Days 539 & 540: Back In The Red

23.06.10-24.06.10:

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.

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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: Eritrea Uncovered

26.06.10:

This morning I was invited around to a local girl’s place for some traditional Eritrean breakfast. Saba and I sat in the back yard of her single room shack as her mum expertly roasted and ground coffee beans before funnelling them into a traditional spherical pot, added water and then placed on the fire. Breakfast was a yummy meat, potato and onion stew that wasn’t far from being scouse, served with bread and the freshest coffee I’ve ever tasted.

You just can’t beat home cooking, can you? Eritrea pretty much closes down from noon until 5pm, so after thanking Saba and her mum, I headed back to the ship for a little siesta. As you can no doubt guess, it gets rather hot here in the afternoon. After grabbing forty winks I headed out of the port to try and hunt down some wild internets – I needed to send out a message saying that I had arrived!!

There is no international roaming set up here, so my British Sim card (and my Saudi one, mind you) had no signal, and to buy an Eritrean Sim is a mission that (I’m told) could take six weeks. Seriously. Six weeks! Oh yeah, and even if I get an Eritrean Sim, I can’t make international calls anyhoo! So I needed to get online and let Mandy and my family know I was safe and well and to ask Leo to change the country count to 161.

Not so fast, Poindexter! The one and only internet place on Massawa Island was closed, as was the one on Taulud Island. I walked all the way over the long causeway to the mainland, and on finding the internet place open, thought I had caught myself a break. But it was not be! They had no connection, that’s why the other two places were closed – it seemed the whole of Massawa was cut off from the wibbly wobbly worldy widey web.

I dropped into the neighbouring bar to knock back a few cold sodas and got chatting to a group of ex-pats from Germany, Spain and South Africa who were working on a project for the Eritrean government. Lots of red tape? Surprisingly not. They had been in Massawa for a week now and would be popping in and out of the country for the next few months rolling out the venture. I wished them well and suggested they visit Massawa Island sometime – the mainland was nowhere near as pleasant.

So a quick bus ride back to the port (I’ve walked enough today) and it wasn’t long before I bumped into the chief again – Nay is from Burma and has sailed all over South East Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. After his twelve-month contract expires he is hoping that maybe he could be captain of his next vessel. He’s also far enough away from the military junta that is running Burma to be able to speak freely about the situation there. Let hope over the coming years that more Burmese people are given that freedom.

Later on we watched the Ghana vs USA match together on a TV set up on the street outside a bar. When Ghana won the place erupted in jubilation – nice to see Africa united for a change. I finished off the night with the Filipino crew from our ship, but managed to moderate my drinking this time and even headed back to my cabin at a (kinda) reasonable time. Tomorrow we set sail back to Saudi. All systems a-go-go.