Day 462: The Herat of the Matter

07.04.10:

Part of the reason I’m doing The Odyssey is to prove that the world is a lot more open than people think.  If I, an ordinary bod from Liverpool, can step foot into every country in the world overland using just my British passport and a winning smile, then I think we can proudly say that our battered bewildered planet is doing better than we are otherwise led to believe.

But that’s not to say I walk without trepidation.  I would be a fool to suggest that visiting every country in the world is not without its risks, and Afghanistan is not a place to be taken lightly.  I originally planned to pop into Masar-e-Sherif from Uzbekistan, but in the end, the safest and easiest (allowing for the bananas visa regulation around these parts) route seemed to be to hit Herat (I really wish my spellchecker would stop autocorrecting that to ‘Heart’) from Turkmenistan and then proceed forthwith to Iran.  Easy.

So at first light I was already at the Afghan border, a good hour before the damn thing opened.  After milling about for what seemed like an eternity, I was the first, and quite possibly only, backpacker over the border that day.  At the Afghan side, the guy asked me if I was a tourist.  I said yes.  He flashed me a cheeky grin.  Not a terrorist then?

No.  Definitely a tourist.

Good.  Then you are most welcome in Afghanistan.

At the chickenwire fence I spotted a poppy growing.  I plucked it and slammed it shut in my Afghanistan Lonely Planet.  My first souvenir of the day.  Once over the border I found myself a shared taxi and waited for it to fill.  Within two hours I was in Herat, one of the oldest cities in the world and one that has seen its fair share of trouble over the years, not least from Ghengis Khan, whose troops pretty much murdered everything that breathed (and a few things that didn’t) in his bloody rampage through Central Asia.

Herat wasn’t treated any kinder by Tamerlane, the hero of the Uzbeks (and scourge of everybody else) who also trashed the place and nicked all its treasures, it was kicked around during The Great Game between Britain and Russia in the 19th century and was again trashed by the Soviets when they turned up in the 1970s and proceeded to kick seven shades of crap out of the old fort.  But Herat survived the Soviet invasion, it survived the brutal civil war of the 1990s, it survived the Taliban, it survived the 2001 invasion and here it is – still going strong, still doing what it does best – being the crossroads for trade for the whole of the Central Asian region.

I arrived before noon and set off to get a feel for the place.  I went into a shop to buy a combat vest and asked the guy if I could leave my backpack for a few hours, save me having to lug it around.  Sure, he said, but he did want to check there wasn’t anything untoward in it first.  I guess a little paranoia is justifiable in Afghanistan.

I headed off to the Grand Mosque – a fantastic building, just down the road from the old (and now gloriously restored) fort.  I chatted to a couple of coalition soldiers on the way.  Everyone seemed amazingly relaxed, it was hard to imagine that I was in a country still at war with itself.  It made me want to run down the street screaming ‘MY GOD WE’RE IN AFGHANISTAN AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!’ but I guess that wouldn’t have helped matters, or, in fact, been very true.  I felt remarkably safe here in Herat, I wasn’t treated any differently to how I was treated in other middle eastern countries and everyone I spoke to seemed happy to see me.

In the Grand Mosque itself I slipped in through the side entrance, removing my shoes and looking about for somebody to ask me what I was doing – nobody did, I was pretty much left up to my own devices as I walked around the central courtyard in my socks, admiring (as I always do) the calligraphy and geometric patterns on the cool stone walls.  I walked out of the front gate to the garden at the far end and there after taking this picture of me wearing my ‘Watch Out For Men With Beards’ T-shirt, I got utterly swamped by schoolkids.

The Mosque’s madrassa had just finished for the day.  All the kids wanted their picture taken with me and one of the older lads who spoke a little English chatted with me – mostly inquisitive about why I was here.  I asked if they get may tourists, and he said some but they wished there were more – he said that Herat was a peaceful peace with no trouble, and I agreed, but I said that not enough people know.  He asked me to tell people, so I guess that’s what I’m doing now.

