Noah had nothing on this. All life is here – spread out all over the floor. Picnics, knick-knacks, porridge, rice and tic-tacs. Families, feuds, filth, food and funny lookin’ f—ers. Music, mayhem, toys and rugs and cardboard. Screaming babies and bawling kids and out-of-tune karaoke and phones on speaker phone and noise and noise and noise.
The Pelni ferries that ply the water between the major Indonesian islands are a hoot. They are the diametric opposite of a luxury cruise: more akin to a floating refugee camp, thousands of people crammed onboard snuggled into every nook and cranny, complete with the ubiquitous massive bundles of stuff. WHAT’S WITH THE STUFF?? I guess Indonesians and Africans have got this in common: neither would dream of wasting a journey. And if that means an old age pensioner carting a metric ton of rice a thousand miles across the ocean, then so be it.
The trip from Java to West Papua was a good one for me. I spent most of the time in the little café on the 5th level. My laptop plugged in for power, no chance of internet and only intermittent phone reception meant that I could plough on with cutting together a couple of promo videos from the 100+ hours of footage that I’ve got from this year.
Here’s one of them:
I can’t release much more footage as it will jeopardise the already dicey chances of there being a second series of the TV show: I’ve got no choice but to work with Lonely Planet again, not that that’s a problem – they’re nice guys, but the strength of the Australian dollar most certainly is. When I first visited Oz back in 2002 it was 2.7 Aussie Dollars to the Pound. Now it’s 1.5. Eek!! The upshot of which is that TV/Film/Music production in the Down Under is now prohibitively expensive for anybody who might be paying for said production in, say, US Dollars, British Pounds or Euros…
Or in other words, I need the Australian economy to crash in order to secure series two of the TV show. Anybody know any corrupt currency traders happy to plunge 20,000,000 cork-hatted people into odious debt??
Sitting in the ship café had other advantages as well: coffee on tap, nasi goreng (egg fried rice – Indonesia’s only alternative to, erm, rice) and a bunch of friendly guys chatting with me. I made friends with the staff and had a laugh teasing these two kids (surprisingly good English, by the way) for shouting ‘meeeeeeeister’ at me all day.
A brief stopover in the city Makassar on the island of Sulawesi (Celebes in old money) gave me a chance to stop in a brand new Dutch bakery that had opened just the day before. Tasty treats galore… and possibly the first and only bit of Dutchiness I’ve seen in the whole of Indonesia – odd considering these 17,000 islands had been a Dutch colony for so long.
Was a bit miffed on the second and third nights when I found my bunk had been nicked by some old guy who refused to get out of it. My bunk was just one of over two hundred on the fifth floor, although there were many more on the floors above and below: there was easily over a thousand people on board this ship and I can only imagine that Pelni are laughing all the way to the bank. I found an empty bunk and took it for myself.
I had left Java on the Sunday, we had got into Makassar on the Monday and it was in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning when we finally arrived in Sorong. There I would be attempting to score a ride to the very southern islands of the Pacific island nation of Palau, just 220 nautical miles due north of here.
Just like the old chestnut ‘I’m going to visit every country in the world without flying’, this would be easier said than done.
The ship came into the sleepy port town of Sorong in West Papua pretty much on time, which made me happy. At the port I was met by the indomitable Bosco, the local guy who I’d be CouchSurfing with for my brief stay here. We got as far as his local church before the storm broke and the rain started coming down in buckets. Staying on the back of his scooter with all my bags wasn’t smart, so we tucked ourselves under the eves of the chapel and waited for the downpour to stop.
West Papua (or just ‘Papua’ to give the place its proper name) is the western half of the island of New Guinea (also known – just to confuse matters – as Papua). New Guinea is the second largest island in the world (brownie points for guessing the first) and is spilt straight down the middle between West Papua (which is part of Indonesia) and the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.
Incidentally, ‘Papua’ means ‘Fuzzy Haired’. As ‘Barbados’ means ‘Bearded Ones’, I’m thinking Everton’s Marouane Fellainishould grow a beard so I can call him ‘Papua Barbados’.
Which is SUCH an awesome pornstar name.
Tangent, sorry… anyway, West Papua was not part of Indonesia when it first got independence, it was only a couple of decades later that the Dutch relinquished the colony it had held since 1660. This didn’t stop Indonesia’s dubious claim to West Papua in 1969 which nobody in the international community had the balls to argue against – a trick that would be employed again a few years later in East Timor.
The fact that the biggest gold mine IN THE WORLD is situated in West Papua I’m sure had no baring whatsoever on Jakarta’s decision to annex the territory. The mad thing is that ethnically, religiously, socially and spiritually, the people of the island of New Guinea have about as much in common with the people of Java as a pensioner in Sierra Leone has with a Japanese schoolgirl.
One of the main bones of contention is (AS ALWAYS!) religion. West Papua is, no matter what Jakarta would have you believe, overwhelmingly Christian, animist or secular. Pigs are worshipped here for Christ’s sake. Consequently, the locals here are not to big on the whole pig ban thing that Islam so idiotically stole from the Jews.
I’m not one for second guessing the divine creator of the universe (since I fairly sure the crazy f—er doesn’t even exist) but why would he make a perfectly tasty animal and then declare it unfit for human consumption? Why not – you know – make it less tasty??
Sorry, tangent. Stick to the point, Graham. Where was I? Oh yeah, West Papua. Annexed by Indonesia. West Papuans. Generally unhappy about it. That’s all you need to know for now.
So the rain poured down and Bosco and I chatted about my mission here in Sorong – to find a boat that would take me to the Palau islands. As far as far-flung destinations are concerned, the Palau islands are pretty much the outliers of the Pacific Nations on the far, far left of the map.
