Day 662: Surviving Zamboanga

24.10.10:

After a (much needed) lie-in I head out to the park ‘Jardin Maria Clare Lobregat’ with Jenn, safe in the knowledge that ladyboys to Muslim fundamentalists are like garlic to vampires.  Maria Clare Lobregat was the previous and (seemingly very popular) mayor of Zamboanga and this delightful park, filled with birds and butterflies, was built in her memory.

Funny – here’s me expecting Beirut in the 1980s.  However, all is not sweetness and light – there are parts of Zamboanga that I was told – in no uncertain terms – I was ill-advised to visit, but we stayed away from them in the same way that you’d stay away from Scunthorpe if you ever visited Britain.  Easy.

Jenn’s dream is to move to Thailand.  She currently works in Malaysia and gets on with most people there, except for the few who call her haram and ask her to leave the house.  I asked if she’d ever pulled a Crying Game on someone, but she said that she’s too honest.

Later we headed down to the waterfront where there are loads of cafes and bars (sadly none serving alcohol today).  There’s a stage for concerts and a large outdoor cinema screen for films.  Cool!  There we met up with some of Jenn’s mates.  I’ve met loads of Filipinos already on my travels, especially on the many boat journeys I’ve been on and they have to be some of my favourite people in the world – always ready to smile and laugh and everybody just seems so damn happy to see me.

Later on that evening, we were having a coffee when Jenn told me that the current mayor of Zamboanga – Marie Clare Lobregat’s son, Celso, was sitting on the table behind us.  Jenn introduced us and Celso and I had a good chat about Zam and he introduced me to most of the top brass of the local government who he was having coffee with.  Can’t be too bad of a place if here are all the city councillors out having a drink in the open.  I somehow couldn’t imagine the top brass of Detroit doing the same.

So to sum up my weekend: Friday: Orang-Utans, Saturday: Muslim fundamentalists, Sunday: Ladyboys.  Shame we didn’t all meet up in the same place, it would have made one hell of a tea-party.

Day 663: And The World Will Be Better For This

25.10.10:

I was woken by Jenn knocking on my hotel room door at 7.25am.  It was time to go.  We grabbed some breakie in the Chowking restaurant downstairs and then headed out to the ferry office to buy my return ticket to Borneo – this time I thought I’d splash out and get a berth in a four-person cabin.  The ship was due to leave at midday, so we had time to go to the supermarket and grab some supplies (wet-wipes, mainly) and then it was down to the docks through the surprisingly cheerful mean-streets of Zamboanga.

I said my fond farewells to Jenn and thanked her for looking after me all weekend (although do I shake her hand or give her a kiss?).  I wished her the best of luck getting to Thailand and promised to give her a shout next time I’m in town.

Leaving Philippines I was more than a little miffed that I didn’t have the time nor resources to make it to Manilla.  Cramped into that tiny Zamboanga hotel ‘room’ (‘slot’ would be a more accurate noun) and having to suffer a trickle of cold water on my head as some lame excuse for a shower whilst staring forlornly at the seatless, broken communal toilet mere inches away from my bare feet, I couldn’t help but kick myself: a very very nice person who works for a major casino company here in The Philippines had offered me a free couch if I stayed in the capital… only I could have stood up from this particular couch, glided across my massive room in my complimentary bathrobe, sipping a G&T from the minibar, and flung my weary body onto the KING-SIZE BED that awaited me in a FIVE-STAR HOTEL… had I been able to take her up on the offer.

Ack!  But The Quest, The Glorious Quest…

These windmills aren’t going to tilt at themselves, you know.

If I’m getting a little bit of Don Quixote complex, it’s because these last eighteen countries I need to visit are going to be nigh on impossible: borders drawn across continents by man are much easier to traverse than ones drawn across the ocean by nature: all of the final eighteen countries are islands or parts of islands, and since day sixteen, islands (together with visas) have proven the bane of The Odyssey.

With the lure of cheap plane rides knocking out any chance of a ferry service, attempting to get around this planet on ships has been a nightmare: the Caribbean took two months longer to complete than it should have, my infamous trip to Cape Verde ended in disaster and me being stuck there for over six weeks.  Getting to Sao Tome and back cost me three weeks and I left Mauritius on 1st November 2009 and didn’t arrive back in Africa until 17th December.

And I still haven’t been to the infernal Seychelles!

This year I was trapped in Dubai for a month waiting for a ship, I tried to get to Sri Lanka from India, but after wasting two weeks India was having none of it, and that scuppered my plans for getting to the Maldives as well.

I’ve timed my entrance into Oceania perfectly to coincide with the summer cyclone season which runs until next May, so that even if I do find a well-meaning skipper he or she wouldn’t be able to take me to any of the TWELVE Pacific Island States even if they wanted to.

My only choices at this point are cargo ships and cruise liners.  It’s going to take a lot of time and a helluva lot of patience.  If you think I might get this finished this year, you’re sadly mistaken.  If I make it to the Solomon Islands by Christmas I’ll be doing well.

Look at the stats for this year:

Countries visited per month (2010)

Jan: 9

Feb: 1

Mar: 7

Apr: 5

May: 4

Jun: 2

Jul: 0

Aug: 6

Sept: 4

Oct: 11

Total: 49

And most of that was OVERLAND.  Even if I somehow keep up this rather dismal average of five countries a month (last year it was eleven), it’s still going to take four more months to do this: but I’m steeling myself for it to take much longer than that.  At this rate I’ll be hitting country 200 around the time the last Harry Potter film gets released.

Then you’ll have to find somebody else’s tedious blog to read 😉

The ship back to Borneo was the same one I arrived on, but going back it was all but empty.  It turns out that the people on the top deck who were sectioned off from the rest of us (I regrettably made a joke about them being the Irish third class passengers on The Titanic) were all being deported back to The Philippines after being caught working illegally in Malaysia.

Disturbingly, some of them had spent up to a year in jail before being sent home.

But the lack of return passengers did have one positive outcome: I didn’t have to share my cabin with anyone.

The karaoke machine fixed I spent the evening drinking, singing and laughing with the zany and oh-so-Filipino crew.  What a great bunch of lads and girls.  Although after this weekend, I’m having trouble deciding which is which…

Day 664: Return To Sanda

26.10.10:

It was early afternoon before the ship pulled into Sandakan.  I’m now going to be backtracking over the exact route I took last week, so if you like you can just read those blogs again but backwards.

At the taxi rank outside the port a woman overheard me asking the cab drivers how much it would be to the bus station and, since she was going the same way, suggested that we share a taxi.  This unfortunately required a short fight with the drivers.  Not only do the taxis in Malaysia not have meters (SO annoying) these guys were insisting that we took separate cabs.  Seriously – what is this?  Saudi?

Eventually they relented.  It was about half three by the time I got to the bus station and I was left with two options:

I could get on the 4.30pm bus back to Kota Kinabalu and arrive at 11pm tonight, or I could head into Sandakan town, sit in a café for a few hours and get the overnight bus later on.  The lure of a hot shower and a cool bed in KK drew me to take the four thirty option.

Annoyingly The bus didn’t leave until about 6pm and the driver must have been a cousin of the one I had last week across Sarawak – he drove like an utter t—, gunning it around the winding jungle roads (dark, no streetlights) and overtaking trucks on blind turns.

Frazzled and weary, it wasn’t until 1am before I checked into the KK backpackers and it was 2am before I had updated the website and uploaded a blog or two.  Since I had to be up at half six, I thought it best that this point to hit the hay.  You’ll just have to wait.

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.