Day 1,425: The Impossible Dream

Day 1,425: The Impossible Dream

November 26, 2012 by  
Filed under South Sudan, The Odyssey Expedition, Uganda

Sun 25.11.12:

The coach arrived at 9am in an strangely subdued Kampala. Where the hell was everyone? Then I realised it was Sunday and it all kinda made sense – they be at church being told how homosexuals make Baby Jesus cry and therefore should be put to death. The bus office next to the buses back to Dar was advertising overnighters to Juba, South Sudan, leaving at 9pm. I bought a ticket with a strange sense of calm elation. I’ve learnt time and time again not to get too excited about ANYTHING on this journey, just in case something goes horribly wrong.

I set off to find myself a cash machine, a SIM card, some camcorder tapes and Internet access. Only the ATM was forthcoming, everywhere was shut. After wandering around Kampala for a bit too long, I was pointed at the direction of the decidedly down-at-heel Equatorial Hotel, which apparently had wi-fi. They wanted US$10, which was extortionate but I was kinda of desperate to get these YouTube videos online. What I didn’t realise was that the connection would be so agonisingly slow. It took over two hours to just upload one vid, I had another four ready to go. Anna, a journo from Al-Jazeera who I was supposed to be meeting today had she not been ill, texted to say I should use connection at the swanky Serena Hotel on the other side of town. So I went for a walk with all my bags, arriving there at 6pm. Meanwhile, Casey was busy firing out press releases to all and sundry. Thank you Case!!

I managed to get the remaining few vids up online. Okay, everything is set. All I need now is for my bus to the border not to crash/break down/explode and I’ll have done it. I’d be the first person to visit every country in the world without flying. This was really IT.

Take it easy. Keep your head on Graham. I took an over-priced taxi to the bus station. I took my seat, strapped myself in and set off towards The Final Frontier, the culmination of 1,425 days of highs, lows, buses, trains, ships, sunsets, beers, joy, disappointment, hilarity, friendship, frustration, adventure, illumination, stubbornness, self-belief and dogged determination. The End of The Odyssey Expedition.



Day 1,426: Day of Days

Day 1,426: Day of Days

November 26, 2012 by  
Filed under South Sudan, The Odyssey Expedition

Mon 26.11.12:

Well then. I made it.

It would not be unfair to say that my entire life has been leading up to this point. This day. This moment. This photograph:

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes, South Sudan, 26 November 2012.

The final vindication of my hopes and dreams, my determination, my spirit, my grit and my stubborn refusal to give up no matter what.

+++++++++++++++++++++  I DID IT +++++++++++++++++++++

At 0814 this morning, the 1,426th day of The Odyssey Expedition, I crossed the border from Uganda into South Sudan. After queuing for an hour to be stamped in, it was official.

Some may do the same thing in the future, and they may well do it faster, other may scoff and think the whole thing ridiculous, but NOBODY can ever take this achievement away from me.

I am, and always will be, the first person to visit every country in the world without flying.

A FEW VITAL STATS…

201 Nations Visited
193 of them Full Members of the UN
67 of them More than Once
59 of them Islands
18 Bonus Territories (for good measure)
Distance Travelled: 250,000km
Average Money Spent: $100 a week
Hours of Video Footage: 352
Blog Entries: 736
Blog Word Count: 584,886
Days spent in jail: 12
Days spent at sea: 196
Combined Total Number of All Ships: 157
Container ships: 20
Cruise ships: 4
Leaky Wooden Canoes: 1
CouchSurfs: 73
Number of Overnight Coach Journeys: Lost Count

I was met at the border by Aegnus Stanley, who avid fans of the TV show will recognise from Episode 8: he’s the lovely Irishman who warns me about the dangerous of travelling through Northern Kenya. He brought along his friend Josh for the ride. Filming at the border was a total no-no, so we went up a nearby hill and filmed this segment.

Yes, sorry, the bottle’s empty: I popped it and we drank it on the first take on the HD camera! Hey, we were thirsty…!

After champagne and sandwiches, Aengus, Josh and I headed to Juba. It took about 2 hours to get back along the brand-new road that had only been finished 6 weeks ago. I should stress that this is the only good road in South Sudan: an area of the world sadly neglected by both us Brits and then by the government in Khartoum before the split.

Aengus had to go to work so he left me in Josh’s capable hands. My partner in crime Casey had organised for me to meet with a press photographer and a journalist from AFP to let the world know that I had arrived. We did the photos after lunch, but by the time I met with Hannah, the AFP journo, it was already getting dark. We filmed a video segment outside Parliament after persuading some random guy that we weren’t filming something we shouldn’t be. Hannah explained that we needed somewhere with flags and the John Garang memorial was off the agenda since last week when a middle-aged woman was shot through the head for driving her car past while they were lowering the main flag.

