Days M258-264: Arrack Attack!

Mon 11.06.12 – Sun 17.06.12:

After a quiet weekend in Negombo, I found myself in a bit of a rut. I wanted to go and explore the island, but also I didn’t want to leave the free internet/cheap beer convenience of Negombo: especially if I was to have more meetings with shipping-types this week. Sachal, being the hero that he is, invited me down to Galle, a fortress town in the south of the country. He was going down for the day with his business partner to look at a possible site for another hotel.

We hopped in the car and sped down there. The first part of the journey – from Negombo to Colombo – was EXCRUCIATINGLY slow and the driving around these parts make Maureen from Driving School seem like Ayrton Senna. The second part, battling through Colombo itself, took up most of the morning. But once we were on the brand-spankingly new freeway from south of Colombo down to Galle, we were laughing. We reached Galle at about 2pm. I went off to do my own thing while Sachal went to see this building.

Galle is a lovely place, but today it reminded me of Salalah in Oman, that same grey tropical mist that makes it feel like the end of the world. Galle Fort was started by the Dutch, continued by the Portuguese and completed by the British. It’s a remarkable structure, big enough to fit a decent sized village inside. The ramparts and bastions have stood up against invaders and ne’er-do-wells for over 500 years and when the devastating Boxing Day tsunami hit, inside Galle Fort was the safest place on the south coast to be.

Inside the fortifications you find a Dubrovnik-esque walled town, a Unesco World Heritage site that oozes old-worldly charm as the Dutch, Portuguese, British and Sri Lankan influences fuse together like a decent blended scotch. The sort of place you could wile away your days working on the Great American Novel.

In the evening, we met up for the return journey. Much quicker this time, although we did get a puncture – unsurprisingly as the tyres made Duncan Goodhew’s bonce look remarkably hirsute. As Sachal and his business partner berated the driver for driving at 70mph in such an unroadworthy car, I set about changing the tyre. And yes if you lose your keys I can get your car open for you with a wire coat hanger. And yes I know how to hot-wire your motor an’ all. But only because I used to work in my dad’s garage, alright? It’s not like you get taught this stuff in scouse school.

On Thursday I had a double blow: the ship owners had said no. I wouldn’t be leaving on the Lily Marine ship this weekend. There would be one next weekend with different owners, which pretty much looked like a done deal. Oh well, another weekend in Sri Lanka, can’t complain. The second blow was that Kevin, a French guy I met in Singapore, had invited me on a ten-day road trip around Sri Lanka. Since I wouldn’t be going anywhere, my answer was yes. However, a series of unfortunate events led to me being left behind while the party bus rolled through town.

The lack of forward transport, the missing of the transit of Venus and the aborted road-trip conspired to make me feel like a ton of crap. Luckily last week I met a British girl called Natalie on the bus to Colombo. This wasn’t difficult as there are so few tourists knocking around, everyone who isn’t a local invariably ends up talking to each other. Natalie works here doing marketing for a safari company and we had bonded over feminism. I hope you all know what a radical feminist I am, while still retaining my fondness for boobs and pornography.

Anyway, on the Friday afternoon while I was making a little fort out of my bed and snarling at the mosquitoes that taunted me, Natalie suggested we pop down to Unawatuna for the weekend. As I’m physically incapable of saying no (except to touts and beggars), the next thing I knew we were barrelling down south at a great rate of knots.

Unawatuna is a beach town on the south coast, not far from Galle. It was completely destroyed in the Boxing Day Tsunami and hundreds of people died. Since then, it’s bounced back and pretty much all physical trace of that tragic event has been expunged, save for the memories of the survivors and those bereaved.

We arrived around 10pm and it didn’t take long to find a place to stay and a place that was showing the football. Sweden vs England. Natalie drank so much arrack (coconut spirit – if you ever played a brass instrument, it tastes like valve oil) that she puked before half-time. I tried to pace myself, but I have to admit that by 2am when England won I was howling at the moon with the best of them.

After spending Saturday sobering up, Nat and I hit the beach bars a second time on the Saturday night. We met friends from the night before (whose faces – never mind names – I had difficulty remembering). I met a scouse guy from Huyton who was working ship security and an Aussie fan of my TV show who insisted on buying me a beer (well, if you insist…). We found Christoph, Julian, James and Will from the night before and I was introduced to Lily and Olivia, two outrageously hot British girls in their fourth year of medicine.

Arrack, drinking games, dancing under the stars… some nights defy description and it’s left to the photos you find on your camera the next day (that you can’t even remember taking) to tell the story.

