The boat to Sumbawa didn’t leave until 10am, so I kicked myself for not having a lie-in and a coffee. Onboard I met a girl called Charlie. She’s from Bristol and is a health-care professional, working and travelling all over the world. We swapped stories of the crazy stuff that happens on the road and soon the conversation turned to Papua New Guinea – my next-but-one destination.
Seriously. Be careful.
I didn’t like where this conversation was going, but forewarned is forearmed, so here goes… Charlie had lived in PNG for a few months. Being a wishy-washy liberal (as all good backpackers are) she hated to use this term, but the word she used was ‘savage’.
Images ran through my head of me spending Christmas day in a big cooking pot while scantily-clad men with bones through their noses danced around me making UNGA-BUNGA noises. Is it really that bad?
Charlie explained PNG justice: if somebody wrongs you, you either take all their money or kill them. Or both. Simple. Charlie and her then-boyfriend were involved in an incident which meant an entire village was gunning for their blood. They ended up grabbing everything they could carry and running for their lives. When they jumped on the motorboat out of there, they found it was filled with rocks.
“What are the rocks for?”
“To throw at them” said the captain, pointing at the irate villagers rapidly approaching the vessel.
They made it out by the skin of their teeth. And I’m going to be attempting to cross the interior during the wet season. I guess Indonesia is the calm before the storm.
Once back on terra firma, in this case the island of Sumbawa, I teamed up with a trio of North Americans (two from Vancouver, one from California). They had bought ‘thru’ tickets to Denpasar in Bali. After being ripped off on the way to Labuanbajo last week, I was in no mood for a repetition of that event, so I had vowed to buy each bus and ferry ticket separately. They paid 315,000 Rupiah each for their tickets. I reckoned I could do better than that.
The ferry to Sumbawa was 40,000. The minibus to Bima (which was ace, by the way) was 15,000 and the overnight ticket to Poto Tano on the other side of the Sumbawa was 100,000. So far, 155,000 – just over a tenner. I was doing well.
The overnight bus was good because it wasn’t full and the seats went all the way back. It was bad because the driver (sod’s law) was a maniac.
You know, I’m going to keep banging on about this, because I don’t see what gives anyone the right to put my life, the other passenger’s lives, the lives of other motorists and the lives of pedestrians in danger in that way. If there is a ministry of transportation in Indonesia, its members deserve a slap.
John (the guy from California) and I chatted into the night. It’s now December. I’ve been travelling now for over 23 months. That’s 100 weeks or 700 days. I wish I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wish I had an end date. I wish I had made some money from the frickin’ TV series. I wish a lot of things, but most of all, I wish I had seen Mandy for more than a week in the last two years.
At 3am the bus stopped so we could get something to eat. Obeying my circadian rhythms, I stayed on the bus and slept. At 5am we boarded the ship to the island of Lombok. Again, I didn’t get off the bus (although everybody else did). We hit Lombok by 7am and got to the main town of Mataram by nine. John and the Canadians, Mike and Josh, were told that the bus wouldn’t be continuing on to Bali until 1pm.
I was told that the ticket would be 150,000 Rupiah, which would bring my grand Labuanbajo-to-Denpasar total to 305,000 – just 10,000 (one dollar) short of what the other guys paid.
But that seemed a little too much for me, and I didn’t fancy hanging around the Mataram bus station for hours on end, so I jumped a motorbike taxi to the port of Lembar. It cost 25,000 and the ferry to Padangbai in Bali was 31,000. So if I could get the bus from Padangbai to Denpasar for less than 100,000 I would be quids in. In the event, I haggled the driver down to 40,000 for a grand Labuan-to-Denpasar total of 251,000 – a good 100,000 less than I was quoted for a through-ticket. 100,000 can get you four big Bintang beers, two nights in a pension, two pizzas or six and a half nasi gorengs.
I’m currently on the ferry to Bali. The sea is a lot rougher than it was yesterday, but nothing compared to the North Sea. I’m sitting on the back pew of a line of bench seats with my laptop plugged into the tuck shop power socket. It’s cheap and it’s cheerful – costing just over two quid for a three hour boat ride. Neil’s away in Singapore today, but he’s left a house key for me to pick up from his mate Cilian. Good stuff. Let’s go HATI HATI…!
I arrived in Denpasar in good time and grabbed a taxi to central Seminyak. I got in touch with Neil’s mate and he said he’d be at the pub at 9pm. This gave me a few hours to upload all these blogs that have been coming thick and fast over the last few days (I’m sad that ‘Oh Dear’ has been pushed off the front page: it’s well worth reading!).
So I met with Cilian and got the keys and had a good natter over a couple of beers. Cilian (and his brother Cuanna) work with Neil doing superyacht supplies – not just for Indonesia, but for nine other destinations as well, including Sri Lanka, Maldives and Seychelles (this may come in handy later on in the mission!!). But what’s particularly cool is their involvement in a wonderful little charity called YACHT AID.
“You own a yacht?! What do you need aid for??” I hear you cry. No – the aid isn’t for the yachties; what it is is a global distribution network that delivers school books and equipment to some of the most under-privileged kids in the world. The thinking is this: if a yacht is going to a far-flung destination anyway, don’t waste the journey! as my dad always says to me whenever he spots me going upstairs without some knickknack or other. So the boat captains get to give a little back to the communities that they visit. Which is nice. And with very low overheads and zero transport costs, it means that a very large proportion of the money raises goes straight into buying stuff for the people who really need it.
Anyway, it’s a worthy charity and if you sail, it’s one that is definitely worth getting involved with. You can learn more about Yacht Aid by clicking here.
And now that I’ve got you in a charitable mood (and since Christmas is around the corner…!) if you can give a little money (or, even better, a lot) to my chosen charity, WaterAid, I’ll love you forever.
So I got to Neil’s just after midnight. As luck would have it, Neil was just arriving back from Singapore on a business trip, so we caught up over a nice cold Bintang. And the hat? Neil suggested I wait until tomorrow to be reunited with my travel buddy.
The next day I was up early and hitting the streets. Sixteen hours of videotape and three hard-drives that I didn’t want to lose in PNG called for a trip to the post office. I also needed to stock up on my travel essentials – deodorant (wow did I STINK yesterday!), wetwipes, new belt etc. I was hoping to go surfing with Justin as I’ve never surfed before and although I quite detest the culture, I do have a strict guiding principle that I should try everything in life at least once. In the end, a disaster in work meant that Justin couldn’t make it, so instead I went and checked out what was happening in a nearby Hindu Temple – it was full of people dressed in white and sporting turbans. Apparently, today was a big ceremony of renewal and later on there would be some kind of shindig in a graveyard. Sounded groovy. But my own personal renewal – the hat replacement ceremony – was fast approaching.
Neil told me to meet him at the Harry Juku bar at 7pm and after a bit of an adventure on the back of a motorbike (whose driver had no clue where Harry Juku’s was) I arrived to find Skye, the hostess with the mostess, wearing my new hat. Skye is the Aussie manager of the bar who is so good-looking that she reduces my power of speech to baby-like gurgles (something I pointed out a couple of weeks ago to a chap called Russell – who then turned out to be her boyfriend – D’OH!). She was happy to hand it over though – an investiture that should come with the line ‘you lost today kid – doesn’t mean you have to like it’. And onto my ginger bonce descended HatSix, the latest incarnation of the Kangaroo-skin akubra that’s been keeping me jolly and wise for the last eight years of my life.
My hats are a bit like James Bond – they may be played by different hats, but they are always the same hat. In which case, this hat is squidgy-faced scouser Daniel Craig, and, being a six, will no doubt conjure up a leggy blonde woman who nobody else can see wobbling around in a red dress and high heels looking not quite as sexy as Boomer (who doesn’t even have to try).
So, hat on head, I joined forces with Skye, Russell and their mates and hit the town – Neil doesn’t like the Kuta area, which is fair enough – he lives here! First up we went to a little pub (whose name sadly escapes me) which offered double vodka RedBulls for just 15,000 Rupiah (a quid) and after that closed we went to a place called Eikon which seems to have replaced the Sari Club (I was here just before the 2002 bombing) as the place in Kuta to be. It’s a charmless little affair and happily we didn’t stay too long – a few doors down is M Bar Go where outside I met Natalie (Justin’s girlfriend and she of the crocodile KFC expedition) and inside I met up with the man himself – Justin, who, being the bar manager, was more than happy to sling a few free beers my way.