I had a few contacts given to me in Bali to pursue. However, some of them were away, others were at sea and others just didn’t answer the phone. My only hope was a lovely girl called Ina, who was a friend of a friend of Bali Neil. I’d be meeting with her as soon as this bloody rain stopped.
However, the rain had no intention of stopping and it was the next day before Bosco and I met Ina. She said the chances of me finding anybody prepared to take me, and more importantly, anyone willing to take me for a song, were slim – but she would see what she could do.
Hanging around Sorong for a few days made me appreciate the amount of STUFF that people had carted here from Java – this place isn’t cheap. As always when there is a whopping big gold mine / oil reserve / diamond mine and little else, prices shoot through the roof. I was very lucky that Bosco took me under his wing – the cheapest hotel here would have set me back at least $15 a night – way over my budget.
So I had a decision to make – should I stay or should I go?
Of course, there is a Plan B (there’s always a Plan B): My new Odyssey manager Damian (yay!) has found an owner of a magic yacht happy to take me to all the Pacific Island nations I need to go to (as long as we can source sponsorship money to pay for food, water, fuel etc,) but Palau, being way out west, isn’t on the table – yet.
So I’m waiting to hear back from Ina about a clever way of travelling the 220 miles north to the Palau island of Tobi (Coordinates: 3.0048785, 131.1715768) or to hear back from the yacht owner giving the thumbs up to adding Palau onto our itinerary. Either way, I’m not going anywhere for the next few days.
There’s not much in the way of roads on the island of New Guinea, so if you want to get around, your best bet is to buy a ticket for one of the many ferry boats that skip along the coast. The next ship heading to Jayapura, the nearest town to the border with Papua New Guinea, leaves on Saturday.
I waited until Saturday, and Bosco was kind enough to keep me. We really made the most of it though, Bosco taking me to a very West Papuan carol concert. The half-naked painted people dancing about was great, but as soon as the actors playing missionaries turned up re-enact the introduction of the locals to Mr. Jesus, Bosco and I made our excuses and left to go the pub.
The next day was Saturday. I still hadn’t heard if it was possible to change the magic yacht’s itinerary and Ina, working tirelessly, had been touting my wares to the local yachties and fishermen, but sadly nobody was very much interested. I could have jumped on the ferry out of there, but there was another one leaving on Monday so I decided to give Sorong the benefit of doubt and grace it with my precense for another couple of nights.
So you don’t think I’m being idle with my time I shot this video about travelling on the cheap:
Do you like it? I know it’s a bit rough and ready (and some of the things I say are painfully obvious), but it’s a good idea for me to shoot stuff like this that doesn’t tread on anybody’s toes as far as the second series of the TV show is concerned. Talking of the TV show, the first series of ‘Graham’s World’ is on here in Indonesia and on Sunday night Bosco and I set off on his scooter on a mad odyssey around Sorong looking for somewhere that had IndoSat so I could watch one of the episodes that I hadn’t seen yet.
However, our quest was in vain. Everything here closes at 10pm at the best of times, and the few places that were still open and had a telly used cable and didn’t have Nat Geo Adventure. Bah! Oh well, back to basecamp.
While I had a hoot hanging out with Bosco, Sorong is about as attractive as an old man’s sock suspenders. It’s a town made entirely from concrete and has all the aesthetic charm of a wet cardboard box. Filled with offal. Night life is non-existent and the beer is –jeepers!– expensive. So when the news came through from Damian that the magic yacht would indeed take me to Palau in the new year, I bought a ticket on the first boat outta there. Badabing, Badaboom.
I thanked Ina profusely for all her hard work and treated Bosco to dinner. The ferry to Jayapura was supposed to leave at 10pm, so Bosco and I headed over to the pub for a swift-half before saying goodbye, but the ship was delayed so we ended up down the road at the general store/liquor shop downing a mixture of beer, whiskey and local alcoholic grape juice. By the time the boat was ready to leave it was 1am and we where both smashed out of our heads.
Bosco’s mate gave me a lift back down to the port, I didn’t fancy waiting in the waiting room so I sneaked through a hole in the fence onto the quayside. Consequently I was first on the ferry when it arrived. I raced to find an empty bunk (the ferry was coming from Sulawesi so it was already pretty full) jumped on the first one I found, my backpack as a pillow, clutching my camera bag and my laptop bag as though my life depended on it. I passed out before whosever bed it was got back from the toilet.
Crikey! This ship is even worse than the last one. At least on board the last on I had a bed. Here it’s every man for himself, and as I have no intention of spending the next two days sitting guarding a bed. Consequently I have no idea where I’m going to sleep tonight. Of course the floor or the staircase is always an option, although the choice is quite sparse as there are people everywhere! Everywhere!!
You look under a bed to find a family of four playing cards, there are people sleeping in cupboards, on shelves, under tables, on top of tables, on chairs, on mats, in cardboard boxes, under the stars and presumably in the lifeboats and up in the crows nest (if the ship had one). You can’t move for people! People!! Everywhere!!
Once again I set up camp in a café on board. Don’t be thinking Starbucks here, we’re talking a cockroach infested room with two rows of MDF tables and some plastic chairs, some of which aren’t even broken. But with a extension cable kindly provided by the owners of the café (I think these guys pay for their patch on board) and a couple of cups of java, I managed to crack on with work for the website and plotting out (literally) where on Earth to go next.
It’s nearly Christmas and I’m quite unhappy about the fact that I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year on my own in Papua New Guinea. I was hoping to be finished with this crazy adventure months ago… at this rate by the time I hit The Seychelles, South Sudan will have become the 54th (official) state of Africa. Bugger!
