So here we are, 180 countries down and just 20 to go – it’s mad to think that I only left Shanghai just over two weeks ago, and in that time I’ve managed to visit Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – and with any luck I’ll be in Brunei (181) before close of play tomorrow and the Philippines (182) by the end of this week (typhoons permitting). But if you think I’m “nearly there”, think again. Every single remaining state is an island nation and none of them have anything approaching an international ferry service. This could take a looooooooong time.
A loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.
Here’s a draft of a sketch of a inkling of The Plan from here to the end of The Odyssey Expedition. But as always, everything is open to change.
183: East Timor
There is a Pelni (Indonesia’s national ferry service) ship that goes from Denpaser in Bali to Kupang in (West) Timur. I’ll be crossing the border, then sitting in Dili for a few days while I apply for (yet) another Indonesian visa.
After returning to Kupang, I will take a Pelni ship to West Papua. From there I hope to persuade a swashbuckling yachtie to take me to the South-West Islands of Palau: only a few hundred kilometres north (as opposed to the capital Koror which is a thousand kilometres away). I’ll then be coming straight back to West Papua.
185. Papua New Guinea
Just a case of crossing the border from West Papua.
186. Solomon Islands
If I island-hop through PNG and make it to Bougainville, I should be able to take a canoe over the short hop to the Shortland Islands and tick the Solomons off the list. From there I should be able to island-hop via Gizo to Guadalcanal, the main island.
And here’s when it becomes REALLY tricky…
Have a gander at this map of the Pacific Island states I knocked out on the back of a napkin…
Take a note of the scale!!! From the Marshall Islands down to Fiji I’m going to have a cover a distance approximately the same as from Darwin to Melbourne via Sydney. This is no Caribbean Island hop, these are gargantuan chucks of bitchin’ ocean I have to cover.
The only options open to me are hitching a ride on cargo ships and cruise ships. Cyclone season starts at the end of this month (and continues to May) so yachts are right out. Even if someone was mad enough to take me, it would just be too dangerous – I mean, have you SEEN A Perfect Storm? Ygads!
So here’s the sketch of how I’m going to do this…
The isolated (and isolationalist) island of Nauru is really hitting hard times these days. The rich phosphate deposits that secured the island’s finances are now completely depleted (as of this year), leaving an impoverished island in the middle of nowhere that is going to be a real bitch to get to – it’s the only Pacific Island where you need a visa and an invitation to ruck up. Seriously guys? Seriously?
My hope is that I can hop a supply/cargo ship from The Solomons north to The Marshall Islands, one that stops at Nauru along the way. But these things may only come once every few months.
Micronesia (like jungle) is massive, stretching across a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean. The bit I’m interested in is an island called Kosrae in the far east of the nation, which I could use as a stepping stone to…
189. The Marshall Islands
I lie awake at night fretting about ever reaching The Marshall Islands. So far from just about anywhere they cajole and torment me in my dreams. But if this semi-mythical cargo ship can take me there, I’d be one happy Odyssey bunny.
If a cargo ship has got me this far, maybe it can take me a little further: to the western half of Kiribati. From there at least I know I can take a Kiribati Shipping Services ship (which comes once every couple of months) down to…
Here I’ll have to make the decision whether to stay on the Kiribati Shipping Services ship to Fiji or swing a left to:
Again, this place is a little off the beaten track, but it’s position between the US Samoan islands and Fiji means that if I’m lucky, I might be able to find something that can float me to:
If I get here, the hump should be over: I’ll be on the cruise ship circuit. Hopefully in return for entertaining the troops with tales of my adventures (and possibly the odd song and dance routine), I’ll be allowed to hitch a ride on a cruise to:
Fiji seems to have the best international transport links with the region, and I may regret not coming here first, but if all works out, I should be able to stay on the same cruise ship through the Fijian islands and on to:
And then onto:
196. New Zealand
My original final destination, things have changed a little since I failed to reach Sri Lanka, Maldives and The Seychelles. It shouldn’t be too hard to find something to ship me to:
Arriving in Sydney (because I owe Alex Zelenjak a pint in The Three Monkeys), I’ll be headed down to Melbourne and kidnapping my long-suffering girlfriend Mandy for the trip across the Nullabor all the way to Perth. If I can find a cruise that is going to Europe or South Africa, there’s a good chance it will stop at: 198. Sri Lanka, 199. Maldives and 200. The Seychelles.