The sad thing is that while Herat might be putting a brave face on the situation,  Afghanistan is still a dangerous place.  I asked a guy from the UN I met last week at the Afghani embassy in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) if things were getting better.  He said no, they weren’t.  If anything, they were getting worse.

Years ago, before the Soviet Invasion, Afghanistan was famed for its vineyards, which produced raisins (and presumably wine).  They were the stable, lucrative crop for this otherwise impoverished landlocked country.  Sadly, those vineyards no longer exist and the only realistic cash crop that the Afghans have these days are poppies.  But in the ridiculous world in which we live, the only people who make any kind of money out of these magical flowers of doom are the Taliban.

Now I know what you’re thinking – here goes Graham on one of his little rants about the billion reasons that drugs should be legalised.  But I’ll spare you the sermonising – it doesn’t even need to be that groundbreaking a shift in policy to help Afghanistan.  We could buy the poppies for medical purposes.  We buy poppies off Turkey for legal medical uses, why not Afghanistan?  The truth is I haven’t got a clue, but we don’t.  So 100% of the poppies farmed here go to supply junkies with their heroin™, the overwhelming majority of them European.

So while farmers cannot sell their produce legally on the open market and while junkies like Pete Doherty continue to buy heroin off the Taliban (they are the only cartel in town) the kids you see in the picture above will never be free of the cycle of violence and aggression that has marred this country for the last thirty-odd years because the Taliban (like the right-wing guerrillas in Colombia) will always have a constant and lucrative source of income.  But do you really think a self-serving arse like Pete Doherty gives a toss about the people who are murdered or maimed by the roadside bombs that his heroin™ paid for?  No, but neither (it would seem) do the governments of the world.  But that’s nothing new.

Later I returned to the shop where I had left my backpack, picking up an awesome souvenir on the way.  I stopped at a money changer to swap some US dollars for Afghan Afghanis (yes the money is called Afghanis, which I love – imagine if our currency was called ‘Brits’, or ‘Euros’… oh…) and in his little glass box of money from all over the world, my eye caught sight of an old British pound note, something that I so vaguely remember from my childhood (we replaced them with coins in 1983) that I’m not sure whether I remember them from a dream or reality.

I generally keep some money from every country I visit during the Odyssey Expedition, but it would be a bit weird for me to keep some current British wodge, so this little addition will go down a treat for the framed money montage I’m going to make when I’m done.  Bit of a weird souvenir to take from Afghanistan I know, but hell, I had my poppy and I like souvenirs that don’t weigh anything and fit neatly in my wallet.

Back in the shop, Jamal the owner wanted me to talk to his friend Ahmed who was learning English.  I chatted with Ahmed about my travels and he seemed very keen and interested, but after a while he asked me what my religion was.  The last thing I wanted was to get into a conversation about religion in Afghanistan of all places.  I fudged it and talked about peace being my religion.  Ahmed then explained that although us westerners bring with us amazing stuff like cars and televisions and mobile phones and DVDs, if we don’t read the Koran, we can never enter heaven.

This would have, in other circumstances, sparked off a discussion of the foundations of morality and whether it is more moral to be able to recite a book or live a good life of treating others how you would like to be treated.  But, as if I hadn’t pointed this out enough already, I was in Afghanistan, and so I smiled, nodded, said I’d try to get myself a copy and made my excuses and left.

Over the road was where the shared taxis left for the Iranian border.  I got ripped off by the guy who picked me up – he offered to take me for X amount, but then once we were outside of the city he told me I had to pay 4 times X amount.  This is not a reflection of Afghanis, but rather a reflection of taxi drivers who I am more than fed up with on this hullaballoo of a journey.

So we argued all the way to the border and then we argued at the border, and then a guy came to help me cross the border and told the taxi driver to stop being a gigantic arse.  That said, the driver still pursued me up until the point were got stamped out but his lack of an Iranian visa (I presume) stopped him from chasing me any further.

