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.
The Trochetia is great. It makes me sick every time that I think of the Shissiwani II costing me a comparable sum of money for three nights of hell, sleeping on the floor of a greasy mess of a ship. Best not to think about then eh?
Today we got to Réunion – a French island, which was sensible enough not to plumb for independence doing the great independence binge of the latter twentieth century. Don’t think that I’m a big imperialist by saying that, it’s just that some countries are simply too small and under-resourced to be tenable as independent states – Cape Verde and Sao Tome to name but two. I would also care to suggest that if anybody would like to visit Martinique in the Caribbean swiftly followed by Dominica or St. Kitts then the US Virgin Islands they would possibly agree with me – the vast expense of setting up your own police force, army, navy, air force, postal service, embassies, legislature, executive and judiciary doesn’t seem worth it to me. Let somebody else worry about that stuff while you work on your tan.
Reunion is a full-on French department, which means that it’s unique in this entire region in terms of health provision, benefits, pensions and the like. In short, people in Reunion don’t die unnecessarily of preventable diseases. So what would you prefer: dependence or death?
As a graduate of history and politics, I’d go for dependence every time. Everything else is just political hyperbole and broken promises.
After sorting out my ticket for the next leg of the journey on the Trochetia (Réunion to Mauritius and back), I arranged to meet up with Mickael, the wonderful chap who I would be staying with next week when I get back here. The Trochetia was due to depart at 3pm, so we had time for a spot of lunch in the rather sweet ‘capital’ city of St. Denis. Mickael is a web designer who works in advertising and seems to have a rather sweet job – the kind of job you can get away with sporting long hair, a beard and trainers – like mine!
Originally from France, he got to Reunion three years ago, liked it and stayed. I can see why. The island is beautiful (if a little overcrowded) and it’s got one of the ‘safest’ active volcanoes in the world – if a volcano can ever be regarded as safe. He treated me to lunch in a restaurant that was so fancy, I couldn’t even pronounce the name. I had duck with foie gras and I could almost forgive that twerp Chirac for having a pop at British cooking. It was good to say the least.
I thanked him profusely and we arranged to meet upon my return next Monday. If I was going to be stuck here waiting for the week, at least I knew I had some decent company to spend it with.
Finally free of the good ship Trochetia (at least for a while) I made my way from La Port to St. Denis and caught the number 6 bus towards Mickael’s place. He picked me up from the bus stop on his little scooter and took me to his house – a nice rambling student-esque digs. He had to go to work so he left me in the sparkling company of Matilde, a rather fetching French girl of the type that actually makes you want to bother to learn French. She’s over here on holiday for a couple of weeks visiting Anne-Sophie, one of Mickael’s flatmates. I was even prepared to put up with her practising on the violin, whilst I stuffed the washing machine with my laundry (including my hat which was now smelling so bad that if you wore it, your face would melt like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark) and took a deep, relieved breath – it had been too long.
Meanwhile, back in Blighty…
TEAM ODYSSEY was rising from their slumbers ready to fight another day. After Cape Verde and Sao Tome, failure was no longer an option. If Dino Deasha and Lorna Brookes couldn’t suss out some way to get me back to Madagascar within the week, then I’d have to slap them on the back of the legs with a ruler. But they had a secret weapon – a magnificent friend of Lorna’s called Thierry KlinKlin. A francophone, it was his job to sweet-talk the angels at CMA-CGM, the French shipping group (and one of the biggest in the world) into allowing a dishevelled scouse traveller hitch a ride on one of their ships.
The world holds its breath…
Meanwhile, back in Réunion…
Mickael returned to the house for lunch and decided to take the afternoon off work and go for a trip to the local waterfall with Anne-Sophie and Matilde. Since I’m physically incapable of saying no, I came along and soon we were high up in the mountains of Réunion enjoying the cool clear waters of the whachamacallit river. Ahh, I said in a recent tweet that I felt like I was on holiday for the first time in ages, and I most certainly do.
