Day 299: It’s A Mad Mad Madagascar

Day 299: It’s A Mad Mad Madagascar

October 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Madagascar, The Odyssey Expedition

26.10.09:

Yesterday passed with the graceful ebb and flow of the waves, and I am slowly coming to appreciate the grandeur to life on the deep blue. I spent most of the day standing with the wind in my face, the sun on my skin and the spray of the brine on my lips.

Yeah, I could get used to this, but I seriously doubt that I’ll ever have the funds (or the desire) to buy a boat. It’s not just that I dislike the inherent queasiness and ever-present smell of petrol fumes on these damn things, it’s that, well… after a couple of days it gets, well, boring. The sea is the sea is the sea – it’s a trifle dull in all directions. But yesterday, we were cutting through the Indian Ocean and it felt great. It felt like I was finally – finally – getting somewhere.

We arrived early this morning off the coast of Madagascar. We had to wait for clearance to come into port, but (unlike other African countries) we only had to wait until the port opened, not for three weeks. It’s fair to say that I liked Madagascar from the start. It got even better when the port staff got onboard, sprayed the boat down with disinfectant (always a reassuring gesture) and stamped me into the country without a murmur of discontent over the fact my Madagascar visa was in my old passport, not my new one. No probs – they stamped them both.

Ahh – my one-hundred and twenty-third nation! Happy days, hello Madagascar, I hear you’re the only country in the world with four ‘a’s in your name – in your FACE, Bahamas, Australia and Panama – you SUCK.

Oh, hang on – Guatamala. Damn it.

The three usual steps (which are becoming a little routine now) when I enter a new country are ATM, SIM and Bus Station. Madagascar was no exception, and unlike Comoros, seemed positively grateful that I had a foreign bank card. Unfortunately, the bus was not the breeze that I was hoping it would be. The last one for the capital left at 8.30am, and by now it was 10am. Hurrumph.

The next one left at 5am and would race (no doubt) through the night; ah, the Golden Rule of Africa: never travel at night. But I had no choice.

I’m in Mahajanga on the West Coast. I need to get to Toamasina on the East Coast before 5pm tomorrow. This is because I need to go to Tropical Services Travel Agency and buy myself a ticket on the supremely-timed ocean liner for Reunion (and possibly Nation 124, Mauritius if somebody cancels) that is leaving on Wednesday. Now Madagascar is a big place – a bloody big place, and there are no motorways (good, it doesn’t need them), so to get across the country, I have to go first to the capital Antananarivo, which let’s face it (even the locals agree) is unpronounceable. That’s why they sensibly call it Tana instead.

But whether or not it’s pronounceable, if I stay here tonight and get the bus in the morning, I’d be getting to Tana around midnight tomorrow, which would mean that I would (in more ways than one) miss the boat. There won’t be another for two weeks.

So I cut my losses, headed to the nearest pub and spent the remainder of the day typing furiously trying to get all my blogs up to scratch (I think I’m now somewhat north of the 200,000 words mark – EPIC!) I grabbed a pizza for dinner and mused at how similar Mahajanga is to Liverpool in England – both major ports in the north-west of the country, both sit on the northern back of a huge river estuary and both smell faintly of boiled cabbage.

I’m writing this racing through the night in a minibus. I’m sitting behind the passenger seat. The road is new and the way ahead is vague. After Reunion, I may find myself stranded out on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but look at it this way – I got my new passport on the fifth of October. I’ve managed to reach nine countries since then, and two of them have been islands… in just twenty days. Who know what tomorrow will bring, but today I ROCK!!



Day 300: I ♥ Madagascar

Day 300: I ♥ Madagascar

October 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Madagascar, The Odyssey Expedition

27.10.09:

Dear Santa,

Hi, it’s Graham here. Sorry I haven’t written to you in ages. I’ve been a busy boy. I’m currently trying to set a new world record by visiting each and every country in the world in one journey using just surface travel. Now, I’ve been to a lot of places this year but so far, I haven’t seen anywhere that would compare with my favourite countries in the world, which I already had in mind before I started out.

