Days 943-948: Ain’t No Fat Lady Singin’

01.08.11-06.08.11:

So I’ve come to the fine city of Sydney in pursuit of a yacht captain who is looking for ADVENTURE, EXCITEMENT and REALLY WILD THINGS on the high seas. It’s also given me the opportunity to meet the most excellent Team Odyssey members Alex Zelenjak and Damian Pallett in real life instead of in electric dreams.

While I’m here, I’m going to be trying to get as much exposure for my quest as possible. I’m also having meetings with publishers – a nice little advance for my forthcoming best-seller “The World Is Slightly Pear Shaped (A Drunken Stumble Through Every Country On Earth)” would seriously help me finish this crazy backpack extravaganza sometime this decade.

This morning I was on Channel Nine’s Today show, which is Australia’s equivalent of GMTV – I only had five minutes, so I just blurted out everything I could think of to say… and yet missed out so much – the fact that I present a TV show on Nat Geo Adventure might have been a good bit of information to throw in there! D’oh!!

If you, like my girlfriend Mandy, are wondering “where my eyes are” then I should possibly confess to being up until very late last night drinking with my Sydneysider chums. Don’t look at me like that! The minute I start taking this whole thing seriously is the minute my head explodes…

Anyway, here’s the interview, thanks to Steve MacDonald for the upload, ENJOY!

AUSSIE SKIPPER REQ’D: FOR HIGH ADVENTURE

THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION

Hi, my name is Graham Hughes. I’m a British adventurer, TV presenter and a Guinness World Record holder.  You can read more about me on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Hughes

I’m currently in the midst of a rather epic challenge – one that I hope you might be interested in joining me in: I’m trying to step foot in every country in the world, and attempting to do so without flying.  I’m doing this to raise funds and awareness for the international charity WaterAid.

I work with Lonely PlanetNational Geographic and BBC Worldwide. The first series of my self-filmed TV show, Graham’s World, is currently showing on the Nat Geo Adventure channel (Foxtel) and I was the star guest on Channel Nine’s Today Show last Saturday.  You can watch the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeaR_RW7Zu4

Over the last two years, I’ve managed to visit an incredible 184 countries around the world, from Uruguay to Iceland, South Africa to Turkmenistan; on my own, on a shoestring and without flying.  With only 17 more countries to visit, I’m now setting my sights on the Pacific Ocean nations of Oceania.

BUSINESS IN GREAT WATERS

I’m looking for somebody – it could be you, a friend, a colleague or your mum – who owns their own sailing ship and is looking for an epic adventure on the high seas.  While I’m happy to pay for food, drink and fuel, but this would not be a commercial enterprise – I’m seeking somebody who wants to do this for fun, a bit of fame, to raise money for the charity WaterAid… and claim their very own Guinness World Record: THE FASTEST SEA JOURNEY TO EVERY COUNTRY IN OCEANIA.

From Australia, one amazing journey will take us to Papua New Guinea, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand… and back to Australia.

FORTUNE AND GLORY

Of course, this would be no small undertaking.  We are talking here of a journey of over 10,000 nautical miles.  It won’t be easy, but then Guinness World Records never are!

I travel solo, I don’t have a film crew or any bulky equipment.  I have extensive sailing experience on the open sea, having been first mate on international voyages in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.  I’m aware that for many boat owners, their vessel is their home and I’m more than happy to meet any prospective skippers in person before they reach a decision.

I’m not looking for anything fancy, fast, luxurious or even particularly comfortable, the only requirements I’ve got are that the ship be sea-worthy, insured and fitted with an international distress beacon in case of emergency.

I’m also open to the possibility of doing a smaller leg of the journey, sayAustraliato PNG to Palau and back. (Although they’d be no world record for you in that!)

I’m ready to leave as soon as possible from anywhere in Australia.  Would YOU be interested in stepping up to the mantle?  Prove to your family and friends that your boat is more than an expensive toy: show them that it’s an expression of freedom and adventure, feel the call of the ocean, leave all you troubles behind and join me on the voyage of a lifetime… fortune and glory await!

I anxiously await your call.

Graham Hughes
Sydney, Australia
10 Aug 2011

Days 985-987: Saddle Up, People!