Soon we were back at Mickael’s. I emptied the washing machine to find my hat had been well and truly pulverised – the platted band around the upper had somehow unplatted itself and the rest of the hat was a rather sorry soggy mess. And it had shank! I stuck it on the line to dry. I’d deal with it tomorrow.
Then it was time for what began as a dinner party and ended up as a mad French house party (a maison boom?), spread out over two houses (Mickael’s and his brilliantly insane next-door neighbours) involving a bar(?), boules and babes and lashings of rum – we are, after all on a tropical island. Had a cracking time with Pierre, Anais, Lucy, Tony and the gang – they couldn’t have made me feel more welcome if they tried.
You know, I’m beginning to really dig this place.
TEAM ODYSSEY has a tentative lead – a cargo ship – the DAL Madagascar leaves here on Thursday, perhaps bound for Madagascar. This is of course great news, but with it came the panic that I need to get a visa for Madagascar – perhaps. To be honest, I really don’t know if I actually need to get a visa before I show up, but after Cape Verde, I now like to err on the side of caution.
Mickael accidentally took the door key with him to work so I was trapped in the house until lunchtime. Matilde and I fixed my hat up as best we could, and after a bit of stretching, platting and superglue’ing it was (almost) as good as new. Afterwards, Matilde left to go hiking with the lads from next door and it wasn’t until Mickael got back on his lunch break at 12.30pm that I learned that the Madagascan embassy closed at 1pm.
Mickael ordered me a cab and I hurtled over there. The embassy knocked my application back, saying I need to supply them with proof that I’m going to Madagascar (shurely shum mishtake?) so I would have to return the next day – but doesn’t it take 48hrs to process a visa? Don’t worry, we’ll do it in 24hrs for you.
Fair enough. Now what? Do I buy a ticket for the Trochetia for next week, get the visa and then get a refund? Hmm. Questions, questions, questions. I hot-footed it back over to Mickael’s and hit the net.
After a conflab with TEAM ODYSSEY, I realised that I might be able to get the proof I needed from the shipping agency responsible for the DAL Madagascar tomorrow morning. That made tomorrow a DAY OF ACTION! Lots to do!
Mickael had a hot date tonight, so I had a night in with his housemates Pierre, Anne-Sophie, Anais and Lucy. Being proper French, it mostly revolved around eating, which received no complaint from moi.
My poor old Vans. Used, abused, stuck to my feet for over 300 days of constant toil and hardship and now imbued with a smell that could only be described as unholy, it was high time to chuck them away and find a new pair. But first I had a job to do. The illustrious Lucy dropped me off at the bus station first thing in the morning and within a few minutes, I was on my way back over to La Port. Upon arrival, I realised that I had no map in order to find the shipping agency, so I breezed into the library and memorised the one they had stuck to the front desk. Thanks, Derren.
At the agency, I met Audrey, a delightful Anglo-French girl who would be the solution to all my woes. Yes indeed, there is a ship called the DAL Madagascar, it’s in port today and it’s going to Madagascar, but it’s going to Mauritius first. A trip back to Mauritius? Fair enough. When does it leave?
Today at 1600.
Audrey kindly copied out the email correspondence between TEAM ODYSSEY (Lorna, Dino and Thierry) and CMA-CGM, DAL and the shipping agency and I ran out of the door as quickly as I could. Would it be possible to get a visa today? I got to the roundabout where the bus stopped on the way back to St. Denis, 20km away – there was a bus! I ran as fast as I could but the rotter didn’t stop no matter how much I shouted and whistled. What’s with bus drivers? Are they making up for something?
It was hot as hell and I did not find the twenty-minute wait for the next bus very amusing. Nor did I find the traffic jam on the approach to St Denis tickling my funny bones. By the time that I got to the Madagascan embassy, it was already past twelve. I explained the situation to the lady on the front desk, but she didn’t really get what I was blithering about. Luckily for me, the Consul himself was in attendance – and he spoke English. Apparently, it wasn’t utterly necessary for me to get an advance visa for a single trip of less than 30 days – I could get one upon arrival, but since I was here…
Oh, and best of all – it was free! I love Madagascar!!