It would be 4am before I got back to Neil’s. I was thinking of doing a dawn surf, but I was a) too tired and b) far too drunk. Although those two factors may have improved my balance – who knows?
Major, MAJOR thanks to Neil, Vic Market and, most of all, my delightful girlfriend Mandy for sorting the new hat out. Double points to Mandy considering she hates the hat and EVERYTHING IT STANDS FOR!!
I was up the next day at seven (I’ll sleep when I’m dead) and busy getting all my remaining stuff together. I planned to get to the bus station early, but in the event, Neil and I went out for brunch and I didn’t end up leaving until 2pm. The journey time to Surabaya (the port town on Java from where I’ll hopefully be getting the ferry to West Papua tomorrow) was twelve hours and, as I didn’t fancy turning up at two in the morning, I killed a few hours in an internet café catching up on the latest nonsense from the rest of the world.
On this very topic, I have something to say: England not getting the World Cup was gutting, fair enough (but the BBC was right to expose the corruption that goes on in Fifa) – but my outrage is focussed on the fact that QATAR is going to be hosting the games in 2022. WHAT. THE. HELL…?
!!===WARNING! RANT APPROACHING===!!
Let me make this quite clear – Qatar is a boring little shithole in the middle of a scorching hot desert. It’s a nasty wahhabist dictatorship where the guy in charge got there much in the manner of Kind Hearts and Coronets – BY KILLING ALL HIS RIVALS. And it’s all well and good for Bahrain to host the Formula One GP, as the people who go to watch these races are generally well-to-do and probably own a yacht, but footy is a game that is supposed – supposed – to be the game of the working class – ie. accessible to all. Qatar is one of the most expensive countries in the world.
And yeah, good luck with your Russian visas for 2018 – don’t forget to check in with the KGB every time you burp, fart or whistle unless you want to be deported. But free and fair democracies aren’t good for bribery and corruption, and so I guess its fair enough that the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Tournaments will be held in ruthlessly oppressive, backwards-looking oil-rich oligarchies.
The adverts for Qatar 2022 appeared on every single ad break during the World Cup (I was in the middle east at the time) and grew ever more tedious by the second. I must have seen the same frickin’ ad over one hundred times: and one thing that struck me was the lack of women being represented. There are little girls running around looking happy at the lifetime of meekness and servitude that awaits them, but the only women you see have their back to the camera and have black sheets draped over their entire bodies, lest they peak my uncontrollable lust.
This is understandable since women don’t really like football, do they? Best they just dress in black and stay at home, a veiled breeding machine for when you’ve had your fill of Filipino whores, eh?
Oh and don’t give me the feint praise of Qatar being a more progressive state than the others in the area. The relationship between parasitic wasps and the caterpillars in which they lay their eggs is more progressive than Saudi Arabia SO IT’S NOT SAYING MUCH.
But that’s not what REALLY sticks in my craw. What’s making steam shoot out of my ears is the reckless, wanton and Machiavellian disregard for the global environment.
Yeah, as per usual, it’s up yours Pale Blue Dot, we have $$$ to make.
The tournament will be held at the height of summer in a country where the thermometer often tops fifty degrees and humidity stands at 90% on a good day. And so what are they going to do to prevent the players – and fans – keeling over from heat exhaustion? They’re going to install air conditioning! IN 100,000 SEATER STADIA. IN THE DESERT.
This is Turkmenbashi levels of insanity. Yes, he wanted to build an Ice Place in the desert in Turkmenistan, but AT LEAST HE ONLY WANTED ONE OF THEM, NOT EIGHT.
It’s a good we’ve got that Climate Change thing NIPPED IN THE BUD EH? Isn’t that right England…? I believe you’re currently toiling under the coldest start to December since the Ice Age. Well, I’m sure it’s a cyclical thing and the oil companies will be vindicated against what those mean nasty scientists have been politely saying since the 1960s. Next they’ll be telling us smoking leads to cancer! Ha! Imagine THAT Christopher Hitchens*! What do you have to say on the matter, Bill Hicks? Madness, I know, Patrick Swayze.
So, thanks to Fifa, the amount of fossil fuel burnt over the four weeks of the tournament JUST KEEPING THE STADIA COOL will be more than the ENTIRE CARBON OUTPUT of the FIFTY FOUR Nations of Africa for ONE YEAR. A micro-state of less than one million inhabitants producing more pollutants in a month than one BILLION people spread out over an entire continent can muster in twelve.
Oh, and one last thing… UNLESS YOU’RE LUDICROUSLY RICH, THERE WILL BE NO BOOZE FOR YOU!! Ha! Good luck with that Fifa, you stupid miserable contemptible – (and easily bribed) – morons.
Phew! Had to get that off my chest.
So at 6pm I boarded the bus back to Java, over a month since I left. I’ll be heading to the Pelni shipping offices in the morning – I hope they’re open on Sundays – and by Wednesday I should be in Sorong, West Papua. I can’t get phone coverage at sea, but I’ll try to update my Twitter feed when we stop a Makassar in Sulawesi on the way. Wish me luck!!
*After watching the Paxman interview with a resigned-to-die Christopher Hitchens this week (which almost had me in tears, by the way), the most poignant moment was when Paxman asked if Hitch had any regrets about not leading a more healthy life. Hitch replied yes, but not for himself: for his family that he would be unjustly leaving behind years (if not decades) before his time.
If that doesn’t make you want to buckle up, fly straight and PACK IN THE FAGS, there really is no hope for you. This isn’t a rehearsal you know. This is all there is.
Noah had nothing on this. All life is here – spread out all over the floor. Picnics, knick-knacks, porridge, rice and tic-tacs. Families, feuds, filth, food and funny lookin’ f—ers. Music, mayhem, toys and rugs and cardboard. Screaming babies and bawling kids and out-of-tune karaoke and phones on speaker phone and noise and noise and noise.
The Pelni ferries that ply the water between the major Indonesian islands are a hoot. They are the diametric opposite of a luxury cruise: more akin to a floating refugee camp, thousands of people crammed onboard snuggled into every nook and cranny, complete with the ubiquitous massive bundles of stuff. WHAT’S WITH THE STUFF?? I guess Indonesians and Africans have got this in common: neither would dream of wasting a journey. And if that means an old age pensioner carting a metric ton of rice a thousand miles across the ocean, then so be it.
The trip from Java to West Papua was a good one for me. I spent most of the time in the little café on the 5th level. My laptop plugged in for power, no chance of internet and only intermittent phone reception meant that I could plough on with cutting together a couple of promo videos from the 100+ hours of footage that I’ve got from this year.
Here’s one of them:
I can’t release much more footage as it will jeopardise the already dicey chances of there being a second series of the TV show: I’ve got no choice but to work with Lonely Planet again, not that that’s a problem – they’re nice guys, but the strength of the Australian dollar most certainly is. When I first visited Oz back in 2002 it was 2.7 Aussie Dollars to the Pound. Now it’s 1.5. Eek!! The upshot of which is that TV/Film/Music production in the Down Under is now prohibitively expensive for anybody who might be paying for said production in, say, US Dollars, British Pounds or Euros…
Or in other words, I need the Australian economy to crash in order to secure series two of the TV show. Anybody know any corrupt currency traders happy to plunge 20,000,000 cork-hatted people into odious debt??
Sitting in the ship café had other advantages as well: coffee on tap, nasi goreng (egg fried rice – Indonesia’s only alternative to, erm, rice) and a bunch of friendly guys chatting with me. I made friends with the staff and had a laugh teasing these two kids (surprisingly good English, by the way) for shouting ‘meeeeeeeister’ at me all day.
A brief stopover in the city Makassar on the island of Sulawesi (Celebes in old money) gave me a chance to stop in a brand new Dutch bakery that had opened just the day before. Tasty treats galore… and possibly the first and only bit of Dutchiness I’ve seen in the whole of Indonesia – odd considering these 17,000 islands had been a Dutch colony for so long.
Was a bit miffed on the second and third nights when I found my bunk had been nicked by some old guy who refused to get out of it. My bunk was just one of over two hundred on the fifth floor, although there were many more on the floors above and below: there was easily over a thousand people on board this ship and I can only imagine that Pelni are laughing all the way to the bank. I found an empty bunk and took it for myself.
I had left Java on the Sunday, we had got into Makassar on the Monday and it was in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning when we finally arrived in Sorong. There I would be attempting to score a ride to the very southern islands of the Pacific island nation of Palau, just 220 nautical miles due north of here.
Just like the old chestnut ‘I’m going to visit every country in the world without flying’, this would be easier said than done.
