I stepped off the Trochetia and into country 124 feeling marvelously, marvelous about this turn of events. Simply put, I couldn’t have done this any faster. Considering that I only left Tanzania on the 20th October – 11 days ago – and considering that I’ve taken four separate boat journeys as well as a two-day bus journey across Madagascar, things have gone surprisingly well.
Now I have to somehow – somehow – get back to Madagascar, step foot in The Seychelles, (over 1000km away) and then get back to Africa. I have my own plan of how I’m going to achieve these feats, but believe me, it ain’t gonna be easy and it is certainly going to take more than 11 days. It’s going to take me at least a week to get back to Madagascar, and that’s if I’m luckier than Lucky Jim wearing seven pairs of lucky undercrackers.
You see, the wonderful Trochetia does go back to Madagascar, but not until a week next Wednesday. I can take it back to Réunion tomorrow (which is what I plan to do) but after that I’m going to be fishing for a boat back to Madagascar for – who knows – maybe a week or so. If my experiences in Cape Verde and Gabon are anything to go by, the Trochetia may be the only choice.
But in the wonderful Odyssey tradition of just making it up as I go along, I chose not to fret – I try to achieve at least five impossible things before breakfast. So, Mauritius, what have you got for us?
I checked into a cheap little hotel in Chinatown, ate a hearty breakfast with the owner before striding out onto the streets for a walking tour of the city of Port Louis.
Now Mauritius is famous for two things – the dodo and stamps. Yes, stamps – the things you lick and stick in the corner of your envelope (remember them?). I’ll explain more later but right now, I’m taking in the cracking view from the top of Fort Adelaide.
Well, the view may be cracking, but the architecture down below certain isn’t. Mauritius, like countless other countries (including mine) thoughtfully demolished everything that had a murmur of style or class about it in the 1960s. Only churches were spared the wrecker’s ball on the grounds that somebody had sprinkled some magic water around the place (I’m not making this up, sweet alien interlopers). Oh hang on, they also saved the buildings that accommodate the people who made the decision to knock all the other stuff down. FUNNY THAT INNIT? Yes, well if there is one thing that we don’t need; another rant about architectural crapitude by yours truly here, but I suspect there is something of a deep regret amongst those of a certain age that they destroyed what they did not have the wit, intellect or style to better.
Anyway, Fort Adelaide, perched up on a bluff overlooking the good city of Port Louis, were people speak French, write English, eat Indian, look Afro-Chinese and drive on the left. My kind of town.
It’s a bloody steep hike up here, but when I entered this place fifteen minutes ago (caked in sweat), I honestly did a double take – this fort wasn’t just similar to the one I visited with Seppe and Patricia in Halifax, Nova Scotia last April – it WAS the fort I visited with Seppe and Patricia in Halifax, Nova Scotia last April. Only it wasn’t snowing. Otherwise, every archway, every turret, every stair was an exact match. Even the display cannons were in the same place – two to the right of you as you enter the edifice. I guess British forts were the first victims of franchisification.
I noticed the royal crown above the gateway bore the monogram ‘WR IV’ and concluded (in my head) that the fort must have been built sometime between 1830 and 1840. Imagine my smartie-pantic delight upon finding out it was built in 1835. I think that Queen Adelaide was William IV’s wife, but I’m not 100% sure. If I had web access right now, I’d check it on Wikipedia, but then again, if I had web access right now, I’d probably wouldn’t be writing this, I’d be surfing for naughty pictures of The Eleventh Doctor’s assistant instead.
Anyway, I’m off now, back down the hill to check out the racecourse that dominates the eastern end of the city (the second racecourse oldest in the world, I believe), the Natural History Museum (I fancy a dodo egg for lunch) and finally, the Blue Penny Museum, where we will learn more about Mauritius’ most precious artefacts.
I headed down to the racecourse only to discover that it was Saturday (you lose track on the road, you really do) and therefore, there were races on. I found this fact tremendously exciting due to the fact I have the brain of an eight-year old child. I keep it in a jar on the mantelpiece. So I paid my 150 Mauritian Rupees (three quid, women get in half price, but the guy on the ticket desk wouldn’t believe I was a South African sprinter) and headed over the course to place a bet on the first race.
Using an age-old strategy that has always let me down in the Grand National, I placed a bet on the favourite (to recoup my bet should he win) and picked another that was around 20-1. So I plumbed for Power of Poseidan (appropriate, given this is The Odyssey and therefore Poseidan is my silent nemesis; damn him and his fishy wives) and an outsider called Cut Em Up, which I think is great advice for a racehorse. NOT FOR BMWs, I hasten to add.
I retired to the stands to watch the spectacle – just once around the lap, but that’s all it took for Power of Poseidan to fail miserably, but for Cut Em Up to do just that and ROMP HOME FIRST!!
I haven’t been this excited since I came second in that beauty contest last time I played Monopoly.