The Afghan border guards were as friendly as ever, as (surprisingly) were the Iranian guards, who went so far as to make me a cup of tea.

Once over the border it was straight into negotiations for a shared taxi to the city of Mashhad.  I had the front seat and we seemed to be making good time.  I was praying there was an overnight train to Tehran, as I was planning on picking up an Indian visa quick smart once I arrived.

You see, we had found a cruise ship that was leaving from Cochin in India on the 21st April and (according to my calculations) if I was the luckiest badger that ever lived, I could just make it there by the skin of my teeth – but it would require getting visas for Pakistan and India in double smart quick quick time.  It’s the last cruise of the season, so it’s imperative that I hurtle that way as quick as I can.  I’ll worry about the Arabian Peninsular later.

Unfortunately for me, a police checkpoint singled me out because I was packing heat.  No, not guns, or drugs, or bombs – but camcorder tapes.  The same thing I got snaggletoothed for in Congo (which resulted in six days spent in a fetid jail cell) and I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen again, so best foot forward and into full-on bumbling Englishman mode.  I laughed and joked at let them run through as many tapes as they liked with a huge goofy do-no-harm grin on my face.  The police guy seemed most keen on any footage that involved women of any shape or form, but none of it was as racy as he (or I) hoped.

The whole lets-see-what’s-on-your-tapes shenanigans lasted a good hour and by then my taxi had long disappeared into the setting sun.  The police guys were satisfied that my footage was boring enough to not constitute a threat to peace and stability in the region.  It cracks me up that police get so upset about a handful of camcorder tapes but blissfully ignore my 2Tb of WD Passport hard drives that hold about 200 hours of saved footage from the road.

It didn’t take long for me to find another shared taxi and a wonderful Afghan guy called Seyed who was travelling to Mashhad with his son made space for me in their cab.  Seyed worked in Iran and Afghanistan and spoke very good English.  He was a lot more positive about Afghanistan’s future than the guy I spoke to from the UN and he made good on his promise to help me get on the overnight train (it existed! Woo!) to Tehran, going so far as to accompany me to the station and then over the expressway to the ticket office (why it wasn’t in the station is anybody’s guess).  He also managed to sweet talk the ticketing guys to let me pay using my dollars (the bureau de changes were closed and the Iranian ATMs do not like the taste of foreign plastic).  Thanking Seyed profusely and marvelling at my own good fortune (which included the fact that dinner was included in the price of the ticket – I was starvin’, Marvin) I made my way on board the Tehran express.

I love trains.  Best way to travel by a mile.  Funny – before I started The Odyssey I used to hate them, well, the British ones anyway.  Now I still hate the British ones (unfriendly, overpriced, vomit comets that they are) but from Canada to Cameroon, from India to Iran – they’re just brilliant.  After a yummy rice and mystery meat dinner, I pulled down my bunk bed and let the rhythmic swaying of the train rock me to sleep, proud that I had managed to tick two countries off in just one day.  Mark my words… there won’t be too many more days like this on the road ahead.

Day 463: Iran ROCKS MY WORLD!

08.04.10:

The train pulled into Tehran central at around 9am.  I fannied about for a while trying to find somewhere that would change my US dollars before heading off to the Indian embassy.

Some of you might remember a few months ago we ran the story about Mr. Samaddar, the chap from India who holds the current world record for visiting every country in the world.  He did it flying, though, so I’m not treading on his toes with my record attempt.  Mr. Samaddar got in touch with me not long afterwards and invited me for dinner when I arrive in Dubai were he lives, and asked if I needed any help with visas and stuff.  I asked him if there was any way to get an Indian visa double-quick smart while on the road (it usually takes 10 working days).  He suggested I talk to the embassy’s consul, so that’s what I attempted to do.

While in the queue attempting to make an appointment to speak with the consul I got chatting with a wonderfully friendly Iranian guy called Arash.  I told him about my travels and he offered to show me where I could get some wi-fi action.  After I had made my appointment, we headed out on the streets of Tehran – a remarkably cool city with a cracking backdrop of soaring mountains in the distance – reminded me of Santiago in Chile.