The ship came into the sleepy port town of Sorong in West Papua pretty much on time, which made me happy. At the port I was met by the indomitable Bosco, the local guy who I’d be CouchSurfing with for my brief stay here. We got as far as his local church before the storm broke and the rain started coming down in buckets. Staying on the back of his scooter with all my bags wasn’t smart, so we tucked ourselves under the eves of the chapel and waited for the downpour to stop.
West Papua (or just ‘Papua’ to give the place its proper name) is the western half of the island of New Guinea (also known – just to confuse matters – as Papua). New Guinea is the second largest island in the world (brownie points for guessing the first) and is spilt straight down the middle between West Papua (which is part of Indonesia) and the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.
Incidentally, ‘Papua’ means ‘Fuzzy Haired’. As ‘Barbados’ means ‘Bearded Ones’, I’m thinking Everton’s Marouane Fellainishould grow a beard so I can call him ‘Papua Barbados’.
Which is SUCH an awesome pornstar name.
Tangent, sorry… anyway, West Papua was not part of Indonesia when it first got independence, it was only a couple of decades later that the Dutch relinquished the colony it had held since 1660. This didn’t stop Indonesia’s dubious claim to West Papua in 1969 which nobody in the international community had the balls to argue against – a trick that would be employed again a few years later in East Timor.
The fact that the biggest gold mine IN THE WORLD is situated in West Papua I’m sure had no baring whatsoever on Jakarta’s decision to annex the territory. The mad thing is that ethnically, religiously, socially and spiritually, the people of the island of New Guinea have about as much in common with the people of Java as a pensioner in Sierra Leone has with a Japanese schoolgirl.
One of the main bones of contention is (AS ALWAYS!) religion. West Papua is, no matter what Jakarta would have you believe, overwhelmingly Christian, animist or secular. Pigs are worshipped here for Christ’s sake. Consequently, the locals here are not to big on the whole pig ban thing that Islam so idiotically stole from the Jews.
I’m not one for second guessing the divine creator of the universe (since I fairly sure the crazy f—er doesn’t even exist) but why would he make a perfectly tasty animal and then declare it unfit for human consumption? Why not – you know – make it less tasty??
Sorry, tangent. Stick to the point, Graham. Where was I? Oh yeah, West Papua. Annexed by Indonesia. West Papuans. Generally unhappy about it. That’s all you need to know for now.
So the rain poured down and Bosco and I chatted about my mission here in Sorong – to find a boat that would take me to the Palau islands. As far as far-flung destinations are concerned, the Palau islands are pretty much the outliers of the Pacific Nations on the far, far left of the map.
I had a few contacts given to me in Bali to pursue. However, some of them were away, others were at sea and others just didn’t answer the phone. My only hope was a lovely girl called Ina, who was a friend of a friend of Bali Neil. I’d be meeting with her as soon as this bloody rain stopped.
However, the rain had no intention of stopping and it was the next day before Bosco and I met Ina. She said the chances of me finding anybody prepared to take me, and more importantly, anyone willing to take me for a song, were slim – but she would see what she could do.
Hanging around Sorong for a few days made me appreciate the amount of STUFF that people had carted here from Java – this place isn’t cheap. As always when there is a whopping big gold mine / oil reserve / diamond mine and little else, prices shoot through the roof. I was very lucky that Bosco took me under his wing – the cheapest hotel here would have set me back at least $15 a night – way over my budget.
So I had a decision to make – should I stay or should I go?
Of course, there is a Plan B (there’s always a Plan B): My new Odyssey manager Damian (yay!) has found an owner of a magic yacht happy to take me to all the Pacific Island nations I need to go to (as long as we can source sponsorship money to pay for food, water, fuel etc,) but Palau, being way out west, isn’t on the table – yet.
So I’m waiting to hear back from Ina about a clever way of travelling the 220 miles north to the Palau island of Tobi (Coordinates: 3.0048785, 131.1715768) or to hear back from the yacht owner giving the thumbs up to adding Palau onto our itinerary. Either way, I’m not going anywhere for the next few days.
There’s not much in the way of roads on the island of New Guinea, so if you want to get around, your best bet is to buy a ticket for one of the many ferry boats that skip along the coast. The next ship heading to Jayapura, the nearest town to the border with Papua New Guinea, leaves on Saturday.
I waited until Saturday, and Bosco was kind enough to keep me. We really made the most of it though, Bosco taking me to a very West Papuan carol concert. The half-naked painted people dancing about was great, but as soon as the actors playing missionaries turned up re-enact the introduction of the locals to Mr. Jesus, Bosco and I made our excuses and left to go the pub.
The next day was Saturday. I still hadn’t heard if it was possible to change the magic yacht’s itinerary and Ina, working tirelessly, had been touting my wares to the local yachties and fishermen, but sadly nobody was very much interested. I could have jumped on the ferry out of there, but there was another one leaving on Monday so I decided to give Sorong the benefit of doubt and grace it with my precense for another couple of nights.
So you don’t think I’m being idle with my time I shot this video about travelling on the cheap:
Do you like it? I know it’s a bit rough and ready (and some of the things I say are painfully obvious), but it’s a good idea for me to shoot stuff like this that doesn’t tread on anybody’s toes as far as the second series of the TV show is concerned. Talking of the TV show, the first series of ‘Graham’s World’ is on here in Indonesia and on Sunday night Bosco and I set off on his scooter on a mad odyssey around Sorong looking for somewhere that had IndoSat so I could watch one of the episodes that I hadn’t seen yet.
However, our quest was in vain. Everything here closes at 10pm at the best of times, and the few places that were still open and had a telly used cable and didn’t have Nat Geo Adventure. Bah! Oh well, back to basecamp.
While I had a hoot hanging out with Bosco, Sorong is about as attractive as an old man’s sock suspenders. It’s a town made entirely from concrete and has all the aesthetic charm of a wet cardboard box. Filled with offal. Night life is non-existent and the beer is –jeepers!– expensive. So when the news came through from Damian that the magic yacht would indeed take me to Palau in the new year, I bought a ticket on the first boat outta there. Badabing, Badaboom.
I thanked Ina profusely for all her hard work and treated Bosco to dinner. The ferry to Jayapura was supposed to leave at 10pm, so Bosco and I headed over to the pub for a swift-half before saying goodbye, but the ship was delayed so we ended up down the road at the general store/liquor shop downing a mixture of beer, whiskey and local alcoholic grape juice. By the time the boat was ready to leave it was 1am and we where both smashed out of our heads.
Bosco’s mate gave me a lift back down to the port, I didn’t fancy waiting in the waiting room so I sneaked through a hole in the fence onto the quayside. Consequently I was first on the ferry when it arrived. I raced to find an empty bunk (the ferry was coming from Sulawesi so it was already pretty full) jumped on the first one I found, my backpack as a pillow, clutching my camera bag and my laptop bag as though my life depended on it. I passed out before whosever bed it was got back from the toilet.
Crikey! This ship is even worse than the last one. At least on board the last on I had a bed. Here it’s every man for himself, and as I have no intention of spending the next two days sitting guarding a bed. Consequently I have no idea where I’m going to sleep tonight. Of course the floor or the staircase is always an option, although the choice is quite sparse as there are people everywhere! Everywhere!!
You look under a bed to find a family of four playing cards, there are people sleeping in cupboards, on shelves, under tables, on top of tables, on chairs, on mats, in cardboard boxes, under the stars and presumably in the lifeboats and up in the crows nest (if the ship had one). You can’t move for people! People!! Everywhere!!
Once again I set up camp in a café on board. Don’t be thinking Starbucks here, we’re talking a cockroach infested room with two rows of MDF tables and some plastic chairs, some of which aren’t even broken. But with a extension cable kindly provided by the owners of the café (I think these guys pay for their patch on board) and a couple of cups of java, I managed to crack on with work for the website and plotting out (literally) where on Earth to go next.
It’s nearly Christmas and I’m quite unhappy about the fact that I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year on my own in Papua New Guinea. I was hoping to be finished with this crazy adventure months ago… at this rate by the time I hit The Seychelles, South Sudan will have become the 54th (official) state of Africa. Bugger!
The second night onboard the floating menagerie left me in a bit of a pickle: my bed had been snapped up by some young whippersnapper and I really didn’t fancy a night on the greasy dirty floor. On all the other ships I’ve been on I’ve had a designated bed, but not this time: it was first-come first-served. Yeah, you do have to bagsy your own bed. The café closed at 10pm and I started walking the decks with all my bags looking for somewhere to rest my weary bones.
