I’m not going to lie to you, Africa was (unsurprisingly) a real bitch to get around. Between the dirt tracks where the road should be, the cars that were held together with string and blu-tac and the legions of corrupt policemen angling for bribes it’s amazing I made it out in one piece. But I did have a little help from my friends. I owe the following people a huge debt of gratitude, some of them quite literally saved my life.
Matt – Morocco, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Egypt
Matt is the Aussie-based editor of the Odyssey Jellyvision show. Despite having no backpacking experience, he gave it his all: following me with the Lonely Planet’s A1 camera into Morocco and then flying in at the end to catch the last fortnight of the adventure in East Africa with nought but a trilby and an unquenchable thirst for Diet Coke to sustain him. For spending Christmas Day on a squalid bus in Ethiopia… I salute you, sir!
I met Fatima on the bus as I was heading towards the Mauritania border for the first time. We bonded over chicken kebabs.
Michel – Western Sahara, Mauritania
Michel was the French guy who gave me a lift over no-man’s-land into Mauritania the second time. He managed to buy a visa on the border. Ha! Up yours, Graham!!
The Fishermen, Cape Verde
These are some of the guys who took me over to Cape Verde on their little wooden boat and then spent six days in jail with me upon our arrival.
Piran, Cape Verde
A British ex-pat living in Cape Verde, Piran heard about my plight through his mum who saw it on the news in the UK. He came to the court, translated for me, we shared a PIZZA OF FREEDOM together and he even let me kip at his place. LEGEND.
Maria, Cape Verde
Maria was my lawyer in the court case in Cape Verde. Her role consisted of listening to the prosecution say that the whole thing was a massive (and embarrassing) mistake and that we should be set free. Like anyone with half a brain, she agreed with the prosecution.
Tomic, Cape Verde
My incarceration in Cape Verde didn’t end with me getting out of the jail, with the authorities annoyingly (and illegally as it happens) keeping hold of my passport, I ended up being stuck in that hellhole for six whole weeks. But hilarious ex-pats from Poland like Tomic helped male the enforced sojourn a little more bearable.
Gary, Cape Verde
One of the most fascinating guys I’ve ever met, Gary has lived in Africa most of his life. Originally from the US, his view of Africa’s past, present and future was totally on the money. He’s lived life to the full and now he has wisdom to impart. Why he came to Cape Verde on his hols is anybody’s guess!
Callee, Cape Verde
Callee was also stuck in the nightmare isles – she was writing a guidebook on the place! When I asked her how she writes positive things about such a place she said it was ‘difficult’! More importantly, it was Callee who put me in touch with Milan, who would turn out to be my saviour.
Yuri, Cape Verde
The nicest guy I’ve ever met, Yuri was my soul mate during my stay in Cape Verde. Originally from Angola, he worked at the Cafe Sophia, had a terrific girlfriend from Switzerland and let even me beat him at chess. What else is there to do at the End of the World?
Milan – Cape Verde, Senegal
The Hero of Odyssey Heroes, Milan is my saviour. In a move completely above and beyond the call of duty, he sailed over from another of the Cape Verde islands to pick me up in his boat, the Flumel and deliver me from the tyranny of Santiago Island. It took us over a week to get back to Senegal.
Sebastian – Cape Verde, Senegal
Sebastian was Milan’s French Man Friday on the Flumel. He cooked up a storm on the ship-less oceans and got just as excited as me when the dolphins turned up.
Arriving back in Senegal after my enforced detention in Cape Verde, Jared welcomed me back to Africa with open arms, letting me CouchSurf at his place in Dakar and joining me for a PIZZA OF FREEDOM!!!
Isaac was a really pleasant guy I sat next to on the bus to Bamako. Originally from Ghana, he had to put up with the Francophone police tapping him for bribes every five seconds, but he took it all in his stride. We mutinied our clapped out old bus together and hopped on a nice other one with A/C and televisions and everything.
