats leaving for the island nation of Sao Tome, so I just have to wait here in Libreville. Libreville is dull. Dull, dull dull. I’ve spoken to yachties, cargo boat owners and (even!) fishermen, but nothing is going before the “Andrea” on Thursday 27th. STUCK HERE TIL THEN!
Cape Verde Part II: This Time It’s Personal.
Rocco left on Friday but before then we met with Yaz’s friend Estelle who was lovely and had been living in Liverpool for the past few years so we chatted about John Moores, Smithdown Road and my old haunts. This weekend I met with a girl from CouchSurfing but I couldn’t stay the night and was left wandering about downtown Libreville at 10pm because all the hotels were full. Wasn’t too happy about that, but found a place down by the airport which is on the beach, is just one euro more than the place Rocco and I had been staying and, hell, it’s on the beach. Happy days.
One of the more remarkable things about my journey thus far is that I haven’t had a day off sick. Flu of the Swine, Bird or Man variety don’t seem to have made inroads and I managed to get through the entirety of West Africa with not even a dicky tummy.
But I am ill. It’s a bit like home sickness, but that’s not what it is. It’s a unrequited pining, a deep-down feeling of grief at the loss of something intangible… the loss of something that possibly never existed, but that now teases us with its remnants… the loss of beauty: the exquisite, the gorgeous, the splendid, the magnificent.
In short, I’ve got a rather bad case of what Brett Anderson called ‘the English Disease’ – I seem to belong to a world that’s gone. Not that I want to belong to the past. I’m a history graduate – and I’m under no delusion that the world of yesteryear was anything approaching a rosy place. But then I’m not much fussed by the world that is either; I therefore find myself trapped in-between. Perhaps that’s what stimulates my melancholy, my ‘illness’.
Everything I see that’s been made in the last 50 years is all surface, no feeling. Immense carbuncles built with the express purpose not to last, not to inspire, not to enrich our lives or make us happy. It’s just built to hold people prisoner for a bit and then knock down after 30 years.
I’m really feeling it here in Libreville: an immensely unattractive city filled with visions of concrete grandeur torn straight out of the Bovril-stained copybook of a 1960s town planner.
So I find myself stuck in-between two worlds, the one that is and the one that was; and find myself remarkably uncomfortable in both. I don’t like walking down a road when nobody can give me any idea of where it goes.
How did we get into this position? Why did cost-effectiveness not matter so much to The Egyptians, The Greeks, The Romans, The Architects of the Renaissance, The Georgians, The Victorians, The Edwardians? They had bills to pay, mouths to feed, greedy individuals to placate, the latest gadgets and trinkets to buy; how did they manage it?
They may have used slaves, but don’t we now have JCBs and hydraulic cranes? Don’t we have the technology to carve the capital of a Corinthian Column using a computer and a laser? Are we not the bunch who put a man on the moon? Aren’t we? Or was that some other Earth?
I’m willing to accept that my view of the past will invariably airbrush out the crap in the way that Hollywood’s Golden Age makes no mention of Son of Kong or any of the other utterly dire and pointless tat that the studio system spewed out in the 30s, 40s and 50s. But still, we were left with Casablanca, Sullivan’s Travels, His Girl Friday, Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, Double Indemnity, North by Northwest and plenty of other cracking films along the way. We took the rough with the smooth. Now (in terms of architecture, fine art and classical music) we take the rough with the quite simply dire.
Our parent’s generation will go down in history as the first to build nothing particularly worthwhile for their grandchildren – apart from the internet, a few good pop songs, TV shows and movies – digital streams of 1s and 0s, nothing physical, nothing that you can stretch out and touch. I would go one further and say they did more harm than good – allowing the ripping out of our city centres, the death of the railways, the purging of grammar schools and being the merry custodians of the long, drawn out death-rattle of all that was once considered fine art.
Why does this bother me so much? A lot of my friends have asked. The simple answer is I don’t know. Maybe it is something to do with my childhood. I grew up in beautiful leafy suburbia – a world (at least in my mind) populated with fountains, pagodas, gazebos, bluebells, magic hares and secret gardens, ivy covered walls, mysterious toadstools, hedge mazes, the fairy falls, lily pads on the lake, sirens on the shore and cut grass dreams of midsummer.
