The Final Forty

Only forty more countries to go!!  But as you can no doubt see, I wasn’t joking when I said that the leaps were going to get harder!  This time last year I had been to a whopping 89 countries.  So far this year I’ve been to just 27… and there is no sign that things are going to speed up any time soon.

With the impenetrable African fortress of Eritrea still to visit, not to mention The Seychelles, Maldives, Bhutan, North Korea (if it still exists by the time I get there) and – heaven forefend – the dozen nations of Oceania, I still got a looooooong way to go before I’m safe and warm back in the arms of the woman I love.

But that’s no reason to get despondent.  It took Odysseus ten years to get back to Penelope and it took the current Guinness World Record™ holder, Mr. Kashi Samaddar, six and half years to do what I’m doing.  I’ve only got 28 more countries to visit before I hit Australia and if you add up everywhere I’ve been in my life (on and off The Odyssey) I’ve been to 175 countries… in other words, there are only 25 nations in the world on whose soil I haven’t stood.

If I can get this done before the end of 2010, I’ll be over the moon.  Once I get Eritrea out of the way, things should speed up – SE Asia is my old stomping ground and shouldn’t present too many problems.  But then again, I’m not counting any chickens before they’re hatched – I thought Africa would take no longer than three months(!).

If you want to help me on my way, please talk to the marketing department of your company (or any company for that matter) and see if they fancy sponsoring the rest of my travels.  Seriously – I won’t give up because of African jails, shipping forecasts or visa difficulties, but if I have to sack this all off because I’ve ran out of readies I would have just wasted the last two years of mine and Mandy’s lives on a FAIL of epic proportions.

And we wouldn’t want that now, would we?!

Days 522-529: Frankincensed

06.06.10-13.06.10:

The mission this week was to clamber on board the MV San Cristobal bound for The Seychelles.  As emails and phone calls went back and forth behind the scenes, I found time to head out into the mountains with Robert, a British businessman who I had met through my dealings down in the port.  He was taking me to see the Frankincense trees and the land he was planning to turn into a Frankincense farm – not just for sweet smelling sap to chuck into your thurible and wobble about before your congregation, but for the essential oil you can collect while the sap dries out.  A handful of experiments have shown that this oil may have an effect on cancer cells.  It just might be the thing we’re looking for – something 100% natural that targets and destroys cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells.

I said MAY.  Don’t get your knickers in a twist.

Unfortunately, the great work that is being done in the field of cancer research is being constantly undermined by the hysterical ravings of the Daily Mail, who as Dr. Ben Goldacre has pointed out, seem to be on a crusade to catalogue each and every inanimate object in the universe into two boxes – one marked ‘causes cancer’ and the other marked ‘cures cancer’.  This disinformation is then dissimilated amongst the hoi polloi in 72pt block capitals every time they have a bit of space left over from wittering on about immigrants and Princess Diana.

As a consequence, the idea that frankincense oil might target and destroy cancer cells simply sounds too good to be true.  Now I’m the ultimate sceptic – I don’t believe anything I read, anything I’m told or anything I see unless I’ve got good, sensible, independently verified evidence (preferably published in a peer-reviewed journal) to back it up.  And I’m sorry, but your word is not good enough: as Radiohead once sang, just cos you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there.  As a consequence I don’t believe in fate, luck, guardian angels, horoscopes, ghosts, tarot cards, tea leaves, the apocalypse, demons in the closet, karma, conspiracy theories or the galactic warlord Xenu.

But if it is true, the Robert is going to be on to a winner.  Frankincense trees only grow in Oman, Yemen and parts of Ethiopia and Somalia.  They take seven years to mature to the size when you can start farming the sap, which is about the time they’ll need to get the cancer-killing properties verified without a shadow of a doubt.  And hell, if it turns out to be a false positive, so what?  The world needs more trees.  And I’m sure Robert can tap into the Bible Belt market for Epiphany presents consisting of a packet of Gold, Frankenstein and Grr.  I’m in for a punt on the old Frankie Goes To Hollywood, so I sponsored a tree.  Hell, I’m sure I can fob the essential oil I’ll get from it in seven years time onto some daft old hippy lady with too many cats.  I’ll tell her it’s good for her chakras.  Whatever they are.