12.09.11-14.09.11:

The time for procrastination is over. Much of this year has been spent – some might say wasted – holding out hope for a yachtie to invite me onboard his vessel and whisk me away into the wild blue yonder for nothing more than the price of a few beers and a barrel of diesel. After being held on tenterhooks for 8 months (repeatedly being told that the yacht in question would be ready to go ‘in a few days’) I gave up that pipedream. I guess the old adage is a good today as it’s always been: if something sounds too good to be true…

So I cast my net out wider, appearing on TV here in Australia and on countless radio shows, always throwing in the ‘anyone up for an adventure?’ line (while trying not to sound too desperate, of course). I got a few backpackers wanting to join me, and a couple of delightful offers of dinner(!), but no red-blooded mariners quietly waiting on their sailboat willing to take a ginger landlubber like me for a high adventure on the high seas.

But now it’s too late: even if I found a willing skipper and a boat called “Unsinkable II” today, cyclone season kicks off in November and good luck getting insurance to be bobbing up and down on the silver seas when that happens. No… I’ve got to come up with another way of getting around the Pacific, in other words: I have to revert to Plan A. Cargo ships.

“Why didn’t you just do that in the first place YOU IDIOT?” I hear you cry. Well, given the choice between visiting all the Pacific Islands in a few months at no great cost or visiting them over the course of six months at great cost, it was always going to be the former.  Plus, look… I’ve been living with my girlfriend here in Melbourne and there aren’t too many relationships that could survive not seeing each other for two years – I’m not making excuses, I just wanted to take the path of least resistance, especially if that meant I could hang out here a while longer.

But now the time has come to GET REAL: the only way I’m going to get this journey finished is on board freighter ships, and one way or another I’ve GOT to get back on the horse.

The ticking clock never stopped. It’s not just my own personal drive to get this thing finished, it’s practicalities like my Aussie visa runs out on Sept 22, so I’ve got to make like a tree and get out of here. So, not being one to stand on ceremony, I’m heading back to Papua New Guinea next week. I’ll have to head over to Wewak and then make my way to Lae and then try my best to get on one of the ships that goes to The Solomon Island and beyond: either to Fiji, New Zealand or Australia.

Lorna, Mandy and I are busy talking to shipping companies and valiantly attempting to side-step the whole “we don’t take passengers” malarkey to get me passage. But the good news for you lot is that my bag is packed, I’ve got a stack of miniDV tapes in my jocks and I’m raring to go.

PNG to Oz
The Pacific Part 1: PNG to Oz - via The Solomons (Clicky for Biggie)

Days 988-989: WOO HOO!!!

15.09.11-16.09.11:

I’ve just heard back from Martin at China Navigation (the subsidiary of Swire Shipping involved with PNG) and the good news is that there is a ship willing and able to take me from Lae in Papua New Guinea to Honiara in The Solomon Islands and back to Australia so I can FINALLY officially tick this great big silly continent off my list.

The ship is called the Papuan Chief (cool name eh?) and it’ll be departing Lae around the 10th of October.

Major thanks to Swire Shipping, China Navigation, Ray and Sebastian in PNG, Paul in Melbourne, Ross in Sydney and Martin in Singapore as well as kudos and kisses for Lorna and Mandy who helped out with the deal. Lorna especially so: she’s in the UK and the time difference meant she either had to stay up very late or get up very early in order to make the calls – somebody get Interflora on the phone!!

So… what I’ve got to do now is head back to Wewak on the North Coast of Papua New Guinea and pick up the trail from where I left off. Then I’ve got to get to Lae. Luckily for me, I’ve got an age to do this, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easily. Flights from Port Moresby to Wewak were extraordinarily expensive, so instead I’ve opted for a much cheaper flight to Madang – halfway between Lae and Wewak. But while it takes 6 hours on the road to get from Madang to Lae, it the road from Madang to Wewak is slightly err… problematic, as you can see:

Madang to Wewak
Missing: one ten mile stretch of road...
Madang to Wewak
Anybody got a canoe?
Madang to Wewak
Ox-Bow lakes: good for geography teachers, bad for overlanders.