Of course, none of these things exist in West Derby, Liverpool. But there is something in my memes that pines for them – and I don’t think I’m alone. Maybe it’s the English Disease. Maybe it’s something else. The one thing – the only thing – that unites all religions, even atheism, is the idea of a garden as paradise, heaven.
Then, conversely, isn’t concrete and steel a vision of hell? Tolkien certainly thought so, and it’s all I can do to acquiesce to the master’s vision of The Fourth Age. I think he’s right and I don’t want to move on from that – the natural world is the closest I’m ever going to get to heaven, and I’m yet to meet a tree I didn’t like. But can a tree sell you stuff you don’t need? Can a lake persuade you to buy all the optional extras? Can a meadow buy a house, spend a couple of weeks doing it up and then sell it for twice the price?
Sadly not. But I think I like them more for that very reason.
A quirk of geography birthed me in Liverpool – a great city, once was greater, but things move on (I hear things don’t get shipped around the world any more) – did I dream of a time when, after months or even years at sea, my forefathers would descend on the Dock Road and demand one simple yet often respoke mantra: ENTERTAIN ME.
Whether it be through music, or a show, a bevy of whores or a potfull of scouse… ENTERTAIN ME. I’m on both sides of this coin – I am a seeker of entertainment and one willing to entertain. From day one it was Graham who would disrupt the lesson with his crappy jokes and running commentary on the teacher’s BO. I commanded legendary house parties in my youth, a Ginger Gatsby reaching out over the Mersey, desperate to impress the girl I could never have. I ran around university like a loon in the days when all was a terrific wheeze and nothing could possibly hurt us. Then I branded myself a filmmaker and did my best to gather the meagre funds I would require to make the next Bad Taste or Reservoir Dogs. They wouldn’t let me. I dealt with small minds. I got my break last year thanks to Lonely Planet and here I am, now, in Africa, giving something for your eyes and brains to do other than muse on the latest events from the Big Brother House.
I want to entertain, but in turn I demand to be entertained, and the more I travel the more my eyes glaze with the homogeneity of it all. How many times do you have to see the same concrete office block before the Tyler Durdan that lies in wait in all our souls SCREAMS at you to blow the f**ker up and build something better (dare I say magnificent?) in its place. I could do it; I have the vision, I just need people to trust me. Maybe I should start hitting myself.
Then I get the apologists. The same crowd that could, with a straight face, defend the stolen generations, the holocaust and Star Wars Episode I…
Why do you hate modern art so much Graham?
Oh, it’s cos I is a Luddite. I just do what The Daily Mail commandeth.
Not because most of it I could do myself (and better); not because it’s just not beautiful. Not because it’s ugly, workaday, dowdy, pedestrian and (frequently) revolting. Not for exactly the same reasons I wouldn’t want to sleep with Susan Boyle.
No, it’s because I’m a creature of the past, I’m a hopping mad royalist in love with Prince Charles and I wouldn’t know a great bit of design if it slapped me in the face with a wet haddock.
You sarcastic bastard, Graham. Well it may not be beautiful, but at least it’s remarkable.
Phish. Anybody can achieve something remarkable – go into a school and murder a bunch of children, that would be pretty remarkable. Or drive the wrong way down the M6, or throw yourself off the top of Preston Bus Station. All quite remarkable feats – at least it makes you think, eh? Bullsh*t. Most of us regard Emmerdale Farm, Strictly Come Dancing and Big Brother as remarkable, so our tastes in such matters are not to be trusted. It’s all too easy.
Michelangelo, Beethoven, Gaudi, Handel, da Vinci, Mozart, Wren… did they set out to make stuff to make the chattering classes chat some more? When did they wear a revealing dress at a premiere or post a sex vid on the YouPorn?
Oh shut up Graham you facetious sod. They didn’t have paparazzi back then. Or the internet.
So what? Even if they did, it wouldn’t have been what drove them; they were driven by one thing: beauty. And they all made it their lifetime’s work to render that beauty in music, on paper, on canvas or in stone and lock it down in time, freeze that moment of excellence, of genius, of wonder… until the end of the world.
