Day 1,379: No Surprises, Please

Thu 11.10.12:

With confirmation from the owners, charterers, agents, customs, immigration, the international war-crimes tribunal in The Hague and the ghost of Jimmy Stewart, the stage was set for what would be the final leg of The Odyssey Expedition. Sri Lanka to South Sudan, over land and over sea, without flying. However, after last week’s emotional roller-coaster I tried my best to put it out of my head as far as was possible: I didn’t want to get crazy excited that I was set up to finish this adventure JUST IN CASE my hopes and dreams were once again crushed by a Vogon sitting behind a desk who doesn’t like the look of me.

But first… Unawatuna beach!! Lovely place, gorgeous clean sand, turquoise waters, great tunes, cheap beer and, most importantly, TURTLES!!

This weekend I decided to be a bona fide beach bum. Last weekend in Una I stayed at the Village Inn where I usually hang my hat as rooms are only four quid a night. However, my run in with THE BIGGEST SPIDER, LIKE, EVER last Sunday morning put me off staying there again. I was brushing my teeth, just a towel around my waist when BOOM! This Shelob motherf—er springs out from the gap between the basin and the wall. I remember backing away and saying in a calm, collected voice ‘this is most disconcerting’, although others in the vicinity may have heard a girly scream.

But why do I need a room when I can just sleep on the beach? There’s the ocean to bathe in and free showers to get the sand out from between your butt-cheeks. And no spiders! I assume. Friday night gave way to Saturday, when I visited the nearby turtle farm and sanctuary.

Saturday night was raucous as ever, I think I may have upset a Canadian by constantly referring to her country as ‘Canadia’ and berating her for allowing Justin Bieber to happen. I really need to work on my chat-up lines. Sunday day was spent on the great Glasto 2013 ticket stampede, with Stan once again stepping up to the challenge and securing your humble narrator here with a ticket for what will be my TENTH Glastonbury festival – the biggest and best music festival IN THE WORLD. OH YEAH!!

Sunday evening was all about the cricket. Hosts Sri Lanka had made it to the final of the World Twenty-20 where they would face the West Indies. I tried my best to get tickets for the match in Colombo, but it was not to be, so I had to make do with watching it on the big screen on the beach at Happy Banana. The Sri Lankans – bless ’em – had set up bonfires on the beach and firework displays for when they won.

But as much as it pains me to say this, they didn’t win. After a strong bowling performance, they collapsed in battling and the West Indies ended up taking the gong. Ah well, they set off the fireworks anyway, danced on the beach and lit the bonfires. Not surprisingly, the Sri Lankans didn’t stay out late, and by 2am there were only a handful of people left on the beach, sitting around the embers. There were two lovely French girls, Frederique and Delphine, a handful of Aussies, a Sri Lankan guy who worked in the Full Moon pub and a guy from South Korea who teamed up with me to try and teach everyone how to dance… (wait for it… wait for it) …………Gangnam Style!!

Yey! Bandwagons!!

But eventually everybody retired and I was left on my own, looking out over the Indian Ocean, plotting my escape like Steve McQueen in Papillion.

The next day I was kindly given a free lift back up to Negombo with Frederique and Delphine who were heading up to catch their flight back to Shanghai. One of the good things to come of my extended detention on the Isle of Serendipity was that I would be able to see Sachal again as he had now returned from his trip to Malaysia and Pakistan. I wrote to him telling him I was on my way up – with a couple of lovely French girls in tow, and he immediately promised (in ultimate Sachal-style) to rustle up a feast complete with beer, wine and good cheer to see them on their way.

I arrived to find an American couple, a guy from Mexico, a girl from Germany and a guy from Croatia all staying at the B&B, eating and drinking with good ol’ Sachal holding court. It was classic night in at Sachal Mir’s, and a good time was had by all. It’s great when you have friends that, like you, always say yes no matter what and then worry about how they’re going to do it later. My friends back home Lindsey and Anna are prime examples of this attitude, and it’s what makes them THE MOST AWESOME PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.