CAN YOU HELP?
If you have any contacts in the South Pacific who are involved in shipping or cruises, please pass them on via the CONTACTS page. In return for helping me finish The Odyssey in one piece I’m willing to give plenty of publicity to any company or individual that would like to get involved.
It was a 9am showdown at the East Timor Consulate in Kupang. Luckily for me, Simon and Chesa where there, and Chesa, being Indonesian, could explain my predicament to the lady a damn site better than I could. I had applied for my visa authorisation FOUR WEEKS ago, and heard nothing in reply. The lady made a phone call and said that the authorisation had been sent last month. No it hadn’t. I had flashbacks to when I had to explain to my mum back in 1997 yes it did matter if you spelt the email address incorrectly.
The lady said to go and wait for the email confirmation, they would resend it. So I did. I went back to Edwin’s joint and twiddled my thumbs, refreshing my email every now and again. I knew that if I didn’t get the authorisation today, when I finally got to Dili, I would be spending the entire next week there waiting for my visa BACK INTO INDONESIA to come through (you can’t get one on the border). If I got the confirmation for East Timor today, left here tomorrow morning, I could be at the Indonesian embassy for Wednesday morning, I could have my visa on Friday and be out of there on Saturday. Otherwise I would be leaving on the following Tuesday at the earliest.
By 3pm the email hadn’t arrived. I actually went back to the consulate. Seriously? WTF? The lady made another call. They had sent the email again. Again it hadn’t arrived. Okay, okay – here’s my email address, get them to send it to you, then forward it on to me, okay?
I can’t fault the lady – she was very helpful. Her name was Jen. She was sincerely sorry for all this nonsense. You could tell by her demeanour that she knew she worked with morons and was doing her level best to make my life easier. One problem: her email wasn’t working.
Will it be working before the end of the day?
Urgh! I headed back to Edwin’s and kept on hitting F5.
At 4.55pm, the Authorisation arrived.
Edwin booked me on the 5am bus to Dili. It’s high time to tick my 183rd nation off the list.
A note to anyone wanting a East Timor visa to enter the country overland: DON’T BOTHER with the online registration malarkey. Just go to the new consulate in Kupang and get your visa there. If you’re REALLY nice to Jen, she might even sort you out with one the same day
What’s worse than having to get up at 5am for a bus? The bus turning up at your hotel twenty minutes early! And then beeping REALLY LOUDLY, waking everybody in the neighbourhood up. Well, possibly not, the people of Indonesia have such an amazingly high tolerance of noise, you’d swear they must be deaf. It might be an idea to ship all those whiney tossers who buy houses on the Heathrow flight path or apartments above city centre nightclubs (and then, predictably, moan about the noise) to one of these 17,000 islands and fill Britain’s noisiest homes with Indonesians.
Completely unprepared, I sleepily threw all my stuff in my bags like Winona Rider looting a Chinese laundry. I fell back asleep as soon as I clambered onboard and didn’t really wake up until we reached the border at noon – all I can tell you is that my driver drove too frickin’ fast. The next Brit who moans to me about speed cameras might well get a slap. Rogering my watch one hour forward, I got stamped out of Indonesia and marched triumphant over the border.
And thus I was in EAST TIMOR: my 50th country of this year. By jingo, this time last year I had done 124. Rubbish, Graham – must try harder. But at least I only have 17 more countries to go. Shame they are all in THE MIDDLE OF FRICKIN’ NOWHERE.
The trip to from the border to Dili was uneventful, but spectacular. These windy little roads would be so awesome… if I was driving. Getting thrown about in the back of a minibus isn’t much fun and makes it impossible to read or write – you just end up thrusting your headphones into your lugholes and staring out of the window, dreaming up amazing stories which would make great films. Or TV shows. Or stageplays. Or books. Or musicals.