“A weekend wasted is not a wasted weekend.”

From A Weekend in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, posted by Graham Hughes on 6/22/2012 (41 items)

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I woke up on the beach at 11am. I had fallen asleep on a sun-lounger next to a gigantic speaker array that was pumping out some tragic Sri Lankan Rn’B. Hat? Check. Wallet? Check. Video camera? Check. Laptop? Check.

I love Sri Lanka.

Days M265-271: The Long and Shorts of It

Mon 18.06.12 – Sun 24.06.12:

After returning to Negombo late on Sunday night, things were looking good. The ship leaving this weekend was going to take me to The Maldives, and then I’d be coming back here to Sri Lanka, so the ‘cultural triangle’ stuff could wait until my triumphant return from country number 199 (being The Maldives).

On the Wednesday I got a message from my Unawatuna chums asking if I was up for a night out in Colombo. I had fancied going to the Irish pub there for the weekly pub quiz, but when I called up asking about it, the guy who answered the phone had no idea what I was on about. So around 8pm I met with Lily, Olivia, James, Christoph and Jules at the rather posh Galle Face hotel. They had a rather posh all-you-can-eat buffet for the incredible price of just £9, but even that’s a little out of my budget so I stuck with the (shared) bottle o’ wine.

After that we all headed over to the Dutch Hospital – now a swanky courtyard of bars and restaurants (think the Albert Dock without the actual dock). After a couple mojitos (I rather dislike mojitos, but he who pays the piper and all that jazz), we headed off to Skyy Bar for more alcoholic treats.

Now a little three-sheeties-to-the-windies, we attempted to get into the nightclub next door to Skyy Bar. However there was a dress code. A dress code that for the first time in my life, didn’t affect me (I’m the guy who got told off for wearing A SUIT in Melbourne!). However, it did affect James (who was wearing shorts) and Christoph and Jules (both of whom were wearing flip-flops).

But when I’ve had a few nothing will stop me from continuing down the spiral of hilarity and destruction. So we formulated a plan. I’d give James my jeans in return for his shorts, then set off with the two Germans to their hotel to grab some shoes for them and a pair of trousers for me.

Just one problem: the German lads only had one pair of spare trousers. And they were bright yellow ski-pants.

Yes, they let me in.

Colombo Door Policy: Shorts = No. Bright Yellow Ski-Pants = Yes.

The next day I woke up on James’s floor wondering if anybody got the number of that bus that hit me. I stumbled onto the beach and hooked myself up to the internets to find out if there was any more news about the ship leaving for Maldives this weekend. There was.

The ship would be omitting Colombo. I couldn’t get on board no matter what I did.

I felt like somebody had just punched me in the stomach. I’ve GOT to get home as soon as possible. My dad is going in for major heart surgery in August. My best mate (and Odyssey Hero) Dino is getting married in August, as is fellow Odyssey Hero Hugh and my old schoolchum Danny. I’ve known these guys for over 22 years. And to top it off, Mandy, my girlfriend, partner in crime and putter-up-with more than her fair share of grief on this journey is flying to the UK on August 16. If I don’t see her then I won’t see her until 2013.


Okay, there’s a CMA-CGM ship leaving Colombo on July 4. It’s a one way ticket to The Maldives, but it would mean I could at least knock The Maldives off the list and – who knows – I might just find a ship coming back this way – or, even better, to The Seychelles.

Putting my best foot forward, I spent 3 hours writing THE BEST EMAIL EVER to the nice chaps and chapesses at CMA-CGM in France. Quite simply, if this doesn’t work I’m more stuffed than a Thanksgiving turkey.

That night I returned to Colombo feeling like a ton of crap. Happily, Sachal, feeling my discontent did his level best to cheer me up by inviting Natalie and the German girls, Elena and Marina, over for a slap-up feast at his place on the Friday night. Dinner party host par excellence, Sachal almost had me fall off my seat with amusement at his thoroughly hilarious anecdotes. At one point he took his shirt off to share with us all THE HAIRIEST BACK IN THE WORLD. Natalie’s face says it all…

Mr. Sachal Mir strips off for the ladiezzz

So as Friday merged into Saturday I found myself out in Negombo town, meeting with people from all over the world, including girls from Britain, America and Canada who were volunteering at a local orphanage. This is beginning to remind me of the Café Sophia in Praia, Cape Verde, a place where I became somewhat of a permanent fixture. My feet begin to itch. How can I justify being in a place as awesome as Sri Lanka for three weeks and not actually go anywhere?

