So here we are, 180 countries down and just 20 to go – it’s mad to think that I only left Shanghai just over two weeks ago, and in that time I’ve managed to visit Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – and with any luck I’ll be in Brunei (181) before close of play tomorrow and the Philippines (182) by the end of this week (typhoons permitting). But if you think I’m “nearly there”, think again. Every single remaining state is an island nation and none of them have anything approaching an international ferry service. This could take a looooooooong time.
A loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.
Here’s a draft of a sketch of a inkling of The Plan from here to the end of The Odyssey Expedition. But as always, everything is open to change.
183: East Timor
There is a Pelni (Indonesia’s national ferry service) ship that goes from Denpaser in Bali to Kupang in (West) Timur. I’ll be crossing the border, then sitting in Dili for a few days while I apply for (yet) another Indonesian visa.
After returning to Kupang, I will take a Pelni ship to West Papua. From there I hope to persuade a swashbuckling yachtie to take me to the South-West Islands of Palau: only a few hundred kilometres north (as opposed to the capital Koror which is a thousand kilometres away). I’ll then be coming straight back to West Papua.
185. Papua New Guinea
Just a case of crossing the border from West Papua.
186. Solomon Islands
If I island-hop through PNG and make it to Bougainville, I should be able to take a canoe over the short hop to the Shortland Islands and tick the Solomons off the list. From there I should be able to island-hop via Gizo to Guadalcanal, the main island.
And here’s when it becomes REALLY tricky…
Have a gander at this map of the Pacific Island states I knocked out on the back of a napkin…
Take a note of the scale!!! From the Marshall Islands down to Fiji I’m going to have a cover a distance approximately the same as from Darwin to Melbourne via Sydney. This is no Caribbean Island hop, these are gargantuan chucks of bitchin’ ocean I have to cover.
The only options open to me are hitching a ride on cargo ships and cruise ships. Cyclone season starts at the end of this month (and continues to May) so yachts are right out. Even if someone was mad enough to take me, it would just be too dangerous – I mean, have you SEEN A Perfect Storm? Ygads!
So here’s the sketch of how I’m going to do this…
The isolated (and isolationalist) island of Nauru is really hitting hard times these days. The rich phosphate deposits that secured the island’s finances are now completely depleted (as of this year), leaving an impoverished island in the middle of nowhere that is going to be a real bitch to get to – it’s the only Pacific Island where you need a visa and an invitation to ruck up. Seriously guys? Seriously?
My hope is that I can hop a supply/cargo ship from The Solomons north to The Marshall Islands, one that stops at Nauru along the way. But these things may only come once every few months.
Micronesia (like jungle) is massive, stretching across a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean. The bit I’m interested in is an island called Kosrae in the far east of the nation, which I could use as a stepping stone to…
189. The Marshall Islands
I lie awake at night fretting about ever reaching The Marshall Islands. So far from just about anywhere they cajole and torment me in my dreams. But if this semi-mythical cargo ship can take me there, I’d be one happy Odyssey bunny.
If a cargo ship has got me this far, maybe it can take me a little further: to the western half of Kiribati. From there at least I know I can take a Kiribati Shipping Services ship (which comes once every couple of months) down to…
Here I’ll have to make the decision whether to stay on the Kiribati Shipping Services ship to Fiji or swing a left to:
Again, this place is a little off the beaten track, but it’s position between the US Samoan islands and Fiji means that if I’m lucky, I might be able to find something that can float me to:
If I get here, the hump should be over: I’ll be on the cruise ship circuit. Hopefully in return for entertaining the troops with tales of my adventures (and possibly the odd song and dance routine), I’ll be allowed to hitch a ride on a cruise to:
Fiji seems to have the best international transport links with the region, and I may regret not coming here first, but if all works out, I should be able to stay on the same cruise ship through the Fijian islands and on to:
And then onto:
196. New Zealand
My original final destination, things have changed a little since I failed to reach Sri Lanka, Maldives and The Seychelles. It shouldn’t be too hard to find something to ship me to:
Arriving in Sydney (because I owe Alex Zelenjak a pint in The Three Monkeys), I’ll be headed down to Melbourne and kidnapping my long-suffering girlfriend Mandy for the trip across the Nullabor all the way to Perth. If I can find a cruise that is going to Europe or South Africa, there’s a good chance it will stop at: 198. Sri Lanka, 199. Maldives and 200. The Seychelles.