The following Wednesday I had my meeting with RCL – the shipping company that would (hopefully!) be taking me to India just in the nick of time for me to make my Costa cruise ship connection to The Maldives and The Seychelles. Wanting to put on a good show, I got my broken shoes fixed (thanks Sachal!), put on a shirt and turned up with a package of tea for the office and a bottle of arrack for Shamindra Wickremesooriya, the director of Delmege Forsyth & Co. (Shipping) Ltd. (the owners of RCL) here in Sri Lanka and Sajith Salagadu, the Head of Operations. But this was a mile away from the frosty reception of last week. I was taken down to the board room, given a cup of tea and given the opportunity to have a damn good natter with Sajith and Shamindra about my adventures, about travelling on cargo ships and about how much I really, really want to finish this thing and go home.

They were wonderfully reassuring, there didn’t seem to be any doubt that I would be allowed on the ship and that no last-minute obstacles would come my way.


Afterwards, I headed over to the In… On The Green pub for some red hot quiz action. I did this quiz on my own a couple of weeks ago (the day I arrived back), but only managed fourth place – won’t be making that mistake again! I met with Jacqui, who I had met at the first quiz, and joined her team. Later we’d be joined by Hannah, a mate of Gemma’s from back home. I’m happy to say that we won the quiz (by one point) and the 3000 rupees behind the bar went down a treat. I was intending to head back to Negombo after the quiz, but Hannah told me she had a twin room at the Colombo Hilton, paid for by her company. Now I’m not going to pass up an offer like that, so after a few last Colombo cocktails at the Kama nightclub, we went back to her gaff and started abusing the free room service. Mmm… 4am jerk chicken. Lovely.

The next morning I staggered back to Negombo. Over in Liverpool, my dad was having his heart surgery today. A triple-heart bypass and one of his aortic valves replacing. As much as you get told that such a thing is routine these days, and that Broad Green Hospital is one of the best places in the country to have it done, it’s still a massive worry. How could it not be?

Imagine my surprise then to get a phone call that afternoon off my mum which came from their home number. ‘Here’s your dad’, she said as she passed the phone over. ‘Hell-looo’ comes the usual cheery Colonel Blimp of a voice. ‘Eh? What happened? Why are you at home?’

‘Well, they had a patient who was having complications in the ICU and there would be no bed for me after the op, so they postponed it for another day.’

It’s one of those weird things isn’t it? While being annoyed that my dad was sent home (half an hour before he was due to go under the knife), there was some sense of relief that the op had been put on hold – after all, the word ‘complications’ is something that floats like a menacing cloud above all surgical operations, whether we wish to think about it or not.

So then Thursday evening saw me say my fond farewells to Sachal and headed down to stay with Shaun in Colombo. We went out for a beer on Mount Lavinia beach to the south of the city and drank a toast to Sri Lanka, the place that just didn’t want to let me go.

Major major thanks to everyone who helped make my stay in Sri Lanka a fun and hilarious one over the last few months: Natalie, Anita, Marina, Elena, Subajee, Asanka, Lily, Olivia, Will, Chistoph, Julian, Luisa, Stephan, Marcia, Manisha, Emer, Ruth, Sashka, Stasha, Peter, Harry, Heather, Gary, Killer, Henry, Carl, Shaun, Deborah, Jacqui, Willem, George, Sam, Nancy, Frederique, Delphine, all the lads in Una working ship security, everyone at RCL, Delmege Forsyth, Emirates, BTL and Hayley’s Advantis, Janaka and the Rodeo staff, and an extra special shout out to Mr. Sachal Mir: CoachSurf host, B&B manager, dinner party maestro, teller of tales, spinner of yarns, maker of mischief, prince of Negombo, king of the Sufis and all round good egg.

HEY SRI LANKA! Good morning…! And, if I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight x

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 One Comment

  1. segacs

    You know, the one thing that I love about reading your blog is that, even when things seem absolutely hopeless, you always seem to have space for optimism (and a pint at the pub). Oh, I know we’re getting the somewhat filtered edited version, but even so, there’s something inspiring in this journey. You’ve had so many things go wrong, a lesser person would’ve quit a dozen times over by now, but you keep going and somehow you keep meeting wonderful people and having amazing experiences. It’s a great bit of perspective to have, say, on a Monday morning at the office when everything seems to be going wrong. “Chin up, and maybe you’ll meet some awesome folks on a beach in Sri Lanka one day.”

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