Day M208: There’s Always One Isn’t There?

Sun 22.04.12

Even though my usual sleep patterns prefer me to stay up all night (preferably partying) and sleep in the morning, today I made a special exception for the not-so-lovely island of Saipan in The Northern Mariana Islands. I dragged my non-cooperative ass out of bed at 6.50am in order to go out and explore the rich delights of an island tactfully described in my Lonely Planet guidebook as ‘in a bit of a sorry state’.

But although there’s nothing stopping this plucky plunger into the unknown perusing the likes of Palestine, Paraguay, Panama, Poland, Peru, Philippines and Palau without a visa, I’m forbidden to fanny about on the far-flung fringes of the American Empire.

Yes indeedy peeps, sad old Saipan, so desperately in need of the tourist dollar, is locked up like Fort Knox to your average intrepid traveller, so don’t come here: go to Nauru, Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, Tahiti, The Cook Islands, Nuie, Tokelau, New Caledonia or American Samoa instead… even Pitcairn Island wouldn’t turn away a day tripper.

But the Northern Mariana Islands would.

Shame about that, I would have liked to write nice things about it on this blog, which is read by over 100,000 unique visitors a year. Which is more visitors than the Northern Mariana Islands get. It’s actually more people than have probably even heard of The Northern Mariana Islands.

Oh, and by the way Uncle Sam, might I say it’s a bit f—ing rich after us Brits following you and supporting you in two unpopular and unwinnable wars, laying down the lives of good British Citizens to defend your f—ing oil interests that you now deny us entry to your territories. You complete and utter immoral, ungrateful bastards. I’m so dumping your crappy little tinpot empire at the bottom of my League of Nations right now. As your great moron-in-chief ‘W’ once said, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, er… um… dur… er…. Um… er… fool me… um… er… I, er, I won’t be fooled again.”

Oh well, don’t care, it’s not a real country anyway. As I’m impounded on the ship all day like some contraband goods, I’ll just leave you with some more choice morsels from my Lonely Planet South Pacific guidebook (October 2007 edition).

“a great deal of the island’s indigenous charm has been overshadowed by fast-food chains and poker houses.”

“[Capital] Garapan is a flashy tourist trap filled with massage parlours and a growing sense of unease.”

“Saipan has experienced a rash of burglaries, robberies and purse snatchings in recent times.”

“Ultimately, Japanese tourists no longer see Saipan as a safe destination and have voted with their wallets.”

The Northern Mariana Islands: Good day to you sir, I trust we will never suffer the indignity of meeting again.


Dear President Obama,

My name is Graham Hughes. I am a Guinness World Record holder, TV presenter for National Geographic TV, Lonely Planet and the BBC, full-time adventurer and British Citizen.

I’m currently on an expedition to visit every country in the world without flying. I have just six countries to go (out of 201) and when completed, this will be the first and only time this feat has ever been seriously attempted, never mind achieved.

In the course of my travels I have visited 195 countries and 12 territories, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Congo, Sudan and Pakistan.

You can read more about my (mis)adventures by looking me up on Wikipedia.

Generally speaking, as a British Citizen, I may roam this planet without let nor hindrance. I turn up on the border, baring my British Passport and the country in question will grant me entry. It’s only basketcase countries like North Korea, Somalia, Turkmenistan, Angola and Nigeria that make it difficult for British Citizens to visit. Of course, these countries are not reliant on tourism, so who cares, right?

Then imagine my shock and disbelief upon arriving in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US Commonwealth territory, as a passenger on a cargo ship and being denied even a day pass with which to visit the island for a mere 8 hours, an island that, forgive the expression, is on its arse and could really do with all the good publicity it can get right now.

But the woes of Saipan are not really my concern – it is, after all, a forgotten dot on the western fringes of the US Empire.

I write to you on behalf of my fellow countrymen and, as such, I would like to express my disgust, astonishment and sheer disbelief that after supporting the USA in two unpopular and unwinnable wars, laying down the lives of young British men and women to help defend YOUR country from terrorism in the wake of 9/11 that you now deny us Brits visa-free entry to your country and your territories.

