Day 294: The Grottiest Boat Afloat

Day 294: The Grottiest Boat Afloat

October 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Indian Ocean, Tanzania, The Odyssey Expedition

21.10.09:

Sometimes words fail me. It doesn’t happen very often but blimey this boat is a rotten carcass of grot. All I can think of as I see the 100+ people onboard lying in rows onto of undulating cargo, the smell, the litter, the way the food is handed out (all the men elbow to the front), the LIVESTOCK downstairs (which, funnily enough, have more room to move about than us humans) is Amistad. Christ, I know how bad that sounds and I can’t believe that I was conned out of $225 for this nightmare. Actually I’m trying not to think about it, it’ll annoy me off too much. Suffice to say, this boat is the grottiest boat afloat. Thank god I’m not crossing the Atlantic.

I tried to time travel, writing up my blog amid ‘breaks’ when I’d go charge my laptop in the little room at the back of the bridge and read a book – it makes time go a lot quicker than just sitting there. I think I almost preferred the wooden fishing boat to Cape Verde. No, I lie, this trip didn’t carry anywhere near the same level of terror. Although I don’t think I have ever had to endure such squalor – being thrown in jail in Central Africa had an edge on this; at least the room wasn’t bobbing up and down.

The things we do for love, eh!



Day 298: The Secret of My Itchy Feet

Day 298: The Secret of My Itchy Feet

October 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Comoros, Indian Ocean, Rants, The Odyssey Expedition

25.10.09:

So how did I come to be such a champion adventurer, eh? Not really the likely sort I guess – spent most of my teenage years picking my nose playing video games and dreaming of the day a girl might, you know, talk to me. Being born ginger meant a couple of things. First up, I was born without a soul, as are all ginger children. The only downside of which (so far) is that I have nothing to sell to Satan. Which is a shame as I’d really like to know how to play the guitar. Being a ginge also meant that I wasn’t allowed to play football, sing in tune, ballroom dance or frequent the gym.

I turned then, as all gingers must, to a distraction, something to keep me occupied whilst my peers were busy doing other stuff like drinking White Lightening and sniffing glue. Luckily (for me), the distractions that were chosen for me (it could not have been any other way) were Movies and Music. Specifically, rowdy, sexy, hot n’ sweaty ROCK N’ ROLL, at its best. Now I say this because there were other avenues for a young ginger boy to explore. I could have turned to that great hollow musical brocade that is religion, hoping one day baby Jesus might give me a soul for my birthday. I could have turned completely inward and romanced my love of the world of Tolkien all the way into full-on Dungeons & Dragons Comic Book Guy geekdom. I could have got into computer programming and spent hours and hours entranced in source codes, 1s and 0s.

No, not for me – my love was movies and my vice was music and I set out to live them to the max. I say this was not my choice rather that it was chosen for me. I say this with good reason.

Movies – if I had been born ten years prior, there would be NO WAY for me to ‘get into’ the film industry (I’m not that I’m saying we have a film industry in the UK). It just wouldn’t happen. I’m not the type to be happy wasting away my formative years ‘running'; and to set up a do-it-yourself operation (as I did in Liverpool) back then, it would have been so cost-prohibitive that it would have been ludicrous. Of course, it is just a co-incidence that as I turned eighteen, the Internet exploded onto the scene, hand-in-hand with DVDs. As I turned twenty, digital non-linear editing became available to all at 1% of the cost of a digital editing suite in the 80s. How could I say no?

This is all co-incidence, but as I say, if I was born ten years earlier, there’s no way I’d be here now. As is the fact that I was about sixteen when Blur, Oasis, Suede, Pulp, Radiohead, The Manics, Supergrass, Elastica, and the Second Coming of The Stone Roses burst onto the music scene. We were all still listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Pixies, REM, Offspring, Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden at the time… bloody hell, what a feast for the ears!

And there was something in the lyrics that connected all these bands, something saying DON’T GET A JOB IN AN OFFICE. DON’T GET A MORTGAGE. DON’T CONFORM. All very rebellious and what we expect from rock n’ roll. So forget a job that slowly kills you, bank holidays that come eight times a year, being stuck in a pebbledash grave whilst spivs make the most of their acrylic afternoons with your wife. Some design for life that is – a race, a race for us, a race for us to die, etc. etc.

Thanks to Damon, Jarvis, Liam and Noel, Thom and Brett; a world of no alarms and no surprises was not a world was not one I intended in partaking in. I guess that’s the power of music, good music – it can change your life. It changed mine.