Within five minutes, I was skipping out the front door, my passport now furnished with a stonking great Madagascan visa. I hopped on the next bus that looked like it was heading towards town (my shoddy GSCE French did manage to teach me something – That the Hotel de Ville wasn’t actually a hotel). As I was walking across town to get the bus back to Mickael’s gaff to pick up my kit, my phone buzzed. It was Audrey from the shipping agents. The DAL Madagascar would not be leaving until tomorrow. I leapt in the air and did a whoop, spun on a sixpence and headed back towards the city centre. Mission: New Shoes.
But first… Ice Cream. Bounty and Melon from Le Castel Glacier. Mmm….
Now. Shoes. Found a pair. Normally (being the penniless tramp that I am) I buy one pair of shoes every couple of years for twenty quid from Cheshire Oaks Outlet Village. So to pay €80 for a pair of clod-hoppers is a little out of my league. This is where the ancient skill of the haggle comes into play. I got ‘em for fifty. Twice what I normally would pay, but still I managed a whopping discount so at least my wallet was (almost) as happy as my feet.
That night at Mickael’s, Matilde and the boys from next door got back from their hike and so (typically) we all enjoyed a great big feast sitting around the table on the back porch. Afterwards, we all headed out to the hilariously named MacEvan’s Bar for a farewell beer. It’s been a great few days here in Ré, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back.
Upon our return, the time had come for the cremation. Yes, it was time to say bon voyage to my old shoes, and what better way to do it than a good old-fashioned funeral pyre? It’s what they would have wanted. I considered a burial at sea, but the resultant environmental damage would have made even Sarah Palin weep.
So I placed the shoes on the little fireplace in the middle of the garden, covered them in lighter fluid and, with a tear in my eye, set fire to the little buggers. I whistled Darth Vader’s funeral theme as X-Wings set off fireworks in the sky. Afterwards, I danced the night away in these massive trees with some Ewoks.
The guys from next door came over for a farewell breakfast, which kind of spilled over to a farewell elevenses and then a farewell lunch. In fact, before I left, Mickael had come back from work already. So we posed for some hilarious photos in the back garden before Pierre drove me down to the bus station. What a brilliant, brilliant bunch. You know, if there is one thing I’ve learned this year is that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, people are great. And although it’s the nasty ones that have a tendency to stick in your mind, they’re outnumbered by the good’uns 100 to 1. I’m telling you.
Had a bit of a drama getting to the port – first, I had to wait an age for the next bus, then there was the (typical) traffic jam followed by the massive hike from Le Port to the port itself – and then I went to the wrong gate. Considering the port is about the same size as Glastonbury going to the wrong gate is a little like going to the wrong town. With all my bags, I had no hope of making it for 2pm – the deadline had already passed by fifteen minutes. Thankfully, the Capitanere took pity on me and got the shipping agent to come and pick me up.
Captain Jens-Uwe welcomed me on-board and after a quick panic about the Letter of Indemnity, I was shown my cabin (nice!) and I settled in for the night.
I had made it. I was on my way to Madagascar. But first – we had to drop in on an old friend.
THANK YOU TEAM ODYSSEY!! Thierry, Lorna, Dino – take a bow. It looks like you’re off the hook for a while. Mand and I will take it from here, cheers.
I knew it. I knew it was unwise to mock Neptune, that most capricious of Olympian Gods. Odysseus’s punishment for a perceived slight is what caused him to take 10 years to get back to his Penelope. All I had to do was to get off the Costa neoRomantica in Diego Suarez, Madagascar and I would almost definitely be in South Sudan in November and home for Christmas.
But then I had to be funny, didn’t I? Had to dress up like Neptune, yeah? Pose with his trident, play Gods and Monsters. You smart-assed sceptic, MONKEY MAN WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE!!!
Neptune, Poseidon-self with anger (see what I did there?), did what he always does when he’s pissed and sent an unseasonable storm our way. The ship pitched and rocked and after the Costa Concordia disaster, you can understand the captain’s decision not to risk taking a high-sided ship in high winds into the Madagascan port of Diego Suarez.