Eventually I found myself at the bar on board. Well, I don’t know what you call a bar that only sells soft-drinks (Indonesia is Islamic, don’t forget (it’s easy to do – they seem to forget all the time)), but I ordered an overpriced Coke and plonked myself down on a bar stool. And then they told me they were closing too.
I asked (very politely) if I could possibly, possibly sleep in the bar for the night – stretched out along a nice soft bench seat in the corner of the room. There was a bit of a discussion amongst the staff and eventually they took pity on me (I was the only Bule on board!) and let me kip in the closed bar.
If only it was a real one!!!
Brilliant guys, thanks!! The second night I was confronted with a similar dilemma, but – shock horror – the bar was closed before I got there! Out of options, I headed back to my café.
Any chance I can sleep on the floor? I asked, again very politely. I had spent so much money in the café over the last two days I guess they thought I had earned my place amongst the staff. I was allowed to put three chairs together to make a bed and as the other guys got their foam mattresses out from the back room to sleep on the floor and the tables, I snoozed my way to the land of nod – we would be arriving in Jayapura in the wee small hours of Thursday morning.
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 Jordan
SE ASIA/OCEANIA 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)
EUROPE 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.
You know, when I stepped out of the Vietnamese Consulate back in September I honestly thought that my days of being trapped like a cog in the bureaucratic nightmare that is VISAHELL was over.
But then came East Timor, deciding just a few months ago to stop issuing visas for the trickle of western tourists that bother to visit their country overland from Indonesia. But even after that was all sorted out, like the mythological hydra, more bloody visas were called for, most hilariously for Indonesia as described in my blog entry entitled A Red Background.
And now with just 17 countries left to visit and all of them being as far-flung as you can fling a flang, I’m trapped on the border of Papua New Guinea almost having a nervous breakdown brought upon by yet another impenetrable layer of bureaucracy that makes the world of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil look streamlined and sensible.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE DAMN PLACES? I’m not a criminal, I’m not a terrorist, I’m not a international superspy. Are they really doing that well that they can afford to turn back tourists?? PAPUA NEW GUINEA, in the short time I was in Jayapura I met SIX people who gave up trying to get into your country. I’m not bigging myself up, I’m just a wannabe TV presenter on just one of Rupert Murdock’s myriad cable channels. But one of the guys you shooed away was a millionaire.
I’ll say that again, just in case ANYONE from Papua New Guinea is reading this.
YOUR COUNTRY, WHOSE PER CAPITA GDP IS LESS THAN THE GAZA STRIP’S, TOLD A MILLIONAIRE THAT THEY DID NOT WANT HIS CUSTOM.
Are you guys INSANE? Like, really really insane??
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the beginning. Stepping off the Pelni ferry at 4am on Thursday 16th December was a little like trying to get out of the front row of an Oasis gig just as the band is about to start but loaded down with backpacks and teetering on a watery precipice. There were people EVERYWHERE. It was all I could do to prevent myself falling into the breathtakingly polluted water of Jayapura’s port.
Groggy, sleepy and unhappy I began to trudge towards the few hotels listed in the Lonely Planet. The few CouchSurfers here had buggered off for the Christmas hols and so the choice was either hotel or a notel. The first place I tried was full.
So was the second.
And the third.
And the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.
After TWO AND A HALF HOURS of trudging around with my backpack and my bags, I finally found somewhere for the night, but at $22 for a single room, I could feel my already stretched budget kicking me in the balls. But I justified it to myself because I could have a couple of hours kip this morning, so I was effectively getting two nights for the price of one.
It wasn’t much of a justification, but at least there was air conditioning, a hot shower, a western-style toilet and a TV (that I didn’t use). I fell asleep and woke up a couple of hours later, gathered my ‘visa kit’ and raced off to the Papuan New Guinea Consulate for when it opened at 10am.
Now it says in the Lonely Planet that you can get a PNG visa at the Consulate in Jayapura the next day, or if you ask really nicely, the same day.
Good one, LP. Did you actually get a visa at this consulate, or did you just go in and ask them how long they take? Because I can tell you it’s much MUCH more of a headache than that.
I filled out the form enquiring after my collar size and father’s maiden name only to be told that I couldn’t make a visa application without a valid airline ticket out of the country.
TOP TIP for developing nation: If a western tourist ludicrously outstays his or her visa and you can’t afford to deport them, just sentence them to five years in jail. THEIR OWN COUNTRY will soon pay for their repatriation!!
Anyway, twattily enough, I also had to write another daft letter explaining why I wanted to go to Papua New Guinea.
The temptation to write TO RAPE AND STEAL AND DESTROY was almost overwhelming, but I managed to stifle that baser instinct. So I went to the internet place over the road, bought a ticket from Port Moresby to Brisbane, wrote a silly letter and returned… to be told to come back after 1pm.
So I waited outside in the baking heat of northern New Guinea, within a skerrick’s pube of the equator, sweating and fuming. If only I’d know this would just be the beginning of my VISAHELL, I probably would have gone off to shoot liquid crack into my eyeballs. But instead I waited patiently (and sweatily) and at 1pm I walked in and handed over my papers, tickets, photocopies, photos and application forms only to be told I needed to get a photocopy of my Indonesian visa.
Wha? Uh? Bu…?
I stormed off down the road, got page 23 of my passport photocopied in a roadside shack and returned within the half-hour.
Thanks. Will it be ready tomorrow.
The lady said she would try.
I jumped onboard the next ‘bemo’ (minibus) back to town. Happy days.
I found a place just up the road from my hotel that had free internet but where the coffee was TWO POUNDS a cup (blimey! – so much for travelling on the cheap!) and managed to pad two coffees out to last me the whole day. The coffee place closed at 10pm and I retired to my hotel. Things were going well – at this rate I should be in Papua New Guinea by the weekend.
The next day I checked out of my hotel and hop, skipped and jumped down to the Consulate, five miles away.
Here’s a video recreation of my conversation with the woman on the front desk.
I stepped outside and emitted a silent scream. Looks like I’ll be in hideously expensive (well, let’s just say ‘hideous’) town of Jayapura for the weekend. If this visa isn’t ready by Monday morning, I am quite frankly going to have a bit of a meltdown. After scoping out the competition (and finding them all full for the weekend) I checked back into my hotel only to be told that the only rooms they now had left were ‘luxury’ rooms.
I stepped outside and emitted a very LOUD scream.
So the weekend slobbered by with me attempting to minimise my expenses as much as possible. I generally hung out in the café with internet and actually managed to stretch the purchase of one coffee cover a mammoth twelve hour internet binge in which I managed to download this video off my good chum Leo and convert it for YouTube:
No mean feat at 56 kbits a sec I tell you!
So what do you want to know about Jayapura? Well it’s a wild west town on the far eastern edge of Indonesia. It’s unattractive, unremarkable and, well, about as much fun as sticking broken glass up your nostrils.
But here’s something to make you laugh. Or cry, I dunno. In the middle of the town there is a excruciatingly tasteless concrete statue of an Indonesian soldier standing with a flag and gun – and this soldier is being held up on a pedestal by obviously Papuan natives. Anyone who has seen the latest Harry Potter film might spot the similarities with the ‘Magic Is Might’ statue ordered by a certain He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Anyway, before I knew what was what it was Monday. The weekend was over (not that Jayapura has much in the way of ‘weekends’ but hey-ho. So I hailed a bemo and headed off to the PNG consulate for the fourth time.
Here’s a video recreation of my conversation with the woman on the front desk.
I returned THREE TIMES that day. The first time she told me to come back at 1. The second time she told me to come back at 4. The last time she told me that it wasn’t ready, but would DEFINITELY be ready for tomorrow.
It’s not just the inconvenience here, it’s the fact that Jayapura is ugly, smelly and EXPENSIVE. I returned to my hotel sweaty, hot, exhausted (the consulate is five miles away) and ready to kill, kill and kill again. Luckily for me I ran into a couple of Bules in the same position. One was a South African surf/wave detective (yes!) called Harald, and the other was a top chap from Hawaii called Mike. Harald and Mike are travelling the world in pursuit of the perfect wave. It’s all very cool indeed.
So we had a few drinkies together. They were going to try and get visas for PNG but decided (based on what they had been told by fellow Bules) that they were going to skip their trip to Papua New Guinea BECAUSE IT WAS TOO DIFFICULT TO GET A VISA. You hear that, PNG?? So they were going to stay in Indonesia instead AND SPEND ALL THEIR MONEY IN INDONESIA INSTEAD. Yeah – go for it, guys, PNG obviously has bigger fish to fry.
