Day 541: Africa’s Final Fortress

25.06.10:

We arrived in Massawa Port, Eritrea just after noon. As I sauntered down the gangplank my head, usually filled with logistics and gibberish, felt surprisingly clear: all I could imagine was the little strip of white running down the right of Africa finally being coloured in. The final sticker in my collection, my last Pokémon, the Kenner toy that completes the set. When I finally touched down it was as good as landing on the moon.

Africa. Done. At last.

Arriving in Tunisia at the start of May 2009, I would have never envisaged it taking so long and I guess I can say that I’ve been to all the countries in the Middle East as well, but thirteen months is a long, long time to spend cracking one (albeit vast) continent. South America took me two weeks, Europe just 21 days. I honestly thought Africa would take about three months.

Ha!

But as I strode out of the port into the charming little town of Massawa, the sense of achievement was incredible. I had found a way in. A secret entrance into Fortress Eritrea and in doing became (I think) the first person to visit every country in Africa without taking a single flight.

Mandy really wants me to hang up my boots at this point. Who can blame her? I’m already six months overdue. But with just 39 more countries to visit, it would be insane to give up now. In another world, my friends are tramping it across the Glastonbury festival in England right this moment. They’re probably sitting near the Brother’s Bar watching the Jazz World Stage and wondering if they should go and cadge some free food off the Hari Krishnas beside the Glade. Damn I miss them. I miss my life. I don’t want off, I just want this damn rollercoaster to hurry the hell up.

People keep asking me if I get tired of all this travelling. The truth is I only get tired (and grumpy!) when I’m sitting still, waiting for the train that never comes. If I’m moving, I’m happy, I’m energised, I’m gung-ho for victory: the final footfall in the final country. If I do nothing else worthwhile in my life, I’ll always have this. I hope I can persuade readers of this blog to go see for themselves the truth of at the heart of humanity: that contrary to popular opinion, the good outweighs the bad. Don’t believe the doomsayers: we’re almost there, all of us.

Eritrea is an old country but a young nation, having gained independence in 1993 after a long and brutal marriage with Ethiopia. An unholy union stitched together in 1950 by the hopelessly idiotic United Nations and propped up by the iron fist of the Soviet Union. For thirty years Eritrea fought to be a nation again, against almost impossible odds. The town of Massawa, as you can see, still bears the scars from this long and most uncivil of wars, tucked away in a corner of Africa that nobody seemed to give a damn about.

Twenty years ago, Massawa was carpet bombed by the Ethiopians, using planes and bombs supplied by the Russians. Over 90% of the town was wiped out. Thousands died.

Much of the promised reconstruction has failed to materialise, and so many of the beautiful coral-stone buildings are crumbling apart. Twenty years ago Dubai was a desert. Twenty years is a long time.

The government of Eritrea must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the lack of reconstruction. Too busy picking fights with its neighbours (as you well know, the borders with Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti are all closed, and Eritrea went to war with Yemen not so long ago over some uninhabited islands). As North Korea and Burma can no doubt testify, true ‘independence’ is a bit of a lie – no country can prosper without the help of its neighbours and friends from around the world. There are some projects, such as the causeways that link the mainland to the two islands of Taulud and Massawa, that have been completed with help from the Italian government – and rightly so, Eritrea historically being one of Italy’s two colonies in Africa (the other being Libya).

But there is plenty more to be done. And I’d be more than happy to come back and help out – seriously, despite the headaches I experienced getting in here, it really is love at first sight. If Massawa is in any way representative of the rest of the nation, then Eritrea is far and away my favourite bit of Sub-Saharan Africa.

It is simply stunning – the island of Massawa oozes with atmosphere, a sleepy little port town since the year dot, with all the trimmings that entails. The people are wonderful, really wonderful – inquisitive and generous, and always ready to have a laugh.

There’s a decent beach up the coast, the diving is said to be magnificent and, best of all, the beer is cheap (40p for a bottle of Asmara!). The icing on the cake is that the architecture is just sublime – local materials with an Italian influence, but 100% Eritrean.

Even the broken down palaces tell a story and there is something strangely beautiful about their sullen decay.