John Garang was the leader of the SPLA – the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army, the rather rag-tag bunch of fighters that fought for (and eventually won) independence from the north. He died in a helicopter crash in 2003 and remains a revered figure in South Sudan, appearing on the bank notes and being widely regarded as the father of the this new-fangled nation.

Why the war was necessary is quite beyond me. In 1972 the then “president” (dictator) of Sudan, Colonel Jaafar Nimeiri, signed a peace accord in Addis Ababa granting the south of the country a measure of autonomy that quelled the civil war for over a decade. Then in a fit of what? Madness? Stupidity? Recklessness? In 1983 he binned the autonomy deal and imposed good old fashioned sharia law over the entire country. Surprisingly. the pre-dominantly animist and Christian south of Sudan were not exactly over the moon about the prospect of receiving 40 lashes for being caught drinking their beloved Nile Beer. And so began the second part of the north-south war in Sudan – a war as preventable as it was disastrous for the country as a whole, adding instability to a region bordering the already massively unstable Uganda, DR Congo (the former Zaire) and the Central African Republic – you know, Kony Country.

Although Joseph Kony is still at large (a fact highlighted by this year’s perplexing ‘Get Kony’ campaign), the area is now reasonably stable, with the notable exception of the north-east of the DRC. Shall not be going there on this trip, methinks.

Hannah told me that a combination of paranoia, a lack of education and collective post-traumatic shock – legacies of fifty years of war with the north – had conspired to make the world’s newest nation one of the most difficult to do your job as a journalist, barring warzones. A journo for Al-Jazeera had their £10,000 video camera confiscated a few weeks ago and still hadn’t got it back, despite a direct order from the president to give the damn thing back. “I cannot control these people” is not the response you were looking for from the commander-in-chief.

We spent a good 20 minutes filming me talking about my adventures and were just grabbing some cutaways of me walking up and down with my bags when another curious party arrived and set about trying to confiscate the camera and/or arrest us. Hannah and I managed to talk our way out of the situation, but we weren’t up for hanging about for another round of this nonsense and so headed off to the Ministry of Roads to quickly snap this pic:

CAPT: Bastard Lovechild of Mario and Doctor Robotnik Conquers World!

Engine running, getaway car just inches away, Hannah managed a couple of snaps before we heard the inevitable ‘Hey! Hey!’ I didn’t even turn to look at who was shouting at us, neither did Hannah. We just got back in the car and floored it. It would be somewhat unfortunate (although perhaps rather fitting) for me to spend tonight of all nights in an African jail cell.

Hannah set off to file her report and I met back up with Josh and Aengus for dinner – a fantastic curry of victory washed down with a bottle of Nile Beer.

People kept asking me how I felt now I had finished. Happy? Sad? Exhausted? I didn’t really have an answer for them. To be perfectly honest, I just felt like another beer.

A QUICK THANK YOU

I don’t have the time or the battery power to list everybody who has helped The Odyssey Expedition along. I will produce a comprehensive list for Christmas, but I’d quickly like to thank:

TEAM ODYSSEY: Mum & Dad, Mandy, Lindsey, Si, Dino, Lorna, Christian, Alex Z, Alex H, Scott, Leo, Anna, Colm, Rocco, Grethe, Stan, Matt, John H and Hugh… for your patience, your time, your generosity and support. If I have travelled further, it’s by cadging a lift on the shoulders of giants.

Everybody who hosted me, given me a bed/couch/hammock/floor for the night. Your hospitality is a credit to the human race. You all have a friend for life and place to stay any time you’re in the UK.

Everybody at Costa, Princess, PIL, CMA-CGM, Neptune, Swire, Eimskip, PDL, Maersk, Dioryx, Rickmers, DAL, Emirates Line, Bengal Tiger Line, Mariana Express Lines, China Navigation, PAE, Reef and Hamburg Sud It is no feint praise to say I could not do this without you.

The officers, crew and support staff of The Melinda II, The Costa Fortuna, The Linge Trader, The Reykjavoss, The Dettifoss, The DAL Madagascar, The CMA-CGM Turquoise, The CMA-CGM Jade, The Papuan Chief, The Pacific Pearl, The Southern Pearl, The Southern Lily II, The Sea Princess, The Scarlett Lucy, The Kota Juta, The Mell Sembawang, The Kota Wirawan, The Vira Bhum, The Costa neoRomantica and The Maersk Seberok.

Everyone who donated to WaterAid. You gave me the impetus to soldier on no matter what. Through your immense generosity, we have raised over $10,000 so far and helped save the lives of children all over the world. I hope to add to this total before the end.

Everyone who chipped in to help get me home last summer, with a particular shout out to Sarah and Mave. They say that friends are the family you choose for yourself, and I couldn’t wish to be in better company.