And let’s take a quick look down the sorry list of people who did stuff solely to be remarkable – Herostratus, Caligula, Nero, Napoleon, Jack the Ripper, Hitler, Mark Chapman – get the picture?
Every piece of old art, sculpture, music and architecture is now a treasure, because if we rip down the beautiful old Sailor’s Home, what we replace it with (Debenhams) will be a revolting cost-effective monstrosity made of glass and concrete. If we take down a landscape by Constable, what goes up in its place? A malformed scribble wrought by some revolting little tyke whose sole function on Earth is to make tat for Charles Saatchi so he can have a wonderful time selling it to PT Barham’s fools for outrageous sums of money. The sad thing is – there is no reason why old stuff can’t be replaceable. There are great artists, composers, sculptors and architects out there, but they are being ignored and ridiculed as dinosaurs.
Can I just be the one to point out that Ancient Egyptian design and art lasted for over THREE THOUSAND YEARS?
Sorry to capitalise, but sometimes to have to shout to be heard. I don’t believe that there is anything in this world that can never be reproduced. Our generation has the tools, the talent and the potential to build the Black Taj, put together a dome twice as big as St. Pauls, construct an Eiffel Tower a mile high and, if our fancy allowed, make the Statue of Liberty walk.
There are still geniuses out there. They just lack one thing – patronage. The stupid rich are far more interested in buying themselves a bigger yacht and purchasing million dollar diamonds to shove on the finger of their latest stick insect. Seriously, when did you last see a statue or a fountain ‘Erected by Public Subscription’?
But all is not lost.
We have something beyond the comprehension of the cretins that have sought to create this shapeless ocean of cost-effectiveness. We have the internet. What you are using now is opposite of cost-effectiveness, I am not being paid to write this and you didn’t have to pay to read it (although you can donate to WaterAid if you like!).
Yes, the internet – the bane of advertisers, of moviemen and TV producers. Even after fifteen years, they still don’t know what it is or how it works. But we do.
They are used to telling us stuff. That’s not what the internet is for. The internet is a conversation. It is the first time in history that those in charge have to shut up and listen; not just wait for you to stop talking because they think they’ve got something more interesting to say.
A brave new world awaits. And we have the power to make it a beautiful one.
Ha! You want to see the Steamboat-Willie style affair that I’ve got to get on to Sao Tome on Thursday. Plus I’ve just been told that there may be up to 20 other passengers (where we’re all going to sit I have no idea) and that the cargo is going to be highly explosive gas canisters. Huzzah!!
Why does my life feel like one long Road Runner cartoon?
Oh well, while The African Queen awaits her departure I’m stuck twiddling my thumbs. Spent the day writing, editing, Skyping, the usual stuff – nought to report except that when I returned to my hotel at midnight (the wonderfully named Club Tropicana, but the drinks, alas, are not free) I met a fellow intrepid television show maker from America called Alex – he’s hosting a show called ‘The Cure’ (mmm, I love the definite article) about ‘alternative’ (ie. wacky) cures to modern maladies. He’s as sceptical as me about all that kind of tomfoolery, but he’s here to take a look at one the local tribes and their hallucinogenic ritual that can reportedly cure drug addiction.
But the great thing is – he got arrested upon arrival at the airport!
IT’S NOT JUST MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!
Well, Alex doesn’t think it’s great, but do know what? They offered him a filthy cell with a mattress. A MATTRESS!! They must think he’s Lord God Almighty. They only hung me up the right way last week.
The ‘Andrea’ was originally scheduled to leave last Monday, but TIA, so you can forget about that flight of fancy. Today was whiled away at the little café in Port Mole (only €3 for a gritty coffee with powdered milk – cheap for Libreville) where Alex and I cadged the free wi-fi access that one of the shipping offices around here courteously (but no doubt unintentionally) provides.
Alex, to his eternal shame, is lumbered with a MacinTOSH computer (the clue is in the title), the least portable portable computer in the world. While he was walking up and down the street waving it about trying to get it to pick up a signal,I was happily sitting the an air-conditioned café chatting to my favourite pole-dancer on Skype.
