Okay, Odyssey fans… this is it, the television show documenting my travels is being shown every TUESDAY at on the Nat Geo Adventure Channel, which is available in 40 countries across Asia and South America. If you can get it, great. If you can’t, you’re stuck with my YouTube videos until it gets broadcast on the BBC (fingers crossed) early next year!!
The eight episodes of season one cover the first 133 countries of The Odyssey Expedition – my journey from Uruguay to Egypt, starting on 1st January 2009 and finishing on 31st December 2009.
1. From Argentina to Guyana
2. Caribbean Castaway
3. From Cuba to Tunisia
4. Arrested In Africa
5. African Rough Road
6. Congo Chaos
7. Africa Island Hop
8. Pyramids Or Bust
As for the final 67 countries… (including Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea) Lonely Planet TV have just bagged first refusal on the second series… WATCH THIS SPACE!!!
I was up an’ at ’em! by 8am, and by 8.30am I was on the bus back to Port Louis. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to Arno, but not to worry, I’ve a feeling I’ll see him again some day. I was met at the old Post Office by my driver who would be taking me through immigration and then to the port gates. The immigration officer was incredibly friendly (Mauritius is a very friendly place) and he happily stamped me out the country. And then it was through the port gates (the officials nodded me through) and onto the minibus that took me across the port to THE SHIP: The Maersk Sebarok.
Wow. When I say this ship is BIG. Understand: this ship is BIIIIIIIIG.
Check out these stats:
Length: 336 metres
Width: 40 metres
Height: 25 metres
Capacity: 6,478 standard (20’) containers
(put on a single train, it would be 25 MILES long)
Engine: 85,500 Horse Power
Fuel Consumption: 280,000 litres (280 tonnes) per day
(that’s an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of diesel)
Fuel Cost: $182,000 per day
Not only that, its fuel tanks are so vast that the ship can go 200 days without refuelling. Maersk, a Danish company, are the biggest shipping company in the world so I guess it’s natural that they operate on a slightly BIGGER scale.
I bounded up the gangway, met with the captain and officers, was shown to my cabin and… relax. We wouldn’t be getting to South Africa until Saturday at the earliest, but that’s okay, the main thing is that I’m on the ship and ready to go. Once I get to the mainland it’s going to be a long but relatively straight-forward series of coach journeys up to South Sudan.
Durban > Johannesburg
Johannesburg > Lusaka
Lusaka > Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam > Kampala
Kampala > Juba
Some awesome things about this ship: there’s internet (capped at 30MB a day, but I’m not complaining – in Australia, you’d be paying Telstra $100 a day for that kind of usage(!)) there’s a lift, so getting up the 9 floors to the bridge is a little easier (if somewhat less healthy), there’s a swimming pool (not that you often see me in a swimming pool, but still… a swimming pool!) and there’s even a woman on board working as assistant chef. The captain and chief officer are both from Burma, the second is from China and the third is from India. The chief engineer is from Poland and the two second engineers are from Russia and the Philippines respectively.
One thing that you should definitely know before you sign up for a job with Maersk: alcohol is not just frowned upon, its consumption is completely banned for the length of your contract. Sign a 6 month contract and you can forget about beer, wine, whiskey, vodka, whatever floats your boat, for 6 months solid, even when on shore leave. This commendable company policy, which I think is pretty unique, ensures that – at the very least – all the officers and crew get to enjoy an ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ moment when their contract is finished.
Not that you’d find me complaining: the food onboard is MAGNIFICENT. It’s all I can do to restrain myself from devouring everything before the other crewmembers get to the mess. Plus there’s a seemingly unlimited supply of tea and biscuits (yay) and, even better, plenty of Fifa 13 to play against the engineers.
My week onboard the Maersk Sebarok passed effortlessly. We were graced with fine weather (Uncle Neppy knows when he’s met his match) and the internet connection was nothing short of a godsend, allowing me to tee up some media interest in the impending finale of The Odyssey Expedition.
On the Friday we came into the Durban anchorage. I was hoping we’d be alongside the next morning, but Captain Khaung simply smiled and shook his head. Sunday at 1200. Maybe. I did get to do a little whale-watching though, and clocked at least three of the great beasts gliding effortlessly around the 50+ boats surrounding us, also at anchor. Durban Port has a lousy reputation for making ships wait.
By Saturday evening it was obvious that we wouldn’t be getting in until at least 1800 the next day, which blew my cunning plans for a weekend in Jo’burg out of the water. I was planning to meet with Janine, the sassy South African CSer I met in Kuwait, and also with Anthea Pokroy of icollectgingers.com fame. I was quite looking forward to being collected.
Eventually we came alongside at midnight on Sunday night. It was too late to disembark, immigration wouldn’t be open and in any case, all the buses to Jo’burg would have already gone hours ago. One last night aboard the Sebarok then!