Light years from the prim n’ proper fakery of Qatar’s ‘old souk’, this is the real thing, the genuine article. No robotic clean straight lines, no need for inane mutterings about light and space, no fancy 3D walkthrough, just buildings with a real sense of humanity, culture, art and history about them.

Kicking back in the afternoon in the shade of a tree with a cold Asmara beer, chatting to the locals, not a car on the road to disturb the spell… I could happily spend a long, long time here, taking in the chill that I found curiously absent from The Caribbean.

I can see myself here in a few years time, maybe writing the great American novel or helping the locals restore one of these great buildings. And as the sun set over the broken dome of the Imperial Palace, I set off into the night, finding friendship and laughter wherever I looked.

The crew of the Ibn Al Waleed were spread out all over town. After catching up with the chief I found the Filipinos from the ship, who were grateful to be somewhere that not only had cold beer, but a place where it is almost as cheap as it is in the Philippines. After many beers and more than a few whiskeys, I lost track of what we were celebrating.

And then I remembered. Africa, you put up a good fight old girl, all credit to you.

But I won.


It IS possible to visit every single country in Africa without taking to the air.

Cheers x

Day 542: Eritrea Uncovered

26.06.10:

This morning I was invited around to a local girl’s place for some traditional Eritrean breakfast. Saba and I sat in the back yard of her single room shack as her mum expertly roasted and ground coffee beans before funnelling them into a traditional spherical pot, added water and then placed on the fire. Breakfast was a yummy meat, potato and onion stew that wasn’t far from being scouse, served with bread and the freshest coffee I’ve ever tasted.

You just can’t beat home cooking, can you? Eritrea pretty much closes down from noon until 5pm, so after thanking Saba and her mum, I headed back to the ship for a little siesta. As you can no doubt guess, it gets rather hot here in the afternoon. After grabbing forty winks I headed out of the port to try and hunt down some wild internets – I needed to send out a message saying that I had arrived!!

There is no international roaming set up here, so my British Sim card (and my Saudi one, mind you) had no signal, and to buy an Eritrean Sim is a mission that (I’m told) could take six weeks. Seriously. Six weeks! Oh yeah, and even if I get an Eritrean Sim, I can’t make international calls anyhoo! So I needed to get online and let Mandy and my family know I was safe and well and to ask Leo to change the country count to 161.

Not so fast, Poindexter! The one and only internet place on Massawa Island was closed, as was the one on Taulud Island. I walked all the way over the long causeway to the mainland, and on finding the internet place open, thought I had caught myself a break. But it was not be! They had no connection, that’s why the other two places were closed – it seemed the whole of Massawa was cut off from the wibbly wobbly worldy widey web.

I dropped into the neighbouring bar to knock back a few cold sodas and got chatting to a group of ex-pats from Germany, Spain and South Africa who were working on a project for the Eritrean government. Lots of red tape? Surprisingly not. They had been in Massawa for a week now and would be popping in and out of the country for the next few months rolling out the venture. I wished them well and suggested they visit Massawa Island sometime – the mainland was nowhere near as pleasant.

So a quick bus ride back to the port (I’ve walked enough today) and it wasn’t long before I bumped into the chief again – Nay is from Burma and has sailed all over South East Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. After his twelve-month contract expires he is hoping that maybe he could be captain of his next vessel. He’s also far enough away from the military junta that is running Burma to be able to speak freely about the situation there. Let hope over the coming years that more Burmese people are given that freedom.

Later on we watched the Ghana vs USA match together on a TV set up on the street outside a bar. When Ghana won the place erupted in jubilation – nice to see Africa united for a change. I finished off the night with the Filipino crew from our ship, but managed to moderate my drinking this time and even headed back to my cabin at a (kinda) reasonable time. Tomorrow we set sail back to Saudi. All systems a-go-go.

Day 542: (Finally) Out Of Africa

27.06.10:

We were supposed to cast off at 8am, or is that knitting? Might be getting my lingo muddled. Either way, the cargo operation wasn’t completed until the afternoon. The thought of setting out again into town and finding a working internet connection did cross my mind, but after yesterday’s three hour marathon fail, I had little intention of repeating the feat in the blazing sunshine with no way of knowing what time the ship will actually leave.

