Days M66-M67: The Canary in The Coal Mine

Days M66-M67: The Canary in The Coal Mine

December 10, 2011 by  
Filed under The Odyssey Expedition, Tuvalu

02.12.11-03.12.11:

Meet Tuvalu, the modern day Atlantis. If anyone fancies their chances taking on my Guinness World Record, you better get your skates on because very soon Tuvalu will cease to exist. If you have any friends who proudly swagger around in their pig-ignorance and brand themselves ‘climate change sceptics’, punch them in the face and shout ‘That’s For Tuvalu, Bitch!’. Because, like Atlantis, all nine islands of the nation of Tuvalu will soon disappear under the waves. And all the crackpot books and theories written by morons without a real science doctorate, PhD or Nobel Prize between them won’t save them. An entire nation destroyed while the same lousy arguments are trotted out… The water isn’t rising! The islands are sinking! It’s a cyclical thing! There are too many people in the world anyhows! Al Gore is rich! There was one insignificant email out of thousands which proves it’s all a hoax! CO2 is a minor gas! Er… we’ll think of something!

These arguments (as well as being breathtakingly idiotic, contradictory and about as logical as a David Lynch movie) are f—ing dangerous. Politicians don’t care about you, or your mum, or the environment, or the giant panda… all they care about is being re-elected. If that means playing up to the paranoid (but somehow comforting) notion that climate change is a big hoax, then so be it. Arguing to me that ‘there’s money to be made out of climate change stuff’ is as inane as it is weird. In 2006, 84,000,000 barrels of oil were sold worldwide per day. That’s 30,660,000,000 barrels over the course of a year.

Considering oil recently hit a high of $150 a barrel, that’s a worldwide turnover in excess of $4,599,000,000,000. If the noughts are making your head hurt, that’s four and a half TRILLION dollars.

In a year! That’s more than the GDP of most countries. Now, being a Bond Villain (with a moustache and a cat and everything), I know a thing or two about being an evil, moneygrabbing bastard… and given the choice between training to be an evil scientist or becoming an evil oilman, well, I’m never going to make my first billion studying evil iron molecules in the evil Antarctic. Myself and the Beverly frikkin’ Hillbillies can’t be the only ones who understand this BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS FACT: if you want to make a mountain of dough, sell fossil fuel. That’s why Roman Abramovich owns Chelsea football club and Steven Hawking doesn’t even own a football. Although, credit where credit’s due: he is good at dribbling.

But, oh well, only 9,500 people live in Tuvalu. They’ll all just move to New Zealand, right? Along with the 96,000 I-Kiribati who also live on coral atolls just inches above sea level. And the good people of the Marshall Islands, most of French Polynesia and the Federated States of Micronesia: I’m sure they’ll be welcomed with open arms into that completely non-xenophobic-at-all continent of Australia. It’s the 200,000,000 Bangladeshis who are also going to (quite literally) find themselves up shit creek without a paddle that I worry about; but I’m sure the already incredibly over-populated sub-continent of India will be happy to give them all new homes and new jobs. Maybe they’ll even buy them a car each, just in case the oil companies need to burn us some more fossils. Hell, they might need a bigger yacht or something.

But look on the bright side, once EVERY BEACH IN THE WORLD is underwater (it would only take a few inches, people!), I will no longer have to concern myself with making excuses for not going to the beach. See ya later Bondi, Copacabana, Miami, Cannes and Blackpool. Woohahahahaha.

Yes Mrs Lincoln, but how was the play…?

Well, since you asked, we entered Funafuti, the capital atoll of Tuvalu, on Saturday morning. The atoll is shaped like a ring with a lagoon in the middle. I love the word ‘lagoon’, you should say it out loud while you’re reading this. Go on… LAGOOOOOON! See? I bet you feel better already. Coral atolls are fascinating things. How they came into existence was first correctly postulated (like most things) by a Brit.

Say THANK YOU BRITAIN. Out loud. Good, now you may continue.

The Brit in question was none other than Mr. C-to-the-D, Charlie Darwin himself; the big clever-clogs who has made the American Mid-West seem lacking in their mental capacities since 1859. He saw an atoll or two on his famous voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle (think Star Trek without the wrestling with rubber aliens) and thought maybe they were formed by volcanoes that rose to the surface, gained a fringing coral reef, then after a few million years sank beneath the waves, leaving the coral reef surrounding a lagooooon. Simple and, even better, subsequently proven correct by modern science. Way to go, Ape-Man Slim!