So, as an early Christmas present, I would like you to send me to a country that is lovely and tropical, but has nice big green mountains so that I don’t get too hot. I’d like there to be spectacular views and lots of great hiking tracks. I’d also like there to be undeveloped palm-fringed beaches so that I can sling my hammock and read Hemmingway in the shade.

Talking of development, I would like nice new smooth roads please, no more dirt tracks for a while. And could you make sure that there’s hardly any concrete. I’m sick of that revolting stuff. If nearly everything is made of wood, local stone or batch-fired, low density brick, that would be great.

Now, I’m a big fan of monkeys but I also quite like cats. Any chance of magic’ing up some kind of tree-dwelling primate that looks like something in-between a monkey, a cat, a mere-cat, a lemming from the computer game and possibly a very cute dog?

And can you make one of them that dances?

Can you make the people very cool and laid-back and not angry all the time like the scary people in the bus parks in Africa? I also don’t want to be hassled by police. Oh, and if I need a visa, make sure that I can get it on arrival and it’s free. But can you make sure that women still carry things on their heads? I like that.

And – this would be great – since they all live on hills, how about they use wooden go-carts to get about? That would be so cool.

Oh, and can you make sure it’s as cheap as chips, I’m running out of money. If I can get a pizza and a beer for a couple of Euro, that’ll be great. And a steak in pepper sauce for less than a fiver, cheers.

Thanks Santa,

Graham.

PS. I don’t know if this is possible, but could you make sure that all the men wear hats so that it feels like I’m in a 1930s detective story?



Day 301: Welcome To Lemurland

Day 301: Welcome To Lemurland

October 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Madagascar, The Odyssey Expedition

28.10.09:

Lemurs are one of my favourite animals on Earth. A primate, cut off from his cousins in Africa and Asia for over fifty million years, they are undoubtedly the cutest little critters one could ever hope to feast one’s eyes on. Drawing on the best bits of cats, gods and monkeys there’s a eye-boggling array of different species and breeds – including the famous ring-tailed lemur, the pygmy mouse lemur (the smallest primate in the world) and Richard Dawkin’s favourite animal, the dancing sifaka.

I had set my heart on seeing some lemurs today, so I rose early and annoyed myself by wasting a good hour looking for Tropical Service, the travel agency that I hoped would sell me a ticket on the Trochetia, the passenger boat (YES, THERE IS ONE!) I was hoping would spirit me away to Mauritius later today. Unfortunately for me, tickets to Mauritius were sold out and my only choice was to go as far as the French island of Réunion and try to find some alternative onward passage from there.

That was as good as I was going to get, but let’s face it – it’s a pretty sweet deal. I raced from Mahajanga on the west coast all the way to the port town of Tamatave (Taomasina) in the east to get this boat today – there’s no way I’d get passage this quickly on a cargo boat.

Yesterday, I passed through Antananarivo, the unpronounceable capital city of Madagascar, on my way here – through some of the most delightful countryside I’ve ever seen. I’m totally in love with Madagascar – it has completely blown me away and deserves a place in my top five countries of all time. This may seem a little unfair as I’ve only been here a couple of days and all the other countries in my top five, I’ve travelled through extensively and also visited more than once, but hey, I know what I like and I like Madagascar.

I eventually found the agency directly across the road from my hotel (typical!) and purchased my ticket. It was quite expensive, but at least I knew that I would get a cabin this time, not a dirty slice of foam in some squalid nightmare like the Sissiwani II. The bus would meet us around the corner at 3pm to whisk us away to the docks.

Couldn’t be easier.

I then tried to organise my trip to see the lemurs. There is a small lemur sanctuary on the outskirts of town, and I wasn’t going to miss this chance. At first I was going to get a cab, but the staff at my hotel, (The Eden Hotel on Joffre Blvd. next to the Adam & Eve Café) suggested I take a cycle rickshaw instead, which I did. It was only after it took half-an-hour to go about 1km that I decided to put the rickshaw peddler out of his misery and get a taxi instead. Good call – on the rickshaw, I wouldn’t have got to the damn park before 3pm.

