Steam shooting out my ears, I spent the remainder of the afternoon writing passive (aggressive) emails to every shipping company operating out of Sri Lanka pleading (demanding) to be put on the next ship outta Dodge. I’ve never typed so furiously or passionately in my life. I don’t care what I have to do, what I have to pay, just somebody – somewhere – pleeeeeease put me on a ship!!
Last weekend in Unawatuna, I met a lovely British couple, Shaun and Debs, who recognised me off the telly and told me that if I was ever in Colombo I was welcome to stay at their gaff. Rather not looking forward to the cramped 2 hour bus journey up to Negombo with all my bags after a day like today, I called to take them up on the offer. Be warned, Graham Hughes: terrible tenancy to turn-up. Shaun and Deborah were incredibly hospitable and we ended up drinking till the wee small hours, putting the world to rights and discussing why we can’t make electricity by harnessing the Earth’s magnetic core (for the answer, see Mythbusters).
The next day began with even more emails of sheer desperation, going through the dozens of shipping types who have helped me out in the past, from all over the world. I figured if I cast the net out far enough, somebody, somewhere might be able to help. There was a Maersk ship leaving in a few days and they seemed a possibility, and after speaking to the guys from Hayley’s Advantis, it looked like perhaps the old Morning Viship – the ship I was originally hoping would take me to The Maldives when I first arrived in Sri Lanka back in June, might (*might*) be able to fit now me on board. This would cut India out of the equation and make my GPS line home look a little less like it was drawn by a spider on ecstasy.
But the best option on the table came courtesy of Captain Paneer of Emirates Shipping in Singapore. He and I had spoken when I was attempting to get to Sri Lanka from Singapore (feels like a lifetime ago) and he suggested a ship called the Vira Bhum run by feeder outfit Regional Container Lines (RCL). It was scheduled to leave a week on Friday (October 12) and arrive in Bombay, India the Monday after (October 15), which would give me a few days in which to hurry back down to Cochin and jump the Costa neoRomantica (which I have a ticket for) before it departs the following Thursday (October 18). This would be at one tight schedule – a few days out one way or another and I’d be knee-deep in donkey do.
Captain Paneer was brilliant. After yesterday’s shenanigans I was (understandably) a bit paranoia that something might go wrong at the last minute, but he responded in the best possible way: telling me it was ‘a million to one chance’ that the ship would omit Colombo and that the berthing date for Bombay (October 15) was set in stone. This allayed my fears like you wouldn’t believe.
The next day, confirmation came through from the good folks at RCL.
I printed it out. My passage to India (and therefore Maldives and Seychelles) all now hinged on me being able to amend my Indian visa to say I was entering via Bombay, not Cochin. On Friday morning I marched down to the Indian High Commission for what I swore would be the last time. I had THE FEAR that they would tell me I needed a whole new visa. Not only would this be infuriating (if you recall I already had to cancel the visa I got in London) and costly, it would also rob me of one of the last 7 blank pages remaining in my passport. As I have at least 8 more countries to visit before I reach South Sudan, this would be one hell of a pain in the arse.
The nice lady behind the counter couldn’t believe I was still here in Sri Lanka. Neither could I. I told her what had happened and she took my passport and told me to wait. So I waited. After what seemed like an eternity (might have been half an hour) she called me back over. She had amended the visa! It had been re-stamped and re-signed by the attaché and it was ALL SYSTEMS GO GO GO!!!
I headed back to Shaun and Debs and announced that I would be spending the weekend celebrating on the beach in Unawatuna. Which is exactly what I did.