Once this mad trip is over, I’m probably going to disappear off into the outback for a few months with just Mandy, my laptop and a pirate copy of Final Draft.
Arriving in Dili at sunset, I was greeted by Dan, the owner of the East Timor Backpackers. He had been expecting me since John (who I met on the Batam to Jakarta ferry last month) had arrived and told him what I was up to. I was exactly two weeks later than I really should have been. I’m really kicking myself now for procrastinating in Bali – this bungee jump thing in Liverpool had better happen!!
Dan’s a great chap, he’s from Chorley in Lancashire (not far from my neck of the woods) and travelled all over the world before taking on the only Backpackers in Dili last year. Nice place: bit pricey, but then so is all of East Timor. They use the US dollar, so conversion is easy (and great for holidaying Aussies at the moment: the Oz/US exchange rate is 1 to 1). Anyway, it was $12 a night for a dorm room, which is comparable with hostels in Europe. But for that you got the use of western toilets and hot showers, so it was more worth it than, say, Comoros or Angola.
The reason for the inflated prices is clear as soon as you step out on the street: the UN are here. And when I say here, I mean WOW THEY ARE HERE. I’ve seen more white UN trucks floating around Dili than I saw in Kinshasa, Monrovia and Freetown put together. I’m not sure they really need such a massive presence here – yes, East Timor is a very young nation and there has been some political instability in the last few years (culminating in 2008 with an assassination attempt on the Noble-Peace Prize winning President – luckily, he survived), but it smacks of overkill – I guess compared with Kabul or Baghdad this is a quite a cushy posting. I just wish that this amount of equipment and manpower was being put to better use: Somalia, anyone?
Actually, can I get serious for a moment? Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years now. The levels of lawlessness and barbarity are as sickening as they are unreported.
A crowd of teenage boys gang rape, beat and dismember a young woman in Mogadishu in broad daylight. What happens to them? There are no police officers, no jails, no courtrooms, no judges. I’ll tell you what happens to them: nothing.
A gang of Somali pirates hijack a charity ship carrying medical supplies to some of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa. By the time the Royal Navy recapture the ship (or the insurance company has paid the ransom) it’s too late: most of the supplies have gone past their use by date. Thousands of people will die as a result. The pirates, even caught red handed, have their weapons taken from them and are free to go. Why? Cos there’s is no Somali Navy (well, there is, but it doesn’t have any ships), Kenya and Tanzania can’t afford to take them, neither can Yemen. The Royal Navy can’t keep them in the brig for the duration of their tour nor take them back to Britain.
A nine-year old girl has her vagina painfully mutilated by her uncle. While she is held down by her mother, he slices off her labia and her clitoris with a septic blade, and then, his hands covered in blood, he takes a needle and thread and stitches her up, leaving just a small hole to allow menstruation. It sounds like something from American Psycho, but the numbing fact is that this has happened to 99% of women in Somalia. It’s not even frowned upon. This most inhumane of acts is part of their culture. When a culture is that f–ked up, it ceases to be culture and becomes institutionalised criminality. By the same token, could we argue that it is the ‘culture’ of the Catholic Church to rape children?
Team America has seriously f–ked up in Afghanistan and Iraq, so any intervention from them is out of the question. No other nation state really cares about daft military adventurism – their politicians are too busy trying to win the next election, and I’m sorry to say that helping out the less fortune members of our species is something that is frowned upon, not just by the right who don’t want to have to pay for it (more yachts and pies to shove into their fat faces), but even by the left who seem, in the last few years, to have sacrificed their morality on the altar of cultural relativism and a misguided sense of ‘respect’.
There is nothing respectable about what is going on in Somalia. If you have a shred of feeling for your fellow humans, you’ll agree that this unnecessary suffering – suffering on a vast scale – must be stopped. The Somali government can’t stop it, the AU won’t, the Arab league couldn’t give a monkeys, NATO is too tied up in other business and the EU was to lazy to stop genocide on its doorstep in Bosnia and Kosovo, what makes you think it’s going to do anything for some impoverished nation full of religious nutcases?