I also write on behalf of the world’s merchant sailors, cooped up for months on what is little more than a floating prison, forced to sail dangerous and pirate infested waters and then denied a simple shore pass in order to stretch their legs – the unalienable right of mariners since the birth of civilisation itself.

Such behaviour would be expected of a lesser country, but not the USA. Has the mighty giant of the twentieth century become so paranoid, so wretched, so pathetic as to deny us the very same rights we afford to your citizens on my home soil?

Not only is this new policy (I visited the US in 2009 and suffered no such impertinence) incredibly ungrateful, is also utterly immoral. And to call something a ‘visa waiver scheme’ and then charge €59 for the application is a shoddy and transparent lie. This is a visa, make no mistake, a visa more expensive than what I’d have to pay to visit 183 other member states of the UN. I know. I’ve been there.

While this sly and unreasonable injunction against British holiday-makers and merchant seafarers remains in place I can only assume that the US is no longer a friend of the UK. A shame, as, forgive my boldness, the US currently needs all the friends it can get.

Good luck with the election in November, sir.

Love n’ hugs,

Brg. Col. Sir Graham Hughes Jnr, Esq

Day M209: The View From The Bridge

Mon 23.04.12:

One of the more interesting things about travelling to every country in the world is it allows you to make comparisons. Sweeping sweeping generalisations aside for one moment, there are certain trends and nuances that are hard to pick up on unless you’ve been to the country in question. Of course what I think of a place is tremendously subjective, but through personal discourse with locals and a healthy obsession with world events, I feel I’m at least a little bit more informed than most – well, I know where the country in question is, what borders it, what colonial powers once stole it and whether it’s a free and fair democracy or not. In any case, it’s handy having some first-hand experience to be able to fit the jigsaw of life on Planet Earth into a some kind of geopolitical context.

Today the Mell Sembawang arrived in Guam, the largest of the Micronesian islands (Micronesia is the region, The Federated States of Micronesia is the country). Unlike every other island in the Pacific Ocean, but like the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawaii, UK citizens now need to waste $100 on a visa (although they insist on calling it a ‘visa waver’) even if you’re just visiting for a few hours. This is because Guam has the misfortune of being part of the US’s crappy little empire.

I love the idea that the US Navy-types based here on Guam are so scared of one ginger Britisher that I’d face a fine for even walking down the gangway (although, f— ’em, I did). There’s no paranoia like American paranoia. Well, actually that’s a lie: there are other places on Earth which, in my experience, are just as proficient at jumping at shadows: the former USSR republics for example, as well as North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Talking of North Korea, consider this: I was permitted to venture further onto North Korean soil without a visa than I was allowed to step on the US overseas territories of Guam or Saipan. When I arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the CMA-CGM Turquoise without a visa back in December 2009 I was at least allowed to walk down the goddamn gangplank.

There are a lot of Americans who read this blog and I’d just like to ask one simple question: SERIOUSLY MAN, WHAT THE F—?

Day M211: The Island of Stone Money

Wed 25.04.12:

YAPPITY YAP! The Federated States of Micronesia is divided into four states: Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap. Funnily enough, Yap is the only state that my spellchecker likes. Each state has its own culture, languages and quirks and each state is made up of many islands, of which one will be the state capital. The state capital of Yap is ‘Yap Proper’ (a name I really like) and that is were we landed the good ship Mell Sembawang this morning, in the town of Colonia.

Anyone paying an amazing amount of attention to my quest might recognise that name: Colonia in Uruguay was the very first town I visited as part of The Odyssey Expedition, back on Thursday January 1 2009.

Uruguay was nation number 1. The Federated States of Micronesia is nation number 196. Wowsers. You’ve come a long way, baby.

I only had about six hours on the island, so I tried to make the most of it. The main drawcard to Yap is the fabled giant stone money, a fascinating yarn if you don’t mind me telling it.