The second night onboard the floating menagerie left me in a bit of a pickle: my bed had been snapped up by some young whippersnapper and I really didn’t fancy a night on the greasy dirty floor. On all the other ships I’ve been on I’ve had a designated bed, but not this time: it was first-come first-served. Yeah, you do have to bagsy your own bed. The café closed at 10pm and I started walking the decks with all my bags looking for somewhere to rest my weary bones.
Eventually I found myself at the bar on board. Well, I don’t know what you call a bar that only sells soft-drinks (Indonesia is Islamic, don’t forget (it’s easy to do – they seem to forget all the time)), but I ordered an overpriced Coke and plonked myself down on a bar stool. And then they told me they were closing too.
I asked (very politely) if I could possibly, possibly sleep in the bar for the night – stretched out along a nice soft bench seat in the corner of the room. There was a bit of a discussion amongst the staff and eventually they took pity on me (I was the only Bule on board!) and let me kip in the closed bar.
If only it was a real one!!!
Brilliant guys, thanks!! The second night I was confronted with a similar dilemma, but – shock horror – the bar was closed before I got there! Out of options, I headed back to my café.
Any chance I can sleep on the floor? I asked, again very politely. I had spent so much money in the café over the last two days I guess they thought I had earned my place amongst the staff. I was allowed to put three chairs together to make a bed and as the other guys got their foam mattresses out from the back room to sleep on the floor and the tables, I snoozed my way to the land of nod – we would be arriving in Jayapura in the wee small hours of Thursday morning.
You know, when I stepped out of the Vietnamese Consulate back in September I honestly thought that my days of being trapped like a cog in the bureaucratic nightmare that is VISAHELL was over.
But then came East Timor, deciding just a few months ago to stop issuing visas for the trickle of western tourists that bother to visit their country overland from Indonesia. But even after that was all sorted out, like the mythological hydra, more bloody visas were called for, most hilariously for Indonesia as described in my blog entry entitled A Red Background.
And now with just 17 countries left to visit and all of them being as far-flung as you can fling a flang, I’m trapped on the border of Papua New Guinea almost having a nervous breakdown brought upon by yet another impenetrable layer of bureaucracy that makes the world of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil look streamlined and sensible.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE DAMN PLACES? I’m not a criminal, I’m not a terrorist, I’m not a international superspy. Are they really doing that well that they can afford to turn back tourists?? PAPUA NEW GUINEA, in the short time I was in Jayapura I met SIX people who gave up trying to get into your country. I’m not bigging myself up, I’m just a wannabe TV presenter on just one of Rupert Murdock’s myriad cable channels. But one of the guys you shooed away was a millionaire.
I’ll say that again, just in case ANYONE from Papua New Guinea is reading this.
YOUR COUNTRY, WHOSE PER CAPITA GDP IS LESS THAN THE GAZA STRIP’S, TOLD A MILLIONAIRE THAT THEY DID NOT WANT HIS CUSTOM.
Are you guys INSANE? Like, really really insane??
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the beginning. Stepping off the Pelni ferry at 4am on Thursday 16th December was a little like trying to get out of the front row of an Oasis gig just as the band is about to start but loaded down with backpacks and teetering on a watery precipice. There were people EVERYWHERE. It was all I could do to prevent myself falling into the breathtakingly polluted water of Jayapura’s port.
Groggy, sleepy and unhappy I began to trudge towards the few hotels listed in the Lonely Planet. The few CouchSurfers here had buggered off for the Christmas hols and so the choice was either hotel or a notel. The first place I tried was full.
So was the second.
And the third.
And the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.
After TWO AND A HALF HOURS of trudging around with my backpack and my bags, I finally found somewhere for the night, but at $22 for a single room, I could feel my already stretched budget kicking me in the balls. But I justified it to myself because I could have a couple of hours kip this morning, so I was effectively getting two nights for the price of one.
It wasn’t much of a justification, but at least there was air conditioning, a hot shower, a western-style toilet and a TV (that I didn’t use). I fell asleep and woke up a couple of hours later, gathered my ‘visa kit’ and raced off to the Papuan New Guinea Consulate for when it opened at 10am.
Now it says in the Lonely Planet that you can get a PNG visa at the Consulate in Jayapura the next day, or if you ask really nicely, the same day.
Good one, LP. Did you actually get a visa at this consulate, or did you just go in and ask them how long they take? Because I can tell you it’s much MUCH more of a headache than that.
I filled out the form enquiring after my collar size and father’s maiden name only to be told that I couldn’t make a visa application without a valid airline ticket out of the country.
TOP TIP for developing nation: If a western tourist ludicrously outstays his or her visa and you can’t afford to deport them, just sentence them to five years in jail. THEIR OWN COUNTRY will soon pay for their repatriation!!
Anyway, twattily enough, I also had to write another daft letter explaining why I wanted to go to Papua New Guinea.
The temptation to write TO RAPE AND STEAL AND DESTROY was almost overwhelming, but I managed to stifle that baser instinct. So I went to the internet place over the road, bought a ticket from Port Moresby to Brisbane, wrote a silly letter and returned… to be told to come back after 1pm.
So I waited outside in the baking heat of northern New Guinea, within a skerrick’s pube of the equator, sweating and fuming. If only I’d know this would just be the beginning of my VISAHELL, I probably would have gone off to shoot liquid crack into my eyeballs. But instead I waited patiently (and sweatily) and at 1pm I walked in and handed over my papers, tickets, photocopies, photos and application forms only to be told I needed to get a photocopy of my Indonesian visa.
Wha? Uh? Bu…?
I stormed off down the road, got page 23 of my passport photocopied in a roadside shack and returned within the half-hour.
