Day M14: The Village

11.10.11: As I won’t be leaving Lae until next weekend, Alex offered to take me over to Salamaua, the old capital of German New Guinea. Since its heyday in the 1930s (and its destruction in the 1940s) Salamaua has returned to the isolated village outpost it once was. There are no roads to Salamaua and it’s a good hour journey down the coast from Lae in a banana boat to get there.

Alex took me over in Swire’s Taikoo Chief speedboat, whizzing past the mighty Papuan Chief out in the water along the way. Dropping me off at the holiday home, one of a dozen owned by Lae-based companies as a weekend getaway for their employees, I was put into the care of Jimmy, a local guy who had been looking after the Swire house for the last twenty years. As Alex scooted off back to Lae I found myself the only white guy in the village.

Salamaua is located on a narrow isthmus just 100 metres wide which connects an almost-island to the mainland. At just a metre above sea-level, it is particularly at risk from rising sea levels, along with the entire nation of Tuvalu, most of Bangladesh and, oh yeah, EVERY BEACH IN THE WORLD.

A path runs down the middle of the village and most of the homes (all built from local materials) are located on the leeward side, while the village’s Lutheran church sits to windward alongside the village’s dugout canoes and a rather conspicuous Japanese anti-aircraft gun: residue from someone else’s war.

There are 700 people in the village, grouped into families. There is a garden for the villagers to grow their own food, the fish are plentiful, coconuts drop from the trees and the local swamp teems with tasty mud crabs. A sustainable way of life in a world that seems hell-bent on a misson to be as unsustainable as humanly possible.

I got to meet the village bigman as well as Jimmy’s family. Granny was sitting on the ground quietly weaving a bilum: a traditional string bag worn around the neck and over the chest. His kids were running about causing trouble, climbing trees and playing marbles. There are over 700 living languages in PNG, and in this village they speak one of them: only in this village and nowhere else.

That night, Jimmy and I sat off on the beach drinking SP and putting the world to rights. It seems that everyone I speak to in PNG is realistic about the current dire situation the country finds itself in, but yet are optimistic about the future. A massive gold mine is opening on the outskirts of Lae next year. If only valuable resources went hand in hand with improved infrastructure and social development. But Salamaua doesn’t need an airport, a high speed rail link or even a road: it just needs the government to offer free education and fat westerners not to make the sea levels rise.

At around 10pm Jimmy said goodnight and left me alone on the beach looking out to the great Pacific Ocean: waves lapping the shore, a cool breeze, a magnificent full moon and a cold beer. What more does a ginger travelling monkey need?

Day M363: I Am Not A Number

24.09.12:

Just before I jumped the train back to Liverpool, I met up with my top mates Dan and Stan for a swift half around the corner from Euston Station. Out the blue, Dan invited me to this weekend’s Festival No. 6 in the quaint Italianate town of Port Meirion in Wales. You know, where they filmed The Prisoner. This was pretty immense as Dan hasn’t invited me to a festival for years. Possibly because I made a drunken arse of myself a couple too many times at Glasto, V, Leeds, Download, Roskilde, Bestival, a billion free gigs where I was his +1… or possibly because (many moons ago) I thought it would be hil-arious to send him a text from his sister’s phone informing him that she was pregnant when she wasn’t. Would have been a hoot, that… had he not immediately rang his parents… ah. Yeah. Guess you just had to be there. Or not, as the case may be.

Anyways…

It should come as no great shock to subscribers to The Odyssey Expedition that I said YES!! Of course I was going to say yes. I only back-heeled Bestival with Stan this year because Mandy dumped me the week before. It takes something quite Earth-shattering for me to say no to something fun. (Well, that and the ticket was going to cost me 60 quid.) So on Saturday morning I found myself exiting Planet Liverpool behind the wheel of my Mum’s Rover, Dan in the passenger seat trying to convince me that Amy Pond isn’t the be-all and end-all (the FOOL!)… soon hurling up the A5 towards North West Wales and one of the best festivals it’s ever been my fortune to attend. (As well as the third inaugural festival I’ve been to after V2006 (in Warrington, fact-fans!) and Leeds (at Temple Newsham, when it was amazing).)