You see, as with most cultures, Yap developed the concept of money many centuries ago – you know, you take something that really has little real worth (say, a small disk of copper or rectangular piece of paper) and you bestow upon it intrinsic worth. Now how do you make something worth something more than something else? Well, you make it hard to get your hands on, like uranium, gold, diamonds and the like.

This is why, as Douglas Adams once pointed out, leaves would not be a good form of currency.

So here’s the deal. On Yap there is no granite quartz. So wily ancestors of today’s Yapese came up with possibly the most potty, or most ingenious, way of paying for stuff. They would take their dugout canoes and paddle their way over to Palau or New Guinea, hundreds of miles away over open ocean. There they would fight hostile natives, quarry a massive donut-shaped piece of granite quartz, carry it back to their dugout and ferry it back to Yap.

Now it wasn’t really the size of these giant stone ‘coins’ that gave them value, it was how many people died getting the damn things to Yap. And when you consider that some of these coins are over two meters in diameter, the number of people killed in the process of quarrying these coins must have been enormous. Some money stones took twenty men just to carry one of them.

In the 1880s, a wily Irish-American called David ‘His Majesty’ O’Keefe was shipwrecked on Yap. O’Keefe learnt about the stone money and saw that attempts by the Germans, Americans, British or whoever to trade with the locals were getting them nowhere (they foolishly tried to trade with the Yapese using crappy beads and trinkets – the Yapese saw right through that trick). So O’Keefe chartered a great ship to sail to Palau, quarried hundreds of these giant stone coins, took them back to Yap and soon was the biggest exporter of copra in the area. Although, it should be noted, that O’Keefe’s stone money was worth substantially less than the stuff that had been brought in on dugout canoes – the Yapese weren’t overly impressed with how easy O’Keefe obtained such riches.

Now the giant stone money adorns the road sides in ‘banks’ and stand in front of traditional homes as a display of status. The stones are never moved, even if ownership of the land changes hands. The islander know exactly which family own which stone and although the Yapese now use the US greenback for buying their groceries, the giant stone money is still used for traditional and ceremonial exchanges, such as those involving wedding dowries or property transactions.

As a consequence, Yap is the closest you’re going to get to playing a game of real-life Super Mario Brothers. Although the giant stone money doesn’t disappear when you run into it really fast and you don’t get an extra life even if you do collect 100 of them.

Or do you…?

Maybe there’s something the Yapese aren’t telling us.

I walked to the nearby traditional village of Balabat, stopping along the way to have a chat with Larry, a local guy who’s involved in traditional canoe building. In a little workshop beside the road, two groups of men painstakingly chop away at their dugout canoes with traditional axes, moulding them into a sea-worthy vessels. It takes about a month to build a working canoe.

The road to the village of Balabat is lined with the giant stone coins. My souvenir of every country I visit is usually a banknote or at least a coin, but here I was on an island famous for its money and they’re using US dollars! Gutted!! I tried to find a gift or handicraft shop that sold miniature stone money, but alas, nobody did – a shame, the Yapese are really missing a trick there.

In the village I was careful to say hello to everybody I saw and to ask permission to keep walking. Even though I was on the track, almost every square inch of Yap is privately owned. The locals don’t mind you walking through their property, but it is the height of rudeness not to seek permission wherever possible, doubly so if you’re taking pictures.

At the end of the village is a raised dais which serves as a stage for village events, dances and sing-sings. A few traditional thatched huts line the path, the shape very reminiscent of the haus tamberans (spirit houses) of Papua New Guinea, only these have no walls, just like the houses in Samoa; a pertinent reminder of how related the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Ocean really are – all of them descendents of the Lapita People who conquered the biggest ocean in the world using just little canoes, one and a half thousand years before Columbus was even born.