Eventually we found an internet café and we made arrangements to meet up later.  While online I learnt two things – one was that I was now the OFFICIAL GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER for the most countries visited in one year without flying….

Kudos to Mandy and Lorna from Lonely Planet for sifting through all the evidence on my behalf.

The second thing I learnt was that this cruise from India to Sri Lanka and the Maldives was nothing but a mere apparition.  It didn’t actually exist.  Panic over, I could get my Indian visa all in good time.  But still I headed back to the Indian embassy – no harm in at least trying – if I could pick up the visa on Sunday, it would be worth the wait.  Otherwise, I’d press on to Kuwait and do the Arabian peninsular countries that I still had to visit.

But alas, it was a big no-no.  The consul was friendly enough, but it was the old no exceptions rule (yes, we all know there are exceptions, but be nice).  It looked like I’d be getting the overnight coach down south.  I headed out of the embassy and met up with Arash again, who introduced me to his mate Arsi – a big fan of Radiohead and Maggie Gyllenhaal (who isn’t?).  Arash then invited me back to his place for a bit of an impromptu party.  Awesome!

First we went out for the obligatory kebab, walking back in the rain through the streets of Tehran with us all belting out a rendition of ‘Creep’ at the top of our lungs.  We could have been walking back from the Krazy House.  When we got back to Arash’s flat he copied all 3,000 of my kick-ass iPod tracks off my hard-drive along with my copy of Secretary, which Arsi was incredibly excited about – he had never seen it thanks to Iran’s draconian censorship laws.  Then Arash pulled out the piece de resistance – a bottle of wine that he’d smuggled into the country and was saving for a good excuse.

After Arash invited a couple of his female friends around I marvelled at just how many of the stupid Iranian laws we were currently breaking.  But, you know, we’re not children in a 1950s boarding school.  Rules against alcohol, having girls round for dinner, covering your hair, all that kind of jazz… I mean, seriously… every chick in Iran (and, I’ve got to say, Persian chicks have GOT IT GOING ON!!) wears the little back hoodie uniform prescribed by the gruesome bearded old virgins who run the show, but they’re damned if they’re going to wear an inch of it more than they have to.  As a consequence, the skirts are wonderfully short (jeans and sneakers underneath) and the hoods are worn as far back as they can get away with – what’s the point of going to the hairdressers if nobody can see your damn hair?

I hear you sister!

At first Arash was planning to join me on my trip down to Shiraz, but he changed his mind after the girls turned up (I don’t blame him) and so at 11pm I was bundled into a taxi and sent on my merry way.  What top chaps!  I’m beginning to really, really like Iran… I wonder what other treats it has in store?

Day 464: Persepolis

09.04.10:

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.

Day 465: Breakfast Of Champions

10.04.10:

In what has to be the most touching thing that’s happened to me in the last 16 months of traversing the globe, last night on the bus from Shiraz, the little old lady (she must have been in her nineties) sitting in front of me who didn’t speak a word of English, turned around and offered me her phone, gesturing for me to listen to it. I put the phone to my ear and the voice on the other end introduced himself as Hossein. He explained that he was an English teacher in Khorramshahr and that I was sitting behind his grandmother.

“She’s concerned that the bus is going to get into Khorramshahr very early – at 5am, and that you’re not going to have any breakfast. She wants you to come to her home so she can make you something to eat. Would that be okay?”

If you want any more proof that the Iranians are the most beautiful people on the planet, I humbly suggest you visit the place yourself. Iran has gone straight into my top ten countries in the world, above Australia and above the US. I gratefully accepted Granny’s offer and after a short night’s kip on the bus we were picked up from the drop-off point by Hossein himself.

Hossein took his grandmother and me to her place where she laid out a Persian breakfast fit for a king – bread, eggs, jam, honey, yummy stuff I didn’t catch the name of, and more sweet sweet tea than even I could drink. Granny’s gaff was perfect for a energetic little old lady – filled to the brim with souvenirs, nick-nacks, ornaments, flowers, photographs and memories.

