Day M371: Icarus, Not Daedalus

Tue 02.10.12

My incredible plan for Sunday night was stay up all night drinking and partying at Chili’s Bar in Unawatuna. Then I was to take first express bus back to Colombo at 6am AS I HAD WORK TO DO!!

I had to take my passport, photos, application form, cruise tickets, air-tickets, bank statements, itinerary, inside trouser measurement and father’s maiden name to the Madagascan Consulate in order to get my Madagascan visa (third time lucky!). Then I had to go to the Indian High Commission and ask them (very nicely) if they would be so kind as to give me my visa a little bit quicker.

All went surprisingly swimmingly. I got the Madagascan visa there and then. The lady at the Indian High Commission told me to come back in the afternoon. I headed over to the shopping mall’s foodcourt and hooked myself up to the free internets. Thanks to the magnificent Dino Deasha, the confirmation of the ship to India came through from Dioryx in the early afternoon, as did the green light from CMA-CGM headquarters in France. I couldn’t believe it. This is it. The final piece of the puzzle. The pathway home is there, confirmed, I’ve finally done it. Sri Lanka to India, India to Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, Madagascar to Africa.

It’s over. I won.

After promising Dino I would commission a golden statue of him riding Battlecat from He-Man (he would be sporting a golden mullet and clutching the Sword of Omens in one fist and the World Cup in the other) I called the local shipping agent here in Colombo to sort out the nitty-gritty. He asked me to bring my passport over to the CMA-CGM offices once I had the Indian visa in hand, which would hopefully be at around 4.30pm that afternoon.

In the event, I was made to wait around for a bit in the High Commission and thanks to traffic being a bit of a nightmare, it was 5.45pm by the time I got to the office. Thankfully the shipping agent was still there. My visa was scanned and I was made to write out a declaration of what equipment I would be taking on board. Done this kind of thing a zillion times before, no big deal thinks I.

CMA-CGM have been nothing short of amazing on this adventure, stepping in to help me out of some of the most trickiest fixes that I’ve encountered along the way, and for that I am eternally grateful. What happened next was by no means their fault, or Dioryx’s for that matter. I’m going to give as balanced as an account as I can, bearing in mind I’m still in Sri Lanka now writing this and, as I learnt in Cape Verde, you don’t cut off the branch while you’re still sitting on the damn thing.

So, just as I was leaving the office, the shipping agent told me that he wanted to send my Indian visa – the one that stated ‘ENTRY: COCHIN – BY SHIP’ quite clearly on the visa itself – to the Immigration people in Cochin to ensure that I’d be allowed to get off the ship. This seemed a bit of overkill to me as a) my unusual form of entry was clearly stated on my entry visa and b) I’ve entered India by ship before, on a CMA-CGM ship from Pakistan.

Even *if* the authorities in India decided, weirdly, to not allow me into the country, no harm done: the cruise ship is living from the very same port. I could – and would – quite literally sleep in the port until it was time to go. The idea that I’d be forced to stay on the ship to its next port of call, Egypt, which would require me to pass through the High Risk Area for piracy, is quite frankly ludicrous and something the good people at Dioryx in Greece and CMA-CGM in France did not even consider… well that is until the local agent here pointed out this one in a million possibility.

But, that’s okay, we’ve got a day to play with, right? The ship isn’t even coming in until 1400 tomorrow. We’d be able to get the green light from India in the morning and be on the ship by tea-time. Splendid.

Or so I thought…

It was now getting dark and I didn’t feel like there was anything more to be done today, so I thanked the local agent and jumped in a taxi to go meet up with Carl the Friendly Yank from last week at the pub for a celebratory beer. My friend Daniel Zainulbhai who I played backgammon with in Dubai is in Colombo for the Twenty-20 Cricket World Cup and so he came along as well. It was good to catch up over a brew, have to say though, my earlier confidence that THE REST OF MY LIFE (because that’s what this is) was back on track had taken a bit of a knock. I mean, come on, surely the port authority guys in Cochin would say yes. Of course they would.

But that nagging doubt was creeping up my spine… I’ve been here before, I’ve been here before, I’ve been here before…

So, so many times it’s not funny.

I’ve been here before.

At 9pm, I figured it was time for me to head back up to Negombo. I said what I hoped to be my last goodbye to Daniel and Carl and by 10.30pm I was back at my old friend Sachal’s place. Unfortunately, Sachal is still away. I was good to stay there and everything, but I was gutted I was going to miss the geezer who without a shadow of a doubt is the greatest dinner party host of all time. Ho-hum. I headed over to Rodeo for one final bottle of Lion Lager and that night I slept rather fitfully. Which is damn unusual for me.

I’ve been here before.

At 7am I was up an’ at ’em, gathering my things together and getting on the bus to Colombo.

Here it was, the day of days. The day that would define the rest of my life. I can’t stress this enough: if I don’t get on this ship, chances are I’m going to miss the ONE cruise that goes ONCE A YEAR from India to Maldives to Seychelles to Madagascar.