Now apart from the obvious draw-backs of owning one of these Early Learning Centre-style ‘Macs’(ie. You can say bye bye to your video games, porn, Skype and videos that play in the correct aspect ratio) can I be the one to point out that if you’re travelling they are the about as much use as a bag of sugar in your fuel tank – batteries, mon aime, batteries… they last five minutes and you can’t swap them for spares. Rubbish!
I think I’ll stick with my Lego Technic thank you very much, even if Duplo bricks are the ‘industry standard’. With my spare batteries, I can get 9 hours of juice out of this little fella (Dell Latitude X1, can’t say enough good things about it), connect to the internet in the most unexpected of places and even edit my videos (which I assure you will return one day). It’s been bashed around the place more than Madonna’s face when she was with Sean Penn, and it’s still going strong. Not bad considering I bought it off eBay for a goat and a couple of magic beans. Hee hee.
Awoke at 6am, eager and excited to get going today even if I did have that early morning sickly feeling. I zipped up my backpack and marvelled at how light it felt…
Oh, hang on…
Where are my clothes?
Oh, for the love of God…………….
I search the hotel room at the Tropicana (where the drinks aren’t free) but they were nowhere to be found. I asked at reception and was led to a grotty room around the back where I found my t-shirts sitting in a bucket, sopping wet.
WHY AFRICA WHY????????
Did I request a laundry service? Did I leave my clothes out with a note saying ‘please wash’? No. The idiotic maid just took my stuff (most of which was clean and didn’t require cleaning anyhoo) and threw it in a bucket of cold water for the night.
They had a dryer, so I put in my clothes and tried to at least get them a little dry before I went and spent 24 hours on a boat. After 10 minutes I took them out and they were just as wet, just a little warmer than they had been before.
Then, as I was grumpily stuffing them in a plastic bag, the hotel guy says he wants me to pay for the ‘laundry service’. Crikey, it takes quite a lot to really piss me off, but if you want to give it a go, why not steal my clothes, throw them in a bucket of cold water, DON’T EVEN GET THEM CLEAN and then ask for money for your hard labour. At 6.30 in the morning.
Yep, that should do it.
I told the guy he was crazy and stormed out.
I got to the port at 7am. Told I wasn’t allowed to enter until 7.30am. I hung around and when I eventually got in I was told that the boat would leave at 9am, so headed to the Supermarket over the road, waited for it to open (at 8:40am) ran in and used the ATM (been told there are none in Sao Tome) ran back to the dock, sat there and waited in the stinky quayside for another 2 hours reading Sherlock Holmes (His Last Bow, if you’re interested) before being told that the boat won’t be leaving for a few more hours.
I headed to the café at the dock entrance, did a little work, twiddled my thumbs, checked out b3ta.com and had a giggle at the Sausage Picture Competition. Heading back to the dock after lunch I was then told the boat won’t leave until tomorrow.
Then they said Monday.
Keep saying it Graham: In Africa, time is not money, time is not money, time is not money.
I had as little breakdown which involved a mini-impression of Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes. Then I spoke to the shipping agent (who looks the spit of the chap with the metal claw hands in To Live and Let Die) and he assured me that the boat would leave tomorrow.
I trust him as far as I can spit.
What are we waiting for? The boat is loaded.
We’re waiting on 600 gas canisters.
Okay, I will pay the difference and you can pick them up on the next run – the supplier is obviously in no hurry.
Because THIS IS AFRICA GRAHAM THIS IS AFRICA AND THERE IS NO SIMPLE SOLUTION TO ANYTHING.
Fuming, I returned to the café. I can’t go back to Club Trop, not after this morning’s little spat, and anyway it’s an extortionate €25 a night for a thin sponge of a mattress and a cold shower. There’s no couchsurfers here at the moment (all sensibly scarpered because of the election next week, and nine times out of ten: election + Africa = mayhem and death).
I tried to ring Alex, but his phone was dead. What to do what to do what to do? Then my salvation – Alex emailed me and told me to come meet him at this hippy commune tribe place he’s checking out for his television show.
Hippies? Commune? I stuffed my ‘Nixon Was Right’ t-shirt in the bin and headed over there as fast as my legs would allow. They picked me up in what I can only describe as a Mystery Machine, complete with half a BIN BAG of Shaggy’s Delight. Half a bin bag! Zoiks, Scoob! There I met a bunch of locals, the French Keith Richards who runs the joint, an ex-heroin user from New York (saved by the Bwitie) and a guy from Chicago with a wonderfully dark sense of humour called Justin.