Thanks. Will it be ready tomorrow.
The lady said she would try.
I jumped onboard the next ‘bemo’ (minibus) back to town. Happy days.
I found a place just up the road from my hotel that had free internet but where the coffee was TWO POUNDS a cup (blimey! – so much for travelling on the cheap!) and managed to pad two coffees out to last me the whole day. The coffee place closed at 10pm and I retired to my hotel. Things were going well – at this rate I should be in Papua New Guinea by the weekend.
The next day I checked out of my hotel and hop, skipped and jumped down to the Consulate, five miles away.
Here’s a video recreation of my conversation with the woman on the front desk.
I stepped outside and emitted a silent scream. Looks like I’ll be in hideously expensive (well, let’s just say ‘hideous’) town of Jayapura for the weekend. If this visa isn’t ready by Monday morning, I am quite frankly going to have a bit of a meltdown. After scoping out the competition (and finding them all full for the weekend) I checked back into my hotel only to be told that the only rooms they now had left were ‘luxury’ rooms.
I stepped outside and emitted a very LOUD scream.
So the weekend slobbered by with me attempting to minimise my expenses as much as possible. I generally hung out in the café with internet and actually managed to stretch the purchase of one coffee cover a mammoth twelve hour internet binge in which I managed to download this video off my good chum Leo and convert it for YouTube:
No mean feat at 56 kbits a sec I tell you!
So what do you want to know about Jayapura? Well it’s a wild west town on the far eastern edge of Indonesia. It’s unattractive, unremarkable and, well, about as much fun as sticking broken glass up your nostrils.
But here’s something to make you laugh. Or cry, I dunno. In the middle of the town there is a excruciatingly tasteless concrete statue of an Indonesian soldier standing with a flag and gun – and this soldier is being held up on a pedestal by obviously Papuan natives. Anyone who has seen the latest Harry Potter film might spot the similarities with the ‘Magic Is Might’ statue ordered by a certain He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Anyway, before I knew what was what it was Monday. The weekend was over (not that Jayapura has much in the way of ‘weekends’ but hey-ho. So I hailed a bemo and headed off to the PNG consulate for the fourth time.
Here’s a video recreation of my conversation with the woman on the front desk.
I returned THREE TIMES that day. The first time she told me to come back at 1. The second time she told me to come back at 4. The last time she told me that it wasn’t ready, but would DEFINITELY be ready for tomorrow.
It’s not just the inconvenience here, it’s the fact that Jayapura is ugly, smelly and EXPENSIVE. I returned to my hotel sweaty, hot, exhausted (the consulate is five miles away) and ready to kill, kill and kill again. Luckily for me I ran into a couple of Bules in the same position. One was a South African surf/wave detective (yes!) called Harald, and the other was a top chap from Hawaii called Mike. Harald and Mike are travelling the world in pursuit of the perfect wave. It’s all very cool indeed.
So we had a few drinkies together. They were going to try and get visas for PNG but decided (based on what they had been told by fellow Bules) that they were going to skip their trip to Papua New Guinea BECAUSE IT WAS TOO DIFFICULT TO GET A VISA. You hear that, PNG?? So they were going to stay in Indonesia instead AND SPEND ALL THEIR MONEY IN INDONESIA INSTEAD. Yeah – go for it, guys, PNG obviously has bigger fish to fry.
The next day I (again) packed all my things together and checked out of my hotel. I travelled over to the PNG consulate and… hey! Guess What…?
So that’s a no then is it? A NO. EVEN THOUGH YOU TEXTED ME THIS MORNING SAYING THAT MY VISA WAS READY AND I COULD COME PICK IT UP.
If somebody had handed me a tank of petrol and a match at this point I would have not been responsible for my actions.
So I returned to my hotel as quickly as I could an – would you Adam n’ Eve it – the damn place was FULL. Utterly utterly full.
That was it, I thought. Death must reign down from above. While I know it’s not Indonesia’s fault per se, I must regretfully report that I’m really starting to despise Indonesia. While India will always be home to the most irritating people in the world, Indonesia (appropriate name) comes a very close second. As I walk down the street there is an excruciating meeeeee-ster every few seconds. If I ignore it, it will continue meeeeeee-ster! MEEEEEEEEE-STER!!! MEEEEEEEEEE-STER!!!!!!! MEEEEEEEEEEEE-STER!!!!!!!!!!!, but if I turn I know I’ll get the old howareyou? followed by the usual, predictable peel of howling laughter that leaves you wondering whether you remembered to put on your trousers this morning.
No, I don’t want to shake your hand wizened old man – mainly because I was having a slash the other day and I saw the man next to me SCOOP PISSY WATER OUT OF THE URINAL WITH HIS HAND and ‘wash’ his dick with it. As with many developing nations, germ theory and basic hygiene are undiscovered countries here – people do all kinds of disgusting crap with their hands and then expect me to shake on it. Ha! No! Bugger off.
And for heaven’s sake: maybe, like one day, I might, you know, want to go 24 hours without eating luke-warm white rice with a GODDAMN COLD FISHHEAD ON TOP. I saw a sign for Pizza Hut yesterday. I got very excited about it and all day I was fantasising about getting a nice HOT pepperoni pizza… Actual Bread! Melty Cheese! Spicy Sausage!!
I walked back to my hotel and asked the girl on reception to order me a pizza. Then I found out that Jayapura does not have a Pizza Hut. It’s in another town, 15km away.
Okay: is there anywhere in this large sprawling town where I can get… chips? No. Steak? No. Pasta? No. Potatoes? No. A Sarnie? No. A Sausage? No. Mexican? No. Indian? No. Thai? No. Malaysian? No. Chinese… come on, there MUST be a Chinese place…? No. A kebab?