Consequently, I’ll have to get on the same sort of Steamboat Willie affair that I took along the coast from Vanimo to Wewak last December – there and back again. But I’m not complaining – it’ll be fun! And, more importantly, THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION IS BACK ON!!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

Days 990-993: Go-Go-Gadget Backpack

17.09.11-20.09.11:

Today THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION gets its skates on again. Living up the traditional Odyssey brand, I’ve been waylaid for far too long – but thanks to some clever editing, I’m sure nobody watching series two of Graham’s World will notice that 9 months has passed between episodes 6 and 7. No doubt state-of-the-art CGI will be employed to reduce my ever-expanding beer gut to reasonable standards.

I’m chipper, feeling good, motivated and excited about the next chapter… one that will, if all goes well, take me halfway across the world and back again. Even after I finish the South Pacific islands, I still have to pesky Palau… and I have to (somehow) get back to Taiwan to get there. Even then there’ll be four countries left to tick off the list: Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and South Sudan. So from Taiwan I’m going to have to return to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and catch a ship from Malaysia to Sri Lanka. A return journey to the Maldives would be a treat, but even then getting to the Seychelles from the Indian subcontinent is going to be nigh-on impossible – pirates baby, pirates.

My best bet would be a cargo ship to Madagascar, but as the pirates extend their reach across the Indian Ocean, that too might prove impossible. If necessary I’ll have to take a ship to South Africa and fight my way back to Madagascar via Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Comoros AGAIN, then charter a yacht from Nosy Be to one of the more southerly islands of the Seychelles (something I should have done yonks ago).

But even then it won’t be over! South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, beckons. This adventure will not be over until I reach Juba. So that’s back (again!) through Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia… and then, and only then will it be over.

I’ve not worked for almost three years and I got stiffed by the (word deleted upon legal advice) at (name of company deleted upon legal advice), so not only do I have to do all this mad stuff, I’ve got to do it for no money whatsoever.

Kudos to Mandy for standing by me through all this and letting me sully her house for the last few months. She has the patience of a saint. I should also mention Rocco’s awesome cooking (and dirty sense of humour) which I’m going to miss like you would not believe.  A huge shout out to my fellow Britishers — Sarah, Gemma, Hugh, Simon and Adam — for some of the best nights out I’ve had while stuck on this rather silly island continent on the edge of the known world.

DING DONG! Once more into the breach dear friends…

Day 994: Beyond the Valley of the Ultra-Conservatives

21.09.11: I left Mandy in Melbourne’s wee Tullamarine airport on Tuesday evening. We had spent the afternoon getting the last things sorted: chief of which was a new click-click camera for me as well as a teeny battery powered razor (which I heartily recommend to any would-be globetrotter who likes to play with his (or her) facial furniture). Mand was with me as I checked onto the flight and after us both hoovering up some Nando’s chicken (truly South Africa’s second greatest export after Nelson Mandela) we said bon voyage… a parting made a little sweeter by the fact we would be back together again at the end of October.

A couple of hours later I was in Brisbane airport looking for Mandy’s mate Matt who had kindly offered to put me up for the night.

After a swift half at an Irish pub that was about as authentically Irish as Oliver Cromwell, we chewed the fat over a couple of cold ones in Matt’s back garden, Graham here keeping a beedy eye out for Queenland’s infamous giant flying screeching super-glue spiders which are every bit as terrifying as I’ve just made them sound.

That morning I had to be up for 5:45, but the excitement of being back on the road kicked in and I was up an’ at ‘em at 5:43. Take that, snooze alarm! Matt gallantly dropped me off in the city centre (Brisbane’s commute was recently voted second worse in the world… which I find had to believe – maybe commuters in Nigeria, Egypt and India weren’t given a vote) and before you could say blimey that was fast I was on a train speeding towards Brisbane airport and out of this loveably irksome continent.

But you didn’t think they’d make it easy for me did you? This IS Australia we’re talking about, the most anally retentive nation on Earth, the country that makes the Gestapo look laid back and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder a positive job requirement.

Upon checking in, my delightful checker-iner fretted at my lack of exit plans from PNG. PNG being an Aussie colony for the vast majority of the 20th century, their skill at freaking out about the slightest bureaucratic misdemeanour is understandable while still being unfathomably irritating. Now the problem was this: in order to get a visa for PNG at Port Moresby airport, you had to have a valid ticket out of the country. Now my email confirmation from China Navigation saying that I was leaving on the Papuan Chief in a couple of weeks is more than enough evidence that I do not intend to hang around. The problem lay in the fact that my Aussie visa runs out tomorrow, and the ship brings me back to Australia and even though I can’t apply for a new Aussie visa until I leave the country, they wanted me to have a new Aussie visa before I left. Which would be as silly as it would be impossible.