The next day I (again) packed all my things together and checked out of my hotel. I travelled over to the PNG consulate and… hey! Guess What…?
So that’s a no then is it? A NO. EVEN THOUGH YOU TEXTED ME THIS MORNING SAYING THAT MY VISA WAS READY AND I COULD COME PICK IT UP.
If somebody had handed me a tank of petrol and a match at this point I would have not been responsible for my actions.
So I returned to my hotel as quickly as I could an – would you Adam n’ Eve it – the damn place was FULL. Utterly utterly full.
That was it, I thought. Death must reign down from above. While I know it’s not Indonesia’s fault per se, I must regretfully report that I’m really starting to despise Indonesia. While India will always be home to the most irritating people in the world, Indonesia (appropriate name) comes a very close second. As I walk down the street there is an excruciating meeeeee-ster every few seconds. If I ignore it, it will continue meeeeeee-ster! MEEEEEEEEE-STER!!! MEEEEEEEEEE-STER!!!!!!! MEEEEEEEEEEEE-STER!!!!!!!!!!!, but if I turn I know I’ll get the old howareyou? followed by the usual, predictable peel of howling laughter that leaves you wondering whether you remembered to put on your trousers this morning.
No, I don’t want to shake your hand wizened old man – mainly because I was having a slash the other day and I saw the man next to me SCOOP PISSY WATER OUT OF THE URINAL WITH HIS HAND and ‘wash’ his dick with it. As with many developing nations, germ theory and basic hygiene are undiscovered countries here – people do all kinds of disgusting crap with their hands and then expect me to shake on it. Ha! No! Bugger off.
And for heaven’s sake: maybe, like one day, I might, you know, want to go 24 hours without eating luke-warm white rice with a GODDAMN COLD FISHHEAD ON TOP. I saw a sign for Pizza Hut yesterday. I got very excited about it and all day I was fantasising about getting a nice HOT pepperoni pizza… Actual Bread! Melty Cheese! Spicy Sausage!!
I walked back to my hotel and asked the girl on reception to order me a pizza. Then I found out that Jayapura does not have a Pizza Hut. It’s in another town, 15km away.
Okay: is there anywhere in this large sprawling town where I can get… chips? No. Steak? No. Pasta? No. Potatoes? No. A Sarnie? No. A Sausage? No. Mexican? No. Indian? No. Thai? No. Malaysian? No. Chinese… come on, there MUST be a Chinese place…? No. A kebab?
What’s a kebab?
DEAR GOD PLEASE HELP ME.
There are a hundred food stalls and shops here in Jayapura, and EVERY SINGLE ONE just sells white steamed rice and fish-heads. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. In the Middle East I get it, IT’S A DESERT: a lump of gritty meat wrapped in sandy bread is the best you can hope for. But in Indonesia you could throw a stick into the ground and it would grow into a tree. These were THE SPICE ISLANDS for heaven’s sake. What’s with the monoculture? What’s with the little plastic packets of ‘spicy sauce’ I get with my rice and fish heads?? Maybe Indonesia isn’t such an appropriate name – if there’s one thing I’ll always forgive India all her sins for, it’s the corkin’ nosh. Here you’re best bringing a packed lunch – those fish heads have been sitting in that hot, sweaty, fly-infested window for hours… or maybe days…
And is anything open after 9pm? I know going to bed early is the Asian disease (and quite possibly why there are so many Asians in the first place) but please, I just want a bottle of water. Or maybe a pack of Handie Andies.
And are sidewalks without massive deadly holes in them too much to ask? Do Indonesian town planners sit around with diagrams and schematics working out the optimum way to turn a simple task like walking down the street into a live-action version of Super Mario Brothers? And does all this litter bother anybody but me? On the boat to see the Komodo Dragons last month there was so much crap in the water I was convinced that a ship hauling rubbish to the dump had recently sunk – it brought to mind the trash-compactor scene from Star Wars: oh no, all in a day’s work for this dianoga-friendly UNESCO World Heritage site. Illegal logging? That’s no problem – just give me a bung and I’ll look the other way… after all, there’s plenty more virgin rain forest where that came from.
AND WHAT is with this whole thing of making it impossible to see out of the windows of minibuses? How the hell am I supposed to know when to get out? Now I understand some people (drug-dealers mostly) don’t want people seeing into their vehicle, but purposefully making only 10% of your windscreen see-through is just f—ing NUTS. Is it to stop tall people stealing your minibus?
And no, I DON’T SMOKE. But thanks for walking all the way over here so you can sit right next to me in this big empty room and blow smoke in my face. And, since you’re here, why not crane your neck over so you can read what I’m typing? Go ahead, I find it easier to write with a goddamn audience. Yes, I prefer friendly people to the cold indifference of Eastern Europeans, but c’mon, this is just… irritating. Really, really irritating. Like that noise they make in Dumb and Dumber.
AND YES your music is shite it keeps me up all night. Well, it would do if I wasn’t such a heavy sleeper. And no, I don’t want it amplified so loud that it shakes the poo out of my bottom. There’s a passive-aggressive notion from middle-class dinner tables that western (well, UK, US and Jamaican) music is somehow inferior to what we like to condescendingly describe as ‘World Music’. To that I say PFFFFFFFFT. Local music is AWFUL pretty much everywhere: in Latin America the best you can hope for is Me Gustas Tu, in Africa everyone is too busy listening to African-American homosexual jingle-pop (or R&B as it’s also known), continental Europe is all um-pah-pah, accordions, the Spinal-Tap of Death Metal or 80s pop that would have seemed dated in the 80s, the Middle East just sounds like Tarzan falling down a very deep well, India is some shrieking harridan singing through her nose whilst wobbling about behind a pillar, SE Asia is even more obsessed with Celine Dion and Bryan Adams than even the Middle East (the more I travel, the more I become convinced that heterosexuality is the one that’s ‘not natural’) and Indonesia? Jesus wept. Possibly because people kept playing Indonesian music at him.
Oh Graham, you big meanie… you’re such a music nazi. Yes, yes I am and this music ist not gut! From a population of 250 million with its thousands of islands, hundreds of languages and mosaic of cultures, I expect at least one song that makes me tap my foot instead of sticking my fingers in my ears and going LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALA.
In short, Indonesia: you irritate the crap out of me, you don’t wash your hands, your cuisine is as dull and your music is poo. And too loud. It’s not me, darling, it’s you. You’re too plain Jane, the spice has gone out of our relationship and I would rather spend my time with other countries – ones that like to stay up late and dance until the break of dawn. Let’s get divorced so I never have to see you again, but I can look back on my time spent with you with fondness as my memories of your bloody awful cooking fade with time. Welcome to Dumpsville, Population: You.
BUT WAIT…! What’s this?
Indonesia… come back!!
I didn’t mean it! I was just – you know – venting!
Yes, I will forgive a country of pretty much anything if it manages to send my tastebuds on a spine-tingling roller-coaster ride of texture, flavour and outright yumminess. And tonight, Indonesia you have surpassed yourself.
Maybe the fact that I had to eat crap for two months was a conspiracy to make me lower my standards, lower my defences before… WHAM!!!
The tastiest dish I have EVER EVER eaten.
A little bit of backstory: after getting kicked out of my hotel, I headed over to the hotel that Mike and Harald were staying at and tried to check in there, but (lords-a-lordy) it was also full. Harald and Mike, being the top blokes that they are, agreed to let me sleep on their floor and the hotel kindly supplied me with a mattress.
So once I was settled in, Mike and Harald had some good news… unlike me they wouldn’t be spending a lonely Christmas in this shithole, they had just scored the last couple of seats on the last plane out of here on Thursday morning. Lucky buggers.
Mike was (understandably) ecstatic at this news and wanted nothing more than some decent tucker to celebrate, so we headed towards the seafood shacks laid out along the road beside the harbour. But not just to any seafood shack, we went to THE seafood shack. Possibly the finest seafood shack in South East Asia.
THIS is what I’m talkin’ about! For just six quid each, we got a deliciousfreshly-caught blue grenadier cooked to perfection of the barbie:
We also got a plateful of delicious deep-fried king prawns:
But that was a mere trifle compared to the gastronomic perfection that was to come. I ordered fresh calamari out of the cooler box and Harald, being fluent in Indonesian (and an able fisherman himself) was able to explain exactly what we wanted. And what we wanted was heaven on a plate. And that’s exactly what we got.