Yep you read that right: THE SHIP DID *NOT* STOP IN MADAGASCAR!!
Oh Neptune, will this grim fandango of ours never end? The horrible truth is this: in the first year of The Odyssey Expedition, I visited 133 countries. By the end of the second year of The Odyssey Expedition, I had been to 184 countries. In the last TWO YEARS I have been to (wait for it, wait for it…) 16 new countries. SIXTEEN!! Battling King Neptune, shipping schedules and Somali pirates every step of the way. Of course I’ve been to many more countries than that (most of SE Asia and India in fact), but only virgin soil counts towards the goal.
And so I found myself heading to the French island of Réunion, a place I had already been to TWICE on this journey… and it’s not even a country!!!
Darn and blast. A few hurried text messages to Mandy (who’s still helping me out behind the scenes cos she’s the best) and she had organised for me to stay with Michael Obrenovich, the French graphic designer and artist that I stayed with here EXACTLY THREE YEARS AGO TO THE GODDAMN DAY.
If you had told me three years ago that I would be here, in Réunion, and have STILL not finished my quest I would have laughed you out of the pub. But, dear reader, here I am! Réunion!!
My thanks goes out to all the people at Rooster PR and Costa Cruise that made this trip possible. A huge shout out to Steve and Amy, Ramone and Kelly, John, the Welsh massive, Josie the hostess with the mostess and everybody else who went out of their way to make the journey a happy and pleasant one.
You’ll be glad to hear my team won the grand trivia competition (by a golden mile) despite one of the questions being ‘which film won the most Oscars in 1975?’ and me answering CORRECTLY “The Godfather: Part II” and them saying “no, it was Star Wars“.
Now, there are two things YOU *DO NOT*ARGUE WITH ME about.
One is geography. Seriously, don’t go there, I will wipe the floor with you.
The WTF? factor was ramped up to overload when you consider the following: Star Wars *did* win 6 Oscars (the most that year)… in 1978. You know, since in 1975 THEY HADN’T EVEN STARTED FILMING THE DAMN THING!!!
*Tears hair out*
Let it go, Graham, you won anyway. Let it go…….
The ship got to Le Port in Réunion on the Monday morning. It was a grey and overcast day, which is sad for the people on the ship, because the following days it was blue skies like you would not believe. Off the ship I met an Irish girl called Chloe who was volunteering with a group encouraging tourism in Réunion. One of the things you need to know about Réunion is that when I say it’s a French Island, I mean *IT’S A FRENCH ISLAND*. I’d wager that out of the 839,500 people who live here, Chloe and I might just be the only native English speakers. Time to brush up my bon mots, methinks!
That afternoon I headed to the main town of Saint-Denis, found the Saint Hubert pub (which I remembered from last time had free why-fhy (or ‘weefee’ as the French adorably say)) and set about trying to organise my way off this rock. In the evening as the good ship Costa neoRomantica pulled out of port I met with Michael and headed off to his gaff for a good old-fashioned reunion in Réunion.
Nice! Now, where did I put those shipping timetables…?
Don’t get me wrong, I really love Réunion – it’s fun, the weather is like perpetual spring, the food is great and my French has improved in the last week beyond measure. And I’m doing quite well, all things considered, you know, 200 countries visited, just one to go, I get to live out my Manny Calavera fantasies and say I’ve been on a four-year journey of the soul (the joke being that I’m ginger and therefore have no soul) and one way or another I should be home in a couple of months.
But every silver lining has a cloud, and what with Neptune blocking my passage to the island of Madagascar and depositing me on the French Island of Réunion like some latter-day Papillon, I’ve got to figure a cunning way out of this fix. To the instant rescue comes splendid shipping company PIL, who have a ship leaving from Madagascar for Mozambique at the end of the month. Perfect. Only one problem. To enter Mozambique at the port, I need a visa. There is no Mozambique embassy in Madagascar, so my mum and my top mate Lindsey got on the case, procured me a Mozzy visa in London, had it slapped into my second passport and then sent the whole kit and caboodle via DHL for me to pick up this week in Antananarivo, the unpronounceable capital city of Madagascar.