Hossein and Grandmother Iran

After breakfast, I said my heartfelt goodbyes to Granny – she said that I should come back to see her as soon as I’m able and that I should bring my mum because she really wanted to meet my mum. A dearer old lady I doubt I’ll ever meet. Hossein then took me to the port so I could buy my ticket to Nation 155 – Kuwait. After Hossein sorted out all my passport formalities, and while we were waiting for the ferry to arrive, we went for a walk along the Shat-al-Arab waterway.

This narrow river forms the southern border between Iran and Iraq. In 1980 Saddam Hussein (of Saddam Hussein fame) decided that Iraq should have full control of the waterway and began one of the longest, bloodiest and most pointless wars of the 20th century (and, let’s face it, there are many to choose from). Over one million people died in a ten year war that saw trench warfare and gas attacks used for the first time since World War I.

The West, which was still pissed at Iran over the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the Shah (the King) was deposed by a bunch of religious zealots seemingly hell-bent on dragging Iran back to the 14th century, officially supported Iraq in this patently unfair landgrab. Unofficially, the West supplied both sides with weapons, prolonging the war and keeping the Islamic forces fighting amongst themselves in good old fashioned divide-and-conquer style.

So did Hossein hold any ill-will towards the Iraqis? Surprisingly, no. He has friends and family in Basra. Again, I’m reminded of what my Algerian friend said to me – that politicians are very good at making enemies of people. Houssein remembers the war, though – being evacuated from his home in the night and the fear of not knowing what (or why) these things where happening. As a consequence of the war, taking pictures of the port or of the waterway is strictly forbidden and I was made to erase some footage that Hossein and I shot in the parking lot.

By 10am, the boat was ready to leave. I said my goodbyes and great thanks to Hossein and shuffled onto the ferry that would take me to my next nation.

The journey was fun – it was a mega-fast catamaran. I was given free cups of tea (of course!) and once we were out of the Shat-al-Arab I went out on deck and felt the wind on my face as the hazy grey skyscrapers of Kuwait loomed in the far distance.

I was so happy. I had come so far in the last month – through some of the trickiest countries in the world to get into overland with a British passport – Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran… and now, at last, I would be stepping into the Arabian peninsular. I have already been to Saudi, and in my mind, getting around the six other nations – Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman and Yemen, would be a piece of cake with no advance visa required for any of them.

By 2pm, we were in dock in Kuwait City. Being the only westerner on board I had to go through a bit of a rigmarole to get my visa (they weren’t expecting me!) but sure enough it came through and – even better – it was free! The customs guy welcomed me with a cup of tea (It’s as though cups of tea are mandatory for all crazy travelling guys) and then asked if I was a tourist. I said I was, and he disagreed. “No, you are not a tourist… you are a traveller!”

This worried me a bit – did I need a traveller visa? Would he pop me back on the boat to Iran for being – you know – scruffy-lookin’?

“Tourists wear fancy clothes and stay at fancy hotels and do not see the world – you, my friend, you see the world.”

Phew – it was okay.

“Of course it is okay – you are British – you are most most welcome in Kuwait. You know Margaret Thatcher?”

I smiled and gave an uncertain nod. Maggie Thatcher ain’t too popular a character around my neck of the woods. I didn’t know where he was going with this…

“She is the Mother of Kuwait! – when Iraq invaded, she was the first to say no and the first to come to our defence. We in Kuwait will always be very grateful!”

I should explain that the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 by the Iraqis is still a bitter subject around here. During the aforementioned Iran-Iraq war, Kuwait (and Saudi) supported Iraq on the grounds that Iraq was mostly made up of Sunni Muslims whereas Iran was overwhelming Shi’ite. And what thanks did Kuwait get for this assistance? No sooner had the war against Iran finished, Saddam turned on little old Kuwait and attacked it with such venom, such ferocity it still has the power to shock twenty years on – men were dragged out into the streets and beaten to death, women were raped, the Kuwaiti towers used for target practice, millions of tons of oil were dumped into the Gulf and over seven hundred oil-wells were set on fire, turning day into night.