But when sunset looks like this…

The time had come for ACTION! But, before then, the nice Chinese lady staying at Sachal’s B&B offered to make everyone dinner on the Sunday night. After the most outrageous drinking games courtesy of the Sach, we all headed over to the Rodeo bar at midnight to watch England get kicked out of Euro 2012.

By now, Jannika, the owner of Rodeo had finally recognised me off the telly and so he (wonderfully) kept the bar open until 2.30am so I could watch the extra time and penalties. Good on ya, Jannika! England: YOU SUCK!!!

Days M272-276: The Cultural Triangle

Mon 25.06.12 – Fri 29.06.12:

And so it came to pass that Monday morning involved waking up with a monster can’t-believe-we-lost-on-penalties-AGAIN!!! hangover and as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I hoped that nobody had taken any photos from the previous night’s drinking games, lest they appear on Facebook and ruin my future political ambitions.

On Tuesday, a couple of backpackers – Marcia and Manisha – arrived at Sachal’s B&B. Marcia is a Canadian girl, looks like Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. Manisha is from India but lives in Germany. Sachal, being Sachal, decided that we should all have another big dinner so I let it be known that biriyani and beer was on the cards to anyone foolish enough to turn up. Happily, we got a good turnout, with Marcia, Manisha, Natalie, Luisa, Elena, Marina, Tony, Subarji, a couple of randoms we picked up at the liquor store and the delectable Lily and Olivia coming all the way up from Colombo. Good night had by all.

Marcia and Manisha couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time – they were planning to head off to the ancient city of Anuradhapura the next day: perfect for pinging me out of my rut and getting me to travel around Sri Lanka a little. And so the following afternoon the three of us teamed up and hit the road. It was a good few hours on the bus to Kurunegala, halfway to Anuradhapura (we gave up trying to pronounce ‘Anuradhapura’, instead referring to it as ‘Anna Kournikova’ or ‘Anna Made A Porno’).

From Kurnunegala we took the train the rest of the distance. After my great train journeys across Europe, Africa, India and China, it had been a while since I had been on anything but a local train. I must be getting rusty: we all managed to bundle on the train back to Colombo. I realised just in the nick of time and jumped off (the train had started moving). Manisha also managed to get off but poor old Starbuck was jammed in by a crazy old cat lady.

Luckily, the episode ended in hilarity rather than disaster as the Colombo train stopped a little down the tracks as points were switched and then returned to the station. Sorry about that, Starbuck, must have been those dastardly C(e)ylons…

We arrived in Anna Kournikova after dark and headed over to the cheap and cheerful Lake View Guest House. After grabbing a late supper, we all crashed out for the night, ready to take on the ancients sites early the next day.

Because the sites are so spread out, the best way to see Anna Made A Porno is by bicycle. I’m not one to stand on ceremony, so by 8am we were well on our way to go see our first sight… the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world: a 2,000-year-old Bodhi tree. According to popular myth, it was grown from a cutting of the sacred Bodhi tree under which Buddha himself received enlightenment. The people of Sri Lanka, it being a majority Buddhist country, have painstakingly looked after this mighty wonder of the arboreal world for longer than Christianity has existed. True!

A sacred relic from antiquity. And a tree.

Sadly, it’s quite hard to actually see the tree as they’ve built a temple around the damn thing. But I suppose it’s a bit like The Jacaranda in Liverpool would have looked when it had a jacaranda tree in the middle of it. That one only lasted a few years. Goes to show: if you’re going to build something around a tree, don’t make it a pub.

After that, we went to see a giant stupa. For those of your not versed in eastern religion (and Word spellcheck), a stupa is kinda like a large white dome that serves as a place of worship for Buddhists. In Sri Lanka, stupas are called ‘dagobas’, a word Word similarly dislikes and possibly where you might go to find Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me (only it wasn’t, was it? It was Liam Neeson). This particular dagoba was over a thousand years old and was brimmed by 100 elephant reliefs.

Honestly not photoshopped.

Surreal, innit?


Next up was the Twin (Amy) Ponds.

Twin Ponds. Like Twin Peaks but more wet.

Then off to see the monster brick degoba. For the best part of two millennia this was the third tallest building in the world, after the great pyramids of Cheops and Chephren. Bloody impressive stuff, Sri Lanka.

One damn big dagoba.

That afternoon we headed over to Sigiriya for more tomb-raiding the next day.