It was 0600 when my wake-up call came through from the third officer, but he need not have bothered: I was already wide awake. Giddy with that I-can-believe-this-is-actually-happening vibe, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. From now to South Sudan there is an open road: no ships to organise, no visas to be purchased in advance, from the moment I step foot on African soil it will be go go go to the end of the Odyssey Expedition.
I’ve been doing this for nigh on four years. In less than a week I’ll have achieved the impossible. Or at least something that nobody has ever done before. By 0700 I was posing for photos with the crew, ready to depart with Alfred, the ship’s agent. I was getting off at the same time as second engineer Jay from The Philippines. By 8am we had both been stamped into South Africa.
HELLO AGAIN AFRICA!!! Miss me?!!
At this point I should mention that I’m rapidly running out of passport pages. Assuming that Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan all take up a page each (something I have no reason to doubt), when I get to South Sudan I will have exactly *zero* pages left in my passport to get back to the UK.
Lucky then I have a second passport! This morning it arrived back in London from its totally pointless trip to Madagascar and is currently in London with my good friend Lindsey. She should be dropping it into the Ethiopian embassy tomorrow, and on Friday when the visa (hopefully) comes through, it’ll be picked up by Casey and sent to Nairobi for me to collect. So long as I can buy multiple entry visas for both Kenya and Uganda, I should have *just* enough room to get back to Nairobi from South Sudan.
Happily, South Africa has a teeny-tiny entry stamp and hurrah for that!!
By 8.30am we arrived at the bus station just in time to see the Intercape bus to Johannesburg pull out of the depot. Cursing myself for faffing around this morning (although I’ve come to realise that immigration opened at 0800, so all the rushing in the world wouldn’t have changed matters much), I took some Rand out of the ATM (and got a new note with Nelson Mandela on it, only came out last week!) and bought a ticket for the bus that would depart at 0945, arriving Jo’burg at 1720 that afternoon.
I said my goodbyes to Alfred and Jay and waited to go. All was going swimmingly until the bus broke down. Overheating caused by an oil leak, from what I could fathom. Now anywhere else, a replacement bus would hurry out to us. But This Is Africa, so we drove to the garage instead and waited THREE HOURS while they fixed the problem. Sitting on the bus in the searing heat, no AC because the engine was off, and you couldn’t even open a window, because the cretins that design these buses obviously never ride in these buses.
Would you buy a new car, no matter how AC’d up to the hilt, in which the windows didn’t open? No. Exactly. Why engineers and architects are so confident that the air conditioning will *never* go on the blink is quite beyond me. But we still let these morons design buses, trains and office buildings whose unique selling feature is the opportunity to be slowly cooked alive rather than allowed to open a frikkin’ window: an otherwise nice, environmentally-friendly low-tech solution to the problem of, you know, being too hot.
As a consequence, it wasn’t until 2025 that I arrived in Jo’burg, the good ol’ murder capital of the world (sort of). As the last underground train left for Janine’s nearest station left at 2030, a frantic sprint to the Gautrain was in order. This is a brand new system – wasn’t here last time I was in town – but your ginger travelling monkey here had the system sussed out within seconds (I guess it helps I’ve ridden on an insane number of Mass Transit Systems) and by 2029 I was on the train, doors beeping as I boarded, almost catching my backpack as they closed.
Sat down, happy but sweaty, took out my phone to text Janine telling her I had made it: then realised the awful truth that Londoners have to live with everyday: there is no mobile signal when you’re underground. Oh well, that’s fine, methinks, I’ll text her when I arrive. Ten minutes later, I arrived, bounded up the up escalators and after waving my phone the air like I was directing a plane to the gate, I picked up some signal. I texted Janine only to receive the reply ‘ARGH! Was just driving all the way into town to pick you up!’.
So there I was with all my bags in the rape capital of the world, waiting outside a train station in the dark. I just hoped the station wouldn’t close – the security guys milling about at the entrance gave me a modicum of reassurance. And my fearsome ginger hair, obviously.
Janine took about 20 minutes to get back to me. It was great to see her again. We went for some Nandos (geniune South African / Jamacian tucker) because they make adverts like THIS:
Once back at J9’s, I barely had time to scratch my arse. Casey and I had a zillion and one things to sort out – there’s a good chance I’d have no internet contact from now until South Sudan. I’m taking care of the transport and the whole ‘not getting myself killed’ bit and Casey’s doing the rest. One way or another, this time NEXT WEEK, the Odyssey Expedition will have drawn to its inevitable and Jubalant conclusion…
After grabbing a whole three hours of sleep, it was time to SLAM DUNK DA FUNK and hit the road once more.
NORTH MISS TESCHMACHER!!
Janine, being the great sport that she is, agreed to drop me off at the local train station through some rather horrific traffic jammage. The bus for Lusaka, Zambia, departed at 0900. By 0830 we were still miles away, stuck in traffic and my chances of making the coach was looking slimmer than Victoria Beckham after I drive over her with a steam roller.
