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.
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…
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!!
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.
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.