Now obviously I’m not in Madagascar, but that’s no biggie, as I’ve got plenty of time to hop the Trochetia ferryboat over there sometime in the next few weeks. What would be a biggie is if, I dunno… DHL misplaced my passport…?
You’ve got to be kidding me, right?
Nope. That is exactly what happened. Frantic emails went back and forth to no avail. I was surprisingly zen-like about the whole affair, considering this not only meant there would be no way (short of a miracle) that I’d make it back to the UK for Christmas, but also I might have lost a critical piece of evidence that I’ve done what I claim to have done. My mum – bless her – had to deal with the mess over in the UK. Not the best of timing as my dad was due to go in for his rescheduled heart operation on the Thursday.
When Thursday came around, we were obviously on tenterhooks about my dad’s op. I had relocated from Michael’s place near Saint-Denis to CouchSurf with Lucie, Jean-Baptist and Luc in a lovely old place up the hill from St Paul. For lunch, Michael took me to see his friends and we ate lasagne and salad and drank champagne. Réunion being part of France and Thursday being a national holiday (for All Saints Day), our lunch lasted a good few hours, after which Michael and I headed to the port. The plan was this: with my passport stuck in limbo and the PIL ship not getting to Madagascar until Nov 24, I figured I’d head over to the nearby island of Mauritius to look for a ship – perhaps run by CMA-CGM or Maersk – that would be running to Durban in South Africa, thereby circumventing the need to possess a Mozambique visa in order to make landfall in Africa. This would also mean I could tear up to South Sudan through Zimbabwe and Zambia: two places I didn’t really get the chance to explore when I checked them off The Odyssey Expedition list.
Only one problem: the ferry – although in port – wasn’t selling tickets because it was a holiday. It’s not like it was full or anything, but despite Michael’s incredulity at the situation, they said I couldn’t buy a ticket online, pay with a credit card (or a cheque) and I couldn’t even purchase the ticket once we reached Mauritius. Un-be-lievable. So it was back to good ol’ Lucie’s gaff with my tail between my legs asking if I could stay a few more nights. Lucie, being awesome, said it would be okay and I set about on my next challenge: devising a detailed budget plan for my next project as my producer friend in the UK was having a pitch meeting for it with a rather famous TV channel the next day. Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, my dad’s triple heart-bypass was going well and he was out of surgery that afternoon.
Friday was spent frantically finishing off my pitches (why just the one? Oh, yeah… monkey tennis… thanks a bunch, Partridge) and then waiting for the response. Don’t get your hopes up, because let’s face it, these TV stations are practically drowning in talented, committed, articulate, amusing, intelligent, energetic, confident people who can write, direct, film, edit and present and have visited every country in the world without flying. Oh, and that are willing to work for free, obviously. The inevitable ‘thanks, but no thanks’ was, well, inevitable, although when told of my current expedition they said ‘Really? Now THAT would make a great TV show!’. Yes, yes it would
Crushed. On the wrong island in the wrong hemisphere, my passport lost to the vagaries of an international courier network, my best chance of having a job next year cast to the wandering rocks, my chances of getting home for Christmas slowly ebbing away and then I find out that Ethiopia is no longer issuing visas to tourists in Nairobi, or anywhere else for that matter: you have to now get it in your home country.
But, you know, I just don’t care anymore. I’ve grown so accustomed to things going tits-up on this journey that I’ve ceased to be either amused or upset by them. I just hope my sudden run of bad luck doesn’t rub off onto Barack Obama next week… he’s up for re-election and the alternative, holy crap, it doesn’t bear thinking about…
Rubbing eyes, blinking, stumbling into the light the week began. What the hell am I going to do now? With no second passport, my passage to the African Mainland looked bleak. I could, if I really wanted to, try and get back to the mainland on those crappy African trampers via Madagascar and Comoros. But last time I tried that it was DECEMBER 17 when I finally made it back to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. Bear in mind it is *EXACTLY* three years ago since I was last here. I want, no, I *need* to be back home for Christmas. There’s just too much at stake.