Man-handling my fruit whilst on the bus to Sigiriya

Sigiriya is a monastery (or a fortress) built out of a huge rock (a volcanic ‘plug’, no less) and is a well-deserved Unesco World Heritage site. It’s kinda like Meteora meets Petra via Machu Picchu with a couple of awesome lion’s feet added to Sphinx the place up a bit. LOVELY!

THE ROCK, aka Dwayne Johnson.
Stairway to Heaven.
Yeah, try scaling THAT, Ethan Hunt.
Paws For Thought.
A huge rock. WITH CLAWS!!
Up we go…
The view from the top.

There’s some debate over whether this place was indeed a monastery or a fortress, since people figured that the monks wouldn’t have tolerated the marvellous Hustler-like art that adorns one of the caves.

More hairy fruit! You guys are obsessed!

Yes that’s right, mankind’s love affair with big boobs has been around since time immemorial.

Then it was off to the rock caves of Dambulla. Loaded with goodies from the last few hundred years, paintings, sculptures, magic water buckets, you name it baby they got it on display. Only one problem. You see, in Sri Lankan Buddhism, the statue of Buddha IS a god (one the eyes are finished) and therefore, like when you visit the Queen, you’re not supposed to turn you back on them. However, in the caves of Dambulla, there are Buddhas EVERYWHERE! You’re surrounded! Spin on a sixpence and you’re seriously not going to be currying favour with the Gods. Show some respect!

“Ve have you surrounded!”

After the caves, Manisha, Starbuck and I hopped the bus up to Kandy. It was a hellish journey – the bus was packed, nowhere to sit (until I totally stole somebody else’s seat – snooze you lose baby!) and Starbuck ended up standing for about two hours (she could have had my seat but was down the wrong end of the bus).

Still, beats the Greyhound…..

Considering it’s the second biggest city in Sri Lanka, Kandy is a quiet little place, even on a Friday evening. After a stroll around the lake, we headed up to the Stag’s Head bar on the top floor of Hotel Casamara for some liquid refreshment. The nice folks at CMA-CGM shipping wrote back to me saying they hoped to have an answer by the end of next week. An answer to the question “can I take one of your ships across the Indian Ocean and thereby have me FINALLY complete The Odyssey Expedition?”.

Take me and I promise to stop pretending to be the backpacker version Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy…

Fingers and toes, baby, fingers and toes…

“It was high time to say goodbye to Negombo and hit the road…”

From Sri Lanka: The Ancient Cities, posted by Graham Hughes on 7/07/2012 (139 items)

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Days M277-278: The Ministry of Crab

Sat 30.06.12 – Sun 01.07.12:

You know that the dates and the time I’ve spent in Sri Lanka tally pretty much exactly with that of Cape Verde three years ago? I remember giving serious consideration to packing all this in there and then, but my stubbornness and my inability to leave a puzzle half-solved led me to plod on regardless, and I’ve been plodding on ever since.


This morning, rose and shone, looking forward to see the Temple of the Tooth, the sacred place in Kandy where one of Buddhism’s most sacred relic can be found: a tooth of the Buddha himself.

Now: there is some debate about this matter, not least because the Portuguese, being the miserable culturally insensitive sods that they were (and you thought the British were bad) took the tooth in the 1500s and burnt it on a big pyre of religious intolerance (and they wonder why the Filipinos killed Magellan…). Now the wily monks will tell you they hid the real tooth and gave Christian Ronaldo’s great-great-great-great grandfather a fake one to destroy. But there are a few problems with this whole tooth (and nothing but the tooth) business. First up, it very well might not have been one of Buddha’s teeth to begin with. Secondly, suppose the Portuguese did destroy the one they thought was the real tooth? Thirdly, people reckon the tooth in the temple of the tooth is just a replica anyway (this would make sense since the Tamil Tigers, in a streak of cultural insensitivity that would make the Taliban blush (actually it wouldn’t) exploded a truck bomb outside the temple a few years ago, so keeping the real tooth safely hidden away somewhere secret under lock and key would be the most sensible way of doing things.

IN ANY CASE, the tooth – real or fake – is hidden from view within a mini dagoba which is nestled in a slightly bigger dagoba which is nestled in a slightly bigger dagoba, much in the manner of Russian Dolls.