Whatever you may feel about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, know two things – first up that the first Gulf War was completely justified (and legal) as the international community has a duty to step in when one sovereign nation is invaded by another (which is why civil conflicts are so difficult to tackle) and secondly, Saddam was an utter ba****d – and don’t let any snivelling apologists like the ghastly George Galloway persuade you otherwise.

If the UN had any teeth (or balls for that matter) then leaders like Saddam, Mugabe, Kaddafi, Kim Jong-Il, Idi Amin, Pol Pot and Pinochet would have been arrested the minute they stepped foot outside their own country and thrown in jail where they belong. But no, they get given diplomatic immunity like Josh Ackland in Lethal Weapon II. A very warm welcome to the United Nations, don’t forget to pick up your freedom to murder with impunity card on the way out…

I jumped a taxi (which ripped me off) to the Kuwaiti towers. There I met with Michael, my couchsurf host from the Philippines. After dropping my bags off at his place we set off to the marina to scout out boats going to Bahrain.

To my dismay, there weren’t any. The guidebook was wrong. The ferry had stopped two years ago and nobody – really, nobody – was interested in going to Bahrain for a myriad of reasons. This was the start of my downfall. As the ground began to give way beneath my feet, a neon sign flashed up EPIC FAIL in my head.

THE ODYSSEY WORLD VISA GUIDE

One of the things that holds back many people from travelling is the prospect of wasting time and effort attempting to get into countries that would quite prefer it if you didn’t bother.  However, it is a false presumption.  In more than 150 countries worldwide you can turn up without shelling out $$$ for an invitation first.

So here’s a comprehensive list of the visa requirements for British Passport Holders for every country in the world, although it may come in useful for other nationalities as well.

I’ve split the world into four main categories: No Visa Required, Visa On Arrival, Prior Visa Required and Letter of Invitation (LOI) Required.

No Visa Required: You beauties!! Note the (very) high prevalence of prosperous, confident and democratic countries in this list.

Visa on Arrival: Not quite as good as no visa at all, but much, much less hassle than:

Prior Visa/LOI required: Crikey. What a bitch. Don’t turn up without a visa to any of the countries on this (mercifully short) list of grubby and inhospitable nations.  They will fly you straight back home again at your expense because you didn’t ask their f—ing permission first.  So go queue outside their ostentatious embassies in the pouring rain for hours, pay them a bundle of fivers and then wait and wait and wait for the privilege of visiting their stupid godforsaken country.

I find the whole process quite demeaning – it’s like having to write to someone to ask if you can attend their wedding – take the hint man, take the hint – these countries are obviously not much interested in you, or tourism in general.

Many of these countries hilariously require an onward ticket, some want you to write a begging letter to come in, others want a letter off your employer or even copies of your bank statements… remember this is not to LIVE THERE, this is just to VISIT FOR A FEW DAYS.

The worst of the worst require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) – I’ve cast these down into the very lowest rungs of hell.  Not only do you have to pay extortionate amounts of money to Ambassador Ratbag for the stamp, you also have to pay someone in the country to ‘vouch’ for you.

I would actually like a list of all of the illegal refugees and economic migrants pouring out of our rich democratic nations and claiming asylum in… Nigeria? Papua New Guinea? TURKMENISTAN?? Seriously? WHAT?

I hold Australia in particular contempt for this policy – it is the ONLY rich westernised power on an otherwise quite hellish list of paranoid basketcases.

Oh, and by the way, Aussie tourists are granted a SIX MONTH stay in the UK, upon arrival, for free.  So, Australia, when you ask me in your rasping nasal tones where the bloody hell am I – I guess I’m in a country that welcomes me with open arms rather than a punch in the face and a bill of sale.