Then I’m done, right? Er, right… as long as no new nations are created between now and the end of this. Like, say, South Sudan…
CAN YOU HELP?
If you have any contacts in the South Pacific who are involved in shipping or cruises, please pass them on via the CONTACTS page. In return for helping me finish The Odyssey in one piece I’m willing to give plenty of publicity to any company or individual that would like to get involved.
I’m currently in the midst of a rather epic challenge – one that I hope you might be interested in joining me in: I’m trying to step foot in every country in the world, and attempting to do so without flying. I’m doing this to raise funds and awareness for the international charity WaterAid.
I work with Lonely Planet, National Geographic and BBC Worldwide. The first series of my self-filmed TV show, Graham’s World, is currently showing on the Nat Geo Adventure channel (Foxtel) and I was the star guest on Channel Nine’s Today Show last Saturday. You can watch the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeaR_RW7Zu4
Over the last two years, I’ve managed to visit an incredible 184 countries around the world, from Uruguay to Iceland, South Africa to Turkmenistan; on my own, on a shoestring and without flying. With only 17 more countries to visit, I’m now setting my sights on the Pacific Ocean nations of Oceania.
BUSINESS IN GREAT WATERS
I’m looking for somebody – it could be you, a friend, a colleague or your mum – who owns their own sailing ship and is looking for an epic adventure on the high seas. While I’m happy to pay for food, drink and fuel, but this would not be a commercial enterprise – I’m seeking somebody who wants to do this for fun, a bit of fame, to raise money for the charity WaterAid… and claim their very own Guinness World Record: THE FASTEST SEA JOURNEY TO EVERY COUNTRY IN OCEANIA.
From Australia, one amazing journey will take us to Papua New Guinea, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand… and back to Australia.
FORTUNE AND GLORY
Of course, this would be no small undertaking. We are talking here of a journey of over 10,000 nautical miles. It won’t be easy, but then Guinness World Records never are!
I travel solo, I don’t have a film crew or any bulky equipment. I have extensive sailing experience on the open sea, having been first mate on international voyages in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. I’m aware that for many boat owners, their vessel is their home and I’m more than happy to meet any prospective skippers in person before they reach a decision.
I’m not looking for anything fancy, fast, luxurious or even particularly comfortable, the only requirements I’ve got are that the ship be sea-worthy, insured and fitted with an international distress beacon in case of emergency.
I’m also open to the possibility of doing a smaller leg of the journey, sayAustraliato PNG to Palau and back. (Although they’d be no world record for you in that!)
I’m ready to leave as soon as possible from anywhere in Australia. Would YOU be interested in stepping up to the mantle? Prove to your family and friends that your boat is more than an expensive toy: show them that it’s an expression of freedom and adventure, feel the call of the ocean, leave all you troubles behind and join me on the voyage of a lifetime… fortune and glory await!
WOW. No, seriously, WOW. Talk about saving the best for last. PALAU YOU ROCK MY WORLD!! Straight into my top five countries, methinks. My number one pick in the ‘Tropical Island Paradise’ category. And I should know, I’ve been to a truck load of ’em.
I don’t know, you wait ages to visit a Pacific Island nation, and then two come along in as many days. We arrived in the port on the island of Malakal (a short distance from the main island of Koror) at around 10am. The first bit of good news was that the ship would be staying overnight, not leaving at 4pm as originally intended. This meant there was an outside chance of me seeing Jellyfish Lake while I’m here.
Jellyfish Lake in the Rock Islands of Palau is a true natural wonder of the world – a lake teeming with a unique species of jellyfish – a species that only exists in one place on the planet: Jellyfish Lake. Since these jellies have no natural predators, over thousands of years they have lost their sting – so it’s perfectly safe to go swimming with them.
I did not want to come all the way to Palau and miss out. After clearing customs I met with Perry, the ship’s agent. He told me that to go to the island of jellyfish lake would cost a small fortune – perhaps as much as $500. This is because all the tours leave at 8am in the morning – to leave now would mean chartering my own speedboat for the day. Expensive stuff.
There was an outside chance that a half-day tour might be leaving around 1pm, so Perry put his two best men – RJ and Bong – on the job. But first I had to walk down the gangway into my ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY-SEVENTH COUNTRY of The Odyssey Expedition – and the LAST of the Pacific Nations.
As you can imagine, I danced a goddamn jig.
RJ and Bong (great name!) ran me around to Fish n’ Fins, but they wouldn’t bite. Then we went to IMPAC, but again we left with nothing. Finally, we tried SAM’S TOURS, not far from the port. Maybe they’d be willing to take me to the Island of the Jolly Jellies.