Robert also took me to the nursery where they grew the trees from seedlings and I even got to have a chat with the doctor who is pioneering the cancer research.  I’ve got to say, I now know at least 1529% more about Frank-N-Furter than I did last week.

As the week dragged on as two things stood tall on the horizon – the imminent departure of the San Cristobal and a little thing called the World Cup.

My efforts to board the San Cristobal were a little tinged with reticence, though: not because of the ever-present threat of piracy, but because getting on this ship would mean spending pretty much the entirety of the World Cup at sea.  I’ve already missed my girlfriend for 18 months, my 30th birthday party and Glastonbury for two years running, missing the World Cup as well would be a wrench.  But then again, I guess it goes to show how dedicated I am.  I WILL do this, one way or another GRRR!!

By Friday night, I still hadn’t heard an answer from the owners of the ship.  Once again, I had the nod from the shipping company and the shipping agents, but that does not suffice.  Luke, Dave and their mates crowded around at Dave’s gaff to watch the opening match of the 2010 World Cup – South Africa vs. Mexico.  The pundits pundited, the adverts advertised and the fans blew their stupid plastic vuvuzelas as the tension mounted towards kick off.  The ref blew the whistle and the game began…

And the signal was lost.

Was it just us?  No – we checked next door, and they were having the same problem, as was the café downstairs.  We called Club Oasis and their feed had been cut as well.  Al-Jezeera sport, hang your head in shame… it would later transpire that the signal was cut for the whole of Arabia, devastating football fans throughout the peninsular and beyond – especially given that, unlike in the UK, they had to pay through the nose for a viewing card to watch the damn thing.

While the others watched the black screen willing the game to come back on, I hopped by Luke’s place to check on my emails.  By this point it was way past working hours, the ship would be leaving for The Seychelles this weekend and I still hadn’t got word from the ship owners.

But there was a new message in my inbox.

It’s a no.

I returned to Dave’s and we sat around watching a black screen with snippets of top international football randomly popping up every few minutes to tease us with what we were missing.

As if to add insult to injury, the exact same thing happened the next day during the England match.  You could hear the ex-pats from here to Kuwait collectively groan and curse Al-Jezeera Sports like a gypsy hag whose lucky heather is rebuffed by a man in a top hat.

Stick to the news, Al-Jez, stick to the news.

On the Sunday, Khalid the senior boarding officer for the San Cristobal took me into the port so I could have a natter with the captain.  I knew there was no chance of me getting my passage, but what I wanted to know was why.  As I boarded the ship the coils of razor-wire surrounding the deck kinda gave the game away – PIRATES.  The captain was a great guy and said he would be happy to have me, the problem is this:

To sail in these waters, these cargo ships have special anti-piracy insurance.  Part of the deal is that they have to sail with the minimum number of crew possible.  So even if I paid for my own super-duper kick-ass insurance I’d still be putting the insurance of the entire ship (and cargo) in jeopardy.  If the worst happened and we were boarded by pirates the insurance company would have an excuse to say sorry see you later mashed potato and dump the costs of dealing with the release of the vessel in the hands of the ship owners.

The chances of me getting on one of these boats slipped down from slight to snowball-in-hell.  Where do we go from here?

Day 530: Somali Piracy: Q&A

14.06.10:

Yesterday I discovered that the chances of anybody taking me onboard a ship bound for The Seychelles was about one in a million.  I also found out that another shipping company, Maersk, had a freighter leaving on Tuesday to those infernal islands.  So after spending the day trying to get a message to the right people, I headed over to the Oasis Club for the last time, knowing that if it wasn’t to be I would cut my losses and get the hell out of dodge.

The club was packed.  HMS Chatham had just come into port, escorting the container ship Asian Glory back to safety.  The Asian Glory had been captured last January and had been held in the Puntland region of Somalia for almost six months. Eventually after lengthy negotiations the owners shelled out $7,000,000 for the release of the vessel and the luxury cars it was shipping.

I got chatting to the good chaps of the Chatham (including the captain) and tried to get my head around this whole pirate problem.  Here’s what I’ve learnt this week, amalgamated from my meetings with the Royal Navy, the US Navy, the Swedish Navy, the Dutch Navy, the crew of the Maersk Alabama, the captain of the San Cristobal and various mariners who have frequented Club Oasis over the last ten days…

How did all this get started?