We arrived at the train station at 0840. It takes 10 minutes to get to Park station from where the buses left. After hugs and see-you-agains, I ran inside. The next train was at 0848. I rushed down to the platform, pacing like that’s going to help. On the train it was all I could do to stare at my mobile phone watching the minute tick up to the hour. We arrived at 0858. You’ve never seen a ginger move so fast. I was Greased Lightening, a streak of red blazing up the up escalators. I got to the coach station at 0900 on the knocker. I saw the Intercape buses (mercifully close to the entrance – this is a BIG station) and made a beeline. The bus to Lusaka was pulling out. I knocked on the door… and they opened.
Now it was just time to kick back, relax and enjoy the journey. We’d be arriving in Lusaka at 1200 tomorrow. Or so I thought.
You know my bus broke down yesterday? That wouldn’t, couldn’t happen again… could it?
Oh, come on Graham, T.I.A.!! Of course it could… and it did. We hadn’t been on the road for an hour before we were pulled up on the outlane of the motorway services and some wrench-welding grease monkey Afrikaners were tinkering away, fixing our coaches innards. I should point out that this is no chicken bus: this is a brand-new, clean, modern, ‘luxury’ coach (although I always believe the words ‘luxury’ and ‘coach’ make queer bedfellows). Still, I’m pretty sure that the two hours we were getting fixed would come back to haunt me further down the line.
DID YOU KNOW? The reason why South Africa’s international code is ZA is because in Afrikaans the ‘Republic of South Africa’ is ‘Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek’. True!
It was around sunset that we crossed the border into Zimbabwe, sitting as it does between South Africa and Zambia.
Until Zimbabwe won independence it was known as Southern Rhodesia. Northern Rhodesia became Zambia.
Here are the old and new names for the countries of Southern Africa:
Northern Rhodesia = Zambia
Southern Rhodesia = Zimbabwe
South West Africa = Namibia
Bechuanaland = Botswana
Basutoland = Lesotho
Nyasaland = Malawi
Tanganyika (& Zanzibar) = Tanzania
Now commit that to memory. There shall be a test in the morning.
It was a shame, really, getting there so late: I was looking forward to seeing Zimbabwe in the light. Oh poor old Zim: run by a psychopathic tyrant gazillionaire for the past 32 years, it serves as a microcosm of the entire continent of post-colonial Africa: it started with high hopes and then rapidly turned into a horror show to which the world can only shrug and say ‘oh dear’.
Mugabe’s crimes against humanity are myriad, but I’ll just give a few examples, you know, in case you were ever wondering why ONE THIRD of the population has left Zimbabwe since he took power in 1980.
Mugabe’s party was called ZANU and was made up mostly of the Shona people (can you see where this is going…?). In 1983, he accused ZAPU, the opposition party (consisting of mostly Ndebele people), of ‘plotting against the government’. He promptly deployed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to ‘quell the disturbances’. The brigade launched an orgy of killing; innocent villagers were gunned down. Tens of thousands of civilians, sometimes entire villages, were slaughtered.
Meanwhile, the world was too busy waving its finger at apartheid-era South Africa to care.
In 1990, another opposition party, ZUM, was formed. Mugabe, being the insane murderous bastard that he is, ordered (allegedly) ZUM candidate Patrick Kombayi’s assassination. Kombayi managed to survive the attempt on his life, but the ZUM leadership immediately went underground, fearing for their lives.
In 1997, Mugabe hiked up income and fuel taxes (he owed his ‘friends’ in the army a lot of money, and he wasn’t going to be the one left footing the bill). The Zimbabwe dollar lost over 50% of its value. To sort this problem out, Mugabe did what all idiots do in situations like this: he printed more money.
In 2000, incensed that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – led by Morgan Tsvangirai – were becoming so popular, he did what any barbaric megalomaniac would do and unleashed waves of violence, voter intimidation and a ‘land reform’ programme that rivals the Rwandan genocide in its speed and ferocity. Over 100,000 black farm workers were butchered to death by Mugabe’s so-called ‘war veterans’. Scores of white famers were also murdered (Mugabe blamed them for publically supporting the MDC) and over a million asylum seekers – black and white – fled the country.
I’ve met a fair share of Zimbabweans on my travels around South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania. They all tell me the same thing: they love their country, they miss their country. They want to go home. But they can’t. Not until Mugabe is dead.
Meanwhile, remember that whole ‘print more money’ concept I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back? It resulted in THIS:
In the twilight days of the Zimbabwean dollar, inflation was running at 20,000%. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LEAVE A PSYCHOPATHIC DIMWIT IN CHARGE OF A COUNTRY FOR THIRTY YEARS. Zimbabweans have now abandoned their own currency and everybody uses US dollars instead. Good job Mugabe, you ruthless tyrant billionaire. As much as I would not wish death on anybody, I will read Robert Mugabe’s (hopefully not-too-distant) obituary with glee.
The coach thundered on into the night. Northwards, ever northwards…