To get to the port of Funafuti, you have to enter the lagooooon. It’s a tricky business, even in these days of GPS navigation. The channel into the lagooooooon is incredibly narrow and not particularly well marked by buoys. You know how Americans say the word ‘buoy’? They say boo-ee. A-hahahahaha. Idiots! No wonder they allow mentally ill people to own assault rifles. To make things even more tricky, the US Coastguard had parked their big fancy ship just a few metres back from where we needed to park ours. Happily, Captain Don and Captain Malfi (who is acting Pilot on this adventure) spun the Southern Pearl on a sixpence and slid us into place like a long piece in Tetris.

I hoped that the US Coastguard wasn’t onto me after I took that naughty little trip from Key West to Cuba back in March 2009.

The atoll looked magnificent. Some of it is submerged so there are gaps in the ring of green, but the coral only drops a few inches below the surface, creating a natural barrier against ships that did not invest in Admiralty Charts. How all the green got on top of the coral is again, something rather fantabulous: when the coral dies, its hard shell remains. After millions of years, these shells are compressed and provide the solid ground: limestone.

I recently learnt that the top of Mount Everest is limestone. Yes, the top of the highest mountain in the world is made from crushed-up coral. Nine kilometres above sea level. Seriously: coral is amazing stuff.

Anyway, this limestone atoll gets bleached by the sun and is, generally speaking, about as hospitable as a gang of Muslim fundamentalists clutching blasphemous cartoons. However, there is one plant on this planet hardy enough to grow in this harsh environment. And it’s one that can survive as a mighty big seed (carrying all the food and fresh water it needs to germinate) for weeks at sea, so getting to these places is just a matter of time: yes folks, let’s hear it for the humble coconut.

Once you get a few coconut trees, word gets around the seabird community pretty fast… soon this otherwise barren atoll will be stop-off point for thousands of migrating birds, all wanting rest their weary wings and leave their mark. Their mark being guano, or bird poo. Over the course of untold millennia, these splats of nitrate-rich bumgravy team up with the rotting vegetation from the coconut trees to create a fertile top soil. And thus, a rich coral atoll covered in plants and trees (the seeds of which are also carried in bumbricks) is born.

Hurrah! Well done, Tuvalu.

After breakfast and customs, I headed down the gangplank and busted a groove as I stepped into country number 189 of The Odyssey Expedition. Only 12 more countries to go! I’m beginning to think I might actually finish this stupid adventure before start drawing a pension.

I walked out of the port, turned right and headed towards the airport, passing a police shed full of what looked like a bunch of young Americans drinking. Maybe they were something to do with the large US Coastguard ship that had been hogging our dock. I could have stopped and asked, but I was on a mission: I had been told that it would be easy to hire a little motorbike to explore the islet, so I headed into town and started asking around. Well, I say town, but when your country is only a few metres wide, I guess the best descriptor is ‘the place near the airport’.

The Deep South. Of Funafuti.

After walking for the best part of an hour, I arrived at the airport. The first seventeen attempts to secure me a run-around were unsuccessful, but I managed to snag the use of one off a lad called Ola for the princely sum of ten Aussie Dollars. They use Aussie Dollars in Tuvalu. I had it for 24 hours and could just leave it near the port when I was done. Bike theft here is not a problem: good luck riding it to the next islet, loser.

I headed south, intending to see the end of this long, narrow, C-shaped island. Sadly for Tuvalu, the concept of sustainable waste disposal techniques is as alien as a motorway service station and it was with great disappointment that I found that the islet’s southern tip was actually a tip. A rubbish tip. Maybe the good people of Funafuti are planning to use small mounds of plastic bags and used beer cans in order to fend off the inevitable effects of global warming. Ack, the tide has washed over the entire islet! Quick! To the tip!

The smell was pretty bad so I turned around and headed along the road towards the northern end of the islet. On the way I stopped off at the airport, the centre of island life. Here you’ll find kids running about, men playing cricket and big old ladies playing volleyball in their brightly-coloured Sunday dresses. It’s okay: only two planes land here each week, and the next one is not due for three days.

The Most Fun(afuti) Airport in Ze Vorld!

I was filming the old ladies when I was joined by another would-be cameraman. Only this cameraman had a semi-professional camera (mine’s a hemi-demi-semi professional camera). Leon had arrived from Germany a couple of weeks ago and was fulfilling a life-long dream to come to Tuvalu. It wasn’t long before we were joined by another couple of Germans (of all the atolls in all the world…), Martin and Corinna, who were on a yacht (one of two in the lagoon), sailing around the Pacific, and heading to Palau in February. Via Kiribati, The Marshalls and Micronesia.

