Day 536: And All That Hejaz


Turki’s apartment in the north of Jeddah was as sweet as sweet can be. Not only did I get my own room (and bathroom), his fridge was stocked and there was a nice hot cup of tea with real milk whenever I fancied it. Turki himself is a remarkably interesting chap – a jack of many trades – a building planner/surveyor in his day job, in his spare time he has just put together the first of his ‘Arabic Trails’ guidebooks, a full colour 4×4 guide with the amazing stuff you can find in the desert, if you know where to look. The pdf version on his computer looked seven shades of awesome – even more awesome when you realised he did most of the research, took the photos, created the maps and set the design.

This guide just covered the Hijaz area, which is this part of Arabia, the stuff around Mecca, but Turki is planning many more, including one for Oman. It’s really excellent stuff. I take my hat off to him.

Turki totally took on the challenge of getting me to Eritrea and had taken the day off work to help. He arranged for us to meet with his friend Bob Moss for lunch and soon enough we were setting off to the excellent Pakistani restaurant downtown for the awesome lunchtime buffet.

Bob is the managing director of one of the biggest shipping companies in Jeddah. If there was a more awesome place to start our quest, I couldn’t imagine. Over some tasty tasty tucker I explained my situation, the ‘mad plan’ and the difficulties I’ve faced getting over to Eritrea (all the land borders being closed, ships from The Gulf being a no-no and Yemen being shut). Bob advised me to do two things: first, get myself an Eritrean visa. Second, go and see his colleague Abdullah who is a very important guy in the ship business and a bit of a port Yoda, he’ll be able to direct us where to go next.

All sounded fairly straightforward, but to be honest with you, the idea of getting an Eritrean visa fills me with dread. After my adventures across Central Asia, not to mention my nightmare Saudi and Indian visas, I fully expect them to demand I get my visa from the UK, a process which would take at least two weeks.

But you gotta do what you gotta do, and after lunch Turki and I said our thanks and goodbyes to Bob and headed back to the flat. Turki called the Eritrean embassy to find out what the SP was, and the answer we got back was the most unexpected thing I’ve heard in the last six months.

Yeah, tell him to bring his passport and a photo, we’ll do it for him tomorrow.

One photo? Tomorrow?

What about the letter from my employer? My bank statements? My birth certificate? My letter of invitation? Residency papers? My flight in and out? My hotel booking? Seventeen photos? My fingerprints? My iris scan? My Arabic translation? My shoe-size? My star-sign? My first memory? The colour of my underwear….?

Nah, just bring a photo.

Ahh… Eritrea you surprisingly un-paranoid hunka hunk of burnin’ love. I could just kiss you!

Just to put this marvel into perspective, we also called up the Sudanese embassy as back-up in case I couldn’t get a ship to Eritrea. Ha! No chance! You have to get your Sudanese visa from London, ginger boy. That’ll take about a month, won’t it? Woohahahahahahaha etc.

Later that day Turki took me out to the old town of Jeddah, a place he is as enthusiastic about as I am over the old bits of my Liverpool. The city fathers are in the middle of replacing the yucky asphalt with cobblestones, which is going to look great, but unfortunately on the day that I arrive they have merely dug up all the roads (and I mean ALL the roads!) without actually getting cracking with the cobbles. Then again, maybe the undulating dirt paths make it even more authentic…!

The old buildings here are really wonderful, made of local coral stone with wooden latticed windows to let the cool air in. There isn’t a single straight line to be found, an Arabic rendering of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. The marketplace is still here after hundreds of years and unlike Qatar’s old quarter there is a real sense of authenticity.

Although I have to say my favourite souk market in the world is in Tunis. It beats Jeddah, Jerusalem, Cairo, Istanbul and even Marrakech hands down.

After taking in the old town, Turki and I head back to the flat in order to suss something out – how to copy pdfs and videos onto my little hard drive. On any other hard drive this would be a cinch, but this hard drive is made by a dreadful group of American capitalist pigdog businessmen who tuck their t-shirts into their high-hitched jeans and so their overpriced toys are more fussy than an OCD Lord Snooty when it comes to whether it will, you know, allow crazy space-aged stuff like pdf files onboard, especially if it’s wearing trainers.

It’s fair to say that my hard drive has ideas above its station.

It took Turki and I, who are both more computer literate than the average Joe, FOUR HOURS to crack the secret alchemy involved in the seemingly simple task of putting pdfs onto my iPod. FOUR HOURS which neither of us are going to get back. But at least Turki now knows how to put pdfs on his new hilariously named iPad as well. This means he can now put up to TEN of his own books on the thing, before he has to pay(!) for a application that allows him to put another one on. Ka-ching!!

