I may have mentioned this before, but for some stupid reason you have to register three days after you arrive in Uzbekistan. The problem is you cannot register that you’re staying with a private citizen without a ton of hassle and paperwork. As a consequence, CouchSurfing is technically illegal.
What most people do is check into a hotel for the night and then doctor the docket that they’re given (as I did last week) so the dates imply you stayed in the hotel longer than you really did. However our sweet French couple, Younne and Cloe neglected to register within their three day period of grace. You see the Uzbek government is a little stuck in it’s ways and thinks that every westerner who would like to visit their country is James Bond come to blow up their secret volcano fortresses.
It’s when you hear about the government bugging hotel rooms that your eyes involuntarily roll upwards. Seriously, Uzbekistan, get a grip – we really couldn’t give a monkey’s what you’re doing – you’re a landlocked country in the middle of nowhere that 9 people out of 10 have never heard of. MI6 AND THE CIA DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, THEY NEVER HAVE AND THEY NEVER WILL. There, I’ve said it. I love Uzbekistan but in the silliness awards, the government is rubbing shoulders with the brainless mooks that run Africa.
Anyway, Younne and Cloe tottered off to the railway station to ‘check in’ at the hotel there. They asked for a room for the night and explained they had lost their dockets for the past couple of days – damnit, it was only a couple of days, eh? Anyway, the bee-atch at the hotel smiled, took their passports as if to copy down the numbers, explained that she’d be right back and then promptly returned with a police officer in tow.
What a cow. What an utter cow.
Rafa, our CouchSurfing host had to head down to the police station and help them out. Luckily (and happily) Uzbekistan is NOT Africa, and therefore throwing tourists in jail is not a national sport, so after a few hours they were set free; although not before they were told that they faced DEPORTATION for their misdemeanour.
Crikey – at first we thought they’d be flown back home (I shudder to think what I’d have to do if that happens to me!) but then the police said they would give them until Wednesday to get a visa for Kyrgyzstan and then they’ll be escorted to the border. The cop who booked them said that he had personally deported about fifty tourists since the beginning of the year.
Oh look – somebody from a rich country coming to take money from a rich country and spend it in our poor country… let’s deport them! Smart move, guys… you must be really good at chess.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – any conspiracy theory that hinges on politicians of the world having a higher IQ than an eggplant is doomed from the start – if you put all the politicians and bureaucrats in the world in a room, you wouldn’t have enough of a spark to ignite a stick of dynamite from the Black Rock.
Not wanting another run-in with the fuzz, I set out with Rafa to check into a hotel myself – not the railway one (for obvious reasons) but the one near the circus (a monstrous eyesore that looks like a big concrete hamburger). For $7 my stay here was safe. With any luck, I’ll have my Turkmenistan visa tomorrow and then I’ll be outta here.
I really, really like the Uzbek people. If the government here would just chill out a little, many more people would like them too.
Last night’s taxi took me to the coach station and within minutes, I was hurtling down through the good night towards Shiraz near the Gulf. When I arrived in the morning, I knew that there were defo no boats to Kuwait, but I was having trouble working out from the ferry company website when the boat did actually leave. It took me a couple of hours and a few phone calls to find out that the boat left from a place on the Shat-al-Arab waterway called Khorammshahr tomorrow morning.
I booked a ticket for the overnight bus to Khorammshahr and elected to spend my afternoon wisely by visiting the nearby ancient Zoroastrian site of Persepolis.
Zoroastrianism was the religion of Persia before the Arabs turned up and ruined everything (much in the way the Italians and spoilt all our Pagan-y fun in Blighty). The Zoroastrian god was (still is!) Ahura Mazda, and as such remains the only deity to have a car manufacturer named after him.
Now you’ve seen 300, right? This is Sparta and all that jazz? Good. Well you know that freaky guy who looked (and sounded) like Purple Acky and had all that metal in his face? That was Xerxes, son of Darius of X-Factor fame. Persepolis was their capital until it was mercilessly vandalised by the Greeks under a certain Alexander The Great. The great big nancy.
The site is awesome – even though much of it has been destroyed, what remains is enough to keep you occupied for hours. For a history buff like me, it doesn’t get any better than this: ancient ruins, intricately carved murals, mysterious engravings (cuneiform!), mighty tombs carved out of a rockface… it’s like the best of Greece, Egypt, Armenia and Petra all rolled into one.
After getting my fill of touristy-goodness, I headed back to Shiraz to hop on that bus for Khorammshahr. On the way I met a guy from Belgium named Maxim. He had been in Iran for a month, travelling about, and had fallen in love with the place. He wasn’t CouchSurfing, but over the last 30 nights, he had only spent one of them in a hotel. The Persians are that friendly that pretty much every night he had been here he had been invited to stay with a family.