Everyone who shared a joke, a story, a cup of tea or a pint of beer. Everyone who sat next to me on the bus, bought me a beer or pointed me in the right direction. Everyone who, just by being themselves, solidified my belief that the vast majority of humans are good good people.

Everyone who followed me over the years, shout outs to segacs, gavinmac, GrahamStalker, Nomadic Translator, Matthew Lumby and all our subscribers, for defending me against the haters, keeping me motivated and giving me a kick up the arse when I was beginning to dawdle!

Everyone who just, you know, *got it*. Many didn’t. Or don’t. But some did. Thank you.

And, last but by no means least, Casey. You joined the adventure at the eleventh hour, but in the last couple of months you have done more for me and this journey than I thought possible. Thank you for catching me as I was falling, thank you being the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel and thank you for giving this expedition the happy ending it deserves.



Day 1,427: Ain’t No Fat Lady Singin’…

Day 1,427: Ain’t No Fat Lady Singin’…

December 3, 2012 by  
Filed under South Sudan, The Odyssey Expedition

Tue 27 Nov 12:

IT’S NOT OVER YET!! I’ve still got to get from here in South Sudan back to my hometown of Liverpool. And if you think I’ll be flying home, think again because THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THEY’LL BE EXPECTING ME TO DO!! Nah, in the spirit of the adventure thus far, I shall be headed homeward overland, without flying (of course).

This presents a number of obstacles, which I shall list for you here:

1. I can’t go directly north as the border between North and South Sudan is closed. And a war zone.
2. I can’t go east and take a ship from Mombasa in Kenya because of Somali pirates.
3. I can’t go west because the borders are either closed or dangerous. In any case there are no roads.
4. My ONLY option is to go South Sudan > Uganda > Kenya > Ethiopia > North Sudan.
5. Travel through the northern ‘badlands’ of Kenya is fraught with danger. The first time I did it was terrifying enough.
6. Ethiopia has stopped issuing visas for foreign nationals in Nairobi, I have to get the visa in London. Good job I have two passports (and a good friend in London).
7. I have to get my visa for North Sudan in Addis Ababa. If I’m lucky, it’ll take 2 days. If I’m unlucky, it could take 6 weeks.
8. The road from Addis Ababa to Gondor on the border with North Sudan takes 2 days.
9. The ship from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt only goes once a week. If I miss it, I risk outstaying my visa.
10. The visa regs for Libya are still at pre-revolution levels of insanity and travel though Syria is out of the question. I’ll have to take a ship across the Mediterranean. The last ferry from Egypt to Greece ran 15 years ago.

I know what you’re thinking: Hey, Graham! The Odyssey Expedition is over! Take a load off! Take your time, there’s no rush.

But you’re wrong. There *is* a rush. I have something, or rather somebody, quite wonderful waiting for me back in dear old Blighty and I have a promise to keep, a promise that I made through a closing door on the London Underground. One word: December.

So I’m hurtling back to the motherland as fast as visas and shipping allow. One last adventure eh, Uncle Bilbo?

Hey, look on the bright side: this means you get to enjoy a wee bit more of The Odyssey Expedition as I round out this four year journey of the soul.



Day 1,428: The Same Thing We Do Every Night Pinky…

Day 1,428: The Same Thing We Do Every Night Pinky…

December 13, 2012 by  
Filed under South Sudan, The Odyssey Expedition

Wed 28.11.12:

I was supposed to be heading back to Uganda this morning at butt crack o’ clock, but it wasn’t to be. I just had way, way too much work to be getting on with. The last couple of nights had been spent in Aengus’s company compound, a collection of small self-contained apartments spread out around a central eating and drinking area. Bedecked with decent wi-fi, it proved a fantastic base camp for dealing with all the requests for interviews and stuff that Casey and I were receiving. I would have liked to have spent today hanging out with Josh, perhaps going down to the River Nile for a beer, but last night, just as theodysseyexpedition.com site was finally getting the kind of visitor figures I feel the old girl deserves, a concerted spam attack, courtesy of those dastardly Russians (who else?), shut down the site.

Cue frantic emails fired back and forth between webmaster Si and I. Damnit – I had just been featured as the first story on Yahoo.com’s front page. Not a time for my website to be down. The Yahoo piece got over 2,000 comments, and strangely enough, the overwhelming majority of them were supportive. And this is Yahoo News: troll paradise!! Although my favourite comment came courtesy of a reader of The Daily Mail site saying ‘I hope he’s not on benefits.’ Yes, I secretly flew home to Liverpool every two weeks to sign on. Quite.