But there is a Plan C. Don’t worry, wily old Odysseus here never goes anywhere without an entire alphabet worth of plans. Maersk, the Danish shipping company – and the largest in the world – have a shipping line that runs from Mauritius to South Africa once a week. What’s more, if I can get on next Sunday’s (the 11st) ship, I could be back in Aff on the following Wednesday. Unlike the basketcases, South Africa requires no visa bullshit to enter the country, so I don’t have to worry about all that crap: although it means that my visas for both Madagascar and Mozambique were a HUGE waste of time and money (sorry mum, sorry Lindsey!).
I had sent emails out to all and sundry, stuff along the lines of “C’mon pleeeeeease, it’s the last bit of the journey!”, but as yet had no response.
I went to sleep on Monday night feeling like the world was pressing down on my shoulders, making my head spin and my fingers numb. Hundreds of ships go to Africa from here. Hundreds! And it’s not in the pirate zone… why is this proving so difficult? AND WHY DID DHL HAVE TO LOSE MY BLEEDIN’ PASSPORT??!
I was woken at half-midnight by my Mum calling on Skype. DHL had found the passport. It was in Madagascar. It just hadn’t been scanned upon arrival.
A million times over, PHEW.
My mum sounded frazzled. My dad was recuperating well after his triple heart bypass and would hopefully be sent home the next day. The ability of the human body to repair itself is nothing short of stunning and I’m very glad to have inherited my father’s hardly-ever-get-ill genes. His don’t-really-get-hangovers genes I probably could have done without (as my beer belly can no doubt attest).
SPEAKING of beer-bellies, can I just point out that the whole concept of beer swelling your gizzards is utter hogwash. And I can prove it. Since I returned to Sri Lanka I’ve been making a concerted effort to just drink beer (no cola) and avoid eating anything whenever possible (and not too uncomfortable). I call it the Graham Hughes Beer Diet. And it works. Lost half a stone in a month, that’s 7 pounds or just over 3 kilos. Easy. Don’t know what everyone’s moaning about. Well, it was either this, the heroin diet or the anaemic dysentery diet. If there’s a cheat code for life, then I’m all over it like white on rice.
Muttering something about having to climb a mountain the next day, I said goodbye to my mum and fell back asleep.
My insanely accurate internal alarm clock woke me up at 4am. The day before I had agreed to accompany the French girls up La Grand Bernare, a volcanic ridge that rises to the second highest point in Réunion, a good 2900 metres above sea level. They wanted to be at the top before the afternoon clouds rolled in, which would mean setting off at 5am as it takes an hour to drive to base camp and it’s a good four hours to reach the summit. Réunion is a very large little island.
The four French girls, sensibly, wore hiking boots. I, on the other hand, don’t own any hiking boots. As a matter of fact, I don’t own any shoes whatsoever aside from my trainers that wouldn’t look out of place being sprayed with disinfectant at the local bowling alley. Not great for climbing mountains. We arrived at Maido, the beginning of the trail, just before 6am. The girls hardly spoke a word of English, so I had no idea what I was in for. To be honest, with the proper equipment, it would have been nothing more than a slightly strenuous stroll, but when the path is made up entire of random jaggedly rocks which helpfully cut holes in the soles of your shoes, and every time you stub your toe it feels like you might as well not be wearing shoes at all, it soon becomes a living hell. But, you know, in for a penny in for a pound and in the end I reached the summit… about half an hour after the infernal clouds had rolled in, thus making my triumph summitting summit of a damp squib. Oh well, at least I got a photo at the top.
The path back down was nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment as my shoes (patched up in Sri Lanka) fell apart at the seams on the stony ground, but I refused to give up (a fitting allegory for this entire expedition eh?). By 1.30pm, Anlou and I were back down at the car and I was downing my first can of coke in two months like a (fat) man possessed. The five of us then went to a café for some lunch before returning to Lucie’s gaff. One of the nice things about being time shifted forwards by 4 hours is that your afternoon is everybody else’s morning. I texted my cousin Christian in Denmark to ask if he could give Maersk a call and find out if they got last week’s email. Turns out the guy I wrote to is no longer there. So the email got forwarded to Michael Storsgaard, who has always been very helpful towards The Odyssey Expedition in the past.