Persia, man – I take my hat off to you. You are the friendliest bunch on the planet (and I should know!). Once I finish The Odyssey, I’ll be back here in a FLASH.
UAE: I arrived in Dubai at precisely three hours later than the bus company promised, but that just meant three hours more kip… which is never to be sniffed at. Dubai is pretty hot, especially when you have a backpack and a leather jacket tied around your waist – I was just asking for trouble… I frantically texted Damien, Helen Power’s mate in Dubai who had generously offered his couch for me to sully for a couple of days. Incidentally, I am thoroughly convinced that Helen should change the name of her house to Greyskull, for reasons to obvious to document here.
Damien (I would find out later) was nursing the mother of all hangovers and therefore in no fit state to text back, so I spotted a nearby Subway and thought sod it and sat there for a couple of hours finally polishing off these blogs I keep forgetting I have to write (least I incur the wrath of a particularly sexy pole dance teacher).
I know it’s no excuse, but I just can’t seem to write my blogs when I’m stuck somewhere… I need to be moving to get the creative juices flowing…
So anyways, I got my scribblings and musings up to date and headed out into the midday sun like all mad dogs and Englishmen have a habit of doing. Walking around ‘old’ Dubai was a treat – I thought that Dubai was this sterile Las Vegas nightmare of Demolition Man proportions, but head to the Deira district and you’re slapbang in the Middle East, mate – no messing about. Okay, the wooden boats that cross the nearby creek are I little kitchy, but as far as the sights and sounds and smells are concerned, this place dumps from a great height on the neat-n-tidy (and therefore humourless) Souk in Kuwait or the Disneyfied ‘old’ Souk in Qatar (hilariously demolished, reconstructed out of concrete then demolished again and rebuilt to look like the old one).
I keep telling you this, but I don’t think the message is getting through to the Powers That Be™ – you can’t impose a fun and interesting community down from above… these things have to grow organically… life isn’t Sim City.
As for the rest of Dubai, well, we might as well be living in a bubble on Mars. A city of the future imagined by a sci-fi addled child of the 70s. Most of the buildings look like toys, the twentieth century love affair with all things concrete shows no signs of abating and, well, it just doesn’t have the grit and determination that marks the cities of the world that I love. Can things be too clean?
That’s not to underplay Dubai’s achievements, such as the Burj Khalifa, which is by far the tallest building in the world and thankfully understands its purpose as a TOWER (ie, it tapers towards the sky, unlike the Twin Towers (unimaginative boxes that they were), any high rise ever built in Blighty (urgh) or that utter abomination in Manchester that actually gets THICKER towards the top. Jesus wept.
So Dubai, first impressions… I kinda like you. I’d like you more if you were a bit grubbier, but I guess that’s just me. At least you have the Deira district to remind me I’m still in the Middle East and at least you are prepared to gamble on crazy projects (such as The Palm and The World). We need more filthy rich people who are up for doing crazy stuff. Britain tries to be wacky, innovative and novel and what do we get? The ****ing Olympics logo…
And, even worse, the Olympic mascots…
Oh my giddy aunt.
Designed, no doubt, by a team of cretinous cretins from the planet Kretin exiled to Earth by the galactic warlord Kretinus the Cretin for being too cretinous for even the great Kretin empire to contain.
So for the restrained stupidity of Dubai, I salute you. Mid-afternoon, after mooching around the kooks and souks for a couple of hours, Damien finally raised himself from the dead and texted me back. I grabbed a taxi to his gaff, cutting through the business district on the way and making up my mind that the Burj Khalifa gets the thumbs up from me… does this mean I’m losing my pithy hatred of all things concrete? Not on your nelly. The Liver Buildings in Liverpool are made (internally) of concrete and I love them. As I opined in Azerbaijan, I don’t care what rotten slop you construct your building out of, as long as I don’t have to see the damn stuff.
Concrete is a little like your innards. I’m sure they are critical to your prolonged success at staying alive, but I’d be more than a little miffed if you flopped them out at the dinner table.
So I found myself meeting up with the fabled Damien of Dubai and within a couple of hours we found ourselves where all northerners are bound to end up given half the chance… the pub. Damo originally hails from the Yorkists, but spent many years in Manchester so I guess in the Battle of Bosworth, he’d be that guy who sat on the sidelines, scoped out who was winning and joined them. Which (perhaps) explains why he supports Liverpool.
Even though the only ship never to dock in Liverpool is the Premiership etc.
We went to some beachy-drinky affair, but Saturday night might as well be Sunday night round these parts (the weekend in Arabia is Fri/Sat, not Sat/Sun) and the place was pretty much dead. Which didn’t give the Kiwis who were remarkably rude to me an excuse – if you’d care to peruse my League of Nations, you’ll see that New Zealand is now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Congo and Cape Verde. Be warned you natives – when you talk to an outlander, you speak for your nation. Be nice.
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.