The park was several shades of brilliant. Yes, it had a few other animals knocking about, but I was just here for the lemurs, these lovely cuddly lunatics. A bunch of them were allowed to run free around the sanctuary, so now and again you’d hear a rustle in the trees above and look up to see a family of these weird little primates hurling themselves through the trees with reckless abandon.

After a few hours in the company of my distant cousins, I decided it was time to skedaddle and it was on the way out that I had my close encounter, a tiny lemur, tame as you like, walking along the waist-high fence at the side of the path. I even managed to touch the little critter. Which in hindsight wasn’t such a great idea – they STINK! Put me off owning one as a pet. I got some great shots on my camcorder though.

So back to the laid-back city of Tamatave (or Toamasina) and I was just about to get on the bus when I realised they might not take Madagascan money (the Ariary, fans of Frank Bruno take note: it’s pronounced ‘arry ‘arry) so I dashed around the corner and sorted myself out with some real money, Euros.

Don’t know why I ran; it would be past five before we actually got on board the boat. Will I ever learn?!

The Trochetia is great – just what they need in The Caribbean, actually – a good sized boat with a bunch of decent cabins and space at the front for containerised cargo – the best of both worlds. I made friends with the helpful barman Mario as well as a French guy from Reunion called Mathieu who was heading home after a good holiday in Madagascar. The beers were just a Euro each and the food was pretty good.

I also got chatting with a guy from Mauritius who spoke English with a bizarre Scottish twang, well, bizarre until I learned that he had lived in Glasgow for a few years. He was an engineer working on the boat and he told me some happy news – Tropical Service were talking out of their bottoms. There were spaces on the Trochetia for Mauritius. I just had to visit the ship’s agents in Réunion when we arrive on Friday and buy a ticket.

Happy days. Mauritius here I come.



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…



Day 312: Madagascan Surprise

Day 312: Madagascan Surprise

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

08.11.09:

Oops, Guatemala is spelt with an ‘e’ not an ‘a’, so my factette about Madagascar being the only country in the world with 4 ‘a’s in the name seemed almost valid, that is until I woke up this morning in a cold sweat, the name of another country with 4 ‘a’s in it on my quivering lips. I’ll leave it to you to figure that one out.

So, as a pleasant surprise, I’m back in Tamatave, Madagascar – a day earlier than I was led to believe. This is wonderful news. I said my hearty thanks and goodbyes to Chief Mate Richard and Capt Klaus and shuffled off the DAL Madagascar. The wonderful shipping agent, Ricky helpfully gave me a lift to the taxi-brousse area, where a minibus was leaving as soon as it filled. By about 10am, I was on my way back to the brilliantly unpronounceable capital city, Antananarivo.

The sheer beauty of Madagascar is a joy to behold. The road between Tamatave (Taomasina) and Antananarivo is breathtaking – long and winding, yes, but breathtaking nonetheless. Grown men shooting down the road on wooden go-carts and the rich Goblin Green that covers the interior of this magical land. All the little village shacks at the side of the road are made of wood with pitched leaf-thatched roofs. Lovely.

Antananarivo is one unique capital city, I have to say. There’s concrete, yeah, but nowhere near in as biblical proportions as in other African cities – tons of stuff is made of brick, stone and wood, and the style – well, I don’t know how to describe it – it’s like a very tropical version of European early 1900s architecture. I love it. It’s set out on more hills than Rome, which makes for a dramatic vista every time you look out of the window.

Tonight, I arrived just too late to make the bus to Diego Suarez, my ultimate destination in the very north of the country. So I checked into a cheap little place and in the centre and treated myself to a great big pepper steak in a posh restaurant. It cost less than a fiver. I love this place.



Day 313: Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud

Day 313: Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud

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

09.11.09:

Grr. I’m highly aggravated today, it’s probably best if you keep a safe distance. First up, I get out of bed at the ungodly hour of 6am. Then I head down to the taxi-brousse area (it takes up a good kilometre of road) and ask around for the next bus to Diego, over 1000km away. I was hoping to leave in the morning and arrive tomorrow afternoon sometime.