The annoying thing is that to copy pdfs across you have to have your computer and your iPod wirelessly attached to the internet. Difficulties arise here because often I do not have a free wireless connection (for instance, my connection in Kuwait was wired and my Vodafone mobile internet dongle only worked on my laptop), and when I go to a café to use the ‘free’ internet, they invariably give me one code, and only one, so I can’t connect both my laptop and my iPod to the net at the same time. And if it’s a paying internet place, I have to pay double.

Clever eh?

Why the info can’t just, you know, GO DOWN THE FRICKIN’ LITTLE WHITE USB CABLE ATTACHED TO MY LAPTOP I do not (and fear will never) know.

Meanwhile, I can finally put my own Odyssey vids on my iPod to show people. You see, rendering them in Quicktime is not enough, there is a secret video setting that you have to use, but this setting is so secret, nobody actually knows what it is. I mean, we all know that iPods can play ordinary mp4 files (as demonstrated when you go onto YouTube). We also know that they can understand pdf files – after all, you can email them to yourself from a real computer if necessary. But try an copy these things across and your iPod looks at you like you’re the biggest idiot since George W Bush.

No no no, what you need is an iPod video converter, because the £750 you spent on Adobe Premiere ain’t enough! So if you buy this converter, it will (in seconds!) add the little bit of code that says you just gave Steve Jobs another fistful of dollars and allow you to put your video that you made onto your hard drive.

The sad thing is that Apple, though rotten to the core, have a cult. A cult that actually gets offended if you say that their products are monopolistic, awkwardly programmed, overly-judgemental toys. And their ranks are growing. It’s heart-breaking that even in this day and age people still think that these mega-corporations still have their best interests at heart. Just like the banking industry, eh?

Day 538: The Old Jeddah Mind Trick


Turki had tried in vain all yesterday to get in touch with Baaboud Shipping and arrange a meeting with Ahmed.  But this morning we had better luck.  By 9.01am we had a meeting arranged.  Turki donned his traditional Saudi garp (to enhance his already consummate Jedi skills) and by 10am we were in Ahmed Ibn-Ishaq’s office drinking green coffee and talking ships to Eritrea.

After Turki introduced me and explained that we had been told to come here by Abdullah, I explained my mission.  Turki then smoothly fought my corner in Arabic, I can’t tell you how important the power of introduction is to The Odyssey: whenever I just ruck up and tell people what I’m doing they generally a) don’t believe me or b) think I’m a nut.  It’s kinda embarrassing.  Once that obstacle is out of the way, it makes things SO much easy to get the help I desperately need.

As the conversation continued it slowly dawned on me that things might finally be going my way.  Ahmed was a cheerful chap (with a look of Clancy Brown about him) and he loved the idea that I was travelling all over the world without flying.  I showed him my passport (avec visa) and he asked me if I was ready to leave tomorrow.


I couldn’t believe it.  After two months of pretty much everything going wrong, it was now all going so right.  And what’s more is that Baaboud Shipping’s cargo ship only goes to Eritrea two or three times a month: our timing was magnificent – the ship was in port and leaving tomorrow.

I think I danced a little jig.

Turki and I spent a good hour and a half with Ahmed and when we left it was jubilation all around.  THIS is when I’m reminded of why I’m doing The Odyssey.  The dizzying highs.  The days when everything comes together with a perfection that could not be predicted.  They make the days of frustration and loneliness all worth it.

Over a tasty lunch at the Lebanese place down the road Turki and I celebrated the travel smackdown of the season.

We’d done it.

That evening we headed to Jeddah’s posh date shop (think Thornton’s meets Tiffany’s, but with dates – the type you eat!) and bought a beautiful wooden box packed full of dates for Ahmed – a nice Arabic way of saying thank you.

Later we went out to a coffee place down by the water.  Turki and I had a jolly old fight about modern architecture and I had a good chuckle at this big concrete block with the cars sticking out of it.  Eek!

Oh dear.

Days 539 & 540: Back In The Red


We had to be at Baaboud Shipping for 7.30am, and, once again, Turki took time away from the office to take me there.  The level of hospitality and sheer generosity I’ve received from Turki has really knocked me for six.  I owe this guy BIG.  Like many other Odyssey Heroes I really have no idea how I can possibly repay him short of declaring a Wookiee Life-Debt.  The only thing I can do is spread the love and do everything in my power to help my fellow wayfarers along the way after I finish this adventure.  And you can hold me to that.