She may not look like much kid, but she’s got it where it counts.
Lightly tempura’d calamari, served up with long-cut stir-fried veggies in a sweet and sour sauce. Man, my mouth is watering just thinking of it. Usually calamari can be a bit chewy – this stuff was so fresh it literally melted in your mouth.
So yes, Indonesia, you have won me over. Unlike the BLOODY PAPUA NEW GUINEA which well and truly HASN’T. That night I stayed up drinking with the other Bules staying at our hotel, all of whom were waiting for visas. This guy, Quentin, was from France and had been waiting TWO WEEKS for a visa.
Please be aware that at this point it was the wee small hours of Wednesday morning: Christmas day is NEXT SATURDAY.
If we didn’t get our visas for PNG today, we’d be stuck in Jayapura until 2011.
And all the wonderful calamari in the world wouldn’t make it worth staying. I wanted out. I wanted to reach my 51st country before the year’s end – and, more than that, I wanted to USE the damn plane ticket to Australia they made me buy.
I wanted to see Mandy again. It’s been too long.
So after a few hours kip, Quentin and I descended on the FRIKKIN’ PNG Consulate for the twentieth time. And this time we were not leaving until we got our visas. I had been told yesterday that my visa was ready and IN MY PASSPORT. Arriving at 10am, we were told to wait.
The visa is in my passport! Give me the damn thing!!
It needs to be signed.
By the man who signs the visas.
And is this man in work today?
And is this man coming into work today?
I don’t know.
ARE YOU ON CRACK?
Okay, give me my passport now, I’ll sign it myself and take my chances.
I have never wanted to beat another human being to death with their own shoes before, but this bloody woman was seriously moments away from joining the choir invisible. I told her I wasn’t leaving without my visa and she put up the ‘closed’ sign and tottered off.
If they had just told me in the first place that it would take a week to put a bloody stamp in my bloody passport it wouldn’t be so bad. If they hadn’t made me come back TIME AND TIME AGAIN IN THE SWELTERING HEAT with false promises that my visa was ready it wouldn’t be so bad. If they where rushed off their feet and had thousands of applications to get through, it still wouldn’t be acceptable, but it wouldn’t be so bad.
But we are talking here about a stamp in a passport and a couple of lines of writing. Even if you were an illiterate slug it would only take a minute to do. And it wasn’t as though there was a queue of Bules waiting outside every morning – and Indonesians don’t need visas for Papua New Guinea. They probably had about ten visa applications to process A WEEK. If that. Well, me and Quentin waited. And waited.
The first few hours were painful. It was hot, it was sweaty and I’m sure my hair was beginning to fall out. At 1pm they wanted to close for lunch so we go chucked out, but we were back again at 2pm sharp. My bloody mindedness was now thinking along the lines of ‘if I create a bloody nuisance of myself, they’ll give me the visa just to get shut of me’.
Well, it wasn’t the most elegant of plans, but (eventually) it worked. But not early enough for me to be able to get to PNG today. The last taxis apparently left at 1pm. It was 3.30pm before I got my visa. Another exasperated Bule, a German guy called Jan, came into the consulate and got his visa at the same time – he, like me, had been waiting a week.
Quentin, on the other hand, who had been waiting for TWO WEEKS for his visa, came away empty handed. Unbelievable. Utterly unbelievable.
Oh, and our ordeal didn’t end there. Jan and I headed over to the immigration office in Jayapura to get stamped out of the country when we were hit with the most baffling piece of red-tape in the history of dick-headed bureaucracy. If you got a visa on entry to Indonesia, you aren’t allowed to leave via Jayapura. As Jayapura is the ONLY border post between PNG and Indonesia, this somewhat leaves your options limited.
Luckily for me, I had gone through the frigmarole of getting a ‘proper’ visa for Indonesia in East Timor (as they weren’t being issued on the border). Jan wasn’t as lucky. Of course, the c—s at immigration would be willing to accommodate his predicament (for a $60 ‘fee’), the alternative being for him to FLY BACK TO JAKARTA.
This is just quite mind-boggling and a new one on me – an international border that you cannot LEAVE a country from without the correct ENTRY visa. How f—-ing stupid do you want to be?
Oh, Indonesia, you had me for a moment with that sublime calamari, but you’ve just blown all that good will. Sickeningly corrupt and loaded with ill-gotten blood money, you can go to hell, Indonesia. You SUCK! And, while you’re at it, get the hell out of West Papua. It’s not yours and you’re only there for the gold. The profits from which go on WHAT EXACTLY? Health care? Schools? Roads?!
Ha. HA! HAHAHAHAHA!! Don’t make me laugh!
They go straight into the back packets of the slimy politicians that live on an island a thousand miles away, literally and metaphorically. Bluuuuuurgh to the lot of ya!!
Happily, Mike and Harald weren’t leaving Jayapura until the morning, so they (being top chaps) again allowed me to kip on their floor. Thanks, guys!!
Tomorrow there will be nothing to stop me getting into Papua New Guinea. I booked a taxi to the border. It will be the Eve of Christmas Eve. Looks like I’ll be spending another Christmas without the girl I love. PNG is not a happy place and while I’m quite happy to risk my safety doing this crazy stuff, I’m not willing to put Mandy in that situation, so I’ve told her not to fly to me this time around.
Up early as Jan wanted to get to the border the moment it opened. Mike and Harald had left in the wee small hours, so I checked out on their behalf (thank god there was no minibar!!) and hit the road in a shared taxi.
The drive to the border was surprisingly slick, I was expecting worse and we arrived in good time. The was the usual formalities, but nothing went wrong and nobody asked us to pay an imaginary ‘fee’, so that was good.
I’m now in the 184th country of The Odyssey Expedition: Papua New Guinea. One of FOUR Guineas spread out all over the world (the others being Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea: and all of them utter basketcases, sadly enough). Even though West Papua is culturally very similar to PNG, you are left in no doubt whatsoever that you’ve crossed a border into another country.
BYE BYE Nasi Goreng and cries of mieeeeeeester and fried fish heads in the window, HELLO and massive queues for everything, no cafes, restaurants or fast food and a general feeling of malevolence that means you’d be highly unlikely to leave your bags unattended for any length of time. If Indonesia is South East Asia with a tinge of Arabia, PNG is Africa with a tinge of Outback Australia.
The first town over the border, Vanimo, was a bit of a culture shock. The massive queues for the supermarket, bank, cash machines were crazy and, to my mind completely unsustainable: of course they were, I soon found out that the cargo ship had come in today: by 1pm nearly everything had been sold, and the supermarket shelves, previously full of all kinds of stuff – food, toys, clothes – lay empty. That was the ‘shopping’ for the week. Boy, you’d be several different shades of pissed off if you overslept. It would be like forgetting to put the bins out, only you’d starve.
So, first things first – I needed to find a way of getting to Wewak – the first major town along the north coast. From there I could plant my flag, somehow get to the capital city of Port Moresby then onto Australia to be with my (exceedingly patient) girlfriend for Christmas. I’ll be flying back to Wewak in the New Year to continue my journey and Australia will not be ticked off the list. Of course, Mandy could fly to PNG to meet me, but, er, if anyone has actually been to PNG they might appreciate how much not fun that might be!
The cool thing is that Mandy is blissfully unaware of my intentions, it’s only known to a handful of people. She hates surprises, but she might just like this one.
There were just several small problems with this plan:
My flight to Oz leaves Port Moresby tomorrow at 2pm – and Port Moresby is on the other side of the island. There would be no other way of making this connection other than flying. Okay…
The next flight from Vanimo (here) to Port Moresby leaves here tomorrow at 11am and would be getting into the capital at 1.10pm – leaving agonisingly (just) too little time for to check-in for my flight to Australia.
My only hope of catching a flight that would get me to Port Moresby in time was to get to the next big town along the coast – Wewak. There was a flight at 6am tomorrow morning which would get me to Port Moresby in good time for my connection to Australia.
But to get to Wewak before 6am wouldn’t be easy: the weekly cargo/passenger ship that trundled along the coast did leave today (which was lucky), but was scheduled to get into the port of Wewak at – get this – 6.30am.
Why do the gods mock me so??!!!!!!
Happily, since my Lonely Planet was written, a half-decent road had been constructed between Vanimo and Wewak. So all I needed to do was to find a bus or shared taxi that could take me to Wewak today. So I sat in the baking heat of the equatorial sun waiting for some kind of transport to come along.