So I’m herded to a wooden shack, which apparently has a bus leaving ‘very soon’. I ask when exactly and I’m told eight to half-eight. Great I think, buy a ticket and jump on board.

Now, I’m more than used to the fact that Africans have more hassles with the concept of time than your average citizen of Gallifrey, so I wasn’t too fussed when we left, just as long as we left in the morning. By midday, I was still waiting, and my patience was beginning to fray. I demanded to know what the hell was going on – here’s what was going on, the bus wasn’t leaving until 3pm at the earliest. The goddamn tout had just bare-faced lied to me. I demanded my money back; I’d use a different company, one that doesn’t have so much cheek, eh? And maybe I’ll get a bus with a cigarette lighter socket that WORKS so I can plug my laptop in and write on the road – how do you like those apples?

No.

What do you mean, no? I spat in my best pidgin French.

No refunds.

You have to be kidding me.

I went and got a policeman – he shrugged and said there was nothing he could do. But they lied to me! Sorry dude, you pays your money, you takes your chances. I screamed blue murder at the squinty-eyed git with the foamy mouth corners (rabies, I hope) who took my money and was now looking rather smug. I kicked the damn minibus and got in. By now, it was 1pm – there wasn’t enough time to do anything, it was blazing hot and I had all my bags with me. If I had known that the bus wasn’t going to leave until 3pm, I would have spent the day checking out the sights and sounds of good old Antananarivo.

The bus didn’t actually leave until 7pm.

Now I’m sitting squished in a minibus hurtling through the night air over some of the windiest roads in the world typing this blog and trying to keep calm. The DAL Madagascar, bless it’s great big cotton socks, saved me an entire day, something I have in short supply here on The Odyssey, and I’ve just gone and wasted it. Gah!



Day 314: A Rose By Any Other Name

Day 314: A Rose By Any Other Name

November 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Madagascar, Rants, The Odyssey Expedition

10.11.09:

My word, I’ve awoken in Australia! How’d THAT happen? Oh hang on, no – it’s just Madagascar doing a damn fine impression of my crimson-tinctured second home. So today, the entire day was spent on the road heading towards Diego Suarez. Diego’s real name is Antsiranana, following in the Madagascan tradition of using as many vowels as humanly possible. The government changed the name thirty-four years ago because they wanted something that sounded more Malagasy, but it hasn’t stuck. Everyone – and I mean everyone – still calls it Diego. Hell, it’s a good name and who am I to argue with a bon mot?

A lesson, one would imagine, for the likes of Bombay, who foolishly changed it’s name to Mumbai fifteen years ago. I find the whole concept of changing the names of places fascinating and bewildering, I mean, why bother? In the case of Bombay, they have taken an internationally recognised trademark and re-branded it into something quite obscure and nowhere near as catchy. It’s a bit like Coca-Cola changing its name to ‘Barry’. The actual sound of the word Bombay is great – two nice big booming ‘b’s to get your lips around, forming a pleasant and decisive sound along the lines of bombastic – a great adjective to describe the place – almost as good as Bangkok (the only onomatopoeic city in the world). Mumbai unfortunately is tantalisingly close to mumble, and when spoken aloud often comes out like that.

While the name changes of Calcutta (Kolkata) and Madras (Chennai) are just as pointless, I actually find the name Mumbai slightly offensive. ‘Bombay’ was a corruption of the Portuguese for ‘good bay’, fairly innocuous you would think and not something that was causing widespread offence or keeping people awake at night.

The name Mumbai was suggested by Salman Rushie in his excellent book Midnight’s Children (which I implore you to read) back in 1980, and stems from the name of the local god of the fishermen. Hindu god, that is. Not Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian or any of the other plethora of religions to be found in that good city. And herein likes the rub: the decision to change the name was not made in the interests of the city or it’s citizens – it was made in the interests of politicians. Particularly irksome right-wing politicians at that. The ultra-Hinduist party, the BJP (the Indian equivalent of the BNP), was riding high in the 1990s and sought to stamp it’s mark on the world map – and what better way to do it than to change the name of India’s most famous city? From a Boom to a Mumble. Great.