I strode over the field to collect my winnings – nearly €100 worth. Oh. Hell. Yeah! My gut instinct was to run to the pub, but I had promised my blog that I’d check out the Museums, so I caught my breath and headed back across town, beaming like a teenager after his first eventful night.
I was, I have to admit, rather perplexed when I found The Natural History Museum was closed. On a Saturday? Are you guys on crack? That’s akin to closing a church ‘cos it’s Sunday. What else are you supposed to do with your Saturday afternoons? Museum, Art Gallery, Jazz Club, Opium Den, Orgy. That’s a recipe for a great Saturday, not tonking about with the hoodlums at the Bowling Alley.
Well, I guess that I have no extra wisdom to impart over the dodo, other than what I already know. The Dodo (Deadasus dodous) was only ever found on Mauritius. Noah saw fit to drop them off there on his way to dump all the marsupials who ever lived, off in Australia. With no natural predators, the Dodo found life on Mauritius sweet – no humans, no foxes, no Paris Hilton. Happy days.
Then humans turned up with their big clod-hoppers and wiped these weird looking flightless birds out. It took them over a millennium to manage this feat, and when they did… well, nobody much cared.
A few centuries later, the curator of the Natural History Museum in Oxford, England felt that his stuffed dodo specimen was looking a bit tatty, so he lashed it on a bonfire. It was only his quick-thinking assistant who saved what would prove to be the only preserved dodo in the world from the flames. Now even more dog-eared (and slightly scorched), it went back on display for the viewing pleasure of the hoi polloi, where one day it was spotted by that most delightful purveyor of Victorian child pornography, Charlie Dodgeson; aka Lewis Carroll.
By inserting the Dodo as a character in his Alice books, Carroll secured the dodo’s place in history as the most famous extinct animal in the world.
That’s all I know off the top of my head, if you want to know more, I suggest you pop in to the Port Louis Natural History Museum – on a weekday, obviously…while you’re in school.
I had more luck at the Blue Penny museum, although I did get a little taken away with the spectacular old maps on display and almost forgot what I came in here for. Now as any Philatelist worth his salt knows, one of the most valuable stamps in existence is The Mauritian Post Office Blue, quickly followed by the Post Office Red. These were two little iddy scraps of paper printed, apparently by mistake, in the 1840s. The rumour is that they were supposed to say “Postage Paid” down the side, but actually said “Post Office”. They were recalled and burnt, but not before the Governor’s wife posted off a load of invitations to a party with our little friends stuck to the envelopes. There’s now about 26 of these tiny monkeys in existence and as stamps are to Pokémon, it’s a little like catching a Mew. YES, THEY ARE THAT RARE. Most of these stamps have been postmarked, but there are possibly only five in the world that were never sent through the mail, and two of them – a one penny red and a two penny blue – were bought by a consortium of Mauritian businesses in 1993 for a staggering amount of money and put on display in this purpose-built museum (which, incidentally, cost substantially less to build than the stamps cost to buy).
These two tiny bits of paper are now possibly the most valuable things on the island and to protect their colour, they are only illuminated for a few minutes every hour, and then only one at a time. Impatient ginger boy here used his mobile phone light to see the buggers. I’ve got to say it wasn’t exactly a teardrop-on-the-face-of-eternity moment, but each to their own, I guess.
Now if it had been a Mew, it would have been a different story…
Now there was nothing to stop me following my heart’s desire and going the pub. Which is exactly what I did. There wasn’t much action in there, which was surprising for a Saturday night, so I thought I’d abuse the free wi-fi for an hour, whilst nursing a pint before heading off to Grand Baie which is were (I guessed) the action would be.
Ah yes, but that’s before my competitive spirit got the better of me (which happens) and I noticed the ‘Drink Your Way Around The World’ board at the end of the bar. Now, as that was one of the titles that I considered before settling on ‘The Odyssey’, and as the computer software the bar tills use was coincidently called Odyssey, I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound. What do I have to do to get my name engraved on the leaderboard?
You have to drink 20 beers from 20 different countries.
In one night?!
No – over six weeks.
But has anyone ever done it in one night?
No, of course not. That would be silly.
The challenge was set. Darwin, my fantastically monikered barman, started me off on the long road to destruction. Could it be done?
You bet your ass it could be done. If Marty McFly taught us all anything, it’s that if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything. Via Denmark, America, Ireland, Madagascar, Belgium and Mexico, I drank my way around the world, all the while chatting with my comrades back in the UK via the joys of Skype.
At midnight it was all over. The bar was closing, I downed the last of my 20 drinks and Oliver, my new barman, signed and dated my form. I’d done what could possibly be the crowning achievement of my life. I had physically made it all the way overland from Uruguay to Mauritius and then imbibed the liquid form of many of the countries I saw on the way. My name would be going up on the board.
I haven’t felt this accomplished since I managed to finish the hottest curry in the world at The Rupali Restaurant in Newcastle and shook hands with the late, great Lord Abdul Latif himself.