Happily for the forces of sanity, my ship calls into The Solomon Islands before Australia, so my Australian visa (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with the PNGers, the Aussies or the man in the frikkin’ moon. After explaining this salient fact (in much politer words, believe me), I was (eventually) welcomed onboard. Ta-ta Australia, do you think that while I’m away you could, you know, chill the —- out?

TRAVEL TIP: if I had booked exactly the same flight from Brisbane to Port Moresby through Virgin’s Pacific Blue website, it would have cost me TWICE as much as booking it through the Airlines PNG website. Bear that in mind, fellow tight-arse travellers.

Within a few hours I was smacking the tarmac of Port Moresby and ready to hit the town. After waiting way too long for a taxi, I got a local guy to drive me to the city centre for 30 Kina, which is how much it says it costs in the Lonely Planet and WHO AM I TO ARGUE? I trotted along to the Crown Plaza hotel, a concrete monstrosity, but a useful location opposite the EU mission headquarters here – the workplace of Sophie from Belgium, my CouchSurf host for the next couple of days.

Day M33: The Melbourne Identity

30.10.11: The Papuan Chief pulled into foggy Melbourne town in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. Port Philip Bay, the vast jigsaw-tip shaped body of water that sits to the south of the city is constantly in need of dredging to keep the shipping channel open – the build-up of silt streaming out of the Yarra river (and others) is pretty immense… tons of Australia eroded into the sea every year, gone forever.

The channel is incredibly narrow and is tricky enough to navigate when the weather is behaving itself. This morning it was a pea-soup, the kind of fog in which you’d expect to run into Sherlock Holmes… or if you’re a rather unfortunate lady of the night, Jack the Ripper.

By 9am we were alongside and waiting for customs to come onboard. Captain Santos had a email which implied we could be waiting all day, but it seems that an ‘am’ had been accidentally entered as a ‘pm’, so I didn’t have long to wait.

Whilst in PNG, I bought a small clay Mudman figure for Mandy. As Australian customs officials are notorious around the world for being anal, difficult and rude I thought it best to declare my contraband. I’ve been told that as long as it isn’t made of wood I should be okay (finding a cultural artefact not made of wood in PNG is something of a task!).

The customs guys came on board and one came down to my cabin to give my bags the once over. He let the clay figure be. I was especially heartened by how not even slightly rude the customs guys were. In fact, the last couple of times I’ve entered Australia they’ve been positively helpful.

What’s going on here? I have three theories on this matter. One is that they’ve all been told that everyone thinks Aussie customs officers are nasty little Vogons, and in the interests of Australia receiving repeat visitors (especially in this time of economic austerity) they have been ordered to be reel in their inner-Fawlty and be nice to tourists: customs are the first Australians that tourists meet after stepping off the plane and first impressions matter.

Another theory is that they treat older people better than young whippersnappers (like myself in 2002). Maybe once you’re 32 you’re less likely to do crazy things. To old people (they that stand at the back of the gig with their arms folded) Crazy Things = Paperwork. Maybe they think that as a hip young gunslinger, if your introduction to Australia is reminiscent of the Boot Camp scenes from Full Metal Jacket you’ll be less inclined to add to the Paperwork.

Finally, there may be a guilty-until-proven-innocent thing going on. This is my eighth visit to the Land Down Under and (so far) I haven’t outstayed my visa, got in trouble with the law or smeared jam all over my body and run down Collins Street singing The Impossible Dream at the top of my lungs. Maybe they’re giving me the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever the reason, I was out of the clutches of customs before 10am and ready to FINALLY, OFFICIALLY and UNEQUIVOCALLY hit my 186th country… AUSTRALIA!

Australia, Australia, Australia… my second home, the place after the UK I’ve spent the most time in, have the most friends in and have the most opinions about. I’ll have a good rant about the state of the commonwealth before I leave, but not today. Today I get back with my partner in crime, Mandy Newland. It’s been twelve years since that swelteringly hot day in Egypt when we first met. Her sister told me she slept with an axe under her bed. What’s not to love? Time has not exactly mellowed her: hell hath no fury like a Mandy scorned… or woken up on a Sunday morning.

