Day 1,385: The Big Ship Sails On The Ally-Ally-O

Thu 17.10.12:

After firing off my blog on Wednesday evening I met with Niall Doherty, a fellow overlander who has been suck in Cochin for the past few weeks trying to get to… you guessed it! Colombo on a cargo ship. Two adventurers cut from the same mould, it was all very predictable that we would get on like a house on fire.

We went to the pub, which is pretty much the only pub in Fort Cochin. There we were met by the indomitable Vipin Es, the coolest Indian on the planet, who I met at this very waterhole two years ago when I was trying to do the exact same thing that Niall is trying to do now… get to Colombo on a ship!

Vipin brought with him a few mates: Alex, Nate and Isla, and after one two many Kingfishers I was magnificently three sheets to the wind talking utter gibberish as usual.

The REAL United Nations.

Fantastic to meet Niall: somebody who can truly appreciate the trials and tribulations of travelling without wings. He, like I, had trouble getting across Pakistan, and got to India on a ship from Dubai, same as me (although he took the cruise ship option). Niall is also a web-designer, which means that a) his website looks a zillion times better than mine and that b) he makes money as he travels. No penniless wayfarer he.

But unlike me, Niall isn’t trying to get to every country: his four year journey of the soul will just take him around the planet, spending as much time as he wants to in each country. This is his first time in India and he (currently) pretty much hates the place. I can certainly understand the frustration and despair that India can bring out in a first-timer: looking back on my blog entries (before blogs were invented) from 2002, I see a lot of what he was saying in what I wrote back then. But, you know, I’ve mellowed. Despite everything, I really like India, I can see me coming back here again and again, if for nothing else then for the chai.

The bar closed at 11pm, and for some reason they wouldn’t continue to secretly serve us from the front gate as they did when I was here back in 2010. So we ambled around the deserted streets for a while (Cochin isn’t a big night out) until at last we found a hotel with a café that served all-night coffee.

A terrific night, great to see everyone again. Bit gutted that I missed Natalie from Sri Lanka and the Debstar from Liverpool who were in the vicinity (kinda), but you can’t have everything.

Niall was good enough to let me crash at his hotel – a good thing too, the hotel I stayed at last time’s prices had gone up from 300 rupees (£3.75) for a non-AC room to 1000 rupees (£12.50). Did I mention I was a penniless wayfarer?

The next morning, Niall wanted to interview me for his website, and I wanted to interview him for mine. You can see the interview I did here:

Unfortunately you won’t be able to see what *I* filmed of Niall on *my* camera on *my* tape because…

[The ensuing rant about THE BASTARDS at mmmmm has been deleted upon later sobriety.]

More worrying though was the lack of cruise ship. The Costa neoRomantica was scheduled to arrive at 8am. By 9am I still couldn’t see it. I went to the ferry jetty to head over to Willingdon Island where the ship was due to come alongside. Maybe it was around the other side, obscured by the port buildings. But on a journey in which pretty much everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, I was secretly terrified: sometimes cruise ships omit ports…

Sometimes because of the weather…

(no, the weather was fine last night)

Sometimes because of immigration problems…

(oh dear God NO)

A million WHAT IFs shot through my head. This wasn’t a regular cruise run, it’s the journey down from Europe to Australia for the winter. The ship isn’t coming back to India. What if, like me, they had a terrible time with immigration in Bombay and decided that Cochin just wasn’t worth it? What if they had just headed straight to the Maldives? What if…

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

I heard the beast before I saw it. I craned my neck out from the jetty to get a better look. It slid out from behind the nearby trees with an effortlessness that belied its gargantuan dimensions. The Costa neoRomantica. THANK THE MAKER!!

That’s the one, officer!!

My ferry followed the cruise ship across the water to Willingdon Island. We came in on the west side, the ship on the east. I knew that immigration would be a pain in the arse, and I was right. I went to the immigration office to find nobody there. Then I was made to wait for an insufferable amount of time (sweating hot with all my bags, don’t forget). It wasn’t until noon that the guy who was allowed to stamp things (like me out the country) turned up. It would be 1pm before he actually stamped my passport. Good job I was the only foreign person IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY OF 1.1 BILLION people getting on a cruise that day.