Now I only had one minor problem. I was drunk as a skunk in an unfamiliar city, clutching a bag that contained my laptop and my camcorder. Any sensibly-minded type would retire to his hotel, job well done, and fall into a deep intoxicated slumber. But where did being sensible get me?
I headed off to Grand Baie anyway.
And that’s the last thing I remember.
Urgh. What a stupid idea THAT was. I woke up at 3pm, realising instantly that at 3pm, I’m supposed to be on board the Trochetia for the trip back to Réunion. I rubbed my eyes and headed for the shower, for the first time in my life thankful that it was cold. My body was just as surprised as I was that I was a) still alive and b) in the correct room of the correct hotel. Seriously. A few years ago, my mate Dan Martin and I were as drunk as lords in Morocco and not only did we wake up the next day in the wrong room, we also soon realised that we had waltzed into the wrong hotel. Night staff never see you check-in, do they? Little tip for you there, if you’ve got the guts.
So after saying my fond farewells to the owner of the guesthouse, I made my way through the (merciful, refreshing) rain and grabbed a taxi that was being driven by a rather over-enthusiastic taxi-driver. He talked and talked, but all I could do was grunt and hope he didn’t take the corners too fast. I got to the boat and discovered that the Bureau de Change was closed (it being Sunday) which meant there was absolutely no way of translating yesterday’s winnings back into real money, such as Euros.
Cursing the system, I boarded the old Troch, hopefully for the last time. I managed to survive until about 9pm before I realised that I wouldn’t be getting any sleep if I didn’t relieve my body of at least some of the junk my liver was struggling to process. So I calmly walked to the communal toilet and did the best impression of the little girl from The Exorcist you have ever seen. My head then rotated 360 degrees and I did a weird backwards spider walk to my cabin, hissing at anyone who came near. I slept the sleep of the angels.
So by a bizarre set of coincidences, I find myself back in Mauritius. That’s okay – the last time that I came here, I actually left with a profit. This time, my one true desire was to get to the natural history museum. I just had a few errands to run first – I needed to post something to Dino, Fed-Ex a stack of tapes back to Lonely Planet and unblock my internet and phone banking – something I’ve been trying to do for six months now.
Er, no. Okay, so posting that thing to Dino was easy but then after that, ygads! I went to the HSBC (there aren’t any in Africa – I guess ‘The World’s Local Bank (unless you happen to be African)’ doesn’t have the same ring to it) and I found myself hanging on the telephone listening to that crappy HSBC music that hasn’t been changed for over ten years ALL AFTERNOON. After speaking to a row of useless muppets, I finally managed to get through to my local branch in Liverpool and explain the situation. No, I won’t be POPPING into a UK branch of HSBC any time soon, my dear. They told me to phone the fraud ‘hot’ line (not hot enough to make them pick up the damn phone within twenty minutes though, eh?), which I did, and they told me it wasn’t their department and to try the number that I had already tried to start with.
After three hours of this, I was just about ready to throw the phone on the floor and jump up and down on it like Yosemite Sam. I eventually got through to a girl named Tanya and proceeded to tell her EXACTLY what was going to happen. I was going to hand the phone over to the nice lady in the bank (which by this stage had been closed for half an hour) and Tanya was going to give her a fax number to fax a copy of my passport to prove I am who I say I am and so therefore unblock my *&%£$! account BEFORE I get back to Africa.
Tanya agreed this was a good idea, even though it possibly wasn’t on the “here’s what to say to the scum” cards sitting in front of her. After they scanned my passport, I legged it out of the bank towards the Fed-Ex office.
Now, when I ask for the address of Fed-Ex, I don’t want to go to the head office. That would be a bit like really wanting a McFlurry and ending up on the 104th floor of McDonald HQ. The lady at reception suggested that I try the post office, which I did, only to find they had stopped taking Fed-Ex parcels SEVEN MINUTES EARLIER.
That’s when I took out the rocket launcher and blew up the road.
Or at least wanted to. I raced over to the waterfront, bumping into Darwin, my friendly barman from the ‘Drink Your Way Around The World’ pub, on the way. I told him I’d pop in for a drink as soon as I sorted this rubbish out. Apparently, there was a Fed-Ex office somewhere in the (rather distasteful) waterfront mall. After asking a bunch of people who had no clue about this fabled Fed-Ex office, I decided it might be a good idea to ask at the Information desk. When the lady smiled and told me that the information desk was also a Fed-Ex collection point, I could have kissed her. I popped the tapes in a box and fired them off to Oz.
It was now past five. I had missed the museum again! Cursing the world and everyone in it, I headed to the ‘Keg and Marlin’ for a swift half. My name wasn’t up on the board yet, but Darwin assured me it would be going up next month. Better bloody had do, or I’ll raise merry hell! A prize to the first Odyssey fan to send me a piccy of it.
By now, there was nowt left to do save head back to the port and clamber back aboard the good old DAL Madagascar. The way I figure it, HSBC owes me a trip to the Mauritian Natural History Museum.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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!