The depressing but salient truth is that Somalia’s ONLY hope is the UN. Isn’t that sad?
Because we all know that the UN is about as much use as a KFC on the moon.
The ONLY way out of this mess is if a massive UN force is invited into Somalia by the Somali government (whose jurisdiction currently expends to Mogadishu Airport and Seaport. That’s it), and operates as Somalia’s army and police force, in a spirit of transparency and accountability (I would embed independent journalists, reps from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty with the soldiers) that was horribly missing from the Iraqi Disaster. They would have to implement a clear and precise twenty-five year plan to turn around the world’s most failed of failed states.
And anyone who allows human rights abuses, crimes against humanity or genocide happen on their watch GETS THROWN IN JAIL. Something that should have damn well happened in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur and Rwanda, to name a few. Listen you twat in the blue helmet, you’re not here to observe, you’re here to keep the peace. And if that means shooting the crazed maniac with a machete before he butchers a baby to death SO BE IT.
I firmly believe that the UN troops that stood by and watched the last few genocides happen and did nothing about it are just as morally culpable as the Israeli troops that allowed the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps happen in Beirut in the 80s.
In the meantime: we need UN prison ships, set up with the blessing of the Somali government and floating in international waters. I’m serious. Catch the pirates, they get a fair trial onboard a UN prison ship and are sentenced, contained and not free to go pirating again.
Or we can ignore the problem and hope it goes away, change the channel and watch X-Factor instead. I mean, Somalia is a long way away from here isn’t it?
I hear they just caught a 19 year old Somali boy attempting to blow up a Christmas tree lighting event in the USA. Failed states affect us all. It’s time we stopped feathering our nests for the fictional ‘next life’ and deal with the real issues are impeding people’s well-being in this one. Nobody deserves to be born into a life that is nasty, brutish and short. Nobody.
I’m going off on one here because I just read Dr. Sam Harris’ new book The Moral Landscape and it’s made me very angry about the moral bankruptcy of our national and international institutions. Read the book, it’s very good.
Today’s adventures centre around my efforts to get a new Indonesian visa.
Indonesia, being a bit of an awkward sod, only allows you to pick up visas at certain border crossings, and the one from East Timor ain’t one of them. So in order to get on with the next stage of the journey – overland and overseas to West Papua – I need to totter off to the Indonesian Embassy here in Dili, fill out MORE BLOODY VISA FORMS and wait a few days for my application to be approved. Ho Hum.
So I get to the Indonesian Embassy bright and early. I took a visa form and was very careful to fill it out in BLACK INK (blue ink is NOT allowed – they take this very seriously) and then handed it over with a passport-sized photo of my mug – you know, the same one I’ve used to get visas for over one hundred countries and I’ve used for my last two passports.
But no! Haven’t you heard? You photo needs a red background.
So it was an expensive taxi ride across town in the scorching morning sun to the photo shop. There they used my camera to take a shot of me against a bit of red card that had been gaffered to the wall (I guess other bules had gone through the same such nonsense). The guys photoshop skills were sadly lacking, so I had to step in and crop my own photo. Soon enough I had a A5 printout of about twenty little pics of yours truly against the damn red background, nineteen of which would be COMPLETELY USELESS as every other embassy in the world demands a WHITE background.
As my History and Politics teacher once said to me: Don’t try to be different lad, you’re not smart enough to be different.*
This process took the best part of the morning and by the time I got back to the embassy it was nearly lunchtime. I handed in my form (in BLACK ink) and my photo (with the RED background).
Are you living in Dili?
No, I’m a tourist.
Oh, sorry – you have to write a letter.
Yes. A letter explaining why you want to come to Indonesia.
Wow, in 183 countries and 23 months of travel, this was a new one on me. Not only do you have to be on no terrorist watch-lists and not be wanted by Interpol to visit Indonesia, you have to write them a pretty letter saying how great their country is. The template they gave me to copy from was hilarious, it just kept on banging on about how great Indonesia is.