So, let’s be Frank (can I still be Elaine?), I was not overly fussed about not-even seeing the incisor of a long-dead Bronze Age deity, which may or may not be actually the incisor of a long-dead Bronze Age deity. In any case, “Evangeline” Lily texted and invited me to the cricket in Colombo. Sri Lanka v Pakistan, first day of the five day test. Three and a half hours away on the train. But you see the thing is that I REALLY LOVE cricket and like Sri Lanka are totally my favourite team OKAY?

This had nothing to do with it.

So I said my fond farewells to Manisha and Starbuck and before you could say “oh for heaven’s sake Graham, have you no shame?” I was on my way back to Colombo. Picked up some Arrack and Cola on the way, and by 2pm I was sitting in the sun with enjoying the old familiar sound of cork-on-willow with Lily, Olivia and Natalie. Getting gingerly inebriated, pacing myself ready for what would be our biggest night out in Sri Lanka so far.

Jesus Christ, I look like Arnie suffocating on Mars.

Met a British chap called Henry who we invited along on our rollercoaster of destruction. By 6pm we were at the exuberantly posh Galle Face Hotel doing the sunset thing. After a short downpour (everybody running for cover in their suits and dresses – it was all very cinematic), we headed over to the Dutch Hospital for some Ministry of Crab. Bit out of my budget, and I honestly don’t need any more food, I’m turning into Hurley over here. So I just did my best to entertain the troops ready for some more drinkies in the courtyard before we headed out to the ‘High Voltage’ gig for more splendiferous hilarity.


Lily was an early casualty, struck down by Montezuma or something. But we powered on regardless, going to the Skky Bar and then back to Henry’s and then off to Kama, the nightclub I wore the silly pants in last week. Met Anita, a Croatian journo here reporting for the Japan Times (oo! I’ve been in that paper), who had also attended the gig. I found myself invited to Galle in the morning. I think. By this point my blood-alcohol level would have been high enough to knock out a King Elephant. (For it to be a King Elephant – the one you see most often in temples – seven things must touch the floor: it’s four legs, it’s truck, it’s tail and it’s penis.)

I reasonably remember going back to Henry’s, losing the girls on the way (turns out they went to a house party next door and Natalie got into a fight with the crazy blonde). There were definitely some shenanigans involving a tuk-tuk being overloaded (by us) and getting stopped by the police. Me and Olivia did the honourable thing and legged it. Wily Northerners, see? (Livi is Scottish.)

“It all started innocently enough…”

From Sri Lanka: Knocked For Six, posted by Graham Hughes on 7/07/2012 (50 items)

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By the time I knew what the hell was going on, I was 107.5km south of Colombo in Galle with Anita taking pictures of the splendid fort and wondering where my hangover had gone. Now THAT’S one awesome night out.

Days M279-281: That Sinking Feeling

Mon 02.07.12 – Wed 04.07.12:

Anita offered me her couch to crash out on, but by couch I mean ‘one of the three bedrooms in her amazing apartment on the 27th floor of the Colombo Hilton’. I’d have happily stayed there all week, but I had a nagging angel on my shoulder telling me to go go go back to the Central Highlands and see Adam’s Peak and ‘Little England’. So Monday morning I said my tatty-byes and jumped the train over to Hatton, as in Derek ‘the c—t’ Hatton. My original intent was to press onto Nuwara Eliya, but I met some backpackers on the train from Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela, all young filmmakers attending film school in Florida. They were all set to scale Adam’s Peak tonight.

Adam’s Peak is important to almost all the religions in Sri Lanka, for various reasons, and during the non-monsoon season, you can see thousands of pilgrims making the climb of 5000+ stairs. However, it should be stressed that we are in the MIDDLE OF THE MONSOON SEASON here. Not the best time for going up, but in for a penny, in for a pound. We took a shared minibus over to the nearby town of Hatton and settled in to get a few hours kip before we set off around 2am. Like Mount Sinai in Egypt, the idea is that you go up the mountain in the dark then watch the majestic sunrise (which may or may not be spoilt by a bunch of Israeli girls jangling like it’s the damn hairdressers).

But when 2am came around, I didn’t even get out of bed. It was TEAMING down outside. My three filmmaking compadres set off regardless, but it wasn’t long before they returned, beaten back by the inclement weather. Seriously not the right time of year. The next day we all set off to Nuwara Eliya, affectionately known by the locals as ‘Little England’, up in the famed tea-plantations of Sri Lanka. It took an age to get there and although I was planning to press on and meet with Manisha and Starbuck in Ella a little further along the way, it was too late to be practical. I bought a ticket for the overnight train as I had to be back in Colombo tomorrow: my visa was about to run out.