After the village I returned to Colonia. Larry and his friends were eating lunch and invited me to join them in some tuna and rice, eaten from one shared bowl with your fingers – something I haven’t done in a while! There were some other tourists milling around, including a yachtie couple called Mike and Gay who had come across from The Marshall Islands. Did they know Martin and Corinna – the yachtie couple I met in Tuvalu, indeed they did – in fact, Mike and Gay were in Tuvalu at the same time as me back in December, only we never met each other. Small world eh?

I just had time to write a postcard to my beloved in Australia (felt totally jibbed that the FSM stamp featured The Statue of Liberty). Although I have to admit, when I see the acronym ‘FSM’ all I can think of is The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

By 2pm I was back on board the Mell Sembawang, chomping at the bit to get to country 197.

And as we manoeuvred out of port I did have to think – you know this giant stone money was given value by how many people died in the process of ‘minting’ it? It sounds barbaric, I know, but are we in the West that much different? Why are diamonds worth so much? Is it because thousands of Sierra Leoneans died in a civil war funded by the damn things? Why are the oil prices at an all-time high? Is it because of all the Iraqi blood spilt for Bush and his cronies to secure the supply? If so many Native Americans weren’t massacred so that the White Man could get his gold, would it be worth as much?

Just sayin’…

Oh and by the way, for those who thought THE CURSE OF THE HAT was a bit harsh, let it be known that I am now sunburnt to hell. My face, nose, ears and neck, usually protected by my wonderful akubra, toasted as I knew they would. They toasted through factor 80 sunblock.

You see, for thousands of years my ancestors lived on the northern fringes of Great Britain. Sightings of the sun were so rare that on the odd occasion the sun did in fact have his hat on, they’d be days of celebration, orgies, wicker men, virgin sacrifices and the like.

As a consequence, us rangas lost all ability to deal with the deadly radioactive rays from the sun, much in the same manner that birds on remote tropical islands lose their ability to fly. That’s why us gingernauts slink around in the shadows and prefer to come out at night. And that’s why that m—–f—– who stole my f—— hat in Taiwan must DIE DIE AND DIE AGAIN!!!!

When I catch that thieving streak of s—-, I’m going to put his GODDAMN HEAD in the GODDAMN OVEN for two hours… see how how red, sore and flaky I can make HIS bastard face.

Deep breath, Graham…

And… relax.

Tomorrow: Palau!

WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP!!!

Day M212: The Jolly Jellies of Palau

Thu 26.04.12:

WOW. No, seriously, WOW. Talk about saving the best for last. PALAU YOU ROCK MY WORLD!! Straight into my top five countries, methinks. My number one pick in the ‘Tropical Island Paradise’ category. And I should know, I’ve been to a truck load of ’em.

I don’t know, you wait ages to visit a Pacific Island nation, and then two come along in as many days. We arrived in the port on the island of Malakal (a short distance from the main island of Koror) at around 10am. The first bit of good news was that the ship would be staying overnight, not leaving at 4pm as originally intended. This meant there was an outside chance of me seeing Jellyfish Lake while I’m here.

Jellyfish Lake in the Rock Islands of Palau is a true natural wonder of the world – a lake teeming with a unique species of jellyfish – a species that only exists in one place on the planet: Jellyfish Lake. Since these jellies have no natural predators, over thousands of years they have lost their sting – so it’s perfectly safe to go swimming with them.

I did not want to come all the way to Palau and miss out. After clearing customs I met with Perry, the ship’s agent. He told me that to go to the island of jellyfish lake would cost a small fortune – perhaps as much as $500. This is because all the tours leave at 8am in the morning – to leave now would mean chartering my own speedboat for the day. Expensive stuff.

There was an outside chance that a half-day tour might be leaving around 1pm, so Perry put his two best men – RJ and Bong – on the job. But first I had to walk down the gangway into my ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY-SEVENTH COUNTRY of The Odyssey Expedition – and the LAST of the Pacific Nations.

As you can imagine, I danced a goddamn jig.

RJ and Bong (great name!) ran me around to Fish n’ Fins, but they wouldn’t bite. Then we went to IMPAC, but again we left with nothing. Finally, we tried SAM’S TOURS, not far from the port. Maybe they’d be willing to take me to the Island of the Jolly Jellies.

