Days 1,408-10: Made It Ma, Top of the World!

Fri 09.11.12 – Sun 11.11.12:

After an hour’s sleep, I was back up an’ at ‘em, ready to take on my final day in Réunion. Geraldine left for a work meeting at 9am and I made good use of the morning, updating my blog and uploading a ton of photos onto Facebook. I spoke to Mickael and he assured me that the ticket for today’s ferry to Mauritius was in the bag – all I needed to do is turn up and show my ‘onward ticket’ (something I knocked up on Illustrator) and we were done. I was hoping to see Mickael for lunch before I left, but he was busy with work.

At lunchtime, Geraldine returned and we ate together before I gathered my things together and headed for the bus station. Bye Geraldine! You’re the BEST! I had been told in no uncertain terms to be at the port of 3.30pm SHARP! The fact that I was only getting on the bus (17km away from the port) at 3.20pm told me I might not make that deadline. But it’s motorway pretty much all the way, so I’d only be 10 minutes late. Well, that’s if there was no traffic jam getting out of Saint-Denis (there was) and if the bus driver dropped me at the port (he didn’t).

The problem is this: the town NEAR the port is called (rather unhelpfully) “Le Port”. So when you ask if the bus is going to THE port or LE port it creates all kinds of hilarious linguistic confusion that wouldn’t seem out of place in a racist 1970s sitcom. Anyway, after I explained that I needed the harbour, the quayside, the dock, the place where the floaty boat things live, the driver told me I needed to get off *ici*. Okay. So I start walking. Now I was kind of expecting I might be walking in the searing heat for maybe five, ten minutes.

Nah, make that FORTY. He had dropped me three kilometres from where I needed to be. The Seven Years War was over 250 years ago France, for heaven’s sake, get over it!! 😉

And so it was 4.30pm by the time I got to the ferry, half jogging, hoping they wouldn’t tell me I was too late, meet me with that blank-faced ‘non’ that irritated the hell out of Mickael at the port last week. I shouldn’t have worried. There was still a massive queue. I didn’t check in for another half an hour.

Getting back onto the old Trochetia was a funny old feeling. I can’t quite believe it’s been THREE YEARS since I was last on the beast. And yet I instinctively knew where the canteen was, how to get out on deck and (most importantly) where the bar was.

Happy the Phoenix beer was just €1 a can. As we pulled out of port and circled around the north of the island, I went out onto the deck to watch the sun set in the warm evening air. I was happily updating my Twitter feed while texting sweet nothings to Casey when OH JESUS CHRIST DID I JUST SERIOUSLY JUST ACTUALLY SERIOUSLY DO THAT??

I checked my sent items. Oh bollocks. I had. I had just sent a private message intended for my girlfriend TO TWITTER. And my Twitter account is linked to this site, Facebook, Bebo, YouTube, MySpace, Digg, Google+, LinkedIn, Friends Reunited, b3ta, 4chan, Wikipedia, Reuters, BBC News, Cracked.com, MI5, the CIA, the FBI, The Matrix, Babylon 5, the Harlem Globetrotters and Wikileaks. My howls of anguish reverberated throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

This is when it pays to a) have a tech-savvy girlfriend b) trust her with your passwords.

Thanks Case! Won’t happen again!! *eek*

Once I’d been assured that all mention of the incident had been stricken from the record (thank goodness that the message was fairly innocuous) my body finally remembered that it hadn’t slept for a week and a half. I staggered to my shared cabin and heaved my carcass up into my bunk. Within 10 minutes I was fast asleep.

I awoke at 6am with a feeling we may have arrived in Mauritius. We had arrived in Mauritius. This met with a modicum of relief, since my ticket for some reason said Réunion > Tamatave. As Tamatave is in Madagascar that would have been a bad thing.

So then, Mauritius WE MEET AGAIN! One more Saturday night out eh? Well BRING IT ON!!