Wait. What? Crikey… that’s exactly where I need to go!

I asked for a place on their yacht and they said yes. But then the cogs in my head creaked into action…

If I went with them, I would still have to get to Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Nauru. All those countries, thanks to Pacific Direct, Neptune and Reef are within my grasp. The Southern Pearl is taking me to Kiribati and The Marshalls anyway. That just leaves Micronesia and Palau that Martin and Corinna could help me get to. I could go with them now and then head back to Oz to do the others from The Philippines next March. But, on the other hand, if all goes well and I get on all the cargo ships I need to travel upon, I could stick with Plan A and have ALL of the islands of The Pacific visited by next March.

Urgh.

Hell, maybe they could come and pick me up from Nauru next February and take me straight to Micronesia and Palau without me having to a) go back to Oz b) bum a ride up to Taiwan and c) then take a ship via The Northern Marianas and Guam. But then Nauru is in the Southern Hemisphere and probably way out of their way, and who the hell wants to go to Nauru?

For the moment, I opted to stick with Plan A. But further conversation on this matter would be an excellent idea, so I arranged to meet them at the beach after I checked out the northern end of the islet. Back on my little motorbike, I trundled up to the end of the road only to find another damn rubbish tip at this end too. This did not make me happy. However, I could see that the rocky (corally) beach lead up much further north past the rubbish tip. I abandoned my scooter and headed off on foot.

By this time, the sun was setting so I had to pick over the beach as fast as I could. My phone wasn’t working, so I had no way of getting help in an emergency. Even worse, there was no way for me to update my Twitter feed. Crabs scuttled under rocks as my rapidly-falling-apart Vans did little to a) help my grip b) protect my ankles or c) keep my feet dry. I scrambled over the wet stones for about a kilometre and just about reached the end of the islet as the sun descended below the horizon. I got some lovely photos of the sea, the clouds, the atoll and the lagooooon and was impressed by the newly-acquired knowledge that presumably as an effect of the moon’s gravitational pull, the lagoooooon is a couple of inches lower than the surrounding sea water… you could sea the Pacific Ocean gently trickling into the lagoooooon. But then had to race back in the failing light. In hindsight, not the best idea I’ve ever had.

But it did all look rather spiffing...

I got back to the beach by the airport just after dark, but unfortunately Martin and Corinna were nowhere to be seen. So I headed back to the seaport, and more importantly, to that shed full of Yanks and, even more importantly, their rather impressive supply of beer which still hadn’t run out. A group of Tuvaluan police officers had gathered around outside the shed. Chatting with one of them I learnt that after a joint operation between the US Coastguard and the Tuvaluan police, they had snagged a couple of ships for illegally fishing in Tuvaluan waters. One ship was Taiwanese and the other was Chinese. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree eh, Taipei? Anyway, the next time you hippies moan about the USA being the world’s police force, bear in mind that Tuvalu didn’t get any assistance from your stinking piehole of nation. Or mine for that matter. And my flag is in the corner of their flag. Ygads.

The Americans were due to leave the next day, so in fine maritime tradition, they were getting wasted the night before. But first… the dancing girls! No, really. There were dancing girls. And then the Prime Minister of Tuvalu got up and made a speech. No, really, here’s a pic of me with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu:

At this juncture I was considering asking the Prime Minister for an interview in the morning about the threat climate change poses to his fragile nation, but I was informed of the hogroast going on inside the shed and so opted to stuff my face with pig instead. I was then left to explain my presence with a mouthful of pork crackling, but the Yanks liked my tall tale about traversing the globe with nothing but a camcorder, boundless enthusiasm and a over-optimistic sense of reality. They also liked the fact that I introduced them to the game of ‘Wanker’, you know the one where you all put your hands through the loops of a plastic beer can holder, all quickly pull away on the count of three and then point to the person left with the plastic around their wrist and shout ‘Wanker!’ at them until they cry. Not only is it a marvellous wheeze, it saves dolphins, which is more than I can say for Ludo.

Damn you, Ludo.

After drinking the port police station dry, me and my new team of miscreants from the other side of the pond teamed up with a gang of Polynesian ladyboys (I swear I am making none of this up) and headed back to the airport to the only club on the island. And possibly in the nation. After paying $10 a bottle for horrible Aussie lager for the best part of a year, it was an incredible relief to only have to pay $2.50 a bottle for horrible Aussie lager and, since I was the only Boy Scout in town (yes I have Aussie dollars, and American dollars, and Euros, and Pounds… and a 50 Billion Dollar note from Zimbabwe) I was actually happy to get a round in. The club closed at midnight and as we finished our lagers sitting on the airport runway under the starry starry South Pacific sky, I started to wonder if this wasn’t all some sort of surreal dream sequence.

