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