What’s a kebab?
DEAR GOD PLEASE HELP ME.
There are a hundred food stalls and shops here in Jayapura, and EVERY SINGLE ONE just sells white steamed rice and fish-heads. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. In the Middle East I get it, IT’S A DESERT: a lump of gritty meat wrapped in sandy bread is the best you can hope for. But in Indonesia you could throw a stick into the ground and it would grow into a tree. These were THE SPICE ISLANDS for heaven’s sake. What’s with the monoculture? What’s with the little plastic packets of ‘spicy sauce’ I get with my rice and fish heads?? Maybe Indonesia isn’t such an appropriate name – if there’s one thing I’ll always forgive India all her sins for, it’s the corkin’ nosh. Here you’re best bringing a packed lunch – those fish heads have been sitting in that hot, sweaty, fly-infested window for hours… or maybe days…
And is anything open after 9pm? I know going to bed early is the Asian disease (and quite possibly why there are so many Asians in the first place) but please, I just want a bottle of water. Or maybe a pack of Handie Andies.
And are sidewalks without massive deadly holes in them too much to ask? Do Indonesian town planners sit around with diagrams and schematics working out the optimum way to turn a simple task like walking down the street into a live-action version of Super Mario Brothers? And does all this litter bother anybody but me? On the boat to see the Komodo Dragons last month there was so much crap in the water I was convinced that a ship hauling rubbish to the dump had recently sunk – it brought to mind the trash-compactor scene from Star Wars: oh no, all in a day’s work for this dianoga-friendly UNESCO World Heritage site. Illegal logging? That’s no problem – just give me a bung and I’ll look the other way… after all, there’s plenty more virgin rain forest where that came from.
AND WHAT is with this whole thing of making it impossible to see out of the windows of minibuses? How the hell am I supposed to know when to get out? Now I understand some people (drug-dealers mostly) don’t want people seeing into their vehicle, but purposefully making only 10% of your windscreen see-through is just f—ing NUTS. Is it to stop tall people stealing your minibus?
And no, I DON’T SMOKE. But thanks for walking all the way over here so you can sit right next to me in this big empty room and blow smoke in my face. And, since you’re here, why not crane your neck over so you can read what I’m typing? Go ahead, I find it easier to write with a goddamn audience. Yes, I prefer friendly people to the cold indifference of Eastern Europeans, but c’mon, this is just… irritating. Really, really irritating. Like that noise they make in Dumb and Dumber.
AND YES your music is shite it keeps me up all night. Well, it would do if I wasn’t such a heavy sleeper. And no, I don’t want it amplified so loud that it shakes the poo out of my bottom. There’s a passive-aggressive notion from middle-class dinner tables that western (well, UK, US and Jamaican) music is somehow inferior to what we like to condescendingly describe as ‘World Music’. To that I say PFFFFFFFFT. Local music is AWFUL pretty much everywhere: in Latin America the best you can hope for is Me Gustas Tu, in Africa everyone is too busy listening to African-American homosexual jingle-pop (or R&B as it’s also known), continental Europe is all um-pah-pah, accordions, the Spinal-Tap of Death Metal or 80s pop that would have seemed dated in the 80s, the Middle East just sounds like Tarzan falling down a very deep well, India is some shrieking harridan singing through her nose whilst wobbling about behind a pillar, SE Asia is even more obsessed with Celine Dion and Bryan Adams than even the Middle East (the more I travel, the more I become convinced that heterosexuality is the one that’s ‘not natural’) and Indonesia? Jesus wept. Possibly because people kept playing Indonesian music at him.
Oh Graham, you big meanie… you’re such a music nazi. Yes, yes I am and this music ist not gut! From a population of 250 million with its thousands of islands, hundreds of languages and mosaic of cultures, I expect at least one song that makes me tap my foot instead of sticking my fingers in my ears and going LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALA.
In short, Indonesia: you irritate the crap out of me, you don’t wash your hands, your cuisine is as dull and your music is poo. And too loud. It’s not me, darling, it’s you. You’re too plain Jane, the spice has gone out of our relationship and I would rather spend my time with other countries – ones that like to stay up late and dance until the break of dawn. Let’s get divorced so I never have to see you again, but I can look back on my time spent with you with fondness as my memories of your bloody awful cooking fade with time. Welcome to Dumpsville, Population: You.
BUT WAIT…! What’s this?
Indonesia… come back!!
I didn’t mean it! I was just – you know – venting!
Yes, I will forgive a country of pretty much anything if it manages to send my tastebuds on a spine-tingling roller-coaster ride of texture, flavour and outright yumminess. And tonight, Indonesia you have surpassed yourself.
Maybe the fact that I had to eat crap for two months was a conspiracy to make me lower my standards, lower my defences before… WHAM!!!
The tastiest dish I have EVER EVER eaten.
A little bit of backstory: after getting kicked out of my hotel, I headed over to the hotel that Mike and Harald were staying at and tried to check in there, but (lords-a-lordy) it was also full. Harald and Mike, being the top blokes that they are, agreed to let me sleep on their floor and the hotel kindly supplied me with a mattress.
So once I was settled in, Mike and Harald had some good news… unlike me they wouldn’t be spending a lonely Christmas in this shithole, they had just scored the last couple of seats on the last plane out of here on Thursday morning. Lucky buggers.
Mike was (understandably) ecstatic at this news and wanted nothing more than some decent tucker to celebrate, so we headed towards the seafood shacks laid out along the road beside the harbour. But not just to any seafood shack, we went to THE seafood shack. Possibly the finest seafood shack in South East Asia.