My Ladyboys could totally have your Ladyboys in a fight.

But, believe it or not, there was more drinking to be done. Back to the police station! And so there I was as what was left of the constabulary of Funafuti doled out portions of Johnny Walker Black Label in a cut-open lip-gouging half-can of Coca-Cola. My new top chum Jim from Minnesota (I knew my knowledge that St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota would come in handy someday) and I fought valiantly into the night, he being a Catholic, gun-owning libertarian and me being an atheist, gun-hating librarian. But by the end, I think we both totally agreed that I was in the right: there is no God, guns are bad and rich people like Bono and Penn Gillette should most definitely pay tax.

Then again, I’m probably making that bit up. The next thing I remember was waking up in my cabin at midday wondering if anybody got the number of the train that hit me.



Day M74: Alofa Tuvalu!

Day M74: Alofa Tuvalu!

December 16, 2011 by  
Filed under The Odyssey Expedition, Tuvalu

10.12.11: So then back to Tuvalu to pick up those containers we left here last weekend. This all reminds me of a riddle involving taking animals over a river. Back in Tuvalu hey? I better use this opportunity to write another inspiring rant about the undisputable (except by idiots!) fact of life that is Global Warming…

We arrived at around 7am and, after a hearty breakfast, I set off in search of adventure on the island that, quite frankly, will not be here for much longer. Here’s a clip from the BBC documentary series ‘South Pacific’ highlighting the plight of the nation of Tuvalu.

Those king tide floods used to happen once a year, but now the country is flooding pretty much every month. And it’s not just that people’s feet and Persian rugs are getting wet, it’s that the soil is becoming saturated in salt, destroying any and all vegetables or crops that the Tuvaluan people are trying to grow. And no, they can’t farm seaweed, Poindexter: seaweed only grows in temperate climes, the waters here are too warm. While coral is great for building reefs, atolls and Mount Everest, it tastes lousy on a sandwich. By 2050 Tuvalu will be underwater, but it will be rendered uninhabitable long before then.

Like I said last time I was here, Tuvalu will be the first country to be completely destroyed since, well, forever. It’s never happened before. Yep, that’s right: in all the murdering, pillaging, witch-hunting, slave-keeping, warmongering days of yore, never has the landmass of an entire country been literally wiped from the face of the Earth. But look on the Mr. Brightside: you get to be the generation to finally do it! Hell, we might all live long enough to watch the salty brine envelop Kiribati and the Maldives while we’re at it.

Yey! Ugly buildings, autotune, faltering economies, unwinnable wars, conspiracy nuts, overpopulation, World of Warcraft, unserviceable Apple products and global warming: what a truly loathsome legacy we’re leaving for our grandchildren.

Our grandparent’s generation fought and died so that future generations could live and prosper. We can’t even be arsed turning off the office lights at night. At this rate, we’ll go down in history as Generation Fail: the ones who accurately foresaw the future but then dismissed the concerns of every accredited scientist in the world on the grounds that they were ‘depressing’. The generation that had the opportunity to construct a sustainable model for the world: a sustainable model for the next 50,000 years of human civilisation, but failed miserably. We are the first generation – so, so lucky are we – to have all of humanity’s collective knowledge quite literally at our fingertips (Praise Be To The Internet!) but we are blowing it, we are blowing it big style.

How about I get up on a podium and claim to speak for everyone on the planet who isn’t evil or a moron? A bit too strong you say? Is everyone who disagrees with me an idiot? Well no, I think we can all have a healthy debate on the merits of Anchorman (I honestly don’t get it), and yes you are entitled to your own beliefs, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. The facts are:

1. Burning Carbon-based fuel releases Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere.
2. There is more CO2¬¬¬ in the atmosphere today than there has been at any time in the last million years.
3. Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
4. The world is getting warmer.
5. Sea levels are rising.

If you disagree with any of these statements, then I would wager that when you popped out of your mother the midwife heralded your arrival on planet Earth with the words ‘Congratulations! It’s a moron!’ – because these are facts, and, unlike opinions, beliefs and religions, facts are falsifiable. Go launch some CO2 monitoring weather balloons, go drill for ice core samples in the Antarctic, rig the world’s shipping fleets with delicate sea-temperature recording equipment, launch a network of temperature-monitoring fixed-position satellites, go stick a ruler in the ground in Tuvalu… go on, prove every single scientist working in the field wrong, I dares ya.