And we see this same process in effect all over the world – Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Peking/Beijing, Burma/Myanmar… pointless name changing seems to be a facet of a particular brand of wingnut politician – look at Zaire – the Democratic Republic of Congo as it was formally and now once again called. My favourite case is that of St. Petersburg sounding ‘too German’ and being changed to Petrograd, then becoming Leningrad and then, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, reverting to St. Petersburg again. Madness.

At least it keeps these pesky cartographers on their toes.

I’d argue there’s a case for changing the name of somewhere called Hitlerville or Pol Pot City, but in somewhere like Durban, which is currently undergoing a systematic re-naming of pretty much every street in the city, I just don’t get it. Attempting to obfuscate our history by using geographic nomenclature is a waste of time and money. So what if St. Petersburg sounds German? So what if Bombay is Portuguese and Chester-le-Street sounds ever so slightly French? Is the American city of brotherly love (Philadelphia) making the sisters jealous?

Let’s face it, ‘Marathon’ stopped being cool the minute they changed the name to ‘Snickers’. Does anyone remember when Coco-Pops tried become the jarring Choco-Krispies? Or The Royal Mail becoming Consignia for all of five seconds? Or Coca-Cola changing it’s recipe in the 1980s… WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? This is not rocket science, it ain’t alchemy; it’s just one simple rule: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There was a suggestion made a few years back that some of the streets of my home town of Liverpool should be changed as many are named after slave traders – that was until a wily chap pointed out that Mr. Penny was indeed a slave trader and therefore, we would have to lose the name of our most famous street – Penny Lane.

Having said all that, I do think that some places in the UK are ‘broke’ and therefore ripe for a re-brand. Hull, Grimsby, Skegness, Bognor Regis, Scunthorpe to name a few – purely for shallow, aesthetic reasons I assure you. But the new names would have to improve on the original (wouldn’t be too difficult) and be not completely idiotic. I’d suggest Kingston (it’s true name anyhoo), Luxby, Mariness, Belle Regis and Mingetown.

There are places in the world that I want to visit just because I love the name: Ouagadougou (pronounced Wagadoogoo), Timbuktu, Galapagos, Azerbaijan, Truth or Consequences, Mount Misery and Lake Disappointment. I love that a mountain range in New Zealand is called The Remarkables. Although I doubt I’ll ever be making a beeline for the town of ‘Shit’ in Iran any time soon. Look it up on Google Earth!

There is a good way of seeing if your shiny new name is an improvement – are people still using the old name years later? Istanbul, New York and Burkina Faso were accepted by the population and I don’t think you’ll see too many buses in Turkey departing for Constantinople these days. I also didn’t meet a single person in West Africa who used the name Upper Volta for Burkina Faso, a name changed ten years after Diego’s.

In the case of Antsiranana, if the name ain’t stuck after all these years, I think it’s time to give up the ghost. Same goes for Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City and Myanmar. I could see them all reverting to their original names in the manner of St. Petersburg or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although why Ghana elected to ditch the delightfully tourist-baiting name of The Gold Coast I’ll never know.

You can tell politicians don’t work in advertising.

Anyways… I’ve developed a cold whilst on the old DAL Madagascar (the air conditioning I wager) so my journey today to Diego was spent blowing my nose in the most outrageous of fashions and then attempting to dispose of the evidence in an environmentally friendly way. It’s the first cold that I’ve had since I started The Odyssey Expedition, and I don’t like it sir, no I don’t like it at all.

The drive north wasn’t quite as spectacular as the journey from Antananarivo to Tamatave, but it still proved a feast for the eyes. Something that I’ve noticed is that as well as having a distinctive Malagasy style of architecture, each area has it’s own regional take on it. More good marks for the fourth largest island in the world.

I arrived in Diego just after 9pm. The place was deader than Dillinger. I checked into the Belle Vue hotel (and indeed it did have a good view) slammed some Ariary down on the desk and bought myself a room for the night.