THIS is what I’m talkin’ about! For just six quid each, we got a deliciousfreshly-caught blue grenadier cooked to perfection of the barbie:
We also got a plateful of delicious deep-fried king prawns:
But that was a mere trifle compared to the gastronomic perfection that was to come. I ordered fresh calamari out of the cooler box and Harald, being fluent in Indonesian (and an able fisherman himself) was able to explain exactly what we wanted. And what we wanted was heaven on a plate. And that’s exactly what we got.
She may not look like much kid, but she’s got it where it counts.
Lightly tempura’d calamari, served up with long-cut stir-fried veggies in a sweet and sour sauce. Man, my mouth is watering just thinking of it. Usually calamari can be a bit chewy – this stuff was so fresh it literally melted in your mouth.
So yes, Indonesia, you have won me over. Unlike the BLOODY PAPUA NEW GUINEA which well and truly HASN’T. That night I stayed up drinking with the other Bules staying at our hotel, all of whom were waiting for visas. This guy, Quentin, was from France and had been waiting TWO WEEKS for a visa.
Please be aware that at this point it was the wee small hours of Wednesday morning: Christmas day is NEXT SATURDAY.
If we didn’t get our visas for PNG today, we’d be stuck in Jayapura until 2011.
And all the wonderful calamari in the world wouldn’t make it worth staying. I wanted out. I wanted to reach my 51st country before the year’s end – and, more than that, I wanted to USE the damn plane ticket to Australia they made me buy.
I wanted to see Mandy again. It’s been too long.
So after a few hours kip, Quentin and I descended on the FRIKKIN’ PNG Consulate for the twentieth time. And this time we were not leaving until we got our visas. I had been told yesterday that my visa was ready and IN MY PASSPORT. Arriving at 10am, we were told to wait.
The visa is in my passport! Give me the damn thing!!
It needs to be signed.
By the man who signs the visas.
And is this man in work today?
And is this man coming into work today?
I don’t know.
ARE YOU ON CRACK?
Okay, give me my passport now, I’ll sign it myself and take my chances.
I have never wanted to beat another human being to death with their own shoes before, but this bloody woman was seriously moments away from joining the choir invisible. I told her I wasn’t leaving without my visa and she put up the ‘closed’ sign and tottered off.
If they had just told me in the first place that it would take a week to put a bloody stamp in my bloody passport it wouldn’t be so bad. If they hadn’t made me come back TIME AND TIME AGAIN IN THE SWELTERING HEAT with false promises that my visa was ready it wouldn’t be so bad. If they where rushed off their feet and had thousands of applications to get through, it still wouldn’t be acceptable, but it wouldn’t be so bad.
But we are talking here about a stamp in a passport and a couple of lines of writing. Even if you were an illiterate slug it would only take a minute to do. And it wasn’t as though there was a queue of Bules waiting outside every morning – and Indonesians don’t need visas for Papua New Guinea. They probably had about ten visa applications to process A WEEK. If that. Well, me and Quentin waited. And waited.
The first few hours were painful. It was hot, it was sweaty and I’m sure my hair was beginning to fall out. At 1pm they wanted to close for lunch so we go chucked out, but we were back again at 2pm sharp. My bloody mindedness was now thinking along the lines of ‘if I create a bloody nuisance of myself, they’ll give me the visa just to get shut of me’.
Well, it wasn’t the most elegant of plans, but (eventually) it worked. But not early enough for me to be able to get to PNG today. The last taxis apparently left at 1pm. It was 3.30pm before I got my visa. Another exasperated Bule, a German guy called Jan, came into the consulate and got his visa at the same time – he, like me, had been waiting a week.
Quentin, on the other hand, who had been waiting for TWO WEEKS for his visa, came away empty handed. Unbelievable. Utterly unbelievable.
Oh, and our ordeal didn’t end there. Jan and I headed over to the immigration office in Jayapura to get stamped out of the country when we were hit with the most baffling piece of red-tape in the history of dick-headed bureaucracy. If you got a visa on entry to Indonesia, you aren’t allowed to leave via Jayapura. As Jayapura is the ONLY border post between PNG and Indonesia, this somewhat leaves your options limited.
Luckily for me, I had gone through the frigmarole of getting a ‘proper’ visa for Indonesia in East Timor (as they weren’t being issued on the border). Jan wasn’t as lucky. Of course, the c—s at immigration would be willing to accommodate his predicament (for a $60 ‘fee’), the alternative being for him to FLY BACK TO JAKARTA.
This is just quite mind-boggling and a new one on me – an international border that you cannot LEAVE a country from without the correct ENTRY visa. How f—-ing stupid do you want to be?
Oh, Indonesia, you had me for a moment with that sublime calamari, but you’ve just blown all that good will. Sickeningly corrupt and loaded with ill-gotten blood money, you can go to hell, Indonesia. You SUCK! And, while you’re at it, get the hell out of West Papua. It’s not yours and you’re only there for the gold. The profits from which go on WHAT EXACTLY? Health care? Schools? Roads?!
Ha. HA! HAHAHAHAHA!! Don’t make me laugh!
They go straight into the back packets of the slimy politicians that live on an island a thousand miles away, literally and metaphorically. Bluuuuuurgh to the lot of ya!!
Happily, Mike and Harald weren’t leaving Jayapura until the morning, so they (being top chaps) again allowed me to kip on their floor. Thanks, guys!!
Tomorrow there will be nothing to stop me getting into Papua New Guinea. I booked a taxi to the border. It will be the Eve of Christmas Eve. Looks like I’ll be spending another Christmas without the girl I love. PNG is not a happy place and while I’m quite happy to risk my safety doing this crazy stuff, I’m not willing to put Mandy in that situation, so I’ve told her not to fly to me this time around.