But look on the bright side, there are 150 (other, better) countries which don’t make you beg for permission to pop in for a visit…

Here’s your at-a-glance VISA MAP OF THE WORLD:

World Visa Requirement Map
World Visa Requirement Map For British Passport Holders

NO VISA REQUIRED (WOO!)

AMERICAS
Antigua & Barbuda
Argentina
Bahamas
Barbados
Belize
Bolivia
Brazil
Canada
Chile
Colombia
Costa Rica
Dominica
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
El Salvador
Grenada
Guatemala
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras
Mexico
Nicaragua
Panama
Paraguay
Peru
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
Uruguay
USA (but you do need a prior visa if you arrive on private boat or plane)
Venezuela

EUROPE
Albania
Andorra
Austria
Belgium
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy
Kosovo
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Moldova
Monaco
Montenegro
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
San Marino
Serbia
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
UK
Ukraine
Vatican City

AFRICA
Botswana
Burkina Faso
Lesotho
Malawi
Mali
Mauritius
Namibia
Rwanda
Senegal
Seychelles
South Africa
Swaziland
The Gambia
Tunisia
Morocco

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Bahrain
Iraq (Kurdistan only, entered from Turkey)
Israel
Japan
Jordan (if you enter on the ferry from Egypt)
Kuwait
Oman
Palestine
Qatar
South Korea
Taiwan
The Maldives
UAE
Yemen

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Brunei
Fiji
Kiribati
Malaysia
Marshall Islands
Micronesia
New Zealand
Palau
Samoa
Singapore
Solomon Islands
Thailand
The Philippines
Tonga
Tuvalu
Vanuatu

VISA ON ARRIVAL

AMERICAS
Cuba (well, I got a visa on arrival, but I came on a yacht…)

EUROPE
Armenia
Turkey

AFRICA
Benin
Burundi
Cape Verde
Comoros
Egypt
Kenya
Mauritania
Mozambique
Sierra Leone
Tanzania
Togo
Uganda
Zambia
Zimbabwe

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Jordan
Lebanon
Nepal
Sri Lanka
Syria

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Burma (but only valid for border regions)
Cambodia
East Timor (though no longer available on land border with Indonesia)
Indonesia (though not available on land borders with East Timor and PNG)
Laos

That’s over 150 countries where you can get in without asking prior permission.  Now here’s the naughty list:

PRIOR VISA REQUIRED

AMERICAS
Suriname (letting the side down there somewhat)
Cuba (but I doubt they’d turn you back)

EUROPE
Belarus (no surprise there – they still have the KGB)

AFRICA
Cameroon
Central African Republic
Chad
Congo
Cote D’Ivoire
Democratic Republic of Congo
Djibouti
Eritrea (best obtained in Jeddah – next day delivery)
Ethiopia (best obtained in Nairobi – same day delivery)
Gabon
Ghana
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Liberia
Madagascar (but it’s free, so can’t complain)
Niger
Sao Tome & Principe
Sudan (best obtained in Cairo – same day delivery)

ASIA
Afghanistan
Bangladesh
Bhutan
Burma (for travel into interior)
China
India (AND now requires you to leave for 60 days between visits!)
Iraq (for travel beyond Kurdistan)
Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia
Tajikistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Australia*
Papua New Guinea
Vietnam*

*visa obtainable on arrival at airport with prior permission over internet

LETTER OF INVITATION (+ PRIOR VISA) REQUIRED

AMERICAS
N/A

EUROPE
Azerbaijan (no LOI required if visa bought in Georgia)
Russia

AFRICA
Algeria*
Angola*
Equatorial Guinea*
Libya (AND you must pay for a ‘guide’)
Nigeria*
Somalia*

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Iran
Kazakhstan
North Korea
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia*
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Nauru

*To make matters worse, these visas can only be obtained in your country of origin (although it is possible to get a Nigerian visa from Ghana and an Algerian visa from Mali if you’re lucky).

Right.  That’s it.  If there are any mistakes/updates/excuses you’d like to make (this is pretty much all off the top of my head), please comment below.