Happily, my TV programme ‘Graham’s World’ is showing here in Palau and so I played the card. I may have been paid, well, nothing for my hard work on the show (after all, I did only work on the project every day for 14 months devising, shooting, presenting and organising all the travel so I guess it’s fair enough that I made a massive loss on the deal), but the fact it gets repeated ad nauseum on the Nat Geo Adventure Channel does come in rather handy in situations like this when I need a special favour (although royalties… why don’t I even get royalties??!).

The nice lady in the shop went to get one of the managers, Mark from America, and after a bit of bob’s-your-uncle he offered me a deal – I could go out on a speedboat of my own with a local driver called Ray and spend as long as I liked swimming around with the jellyfish. YEY!!

As a consequence, this blog entry is brought to you by the good folk at SAM’S TOURS. If you’re in Palau, look no further than SAM’S TOURS – the best tour guys in the nation. They even supplied me with a free hat – it’s no magic kanga hide, but when you’re 10 degrees north of the equator and that noonday sun is beaming down on your balding crown, you do not look such a splendiferous gift-horse in the mouth. It has SAM’S TOURS written across it in big friendly letters.

As we were pulling out of the dock of SAM’S TOURS, a couple were walking along the jetty. I was filming our getaway so I shouted over to them to wave for the camera. ‘Graham?!’ was the reply… it was Martin and Corinna – the yacht couple I met in Tuvalu back in December. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?!

‘MEET ME HERE AT SIX!’ I shouted across the water. ‘CAN WE MAKE IT SEVEN?!’ Martin shouted back. ‘NO PROBLEM! SEE YOU THEN!’. And we were on our way.

It takes about 40 minutes to get to the island of Jellyfish Lake – 40 minutes through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen – Palau’s Rock Islands.

Now I want you to imagine Monument Valley in the US. Got it? Okay, now imagine all of those rocks are covered in dense green foliage, the deepest, most vibrant green you’ve ever seen. Now set the rocks out in the clear blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and erode the lower few feet of the rocks so they not only look like giant stone mushrooms, they also make it next to impossible for humans to climb up them.

And there you have Palau’s Rock Islands: mother nature at her finest, untouched and unspoilt by man. Believe me, there are few places left in the world with such a boast.

One of the rocks looks like Homer Simpson lying down, another looks like an elephant. A spectacular natural rock bridge marks the ‘entrance’ to the Rock Islands, and once you’re in the national park, there are hundreds of these islands to feast your eyes on.

We arrived at Jellyfish Lake island around 1pm. To get to the lake, you have to climb up and over a rocky ridge – something that you have to undertake in these crazy little diving booties they give me at SAM’S TOURS. A word of warning – avoid the sharp rocks… ouch! Before you set off over the ridge, you have to show your pass and dip your feet in disinfectant to prevent any parasites or foreign invaders such as algae getting into the lake and killing all the jellyfish.

At the moment, the pass to visit the lake is $35. I’m one of the lucky ones. After June, the price is going to go up to $100. That’s just for the pass, not transport and stuff. The reason being is that too many people are visiting the lake, and it’s not good for the jellies. In fact, when I arrived, there must have been about 50 people in the lake – mostly Japanese tourists.

But they were on a schedule. I wasn’t. So I bided my time. Eventually everybody left and for a moment I was the only human being in the world in this magical lake teeming with jellyfish.

I had been kitted out with a snorkel and flippers, courtesy of the good folk at SAM’S TOURS. And a-snorkling I did go.

Beneath the surface, it was jellyfish as far as the eye could see. Thousands of translucent pulsating boobs gently drifting through the clear waters. Most had an X in the middle of their bells and eight broccoli-like tentacles coming out of their rear. I found one with a Y who only had six tentacles and wondered if that was like finding the Jellyfish Lake equivalent of a four-leafed clover.