I cannot take a cargo ship to The Maldives or Seychelles because of piracy and I there are so few yachts (and cruises) in the area I could be waiting until Kingdom Come before I see dear old Blighty again.

If I don’t get on this ship, I can’t begin to explain how f—ed I am. I can’t start my next project until this is over. I cannot earn any money until this is over. I cannot continue my life until this is over. Mandy waited as long as she could, she waited 3 and a half years, but she could wait no longer. I’m breaking up here, I’m honestly struggling to keep it together. This journey has cost me too much. Too much money, too much heartache, too many missed opportunities, too little achieved: check out how little I’ve raised for WaterAid, how few people read this blog, how I got right royally screwed over by the TV people, how I SOMEHOW still don’t have a publisher for my book. It gets to me, it really does. I’m sure that I’m fairly good at what I’m doing, but now and again I get a crisis of confidence when all I want to do is howl at the moon, admit defeat and return to Britain a heroic failure who came so close, so so close, but gave up seeking that one yes after too many noes.

Don’t forget – it was the start of JUNE that I arrived in Sri Lanka. It’s now the start of OCTOBER. This is getting beyond a joke.

By 9am I was in the old foodcourt with the free internet hitting REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH like a crazy badger. They couldn’t say no, they wouldn’t say no.

Would they?

Well, as it transpired we would never get a chance to find out. Today is a public holiday in India and so (as odd as this sounds), the immigration people in Cochin were off work. Dino (in the UK) and I started sending some frantic emails back and forth to Dioryx and CMA-CGM: I’d sign a special Letter of Indemnity which would see me sued to death and quite possibly jailed should I not be allowed off the ship. I have the visa – signed by the attaché – that specifies that I may enter India through just one port, Cochin, and that entry must be made on a ship. I have press contacts in India who would be very interested in hearing how I was not allowed into India with an official Indian visa. Everything, anything, just PLEASE let me on this ship.

And then, just after 1pm, it happened.

I got a call from the Port Agent. Where are you? I’m coming to pick you up to take you to the ship..

OH MY GOD.

I’ve done it!

I’ve f—ing well done it! I’m going to the ship. The Odyssey Expedition is FINALLY FINALLY GOING TO END!! After 1,371 days on the road for the first time EVER I know, I KNOW I’m going to make it. I’m going to do it. I’m going to be the FIRST PERSON IN THE WORLD TO GO TO EVERY COUNTRY WITHOUT FLYING!!!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I’ll admit I danced a f—ing jig.

Then, just as I was putting my video camera back in my bag, I got a call off the local shipping agent, the one who was a bit funny with me the day before.

We have no word from India.

Yes, I know, but Dioryx have said it doesn’t matter, the Port Agent is coming…

That is what I am trying to tell you sir, you will not be getting on the ship.

But the Port Agent is coming…

I have told him to come back. We have informed France that you will not be boarding the vessel.

I tried to reason with him, but he wasn’t having any of it.

I checked my emails, texts off Dino went back and forth, one last round of begging, but no, the die had been cast.

*I failed.*

Dino’s golden statue of him riding Battlecat from He-Man would have to wait. And so will you, my loyal Odysseans, we’ve come this far together, through hell and high water, you’ve been taken around the world by one of the most ridiculous people on one of the most ridiculously idiotic and underfunded adventures of all time. Don’t worry, I’ll get there. IF I HAVE TO SWIM I WILL GET THERE.

198 of 201. I did not come this far to be beaten by Sri Lanka, of all places.

I will fight. And I will win.

Day 1,387: The Maldeviants

Sat 20.10.12:

Friday was spent at sea, familiarising myself with the ship. Good news: the bars are open until 2am. Bad news: I don’t have enough money to drink. I’ve got about £400 left to get me from here to Liverpool, through at least 15 countries. Can it be done? Probably not, but that why God invented credit-cards eh?

The ship is lovely, the food is tasty and plentiful (although I’m not eating much these days) and the staff are brilliant. Of course there’s a certain amount of loneliness that comes of being the only person on the ship on my own, but I’m quite an outgoing going chap, so not to worry. In any case, gives me some more time to work on my scripts (and that taster, Mike ;-)).

So Saturday I woke with the lark to find a city floating past my porthole. This was a trifle bizarre, but only because I’ve never been to Male’ before. Male’, the capital of The Maldives (apostrophe intentional), is one of a ring of islands encircling North Male’ atoll. The Maldives is made up of 26 of these gigantic atolls, which between them encompass 1,192 islands (more or less depending on the tide). But, more importantly……..

It be THE MALDIVES!!!

I MADE IT!!!

Oh my Gods, there’s an outside chance I might just finish this yet……….

Male’ isn’t the tropical beach resort destination that you think of when you think Maldives. It’s a rectangle-shaped city, sitting on the water, every last inch taken up with buildings. There is a beach, but it’s an artificial one… they had to import the sand. If you want to see those resorts you see in the holiday brochures, you need to pay a man in a boat to take you there. But as I’m strenuously attempting to send less than zero on this cruise, I was content to do walk a lap of the city: a walk of less than 3km.