The nice port agent took me to the ship. Some exasperated Colonel Blimp of an Indian policeman didn’t like the idea of me walking on the ship and having my bags scanned with the cutting edge X-ray technology to be found at the entrance. Better his chap at the nearby trestle table rifled through my dirty underwear instead (travel tip: always put your dirty underwear on top). With no drugs, bombs or dutiable items to be found, Colonel Blimp looked a bit miffed, so he made me stand there for ten minutes in the sweltering sun for no reason other than he could.

But I’m a big guy, I can take it… and I know it *really* annoys these types when you take it on the chin with a mischievous little smile. Never let them see you bleed. In time, I was on the ship. My cabin is great: a nice big king-sized bed (a bit of a waste, when you think about it) and a HUGE porthole for me to wave my willy at King Neptune through. I asked the steward, Jose from Guatemala, to lock the minibar. This is going to be a dry ride, if you know what I mean. Oh, for heavens sake, pull your mind out of the gutter for five seconds.

Simple fact: I only drink when I can afford to get drunk. This will not happen on this cruise.

But it could happen back in Cochin. And, happily, the ship wasn’t leaving until midnight. So, as I was all checked in and on board, I just had time to single-handedly win the afternoon quiz and then head back to Princess Street for Round 2 of the great Fort Cochin drink-off. Niall, Vipin and Alex were joined by Nate and Isla as well as some extras they had found, presumably roaming the streets looking for a good time.

One drink turned into two and then three (and these are big-assed bottles of Kingfisher here), and before I knew it, it was time to get back on board the ship. With the ferry stopped for the night, Alex gave me (and everyone else) a lift in his car. Unfortunately, getting to Willingdon Island over the bridge takes an age (the ferry is MUCH quicker). I suppose it didn’t help that us passengers were doing our level best to down a bottle of peach schnapps on the way and I had Green Day blasting out on the stereo at full volume.

Alex mate, do you want to watch the road since, you know, YOU’RE DRIVING?!!

By the time I was coming up to the port gates, I was getting calls off the ship, my mum and dad, the Queen of Sheba and Lord frikkin’ Lucan asking where the hell I was. I was trying to get through the gates, say goodbye to everyone (*hugs!*) and leg it through the rain towards the ship, just in the nick of time: the last person on board. Phileas and Sherlock would be proud.

I arrived bedraggled and raggedy (as always) looking very much the stowaway that everybody looks at me and assumes I am. I headed up to the open-air bar on Deck 11 and, after gesticulating wildly at the Indian subcontinent, camcorder in hand, realised something: I’ve been in and around the monster continent of Asia since January 2010 and now, finally, I take my leave. Goodnight Asia, you proved a formidable foe, but I proved that if you want something bad enough – and you’re patient – not the even the might of the Himalayas or the breadth of the Pacific can get in your way.

I rounded off the night with some new-found friends who possibly took pity on me and bought me a beer and later on there was a shared bottle of wine with the lovely cruise staff. A great night, and a great leap forward for The Odyssey Expedition.

Well then, Costa neoRomantica YOU LEGEND!! Thank you thank you thank you for letting me on board. Thanks to Amy and Laura at Rooster PR in the UK, Costa Cruises and Lorna Brookes, you queen of the persuasive email, I owe you BIG. This is it, dear readers, for the first time since the beginning of June I’m really heading west. At long last, the end is within sight. I’ll see you there.

Day 1,426: Day of Days

Mon 26.11.12:

Well then. I made it.

It would not be unfair to say that my entire life has been leading up to this point. This day. This moment. This photograph:

Graham Hughes
Graham Hughes, South Sudan, 26 November 2012.

The final vindication of my hopes and dreams, my determination, my spirit, my grit and my stubborn refusal to give up no matter what.