“What’s going on with this boat, Graham?” I must have heard that question over a hundred times in the last few months. Before today I was unable to give a clear and concise answer – the situation was completely out of my hands. Delays enforced by paperwork and red-tape meant that every time I thought I had a real, tangible “I’ll be leaving by date x” to tell people, I’d end up looking no end of a fool by still being here in Melbourne watching that very date whoosh by.
Of course, my first preference – to spend the bulk of 2011 by hopping from one Pacific Island to another, living off fish and coconut milk and entertaining you all with my tales of leaky canoes and rusty banana boats facing down tempests that would make The Perfect Storm look like a drizzly afternoon in Wales – would require more funds than I currently have access to… and it’s not like I’m going to get an advance for the second series of Graham’s World any time soon.
I could, if being honest, have made more of an effort to find a sea-faring philanthropist who was sitting on his or her yacht moored on the east coast of Australia just waiting for his or her next big adventure. But instead I chose to put all my chips on black – to focus my intentions on the one best offer I’ve had – a catamaran that will take me back to Wewak in Papua New Guinea and then on to each and every country in Oceania.
A boat that would be provided for three months, a 17,500km journey, free of charge, with one of the most knowledgeable catamaran captains in the Southern Hemisphere at the helm. I would be joined on this voyage by an independent camerawoman who works for National Geographic, a guy who works for a TV network in The States and Steve Crombie, the presenter of Nat Geo Adventure’s ‘Natural Born Traveller’ and the ‘Lost on…’ series.
A boat that sounded too good to be true.
But that also sounded too good to miss. This could well be my only way of completing this journey – a journey I started over 30 months ago. So I chose to wait until I received a definite YES or NO before I put in motion Plan F.
Today, after waiting by the phone for the past 200 days, I finally got a final, concrete, be-all-and-end-all answer…
And the answer is…
Now I could give up at this point. I could chuck in my chips and bugger off home, go to sleep and pray to wake in some better time. But that would be letting you down, it would be letting me down. And if the past two and a half years have proven anything, I hope it’s that I ain’t a quitter.
So next week I’ll be heading up to Sydney to go on national television to put out a plea to find a yacht captain willing to answer the call of adventure. I mean, if a mad German cannibal can find somebody on the internet who actually wants to be eaten, surely I can find somebody who wants to go on a swash-buckling record-breaking voyage around the Pacific Ocean.
MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY.
SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD,
LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS,
CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL.
HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.
– advert (supposedly) placed by Shackleton before one of his expeditions.
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 Planet, National 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!
24.10.11-29.10.11: And so I found myself becoming something of a fixture on board the good ship Papuan Chief. Breakfast (which I invariably missed) was served at 8am-9am, Lunch at noon and dinner at 6.30pm. If I wasn’t beavering away at the bar working on a video or a script or a rant, I’d be up on the bridge studying the shipping charts, learning how to use a sextant or just generally getting in the way of things.
This week has been all about the drill. We’ve had drills for fire, terrorism, oil spills… the ship’s six month inspection is due in Melbourne and Captain Santos wants all things to be ship-shape and Bristol-fashion. Literally. Seven short blasts followed by a long one means get your arse up to the bridge, Graham. A short, long, short, long, short and long means get to the Emergency Life Rafts and next time, do remember to pick up your immersion suit on the way, double-oh-Hughes.
The Coral Sea was rather mercurial. One day it was as flat as a supermodel, the next it was more choppy than Bruce Lee karate chopping a portion of pork chop chop suey. When the clouds came in on a quiet moonless night you could go out on the wing and look out towards nothing but inky blackness, squinting to make out where the sea ended and the sky began – not so impressive now with all our fancy GPS maguffins, but back in the day when there was nothing but a compass point and a flicking oil lamp to guide you, a buccaneers life was nothing if not perilous. For a speeded up version, close your eyes and go run through a forest.
To starboard lurked the Great Barrier Reef, for which we gave a wide berth, not just because of the obvious perils of scraping your way through the world’s largest living thing but also because the regulations on shipping anywhere near that area tighten up until you start singing soprano. But with the GBR out of the way, we were free to come in close to the coast: the hallowed mobile phone signal returning… one bar, two bars, three bars… it felt as if the world had returned. So dependent now, so linked in… a week without precious signal feels like punishment. By now it was Thursday.
The bad news is that I’d not heard anything back from the other shipping companies, so my proposed week-long stopover in Melbourne might again be indefinitely extended. For some reason, Customs and Excise are on my case, worried sick they are about the fact that back in February 2010 the camcorder I bought in the UK was fixed by Lonely Planet in Australia and sent back to me in the UK (during my 2010 visa run). It’s making somebody’s head melt, but to honest with you I’m not intending on returning to the UK for a good while yet, but if there’s a warrant out for my arrest, I’ll just keep travelling thank you very much. There’s some other odds and ends that need attending to, but lacking a full-time lackey to do my bidding, when Graham HQ is on radio-silence, not a lot can or will be done.
By Friday, the signal had gone as quickly as it came – all ties with the outside world severed once more. We passed the great city of Sydney, hovering like a magical kingdom a millimetre above the horizon… all grey and far away. Reminded me of my first glimpse of Kuwait City from the mighty Shat-al-Arab and made me stiffen my resolve to one day see Manhattan rise from the briny sea.
But we’re not stopping in Sydney, it holds no allure for us. In fact, unless you’re a yacht or a passenger ship, your chances of getting into Sydney harbour these days are remarkably slim: all the unsightly container vessels now come into Botany Bay or Newcastle. Someone should inform the architects of the Pompidou Centre: seal up your iPods, only mad enthusiasts want to see the inner workings.