That’s all well and good and it explains how I got here, a rebellious filmmaker, 122 countries into a world challenge encompassing every single godforsaken corner of the globe. But what it doesn’t explain is how I’ve got this far without cracking up or giving up. That stamina, the fortitude, that damn-it-all Shackleton-like endurance… well I guess it’s in the genes, but then again, my training in such matters all stem from music. More specifically, it stems from Music Festivals.

Where else do you have to go for five days without going for a movement? Where else do you have to suffer unsanitary conditions, bogs that smell like something out of the 9th level of Hades, food that is just about palatable if you smother it in enough tomato sauce? Where else do you go to bed at crazy hours, wake up at crazier hours, stand for hours or queue for hours with a backpack in the stinking heat or the thunderous rain? Where else do you find yourself sleeping in the most preposterous positions (with the most preposterous of bedfellows)? Where else is it necessary to keep your wits about you even though your brain has just jumped on a one-way flight to Pluto? Where else can you spend an afternoon so squished in with a bunch of strangers that it almost feels impertinent not to ask their Christian names?

You want to learn how to wee standing up on a boat in choppy water without falling over? Try the moshpit at a Green Day gig. Or the dancefloor of the Krazy House when Killing In The Name Of comes on. You want to be able to make yourself comfortable sleeping on the concrete floor with ten other cellmates? Try kipping in the middle of a death metal gig at a Scandinavian rock festival. You want to find your way back to your hotel at night? Try finding your blue tent amidst the tens of thousands of blue tent that pepper the hillside… and while you at it, try doing it blind drunk.

Yep, as I’m sure my great festival buddies Dan n’ Stan would no doubt attest, if you’re too much of a wuss to join the army, Music Festivals are the closest you’re ever going to get to war… wet feet and trench foot included. Perfect training for Africa. Wax on, wax off Danielson.



Day 302: The Road Ahead

Day 302: The Road Ahead

29.10.09:

My entire route for The Odyssey is mapped out in my head and has been for years so I never bother looking at the route plan; but just for giggles and as I’ve just hit 300 days on the road, I had a peek at the Odyssey Itinerary that I drew up for Lonely Planet last year. I had to laugh at my ludicrously over-optimistic plan for getting around The Caribbean (it’s been easier getting around the Indian Ocean!) and the allotted six days for getting to Cape Verde and back (try six weeks, baby).

But, you know – I had set a month for getting around Europe and I did it in 23 days and that included wasting six days in Tunisia. I also accurately set five days to get to Sao Tome and back – which, to be fair, is how long it took – only I didn’t figure on having to wait three weeks in Gabon before setting sail!

In fact, if you deduct the four weeks that I spent struggling to get to Cuba, the week and a half in Halifax, the six weeks I spent in Cape Verde, the three weeks in Gabon and the week and a half wasted in the Congo’s, I’d be here, now, heading to Mauritius three and a half months ago – that’s over a hundred days – in fact, I wouldn’t have even broke the 200 mark yet – I’d still be on target for getting this damn foolhardy adventure finished this year. Ha!

The bad news is that if I make EVERY connection in my original plan (I won’t), it’s going to be 100 days before I reach Australia (and that’s once I get back to Africa, which may not be for another three weeks from today). And given the fact that I’ve still got to get to Algeria we’re looking at possibly Day 425 before I arrive in Oz (nation 188), and that’s without anything going wrong.

The good news is that after The Seychelles, there’s only one bitch of an island to get to before Australia and that’s The Maldives, which I’m going to attack from India.

But then after Australia… gee whizz; I still have to somehow find my way to PALAU, MICRONESIA, MARSHALL ISLANDS, NAURU, KIRIBATI, THE SOLOMON ISLANDS, TUVALU, VANUATU, FIJI, TONGA, SAMOA and, finally, NEW ZEALAND, the 200th (and last) nation on my list: we’re talking a week to get to each, if I’m lucky… that’s twelve weeks, or 80 days – damn you Fogg, must you mock me so?

Makes me wonder why I asked Stan to book me a ticket for next year’s Glastonbury Festival.

If I get to Oz by March next year, I’ll be a merry man. If I get there in time for my 31st birthday at the end of February I’ll dance a f–king jig.



Day 311: Here Be Pirates

Day 311: Here Be Pirates

November 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Indian Ocean, Madagascar, The Odyssey Expedition

07.11.09:

Polished off the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol, which is, muh. Nowhere near as good as Angels & Demons or Da Vinci Code, the ‘twist’ was more obvious than if Bruce Willis spent the entirety of ‘Sixth Sense’ wearing a ten gallon hat with “I’m Dead” embroidered on the front in big glowing letters.