We presented Ahmed with his dates and he responded with a pot of authentic Sudanese green bean coffee.  The ship would be leaving this afternoon and we had to be at the port for 10am.  Ahmed gave Turki the phone number of the port agent and gave me his best wishes.  One last traditional Saudi breaky (flat bread and yummy beans followed by a yoghurt and honey desert… yum!) and Turki dropped me at the port.

I was shepherded through the massive passenger terminal nice and quick (I was the only one there!) and after being picked up by the port bus, I alighted at the quayside where the Ibn Al Waleed, the cargo ship that would be taking me to Eritrea, lay in wait.  The last time I was here at this port was on the 29th December 2009 upon the MV Turquoise racing on my way to meet Mandy at the pyramids before New Year – Almost a full six months ago.

I clambered aboard and introduced myself to Captain Mohamed Mousa Mohamed, Chief Nay Myo and Babikir Yahya the cook before settling down in the mess with my laptop to write this blog and to count down the minutes to the England vs. Slovenia game.

Yup, luckily for me, the Ibn Al Waleed has satellite TV!

The ship is an old one – it must be from the 1970s.  It reminds me of my dad’s old carburetter shop in Liverpool – a mucky, working vessel that does its job but you wouldn’t want to eat your dinner off the floor.  It’s nowhere near as big as some of the mega container ships I’ve been on board, but it manages to pack a lot of containers and a ton of new cars on the deck.

The crew from Sudan, Sri Lanka, Burma and the Philippines are a lively bunch and they all look forward to kicking back and having a day off work in Eritrea where they can get hold of chicks and booze – things that in Saudi are in short supply!

This evening England scraped through to the final 16 of the World Cup, but are facing Germany on their next outing so that should be fun.  But with the universally glum expressions of the English players (most notably Wayne Rooney) I’m not holding my breath for victory.  Everyone is wondering what the secret of the South American teams is.  I’ll tell you what it is – they look like they’re enjoying themselves!

So… the schedule is that we arrive in Eritrea Friday afternoon, spend a day or two in Massawa before returning to Saudi for Monday or Tuesday next week.


It would be 3am before we were finally loaded and set sail for the 161st nation of The Odyssey Expedition.  To be able to tick Eritrea off my list would a huge huge weight off my shoulders… to think only last week I was considering heading to Eritrea last after visiting every other country in the world, in the hope that the border with Djibouti would be reopened some time this year.

Thursday on board ship passed like a dream.  Out on the high sea I felt the exhilaration of things finally going to plan.  I spent the day in the mess as the crew drifted in and out throughout the day, waiting for the football to start.  Today we got to watch Italy get unceremoniously dumped out of the group round (bottom of their table) and sadly bid farewell to the Danish contingent as they got their bottoms well and truly spanked by the Japanese.

With any luck tomorrow I’ll be downing a cool pint and watching the footy in a bar in Massawa knowing that I am the first person to visit every single nation of South America, The Caribbean, Central and North America, Europe, The Middle East and Africa in one rather epic surface journey.  I look forward to it.

Day 542: (Finally) Out Of Africa


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


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.


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


Antigua & Barbuda
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
USA (but you do need a prior visa if you arrive on private boat or plane)

Bosnia & Herzegovina
Czech Republic
San Marino
Vatican City

Burkina Faso
South Africa
The Gambia

Iraq (Kurdistan only, entered from Turkey)
Jordan (if you enter on the ferry from Egypt)
South Korea
The Maldives

Marshall Islands
New Zealand
Solomon Islands
The Philippines


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


Cape Verde
Sierra Leone

Sri Lanka

Burma (but only valid for border regions)
East Timor (though no longer available on land border with Indonesia)
Indonesia (though not available on land borders with East Timor and PNG)

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


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

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

Central African Republic
Cote D’Ivoire
Democratic Republic of Congo
Eritrea (best obtained in Jeddah – next day delivery)
Ethiopia (best obtained in Nairobi – same day delivery)
Madagascar (but it’s free, so can’t complain)
Sao Tome & Principe
Sudan (best obtained in Cairo – same day delivery)

Burma (for travel into interior)
India (AND now requires you to leave for 60 days between visits!)
Iraq (for travel beyond Kurdistan)

Papua New Guinea

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



Azerbaijan (no LOI required if visa bought in Georgia)

Equatorial Guinea*
Libya (AND you must pay for a ‘guide’)

North Korea
Saudi Arabia*


*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.