The engines kicked into life at about 4pm, but it wasn’t until about 45 minutes later that I realised we had actually left port – that’s how smooth the sea is around here, shielded by the Dhalek Islands. A more pressing concern was the loss of our television signal. The England v Germany was to start in 15 minutes. The crew tried their best to adjust the clapped out old satellite dish lashed to the gangway behind the mess, but it was ten minutes into the game before we got any picture – then, to add insult to injury, the picture kept conking out at critical moments of the game. I didn’t get to see Frank Lampard’s goal, but then neither did the linesman. Or the ref.

But I saw enough to see England get well and truly dumped out of the World Cup. Again.

When I was seven I remember going into school the day after Maradona’s Hand of God, absolutely distraught and refusing to finish my Panini sticker album as a result. When I was eleven I remember sitting on the stairs watching that excruciating penalty shoot-out against Germany from between the bars of the banister. When I was fifteen there wasn’t a World Cup (was there?). At nineteen I watched Beckham getting sent off and England crash out to Argentina at Ben Murray’s house. At twenty-three I was in a backpackers in Chile with Fleur as Brazil kicked England to one side. It was the middle of the night and just one other England fan watched the match with me. At the age of twenty-seven I was at the Roskilde festival in Denmark with Mandy and Stan and watched England lose it on the big screen, accompanied by thousands of braying Nordics.

And here I am at thirty-one and I’m still seeing England crash and burn, this time on a cargo ship off the coast of Eritrea. I wonder where I’ll be to watch England fail when I’m thirty-five… the moon would be nice – through the vacuum of space, I wouldn’t be able to hear the collective resigned groans of 50 million Brits echo around the world.

Oh well, I guess I won’t be the only Englishman leaving Africa today.

Days 544 & 545: Another Mad Scheme

28.06.10-29.06.10:

I was a little iniquitous last time I left Africa, and for that I am truly sorry. Africa is many things, but it’s definitely not rubbish. Infuriating perhaps, but not crap. Eritrea, or rather Massawa, really warmed the cockles of my heart, and it’s hard to stay mad at an entire continent, even if it did throw you in jail twice. So for the good bits – Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Rwanda, Egypt and Eritrea – Africa I salute you and hereby take back all the nasty things I may have said. Africa – you’re all right. You just need leaders who aren’t more evil than Dr. Evil’s Evil Petting Zoo.

Monday passed as Mondays on cargo ships on the Red Sea often do, without incident or report. I worked hard on my scribblings and watched Brazil kick Chile’s bottoms (a foregone conclusion if ever there was one). On Tuesday 29th June we entered the port of Jeddah and I was left with the gobsmacking notion that I was here, at this very port at this very time on Tuesday 29th December aboard the MV Turquoise, on my way to meet Mandy in Egypt.

Six months to come full circle. Six months to visit just 28 countries. And I’ve got 39 more to go, and I can’t press on to India until I blag myself a multi-entry business visa, and that could take weeks.

The task ahead is not a straight-forward one.

Happily, my phones were now working again, so it was no problem to text a tweet to let Mandy and my mum (who I think were beginning to panic a little) know that I was safe and well. Thinking about it, if I had gotten into Congoesque trouble in Eritrea, I would have been well and truly stuffed as there would have been no way on Earth to tell anyone what had happened to me. Eek!

After thanking the captain and the chief and disembarking, the shipping agent escorted me through Saudi customs (which again were surprisingly cursory), I was stamped back into the country and released back into the wild. It’s worth pointing out that the Saudi government only really started issuing multiple entry business visas a few months ago. Considering I’ve now been in and out of Saudi a passport-bending FIVE times, I simply wouldn’t have been able to do this last year. God knows how I would have got to Dubai and Eritrea would have gone unconquered.

Huge Kudos and thanks to Ahmed from Babood Shipping for helping me get to Eritrea!  You, sir, are a true Odyssey Hero.

Ahmed - The Man, The Legend

Talking of logistics (cos I know you LOVE hearing about them), after I popped in to see Ahmed to say thanks and my bestest chum in the whole world Turki had come to pick me up and drop me off at his house, I got on the internet to hear the news I didn’t want to hear. Maersk have said that they are happy to help with any other ship I need to clamber upon, EXCEPT the ones that operate anywhere near Somalia – they just can’t risk it. The second half of my cunning plan has fallen flat. It’s a NO for the Seychelles.