And what with that bit where they stand around a severed hand for half an hour chatting about the ceiling? Why aren’t they getting that thing on ice?? And (without giving too much away) what’s with the history lesson at the end? It’s akin to Anakin giving a guided tour of Jedi HQ to a bunch of old grandmothers immediately after his fight with Obi-Wan on the lava planet.

One last thing, and then I’ll hold my peace; If Sato had just taken Langdon’s phone in Chapter 16, it would have been all over by Chapter 17, but no, the hapless reader must plough through a further 117 chapters to get to the rather predicable conclusion. I did like the point he made about the founding fathers being deists, not Christers, I like to hope your average Middle-American is paying attention, but (s)he probably isn’t.

In the mood for a mooch, I headed up to the bridge to see what was happening in DAL Madagascar HQ. We had a change-over of Captains and now we were under the command of a surprisingly sprightly (and wonderfully foul-mouthed) 67 year old German guy called Klaus Gobbel. No, I’m not making that up. While I was up there, I got chatting with the 2nd officer, Yuriy, who was eager to show me the charts of the Indian Ocean. The charts with all this year’s pirate attacks marked on them in pencil.

Oh crappy-la-la.

There were so many I couldn’t believe they had all happened this year, including the most ominous marking – OUR SHIP ATTACKED – dated April 2009. Yep, AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades – the lot. The good old DAL managed to outrun the rotters, Captain Klaus told me that after the stop in Madagascar, they’d be blacking out all the windows “like it’s the £”!%ing war” and gunning it a full speed – 24 knots – in a bid to avoid any future confrontations.

The fact that Prince William and the Royal Navy are wasting their time monkeying about in the Atlantic attempting to stem the flow of gak into the UK (much to Prince Harry’s chagrin, I suspect) when there is this level of piracy going on in some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, just beggar’s belief.

But of course, it’s music piracy that is the greatest threat to civilisation as we know it. Imagine if people were allowed to use streamed copyrighted music on their websites?! That would be The End Of The World As We Know It…



Days 318-348: Don’t Look Back In Anger

Days 318-348: Don’t Look Back In Anger

14.11.09-14.12.09:

Oh Graham, you tease, what’s the meaning of this, compressing an entire MONTH of gallivanting into just one blog entry? Well, truth be told if there was something of any note to tell, I would give you the Full Monty and no mistake. But as is the way of things in The Odyssey, stuff has a disgraceful habit of not going according to plan. It took me just 10 days to get from Dar es Salaam to Mauritius. It took me SEVEN WEEKS to get back.

I ran down to the port in Mahajanga bright and early on the morning of the 14th November eager to jump on the boat that was apparently leaving for Comoros. Ah yes… the boat. Try again tomorrow.

So I checked back into Chez Karon and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The excuses were plentiful (although the one about the cyclone seems true if a little far away), but in the end I didn’t leave until the following Saturday. I’ll spare you the details, but when you think there is a chance that the boat might leave ‘tomorrow’ you end up doing nothing waiting for the damn thing, lest you’re out of town when the boat finally leaves..

Yeah, waiting for boats REALLY sucks. What else do you want to know? Although if you do find yourself stuck in Mahajanga for a few days, I seriously recommend Chez Karon. They can even organise wild-boar hunts for you, sadly for me the boar-hunting season finished at the end of October…! I’ll have to live out my Lord of the Flies fantasies some other time.

So one week to the day after I arrived in Mahajanga we set sail on the Liege (the sister ship of the good Mojangaya that brought me to Madagascar last month) and within a couple of days I had arrived back in Comoros.

Incidentally, (when it finally left) the little Liege was a treat (especially compared to that utter disgrace The Shissiwani) I had a desk with a powersocket so I could work, I got my own bed (fancy that!) and the sea was calmer than Whispering Bob Harris in a coma.

Once in Moroni, the capital of the three Comoros islands, the good Commissioner Madhi looked downcast when I told him of my plan. There are no boats, he said, not for at least a week. My heart sank. And there was worse news – the only boat going would be that DAMN Shissiwani. Things where not good.

To compliment its utter failure as a state, Comoros not only has no running water (or pubs, ATMs, bins, streetlights, backpackers, camp sites, scuba diving, container ports and international roaming networks) – it also has no CouchSurfers. Well, there is one, a guy called Hugh, but he’s on another of the three islands.