And so on down the east coast of Australia, end to end. From 10 degrees south of the equator to 40 degrees. Each degree equals 60 nautical miles: that’s 1,800nm from tip to toe. Usually the Pap Chief trots along at a good 14.5 knots (nautical miles per hour), but heading south towards the Tasman Sea the current helps you along. At one point we were powering through the water at 17 knots. It seems slow to us with our Vauxhall Novas and our Castrol GTX, but without having to stop for rest stops, refuelling, traffic lights, roadworks, prostitutes and the like, we can cover some impressive distance and carry 981 lorries worth of stuff with just twenty crewmen and a skipful of diesel.
You know that all the diesel ships in the world could run off the disused chip fat from all the restaurants in the world?
I was talking to Jerry, the chief mate, about piracy (it’s a subject that comes up quite often on board cargo ships). Before the Somali pirates started making headlines in 2006, the bane of cargo crews everywhere were some other peace-loving ne’er-do-wells from Northern Sumatra in Indonesia who would routinely terrorise the Malacca Straits.
In 2004 Jerry was third mate on a tug boat, pulling a floating platform to Singapore from the Gulf of Aden. As it was a tug, it was going at about 5 knots making it an easy target for the pirates. With fishing ships all around them in what is also one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, there was nowhere to run to if things got messy. A fishing boat with an outboard motor sped past, then ran around the bow of the ship and headed back towards the bridge, this time brandishing AK-47s, M-16s and Rocket Propelled Grenades which they used to make Swiss cheese out of the wheelhouse.
The crew, completely outgunned, legged it to their cabins. After a tense half hour of gunshots, explosions and mayhem, the captain came over the intercom and told the entire crew to report to the bridge. Jerry and the other crewmembers did so. The pirates had taken the ship and proceeded to smash or shoot everything they could: the GPS, the radar, the radios, the windscreen. The captain was being held at gunpoint. The crew were instructed to go to their cabins and give the pirates all of their money, which of course they did. Eventually, once they had smashed everything worth smashing, the peaceful citizens of Aceh took the captain and the chief engineer hostage and departed the vessel, shooting up some more stuff on the way out just for good measure.
Suitably terrorised, the remaining officers managed to contact officials at Singapore and tell them what happened (note to would-be pirates: shooting the monitor does not generally kill the computer). They were asked if they could get any of their equipment up and running. Some of it, perhaps. Was the engine still going? Yes. Okay then: get to Singapore as quickly as you can. But Singapore was still two or three days away.
That night Jerry and the other crewmen couldn’t sleep. They all wanted to be on the bridge so they could keep a look out for any more pirates. But two different groups of pirates wouldn’t attack the same ship twice, would they?
Yes, yes they would.
The next day around noon another band of pirates took a swipe at the vessel. This time everybody ran to their hiding holes: supply cupboards, engine compartments, emergency storage units. There they waited for an hour until the sound of gunfire died down before they ventured out. The pirates must have taken the hint that the ship had already been attacked (the bullet holes in the windscreen possibly gave it away) and buggered off. But not before they smashed everything that the first lot missed.
Limping back to the nearest Malaysian port, the crew were relieved of duty and another tug was sourced to get the platform to Singapore. The captain and the chief engineer were released 22 days later, after a ransom of $100,000 had been paid.
The pirate operation in the Malacca Straits was all but wiped out by the Boxing Day Tsunami. Since then the good folk of Somalia have taken on the task of terrorising some of the most hard-working people in the world. Don’t forget, once you’re on a ship, you don’t get the weekend off. You don’t get Easter or Christmas or Melbourne Cup Day to go and see your family or get drunk with your mates. If you’re contracted for 6 months you work EVERY DAY for six months. Go interrupt the TGWU annual Foie Gras and Caviar Convention to tell them about that one.
And, to add insult to injury, thanks to those peace-loving terrorists (who may or may not hail from the same region of the planet as these piratey-types) all shore leave has been cancelled in many countries (including the USA) since 9/11.
Thanks a bunch, guys! Another home run for the forces of horribleness. Enjoy your time here on the good ship Planet Earth, feel free to ruin it for the rest of us.
But now it’s getting dark and the last light of the sun is dipping below the horizon. Beyond the Coral Sea lies the Tasman Sea which leads (if you’re following the Australian coastline) to the Bass Strait – the water which separates Tasmania from the rest of Australia. The Bass Strait has a reputation for tossing stuff around like they’ve made dwarf flinging an Olympic event. It’s not been too bad for us today, I only wish we had seen more whales. I saw one – a ruddy great big black one with a white stripe – jump out of the water and crash down on its back. SPLOSH! Apparently they do that to clean barnacles and parasites off their bodies. But it was far away and I didn’t have my camcorder going. Captain Santos says that last month was better – mating season. Whale porn.
It’s my last night on board the good ship Papuan Chief. I’ve enjoyed the company, the food, sitting with Chief Engineer Dave and putting the world to rights. Ronnie, the ship’s steward, has looked after me better than I could ever have imagined and everybody onboard has gone out of their way to make me feel welcome. I got to steer the ship, blow the airhorn and study the shipping charts. I wrote a lot, I edited a lot and I read a lot (the ship has its own library).
Earlier, I complained about not being connected with the outside world. It was more to do with the fact that I need to organise the next leg of my journey and that my envisioned time to do that in the Solomons was ripped from me. But I’ve got to say that if you’re thinking of writing the next Great American Novel but you get easily distracted by the internet, the news, crown green bowls and Countdown, then travel by cargo ship is definitely worth considering. It’s just you and 1,800 nautical miles of peace, quiet and pure imagination.