I considered writing…
I wish to come to your daft country because I’m trying to get around the world without flying and by a quirk of geography your crappy little nation (which has utterly no taste in music, food or fashion, by the way) happens to be in the way of me getting to Palau and Papua New Guinea.
PS. You smell.
But what I really wrote was…
To Whom It May Concern
I wish to visit Indonesia on holiday. I intend to travel overland to Kupang in West Timor and from there travel to Flores and visit the world famous Komodo dragons. I then wish to travel to Sulawesi and enjoy the unique culture and way of life that I’ve heard so much about.
After that I will be travelling to West Papua to visit the Raja Ampat area, which I hear is the best diving destination in the world.
I come as a tourist in peace, love and mutual respect for your people and culture.
And handed it in. The best thing about a letter is that you can’t hear the sarcastic tone.**
What a mad procedure!!
After that bureaucratic ordeal, it was time for bed. It was a real dog day afternoon and – maybe I should have said earlier, but I have a couple of REALLY NASTY insect bites on the crook of my elbow which I got a couple of days ago in Kupang. They could have been done by a spider or, given the way they are spaced out, I could make out that I was bitten by a snake. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It was a snake! A big one!! But at least I got a nice new belt. I bought some cortisone cream from the pharmacy across the way last night, but it seemed to make it worse. The skin was broken and looked necrotic and they had produced a large bruise which made moving my left arm excessively painful.
The best thing for all concerned (which was admittedly just me) would be to go to sleep and hope for some magic to occur in the dreamtime.
I woke up in the evening and had a Tiger beer with Dan. East Timor has no national brewery. Maybe that could be Dan’s next business venture.
One thing that utterly sucked about my timing in arriving in Dili was that no one but two people I knew were here last weekend and I missed them. One was a guy called Matthew Lumby who has been following my progress online and fancied meeting up for a swift half. The other was Rocco, my cameraman and comrade in arms from Ghana to Gabon last year. Rocco shares the same puerile and inappropriate sense of humour as me and we got on like a house on fire. Rocco had been working on a film over here.
Happily, though, some of Rocco’s mates were still here, and one of them, Nick, agreed to meet up for a few jars and a natter. We grabbed some food in a decent (and, more importantly, fairly cheap) Chinese joint and then headed over to the Castaway Bar on the waterfront, carefully avoiding the massive number of UN vehicles parked outside. The Castaway was teaming with UN staff. You know, once they leave, the economy here is going to crash like a drunken chauffeur in Paris being chased by the Paparazzi.
*Said by Mr. Caulfield, simultaneously the best and the worst teacher of all time, after I handed in an essay in which my written ‘a’s looked like printed ‘a’s, ie. with the tail on top. He was right, I wasn’t smart enough to be different. But that was then…
**Talking of school, I was once given a dressing-down by Mr. Ling for saying the daily assembly bible reading in a sarcastic tone of voice. True!
So what do you know about East Timor? Not much? Good. You must be British. Or American. Aussies will have heard of the place for reasons I’ll come to later. The first I heard of the place was about ten years ago on the Mark Thomas Comedy Product TV Show (Mark Thomas is the Michael Moore of the UK only much less fat) when he was going on about British arms companies supplying the weapons that the Indonesian army were using to kill civilians in East Timor.
So what follows is a potted history of this little nation. Like most of the islands that make up Indonesia, Timor was fought over by the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Spanish and god knows who else for a few centuries until the island was split down the middle (with a little odd enclave) between the Portuguese and the Dutch.
Poor old East Timor, it was doomed from the start. In the league of Nations It Really Sucked To Be Colonised By, Portugal has to come joint top with Belgium. Look at the ex-Portuguese colonies around the world: Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and –urk – Cape Verde. Basketcases one and all. Portugal really quite spectacularly neglected pretty much all of it colonies, failed to build any decent infrastructure, educate the native population, or even prepare them for the transition into statehood.