Spent the night chilling out with my new-found friends, stuffed my face with tasty food and set myself up on a hammock for the night. Ah, hammocks – the second greatest invention known to man.
I woke somewhat perplexed to find myself in a hammock in a Bwiti temple, but then I remembered I was in Gabon and all was good. I said my hearty goodbyes to Mobengo, Tatayo, Justin and Alex and headed to the port.
I needn’t have bothered. These guys have no intention of going anywhere. They say they’re waiting for a shipment of gas. I’ve offered to pay for the price of the shipment so we can go right away and they can pick up the gas on the next run. But ah, that would be too simple. Sorry Graham, you’re staying here until… well, the shipping agent said tomorrow, the woman on the boat said Monday, the captain chuckled and said Wednesday. I don’t believe any of them. I keep saying it, but talk about Cape Verde all over again.
Frustrated, I returned to the commune at Tatayo’s place. My only hope now is a guy I’ve met from Belgium called Marc. I got speaking to him at the port the other day. He’s off work until the 15th Sept and he’s got a yacht. I made arrangements to meet him tomorrow – maybe, just maybe, I can get him to give me a lift over to Sao Tome…
I doubt it though. It would be one in a million.
Tonight was a night of typical insanity-clad Bwiti madness in which we entered the ‘temple’ across the road and a good thirty or forty of us gathered around for a night of crazy music, crazy dancing and lashings of iboga – a legal hallucinogenic tree root that you swallow as powder or eat in shavings (as Bruce Parry did). I was given some, but not enough to touch the sides – so (unfortunately) no warped Ralph Steadman animations twisting around my subconscious for me.
But it was nice to feel part of the tribe; the Americans – Mobengo, Justin and Alex all – have the same kind of humour as me and like to flit from jokes involving underage nuns to discussing the Middle East peace process without missing a beat – ahh, at last – fellow philanderers caught between the gutter and the stars.
The ceremony involved repetitive music that was played on various local instruments, strings and drums – African rave, I guess. Then the boys and girls put their makeup on and the dancing would start. You know the Run-DMC video for It’s Like That? Well, it’s like that – it’s all quite boys vs. girls attempting to pull their best shapes for the chief (and the quietly tripping out audience) and as the night goes on the dancing becomes more crazed and frantic but, as with the Run-DMC video THE BOYS ALWAYS WIN. Even though the girls always think it’s them who won.
I had a riot – my word, I cannot express to you how much a decade’s worth of Glastonbury festivals prepares you for Africa. Seriously, if you can survive a muddy Glasto you could do this. You could do this with your eyes closed.
It was a extremely short sleep before I was up and at ’em. First up I rang Jean, the contact I have for the ‘Andrea, the cargo boat for Sao Tome that was supposed to leave last Monday but is currently still residing dockside at Port Mole here in Libreville. Jean said Monday or Tuesday.
Is he on crack? There’s a small matter of the first election without Omar Bongo (he croaked it last June) for 42 years which is being held tomorrow. He thinks the borders will be open? He thinks there will be no civil unrest, no riots, no general African-style post-election insanity? I beg to differ my good chap. That boat ain’t going NOWHERE.
Desperate for a Plan B, I managed to persuade Alex the Yank to come to town with me and hang out at Marc the Belgian Yacht Guy’s restaurant on the off chance he was in and I could stalk him, sorry, talk him into going on a jolly over to Sao Tome on his lovely little sail boat.
We had a little company – a couple of locals (a girl whom Alex has entangled himself with and one of the guys from Tatayo’s joint) who tagged along for the ride. We found the restaurant, L’Akb, fairly easily but Marc was not there. His wife, Arlotte, served us with some yummy food and surprisingly cheap drinks (oh yeah, forgot to say, Gabon is generally NOT cheap by any stretch of the imagination) and we whiled away a few hours before Marc turned up and I attempted (but no doubt failed) to impress him with my stories of high adventure on the high seas aboard The Miriam, The September Song, The Barracuda, The Melinda II, The East Pack, The Vagrant, The Mariposa, The Vivo Libre, The Costa Fortuna, The Linge Trader, The Mighty Bootlegger, The Reykjafoss, The Dettifoss, The Mustapha Sy and The Fleumel… but I’ve got to say, he didn’t look convinced! He promised to text me tomorrow and let me know if it was going to be possible.