The lake is salt water, so you can float without much effort. Lying face down on the surface, staring into this alien world… it was like floating in space, only surrounded by hundreds of friendly jellyfish. One of the more remarkable things about these creatures is that they are solar-powered – seriously, they live off photosynthesis!

After an hour or so with my wibbly wobbly chums, I gently made my way back towards the path on the far side of the lake. The water got noticeably warmer as I got nearer the exit and the large jellyfish were now few and far between, but what’s this? At first it was just one tiny polyp, a perfect tiny version of the big ’uns elsewhere. And then there were ten, then fifty, then a hundred… and then POW! MILLIONS of them! Please don’t think I’m exaggerating. To swim in a swarm of countless tiny jellyfish was just magical – an experience I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.

If you want some idea of how frikkin’ awesome Jellyfish Lake is (and just how many jellies there are!), check out this clip from the BBC’s South Pacific documentary:

Epic eh? How do you top THAT?! On our way back to Malakal, Ray stopped off at Clam City – a coral reef that is home to dozens of the BIGGEST GODDAMN CLAMS you have ever seen. Seriously – you could hide in these things. Some tourists were there and somebody must have asked the question if these crusty old behemoths were actually alive. In order to answer that question, their local guide swam down to the ocean floor and gently stroked one. It responded by snapping shut with some angry bubbles thrown in for good measure. Cool!

After Clam City, we dropped by Cemetery Reef – so called because it’s shaped like a giant tomb. By now it was way after 4pm, so all the other tour groups had returned to Koror. Once again, I got the place to myself. Ray moored up alongside a buoy and off I went for a paddle. Bear in mind that I only saw 1% of what Palau has to offer. There are dive sites extraordinaire, there are ancient cities, stone faces reminiscent of Easter Island, there are WWII wrecks and hundreds of islands to explore. Once you pay for your $35 pass to enter the Rock Islands, your pass is valid for 10 days and you may camp on the accessible islands (those with beaches) FOR FREE. I can’t stress this enough: PALAU IS FRIKKIN’ AWESOME, PEOPLE!

And I haven’t even got to the best bit yet: the local beer, Red Rooster, is feckin’ SUPERB. Even the Germans I met were raving about it.

Palau seems to have the perfect balance of amenities (mostly on Koror Island – outside Koror and you are seeing some real Pacifika), areas of outstanding natural beauty, tropical climate, white sand beaches, ancient ruins, hiking trails, dive sites, turquoise lagooooooons, mango trees, multicoloured fish, giant clams, great local beer and lakes filled with magic jellyfish. It’s taken three years, three months and twenty six days, but I’ve finally found my heaven, and as Belinda Carlisle once tried to inform us, it is indeed a place on Earth.

Give me ten days laying on a hammock in the shade of the coconut trees in the Rock Islands, a cold beer and a good book: it would be the sum of all bliss.

After Cemetery Rock, Ray ran me back to SAM’S TOURS. SAM’S TOURS also doubles as the yacht club and there’s a bar there that’s open until 9pm. I had a good chat with Mark, met a load of yachties on their way to or from their boats and sat down and had a good old chin-wag with Martin and Corinna. I had last seen them in December in Tuvalu. Since then I’ve been to Wallis, Futuna, Tuvalu (again), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Solomon Islands, Kiribati (again), Nauru, Australia (again), Taiwan, Okinawa, Saipan, Guam and The Federated States of Micronesia.

So it was probably a good thing I didn’t jump ship from the Southern Pearl and join them on their yacht: in fact, they didn’t visit Kiribati on the way over here (the current was too strong for their yacht coming into Tawara), so if I had been with them, we would now be in Palau and I’d still have five more Pacific Nations to get to.

A single graceful arc around the Pacific would have been nice, my current GPS map looks like it’s been scribbled on by a five-year old, but judging by how long it’s taken Martin and Corinna to get this far, I dodged a bullet by not getting on that magic yacht (which probably never existed anyway) that was promised me back in Australia last year.