Helga and Paul, Sierra Leone
These two were friends of my friends from Australia (although Helga is a Brit). They let me surf their couch in Freetown for the weekend and what’s more, Helga made me a roast dinner upon my arrival. After the hell I had gone through getting across Guinea, I almost burst into tears of gratitude. Mmm… gravy.
Shadi was the guy I CouchSurfed with in Monrovia, a journalist working for the UN (but we won’t hold that against him!). Interesting guy: he’s originally from Jordan and was kidnapped by Hezbollah once. All in a day’s work for this daring newshound.
Aya, Cote D’Ivoire
Aya was my delightful CouchSurf host in the city of Abidjan. She treated me to dinner and her apartment was to die for. The best night’s sleep I got in the whole of Africa!
Rocco – Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon
The LEGEND that is Rocco Fasano…! My Lonely-Planet-appointed cameraman, he traipsed around West Africa with me for a whole thee weeks. With his twisted sense of humour and his love of Tism, we bonded instantly. He also gave me a ton of photos, many of which are scatted around The Odyssey site.
Talking of legends, they don’t come much more legendary than the legendary Tanko Hamza. He brought my second passport over to Ghana in a diplomatic bag, arranged my Ghana visa to be delivered in minutes rather than days and facilitated my travels through West Africa …all before we even met. WHAT A GUY!!
Fred, Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso roughly translates as ‘the Land of Honest Men’, and Fred here embodies that spirit in spades. I kipped at his pension near the Niger border and he got up at the crack of dawn to run me over there and back on his moped. Champion!
My CouchSurf host in Lagos, Tony is originally from Ghana, but has lived in Nigeria for many years. We hit the streets of Lagos together looking for electricity and a bite to eat.
Not an official CouchSurf, but Roland let me crash in his one-room shack in Calabar after I arrived to find all the hotels full. He also helped me find the boat to Cameroon.
Vivian and Kamikaze, Cameroon
Rooco and I ran into Vivian and her crazy brother Kamikaze on the triple bordertown of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Viv helped us cross into Equatorial Guinea (not easy unless you have an American Passport) and smoothed our final exit from Cameroon which got a little complicated when I stupidly pulled my two passports out. All power to her!
The lovely Estelle is my mate Yaz’s cousin. She met me in Libreville and helped me find a ship that was leaving for Sao Tome – The Andrea. The fact that it didn’t actually leave isn’t her fault!
The Keith Richards of West Africa, Tatayo is the leader of the Bwiti Tribe I joined on the outskirts of Libreville. Originally from France, he’s lived in Gabon since 1967. He’s such a local legend that he’s even got his own entry in the Gabon section of the Lonely Planet. He allowed me to hang out with the tribe for a few days while I sussed out another way to get to Sao Tome.
A seemingly life-long member of Tatayo’s tribe, Mobengo is a smart, hilarious, fast-talking New Yorker who is on a one-man mission to introduce the world to the joys of Iboga, the hallucinogenic tree root that is at the heart of the Bwiti culture.
Justin was taking part in the two week Bwiti initiation ceremony when I met him. His wicked sense of humour and his skewed view of the world cracked me up and encouraged much mischief and mayhem.
Another one of those people who really goes out of their way to help a stranger with a dilemma, Steve ran the fishmongers in Port Mole, Libreville. When the Andrea boat failed to leave on schedule, he drove me around town looking for a GPS unit so I could go to Sao Tome with Marc.
I take back everything I said about Belgium! Marc was the guy who delivered to Sao Tome on his little sailboat. It was his first international sailing trip, and to do this was way above and beyond the call of duty. LET’S GET THE SPINNAKER OUT!
The Sao Tome Boat Guys
What a lovely little place Sao Tome is. Totally off the tourist map, it has beautiful beaches, a lush green interior and the people are fantastically friendly – as was proved by these guys who not only looked after our dingy, they waded out and hitched up our sail’s outboard motor to save it from beaching.