Instead the Portuguese (under the universally loathed Salazar regime) just raped the land of its resources, orchestrated a devastatingly successful divide-and-rule policy, and then once day in 1975 pulled out without a thank you, goodbye, kiss-my-elbow NOTHING. In Mozambique they trashed the place on the way out – setting fire to buildings, sabotaging vehicles and – sickeningly – pouring concrete down wells. In Angola just ONE university graduate was left in a country the size of Western Europe. A country with a population of fourteen million. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened next. The civil war in Angola rumbled on for almost THIRTY years.
East Timor was spared the inevitable civil war only because Indonesia (at the behest of the US and Australia, by the way) invaded and annexed the country. Predictably, people fought back, some with arms, others (more sensibly and more successfully) through diplomacy. Step forward, Jose Ramos-Horta, current President and Nobel Laureate (he won the Peace Prize in 1996). We shall learn more about him later.
Anyway, after 23 years of violent repression of the East Timorese independence movement, something weird happened. President Habibie of Indonesia announced a referendum. I guess it kinda made sense at the time – there was a lot of international pressure to lay off East Timor – once the results showed that the overwhelming majority of East Timorese wanted to stay with Jakarta, they would have the UN off their back. Votes can be rigged right?
The canny East Timorese, in the face of intimidation and death threats, announced their intention to stay a part of Indonesian in public. When it came to the private ballot though, HA! Fooled ya! They voted for independence. By a landslide.
Indonesia’s army didn’t know what to do, so it did what tin-pot third-world armies do best: they trashed the place. Massacres, arson and looting were rife. Half a million people were displaced. This brought East Timor’s plight to the attention of Australia. Unfortunately, the East Timorese possibly didn’t realise they were on the doorstep of the Most Racist Country In The World™ and the only way they were going to get any help – humanitarian or otherwise – was if they handed over their future oil rights to the Howard administration for a song. But the plucky ETs held their ground (despite the fact their countrymen were being slaughtered in the streets) and (eventually) got themselves a halfway decent deal. That fat bastard Alexander Downer would have been happy for the massacres to go on (in his own words) “10, 20, 30 years… we can wait”.
What a nice chap. I sure hope you didn’t vote for him.
Anyway, the UN came in too late, left too early, came back looking sheepish and are still here now. The Indonesian army has gone and since 2001 East Timor (or Timor-Leste to be precise) has had a seat on the UN.
President Ramos-Horta survived an assassination attempt in 2008 (he was shot twice in the stomach) and is still going strong and still wanders about with a minimum of security. Which was my good fortune today as he was speaking at a school down the road. I turned up in my scruffs, clutching a couple of bags (perhaps full of AK-47s and rocket launchers) and was waved through the crowd peering through the school gates to take up a position just a few feet away from the man himself. Good job I’m not The Jackal eh?
After the speech he cut some cake, popped some champagne and declared the new tech wing of the San Miguel school (donated by the Rotary Club of Australia, by the way) open. Just as the tape in my camcorder ran out I managed to shake his hand and say hello. He was then whisked away much in the manner of Dungeon Master from Dungeons and Dragons.
Heads of states eh? I’m finally going places!
Afterwards I met up with my auld muckas Chesa and Simon, them wot’s tryin’ to get from Italy to Oz in a Fiat 500. They had to wait a couple of days longer than me in Kupang for Simon’s East Timor visa, but they got it in the end and now here they were in Dili. We met at the Castaway bar for a bit of grub and a natter. I stuck to the soft drinks – no, I’m not on the wagon (as if!), it’s just that the price of the booze here makes me pull a sad face.
When I’m done with all this, I plan to turn The Odyssey Expedition into a board game. The ‘Chance’ and ‘Community Chest’ cards are going to renamed ‘Shipping’ and ‘Visas’. I can plan for all other eventuality, but when it comes to shipping and visas, I keep getting dealt wild cards. Take today for instance, instead of just turning up at 2pm and picking up my visa, there was a problem: I had no East Timor visa in my passport.
I roll my eyes.