It’s time to get even more creative…

Okay, so how does this sound… the captain of the MV San Cristobal gave me a lead that so far I haven’t chased up. He said that there is a route from Malaysia to Seychelles. Hmm…

After a little bit of internetic research, I found that yes indeed there are ships that ply that route… taking about 10 days to get there. A lot shorter than the four-week round trip that I’d otherwise have to take if I left from Salalalalalalalalalah.

The cogs in my head started turning…

What if…

What if…

I take a cargo ship to India via Pakistan, then head to Sri Lanka from Cochin, then hop to the Maldives and back, Sri Lanka to Bangladesh, up to Bhutan, border hop, then into Nepal.

Special permission to cross into Tibet from Nepal then the sky train down to Beijing. A border hop to Mongolia, a trip to North Korea and back, then on the ferry to South Korea, Japan and cargo to Taiwan. Taiwan to Vietnam, through Cambodia to Thailand, up to the golden triangle to Laos and Burma, then down through peninsular Malaysia to Singapore, over to Borneo to pass through Brunei, then ferry to Philippines and then… then… start on the Pacific Islands, taking this approximate route: Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomons, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand.

Then, instead of ending in New Zealand as I head originally planned, I take a ship heading for northern Australia, do a hop into Papua New Guinea, then press on to Darwin, get over to East Timor, fight my way up the islands of Indonesia to Sumatra, take the ferry over to Malaysia and grab that cargo ride to The Seychelles, coming in from the Eastern, none-piratey side.

Thinking about it some more, it actually makes a lot more sense to do it that way. This way, I can be sure that there will be yachts to cadge a lift on in the Pacific as unless something goes dreadfully wrong, I could be there by September, and have at least a couple of months before the Cyclone Season begins.

The only sad thing is that there’ll be nobody waiting to congratulate me when I finish in The Seychelles. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

So… last week in Dubai I met a top bloke called Barry who works for CMA-CGM – there are ships leaving every Monday for Pakistan then India. So the only thing to wait for now is my Indian visa. After going almost a week without a decent shower, I was more than happy to crash out at Turki’s for the night – there’s no rush getting to Dubai as there’s no way I’ll be getting on next Monday’s ship.

Turki has just been done over on a business deal and is justifiably upset (I know how he feels) and so we went out for a scrummy Indian meal to cheer him up, but he’s really not himself this week. Which is a shame, as karma dictates that after helping me, the universe should help him. I guess it only works for Earl.

“Graham’s World”: My Very Own TV Show Starts Tuesday!

Okay, Odyssey fans… this is it, the television show documenting my travels is being shown every TUESDAY at on the Nat Geo Adventure Channel, which is available in 40 countries across Asia and South America.  If you can get it, great.  If you can’t, you’re stuck with my YouTube videos until it gets broadcast on the BBC (fingers crossed) early next year!!

The eight episodes of season one cover the first 133 countries of The Odyssey Expedition – my journey from Uruguay to Egypt, starting on 1st January 2009 and finishing on 31st December 2009.

EPISODES:

1. From Argentina to Guyana

2. Caribbean Castaway

3. From Cuba to Tunisia

4. Arrested In Africa

5. African Rough Road

6. Congo Chaos

7. Africa Island Hop

8. Pyramids Or Bust

Hmm... are you following me?

As for the final 67 countries… (including Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea) Lonely Planet TV have just bagged first refusal on the second series… WATCH THIS SPACE!!!

Day 546: Gra’m Crackers

30.06.10:

I got a call of the Mandster saying that her mum’s mate had seen a trailer for my television show on cable TV in Australia. A bit (all right then, a lot) of Googling later, I found out that she was right – it starts next Tuesday. Woo! I also found out they’re calling it ‘Graham’s World’. Boo!

I know it sounds like it, but ‘Graham’s World’ is NOT a documentary about a cracker factory. And for the record, I don’t think this planet is mine. I more than aware that there are almost seven billion other people who share it with me.

Turki. Legend!!!

So, despite my reservations about the title of the show (and the titles of the episodes – ygads!), if you can watch it, please do. It’s not being shown in the UK, but you can catch it in Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and (I think) the US and Canada (let me check that some more).

ANYWAYS, I’m happy that my footage is finally being screened. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch it myself on Tuesday night – hopefully they just show the funny bits.