It’s hilarious that the UN even pays lip-service to Comoros’s demands that the French Island of Mayotte be ‘returned’ to them! Could you imagine?! Yeah, well, even though 99% of you want to stay with France (good call guys!), I guess we’ll just have to hand you over to the Chuckle Brothers to run the show – hell, why would you want to be a first-world country when you could be a forth-world country instead?! Those Mayottians must have taken their extra-crazy pills before THAT referendum.

Oo la la! Shall we keep this welfare state, health care provision and free schooling or shall we throw it all out the window (like a Comorian’s Trash) and work our nuts off – not for ourselves but for our disgracefully corrupt politicians to stuff their mattresses with ill-gotten Euros – in the spirit of independence?

[Cough]

Comoros is the first country I’ve been to that doesn’t even take Visa. What a joke. Even Sierra Leone takes Visa… as does Iraq, Afghanistan and even parts of Somalia. Ygads!

The first thing that you’ll notice on your arrival in Moroni (the capital) is the STENCH. There is litter EVERYWHERE. It looks like the end of a music festival, only nobody is busy clearing it up. At one point I saw some people in the back of a low loader and thought for one (idiotic) second that they were cleaning up the trash. Ha, no. They were just shovelling loose garbage off the truck and dumping it onto the side of the road. NICE! Just like London. In the middle ages.

The second thing you’ll notice is the price of everything. Seriously, it’s more expensive than Tokyo. Imagine a dirty, cobweb-filled room with a hard floor and a bed that’s second hand from the local jail (whose sheets never get cleaned unless you ask). The electrical sockets hang dangerously out of the wall as if on comedy go-go-gadget springs and the door handles fall off with gay abandon. Your ‘shower’ (not en suite, don’t be silly) is nothing more than a bucket of cold mosquito-infested water which you must scoop up in a plastic jug and pour over yourself. Of course you can forget about telly, air-con, mini-bar or room service; and breakfast – of course – is not included. The floor is so filthy that when you walk from the bucketroom to your bedroom your feet will end up so dirty you might as well have clambered Gollum-like over a coal pile. The only thing that’s complimentary are the ants. And spiders. And mosquitoes.

The price for such princely lodgings? Three Euro? Five would perhaps be a little much. Ten would be outright extortion. Fifteen would be taking the piss.

It was SIXTEEN Euro. A night. Mand and I have stayed in delightful B&Bs in Wales with a full English brekkie in the morning for less. To make matters even more frustrating, the guy who ran the place was a dick, charging me €5 for washing my t-shirts and laughing as I handed him the money for the first ten days of my incarceration.

Pension Faida is the first place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, but if you ever end up in Comoros (unlucky you!) please opt for the much more delightful (and shower-ific) La Grillade on the ocean road or, even better, The Jardin De La Paix nearby (I would nominate Jardin De La Paix as the best place in the whole damn island, for food and lodgings – it’s head and shoulders above the rest). But unfortunately, as well as being the nastiest, Pension Faida is the cheapest place in town.

On top of that, the beer is so expensive you can only drink half a pint a day before you blow your budget, the food is an utter rip, SIM cards are a whopping €15 (everywhere else in Africa they’re €1) and because there are no ATMs, every time you want money it’ll cost you €15 – and it’s not like you can change Comorian Francs into anything useful once you’ve left the country.

The third thing you’ll notice is that the people are rather pleasant. Yes, the service is diabolical (although still not as bad as Cape Verde – phew-eeee!) and if you get your camera out, you’ll meet a lot of angry women (and police – I did), but that aside, there are a lot of good people in Comoros. I never felt conscious about my stuff and was happy to leave my laptop out in the cafe while I went for a burst – it was that kinda place.

I didn’t entirely waste my three weeks on the island from hell. I attempted to climb the volcano – by all accounts the biggest active volcano in the world – but gave up LIKE A BIG FAT WUSS an hour from the summit. After doing bugger-all for the preceding few weeks, clambering up a mighty big volcano at four in the morning had it’s charms, but within an hour I had pulled a muscle in my leg and BLAH BLAH BLAH face it Graham, you wussed out, you wuss. SILENCE INNER DEMON. Ha! You wussed out ‘cos you’re ginger and you’re a quitter.

I AM NOT A QUITTER.

Then why’d yer quit?

MY LEG HURT!! I WALKED FOR FIVE HOURS UPHILL WITH A SORE LEG!!

Anybody else wanna quit?

I ALSO WALKED BACK DOWN FOR FIVE HOURS WITH A BLOODY SORE LEG (AND POSSIBLE SUNSTROKE) YOU BASTARD!