Well, we’re done, that’s the Pacific leg over. Only took me 16 months…!

After plenty of Red Rooster lager, Martin and Corinna, as well as our new American chums were ready to call it a night. Of course, I wasn’t, so I said goodbye to SAM’S TOURS, rambled back over to the port, grabbed a quick shower and change of clothes and headed out to meet with Perry, the local port agent from this morning. We headed over to Kramers, a German bar, where they were watching the Champion’s League Semi-Final of Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid.

Of course the bearded Germans at the bar were supporting Munich, but after being told by the owner René that I was on for free drinks for the rest of the night on account of my fantastical adventures (I’m seriously considering knocking England off the top of my League of Nations in favour of Palau), I was supporting Munich all the way.

After far too much to drink, Perry and I teamed up with a few of the young guns from Kramers and headed out into the night. We ended up at some club, at which point the night becomes something of a blur.

By the time I woke up the next afternoon, the Mell Sembawang was well underway; the nation of Palau now a distant, but perfect, memory.

Day M213: Sing Us A Song

Fri 27.04.12:

It’s been seven months since I re-booted The Odyssey Expedition after my enforced sabbatical and I’m pleased to announce that I have now visited EVERY COUNTRY in the PACIFIC OCEAN. Oh yes. That’s the Solomon Islands, Australia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Nauru, Micronesia and Palau; all without flying.

PLUS New Caledonia, Wallis, Futuna, American Samoa, The Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, and they’re not even sovereign states. That’s 19 different islands without flying in just over 30 weeks. Nice!

I could not have done this without the assistance of Swire, China Navigation, P&O, PIL, Reef, PDL, Neptune, Princess, Carnival, PAE, Anglo-Eastern, Mariana Express and Hartmann Reederei: I am very much indebted to these companies as well as the captains, officers and crews of the Papuan Chief, Pacific Pearl, Southern Pearl, Southern Lily 2, Sea Princess, Scarlett Lucy, Kota Juta and the Mell Sembawang.

I may well have set a new world record for visiting every nation state of The Pacific without flying in the least amount of time, but I don’t think that I’ll get a certificate for this one. The important thing is that with The Pacific out of the way, I can now turn my attention to the tricky business of THE FINAL FOUR.

Yes folks, believe it or not, the first 197 countries and 12 overseas territories I visited were the easy bit.

Okay, Sri Lanka shouldn’t put up too much of a fight, but after that the difficulty curve turns into a vertical line. The latest Admiralty Charts for the Indian Ocean regard both Maldives and Seychelles as within the ‘High Risk’ piracy area. Oh, and South Sudan is currently on the brink of war with North Sudan.

But that’s a worry for another day. Today it’s time to have a celebratory drink. Third Officer Michael turned 29 on Tuesday so the captain give permission for us to have a bit of a shindig once we left port today. A barbecue out on deck followed by raucous karaoke (I lost my voice through screaming too much). New company policy states that no more hard liquor can be brought on board any of these ships, but what’s already on board still needs to be drunk. And I need to be drunk too. So pass the (yo-ho-ho and a bottle of) rum and let’s get this party started in here!

We arrive in the port of Davao in The Philippines on Sunday morning. Davao is on Mindanao Island, which was the island I visited the first time I came to The Philippines. It’s funny, people always have a go at me for not spending enough time in some country, but the reality is that in the course of The Odyssey Expedition, I’ve visited over 60 countries more than once. That is, I have left and returned at a later date to one third of the countries of the world. In fact, I’ve been in and out of some countries (most notably Australia and Saudi Arabia) so many times I lost count.

Compare that with the number of countries I ‘border hopped’ – ie. just put a toe over the border… 20. Out of 197. So what if I don’t have an informed opinion about The Central African Republic or Tajikistan? I could bore you to death with talking about the politics of Comoros or the linguistic diversity of Papua New Guinea. Sorry, I’m rambling.

All you need to know is this: 197 countries visited without flying, FOUR to go.

THE FINAL FOUR.

BRING. IT. ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!