[Less parentheses, G-Boy.]

FESTIVAL No 6: Undoubtedly the prettiest festival I’ve ever been to, and arguably the most chillaxed, I loved every second of it.

Port Meirion x Music Festival = GENIUS.

And, happily, one of the main guys behind it all was Luke Bainbridge, Dan’s old editor from City Life magazine in Manchester. Not a lot of people know it, but it was my Dan what got him (accidently) fired – ‘cos Dan said Mick Hucknall was a twat (clue: he is) and The Guardian (who owned City Life) DIDN’T THINK IT WAS VERY FUNNY. A bit like me and the text message pregnancy thing IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT…….

(we all laugh about it now, OKAY?)

Anyway, before I get too distracted, you know what a music festival is like (I assume… otherwise… are you lost??) but imagine a music festival with a quaint little British town in the middle of it. Where the Stone Circle should be. Possibly. That’s the genius of Festival No. 6. Unless you went into the main field, despite the rain it was a relatively mud-free festival. Plus the Welsh Male Voice Choir sung Blue Monday. Which was EPIC. I’m secretly being stalked by New Order, I tells ya!

The high(low)light of Sunday afternoon was when the Manchester band Everything Everything did a photoshoot for NME on the beach in the worst possible hour of THE YEAR to be on a Welsh beach. With the rain pouring and the wind lashing, we were trying to recreate the bit in The Prisoner when he gets attacked by ‘Rover’, the bounding white ball that acts as a sentry for ‘The Village’ from which none can escape. Sadly, our Rover escaped…

Eek!

BUT giveadamn… there was Primal Scream AND New Order (see? They ARE stalking me!). A good weekend had by all. But at the end of it I had to get my mum’s car back to her by 8am on Monday morning, so we drove back to Liverpool through the night, giving NME stalwart Mark Beaumont (NOT the guy who cycled the world, the other one) a lift because why the f—k not eh?

And you know the best thing? THE BEST THING??!! My mate Anna, who had already gallantly lent me her tent – and Dan her sleeping bag – let us all crash at hers at 3.30am when we arrived in Liverpool, caked in mud and nonsense. She did this because SHE IS THE GREATEST. I know you’re reading this Anna, just know that YOU ROCK MY WORLD!!!

The next day, Dan and I headed over to Chester to see his sister, Lucy (her of the infamous pregnancy text), her husband Tim and her brand new baby, Saul. A great kid and, well, I feel a lot less awful about that text now. Tuesday ended with me and my dad ace-ing the 3345 Parr Street pub quiz, with a little help from fellow geniuses Brian and Soraya. Thursday night saw me out on the tiles for one last hurrah and Friday I joined my top mate Danny for his last supper as an unmarried man. The next day entailed the last of the three weddings of my fellow Old Blues: Danny and Penny, two people I’ve known longer than most of you have been alive. A great couple and a great scouse wedding, I ended up throwing shapes on the dancefloor of The Palm House with Anna, who (once again) saved my life when some leery c— got all shirty about his shirt and the red wine that my ginger flailing had set loose upon it. See? Not all scouse weddings end up with a punch up.

Just most of them.

Sunday was a blur of packing, saying goodbye and wishing my dad well for his upcoming heart operation. I was driven down to London by Daniel, the husband of my ex-girlfriend (previous to Mandy), something that bodes well for Mand and I’s future friendship. What can I say? Despite the rough-and-ready demeanour, I’m quite a nice guy. That night was spent with Lindsey — my ex’s best mate — another friend whose awesomeness knows no bounds.