Saddle up people. We’ve got quitters to bury.

OH GET LOST!

After my ordeal on the volcano (I, unlike Sam and Frodo, was not rescued by giant eagles) I spent the proceeding four days picking strips off my sunburnt face, which is strangely satisfying. Like popping bubble wrap. Or bludgeoning Bono to death with his own legs.

After ten days in the BLOODY AWFUL Pension Faida, I took my new-found English buddy Gemma’s advice and checked out the Itsandra Hotel, 4km north of Moroni. The Itsandra Hotel is the best hotel on the island (although that’s a barbed compliment). I found myself a spot at the bar to indulge in my nefarious internet deeds. Ahh, nice views, lovely staff, private beach and free Wi-Fi. Bliss. Two drawbacks – the internet was slower than Steven Hawkins climbing a treacle staircase and the beer was €3 for a half. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS PLACE??

Finding myself homeless, I was taken in my a friendly local called Yaya, who was learning English. He was a top dude and even let me take his bed while he slept on the floor. But like all Comorians, (except the ones in power, of course) he was dirt poor – the government has not paid his wages for eight months. YOU HEAR THAT MAYOTTE? YOU SEE WHAT YOU’RE MISSING YOU CHEESE EATING SURRENDER MONKEYS?!! Now stop behaving like a spoilt brat and come join the povvo fun.

Yaya’s home was in desperate need of some TLC, but you know these guys are great – they just get on with it. I don’t think I could hack it. But then, what’s the alternative? Oh yeah, right – there is none.

The next day, Fanja, one of the guys who worked at the Itsandra Hotel, took me under his wing and I learnt an important lesson in life: YOU’RE NOT DEAD UNTIL JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME KICKS YOU IN THE FACE.

He can shoot you as many times as he likes, you’ll be okay, you’ll still be standing. He can set you on fire, chop your head off, pull your guts out and through them on the floor, but you ain’t going down until he does his roundhouse kick to your FACE! THEN YOU’RE GOING DOWN BITCH!! You hear me? YOU. ARE. GOING. DOWN.

I ended up staying with Fanja for the best part of a week in his one room shack in the ramshackle village/slum next to the Itsandra Hotel. It was a blast and we watched far too many crap action movies and reggae music videos for two guys who weren’t even stoned.

You see, by now I had spent all of the Euros I had taken out when I was in Reunion (canny!) and I was loath to have to go and give Western Union €15 towards an ill-deserved Christmas present just for the pleasure of removing my own money from my own bank account.

Speaking of the festive season… you know how Darth Vader knows what Luke is getting for Christmas?

That’s right! He FELT his presents.

Ah hahahahahaha..

Cracks me up every time.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was getting around to telling you about Alice, Daniel, Keith and Steph who would keep me entertained for the final week of my incarceration.

These crazies (first two were from North Carolina, Keith was from Florida and Steph was from our very own Cambridge) were all on their way to Mayotte to meet up with the boat they are due to crew on – a replica of a 2,600 year old Phoenician ship that has been built by a crazy British guy (who else?) in order to re-create the first circumnavigation of Africa.

So it’s all wood and oars and one mighty big nine-month sail. Check out their website – www.phoenicia.org.uk (and you thought ‘odyssey’ was hard to spell). Madness. Sheer madness. I love it.

Although I don’t actually know who the Phoenicians were (and neither does my spell checker) but I thought it impertinent to ask.

Alice, Daniel, Keith and I went out on a tour of the island one day, the highlight of which was the discovery that, yes, COMOROS HAS LEMURS TOO!! Woo! I meet one called Rambo. Lovely chap, invited me up his tree for a nice hot brew. The lowlight of the day was our guide, Joseph, who was so hilariously miserable he could have given Victor Meldrew a run for his money.

For the last few days I was there, Alice and Daniel (and once they left, Stephanie) allowed me to sleep on the floor in their hotel room like the dog I am.

My days on Grand Comores generally revolved around getting up bright and early, finding out how long my boat had been delayed (or that it simply wasn’t coming) and then heading up to the Itsandra Hotel to abuse that free internet connection. On the plus side, I managed to get fourteen spanking new Odyssey videos edited (much easier when you’re not sitting on a fifty year old bus with no suspension hurtling along a dirt track).

The US Navy dudes that we befriended at the Itsandra Hotel (this is a new initiative – the US are now sending troops to undeveloping nations to help small community projects, kinda like the Peace Corps, only these guys don’t play chess) treated me to dinner and even let me use their hot showers (after three weeks of cold bucket showers IT WAS BLISS).