After three days of travel hell, I was sooooo looking forward to pizza and karaoke when I reached Brazzaville. What I got instead was thrown in jail for 6 days. My pre-arranged CouchSurf contact Christophe was on hand though to argue with the thicko coppers, supply me with scooby snacks and to join me for yet another PIZZA OF FREEDOM!
Michael, DR Congo
I CouchSurfed with Michael for a few days in Kinshasa while I organised my new Angolan visa. He has a DVD collection TO DIE FOR.
Laure and Alex, DR Congo
You know when you meet a couple so cute that you could just eat them? No? Er, well, stick with me on this one: Alex works for Medicin Sans Frontiers and Laure is – GET THIS – a BUSH PILOT in The Congo. Now do you want to eat them? Yep. Thought so.
Had an awesome time with Emilio, my CouchSurf host in Luanda. He came to my aid when I was having a difficult time of it in Angola, plus I just happened to be kipping at his during a pre-arranged house party! Huzzah!!
Staying with Tashia was an absolute delight. She was my CouchSurf host in Windhoek. As smart and as lovely as she looks in this photo, she helpfully picked up my new hard-drive from Fed-Ex after my old one went kaput.
Eileen, South Africa
I befriended Eileen and MJ in the bar where they worked in Pretoria and within minutes I was whisked away for the best night out of The Odyssey so far – glorious company, booze, dancing, pool, drunken philosophy, watching the sun rise… aah… the good old days…!
Nenien, South Africa
I stumbled into the Good Hope Bed and Breakfast after arriving in the town of Zeerust after dark. I was greeted by the delightful Nenien and her boyfriend who were looking after the place while her parents where away. They made me steak and let me stay for free. So, so kind.
Dr. Daniel, South Africa
The doctor will see you now. Daniel and his beautiful girlfriend hailed from Germany and accompanied me on my trip over the Sani Pass into Lesotho. He also loaded me up with medicine and painkillers (which I’ve still got, thanks, Dan!).
Liliana was my CouchSurf contact in Mbabane. We went out to see the crazy Ayers Rock thing in Swaziland, then to a bar for some FANTASTIC live music and then to an authentic Swaziland restaurant for some pukka tukka. She was bloomin’ marvellous!!
Flore and her husband made me feel right at home when I surfed their couch in Beria, Mozambique. Their little daughter drew a picture of me that’s still stuffed in my Lonely Planet. Sweet!
They say you shouldn’t have favourites, but tough. Gui, my Brazilian CouchSurf host in the town of Tete was an absolute blast. He’s also been helping me out in the ongoing saga concerning the Fishermen’s Boat that is still (unbelievably) stuck in the world’s most wretch’d isle, Cape Verde.
Dylan, a typical Canuck, is (typically!) one of the most laid back dudes I have ever met. He was my CouchSurf host in Dar es Salaam and we painted the town red together – ‘Dar’ still hasn’t full recovered!
I surfed Mickael’s couch for a few nights in Reunion and I had the most amazing time hanging out with him, his family, his friends, his neighbours… a party every night and food to die for. Civilisation at last!
Captain and Chief Mate, MV DAL Madagascar
The captain of The DAL was as brilliant as he was hilarious – a proper old seadog from Germany. His cavalier attitude toward the Somali piracy nonsense was a joy to behold. Woe betide any fools who mess with him.
I met Yaya in a shared taxi heading back to Moroni. I explained the dilemma I was in – all the boats back to Africa had been cancelled and my filthy hovel hotel was costing me a whopping 16euro a DAY. He offered me a place to stay at his gaff. For such amazing generosity to a stranger in distress, SIR, I SALUTE YOU!
Fanja worked at the International Hotel to the north of Moroni. After seeing me abusing the free wi-fi at the hotel bar He took me under his wing and allowed me to set up camp in his little home in the village. He introduced me to the joys of Lucky Dube, Jean Claude Van-Damme’s killer roundhouse kick and knows all his state capitals.