Happily, my TV programme ‘Graham’s World’ is showing here in Palau and so I played the card. I may have been paid, well, nothing for my hard work on the show (after all, I did only work on the project every day for 14 months devising, shooting, presenting and organising all the travel so I guess it’s fair enough that I made a massive loss on the deal), but the fact it gets repeated ad nauseum on the Nat Geo Adventure Channel does come in rather handy in situations like this when I need a special favour (although royalties… why don’t I even get royalties??!).
The nice lady in the shop went to get one of the managers, Mark from America, and after a bit of bob’s-your-uncle he offered me a deal – I could go out on a speedboat of my own with a local driver called Ray and spend as long as I liked swimming around with the jellyfish. YEY!!
As a consequence, this blog entry is brought to you by the good folk at SAM’S TOURS. If you’re in Palau, look no further than SAM’S TOURS – the best tour guys in the nation. They even supplied me with a free hat – it’s no magic kanga hide, but when you’re 10 degrees north of the equator and that noonday sun is beaming down on your balding crown, you do not look such a splendiferous gift-horse in the mouth. It has SAM’S TOURS written across it in big friendly letters.
As we were pulling out of the dock of SAM’S TOURS, a couple were walking along the jetty. I was filming our getaway so I shouted over to them to wave for the camera. ‘Graham?!’ was the reply… it was Martin and Corinna – the yacht couple I met in Tuvalu back in December. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?!
‘MEET ME HERE AT SIX!’ I shouted across the water. ‘CAN WE MAKE IT SEVEN?!’ Martin shouted back. ‘NO PROBLEM! SEE YOU THEN!’. And we were on our way.
It takes about 40 minutes to get to the island of Jellyfish Lake – 40 minutes through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen – Palau’s Rock Islands.
Now I want you to imagine Monument Valley in the US. Got it? Okay, now imagine all of those rocks are covered in dense green foliage, the deepest, most vibrant green you’ve ever seen. Now set the rocks out in the clear blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and erode the lower few feet of the rocks so they not only look like giant stone mushrooms, they also make it next to impossible for humans to climb up them.
And there you have Palau’s Rock Islands: mother nature at her finest, untouched and unspoilt by man. Believe me, there are few places left in the world with such a boast.
One of the rocks looks like Homer Simpson lying down, another looks like an elephant. A spectacular natural rock bridge marks the ‘entrance’ to the Rock Islands, and once you’re in the national park, there are hundreds of these islands to feast your eyes on.
We arrived at Jellyfish Lake island around 1pm. To get to the lake, you have to climb up and over a rocky ridge – something that you have to undertake in these crazy little diving booties they give me at SAM’S TOURS. A word of warning – avoid the sharp rocks… ouch! Before you set off over the ridge, you have to show your pass and dip your feet in disinfectant to prevent any parasites or foreign invaders such as algae getting into the lake and killing all the jellyfish.
At the moment, the pass to visit the lake is $35. I’m one of the lucky ones. After June, the price is going to go up to $100. That’s just for the pass, not transport and stuff. The reason being is that too many people are visiting the lake, and it’s not good for the jellies. In fact, when I arrived, there must have been about 50 people in the lake – mostly Japanese tourists.
But they were on a schedule. I wasn’t. So I bided my time. Eventually everybody left and for a moment I was the only human being in the world in this magical lake teeming with jellyfish.
I had been kitted out with a snorkel and flippers, courtesy of the good folk at SAM’S TOURS. And a-snorkling I did go.
Beneath the surface, it was jellyfish as far as the eye could see. Thousands of translucent pulsating boobs gently drifting through the clear waters. Most had an X in the middle of their bells and eight broccoli-like tentacles coming out of their rear. I found one with a Y who only had six tentacles and wondered if that was like finding the Jellyfish Lake equivalent of a four-leafed clover.
The lake is salt water, so you can float without much effort. Lying face down on the surface, staring into this alien world… it was like floating in space, only surrounded by hundreds of friendly jellyfish. One of the more remarkable things about these creatures is that they are solar-powered – seriously, they live off photosynthesis!
After an hour or so with my wibbly wobbly chums, I gently made my way back towards the path on the far side of the lake. The water got noticeably warmer as I got nearer the exit and the large jellyfish were now few and far between, but what’s this? At first it was just one tiny polyp, a perfect tiny version of the big ’uns elsewhere. And then there were ten, then fifty, then a hundred… and then POW! MILLIONS of them! Please don’t think I’m exaggerating. To swim in a swarm of countless tiny jellyfish was just magical – an experience I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.