+++++++++++++++++++++  I DID IT +++++++++++++++++++++

At 0814 this morning, the 1,426th day of The Odyssey Expedition, I crossed the border from Uganda into South Sudan. After queuing for an hour to be stamped in, it was official.

Some may do the same thing in the future, and they may well do it faster, other may scoff and think the whole thing ridiculous, but NOBODY can ever take this achievement away from me.

I am, and always will be, the first person to visit every country in the world without flying.

A FEW VITAL STATS…

201 Nations Visited
193 of them Full Members of the UN
67 of them More than Once
59 of them Islands
18 Bonus Territories (for good measure)
Distance Travelled: 250,000km
Average Money Spent: $100 a week
Hours of Video Footage: 352
Blog Entries: 736
Blog Word Count: 584,886
Days spent in jail: 12
Days spent at sea: 196
Combined Total Number of All Ships: 157
Container ships: 20
Cruise ships: 4
Leaky Wooden Canoes: 1
CouchSurfs: 73
Number of Overnight Coach Journeys: Lost Count

I was met at the border by Aegnus Stanley, who avid fans of the TV show will recognise from Episode 8: he’s the lovely Irishman who warns me about the dangerous of travelling through Northern Kenya. He brought along his friend Josh for the ride. Filming at the border was a total no-no, so we went up a nearby hill and filmed this segment.

Yes, sorry, the bottle’s empty: I popped it and we drank it on the first take on the HD camera! Hey, we were thirsty…!

After champagne and sandwiches, Aengus, Josh and I headed to Juba. It took about 2 hours to get back along the brand-new road that had only been finished 6 weeks ago. I should stress that this is the only good road in South Sudan: an area of the world sadly neglected by both us Brits and then by the government in Khartoum before the split.

Aengus had to go to work so he left me in Josh’s capable hands. My partner in crime Casey had organised for me to meet with a press photographer and a journalist from AFP to let the world know that I had arrived. We did the photos after lunch, but by the time I met with Hannah, the AFP journo, it was already getting dark. We filmed a video segment outside Parliament after persuading some random guy that we weren’t filming something we shouldn’t be. Hannah explained that we needed somewhere with flags and the John Garang memorial was off the agenda since last week when a middle-aged woman was shot through the head for driving her car past while they were lowering the main flag.

John Garang was the leader of the SPLA – the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army, the rather rag-tag bunch of fighters that fought for (and eventually won) independence from the north. He died in a helicopter crash in 2003 and remains a revered figure in South Sudan, appearing on the bank notes and being widely regarded as the father of the this new-fangled nation.

Why the war was necessary is quite beyond me. In 1972 the then “president” (dictator) of Sudan, Colonel Jaafar Nimeiri, signed a peace accord in Addis Ababa granting the south of the country a measure of autonomy that quelled the civil war for over a decade. Then in a fit of what? Madness? Stupidity? Recklessness? In 1983 he binned the autonomy deal and imposed good old fashioned sharia law over the entire country. Surprisingly. the pre-dominantly animist and Christian south of Sudan were not exactly over the moon about the prospect of receiving 40 lashes for being caught drinking their beloved Nile Beer. And so began the second part of the north-south war in Sudan – a war as preventable as it was disastrous for the country as a whole, adding instability to a region bordering the already massively unstable Uganda, DR Congo (the former Zaire) and the Central African Republic – you know, Kony Country.

Although Joseph Kony is still at large (a fact highlighted by this year’s perplexing ‘Get Kony’ campaign), the area is now reasonably stable, with the notable exception of the north-east of the DRC. Shall not be going there on this trip, methinks.

Hannah told me that a combination of paranoia, a lack of education and collective post-traumatic shock – legacies of fifty years of war with the north – had conspired to make the world’s newest nation one of the most difficult to do your job as a journalist, barring warzones. A journo for Al-Jazeera had their £10,000 video camera confiscated a few weeks ago and still hadn’t got it back, despite a direct order from the president to give the damn thing back. “I cannot control these people” is not the response you were looking for from the commander-in-chief.