Now I’ve made a lot of friends in Comoros, so I don’t want to slag it off too much, but when with eager eyes and undoubtable sincerity they as me if I’ll be coming back to Comoros one day with my girlfriend, I had to let them down gently. There is very little that would bring me back here – but the one thing that would certainly keep me away is the godDAMN police. As always in Africa, they are just out for one thing – to brainlessly destroy any tourism industry that might otherwise emerge. On the night I arrived (on my first visit) I was hassled by a bunch of bastard plain-clothers for my passport and, as I found out later from Gemma, had I (sensibly) left my passport in my hotel, they would have fallen over themselves to lock me up for the night. It’s a CRIME!

And I’m supposed to bring my girlfriend to such a place?!! So she too can enjoy the pleasures of an African jail? Two of Gemma’s British friends had been locked up overnight for this reason. WHAT THE ****? Are there swarms of European migrants swimming over to Comoros to abuse the non-existent welfare state? Is there a small legion of white suicide bombers planning to cause death and mayhem in Cloud Coup-Coup Land? Is it more important that everyone who comes for a visit is made to feel like a criminal than to be made to feel welcome?

It would seem so.. It kills me to say all this because, as always in Africa, it’s not the people’s fault that visiting their country for a ‘holiday’ is about as attractive a proposition as having your brains sucked out through your nose – it’s the fault of the bas***d politicians and the bas***d police who conspire to keep everyone poor and everything wretched. God I HATE them.

One day I was arrested for the crime of – get this – having a camera. Because I didn’t have a photo permit (possibly because they don’t frickin’ well EXIST) a horrible little toad-faced gendarme was trying to take me down to the airport and stick me on the next plane out of his country.. Luckily, the nice port police chaps that I had befriended calmed this nasty piece of work down. But seriously man, WTF??

I’m sorry to say this, but I won’t be back. Strike Comoros down as another nation-that-exists-but-possibly-shouldn’t along with Cape Verde and Sao Tome. Too small, too impoverished, too silly, too . The dream that began with being ‘independent’ has turned into a nightmare of poverty, isolation and a failed state held to the crappy whims of petty-minded politicians who are just out to line their own pockets.

At the end of the day, Comoros has had TWENTY-FIVE Coup d’Etats since 1975. It has no less than FOUR presidents at any one time(!) and as basketcases go, it has to be the basketcase to beat all basketcases. The port isn’t even big enough to take container ships – HOW ELSE ARE YOU SUPPOSE TO SUPPLY AN ISLAND WITH STUFF?? I hope I leave you in no state of confusion as to why 99% of the population of the ‘fourth’ island of Mayotte voted to stay with France.

In fact, rather than the UN putting pressure on France to give Mayotte ‘back’ to Comoros, I think they should be putting pressure on Comoros to return the three islands (Grand Comores, Anjouan and the other one) back to France. I’m serious. Just so you don’t think I’m some half-crazed Imperialist pigdog, can I just point out that Moroni, the capital city of Comoros, has gone without running water now for over a year. OVER A YEAR. If you think that the deranged bandits in charge deserve to get away with that kind of thing and that the people of Comoros deserve to suffer in the name of some false sense of independence, then by all means shoot me down on this one; but given the choice, if it was my country, I would want the schools, hospitals, social security, rule of law, freedom of the press, roads, railways, infrastructure, port facilities, electricity and, oh yeah, the FLOWING WATER SUPPLY that my evil French overlords would provide.

A final point: Malaria has been all but wiped out on Mayotte. On the three ‘independent’ islands it is rampant (moreso since the water was shut off – lots of lovely filthy buckets of water lying around to breed your mosquitoes in). People are dying because their government is about as much use as tits on a crocodile.

What have the Romans ever done for us indeed. Ah, Comoros, I love you to bits but my word your government needs a slap.

Country Count: 124



Day 349-50: All Aboard The Good Ship Simacom!

Day 349-50: All Aboard The Good Ship Simacom!

December 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Comoros, Indian Ocean, The Odyssey Expedition

15.12.09-16.12.09:

Yesterday I and 43 other passengers boarded the ‘Simacom’ bound for Dar es Saleem, three weeks to the day since I arrived in Comoros.

It was supposed to have left two weeks ago, then last Saturday, then yesterday. It’s now Tuesday we’re still in port. Time is not money. Time is not money. I’m here with a lovely French couple, Thomas and Sevine, who arrived in Comoros on Sunday. They live in Reunion and they’re trying to get back to France without flying. They spent the last three weeks waiting to leave Mahajanga on a boat – nice to know I’m not the only one!