Alice and Daniel, Comoros
Alice and Daniel from North Carolina were in Comoros waiting for the arrival of the replica of a 4,000 year old Phoenician sailing ship that would be taking them around Africa. The nutters. They let me kip on the floor of their hotel room for the last week I was stuck in Comoros.
Ah yes, the ever-resourceful Keith here hails from Florida and was joining Alice and Daniel on the old Phoenician ship. A lively debater and a wearer of magic Moron underwear (I jest!) we still keep in touch via email whenever I feel the urge to defend the good name of Charles Darwin.
Sevene and Thomas, Comoros
The excellent Thomas and his gorgeous ladychum Sevene are on an Odyssey of their own – they’re trying to get from Reunion Island to France without flying… no problem guys! (I did it!) While I was waiting three weeks for a boat from Comoros, they were waiting in Madagascar for a boat to Comoros.
I was very fortunate that Aengus contacted me on the interweb before I got to Nairobi. He helped me with my Ethiopia and Djibouti visas and gave me some (much needed) advice when it came to overlanding it up to North Africa. He drove to Nairobi from his home in Ireland. Trooper!
Silvia and Asier (and Saxy Santa), Ethiopia
Matt and I met Silvia and Asier in the hotel just over the border of Ethiopia and they accompanied us on our trip up to Addis Ababa on Christmas Eve singing Band Aid all the way.
One of the three AWESOME guys who worked at the CMA-CGM shipping agency in Djibouti. Together with Dino Deasha they sorted me with my life-saving passage up to Egypt, arriving on the evening of the 31st December – just in time to snag a new Guinness World Record and meet my girlfriend who I hadn’t seen for 12 months.
The CMA-CGM guys didn’t just help me out getting to Egypt on the MV Turquoise, they also drove me over the border into Somalia. They knew the border guards, so it was no problem getting in – if I hadn’t met these guys there is no way I could have done it without a visa. They also dragged me out of bed at 3am to take me down to the port so I could clamber on board the ship. Amazing, amazing people – the people who say ‘Yes, Why Not?’ instead of ‘No, Why Should I?’. I can’t thank them enough.
The Crew, MV Turquoise
These guys were amazing – they made me feel right at home and were almost as excited as I was that the first chapter of The Odyssey Expedition would be drawing to a close… if I could just get to the pyramids in time to meet Mandy for the New Year…!
The Cook, MV Turquoise
ALWAYS BEFRIEND THE COOK! That’s my advice. After serving me up with more yummy food than I could possibly eat, the Egyptian Cook of the MV Turquoise ensured that I was kept happy with the biggest stack of DVDs I’ve ever seen.
The Chief Mate, MV Turquoise
My mate, the chief mate. Incredibly interested in this whole Odyssey malarkey, he introduced me to the joys of Filipino X-Factor and Big Brother – which I swear are fifty times as hilarious as their British counterparts.
The Boson, MV Turquoise
The Boson of a ship is in charge of he ship’s property and it was the Boson of the MV Turquoise who ensured I didn’t get into too much trouble when the Saudi port official kicked off about my camera and supplied me with the rope I needed for the opening shot of 2010: ODYSSEY TWO!!
Mandy, Everywhere I Go
What’s the driving force behind me racing about? What is it that after every defeat, every mishap, every unforseen problem I encounter on the road that makes me pick myself up, dust myself down and keep on going?
It’s Mandy who propels me forwards, it’s Mandy who talks to me every single day no matter where I am in the world. It’s Mandy who flew halfway across the world to meet me in Egypt for the new year.
We were reunited at six minutes past midnight at the Great Pyramids on the morning of January 1st 2010, the place we first met each other on the 23rd July 1999.
We only had one short week together before I was back on the road. If we could afford it we would travel together, but on the shoestring budget of The Odyssey it’s just not possible.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…