Little England was sweet, but perhaps being there on a ‘poya’ day (full moon when alcohol disappears under the table and all the pubs are shut) wasn’t the best of ideas. Soon enough I was backtracking very slowly on the train back to Colombo, snatching sleep on the chug-chug whenever the brakes weren’t squealing or we weren’t being shunted like a starlet on YouTube. We left at 11pm and arrived at 7am. I headed over to Anita’s to drop off my gear and go get my visa extension.

This was a massive undertaking, not least because the Sri Lankans use the good old fashioned ‘five queues’ system. You queue for a application form, you queue to submit it, you queue to pick up your receipt, you queue to pay and then you queue to pick up your visa. The whole process takes about three hours and involves a shit-load of standing. A more efficient process could be conjured up by a five-year-old, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last three and a half years, it’s that efficiency and countries like Sri Lanka make queer bedfellows.

Returning to Anita’s, I thought about having a kip before the inevitable night on the razz that would no doubt result from what would begin with the pub quiz at the Inn On The Green. Never got around to it though, and in any case, bollocks to it: I’m still the first up and last to bed if needs be. Teenage dreams so hard to beat.

Strategy was the name of the game at the quiz, and although our team was in the lead for a couple of rounds, we played our joker (double points) too early and came a respectable fifth instead of my usual second place. Well, second place unless we’re in an environment (such as on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean) where the sad mooks who cheat at pub quizzes have no access to the internet. The buggers.

After the quiz, Anita and I headed over to the Dutch Hospital to meet with Lily and Olivia. Livi’s BF had just flown over from the UK for holidays and this would be his first night out in Colombo, it would be remiss of us not to show him a good time. So after Lily raided my hard drive to load up her ailing iPod with oodles of lovely indie rock n’ roll, it was drinkies and Skky Bar and Kama and the usual nonsense that’s becoming startlingly familiar for a night out in Sri Lanka…

How come I don’t even remember there being a pole?

Day M282: It’s Not Dark Yet, But It’s Getting There

Thu 05.07.12:

The morning after the night before I jumped on the internet to find THE EMAIL. The email I had been waiting for, the email I had been dreading. CMA-CGM writing back to me with a decision.

Will The Odyssey Expedition be over in August? Will the last three FINAL FRONTIERS tumble like dominoes?

Or will I have to waste more time, more effort and take a completely unsuitable, dangerous and expensive method of getting to Fortress Maldives and Fortress Seychelles??

The news wasn’t good.

The email was pleasant enough, but the answer is NO.

I will have to waste more time, more effort and take a completely unsuitable, dangerous and expensive method of getting to Fortress Maldives and Fortress Seychelles.

So that’s three no’s in a row. With no marinas in this country and a general lack of cruise ships, fishing boats and rubber dinghies around here, it looks like the 411nm journey to the Maldives is going to elude me yet.

Anita got the call from her editor telling her she would be leaving on tonight’s 4am flight to Barcelona. That’s pretty gonzo. She left at 1am, leaving me in a three bedroom luxury hotel apartment by myself, everything’s paid for, check out by noon. HOW DID I GET HERE?! Under normal circumstances, this would result in a flat party of epic proportions. But with Lily and Livi ensconced to the left of the country, Natalie back in Negombo and the other usual suspects otherwise disposed I stood out on the balcony alone in the cool night air.

And so I look out from the 27th floor of the Colombo Hilton Residence across the city sprawled out below. The gantry cranes of the port are lit by yellow sodium-vapour lights. It almost looks romantic. In a cruel, industrialised way. They’re loading ships with rice and tea and grain. Everything but Graham. Stand by. Await further instructions. It’s a long way down.

Out of ideas, out of options, out of time.

The dizzying highs and the crushing lows. I’m amazed any of you are still reading this crap.

Day M290: Odysseus Amongst The Sirens

Fri 13.07.12:

In Homer’s Odyssey, our wily hero Odysseus had his men tie him to the ship’s mast so he could hear the Siren’s song without dashing himself on the rocks. I’m fairly sure that the cruel and capricious Gods of Olympus are cooking up a similar ordeal for me here on the Isle of Serendipity. I meet a lot of people on the road and some are obviously better looking than others. Yes I’ve got a girlfriend, but even so, you can’t help but notice. Call it window shopping, whatever, we all do it, don’t look at me like that. But what’s making my head spin is the way that almost every female tourist I meet (Sri Lankan women being eerily absent from this country’s nightlife) is not just hot, but outrageously take-off-your-shoe-and-bang-it-on-the-table-whilst-howling-at-the-moon-hot.