If you want some idea of how frikkin’ awesome Jellyfish Lake is (and just how many jellies there are!), check out this clip from the BBC’s South Pacific documentary:
Epic eh? How do you top THAT?! On our way back to Malakal, Ray stopped off at Clam City – a coral reef that is home to dozens of the BIGGEST GODDAMN CLAMS you have ever seen. Seriously – you could hide in these things. Some tourists were there and somebody must have asked the question if these crusty old behemoths were actually alive. In order to answer that question, their local guide swam down to the ocean floor and gently stroked one. It responded by snapping shut with some angry bubbles thrown in for good measure. Cool!
After Clam City, we dropped by Cemetery Reef – so called because it’s shaped like a giant tomb. By now it was way after 4pm, so all the other tour groups had returned to Koror. Once again, I got the place to myself. Ray moored up alongside a buoy and off I went for a paddle. Bear in mind that I only saw 1% of what Palau has to offer. There are dive sites extraordinaire, there are ancient cities, stone faces reminiscent of Easter Island, there are WWII wrecks and hundreds of islands to explore. Once you pay for your $35 pass to enter the Rock Islands, your pass is valid for 10 days and you may camp on the accessible islands (those with beaches) FOR FREE. I can’t stress this enough: PALAU IS FRIKKIN’ AWESOME, PEOPLE!
And I haven’t even got to the best bit yet: the local beer, Red Rooster, is feckin’ SUPERB. Even the Germans I met were raving about it.
Palau seems to have the perfect balance of amenities (mostly on Koror Island – outside Koror and you are seeing some real Pacifika), areas of outstanding natural beauty, tropical climate, white sand beaches, ancient ruins, hiking trails, dive sites, turquoise lagooooooons, mango trees, multicoloured fish, giant clams, great local beer and lakes filled with magic jellyfish. It’s taken three years, three months and twenty six days, but I’ve finally found my heaven, and as Belinda Carlisle once tried to inform us, it is indeed a place on Earth.
Give me ten days laying on a hammock in the shade of the coconut trees in the Rock Islands, a cold beer and a good book: it would be the sum of all bliss.
After Cemetery Rock, Ray ran me back to SAM’S TOURS. SAM’S TOURS also doubles as the yacht club and there’s a bar there that’s open until 9pm. I had a good chat with Mark, met a load of yachties on their way to or from their boats and sat down and had a good old chin-wag with Martin and Corinna. I had last seen them in December in Tuvalu. Since then I’ve been to Wallis, Futuna, Tuvalu (again), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Solomon Islands, Kiribati (again), Nauru, Australia (again), Taiwan, Okinawa, Saipan, Guam and The Federated States of Micronesia.
So it was probably a good thing I didn’t jump ship from the Southern Pearl and join them on their yacht: in fact, they didn’t visit Kiribati on the way over here (the current was too strong for their yacht coming into Tawara), so if I had been with them, we would now be in Palau and I’d still have five more Pacific Nations to get to.
A single graceful arc around the Pacific would have been nice, my current GPS map looks like it’s been scribbled on by a five-year old, but judging by how long it’s taken Martin and Corinna to get this far, I dodged a bullet by not getting on that magic yacht (which probably never existed anyway) that was promised me back in Australia last year.
Well, we’re done, that’s the Pacific leg over. Only took me 16 months…!
After plenty of Red Rooster lager, Martin and Corinna, as well as our new American chums were ready to call it a night. Of course, I wasn’t, so I said goodbye to SAM’S TOURS, rambled back over to the port, grabbed a quick shower and change of clothes and headed out to meet with Perry, the local port agent from this morning. We headed over to Kramers, a German bar, where they were watching the Champion’s League Semi-Final of Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid.
Of course the bearded Germans at the bar were supporting Munich, but after being told by the owner René that I was on for free drinks for the rest of the night on account of my fantastical adventures (I’m seriously considering knocking England off the top of my League of Nations in favour of Palau), I was supporting Munich all the way.
After far too much to drink, Perry and I teamed up with a few of the young guns from Kramers and headed out into the night. We ended up at some club, at which point the night becomes something of a blur.
By the time I woke up the next afternoon, the Mell Sembawang was well underway; the nation of Palau now a distant, but perfect, memory.