At around 9pm, Turki and I set off once more into the breach, dear friends, and before you could say Crikey-Turki-you-really-saved-my-bacon-with-this-whole-Eritrea-business I was on an overnight coach heading back to Riyadh.

Turki – THANK YOU!!

Now I’ve been on a lot of overnight buses over the last eighteen months, and, you know what? Priority rules. If the bus isn’t full, seating is not allocated and I’m first on the bus (which I was) then I get to cadge the back seats for myself. OKAY? Well, I had been sitting quietly for five minutes when some utter b—–d came over and sat next to me. Seriously? Are the other twenty-seven EMPTY SEATS freaking you out sir?

But then it gets better: he tries to convince ME to move, so he can have the back seats to himself. I was jovial enough, but I’d be damned if I was going to budge an inch. He said that the back seats were uncomfortable, that the engine made them vibrate and that fumes would come in through the gaps and it would smell.

Oh, right, you want me to move and let you have all the back seats for MY benefit? I swear this guy was just about to win the Odyssey Expedition prize for the most annoying tosspot I’ve met in over 176 countries. And then it got worse. Because the back seats don’t recline, if you don’t lie down across four of them, it’s tremendously uncomfortable.

Here are the seats:

( )( )( )( )( )

And he sat HERE:

( )(x)( )( )( )

ALL FRICKIN’ NIGHT. WITH A TON OF EMPTY SEATS AVAILABLE FOR HIM TO SIT ON!!!

So instead of being able to lie over four seats (and Mr. Complete B—–d over here, you know, take the one by the window) I had an excessively uncomfortable night cramped up on three.

Oh yeah, and he woke me every hour (or whenever my cramp and/or pins and needles had subsided) to ask the frickin’ TIME.

Man, I’ve never wanted to kill someone so much in my life. With the possible exception of Bono.

On the overnighter to Dubai if I bagsy the back seat and somebody else tries to sit there I swear he’s going to be dead before he hits the floor.  Grr……!

Next Month >>>

Day 547: Nothing To See Here, Move Along

01.07.10:

I arrived in Riyadh around 12 noon and thought about heading out to the town as I had a few hours until the bus to Dubai departed. Well I went outside the bus station and changed my mind. Town is 15km away from the bus station, it’s hot as hell (midsummer in the middle of the Arabian desert, what do you expect!) and I’ve got all my bags with me… nah. Not going to happen.

So I retreated, much in the manner of a hermit crab, back into the bus station and waited it out. When I eventually got on board the bus, I was first on (again) and again (for the third time) some chancer tried to weasel me out of my seats. Again, the bus wasn’t even nearly full so it’s not like he was going to have to sleep on the floor. This time I was having none of it. I cut off access to the back seats by sitting on the middle one with my feet firmly wedged against the backs of the seats in front, opened my laptop on my knee and stuff my iPod headphones into my ears and turned them up to max.

Damnit, if you want to lie down on the back seats you gotta be first in the queue, and I was.

He tried every which way to persuade me to move so he could take back seats, (and he was a BIG guy) but I stood (or rather sat) my ground. And I WON! He took one of the several empty seats ahead of me. But then later in the journey after I had to get off because we were crossing the border into the UAE, and when I got back on the bus I found him sitting on my seats.

This would not do.

I’m sorry mate, but you’re going to have to move. Bear in mind this guy was much bigger than me and had loads of his little Arab mates on board. But seriously, NOTHING comes between me and my kip, DAGNAMIT. He smiled.

Mate, seriously…

Defying logic and breaking every rule of the playground, the guy gave up and went back to his seat. It kinda made me want to stand on the back seats and do a Tarzan wail, you know – confirm my position as the Alpha Male amongst my fellow commuters, but I doubt they would have got the joke.

I stretched out on my well-defended turf and fell asleep, happy in the knowledge that the border guy hadn’t really looked through my passport and therefore didn’t pull the old you have to wait 30 days before you can return to the UAE rule on me. It was a worry, but I’d made it through. Happy days!

Day 548: World Cup Pool Party

02.07.10:

So I rolled back into Dubai for the third time of asking. After a delightful chat with the Filipino women who worked in the Burger King by the Saptco bus station (she told me which bits to avoid in The Philippines) I jumped in a cab and headed off to see me auld mucka Damien.