Because Somalia has lacked an effective government since 1991, it has no navy (well, it has a navy, they just don’t have any ships).  This means that for almost twenty years the waters around Somalia have been a free-for-all in terms of fishing rights.  Anyone with a ship, a huge net and on-board freezing capabilities could sail around to the waters off Somalia and fill their boots.  And they did.  By 2005, fish stocks in the area had got dangerously low and the local fishermen turned to piracy to make ends meet.  By 2007, the pirates had grown more and more audacious and started targeting large international cargo freighters and even oil tankers.

Joint task forces from NATO and other inter-governmental navies have been patrolling the waters since then, but rather than result in less pirate attacks, there has been a steady escalation as the pirate zone now covers a vast swathe of the Indian Ocean and ‘employs’ over 1,000 people.

Why can’t you just blow the feckers out of the water?

We’d like to!  But that would risk escalating the situation.  At the moment, very few of the hostages they take are killed, but if we start shooting first and asking questions later, then it could result unnecessary and unacceptable civilian deaths.  Although that doesn’t stop the Russians….!

What about putting armed guards on the container ships?

Again, it risks escalation and these pirates have got rocket-propelled grenades.  It’s too risky.

What about doing convoys?

Yachties are increasingly meeting up and doing the Gulf of Aden run in flotillas, but for big cargo ships, it’s just not economically viable to have them sitting around a port for a week waiting for other ships to turn up, plus once the pirates are on board there’s little use another ship in the area can do – even fully armed naval ships are powerless to stop the situation.

Are the kidnapped British yachting couple Paul and Rachel Chandler still alive?

We believe so.  But Rachel is not well.

What do you do when you catch the pirates?

We take their weapons off them, put them all on one boat (pirates usually hunt in packs), give them enough fuel, food and water to get back to Somalia and then set them free.

WHAT?!

Yeah, we set them free, there’s nothing else we can do.  We can’t take them back to Somalia to stand trial – there’s no government, judges, juries or prisons!  Tanzania, Yemen and The Seychelles don’t want them and maybe can’t afford a ton of court cases and to pay for their incarceration.  We don’t have the space to keep them in the brig for six months until we go back to the UK.  So we disarm them and send them on their way.

So how on Earth do you think we’re ever going to get rid of these pirates?

The only way we can get rid of the pirates is to support the Somalia government in taking back their country, that way they’d have a navy to stop foreign fishing boats coming in and stealing all the fish.  Also, they’d have a judicial system so we’d have somewhere to take the pirates when we catch them.

Unfortunately after the disastrous interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, no government has the stomach to take on the madness that is modern Somalia.  In short, there is no end in sight.

Day 531: Less Than Zero

15.06.10:

Back in November 2009 when I was trying to sail the 166nm from Diego Suarez in Madagascar to the lower Seychelles islands, the threat of piracy stopped me in my tracks. Now here I am seven months later facing the same problem from the other end.

There was no reply from Maersk, not that I was expecting one. It was all a bit too short notice for it to work out. I said my fond farewells to Luke and Dave and planned to take the overnight bus back to Dubai. I had decided to cut my loses and head on to India. Since there was no chance of a ship to The Seychelles, the chances of getting on a ship from the UAE that goes to Eritrea (through the Gulf of Aden) and then turns around and goes to Pakistan and India (even though it does exist!) are going to be less than zero.

I would try to attack The Seychelles and Eritrea after I’ve been everywhere else. Maybe. Truth be told, I haven’t got a clue what I’m going to do. Up till now I had a plan. Now I’m just making it up as I go along.

The bus to Dubai was full. I’d have to get the next one, tomorrow. I like overnight buses. That’s when the ideas come.

Day 532: The Cunning Plan

16.06.10:

After again saying my farewells to Luke and Dave, our mate Alasdair gave me a lift to the bus depot. After AGAIN being told the bus to Dubai was full by the grumpy man behind the counter, Alasdair got a little suss. Is there another bus?

Oh yeah – the bus company down the road, behind the fish market. D’oh! Why didn’t I ask that yesterday?!

And so after heartily shaking Alasdair’s hand and jumping on the (pretty empty) 3pm bus to Dubai I found myself gazing out of the window over the flat barren flatness of Arabia’s empty quarter, full of djinns and demons and things that go bump in the night.