YES THAT’S BECAUSE I’M AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT COME HALFWAY ACROSS THE WORLD FROM MY OWN FREE AND FAIR COUNTRY TO SEEK ASYLUM IN YOUR COUNTRY WHICH HAS NO FREE HEALTH CARE, NO WELFARE STATE AND THE FRAKKIN’ DEATH PENALTY. WOOP WOOP WOOP!!
Or I could – could – have two passports. Maybe.
Oh. We need both passports.
I didn’t read this in the small print – I thought as long as I used a black pen, wrote a nice letter and had a red background (sounds like I used to be in the communist party) things would be PEACHY.
But no. For one ugly moment I thought I’d have to spend the entire weekend here while they sorted this out, but after making me wait a mere hour, they told me to come back at 4pm. I did as commanded and LO AND BEHOLD! I was given the visa that you get immediately most land borders (for half the price!) without all this monkeying about. But they had, rather bizarrely, stapled my two passports together, so now I was the only Englishman with a bumper 96 page passport. Kinda defeats the object of having two passports in the first place, but ho-hum.
Now free to flee this burg, Dan’s girlfriend Rita booked me on the bus back to Kupang in the morning. I grabbed the two Americans who were sharing my dorm at the backpackers and we headed off into the night. It was one of East Timor’s Independence Days (I think they have three) on Sunday and things were gearing up for a big party, but, sadly, tonight there was nothing much going on.
Something that I’ve found all over Asia is that these guys aren’t big on staying up late. It’s like we hit 9pm and everyone goes home (presumably to make more Asians). In a way, it’s the polar opposite of Latin America (where it needs to be 2am before anyone even thinks about leaving the house to go out on the lash). So places like Dili, Jakarta and, yes, even Bangkok sort of fizzle out before I’m quite wherever I want to be (usually in a gutter looking up at the stars).
But as I had to be up early in the morning, an early night might be a good thing. So anyways the two yanks, Eric and Greg, and I headed over to Castaway to shoot some pool at the free pool table. I ended up teamed with the tallest Dutchman in the world and we won one and lost one. He was pretty plastered. At some time that was a little too sensible for me, the Americans headed back to the backpackers. I stayed out playing pool with the locals before being invited out to another bar that was open dead late. I remember there was an American guy from Hawaii who did actually think Obama may be a cactus and I’m fairly sure I met a least one lesbian and possibly a pirate. Although he may not have been a pirate. Maybe he was a greengrocer.
But only because Dan woke me up. Groggy and sleep deprived I clambered onto the minibus that would be speeding me back to Kupang. Bye bye Dili! The minibus ride to the border was brilliant – there were only two of us onboard so I could sit where I wanted and the seats went all the way back. I lay down and gazed at the stunning scenery whizzing by: turquoise tinted bays dotted with wooden fishing boats, islands of green rolling hills stretching off into the horizon and fluffy white clouds idly drifting by against a sky of azure blue.
The bus wound its way around the narrow S bends and switchbacks and before long we had arrived at the frontier with Indonesia. After formalities I WAS BACK in West Timor. Huzzah!
As soon as I had Indonesian phone coverage, I texted Edwin to let him know I was coming back. He let me know that the next ferry back to Flores left tomorrow at 4pm. This was good news (the next ferry didn’t leave until Friday, that would have been a bitch of a wait).
The trip from the border to Kupang wasn’t quite as good as this morning’s – they stopped to pick up loads of people along the way and then when we finally arrived in Kupang they painstakingly dropped everyone off at their houses, even if it meant driving backwards a dirt track for an hour. I got to Edwin’s around 8pm and pottered around on the internet for a bit, but by 9pm I got the feeling that Edwin wanted to go to bed (Saturdays are pretty sleepy in Kupang, let me tell you).
So I considered going for a walk around town to see if anything was ‘going down’, but instead I thought better of it and headed back to the Lavalon Backpackers and got my head down for the night.
One of the things that holds back many people from travelling is the prospect of wasting time and effort attempting to get into countries that would quite prefer it if you didn’t bother. However, it is a false presumption. In more than 150 countries worldwide you can turn up without shelling out $$$ for an invitation first.