But, given the choice, I would have preferred to be stuck in Madagascar for three weeks than here. But watchagonnado? The delay today is being caused by some passengers having outstayed their 45 day visa for Comoros (possibly because they’ve been waiting that long for a frickin’ boat…) but we should be out of here today, at some point.

Later that day…

We eventually left port at about noon and I waved my fond farewells to Comoros. I made a lot of good friends there and I’m sorry to see them gone. But Comoros itself… meh. So we’re now on the MV Simacom heading northwest to Dar es Salaam where I left a whopping two months ago. I’m trying not to think about it – I may burst into tears…!

The sea is quite rough today and Thomas and Sevine aren’t liking the mal del mer. I’m just about holding my own. Maybe, heaven forfend, I might be getting used to it. Although grotty as hell and full of scrap metal junk that we had to clamber over to get on board, the Simacom is head, shoulders, knees and toes above the damn Shissiwani (I’m SO glad I did not have to take that nightmare back). We all got wooden benches to sit (and sleep) on and there’s even a telly! They’re currently treating us to a Bond Marathon working backwards from Casino Royale. We’re currently up to Goldeneye. God it makes me want to play the game on Nick’s N64. That stuff was like crack.

Incidentally, I know this has nothing to do with anything but HEY YOU Holocaust/Evolution/Climate Change/Moon Landings/AIDS deniers… Yeah, you… You know what? YEEEEEER RIGHT and EVERYBODY CLEVERER THAN YOU IS WRONG.

Yes.

The Next Day…

By the time I woke up this morning we were up to Octopussy. Ahh… Udaipur. Although I have to point out that one of the baddies has a killer yo-yo. A killer yo-yo? WTF??

The sea today was smooth as silk and with the wind behind us we made good time – we should hit Dar early tomorrow morning. I wasted today watching Mission Impossible III (meh), Angels and Demons (meh) and Wolverine (meh) on my laptop while stuffing my face full of Thomas and Sevine’s lychees while they sat and read. The only annoyance was this snaggletoothed Indian chap who insisted on tapping me on the shoulder every now and again and speaking in a whisper, forcing me pop my headphones out of my ears and to crane closer at which point he would unleash the full force of his killer halitosis. Urgh.

I can’t WAIT to be back in Africa.



Day 1,390: The Costa Living

Day 1,390: The Costa Living

October 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Indian Ocean, The Odyssey Expedition

Tue 23.10.12:

The two days at sea passed like some velvet morning (when I’m straight). For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to be less of a fat bastard using a novel invention I like to call ‘the beer diet’. It’s nice and simple: you just drink beer and don’t eat anything. Honestly, it works! Magic!!

However, on a cruise upon which I can’t afford to drink and the food is UNLIMITED and FREE, my great diet plan has been turned on its head. Now all I have to stop me stuffing my face with cheese and prosciutto is my own willpower.

ARRRRRRRRRRGH!!!

On the Tuesday we crossed 0° latitude, that magic invisible line of red that seamlessly circumnavigates the planet. Why is it 0°? Because that’s the angle of Polaris, the North Star, in the sky relative to the horizon at this exact point of this marvellously oblate spheroid we all call home.

The last time we crossed the equator, I had to make up for the insult I had hurled at King Neptune by switching hemispheres without his permission. Once in Ecuador, once in Gabon, once in Kenya, thrice in Indonesia, twice on the way to Kiribati and twice on the way back again.

That’s ten times I’ve kicked sand in Uncie Nep-Nep’s face. Happily, on this crossing Monsieur Neppy was in a much better mood with me and there were (thankfully) no head-shaving shenanigans to be had. Just a baptism of equatorial water and the chance to dress up as Ol’ Neppo himself.

I was then forced to dance to Italian pop music, which was something of an ordeal. What is it with Italian pop? Why does it always sound like the backing music of a porno? But hey, it beat scrubbing deck paint off my arm for two days straight.

Being somewhat of a storytelling balladeer it made sense that I should do a talk about my travels, not just for personal glory (and the scouse compulsion to be entertaining), but also as a good way to meet new people who may (if I’m a good boy) buy me a beer. An American called John who I had met while chatting to Josie, the English speaking hostess, set up for me to do a presentation in one of the meeting rooms, which of course I did. There’s actually very few native English speakers on board, which should be unsurprising since it’s an Italian ship: I’ve met people from France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, Croatia… the only English speakers are from the US, Canada or Australia. I don’t think I’m met a fellow Englisher yet!