DAMO!!!!!!!

As you may recall, Friday 2nd July 2010 was the day of the jaw-dropping Brazil-Germany and the heart-breaking Uruguay-Ghana matches, so feeling the atmos in the air, Damo and I slinked off to the Atlantis Resort on the Palm thingy (an artificial peninsular built to look like a cartoon drawing on a palm tree when viewed from Google Earth – wonderfully nutty in it’s conceit) for a World Cup Pool Party.

And yes, it was as awesome as it sounds!!

Bikinis, Booze, Brazil – over one thousand people from every single corner of the planet. Damo’s mates did their best to get me so drunk I could barely see. A group of lads recognised me off the telly (Nat Geo Adventure have been hammering the Graham’s World trailers like you wouldn’t believe) and came over for a chat to see how the journey was going. Yey! Fame at last! When you start getting recognised by random people it’s time to buck up your ideas, level up and fly straight. I mean, I guess I’m kinda like a worldwide ambassador for National Geographic now – and Lonely Planet and even the BBC. I can no longer revel in the joy of complete anonymity and must never again make a fool of myself in public.

My first fans!

Ahahahaha – sod that. I’ll start being sensible tomorrow.

Maybe 😉

Next Month (Yes, This Is The Last Entry For July)  >>>

New Twitter Feed: “EveryCountry”

If you want to follow The Odyssey Expedition and Graham’s World on Twitter, you can follow me using my shiny new account name – EveryCountry – by clicking on this link:

http://www.twitter.com/EveryCountry

EveryCountry was available and I’ve been trying to change the name on my old Twitter account for ages, but Twitter has some nutso thing going on that has been stopping me from changing anything, so I’ve had to start from scratch. We apologise for the inconvenience 😉

Days 578-582: A Passage To India

02.08.10-06.08.10:

Monday morning bright and early, the wonderful Pamela drove me to the Bur Dubai area of town and I headed over to the CMA-CGM offices to meet Barry Dinnadge, the fine chap I had met over a game of pool in Rock Bottom all those weeks ago.  As luck would have it, he’s the CMA-CGM agent who was responsible for chucking my ass on the CMA-CGM Jade.

After a cup of tea and a natter, I headed out for my last two errands of Dubai – post my tapes and old Dell Boy back to the UK and buy myself a spare battery for Sony Jim here.  Tasks done, I waved goodbye to the old place (whose culture stretches back decades) and was whisked, courtesy of Mr. Dinnadge, over to Jebel Ali port for boarding.  Of course The Odyssey wouldn’t be The Odyssey without some shenaniganing at border control.

I had gone one day over my visa.  I knew this and had called up immigration a few days ago and asked what I should do.  The nice Indian lady explained that I had a “10 day period of grace” that comes with having a UK passport.  Of course, the guys at the border control had never heard of such a thing.  Neither had they heard of an English guy coming from Saudi Arabia overland only to leave on a ship.  Unfortunately for me, neither had their computer.  As I was obviously a deranged serial killer intent on sneaking into countries with my repertoire of cleverly-faked visas, I was made to wait for an hour or so.  Wouldn’t have been so bad if the other security guards hadn’t recognised me off the telly and spent most of the time posing for photos with me.  If you know who I am, then surely you know…?

Oh —- it.  Let’s just wait, shall we?

So (eventually) I clambered aboard the good ship Jade and after introducing myself to the captain and crew, all of whom (save Vladimir the Russian) hailed from Burma, I decided to nurse my monumental headache (self imposed, I’m sure) in my cabin.

A couple of days later and we had arrived in Pakistan.  My 162nd nation of The Odyssey Grand Tour Du Monde, and one that I thought would never come.  But here I was on an overcast Wednesday in port in the Land of the Pure.

Little note about Lands of the Pures: they NEVER work.  Never in a month of Sundays.  Of course there have been many attempts in history: the British expulsion of the Jews in the 14th century, the crackdown on the Huguenots under Louis XIV, the burning of Protestants at the stake by the good queen Mary, the Nazi’s nightmarish dream of world dominated by the so-called ‘Aryan’ race, and here in Pakistan we have the case study to blow all the other case studies out of the water.