There were sooooo many written interview questions to respond to from all over the world and I also had to write a 1,500 word piece for the Telegraph (I flat refuse to be ghostwritten) and while beavering away, wishing I was seeing a bit more of Juba, in came an email from Paradigm Talent Agency. As in THE Paradigm Talent Agency http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_Talent_Agency. Wanting to talk representation.

Jaw. Hits. Ground.

You know when an evil genius comes up with an insanely convoluted plot to take over the world? Once in every blue moon, his nefarious scheme is just that insane that it actually works. The possibility of using The Odyssey as a stepping stone to Hollywood has been in the back of my mind since I started this, but I never thought it would seriously happen and then crikey-oh-blimey it just has.

So then, a new blog for the new year, after The Odyssey Expedition is over, timelocked & embalmed, all about my hilarious attempts to a) break into La-La-Land and b) convert Liverpool into Livvywood.

Then, just as I thought things couldn’t get any better, I get an invitation to give a TED Talk. A motherf—ing TEDTALK!!!

You can’t say I didn’t put the effort in.



Day 1,429: Exiting 201

Day 1,429: Exiting 201

December 13, 2012 by  
Filed under South Sudan, The Odyssey Expedition, Uganda

Thu 29.11.12:

It was 5am and I was up and showered, ready to begin my long journey back to the UK. Remarkably, in terms of physical distance, Durban to Khartoum in North Sudan is 3142 miles and Khartoum to Liverpool is 3244 miles, so I should be halfway there, but if only things were that easy. All things being equal I could jump in a car (or a boat if I was feeling fruity) and head on up the White Nile to Khartoum. From there it’s just 10 hours (if that) to Wadi Halfa on the border with Egypt. If there was a road crossing the border (clue: there isn’t) it would be a few more hours by bus to Aswan and an overnight train journey to Cairo. I could be ready to get the ferry across the Med in less than three days. I could be home in a week. Seriously.

But things are not that easy up here in North Africa. Not that easy at all. First up, the border between South and North Sudan is VERY closed, as is the border between South Sudan and Kenya. There isn’t even a road between South Sudan and Ethiopia, so you can forget about that too. The only way out of the country (without flying) is back to Uganda and the only way from there to North Sudan is to wheel around through Kenya and Ethiopia.

Get out of THAT one, Rommel…

Kenya is no problem, you can get a visa on the border. Ethiopia, however. Urgh. Not only can you not get a visa on the border, you cannot even buy a visa anywhere in Africa (with the possible exception of Somaliland). You have to get it in London. Furthermore, a visa for North Sudan almost just as hard to get a hold of. The Sudanese embassy in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is infamous for its mercurial nature. I can take very little on this portion of the journey for granted.

Nevertheless, I have set a date for my return to Liverpool. By hook or by crook I will be crossing the River Mersey on the ferry and arriving at The Pier Head (in front of the iconic Liver Buildings) at 2.45pm on Saturday 22nd December. Mark my words: BY HOOK OR BY CROOK, I SHALL BE THERE!!!

Everybody reading this is welcome to come along if you can make it. Please bring the flag of your favourite country (or your favourite flag)!! Afterwards we will be heading off to a secret location for booze, music and dancing. You can say you’re coming via Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/376044069148554/

I am racing to get to Kampala before 5.30pm today as my gorgeous friend Lindsey has been an angel/star/legend again this week and nabbed me one of ’em pesky Ethiopian visas for my second passport and posted it DHL to Uganda. It arrived a couple of days ago. If I can get there today before it closes, I can continue my journey onto Kenya tomorrow night, thereby saving me a day of travel. Nice!

However, the bus, rather predictably, broke down on the way to the border. Flat tyre. The bus boys spent an hour trying to take the wheel off, but that last nut just refused to budge. So they reattached all the other nuts and we piled back onboard and proceeded to Nimule at a more gentler pace. Thank God for double wheels.

At the border there was no time to mess around. I cunningly did the old tourist trick of ignoring the MASSIVE queue and walking straight into the immigration building and then looking a bit lost. It doesn’t always work, but today was my lucky day, not only did I get stamped out of South Sudan in record time, I also got stamped IN to Uganda in record time. I abandoned my wonky bus (I didn’t want to be trundling along at half-speed all the way to Kampala) and clambered onboard whichever bus looks like it was leaving next. We thundered south, arriving at the outskirts of Kampala around 5pm, I was willing us to get into the station straight away, but it wasn’t to be: we got caught in a traffic jam. Possibly karma for me jumping the queue this morning. It was 6pm by the time we got to the bus station. There was a bus leaving for Nairobi at 7pm, but I couldn’t leave without my passport.

Too late to arrange a CouchSurf, I checked into the Kampala Backpackers for the night, caught up on a stack of written interviews (damn my fingers ACHE! Why can’t they just ring meeeee?!) and then crashed out at an embarrassingly early time (for me) of 11pm.