That night was the night of the US Election. Under normal operating conditions, I would be watching it with my friend Jonny Reynolds, with whom I watched the 2000, 2004 and 2008 vote. Jonny and I ran for Student Union positions together back in the day, and he’s now the MP for Stalybridge. I once told an American that I have stayed up to watch every Presidential Election since 1992. He asked me, in all earnestness, why I was so interested in who wins the Presidency of the United States. This is one of those things that a good proportion of Americans, bless their cotton socks, just do NOT understand. They can whinge and whine about their massive farming subsidies, having to, you know, pay tax, being given free health care AGAINST THEIR WILL, not being able to keep slaves anymore… but that’s all domestic. When we talk international politics, who leads the United States is of critical and almost mind-blowing importance. Thanks to the economic policies of that gobshite Bush, THE WORLD IS IN RECESSION. Tens of millions of people all over the developed world are now unemployed. Thanks to his foreign policy of ‘invade first, ask questions later’, The Middle East has become even more destabilised than it already was and HUNDREDS of British troops are now six feet under after giving their lives fighting two unpopular and unwinnable wars.
So, yeah, I watch the US Presidential election, because it affects me, you and everyone we know. If Romney wins, he wants to make abortion ILLEGAL and he wants to repeal the regulations put in place to stop the banks, financial institutions and Wall Street behaving like unrestricted coke-hoovering clowns that have proved adept at trashing the economies of entire continents. Romney wants to stop the poor and needy getting the free health care provided by Obama’s health reforms (how VERY Christian of him) and wants to invade Iran at the first opportunity. Unless you’ve had your head in a bucket of cowshit for the last fifty years, NONE OF THESE ARE GOOD THINGS. In fact, they are all the opposite of good, they are all quite blatantly evil. Bleedin’ Christers. I guess you actually have to believe in the devil in order to work for him eh?
So there’s me, on my Billy Lonesome in Lucie’s lounge watching the rolling coverage of the election on the BBC website (Frenchies don’t really go in for what’s going on in the outside world). I knew I wouldn’t hear the final result until 8am, but that’s okay, it’s not like I had climbed a mountain earlier in the day. I was accompanied for a while by Casey via the wonder that is Skype, but even she flaked out by about 2am her time. So that just left me and my twitter account. But hey, you do whatcha gotta do, right?
Anyway, to cut a long story short, OBAMA WON!!!
Which is super, great, magnificent, awesome and, well, THANK —- FOR THAT!!
I’m sure I heard a collective sigh of relief from around the world at 4am GMT when the Ohio result came in and World War III was narrowly averted.
Well, at least the invasion of Iran. For now.
So, four more years of the best president America has pretty much ever had. He was handed a poison chalice from his bunkum numbskull of a predecessor, but damn did he drink it down never losing eye contact, wipe his chin, burp and scream “IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?!!!!!!” while imitating the facial expression of Samuel L Jackson doing the Haka.
GOOD ON YA, BARACK!!!
In many ways, Thursday was (yet another) D-Day for this phase of The Odyssey Expedition. I had a choice to make: I could stick here on Réunion and wait for the PIL ship, but that would mean once I got to Madagascar racing to Antananarivo and back (at least a 15 hour round trip) to pick up my passport with the visa in it for Mozambique. There would be a chance I wouldn’t make it there and back before the ship left port and in any case, it would also mean there would be no chance of getting back to the UK for Christmas. Or I could twist: take the Trochetia ferry tomorrow over to Mauritius and hope that Maersk come through for me.
But going to Mauritius would be a big risk. Not only would it mean spending a fortune on the Trochetia (it’s €124 one way), it could also mean being stranded there UNTIL DECEMBER. Yes – the Trochetia is scheduled to go in for repairs next week and won’t be running to back to Réunion or Madagascar again until next month. So, what to do? Well, it’s like a card trick: you just have to stack everything correctly for all eventualities.