A demented dream formulated in an Oxford Common Room in the 1930s (the decade of demented dreams) of a land where Muslims can live in peace and harmony and… HA!  Yeah.  Right.  To wit: The Partition of India: 1,000,000 dead.  Two wars with India (both lost).  Hundreds of thousands dead.  A war with East Pakistan (lost!) resulting in the birth of Bangladesh.  Al Qaeda, The Taliban, suicide bombers blowing up mosques, the Massacre in Mumbai, the Kashmir conflict, nuclear proliferation, a billion coup d’etats, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto… damnit, Pakistan.  You FAIL.  You FAIL on a grand scale.  You even fail on an African scale.

You see what the problem is?  Any Land of the Pure™ will by its very nature activate and encourage the crazies.  Look at those weirdos with the curly sideburns running around Palestinian territory clutching a gun and a copy of the Bible, building settlements and, (one would assume) howling at the moon.  No other country would tolerate such nonsense from the loony fringe, but a Land of the Pure™ must, because although these are seriously unhinged individuals (who are about as in touch with reality as a coma patient with a Napoleon complex) they are members of the ‘Pure’.  Oh joy.

Anyway, I’m with Ghandi on this one (actually I’m with Ghandi on a LOT of stuff, moreso than the Indians, although to be fair, it was them who shot him), Partition was a bad, bad, bad idea.

INT. CONGRESS PARTY HQ, CLOUD CITY, 1947 – DAY

Old friends JAWALHARLAL NERHU and MOHANDAS GHANDI walk down a corridor towards a conference room, deep in conversation.

NERHU: …but I’ve just cut a deal that will keep The Empire out of here for good.

Nerhu activates a door.  It slides open to reveal… DARTH JINNAH!!

Ghandi SHOOTS his PASSIVE RESISTANCE at Jinnah, who just crumples it IN HIS FIST!

JINNAH: I would be honoured if you would join us.

NERHU (to Ghandi): He arrived just before you did. I’m sorry.

GHANDI: I bet you are.  Friend.

But here we are.  We can’t change the past, we’re kinda stuck with it.  I just don’t like places founded on religious principles – Pakistan, Israel, Vatican City, Saudi Arabia – they are all deeply silly regions which only encourage deeply silly children who have not (and will never) grow up.  I prefer places founded because people lived there and they all got along and decided it would all be in their best interests if they didn’t run about (usually, might I add, in a dress) screaming about what an invisible man who lives in the sky may or may not have said.  And blowing stuff up.

Oh, it’s nice to have got the Middle East out of the way so I can say stuff like that without fear of having my head chopped off.  No, seriously.

Anyway, as we were hitting Pakistan, it was a Security Level 2 situation on board, which pretty much meant lockdown for us passengers (that would be just me, then).  The crew did allow me to scoot down the gangplank at run about in circles in the port going w00t w00t, but only for about 30 seconds and then I had to run back onboard and hide in my cabin LIKE A COWARDLY FISH.

And that was my ‘visit’ to Pakistan.  I’m glad.  It would have been a LOT of messing to get a visa for the place and, lets face it, it’s one of the seven active warzones left on the planet (according to Wikipedia) and ginger boys with neat hats are high on the list of know-your-enemy silhouettes.

We were in Karachi Port for about a day.  On Thursday we set off towards the swirling monsoon storms that heralded our passage towards India, the great sub-continent.  One of the crew was getting promoted, so I was invited to join the chaps on a barbecue on deck.  It was like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and I was the only one wearing a hat.  Sheltered from the wind on the port side of the ship, the vessel leered menacingly in the choppy waters and the containers (hundreds of ‘em) creaked and moaned like somebody was going a little overboard on the old ghost ship sound effects.

Meanwhile we stuffed our faces with beef and chicken and pork (YES!), drank copious amounts of Becks beer and Johnnie Walker and sang to the sirens with a yo-ho-ho and a (literal) bottle of rum.  Before long I was DJing the crew aftershow and rocking out with my air guitar while the officers sung Burmese karaoke on the deck below.

Nice!

The next day the combination of the booze and the waves made me a little worse for wear, but on the Saturday we had arrived.

I had made it to India.  Country 163.  At bloomin’ last.  It’s frickkin’ AUGUST!!  I better get my skates on.

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