Why can’t you get the train?

My awesome reception from my family and friends when I arrived back in Liverpool in 2009 was a long long time ago. Nowadays everyone I know is getting pretty sick and tired of this journey and the pressure for me to quit and come home is immense. But, like the Man from La Mancha, I have a Quest, and even if I’m the only one left reading these blogs, even if I’m the only one left giving a toss, I intend to complete it. I will never – could never – regret doing The Odyssey Expedition, even though if I had to do it all over again I’d do it very differently. I would regret giving up when I only have FIFTEEN countries left to visit for the rest of my life.

Mand, I’m in the middle of Buttf— Nowhere. Please come and pick me up.

Alright. Fine. I’ll be an hour.

And so that’s how I entered Australia – in a swirling cloud of fog and fury. I said my farewells to Ronnie the steward, Jerry the chief officer, Burt the second officer, Jonell the third officer and Dave the chief engineer. Captain Bernie Santos was asleep (he’d been up all night manoeuvring the ship into the Webb Dock), but I promised I’d get him a bottle of scotch to say Thank You.

Soon enough I was waiting for the ‘courtesy bus’ to take me to the port entrance. The bus was actually one of the security guards in his car. Mand was waiting for me at the gate. She liked the Mudman figure. Phew.

We headed out to St. Kilda for lunch – with the intention of meeting up with my old accomplice Rocco Fasano, the chap what took that nice photo of me on the border of Equatorial Guinea that you can see up top on this website’s banner. Mand usually gets a nosebleed if she ventures this far south, but for Rocco’s sake she gritted her teeth and bore it. Rocco is heading off to East Timor tomorrow to help shoot the first East Timorese film made in the local lingo. Good friends are either interesting or interested, the best are both.

After lunch we returned to Mand’s house in Thornbury, north Melbourne – the place I’ve squatted for most of the year. The grand indifference towards my arrival might be explained by that fact – to the people here, I’ve just had a holiday in Papua New Guinea. Although I did avoid a plane crash, survive an earthquake and am probably the only tourist to enter Melbourne on a cargo ship from The Solomon Islands, ever. I guess that’s all in a day’s work for the good people of Australia.

Okay. So. I’m here. What now?

Well, I’ve still got to cross eleven more Pacific Islands off my list. They are (in some sort of order) Vanuatu, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Nauru, Micronesia and Palau.

The first two should be relatively easy – there’s loads of cargo ships and cruise ships heading that way from Oz. If I can get onboard the ‘Southern Pearl’ freighter in Fiji, that should be Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshalls ticked off. Back to Fiji, there are a good number of ships doing a Fiji – Samoa – Tonga – NZ route.

Getting to the last three will NOT be so easy. Nauru is about as popular as a ginger kid who wears Dunlop Green Flash to PE and Palau cannot be accessed from the South Pacific. Yes, I should have attempted to get there from Taiwan when I was there in September 2010.

Eek.

But I shall endeavour. I shall fight, and I shall win. Australia, you’re done. The final massive splodge of white on my TravBuddy map has now turned green.

Now for the final fifteen. But first…

Day M34: The Night He Came Back

31.10.11: Why don’t Aussies go tropo insane for Halloween? I’ve seen more life in a terminal ward. I’m sure there are plenty of middle-aged bores who would rather not be hassled by kids for sweets once a year, but I’m of the opinion that it’s fun and you should save all your days of doing nothing interesting for when you’re dead.

I dearly wanted to get dressed up as some crazed serial killer, or a vampire, or a suicide bomber or a catholic priest and go out and terrorise the neighbourhood. But nobody wanted to play. So instead I boarded a train to the city centre and met up with a couple of mates from the UK and (rather unsuccessfully) stalked the streets of Melbourne city centre.

Look, I know I really shouldn’t be complaining about the city that experts around the world regard as the ‘most liveable’ (although, seriously, how do you become an expert on liveability?!). But what they mean to say is ‘most liveable if you plan to spend the short time you have on this miracle of a planet doing nothing but shopping, talking about house prices and watching telly’.

Bugger that for a game of soldiers. Look, I’m all for being polite (I’m not), but the fact is that I’m writing this blog and you’re reading it: you can make all the excuses you want, but if you’re not living your life the way you want to live it you have nobody to blame but yourself. “Oh but my mortgage” is no excuse and neither is “oh but my kids”. Give the bank your house, take your kids with you. You can easily travel the world as a vagabond, a vagrant or an alcoholic. Get out there people, you need the world more than the world needs you.

