Day 363: First Catch Your Jerk

29.12.09: Today we hit land in fortress Saudi, possibly the most difficult country in the world to pop in for a quick visit. It was a great sunset as we came into dock, and as I stood on the side of the ship filming our arrival it felt as if, just this once, the gods had conspired to make my reunion with Mandy run as smoothly as Africa would ever allow. However, once we pulled into Jeddah port, it was a different story. After watching a movie in the ship's mess, I stood out on deck for a bit watching operations from above. Loads of chaps in hard hats where scurrying about, and the cargo was being unloaded at record pace (remarkable when compared to the slug-slow hi-jinks that goes on in most typical African ports) but then I remembered – I'm not in Africa any…

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Day 510: Singin’ In The Bahrain

25.05.10: Oh yes, I’m back ON THE ROAD!  After saying my final farewell to the delectable Kassie I bundled myself on the 9am bus to Bahrain via Dammam in Saudi Arabia.  Panicking over all the horror stories I’ve been told about Saudi customs, I wiped all the TV shows and Hollywood movies off my hard drives (lest they contain kisses, witchcraft or a picture of a cross) and made sure I didn’t have a single used videotape on me (remembering Iran and Congo). In the event, they didn’t even open my bag.  Hilarious. I had my photo taken and my fingerprints scanned and that was it.  Easy as pie.  I arrived in the wholly unremarkable town of Dammam in the early afternoon and it wasn’t long before I was excitedly crossing the MASSIVE causeway to Nation 156, Bahrain – the Las Vegas of the Middle East.…

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Day 512: There’s Always An Irish Pub…

27.05.11: As if Qatar hadn’t done enough to upset me, today it well and truly rained on my parade.  I was planning to meet up with friends I had met in Kuwait tomorrow in Dubai, and when I rang the SAPTCO bus office they told me that the bus left at 6pm. Good stuff!  I packed up my things and headed into Doha city centre, there to meet Tracy who I should have been CouchSurfing with last night.  We grabbed some lunch in a Thai restaurant and nattered about living in Qatar.  Originally from Vancouver in Canada, Tracy’s been here for two years.  It seems that Qatar suffers from many of the same problems as Kuwait – spoilt, lazy rich kids, dangerous drivers and an almost unbelievably stratified society. But, you know, in the greater scheme of things these are minor quibbles.  The governments here really…

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Day 513: Curse of the Black Pearl

28.05.10: So with a day to kill, Tracy and I headed out to the museum of Islamic Art. As I’ve mentioned before, with a pretty much outright ban in place over depicting any living thing in a picture or a statue, Islamic art is concentrated around two disciplines – calligraphy and complex geometric shapes. When these two disciplines come together to create something as spellbinding and complex as the Taj Mahal, it truly is a joy to behold. What was particularly cool about the museum (certainly not the architecture I have to say, typical boring brutalist crap by I.M. Not-Very-Good-At-This-Am-I?) was the Pearl exhibition that was on. Before they found oil in the 1930s, the Gulf states paid their way through the pearl trade. A trade that had pretty much dried up over the preceding decades as cultured pearls for Japan had begun to dominate the…

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Days 534 & 535: The Sands Of Time

18.06.10-19.06.10: So after a good night’s kip I had a the best part of a day to shake off my hangover.  The bus for Riyadh, the Saudi capital, left at 5pm.  I spent the day shuffling about, wondering why the sun had to be so bright and skimming all the superfluous items out of my bag.  At 3pm I left my coat behind in the The Greens as I departed for the Saudi Arabia Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) bus ‘station’ in Deira, but returning ten minutes later as I had also left my mobile phone.  Which I needed. Damien rolled his eyes. When I finally got to the SAPTCO office they told me to come back in half an hour.  I used this time to go out in the baking heat and check my pores were still working properly.  As my soaking wet t-shirt could no…

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Day 536: And All That Hejaz

20.06.10: Turki’s apartment in the north of Jeddah was as sweet as sweet can be. Not only did I get my own room (and bathroom), his fridge was stocked and there was a nice hot cup of tea with real milk whenever I fancied it. Turki himself is a remarkably interesting chap – a jack of many trades – a building planner/surveyor in his day job, in his spare time he has just put together the first of his ‘Arabic Trails’ guidebooks, a full colour 4x4 guide with the amazing stuff you can find in the desert, if you know where to look. The pdf version on his computer looked seven shades of awesome – even more awesome when you realised he did most of the research, took the photos, created the maps and set the design. This guide just covered the Hijaz area, which is…

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Day 537: OK, Where’s The Catch?

21.06.10: Turki gets up at some horrendously early hour of the morning, but I was allowed to sleep in until 8am, and then we both headed over to the Eritrean Consulate. Again, Turki took a day off work to help me out (miles above and light years beyond the call of duty). A little man dressed in red with horns, a pointy tail and a pitchfork hovered over my left shoulder whispering it can’t be this easy, it can’t be this easy… But it was. I didn’t even need to fill out a form, they did it for me. And when they told me I could pick the visa up later that day, I almost broke into cartwheels. So can I pay for it in Saudi money? Of course! Do I have to pay it into a bank that’s on the other side of town? Don’t…

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Day 538: The Old Jeddah Mind Trick

22.06.10: Turki had tried in vain all yesterday to get in touch with Baaboud Shipping and arrange a meeting with Ahmed.  But this morning we had better luck.  By 9.01am we had a meeting arranged.  Turki donned his traditional Saudi garp (to enhance his already consummate Jedi skills) and by 10am we were in Ahmed Ibn-Ishaq’s office drinking green coffee and talking ships to Eritrea. After Turki introduced me and explained that we had been told to come here by Abdullah, I explained my mission.  Turki then smoothly fought my corner in Arabic, I can’t tell you how important the power of introduction is to The Odyssey: whenever I just ruck up and tell people what I’m doing they generally a) don’t believe me or b) think I’m a nut.  It’s kinda embarrassing.  Once that obstacle is out of the way, it makes things SO much…

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Days 539 & 540: Back In The Red

23.06.10-24.06.10: We had to be at Baaboud Shipping for 7.30am, and, once again, Turki took time away from the office to take me there.  The level of hospitality and sheer generosity I’ve received from Turki has really knocked me for six.  I owe this guy BIG.  Like many other Odyssey Heroes I really have no idea how I can possibly repay him short of declaring a Wookiee Life-Debt.  The only thing I can do is spread the love and do everything in my power to help my fellow wayfarers along the way after I finish this adventure.  And you can hold me to that. We presented Ahmed with his dates and he responded with a pot of authentic Sudanese green bean coffee.  The ship would be leaving this afternoon and we had to be at the port for 10am.  Ahmed gave Turki the phone number of…

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Days 544 & 545: Another Mad Scheme

28.06.10-29.06.10: I was a little iniquitous last time I left Africa, and for that I am truly sorry. Africa is many things, but it’s definitely not rubbish. Infuriating perhaps, but not crap. Eritrea, or rather Massawa, really warmed the cockles of my heart, and it’s hard to stay mad at an entire continent, even if it did throw you in jail twice. So for the good bits – Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Rwanda, Egypt and Eritrea – Africa I salute you and hereby take back all the nasty things I may have said. Africa - you’re all right. You just need leaders who aren’t more evil than Dr. Evil’s Evil Petting Zoo. Monday passed as Mondays on cargo ships on the Red Sea often do, without incident or report. I worked hard on my scribblings and watched…

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