Monday, my last full day in the UK, was spent frantically emailing the PR company for the cruise ship people and mucking about with visas. It was pissing down rain as I walked over to the Sudanese embassy. I thought it took ‘between 4 and 8 weeks’ to process the visa. Nah. They could do it there and then. One issue: it would only be valid for two months. I don’t know if I’ll make it to South Sudan by November 24, never mind North Sudan. So I ditched the proposition. My second passport would have to stay with the Lindsmeister here in London. In the afternoon, the weather improved and my shoes dried off. I walked to Islington, and, getting on the free wi-fi at The Bull pub on Upper Street, received the email I’ve been waiting my whole life for.

Graham,

I have FANTASTIC NEWS!

Please see below:

Good news, embarkation / disembarkation are possible but as these are transit ports there will be no assistance with ground handling at the port (ie you will need to carry your own luggage on and off the ship) and, in case of any problems causing missed calls at these ports, we cannot take responsibilities for any costs incurred with onward journeys.

If you would like to proceed, please let me have full details of the passenger, name as per passport, date and place of birth, nationality, passport details,etc.

Please note we are not responsible for obtaining visas for this trip and this is the passengers responsibility.

COSTA. CRUISES. F—. YEAH!!!!!

This cruise leaves from Cochin, India, on October 18. It then goes to country 199. THE MALDIVES and country 200. THE SEYCHELLES before dropping me off in Madagascar, launchpad for Africa. So now all I need to do is get from Sri Lanka to India on a cargo ship AND THIS ODYSSEY IS IN THE BAG, BABY!!!!

I headed to the pub to celebrate with Scott and KC, the feisty redhead from my last post. Two feisty redheads in one place? Stick around, Pond…

ONWARD!!!

 

Day M365: Now, Voyager…

Wed 26.09.12:

And so back to Sri Lanka. Exactly one year TO THE DAY that I rebooted The Odyssey Expedition in Wewak, Papua New Guinea. That was Day 1,000. Now I’m on Day 1,365. I added the ‘M’ prefix in an effort not to scare away new subscribers, but I really need not have bothered: it now takes up more space than a simple ‘1’ would have done. Humph!

I flew Kuwait Airlines again, on the return ticket. Kuwait airlines cannot be given a good review by any objective commentator. The TVs don’t work, the babies scream and there’s no bleedin’ alcohol on board to smooth off the edges. Ygads. But, you know, airplanes do get you where you need to go, and FAST! Blimey, in the time it took me on a coach to go from one city in Turkey to another, I flew across five and a half time zones. The mad thing is that even though my principles are dead against air travel for all the pollution it causes, the ‘chemtrails’ of planes are actually responsible for keeping the temperature of the planet artificially low. Yes it sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s the way our climate rolls. In the days after 9/11, the average temperature of the US, where all air traffic was grounded, increased by 2°. TWO DEGREES!! Man, that’s some crazy heat-tide death that our planes are fending off. A bit like the sulphur (before the clean air acts) that kept us unnaturally cool from the industrial revolution to the 1960s. This is all true. As is global warming. I’m only interested in facts, and (I’ll say again), if you don’t understand that global warming is a FACT (and a very scary one that urgently needs address by, um, someone… somewhere…), can you PLEASE stop reading this blog. You don’t deserve entertainment. You don’t deserve to have things to read. To be quite frank, you don’t deserve oxygen. And if you have kids you’re even worse. You’re worse than the Archbishop of Canterbury standing on a stage next to the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and going on about what great mates you are AND KNOWING THAT IF YOU’RE RIGHT ABOUT YOUR PARTICULAR SPACE WIZARD AND WHAT HE WANTS that your so-called ‘mate’ WILL BE TORTURED. For eternity. Which, as I keep stressing, is a metric f—- ton of time. Cognitive Dissidence  DISSONANCE (cheers Dino!) they call it, the ability some humans have to hold two completely conflicting concepts in their head at the same time…

Tangents, Graham… stick to the story.