There are some of us that don’t like comfortable. There are some of us who are happy to travel for two days through the jungles of Guinea in a broken down Peugeot 407 with one buttock on the handbrake. There are some of us who love the unpredictable, the spontaneous, the great unknown… people who know the secret of living is to throw yourself at the tide.

Quite why people think Melbourne is ‘liveable’ is beyond me. Here I am on Halloween in the city centre with a BANK HOLIDAY TOMORROW and the streets are dead.

But this may not be Melbourne’s fault. Melbourne has an Achilles Heel, a chink in Smaug’s armour, a sub-space frequency that deactivates the Borg: it has no city centre. It has a CBD, a “Central Business District”, but as world-renowned party cities Liverpool and Newcastle can attest, what you really need is a CPD, or a “Central Party District”. There’s a bit of fun to be had in the southern suburb of St. Kilda, but if you’re male and don’t turn up in a limo, don’t be surprised if they knock you back for being ‘too drunk’. The suburb of Northcote has two bars open past midnight. TWO. And in general if you’re not fond of Robbie Williams, Akon and Autotune then you’re probably not going to have a good time. The city centre is quiet most nights, and dead on the others. Too spread out, too expensive, too pretentious, too no-you-can’t-wear-that too everything that isn’t conducive to a decent night out.

The fact remains I spent one night in Luanda, the capital of Angola, and went to a kick-ass house party. I spent one night in Honiara, the capital of The Solomon Islands, and went to a kick-ass house party. I spent one night in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, and went to a kick-ass beach party. I’m in Melbourne for what can only be described as the most awesome opportunity for booze, make-up and mayhem in the calendar year and what happens…?

Nothing.

Australia, I feel like writing what my teachers wrote about me in school.

“Could do better if he tried.”

They were lazy hack goodfernuthin’ can’t-think-what-to-do-with-my-life teachers, but they were right. I could.

Day M35: A Day At The Races

01.11.11: The Melbourne Cup advertises itself as The Race That Stops A Nation and for once the bods in advertising might well be telling us the truth. It’s a little like Liverpool’s own Grand National, only the entire state of Victoria gets a Tuesday off work and schoolchildren across the land stop their lessons to watch it on the telly. Gambling, like boozing, can range from a couple of tramps in grotty little cellar to a national festival were people dress up to the nines – and that’s no bad thing. Say what you like about the dangers of gambling and drinking, at least they’re democratic.

The day started in fine fettle with this hapless adventurer waking up on somebody’s couch. I had been out drinking the night before with Simon and Adam, my friends from the UK, who, like Michael Caine in the 80s, are only here for the money. As I know only too well after paying for a round at the pub (won’t be making that mistake again!), the Australian Dollar is the strongest currency in the world at the moment. Although I wish people would get it into their heads that the worth of a currency (like time) is relative. If I have to educate another person that just because a single British pound is worth more than a single Aussie dollar, it doesn’t follow that our currency is ‘worth more’ I may be responsible for the world’s first economic-educationally motivated murder.

After dragging myself off the couch, I showered last night’s grime off myself and put a shirt, tie and suit jacket on. I say that casually like I always travel with a suit, but I had bought them second hand the day before for less than a pint of (Australian) lager. Didn’t have the pants or shoes though, so I had to do with my scruffs for my legs and feet. From the waist up I looked quite dapper. Or like a an overgrown schoolboy. You decide.

PHOTO HERE

Before we left at 10am, we had downed a couple of ciders, a large shot of sherry and a bottle of champagne. You’re not playing with no amateurs here.

With Ads and Si in tow, we sauntered over to Spencer Street station (I call it by its old name, because I like to show how old-school I am). On the way we stopped off at a Liquor shop and stocked up on booze. I bought one of those little bottles of Jack Daniels that are in the shape of a glass hipflask, poured it into my real hipflask and then stuffed the hipflask down my pants in case I got frisked on the way in.

Ads and Si bought some booze for themselves and after a quick flame-grilled Whopper from Hungry Jack’s (that’s what they inexplicably call Burger King in Australia) we were on the train to the Flemington racecourse, just to the northwest of the city centre. We had tickets to the big race and time was of the essence.