And I waited…
And nothing came. Nothing whatsoever. Since the boat to Wewak would be leaving this afternoon, there was little or no reason for anyone to drive – all of the transport was waiting until tomorrow. I must have spoken to over a hundred people, staggering about in the dust and intense heat weighed down with all my bags. One guy said he’d take me in his car – for $2000 (really). An Aussie guy in uniform said he could take me in his helicopter – ‘if I was rich’.
By 3.30pm I was tired, exasperated, sunburnt and more than a little upset that because of my Papua Visa Hell I would be missing Christmas with Mandy. I called up the only person in the world who could help me out of this predicament. Alex Zelenjak, Our Man In Havana (well, Sydney). He got on the phone to the airlines and snapped into action.
Could Virgin Blue change my ticket to a later time? No. The 2pm one is the last flight tomorrow. Could they quickly escort me from my internal flight from Vanimo to my flight to Australia? No. There would be no time. When is the next flight available? The 26th December.
Arse arse arse and arse.
Hmm… if I take the boat to Wewak (on the grounds that by some miracle I MIGHT make the 6am flight to Port Moresby) but miss the 6am flight, can I cancel the ticket then?
No. In fact, you can’t change the ticket within 24 hours of the flight.
I looked at my watch. It was 4pm. My flight left in 22 hours.
You’ve got to be kidding. Out of options and unable to change my flight, I ran towards the Wewak ship. Alex, help me out here, man.
I was the last person to get a ticket for the ship and clambered onboard pretty much as they were raising the gangplank. If I thought the boats in Indonesia were a little overcrowded, they have nothing on the boats in PNG. Heaven help us if we sunk – the passageways weren’t full of people who didn’t have a space in the sleeping quarters – the passageways were the sleeping quarters. It wasn’t cheap either, but then (as I quickly discovered) nothing in PNG is cheap.
Jan the German guy was onboard and he was one of just two people who had bought a VIP ticket, which meant he had a room with 15 aeroplane-style recliners (which were dirty, broken and looked like they had been recovered from a crashed airliner some time back in the 1960s). I didn’t have a VIP ticket, but sleeping on the metal floor in the squish didn’t seem like the way of the future, so I hung back while the VIPs got their tickets checked and then entered the room after the ticket guy had left. The boat was all filth and bedlam so I figured the ticket guy wouldn’t notice. Happily, he didn’t.
The boat departed and Alex, bless his cotton socks, having spent an hour on the phone to Virgin Blue asking to speak to mangers etc. finally got back to me. Virgin Blue had agreed to make an exception – I could change the ticket to Boxing Day, and, even better, if (by some miracle) I did make it to Port Moresby airport in time tomorrow, I could change my ticket back (so long as it didn’t sell out). But there was a catch – Alex couldn’t change my ticket for me – I had to do it myself. They wouldn’t ring a PNG mobile number and I didn’t have enough credit to call them – and I was on a banana boat, so it wasn’t like I could go and purchase some more credit from the shop.
But Alex (again) came to the rescue: in the ten minutes before I lost phone reception he managed to set up a three-way call between me, him and Virgin Blue. I changed my ticket and breathed a sigh of relief. Thanks Virgin Blue!!
AND THANK YOU ALEX!!!!!!!!!!!!
The guy in the VIP room that wasn’t Jan was a Papua New Guinean from Madang called Richard. Lovely guy – told me that judging from the time we left, the ship should be getting to Wewak early – around 4am.
Maybe this would be the miracle I needed to make this crazy scheme work.
Amazingly, the ferry boat arrived at Wewak early: by 4am, we were less than a mile from the port. I stood out on deck: it had been a hot and sweaty night and I hadn’t got much sleep. The warm breeze beckoned me towards land and salvation, but the captain had other ideas. For some mad mad mad reason, we started to go around and around in circles. Full power, engines whining and groaning, the water churning. I stayed up for an hour, perplexed and bewildered. Why? WHY?
At 5am I went back to the VIP room and fell back asleep. I woke up an hour later. We were still running around in circles. I looked at my watch.
I had missed the 6am flight to Port Moresby. There was no way I was going to be back with Mandy for Christmas. As if to add insult to injury, it was at this point that the captain swung the boat around and headed to the port.
I was the first off the ship, bounding down the gangplank as dawn broke in the eastern firmament. At the end of the day, it was Papua New Guinea: I still had hope that the flight was delayed. I ran to the port building only to be confronted with a wire gate and large padlock. It took me ten minutes to locate the guy with the key. Apparently you’re supposed to wait to go through some kind of customs clearance. This annoyed the hell out of me: we hadn’t crossed any international border. I argued my way out.
There were buses waiting outside the port, but even if they were going to the airport they would take an age to fill. I asked where I could find a taxi and was pointed down a long, lonely road. I walked as fast as my weary legs could carry me. After about ten minutes I had made it to the main road. A guy there told me there were no taxis in Wewak – I’d have to take the bus.
Luckily, a bus was coming. I stuck out my hand and jumped on board. I was the only passenger, but they only made me pay a quid. The airport is on the way to town from the sea port, so that worked out well. By 6.45am I was at the airport… but it was closed. I found a security guy who told me that the plane had left fifteen minutes ago.
There are no other carriers that come to Wewak, it’s Air Niugini or nuthin’.
I took a deep breath… I still had one more roll of the die. It was a long shot, but the guy told me that there was a flight which left here at 11.30am today which would get me into Port Moresby at 1:10pm. (It was, in fact, the same flight that departed Vamino this morning – it stopped at Wewak on the way, I could have saved myself a night on that wretched boat!!).
So I jumped a bus into town and waited outside the Air Niugini office for it to open at 8am.
Wewak is not the most attractive of towns, and I really didn’t like the vibe it was giving off – it was sharp and disquieting. One guy was just standing in the street giving me daggers as I sat on the step of the airline office. I tried my best to ignore him and watched the town of Wewak come to life. It seems as though there isn’t much of a community in this town: the building are all sheds full of stuff: groceries, banks, offices; but there are no pubs, no restaurants, no cafes – nothing communal. I asked if there was anywhere I could get breakfast and the poor security guard looked at me like I was insane.
Eventually, the office opened. Behind me a massive queue had formed; I was incredibly thankful to be at the front. I have never been to a place where standing in massive queues is such an integral part of everyday life. Think of people camping out for the new year sales or the opening of Star Wars Episode I at Mann’s Chinese Theatre being the norm rather than the exception.
Inside, I had to wait at the front of the ‘seated queue’ for a couple of minutes before I was called into the side office. The lady I spoke to, Debbie, was incredibly helpful. It wasn’t until she said the name of PNG’s national airline outloud that I realised that ‘Air Nuigini’ was pronounced ‘Air New Guinea’. Stupid of me, I know, but I had only seen it written down!
Debbie told me that the 11.30am flight to Port Moresby was still on, but it was sold out. But, if I wanted, I could go on standby. Remember the good old days of cheapo stand-by flights? Well I don’t. And neither does Papua New Guinea. It cost pretty all the money I had left. By that I mean all the money I have left to finish this adventure. That’s it, I’m skint, I’m broke, I gambled and lost, my horse was shot I bet it all on black and lost my shirt at craps. In other words, I’m well and truly on the bones of my ass now.
But what do you expect when you haven’t worked for two years? Mustn’t grumble.
I needed to get the money out of a cash machine, so I asked the security guy to escort me to the branch of ANZ bank across the road, which (thankfully) he did. The daggers guy was still outside and still giving me daggers. Never had an armed escort to the ATM before. So with my overdraught well and truly maxed out I bought the stand-by ticket. If the 11.30am flight wasn’t full I would be getting into Port Moresby at 1.10pm. My flight to Australia left at 2pm. IF the flight to Oz was delayed, even by just half an hour, I could (just about) make it.
Fingers crossed for a Christmas miracle, I asked the security guard to escort me to the bus stop. That crazy guy was still outside the office and still staring at me. The guard took me down the road, but luckily his boss drove past and offered me a lift. I jumped into the back of what looked like a police van – grates on the windows, the lot. Turns out the guy driving, Matthew, is the owner of the private security firm that oversees the business and banks in downtown Wewak.
On the way to the airport we stopped outside a rather grand mansion. Matthew jumped out of the van and went and had a chat with a maid at the front wrought iron gate. His colleague, sitting in the passenger seat, told me that it was ‘the Prime Ministers’ house. I assumed that the actual Prime Ministers house must be in Port Moresby, I guessed he was talking about the mayor or the regional governor of some sort.