Fingers and toes crossed.
If my experience with the f—ing ‘Micau’ in Cape Verde (BTW, it STILL hasn’t left!!) is anything to go by, there is NO WAY I can trust the damn ‘Andrea’ boat to leave any time soon. It may be fully loaded, but my word they don’t look like they are in a hurry to go ANYWHERE. Marc really is my only hope if I’m wishing to be shut of Africa by Christmas. August is nearly over. I got to Morocco in MAY. I’m not even half-way through the flaming continent and I’ve still got a bunch of awkward little islands on the right hand side of the map to get to.
He’s got to say yes. I said I’d buy him a GPS and everything.
Tonight was spent in the rather wonderful company of Alex and our new acquaintances, before we popped back to Tatayo’s joint, a little tanked up and just happy to be there, I guess! Mobengo, Justin and I sat up talking until it was decided that we had to be up early in the morning – apparently we’re taking a little excursion to the jungle – so we all hit the hay.
I’ve got to say that I’m usually pretty toxic to mosquitoes, but here I seem to be getting bitten to hell. Although I have my suspicions that it’s not the damn mozzies, it’s the infernal no-see-ums that have me down for supper.
Oo eck – Election Day! So here’s the situation – Omar Bongo, the former longest standing African president (since 1967 no less!) died a couple of months ago, so the tiny oil-rich nation of Gabon (population 1.4 million, 800,000 registered to vote) has its first chance in over four decades to choose a leader that might not turn the country upside down by its ankles and shake it until all its money falls out of its pockets.
Although the pickings are somewhat slim. Out of the 23 candidates running for the post of El Presidente (a simple majority is all they need to win – ie. The winning candidate could get 10% of the vote) there are only three front runners, Ali Bongo, Omar’s son and heir to his utterly IMMENSE personal fortune (we’re talking BILLONS baby, BILLIONS) some guy who’s a bit of a crook called Obame, and some other dude who might actually change Gabon for the better, redistribute a LITTLE bit of Gabon’s Scrooge-McDuck-Swimming-In-Gold-Coins-Esque wealth to the tiny, impoverished population. Unfortunately for Gabon, I can’t even remember that guys name, so I doubt he’s got much of a chance.
Ali Bongo is EVERYWHERE. Hell, he can afford to be, his father having fleeced this country of every single penny for the past forty years (when he died he was one of the richest guys on the planet, most people here live on less than a dollar a day). Every single lamppost (working or not) has Ali’s face posted on it, giant TV Screens beam his mug all over Libreville like some Orwellian nightmare, entire building have his immense posters down one side: T-Shirts, Badgers, Pens, Lanyards, Baseball Caps, Skirts (yes, skirts) you name it baby – Ali’9 is there. It would have been cheaper just to bribe the 300,000 people he needs to vote for him with free gummy bears for life.
Not that he isn’t going to win. He’s the bloomin’ defence minister! He controls the army. He’s got it in the bag even if nobody votes for him. This is Africa – they don’t have elections, they have coronations and coup d’états. One crook for another, here to rob everybody blind and then turn up at the UN bleating about how the West should help Africa more. Yeah, we should help all right – first we lock up all the frickin’ leaders!! We’ve got Charles Taylor in the Hague for crimes against humanity – that’s one down, 52 to go…
And before you say it, PLEASE MY FRIENDS – there is NO comparison with the West here – George Bush, Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi – I’m sure they’re all nasty little crooks too, but my word, they don’t rule over horrifically impoverished nations while at the same time owning more assets than the Queen of England, Bono and the Pope put together.
Anyway, as I was saying… there’s an election today so Tatayo, Mobengo, Justin, Alex and the Bwiti brat pack headed off to the jungle. We went to gather leaves and herbs for Justin’s upcoming initiation ceremony, and to introduce him to the spirits of the forest.