As I mulled over the situation in my head and the wonderful suggestions made by contributors to this website (gavinmac and Socleman, take a bow) a cunning plan began to take form from the desert sands…

Eritrea

All is not lost. Okay, so I can’t get into the Red Sea area from this side of the Arabian Peninsular as it would mean sailing through the pirate zone. My back-up plan of going through Yemen is now impossible as I can’t even get in to Yemen itself.

But, what’s this? The thing that kept me in Kuwait for six weeks… my multiple entry Saudi visa, still valid for another couple of months…!

Maybe my sojourn in Kuwait wasn’t a big waste of time after all – I mean, not that Kuwait wasn’t fun, it just that to wait six weeks to skip through a country a couple of times on your way somewhere else is a bit mad.

But what if…..

There used to be a passenger service running from Jeddah in Saudi to Massawa in Eritrea. It doesn’t exist any more, but there must – there must – be cargo ships doing that route. Jeddah is a huge feeder port for ships coming to and from Europe and the Far East. If I can somehow get a Eritrean visa (although it’s unlikely I’d be able to get one in Saudi) I could attempt to get to Eritrea as a passenger on one of these ships.

Failing that, I could head down to the southern port of Jizan and maybe talk a fisherman or dive company into taking me out to one of the uninhabited islands off the coast of Eritrea. As long as it’s within the contiguous boundary and I step on dry land, it counts.

This would be dodgy as hell though, as they could well take advantage of me and use the trip as an excuse to smuggle drugs or weapons across the Red Sea. If caught this could result in my beheading. Seriously. I’d rather not take the risk.

Okay, okay, Plan C: There are ferries that go three times a week from Jeddah to Port Sudan in Sudan. If I could get a new Sudanese visa (tremendously unlikely in Saudi) I could take the ferry and travel from Port Sudan down to the border with Eritrea and bribe my way across. This would be both dodgy and dangerous.

Of course, the first plan is the best, but that doesn’t mean the others are completely out of the question. A new plan: head to Jeddah and see what happens. If there is one thing that doing The Odyssey has taught me is that where there is a will, there’s a way. I only have FORTY more countries to visit. Forty. To give up now would be a nonsense. There’s always a way. You just have to suss out all the options. And sometimes it helps to think outside the box. And that way of thinking brings me to our second dilemma…

The Seychelles

Blimey. This is going to be TOUGH. With no yachts this time of year, no cruise ships until October and no cargo ships able to take passengers because of the pirates, the only way I’m going to get there is to continue on my journey and then massively backtrack at the very end from Australia into the Indian Ocean. This could honestly add months to my journey time.

But thanks to Socleman’s suggestion, I’ve got an idea. It’s fair to say that I’m a pretty competent filmmaker and my knowledge of marine affairs is probably substantially greater than most land-lubbers, what with all the boat trips I’ve been on in the course of this adventure. Given that I’ve met loads of guys who ply their trade in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, I’ve also got a decent grasp of the pirate situation in these parts. Put all that together and I could realistically put together a half-hour documentary for one of the big shipping companies about piracy.

The budget? One free passage to The Seychelles. Given that it would be a good idea for me to actually be on board a ship in order to make the doco, it may as well be one that goes from Salalah around the Indian Ocean Islands, and this time of year is when most pirates take a summer vacation – the weather is too rough and unpredictable to risk going out too far in a little motor boat.

It’s a long shot, and it may not work, but at the moment, it’s the only shot we’ve got. For The Seychelles there is no plan B.

The sun disappeared long before it hit the horizon, obscured by dust and sand. It’s interesting that we all crave what we don’t have – white girls in the UK are desperate to be browner, brown girls in Malaysia are desperate to be whiter. Urbanites hunger for the country idyll and villagers lust for the anonymousness of the big city. The Bedu of Arabia dream of gardens and here I am dreaming of deserts. As the stars begin to light up in the night sky, I’m reminded why. The desert puts us all in our place.

Next stop: Dubai (again!)

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.

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 1,391: I Sell Seychelles

Wed 24.10.12:

Country 2-0-0. Friends, can you BELIEVE IT? Nope. Neither can I, which is good, because Seychelles is quite an unbelievable place. In a good way. Unlike The Maldives, it’s not just flat flat flat as far as the eye can see: these are volcanic islands (over 100 of ’em) spread out slap bang in the centre of the western Indian Ocean.