But no, as I was to learn later, it was the Prime Minister’s residence – the long serving Michael Somare is from Wewak. And – get this – he was deposed in a bloodless coup* just LAST WEEK.
Seriously? Seriously! And Matthew is in charge of the security of his house. Small world eh?
After conducting his business with the maid, Matthew jumped back in the car and drove me to the airport. Lovely guy – he gave me his card and told me to give him a call when I get back to Wewak. Given the tense atmosphere of this place, that wouldn’t be a bad idea!
So into the airport eh? An airport…
I’ve got some criticism for flying to see Mandy, and I would just like to address this point. This is my adventure, I invented it and I make the rules. The rules are simple: I have to forge a continuous path of travel to every country in the world without flying. I never said at any point that I wouldn’t fly under any circumstances, I said I wouldn’t fly as part of the journey.
I’ve made it clear from the start that, if necessary, I would fly home (if, say, I had to deal with an emergency) and then fly back to where I left off. If you want to do your own surface Odyssey, the same rules would apply to you. If I was single, there’d be no way I’d go to Australia for Christmas, but I’m not single. I’ve seen Mandy for just 7 days in the last 724. She can’t come here, but I can (and will) go there.
I was mulling all this over in my head while I was sitting in the airport terminal, a small concrete hall next to the narrow ribbon of tarmac that constituted the landing strip. My iPod, sensing my mood, played Fairytale of New York. Just as Shane MacGowan was singing that he built his dreams around you, my phone rang. It was Mand. We couldn’t chat for long – the price of the call was $1.75 a minute. She told me how sad she was that I wasn’t finished, how sad she was that she would be having another Christmas without me and how sad she was that she’d be the only person in a group of twenty-five of her mates going camping for New Year who wouldn’t have a partner.
She explained that her mum’s house has no internet connection, she won’t be able to speak to me tomorrow, on Christmas day. I didn’t tell her I was coming back to her for two reasons: one was for it to be a surprise, the other was because there’s a good chance I won’t make it. As I said goodbye she burst into tears.
All of you who think I’ve sold out can stick it: I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for the girl who has stood by me through thick and thin for the last eight years. She doesn’t deserve another lonely Christmas.
As I struggled to get my iPod working again, I realised that I was crying too.
The plane was delayed (typically) and everyone got on board. I was told to wait. After I felt I had waited long enough, I asked the guy on the door what was going on, he asked me what I was doing and I explained that I was the stand-by passenger. Oh, right he said and went to get the supervisor, a large woman with an unhomely face. But when she told me there was space on board for me I wanted to give that unhomely face a big kiss.
Within a couple of minutes I was fastening the buckle of my seat of the little 36 seater Bombardier DHC-8-202. It was a prop plane, which is always a little disconcerting, but it was brand spanking new, which made me happy. I sat through the safety blah and soon we were taxiing along the runway, faster and faster until…
Wow. This is it, I’m actually flying for the first time since 29th December 2008.
As we ascended I saw the seaport where I had arrived just a few hours earlier, I saw the town and the jungle and then it was jungle all the way to Port Moresby. The captain (an Aussie) said that he would try and make up some lost time, but as the minutes started ticking past 1pm I started sinking lower and lower into my seat. This wasn’t going to work.
I had printed out some (legally acquired!) pdfs of the PNG Lonely Planet and the accommodation options in Port Moresby didn’t make for great reading. Everywhere was outrageously expensive and the best deal was a hostel run by missionaries that would probably be full and even if it wasn’t, they had a strict no-alcohol rule.
Merry Christmas, I don’t think!!
As the plane descended into Port Moresby (it wasn’t a very long trip) I was staring intently at my watch as if by looking at it I could somehow slow down time.
It never works.
At 1.27pm we the hit tarmac. I was the first off the plane and ran as quickly as I could to the baggage carousel, a bit miffed that they hadn’t let me take it on board (it’s all Osama Bin Laden’s fault). The bags came out in good time, but mine didn’t. I soon realised that these bags were from another flight: I recognised the people waiting from my flight. At 1.46pm the bags from our flight started to emerge, and mine was the first one out. I grabbed it and dashed out of Domestic Arrivals.
Running over to the International terminal, I realised how hot it was without air conditioning. By the time I entered the concourse I was sweating like a fat chick in a cake shop. The building was pretty empty. I ran over to Virgin Blue…
Has the flight to Brisbane been delayed? Has it?
I clenched my fists and bit my tongue. My mind was whizzing around like a wheel on a fruit machine.
And there are no other flights to Australia today?
I closed my eyes and sighed.
…well, not from Virgin Blue, but I think there’s one from Air Pacific….
She pointed over to the other side of the check-in area. I sped over, but all the little offices were closed. All shut up for Christmas. Damnit. I walked over to the seemingly empty Air Pacific Check-In desk – there was a girl sitting down reading a magazine.
Are there any more flights to Australia today?
Yes, there’s one to Cairns at 5pm.
OH MY GOD.
Is it sold out?
Dunno – ask at the office.
She pointed to the office that I didn’t see because the venetian blinds pulled down over the windows made it look closed. It wasn’t closed, there was someone in there. I ran over. There was a guy inside dressed up like a pilot.
Are there any seats left on the flight to Cairns?
I dunno. I’m the pilot.
Which explained why he was dressed up like a pilot. Then a little lady came in and attended to me. I explained my predicament. She tapped on the computer. I raised my eyebrows. She tapped some more.
You really don’t want to know. I reached into my pants and pulled out my emergency money pouch. I took out the faded and battered emergency Visa card that I haven’t used since the Odyssey began. I handed it over and prayed that they didn’t ask for my PIN – I don’t know it.
No worries – I just had to sign.
She handed over my ticket and I danced a little jig. I then got on the phone to Alex Zelenjak in Sydney.
I’m getting into Cairns tonight. What can you do for me mate?
When Alex gets on the case, boy does he get on the case. Within 15 minutes he was calling me back to tell me that he had bagged me a place on a fight from Cairns (which is in the far north of Oz) to Melbourne (down in the south, where Mandy lives) for 11.45am tomorrow morning. Better still, he was able to use the credit from my original Port Moresby ticket (for the flight I just missed) to pay for it.
Chucking in ten bucks of his own money to pay for the extra baggage fee, I was set. Alex you total LEGEND. You made my Christmas, damnit – you made my YEAR!!!
GOOD ON YA MATEY! I owe you a night out at the Three Monkeys in Sydney!!!
And that’s how I got my Christmas miracle.
I went upstairs a shared a beer or two with an Aussie guy called Angus who had been gold prospecting in the jungles of PNG. Better him than me. He’s the one who told me about the Prime Minister being kicked out and the resultant unrest in Wewak: he had just come from there yesterday.
By 4.30pm I had got through security and been stamped out of the country and was crossing the tarmac towards the 737-700 that would whisk me away to Australia for Christmas.
Don’t worry, PNG, I’ll be back.
NOTHING CAN STOP ME NOW!!!!!!!!!
I arrived in Cairns around 7pm. I had almost forgotten how fast you can travel if you fly. After the usual grilling by the Aussie border guards (they get my vote for nastiest in the world, and I should know!!), I jumped a taxi (sharing the cost with a random Chinese guy) to the backpackers that Alex had booked me into. The good news was that if I was quick, I could grab a free meal in the pub next door, the bad news was that the pub next door (and, seemingly, all of Cairns) closed at 12pm. Oh, and by the way, ‘Cairns’ is pronounced ‘Cans’, which just sounds like somebody saying ‘Cannes’ incorrectly.
DON’T LOOK AT ME, I DON”T MAKE THE RULES.
After the day I had had, I wasn’t prepared to go to bed sober so I teamed up with the gang from my dorm and hit the sauce. The night soon descended into the usual chaos: booze, dorm parties, booze, the pub, booze, random walkabout trying to find somewhere that was still open, booze, more dorm parties, booze, told off by security, booze, booze, booze and booze.
I retired to bed as the Christmas dawn was breaking. Everything was right with the world. I fell asleep humming the greatest Christmas number two of all time.
Twas Christmas Eve babe
In Ol’ Wewak
And old man said to me
The sea’s too choppy son
You’ve got your timing wrong
Give it a month or two
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you
So took the flight to POM
Came in at half past one
I got the ticket
This trip’s for you and me
So Happy Christmas
Sod The Odyssey
Deserve a bit of time
To wrap my arms around you