Day 1,371: 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..


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!!!


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.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Dick Temple

    Hi Graham,
    Such a shame…BUT

    No doubt the Universe has something even more mind-blowing lined up for you. 🙂

    Who will you meet while you’re waiting for this to be sorted? What other adventures will you have? What might you have missed by taking that cargo ship.

    Don’t worry, everything is going to plan – You just don’t know what the plan is!

    Thanks for the vicarious pleasures.

    An admirer

  2. Cara Quinton

    Loads of hugs mate.

    I haven’t commented on your blog, but i do read it regularly and think of you.

    I can’t imagine how frustrated you are right now.

  3. Cody

    It’s kind of depressing reading your first blog detailing your big hopes for The Odyssey Expedition, like how you planned on raising 1,000,000 pounds for Water Aid, how you hoped it would be finished in a year (or two) and how you were going to marry the woman of your dreams at the end.

    But now it’s all fallen to crap…

    But you have inspired me and plenty of other people to travel and experience the world and your blog has provided countless hours of entertainment.

    I must be one of your biggest fans and you’ll always be awesome in my eyes! 🙂

    1. Graham

      Nah it’s not really that depressing: I’ll still get the record no matter how long it takes, I’ll make a million for WaterAid by simply winning Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (easy!), and as much as it pains me to say it, I guess Mandy wasn’t the love of my life…

  4. Nomadic Translator

    F—ing A mate! WTF is WRONG with these people?! Official visa in hand and s–t, NO f—ing need to “inform” Cochin you “are coming”. Just WTF!!! I still can’t believe these IDIOTS and their bureaucratic NONsense. Or I rather say BULLS–T…

    So! Don’t give up please! Gotta show this new breed of VOGONS that THEY WILL BE BEATEN

    (damn mate, I’m all pis–d off and s–t whoa..)

  5. Emer

    Hi Graham, you nutter! 🙂

    Just like to say that I read this blog a lot but never tweet or may have more silent followers then you think!

    Stay positive…198 out of 201 that is an amazing accomplishment, you’d never get over it if you gave up now!

    The book and TV show that will come from this will be hugely successful, you just need to be back in the UK to work on them properly.

    You’ve inspired people on the way but you are sure to inspire many more when you get finished and home and can spread this experience!

    Stay happy you are two countries away from the dream fulfilled!

    Good luck with the end…get home safe 🙂 x

  6. Sharpe's Rifle

    As with each of your loyal readers above, I rarely comment on your tales but always look forward to reading them each time they pop up in my inbox. I even forgive your occasional tangental rant, because that’s what friends do (even electronic ones who have never met).

    We could talk about the inspiration that you have given so many people through your dogged persistence, especially given what it has cost you mentally, financially and emotionally to have come this far, but I don’t think you need that. You already know you have lived and are still living one of the greatest adventures of the modern age and you are too ornery and stubborn to give up without a fight.

    Hang in there big fella, my morning coffees are going to be a lot duller when you are finally done!

  7. Brendan Donnelly


    I’ve been following your adventure since I accidently stumbled across your blog in the first week of your Odyssey Expedition.

    You’re an absolute legend and you’re going to finish it, just hang in there!

    Everytime somebody asks me about a country I’ve visited and says, “Was it not dangerous?”, I tell them about your adventure and your philosophy of travelling. You’re an inspiration to a lot more people than you realise.

    Good luck, you can do it!


  8. Ken Richards

    Hard lines old man.

    I have also been a reader for 3 years now, and enjoyed every fresh juicy blog as it has landed in my in box. Love the rants, and the passion you have put into this endeavour. It all comes out so clearly in your words. It is so great to read a travel writer who has opinions, and is not afraid to voice give them voice.

    I hope you succeed in pulling it off. I’d guess that no one, yourself included could have realized just how hard the task you set for yourself would turn out to be.

    Keep at it until you are at peace with the result. I know all your readers will be too.



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