We spent a good 20 minutes filming me talking about my adventures and were just grabbing some cutaways of me walking up and down with my bags when another curious party arrived and set about trying to confiscate the camera and/or arrest us. Hannah and I managed to talk our way out of the situation, but we weren’t up for hanging about for another round of this nonsense and so headed off to the Ministry of Roads to quickly snap this pic:

CAPT: Bastard Lovechild of Mario and Doctor Robotnik Conquers World!

Engine running, getaway car just inches away, Hannah managed a couple of snaps before we heard the inevitable ‘Hey! Hey!’ I didn’t even turn to look at who was shouting at us, neither did Hannah. We just got back in the car and floored it. It would be somewhat unfortunate (although perhaps rather fitting) for me to spend tonight of all nights in an African jail cell.

Hannah set off to file her report and I met back up with Josh and Aengus for dinner – a fantastic curry of victory washed down with a bottle of Nile Beer.

People kept asking me how I felt now I had finished. Happy? Sad? Exhausted? I didn’t really have an answer for them. To be perfectly honest, I just felt like another beer.

A QUICK THANK YOU

I don’t have the time or the battery power to list everybody who has helped The Odyssey Expedition along. I will produce a comprehensive list for Christmas, but I’d quickly like to thank:

TEAM ODYSSEY: Mum & Dad, Mandy, Lindsey, Si, Dino, Lorna, Christian, Alex Z, Alex H, Scott, Leo, Anna, Colm, Rocco, Grethe, Stan, Matt, John H and Hugh… for your patience, your time, your generosity and support. If I have travelled further, it’s by cadging a lift on the shoulders of giants.

Everybody who hosted me, given me a bed/couch/hammock/floor for the night. Your hospitality is a credit to the human race. You all have a friend for life and place to stay any time you’re in the UK.

Everybody at Costa, Princess, PIL, CMA-CGM, Neptune, Swire, Eimskip, PDL, Maersk, Dioryx, Rickmers, DAL, Emirates Line, Bengal Tiger Line, Mariana Express Lines, China Navigation, PAE, Reef and Hamburg Sud It is no feint praise to say I could not do this without you.

The officers, crew and support staff of The Melinda II, The Costa Fortuna, The Linge Trader, The Reykjavoss, The Dettifoss, The DAL Madagascar, The CMA-CGM Turquoise, The CMA-CGM Jade, The Papuan Chief, The Pacific Pearl, The Southern Pearl, The Southern Lily II, The Sea Princess, The Scarlett Lucy, The Kota Juta, The Mell Sembawang, The Kota Wirawan, The Vira Bhum, The Costa neoRomantica and The Maersk Seberok.

Everyone who donated to WaterAid. You gave me the impetus to soldier on no matter what. Through your immense generosity, we have raised over $10,000 so far and helped save the lives of children all over the world. I hope to add to this total before the end.

Everyone who chipped in to help get me home last summer, with a particular shout out to Sarah and Mave. They say that friends are the family you choose for yourself, and I couldn’t wish to be in better company.

Everyone who shared a joke, a story, a cup of tea or a pint of beer. Everyone who sat next to me on the bus, bought me a beer or pointed me in the right direction. Everyone who, just by being themselves, solidified my belief that the vast majority of humans are good good people.

Everyone who followed me over the years, shout outs to segacs, gavinmac, GrahamStalker, Nomadic Translator, Matthew Lumby and all our subscribers, for defending me against the haters, keeping me motivated and giving me a kick up the arse when I was beginning to dawdle!

Everyone who just, you know, *got it*. Many didn’t. Or don’t. But some did. Thank you.

And, last but by no means least, Casey. You joined the adventure at the eleventh hour, but in the last couple of months you have done more for me and this journey than I thought possible. Thank you for catching me as I was falling, thank you being the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel and thank you for giving this expedition the happy ending it deserves.