The security was marvellously lax, I could have smuggled my JD in my jacket pocket. If I was wearing my wonderful travel vest that I bought in Afghanistan, I could have smuggled in two 1.5 litre bottles. I know for next time.

Once inside, there was an awesome carnival feel to the day. Even a scouse slob like me appreciates the world of fine wine and bowties even if I’m unlikely to ever be part of that set. But that’s the brilliant thing about events like this: everyone is playing dress-up. And I love a good fancy dress party.

I’m fairly sure that Mohammed had things to say about gambling, but that hasn’t put Emirates Airlines off being the main sponsor of this, the 151st Melbourne Cup. Going against my usual policy of not laying down my cash unless I’ve rigged the contest, I placed some ill-informed bets and lost my shirt, so let that be a warning to ya. The main race of the day was a real nail-biter – never has the term ‘won it by a whisker’ been so apt. I got recognised off the telly by at least five different groups of people: there’s nothing better than being a minor celebrity amongst drunk people. Especially when you’re pretty drunk yourself (that JD didn’t last long).

After the races were over, we retired to Bev and Mick’s Backpackers for a swift half before pressing on to Cookie – a bar on the roof of the Curtin building. I have vague memories of an Indian in a kilt and singularly failing to impress an American girl from Washington by knowing that her state capital was Olympia.

INDIAN IN A KILT

All in all, a bloody good day.

Day M36: Quiz Night

02.11.11: The hangover wasn’t quite as epic as I was expecting as I rolled off Adam and Simon’s couch for the second morning in a row. Adam and Si live slap-bang in the city, just by the rather gaudy Crown Casino. They had work to be getting to, and being a unemployed bum who hasn’t had a proper job since 2001, I set off into the city in search of adventure and card tricks.

Unfortunately, the guy in the magic shop on Elizabeth Street was quite derogatory when it came to card tricks. The conversation went a bit like this:

ME: I’m looking for a red-backed Bicycle Deck that I can do a few tricks with.

MAGIC SHOP GUY: Oh.

ME: Can I look at a couple of trick decks?

MAGIC SHOP GUY: No. Then you’ll know how the trick works.

ME: Ah, okay, can you do the trick, and if I like it I’ll buy the deck.

MAGIC SHOP GUY: No, I don’t like card tricks. I only do coin magic.

ME: So, you can’t show me the decks and you can’t show me what they do?

MAGIC SHOP GUY: No.

ME: Oh. Right. Well, sorry for attempting to interface with the real world – you’re right, I really should stick to buying things from Hong Kong off the internet. Hope the world-wide economic crisis isn’t causing too many headaches for ya. Bye!

For lunch I met up with Mick, one of the Aussie backpackers I hung out with in Wadi Halfa in Sudan back in January 2010. We grabbed some tasty Indian tucker and, with the help of his Israeli friend Avner, put the world to rights. Incredibly enough, Mick’s surname is Leahy and he’s related to the same Mick Leahy who made first contact with the Highland tribes of PNG and therefore Stan Leahy who I stayed with in Lae. Small world eh?

Mick travelled overland down the length of Africa after meeting me so we have a lot in common – the joys and frustrations that come with Europe’s great southern neighbour are universal. We also both can’t stand Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott (imagine Tony Blair but an out-and-out Tory) and believe that Australia really needs to stop pretending it’s some insignificant backwater and start throwing its weight around on the international scene a la China, India, Brazil and Russia. Enough politics! After lunch I headed back to Thornbury to meet Mandy and head out to the pub quiz at The Peacock.

Before I left Oz last month I recorded 52 true-or-false travel questions for an Australian pub quiz company called Quiz Meisters Trivia. I did it on the promise of a night out on the tiles in Melbourne (that’s possibly worth more than a car these days) and the resulting videos look something like this:

Funnily enough, Quiz Meisters Trivia are the guys that run the pub quiz at The Peacock. Although I (obviously) knew the answer the above question, the rest of the quiz was business as usual, but when I say we aced it, I mean WE ACED IT. We didn’t come second on this one, we came three points clear in the lead. Hats off to my teammates Mandy, Jenna, Octavio and Danielle. Not only did we win the quiz, we had the best looking table at the pub.

By the way, the Uzbek currency is called the Sum. Plov is the national dish.