Now for a brief word about Bwiti. Bwiti is the third main religion of Gabon, after boring old Christianity and Islam. It’s also the most fun (by far!). It’s based around Iboga – a tree root with hallucinogenic qualities. Usually you will eat a handful in a night, see some crazy stuff and stay up dancing and playing drums. If you’re getting initiated however, you have to eat the stuff til you puke. And then you eat some more. And more. And more. If you really really can’t go on, they might even put some up your bum. Seriously.
Then comes an elaborate dance staged by the entire village designed to freak you the hell out (in a loving way!) so that your consciousness leaves your body and you go for a trip around the universe, have a moment of looking into the Total Perspective Vortex, get all funky with the spirits of your ancestors and puke a little more.
I’m well up for it, but I don’t have time – it takes a week of preparation and then you can expect a three day hangover. But there is more to Bwiti and Iboga than psychedelic flights of fancy – your rational host here has no time for conversing with the dead or going on a trip to dimensions beyond the scope of his already going-at-100mph little mind. The dead are dead and I wish to leave them that way. What I am interested in is Ibogaine – a chemical compound found in Iboga (banned in the US, but not in Britain, pop-pickers!) – which, amongst other interesting medicinal benefits, is known to help wean addicts off Bayer’s finest opium derivative, heroin.
More about that later, my friends – Afghanistan awaits…
So today we introduced Justin to the forest, and MY GIDDY AUNT was I glad to be out of the damn city and walking through the glorious woodlands. Okay, the giant spiders where somewhat irksome to an avowed Arachnophobe such as me (a phobia not without merits, I’ll have you know) but the sweet smell of the trees and the leaves and the woodland air, you can’t beat it. Justin got covered in mud and leaves, washed in a river and then covered in some more mud and leaves.
Although everything was done textbook Bwiti style, Tatayo is of the (glorious) opinion that the ancestors are up for a laugh as much as anyone and so fun and games are always welcome (along with random cries of “**** the Pope!”). Had a great time trekking, taking some more Iboga, chatting up a pair of rather fetching trees…
Now my personal drugs policy is this: Prohibition has never, will never and can never work. The damn things should be re-legalised as things were before the 1960s. This should be done YESTERDAY: too many people die in the process of getting the crap from South America or Central Asia up the noses and into the arms of my least favourite rock n’ rollers.
Having said that, I am always mildly offended when people snort cocaine in my presence. Why? Because drug taking is borne of one thing: boredom. If you can’t have a great night out without a line of the white stuff, please – look at your partner, look at your friends – they’re probably boring as hell! You’re standing in an oh-god-they-all-look-the-bloody-same bar, the music is too loud to speak and even if you could the conversation would no doubt centre on bleeeeeedin’ house prices or something equally as DULL. Crikey, no wonder so many people choose to ‘self-medicate’ (a lame excuse, but hey-ho). I wonder if you could chart on a graph peoples drug use against the amount of time they spend with Nigel from accounts.
The only advice I can offer is the same as I gave Dino when he objected to the fact I took the last beer without asking when we were in Australia last year: GET BETTER MATES.
In the meantime I don’t break the (insidiously ridiculous) law when it comes to drugs: two reasons – one, I find my mates ludicrously interesting and entertaining; two, I don’t want to help pay for some kid to buy a gun. When the governments of the world FINALLY see sense and legalise the damn things I will bake a pot cake the size of a hot air balloon and feed it to the delegates of the UN so they can spend the flight back home from New York giggling like a bunch of Japanese schoolgirls.
We got back to Tatayo’s pad in the afternoon, and not long after my phone beeped Text Message Received.
It was Marc.
Tentatively I pressed Open. The text listed a few good reasons why he couldn’t go to Sao Tome.
It was a big no-no.
I was devastated. The damn Andrea will not be leaving before doomsday and Marc really was my last throw of the die. It’s a good job that I was at Tatayo’s – if I was on my own I probably would have had a little cry.
I just want to get ON WITH THIS. I’ve got another 93 countries to visit before I can chill out on the couch, put my feet up, wrap my beautiful girlfriend Mandy in my loving arms and watch the last season of Lost together. I don’t want to be doing this for another six months. I will if I have to, I’ll do whatever it takes, but blimey I would like to have spent Christmas and New Year with my friends and family in either the UK or Australia.
At this rate, I’ll just about be hitting China.