If it was one or two of these magnificent (but ultimately deadly) creatures, I would give it the hey-ho, no big deal, not worth commenting on in my blog. But there’s been a staggering number of remarkably attractive women I’ve met here that, if I was footloose and fancy free, I’d totally be inviting for a picnic, if you know what I mean.

Is this beer goggles talking? No: I check my photos the next day and there they are, The Sirens, singing to me with their eyes. I guess it’s just one more string to Sri Lanka’s bow, a country that is rapidly solidifying its position in my Top Ten of the World. But why here? Why now? Is this some kind of test? I have no ship, my mast is my candour, the rope is my general bolshie disposition. Are we seeing the coming together of two classic Odyssean moments: that of the Saga of the Sirens and that of Calypso’s Isle?

Odysseus spent 7 years trapped on Calypso’s island.

Odysseus Amongst The Sirens
Birds, eh? I don’t know…

Ah, sod it: I’m asking the wrong questions. I don’t believe in fate any more than I believe in the invisible dragon that lives in my garage.

Although I really wish he’d stop setting fire to my invisible car.

Day M300: Okay, Time Out!

Mon 23.07.12:

There is no chance of me getting on board a cargo ship from Sri Lanka to Maldives. This is a rather unique situation and it’s taken 42 months and 198 countries to get to this point. In all other cases I’ve got permission to sail or there has been an alternative shipping company. But, please, my wonderful Odysseans DO NOT DESPAIR!

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so dismissive of fate in my last post. I’ve often equated The Odyssey Expedition to a real-life video game: elements of Pokémon (gotta catch ’em all!), Lemmings (avoid the traps, get these poor buggers home) and, more than anything, Monkey Island (I’ve got to get me a ship – by solving puzzles!).

My favourite video game of all time (because it’s the best video game of all time) is, of course, Grim Fandango. If you’ve never heard of it, you might as well tell me you haven’t heard of Sullivan’s Travels or the country Djibouti. I can only assume you haven’t been paying enough attention. Back of the class!

Grim Fandango tells the story of Manny Calavera, a travel agent in the Land of the Dead, who finds (by exploring an incredibly rendered art-deco Aztec/Mayan otherworld) that the place is riddled with corruption. Thus begins his Four Year Journey of the Soul, through the Petrified Forest, Across the Sea of Lament, Around the Waterfall At The End of the World and then finally high up into the Snow-capped Mountains and The Entrance to the Ninth Underworld – the place of eternal rest.

It looks like my journey is going to mirror Manny’s in many ways, not least the ‘Four Year Journey of the Soul’ bit. After starting this Earth Odyssey in January 2009, I’m not going to be finished and home again until December 2012. The irony being that I’m ginger! I have no soul!! (Don’t tell the Devil – heh! What a sucker!)

Was this fated from the start, or is it just how things have turned out? In any case, Plan B (yes yes yes there’s always a Plan B) requires me to hang around here until October, then hitch a ride on a cruise ship which will be leaving Cochin in India on October 18. This ship will take me to THE MALDIVES, SEYCHELLES and Madagascar, allowing me to hop a ride on a passing PIL ship that will, hopefully, take me to Africa, from where I can trundle up to SOUTH SUDAN and put a nail the size of Michigan in this planet  and say IT’S DONE.

Then it will be the small case of getting back to Liverpool overland from South Sudan. I hope, like the chaps in World War I, to be home for Christmas.

So now you know my plan, what on Earth am I going to do in Sri Lanka for another 3 months? Good question. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I could really do with putting The Odyssey on hold and going home for a while. When I say I, I really mean my mum and dad need me around right now, my three friends who are getting married need me to attend, and it goes without saying that sweet Mandy, the love of my life, needs to see me.

Only one problem. It’s brutal, it’s rude, it makes everyone blush and you should never ask about it in polite conversation: it’s money. Here in Negombo I’m spending (on average) less than £5 a day. I have enough cash to stay here until October, and I have (just) enough left on my credit cards to finish this thing (presuming I can ride for free on the next three ships). But no more. And since I really need to go home for August, I decided to smash the emergency glass and ask my awesome amazing friends to have a whip-around to help me pay for my flight home.

I was given the money I needed within 24 hours. All I can say is THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

I’m flying via Kuwait and will arrive in London at 1700 on Saturday August 11, I’ll be seeing my London friends that night and then I’ll be returning to Liverpool for the afternoon of Sunday August 12. And a roast meal at my mum’s. I cannot wait to see everyone again.