Mauritius is a great little island. I’ve been here twice before on The Odyssey Expedition. Funny place: it was completely uninhabited by humans until fairly recently, and then it was fought over by the noble British and the dastardly French (joking, just joking!) so it has a rather eclectic mix of ethnicities: Creole Africans, Indians, French and Britishers. Unlike Réunion, pretty much everybody here is at least bilingual, most being multilingual. Whereas the French selfishly hoard Réunion for themselves (when did you last see a tourist brochure for Réunion eh?), Mauritius is open to everyone. As I mentioned last time I was here, it’s the home of the dodo, the second most famous extinct bird in the world (after Amy Winehouse) and the most expensive postage stamp in the world.

Unlike Maldives (with which it is sometimes confused, along with Montserrat, Martinique and Mauritania), Mauritius is a volcanic island, so it has little to fear as a result of man-made global climate change, and unlike most of the 54 other countries that make up the African Union, it isn’t a complete basket-case.

(I must stress at this point that I am not admonishing Africans by saying that, I’m criticising the post-colonial system, the obscene presidential kleptocracies given carte blanche (and immunity from prosecution) by the bloated faceless harpies of the United Nations along with the systematic removal of all individual rights to not be imprisoned without trail, tortured, raped or slaughtered by your own government. I make no bones about it: the world would be a better place without the United Nations. I wrote at length about this matter last time I was in Africa. I will probably do so again.)

I had arranged to met with Arno, my CouchSurf host, at 11am. After a pleasant Danish and coffee at the Port Louis Waterfront (where I remembered from last time had free wi-fi), I was heading over to the old post office to meet him when I was stopped by a middle-aged Australian couple called John and Dawn who recognised me from the TV. We had a good chat about travelling the world and John showed me a map of all the places they had been. They gave even me a run for my money. Once you get them itchy feet though, it’s a hard habit to kick.

It was pouring down with rain by the time I reached Arno. I jumped in his car and off we went to his home in Grand Baie, a few miles north of Port Louis. Arno is originally from La Rochelle on the west coast of France and he works in shipbuilding, mostly design schematics for vessels under 100ft. We were welcomed into his home by his lovely Mauritian girlfriend, Emeline, and after getting stuff organised for the big departure tomorrow and a pow-wow with my old mucka Dino, the three of us headed out to Port Louis. I had an important photo to take.

After a bottle of Franziskaner beer from the lovely little Lambic bar and restaurant (situated in one of the few original colonial-era houses still standing in the city), we headed back to the scene of the crime. The Keg and Marlin.

One of the funniest parts of my TV show (aside from the silly title and the bits where I get thrown in jail) is during my stay in Mauritius the first time, three years ago. I won a stack of cash on the horses and then decided (in my infinite wisdom) to blow it all on booze. This seemed like a good idea at the time as I was fairly convinced that since it had taken me 10 months to reach 124 countries, it would only take another 8 or so to reach the last 76 (this was pre-South Sudan). HOW WRONG I WAS.

Anyway, there was a drinking competition at the Keg and Marlin pub on the Waterfront. Pretty straight forward: you had six weeks in which to drink 20 beers, each from a different country of the world. This ‘Drink Your Way Around The World’ challenge sounded pretty sweet to me, but unlike the locals, I only had one night in which to do it in. My ship back to Réunion left at 3pm the following afternoon.

I’ll start with a Guinness, Mr Barman…

(Video may not be available in the UK due to copywrong issues)

So it was time to go back and see if my name was proudly displayed on the wall. I looked, but I couldn’t find it. But then Arno spotted it, second column, right at the top (as requested!): GRAHAM HUGHES.

YEY ME!!!

HELL. YEAH!!!

Like!

I’ve not been this proud of my own achievements since I completed the Curry Hell challenge in the old Rupali restaurant in Newcastle. The hottest curry in the world and I hoovered it up like it was Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

 

Hey, did I ever mention I’ve met Quentin Tarantino?

And beat Joe Calzaghe in a fight???

ENOUGH, GRAHAM! Stick to the damn story!

Sorry ego demon. So then, a quick celebratory pint in the ol’ Keg and once again we were off, this time to a fancy beer restaurant what makes it’s own beer and everything. A couple of halves of the blonde stuff and I was in my element, chatting away nineteen to the dozen to Emeline About Mauritian history and politics. Ah, the best lessons are always learnt down the pub.

After that we headed back to Grand Baie for some Chinese food before retiring to bed at a reasonable hour. A grand day out, eh Gromit?

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!