The ship is a fine old lady, and as a water taxi service to two of my three final destinations, I seriously cannot complain. Costa have well and truly saved my bacon. AND I LOVE BACON!!

THANK YOU COSTA!! You may use the following picture for all your future publicity:

This time Nep-Nep, I’M THE ONE WHO KNOCKS!!!



Days 1,411-8: The Maersk Sebarok

Days 1,411-8: The Maersk Sebarok

Sun 11.11.12 – Sun 18.11.12

I was up an’ at ’em! by 8am, and by 8.30am I was on the bus back to Port Louis. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to Arno, but not to worry, I’ve a feeling I’ll see him again some day. I was met at the old Post Office by my driver who would be taking me through immigration and then to the port gates. The immigration officer was incredibly friendly (Mauritius is a very friendly place) and he happily stamped me out the country. And then it was through the port gates (the officials nodded me through) and onto the minibus that took me across the port to THE SHIP: The Maersk Sebarok.

Wow. When I say this ship is BIG. Understand: this ship is BIIIIIIIIG.

Check out these stats:

 Length:           336 metres
 Width:            40 metres
 Height:           25 metres
 Capacity:         6,478 standard (20’) containers
                   (put on a single train, it would be 25 MILES long)
 Engine:           85,500 Horse Power
 Fuel Consumption: 280,000 litres (280 tonnes) per day 
                   (that’s an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of diesel)
 Fuel Cost:        $182,000 per day

Not only that, its fuel tanks are so vast that the ship can go 200 days without refuelling. Maersk, a Danish company, are the biggest shipping company in the world so I guess it’s natural that they operate on a slightly BIGGER scale.

I bounded up the gangway, met with the captain and officers, was shown to my cabin and… relax. We wouldn’t be getting to South Africa until Saturday at the earliest, but that’s okay, the main thing is that I’m on the ship and ready to go. Once I get to the mainland it’s going to be a long but relatively straight-forward series of coach journeys up to South Sudan.

 Durban        > Johannesburg
 Johannesburg  > Lusaka
 Lusaka        > Dar es Salaam
 Dar es Salaam > Kampala
 Kampala       > Juba

Some awesome things about this ship: there’s internet (capped at 30MB a day, but I’m not complaining – in Australia, you’d be paying Telstra $100 a day for that kind of usage(!)) there’s a lift, so getting up the 9 floors to the bridge is a little easier (if somewhat less healthy), there’s a swimming pool (not that you often see me in a swimming pool, but still… a swimming pool!) and there’s even a woman on board working as assistant chef. The captain and chief officer are both from Burma, the second is from China and the third is from India. The chief engineer is from Poland and the two second engineers are from Russia and the Philippines respectively.

One thing that you should definitely know before you sign up for a job with Maersk: alcohol is not just frowned upon, its consumption is completely banned for the length of your contract. Sign a 6 month contract and you can forget about beer, wine, whiskey, vodka, whatever floats your boat, for 6 months solid, even when on shore leave. This commendable company policy, which I think is pretty unique, ensures that – at the very least – all the officers and crew get to enjoy an ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ moment when their contract is finished.

Not that you’d find me complaining: the food onboard is MAGNIFICENT. It’s all I can do to restrain myself from devouring everything before the other crewmembers get to the mess. Plus there’s a seemingly unlimited supply of tea and biscuits (yay) and, even better, plenty of Fifa 13 to play against the engineers.

My week onboard the Maersk Sebarok passed effortlessly. We were graced with fine weather (Uncle Neppy knows when he’s met his match) and the internet connection was nothing short of a godsend, allowing me to tee up some media interest in the impending finale of The Odyssey Expedition.

On the Friday we came into the Durban anchorage. I was hoping we’d be alongside the next morning, but Captain Khaung simply smiled and shook his head. Sunday at 1200. Maybe. I did get to do a little whale-watching though, and clocked at least three of the great beasts gliding effortlessly around the 50+ boats surrounding us, also at anchor. Durban Port has a lousy reputation for making ships wait.

By Saturday evening it was obvious that we wouldn’t be getting in until at least 1800 the next day, which blew my cunning plans for a weekend in Jo’burg out of the water. I was planning to meet with Janine, the sassy South African CSer I met in Kuwait, and also with Anthea Pokroy of icollectgingers.com fame. I was quite looking forward to being collected.

Eventually we came alongside at midnight on Sunday night. It was too late to disembark, immigration wouldn’t be open and in any case, all the buses to Jo’burg would have already gone hours ago. One last night aboard the Sebarok then!