But let’s face it, even if you got off your fat arse and did all these things, you’ll only have wasted millions of dollars proving what all those Nobel-award winning scientists have been saying for years: Global Warming is real, is happening right now and it is up to us, ALL OF US, to damn well do something about it: not dither for the next four years and then maybe come up with a workable solution in 2015. Or 2017. Maybe.

Soylent Green. 1973. Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson, set in a dystopian future in which the world is overpopulated and – as a result of GLOBAL WARMING – can no longer feed itself. 1973. 38 years ago.

If and when I return to Liverpool, I do fully intend to set my home town a goal: to become the first carbon-neutral city in the world… and use my considerable powers of persuasion (I’ve got this far, haven’t I?) to help make it happen. After The Odyssey Expedition, I’ll need another seemingly impossible challenge to get my teeth into: hey Manchester, we’ll race ya!

In fact, let’s have everybody reading this blog go for it in whatever city or town you call home. Your local politicians will, no doubt, be a bunch of slack-jawed yokels. I’m sure being a genius as cunning, erudite, debonair and insanely good-looking as all my faithful readers are, you could whip them into shape and start your hometown on the yellow-brick road to energy self-sufficiency and the planting of lots of lovely lovely trees. Since I’m a modest chap, I think we should call it ‘The Graham Hughes Challenge’.

Done!

Just after disembarking the Southern Pearl, I met two French ladies, Gillian and Fanny, who were in the port filming the container operation on a fancy video camera. After a quick introduction, we arranged to meet at the hotel (there’s only one) at 7pm for drinkies.

I spent the day mooching around. After updating my blog I managed to grab a quick conversation with Mandy for the first time since I left Fiji. Tuvalu has a surprisingly speedy internet connection, but that makes sense when you consider how much wonga these guys have made out of selling their .tv domain. If only my country of xxxonia was recognised by the UN…

Today I decided not to rent a bike on the grounds that it was easy enough to grab a ride by just asking the bikes passing by. I went to see if anything was going down at the airport, but today was particularly scorchio and we all know that only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the noonday sun. Most of the locals took to the shade, enjoying their toddy (fermented palm juice) and shooting what little breeze they could find. The kids cooled off by splashing around in the lagooooooon, capping off a perfectly lazy, happy Saturday afternoon.

Come the evening, I headed over to the hotel to meet up with Gillian and Fanny. The hotel was closed for a private function, but not to worry, we headed out to the nearby Chinese restaurant. On the way I met a couple of British lads, Andy and Jay, who were here helping to set up a scout pack here in Funafuti. I told them what I was doing here and said they should check out my website, before continuing on my way.

I had already eaten on board the ship, but was more than happy to down a beer or two while Gillian and Fanny ate their din-dins. Gillian is a film-maker, much like myself, and has been coming to Tuvalu for the last ten years to document the slow death of this great little nation. Gillian and Fanny run a charity called ‘Alofa Tuvalu’ which seeks to raise awareness of Tuvalu’s plight and set out what we can do to help. After dinner, we headed back to their flat as they wanted to interview me about my travels and my opinions on climate change. We ended up chatting away until well after midnight. It’s great to meet people who are passionate and articulate about the same stuff I’m passionate and articulate about.

After saying my bon voyage and bon chance, I ended up walking most of the way back to the ship, as all the bikes zooming past already carried a passenger. Happily, for the final stretch the shipping agent picked me up on his quad bike. Turning into the port, I found Andy and Jay waiting for me. They had checked out my website and didn’t want me to leave without us having a good yarn about life, the universe and everything.

Being not particularly tired and excited by the lunar eclipse that I could see starting to happen up in the night sky, I invited them onto the Southern Pearl for tea and a natter. Andy has plans to travel back to the UK without flying, so he had a bunch of questions concerning the process of blagging oneself aboard cargo ships and the like. The thing I particularly enjoyed was being able to talk about British stuff like Derren Brown and Jimmy Saville without having to explain who they are (or were): I’ve been surrounded by Aussies and Kiwis for too long!

The eclipse was pretty damn sweet and, unlike the international treaty on nuclear proliferation, was total. We sat out in the barbecue area at the stern of the ship and put the world to rights until the moon was back in full working order and the first light of the next day’s sun began to peak over the eastern horizon. In just a few hours I would set sail for my 190th country, but you know what Tuvalu? You rock my world.