So I have the Costa Cruise to country #199: Maldives, and country #200: Seychelles. In the bag. Sorted. It leaves Cochin on October 18. BUT… I still need to get to India. Easier said than done. So, first things first, no rest for the wicked, I got into Colombo airport at 4am, dropped my stuff off at Sachal’s gaff in Negombo and took the two hour bus journey to Colombo city. Sachal’s away in Pakistan at the moment, which is a crying shame. I went for a quick morning meeting with the representative of my old friends CMA-CGM here in Sri Lanka. They have a ship leaving on October 16 for Cochin. Needless to say, this would be cutting it mighty fine considering Colombo port is well known for its delays. The MV Kota Wiriwan, the ship I originally came here on, was delayed for three days, so this would be my very last ditch option… that’s assuming they agree to take me.

Then it was off to the Madagascan consulate to start the visa process rolling. I’ll be getting off the Costa Cruise in Madagascar and then taking a PIL cargo ship (I hope!) to mainland Africa for country #201: South Sudan. Unfortunately, I fell at the first hurdle… they wanted three month’s worth of bank statements. I should point out that the last TWO Madagascan visas I got only required a photo and were free. Now you have to pay and jump through a series of hoops that wouldn’t look out of place at Crufts. Cursing my luck, and knowing that the mini-calculator thing that allows me to access my bank accounts online was hidden away back in my backpack two hours north of here, I elected to try again another day. Next it was to the Indian High Commission, to make damn sure that they would actually let me in their damn country with this damn visa, you know: the one I just shelled out over $100 for in London.

And the answer is………

NOPE!!!

You see, India is quite possibly the most paranoid country in the world. You think the USA is bad for irrational fear and jumping at shadows, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. India is the only country in the world that you cannot enter on a ship even with a valid visa. Yep, even though it says ‘ALL PORTS’ on the visa application forms, let me tell you THIS IS A LIE. They mean ‘all AIR ports’. Maybe. Who knows? It’s India! Urgh.

So what to do, what to do? I may have had a bit of a mini-breakdown in the High Commission, prompting a measured amount of sympathy which lead me to a meeting with the visa department attaché. He wanted to see the documents pertaining to the ship I was planning to take to India. I explained to him that I couldn’t tell him which ship I was taking to India until I had specific permission from the High Commission to enter India on a ship because nobody will offer me a place until I get this specific permission (Catch-22). Then, either out of pity or just wanting to get the scruffy ginge out of his office, he told me that he would sort it out for me. All I’d have to do would be to apply again FOR A WHOLE NEW VISA (at a cost of £30) and – oh my giddy aunt, does this never end – they’re going to invalidate my London one EVEN THOUGH IT’S STILL VALID UNTIL MARCH 2013.

The visa department had just closed for the day, so I left, went to the nearby foodcourt, got on the internet and tried phoning OEL Shipping. No response. I got on Twitter and typed “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!!”

And then I thought, f— this s—, I’m off down the pub.

It was the best move I had made all day. I was ace-ing the weekly quiz until the sports round, where my dismally dismal knowledge of the world of world sport came to bite me on the ass. Ten pictures of famous teams: from AFL to NFL to footy to Canadian Ice Hockey. I didn’t have a bleedin’ clue. I got one out of ten. If I had got seven I would have won the quiz – playing just me on my own is splendidly arrogant, but it isn’t always a good strategy for world domination.

But what is always a good idea is going to the pub, since, once again, I met somebody who is well positioned to help me get to India. This is the way the world works, wonderfully enough. You can send as many emails and make as many phone calls as you like, but nine times out of ten, the guy you need to speak to is in the pub. So, my advice: when the going gets tough, go the pub. Carl from New Jersey (capital: Trenton!) works for an Oil and Gas company who have a shipping division, the head of which is Carl’s good friend. They have ships going to Colombo to Tuticorin and Mumbai. I was about to leave and get the bus back to Negombo when Carl offered me his couch for the night on the proviso that we continue drinking until the wee small hours. Which is exactly what we did.

We’re getting there, slowly but surely, we’re getting there…