The highest point of Male’ is just two metres above sea-level, which makes Male’, and The Maldives in general, the second most endangered country in the world from climate change after Tuvalu http://theodysseyexpedition.com/category/tuvalu. But while Tuvalu only has around 10,000 inhabitants, The Maldives has over 400,000. There’s going to be no country willing to grant 400,000 people asylum when the waters rise. And, believe me, they will rise. They’ll rise because every peer-reviewed scientific paper in the world on the matter of climate change says it will. It will for the same reason that we can predict the next appearance of Halley’s Comet, the next transit of Venus, the same reason that the Curiously Rover landed safely on Mars and Felix Baumgartner landed safely from his skydive from the edge of space. The same reason that Peter Higgs predicted the existence of a Boson fifty years ago, which was only recently proven by the largest and most complicated scientific apparatus in the solar system, the same reason that GPS satellites suffer from the minute differences in time predicted by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity over 100 years ago and for the same reason that new research into the genome of all living things has proven Charlie Darwin right, right and right again.

BECAUSE SCIENCE, BITCHES!!

If you choose to believe tabloid newspapers, politicians, Fox News and oil companies in regard to the matter of climate change, you’re a bloody fool. A reckless fool. That is all.

There wasn’t a lot to see on Male’. The Sultan’s palace was all but destroyed in 1968, with only one small outbuilding left standing. Something else you need to know about the city of Male’: there is no alcohol. Like, none. Not even in your hotel minibar or anything. But not to worry, I had a SECRET PLAN.

Last July when I was tramping my way around Sri Lanka, I went for a night out with the Colombo massive, a night that ended in me taking a rather inexplicable trip to Galle with a rather fetching Croatian girl called Anita. This kind of thing happens a lot in my life, it’s nothing to worry about.

As luck would have it, Anita’s latest assignment dropped her, just one week ago, in the Maldives. Hell yeah! So at 6pm I trotted over to the Beehiva Nalahiya Hotel to meet with Anita. She had a hotel apartment (seriously – I never knew these things even EXISTED before Colombo – isn’t that hilarious?) with her colleague Augustine who hailed from France. And so us Euro-types set off in search of a boozy night out. Luckily for us, the airport of The Maldives is not situated on Male’ island, it’s on the nearby Hulhule island of. Ferries make the 15 minute journey all night and there’s a hotel there. With a bar. And in the bar you will find (oh yes) sweet, life affirming beer. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems (© H. Simpson 1997).

Dunno why, but beer tastes better when it’s (kinda) illicit. In other news, my Maldives guidebook needs updating: it says that the president is still Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the guy who’s been in charge since 1978 and doesn’t take kindly to criticism. Like Russelll Crowe, if he was in charge of a country and a possessed a specially sharpened mobile phone. But in the last couple of years there have been developments. In 2008, the rather tyrannical Gayoom lost his position to a guy called Mohamed Nasheed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_Nasheed, ‘the Mandela of The Maldives’, a nice guy (educated at John Moores Uni in Liverpool, no less) who was pretty much forced to resign at gunpoint last February and was succeeded by Mohammed Waheed Hassan, his vice-president… DON’T YOU JUST *LOVE* AFRICAN-INDIAN-MIDEAST politics?? A shining example to us all.

Well, at least Hassan is promising a *real* election come July next year. If it happens, it’ll be The Maldives’ first free and fair election since independence from Britain in 1968.

But I have an interesting fact about the Maldives: it’s one of the few Islamic nations in the world that allows Israeli citizens to visit. And speaking of The Maldives as a Muslim nation… you do realise that today I broke a brand new world record…?

I’m now the first person since Ibn Battuta in the 1300s to visit every Islamic nation on Earth without flying. And he never went to Brunei! So I win!!

If you’ve never heard of the great Moorish traveller Ibn Battuta, you should really look him up – his memoirs are hilarious. When he came to the Maldives in 1343, he married three different women and then had to flee the country – never to return – when it transpired he couldn’t afford the dowries. He’s the Marco Polo of the Arab World and – I have to say, a little more honest about his experiences than Mr. Mint-With-The-Hole was.

Ibn Battuta’s travels around the known world. Look familiar?

And so on into the night we put the world to rights. Saturday night is the equivalent of Sunday night here, and everyone – including Anita and Augustine – had work in morning. Thinking about it, so did I.

I’ve still got a shed load of work to do in order to get me to South Sudan and then back home before Christmas. Two of the nightmare visas – Mozambique and North Sudan – have been left in the capable hands of my top mate Lindsey in London. There’s still a zillion things to do before you see me back in the UK. I just hope to hell I get there before Christmas, I have fish to fry.

The following morning I was up with the lark (for some reason) and frantically updating this site (TWO NATIONS LEFT TO GO!!!) for the first time since June. I said my tatty-byes to the gorgeous Anita, who I will no doubt see again in some far-off places, and returned to the ship. We set sail at 1pm, set sail for the TWO HUNDREDTH COUNTRY of The Odyssey Expedition… The Seychelles.

Graham Hughes and Anita Matic: The Quantum Leapers

The end is in sight, dear reader. 199 down, 2 to go. BRING IT.