So here’s a comprehensive list of the visa requirements for British Passport Holders for every country in the world, although it may come in useful for other nationalities as well.
I’ve split the world into four main categories: No Visa Required, Visa On Arrival, Prior Visa Required and Letter of Invitation (LOI) Required.
No Visa Required: You beauties!! Note the (very) high prevalence of prosperous, confident and democratic countries in this list.
Visa on Arrival: Not quite as good as no visa at all, but much, much less hassle than:
Prior Visa/LOI required: Crikey. What a bitch. Don’t turn up without a visa to any of the countries on this (mercifully short) list of grubby and inhospitable nations. They will fly you straight back home again at your expense because you didn’t ask their f—ing permission first. So go queue outside their ostentatious embassies in the pouring rain for hours, pay them a bundle of fivers and then wait and wait and wait for the privilege of visiting their stupid godforsaken country.
I find the whole process quite demeaning – it’s like having to write to someone to ask if you can attend their wedding – take the hint man, take the hint – these countries are obviously not much interested in you, or tourism in general.
Many of these countries hilariously require an onward ticket, some want you to write a begging letter to come in, others want a letter off your employer or even copies of your bank statements… remember this is not to LIVE THERE, this is just to VISIT FOR A FEW DAYS.
The worst of the worst require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) – I’ve cast these down into the very lowest rungs of hell. Not only do you have to pay extortionate amounts of money to Ambassador Ratbag for the stamp, you also have to pay someone in the country to ‘vouch’ for you.
I would actually like a list of all of the illegal refugees and economic migrants pouring out of our rich democratic nations and claiming asylum in… Nigeria? Papua New Guinea? TURKMENISTAN?? Seriously? WHAT?
I hold Australia in particular contempt for this policy – it is the ONLY rich westernised power on an otherwise quite hellish list of paranoid basketcases.
Oh, and by the way, Aussie tourists are granted a SIX MONTH stay in the UK, upon arrival, for free. So, Australia, when you ask me in your rasping nasal tones where the bloody hell am I – I guess I’m in a country that welcomes me with open arms rather than a punch in the face and a bill of sale.
But look on the bright side, there are 150 (other, better) countries which don’t make you beg for permission to pop in for a visit…
Here’s your at-a-glance VISA MAP OF THE WORLD:
NO VISA REQUIRED (WOO!)
Antigua & Barbuda
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
USA (but you do need a prior visa if you arrive on private boat or plane)
Bosnia & Herzegovina
THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Iraq (Kurdistan only, entered from Turkey)
Jordan (if you enter on the ferry from Egypt)
VISA ON ARRIVAL
Cuba (well, I got a visa on arrival, but I came on a yacht…)
THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Burma (but only valid for border regions)
East Timor (though no longer available on land border with Indonesia)
Indonesia (though not available on land borders with East Timor and PNG)
That’s over 150 countries where you can get in without asking prior permission. Now here’s the naughty list:
PRIOR VISA REQUIRED
Suriname (letting the side down there somewhat)
Cuba (but I doubt they’d turn you back)
Belarus (no surprise there – they still have the KGB)
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Eritrea (best obtained in Jeddah – next day delivery)
Ethiopia (best obtained in Nairobi – same day delivery)
Madagascar (but it’s free, so can’t complain)
Sao Tome & Principe
Sudan (best obtained in Cairo – same day delivery)
Burma (for travel into interior)
India (AND now requires you to leave for 60 days between visits!)
Iraq (for travel beyond Kurdistan)
Papua New Guinea
*visa obtainable on arrival at airport with prior permission over internet
LETTER OF INVITATION (+ PRIOR VISA) REQUIRED
Azerbaijan (no LOI required if visa bought in Georgia)
Libya (AND you must pay for a ‘guide’)
THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
*To make matters worse, these visas can only be obtained in your country of origin (although it is possible to get a Nigerian visa from Ghana and an Algerian visa from Mali if you’re lucky).
Right. That’s it. If there are any mistakes/updates/excuses you’d like to make (this is pretty much all off the top of my head), please comment below.