I will return to Sri Lanka (and re-start The Odyssey Expedition) on September 26. Hop on a ship to India and then horizon, thar me bring.

However, while me and my friends were having our epic love-in, others were less than impressed. I got some serious flak for asking for a bunch of Baron Greenbacks off my buddies, for example:

Even without the hate mail and the virtual daggers, doing this made me feel like a bit of a twot, of course nobody wants to go cap-in-hand to their peers. But I want you to understand: these are my friends. My good friends, friends who I’ve known for years, in some cases decades. Friends who I’d do anything for, and friends that know I will pay back as soon as I have the money to do so. Others, readers of this blog, feel that I’ve given them enough entertainment over the last three years for it to be fair enough chuck in a few quid for my labours.

If I was rich like Ewan McGregor or getting paid like the guys at Vice, asking your hard-working mates for money would be completely beyond the pale. But I’m not. I write these blog entries that thousands of you read every day and once in every 12 months Google puts £60 in my account. Since my TV show started airing in July 2010, I’ve received a single royalty cheque for £600 from the BBC. I don’t mean to bang on about this, but I got seriously screwed by the powers that be.

The killing joke is that if I was a session musician turning up to play the triangle on a track that is then put on heavy rotation on MTV, I’d earn thousands in royalties – the video director, who put in weeks of hard work, creativity and genius into his or her creation, would get NO ROYALTIES WHATSOEVER. TV is not a fair business.

So yes, it’s shit having to beg for money, but while I’m not swimming around in vats of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, and while the only things I own in the world are this laptop, my camcorder and the clothes in my backpack, you do what you’ve got to do. Sorry if I offended anyone. I guess you don’t know me very well.

And the email? This was my response:

I don’t travel for free, I travel on a shoestring budget in which three things were not factored in:
1. That it would take me 3 and a half years to get this far
2. That I would be given no support whatsoever by the production company of my TV show
3. That I would get paid less than £11,000 by the producers of the TV show
I had to fly home last year because my sister died. I used my ’emergency get-home fund’ then. And you know what? I only keep going because I know it annoys the hell out of people like you.
Love n’ hugs,
Graham Hughes
NEGOMBO, SRI LANKA (198 of 201)

Day M302: So Then…

Wed 25.07.12:

Another hiatus. I hope you don’t see this as cheating. As I did in Wewak, Papua New Guinea, I will be returning to exactly the spot where I left off before continuing The Odyssey Expedition. This cruise ship in October that will go INDIA > MALDIVES > SEYCHELLES > MADAGASCAR is a damn good plan: the best plan, and the safest. The ships that the Somali pirates go after these days have a) no armed guards and b) a low freeboard. I don’t know if a cruise ship will have armed guards on board, but as for the freeboard (the distance from the sea to the deck), on most cruise ships you’re talking something like 40 metres. Try scaling THAT, Fatbeard!


In the meantime, yes, I’m going home. And although I’m going back for a serious reason, it already sounds like it’s going to be (as with everything I do) utterly epic. Already my top mate Lindsey (see: awesome) has sorted with a free ticket to see the Blur concert in Hyde Park that’ll end the London Olympics, then I’ve got two back-to-back weddings of Odyssey Heroes Dino and Hugh (Hugh can be seen here singing The Odyssey Blues) respectively before the Mathew Street Festival kicks off in Liverpool.

Weddings: I scrub up well!

Come September, Stan of ‘Last Exit To Serbia’ fame and I will be heading down to the Isle of Wight in an old camper van for Bestival (THANKS STAN! YOU ROCK!!).

Bestival 2008. Best Bestival EVER.

Then there’s yet another wedding a couple of weeks after that when Danny (if you’ve seen my TV show, he’s the one who says that ‘I’m a difficult man to love’ in the first episode) ties the knot with the lovely Penny.

While that’s going on, I’m hoping to DO SOME GODDAMN WORK to help pay for the last few months of travel at the end of the year, not to mention paying back everyone who helped me come home. And (with any luck) there’ll be something brilliant FINALLY happening on my YouTube channel around that time.

So that’s how I’ll be spending my sabbatical from The Odyssey Expedition. If any of you reading this are going to be in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle OR ANYWHERE IN THE UK between August 11 and September 25, or you’re going to Bestival, please get in touch and we’ll go grab a cheeky brew.

All the best,