Day 315: A Catatonic State

Day 315: A Catatonic State

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

11.11.09:

Wow. When the guidebook says that Diego is sleepy, they weren’t kidding. Which is possibly a good thing as my cold has reached its zenith and I feel like some nasty monkey has replaced all the air in my lungs with snot. The last thing that I wanted to be doing was attempting to sweet-talk yachties into taking me to the outer islands of the Seychelles. But I didn’t have to. There were a sum total of two yachts in the bay. There were a couple of fishing boats, but that’s about it. I spoke to a few people, got Thierry to call up a few French-speakers, but it didn’t look promising.

It wasn’t until the end of the day that I got a message from Thierry saying that he had spoken to a guy named Francis who might be able to help me. I called Francis and he suggested that we meet in the morning. This is very good news and with some luck, he might be able to point me in the right direction. Or at least put me on to somebody else who can.

Later, I returned to the Belle Vue and met with Russ, the lively (and well-travelled) Canadian that I got chatting to this morning over breakfast. He’s a typical Canuck – he knows his stuff and he takes great delight in ragging the French. Hoorah! We went out on the lash (why the hell not, eh? It’s less than a quid a pint!) and before too long, I found myself pulling ridiculous shapes on the dance floor. And can I proffer a cure for the common cold? Beer. Seriously. I didn’t blow my nose all night.



Day 316: One Hell of a U-Turn

Day 316: One Hell of a U-Turn

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

12.11.09:

Cuba. Cape Verde. Sao Tome and now the Seychelles – why do they have to make it so damn difficult to visit these islands on a boat? The Outer Islands of The Seychelles are just 166 Nautical Miles (or ‘naughty miles’ as I prefer to call them) north of here. That’s one day in a fishing boat or two days in a yacht. I spoke to that Francis guy this morning and he put me on to somebody in Nosy Be (a hilariously named island off the east coast) who owned a catamaran. Theirry, my francophone chum who has come in exceptionally handy over the last few weeks (I wish we had him for the Gabon-Sao Tome jaunt) spoke to this catamaran chap and he confirmed my worst fears – nobody, absolutely nobody sails up to the Seychelles from here anymore. It’s just too dangerous with all the Somalian pirates attacking each and every day.

Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.

So now I am left with no choice but to give up my attempt of getting up to The Seychelles from the South and start considering options of how to attack them from the North. As Thierry pointed out to me – it’s just too risky; even if I find somebody to do it, I’ll be putting my life on the line. This area (and even the run back to Africa via Comoros) is CRAWLING with these damn Somali pirates. With gunships patrolling the shipping channels in the north, the pirates have been pushed down south, i.e. around here. They are not operating out of Somalia anymore; they are using uninhabited islands in this area as bases. The British couple that were abducted last month were a good thousand kilometres from Somalia. A couple of French yachties were shot dead earlier this year as French forces made a (bungled) attempt to rescue them from their captors.

So what now?

Well, first up – don’t worry. There are an infinite number of ways to skin a cat. Plenty of ‘Christmas Cruises’ next month come down the Red Sea and stop at the Seychelles. If I return to Africa and plough on through the remaining dozen countries (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia (Yikes!), Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Libya and Algeria) by the time I do all them and the Saudi Peninsular, we should be approaching Christmas (anyone care to notice the change in the Odyssey slogan? Somehow “One Man – One Year and a bit – Every Country” didn’t quite cut the mustard). So if I can somehow hitch a ride on a cargo ship going south and a cruise ship going north from the main Seychelle island of Mahe, I might be able to wing it.

It’s either that or swim.

So I said my goodbyes to Russ and headed out to the Taxi-Brousse stand. I’ve been entertaining the guys with a few card tricks, which always goes down a treat. Now we’re just waiting for one more person to turn up so we can go. My cold shows no signs of diminishing, and I just hope I’ve brought enough tissues to make it all the way to Mahajanga without having to snot on my hands and wipe it on my jeans (nice!).

Oh, we’re off!!



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