Day 303: Et Voila!

October 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Reunion, The Odyssey Expedition

30.10.09:

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.

Day 306: The Reunion in Réunion

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Reunion, The Odyssey Expedition

02.11.09:

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.

Day 307: Passportout

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Reunion, The Odyssey Expedition

03.11.09:

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.

Day 308: Vans Across The World

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Reunion, The Odyssey Expedition

04.11.09:

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.

Oh hell.

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…

Thank you.

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.

Day 309: The DAL Madagascar

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Reunion, The Odyssey Expedition

05.11.09:

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.

THE ODYSSEY WORLD VISA GUIDE

December 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured

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:

World Visa Requirement Map

World Visa Requirement Map For British Passport Holders

NO VISA REQUIRED (WOO!)

AMERICAS
Antigua & Barbuda
Argentina
Bahamas
Barbados
Belize
Bolivia
Brazil
Canada
Chile
Colombia
Costa Rica
Dominica
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
El Salvador
Grenada
Guatemala
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras
Mexico
Nicaragua
Panama
Paraguay
Peru
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
Uruguay
USA (but you do need a prior visa if you arrive on private boat or plane)
Venezuela

EUROPE
Albania
Andorra
Austria
Belgium
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy
Kosovo
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Moldova
Monaco
Montenegro
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
San Marino
Serbia
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
UK
Ukraine
Vatican City

AFRICA
Botswana
Burkina Faso
Lesotho
Malawi
Mali
Mauritius
Namibia
Rwanda
Senegal
Seychelles
South Africa
Swaziland
The Gambia
Tunisia
Morocco

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Bahrain
Iraq (Kurdistan only, entered from Turkey)
Israel
Japan
Jordan (if you enter on the ferry from Egypt)
Kuwait
Oman
Palestine
Qatar
South Korea
Taiwan
The Maldives
UAE
Yemen

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Brunei
Fiji
Kiribati
Malaysia
Marshall Islands
Micronesia
New Zealand
Palau
Samoa
Singapore
Solomon Islands
Thailand
The Philippines
Tonga
Tuvalu
Vanuatu

VISA ON ARRIVAL

AMERICAS
Cuba (well, I got a visa on arrival, but I came on a yacht…)

EUROPE
Armenia
Turkey

AFRICA
Benin
Burundi
Cape Verde
Comoros
Egypt
Kenya
Mauritania
Mozambique
Sierra Leone
Tanzania
Togo
Uganda
Zambia
Zimbabwe

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Jordan
Lebanon
Nepal
Sri Lanka
Syria

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Burma (but only valid for border regions)
Cambodia
East Timor (though no longer available on land border with Indonesia)
Indonesia (though not available on land borders with East Timor and PNG)
Laos

That’s over 150 countries where you can get in without asking prior permission.  Now here’s the naughty list:

PRIOR VISA REQUIRED

AMERICAS
Suriname (letting the side down there somewhat)
Cuba (but I doubt they’d turn you back)

EUROPE
Belarus (no surprise there – they still have the KGB)

AFRICA
Cameroon
Central African Republic
Chad
Congo
Cote D’Ivoire
Democratic Republic of Congo
Djibouti
Eritrea (best obtained in Jeddah – next day delivery)
Ethiopia (best obtained in Nairobi – same day delivery)
Gabon
Ghana
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Liberia
Madagascar (but it’s free, so can’t complain)
Niger
Sao Tome & Principe
Sudan (best obtained in Cairo – same day delivery)

ASIA
Afghanistan
Bangladesh
Bhutan
Burma (for travel into interior)
China
India (AND now requires you to leave for 60 days between visits!)
Iraq (for travel beyond Kurdistan)
Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia
Tajikistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Australia*
Papua New Guinea
Vietnam*

*visa obtainable on arrival at airport with prior permission over internet

LETTER OF INVITATION (+ PRIOR VISA) REQUIRED

AMERICAS
N/A

EUROPE
Azerbaijan (no LOI required if visa bought in Georgia)
Russia

AFRICA
Algeria*
Angola*
Equatorial Guinea*
Libya (AND you must pay for a ‘guide’)
Nigeria*
Somalia*

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Iran
Kazakhstan
North Korea
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia*
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Nauru

*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.