Honestly, it was love at first sight. Its vibe: it was Tonga, it was Samoa, it was Fiji… but in the Indian Ocean. Coming out from strict, religion-lovin’, fun-avoiding countries like Sri Lanka, India and Maldives where you are supposed to be in bed (on your own) for 9pm and there are simply no local girls out having a good time, Seychelles was a blast of ice-cool crystal-clear fresh air.

We arrived at Victoria, the capital of the country, around 1pm. Victoria is situated on the east coast of Mahe island (not to be confused with Male’ island in the Maldives). My departure off the ship was filmed by Steve and Amy, a couple from Californ-I-A, who I met at the talk I gave yesterday. Off the gangway, I threw myself on the hallowed ground of the TWO HUNDREDTH COUNTRY of The Odyssey Expedition and rolled around a bit. Probably caused a bit of a scene, but I don’t care. THIS, my friends, was the moment I’ve been waiting for since October 2009 when I first attempted (unsuccessfully) to get to The Seychelles from Diego Suarez in Madagascar, since June 2010 when I attempted (unsuccessfully) to get to The Seychelles from Salalah in Oman and since June 2012 when I first started trying to get across the Indian Ocean from Colombo in Sri Lanka.

IT TOOK THREE YEARS AND TEN MONTHS, BUT I’M FINALLY HERE.

Well, what else was there to do but go for a celebratory drink? So Steve and Amy and I headed to The Pirates Arms for a swift half, where I was introduced to the joy of SeyBrew, the local lager, possibly made by the same guys who set up SolBrew in The Solomon Islands. Crisp and cold, I give SeyBrew three thumbs up. Later we took a stroll around Victoria’s beautiful botanical gardens – home to a group of Aldabra Giant Tortoises. And when they say ‘giant’, they mean ‘G-I-A-N-T’. Just one of these Koopa Troopers could eat Mario for breakfast and still have room for Luigi, Yoshi and Peach.

Sorry to use a stock image, but you cannot correctly gauge the sheer giganticness of a Aldabra Giant Tortoise from my photos.

It’s funny, my Plan X, had Costa not allowed me on the ship, was to take a yacht from Nosy Be in Madagascar to the Aldabra Islands in order to ‘tick off’ The Seychelles. The Aldabra Group are a protected wildlife sanctuary and you need special permission to get there… and they are home to over 100,000 of these Giant Tortoises: a staggering number. I can only hope I live long enough to do that trip for real.

Later we jumped on the bus to the west coast and a place called Beau Vallon, a beach town on the other side of the mountains. The driver drove like his pants were on fire, swinging around them switchbacks like the endings of both Wages of Fear and The Italian Job (neither of which ended well for those on board), but we (thankfully) got there in one piece. We arrived just in time to watch the sunset and discover just how amazingly helpful and generous with their time the people of The Seychelles (the Seychellois) really are: we were escorted down to the beach, the music guys who were on the quayside this morning said hello and the owner of the Boat House Restaurant and Bar in Beau Vallon gave us free shots Takamaka Coco-Rum (think marshmallows and coconut – I think I’m in love). We were joined by Ramone and Kelly, a Canadian couple, and the night descended into the usual drunken chaos you’ve come to expect from The Odyssey Expedition, with Steve and Amy supplying more than their fair share of alcoholic delights. Thanks Steve & Amy!!! USA! USA! USA!

The next day I intended on going for a hike up the mountain to help walk off my beer gut from the night before, but unfortunately it was pouring down with rain, so instead I headed down to The Pirates Arms and sought refuge in the company of the internet and beer. On the way there I found a bit of a commotion going on outside the Supreme Courthouse of The Seychelles. Asking around, it transpired that on trial were 10 Somali pirates that The Seychelles navy had caught operating in their waters. Well that’s one in the eye for the old Jolly Rogerers eh? Serves them right for making it next to impossible for me to reach The Seychelles without flying. Oh, and being pirates.

One of best things about The Seychelles was that, despite the rain, everybody I spoke to off the ship absolutely loved the place, many saying it was the highlight of their trip so far. To be honest, it’s one of the highlights of mine. It’s definitely in my top ten destinations in the world I want to return to as soon as possible. Seychelles: worth its wait in gold.