There would be no point in moping around La Maison all day, so I joined Luc and Anlor for a daytrip to Réunion’s famous lava flows.
Piton de la Fournais (literally ‘Peak of the Furance’) is an unruly and angry volcano that blows its stack more often than Mel Gibson on gin and meth amphetamine. It’s one of the most active volcanoes in the world, along with Etna in Sicily, Erebus in Antarctica and Kīlauea in Hawaii. It erupted in August 2006 (and continued to erupt until January 2007) and again in February 2007, and again on 21 September 2008 and AGAIN on 9 December 2010. Luckily for the Réunionnaise, the volcano usually spews its molten hot mag-ma (to be said like Dr. Evil, always) directly into the sea. Okay, so once a year the N2 road up the east coast gets thousands of tons of hot melty rock deposited on top of it, but look on the bright side, when the lava trails cool down, they become a huge tourist attraction.
Oh, and it can take MONTHS for the lava to cool down.
In the afternoon, Luc and Anlor went for a swim in a natural rock pool on the south coast while I devoured a tasty tuna baguette whilst frantically texted my cousin Christian in Denmark, Mickael here in Réunion and my CS host for the night, Geraldine. It wasn’t until later I realised that while Christian, my mum and Casey were getting my texts loud and clear, they were not coming through to anyone in Réunion. Borrowing Luc’s phone, I managed to get in touch with Mickael to find out the SP on the Trochetia. My heart sank as he told me that last week when they wouldn’t let me buy a ticket wasn’t just because it was a public holiday on November 1. It was also because THEY DON’T SELL TICKETS ON THE DAY FOR THE FERRY TO MAURITIUS, EVER. You always have to buy at least a day before.
If Maersk say no, I’ve just wasted €124 that I simply don’t have. If they say yes, but not until after 5pm our time today, I’ve missed my chance.
Mickael to the rescue!! He managed to *reserve* me a ticket, at no cost, so long as I paid for it before 10am the next day. Then Christian got back to me saying that Maersk were ‘confident’ that there should be no problems with me getting on the ship from Mauritius to South Africa on Sunday. Okay, don’t lose it Graham – you’ve been here before – just… relax.
Luc, Anlor and I returned to Saint Paul at about 6pm and we waited at the café opposite the city’s Multiplex Cinema for Geraldine to arrive. Why? Oh because Geraldine, being the awesome CS host that she no doubt is, had a spare ticket to the Réunion Film Festival that was taking place that night and had invited me along. Must have known I was a cinefile! Geraldine also speaks incredibly good English, which I have to say is a rarity on the island. Probably because she’s not French, she’s Belgian. After saying farewell to Luc and Anlor, I attempted to straighten my shirt (the equivalent of putting the cushions back on the what’s left of the couch after the tornado has hit) and Geraldine and I set off down the red carpet.
There were two movies, the first – Marriage in Mendoza – was a great little roadtrip movie about two French guys driving across Argentina for a wedding. As it was in French, Spanish and a little English I found it easy to follow with my spattering of knowledge of those three languages. As the credits started rolling, my phone, set to silent, vibrated in my pocket.
It was Christian.
“Yehaa! It’s a big 10-4 as in GO! from the good guys at Maersk.”
I leapt up, punched the air and whooped like I’d won the pools. THIS GINGER TRAVELLING MONKEY IS COMING HOME!! As icing on the cake, in the intermission between the films there was free champagne, beer and vol-au-vents. Oh what measure of bliss is this!
The second film wasn’t as good, best described as a French Before Sunrise, it was just a guy and a girl talking all night. In French. With no subtitles. Argh! Afterwards, Geraldine drove me back to Lucie’s house to pick up my gear. Sadly, Lucie and Anlor were asleep, so I didn’t get to say goodbye, but Luc was still up and he wished me well.
That night I didn’t get any sleep at all as I quietly plotted my path through Africa while Casey kept me company on Skype. I’ve broken too many promises on this journey. I won’t break this one:
THROUGH HELL AND HIGH WATER…
THROUGH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST…
THROUGH FRONTIERS AND BADLANDS…
I ***WILL*** BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
I will see you then.