Day 1,419: We Advance At Dawn

Mon 19.11.12:

It was 0600 when my wake-up call came through from the third officer, but he need not have bothered: I was already wide awake. Giddy with that I-can-believe-this-is-actually-happening vibe, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. From now to South Sudan there is an open road: no ships to organise, no visas to be purchased in advance, from the moment I step foot on African soil it will be go go go to the end of the Odyssey Expedition.

I’ve been doing this for nigh on four years. In less than a week I’ll have achieved the impossible. Or at least something that nobody has ever done before. By 0700 I was posing for photos with the crew, ready to depart with Alfred, the ship’s agent. I was getting off at the same time as second engineer Jay from The Philippines. By 8am we had both been stamped into South Africa.


At this point I should mention that I’m rapidly running out of passport pages. Assuming that Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan all take up a page each (something I have no reason to doubt), when I get to South Sudan I will have exactly *zero* pages left in my passport to get back to the UK.

Lucky then I have a second passport! This morning it arrived back in London from its totally pointless trip to Madagascar and is currently in London with my good friend Lindsey. She should be dropping it into the Ethiopian embassy tomorrow, and on Friday when the visa (hopefully) comes through, it’ll be picked up by Casey and sent to Nairobi for me to collect. So long as I can buy multiple entry visas for both Kenya and Uganda, I should have *just* enough room to get back to Nairobi from South Sudan.

Happily, South Africa has a teeny-tiny entry stamp and hurrah for that!!

By 8.30am we arrived at the bus station just in time to see the Intercape bus to Johannesburg pull out of the depot. Cursing myself for faffing around this morning (although I’ve come to realise that immigration opened at 0800, so all the rushing in the world wouldn’t have changed matters much), I took some Rand out of the ATM (and got a new note with Nelson Mandela on it, only came out last week!) and bought a ticket for the bus that would depart at 0945, arriving Jo’burg at 1720 that afternoon.

I said my goodbyes to Alfred and Jay and waited to go. All was going swimmingly until the bus broke down. Overheating caused by an oil leak, from what I could fathom. Now anywhere else, a replacement bus would hurry out to us. But This Is Africa, so we drove to the garage instead and waited THREE HOURS while they fixed the problem. Sitting on the bus in the searing heat, no AC because the engine was off, and you couldn’t even open a window, because the cretins that design these buses obviously never ride in these buses.

Would you buy a new car, no matter how AC’d up to the hilt, in which the windows didn’t open? No. Exactly. Why engineers and architects are so confident that the air conditioning will *never* go on the blink is quite beyond me. But we still let these morons design buses, trains and office buildings whose unique selling feature is the opportunity to be slowly cooked alive rather than allowed to open a frikkin’ window: an otherwise nice, environmentally-friendly low-tech solution to the problem of, you know, being too hot.

As a consequence, it wasn’t until 2025 that I arrived in Jo’burg, the good ol’ murder capital of the world (sort of). As the last underground train left for Janine’s nearest station left at 2030, a frantic sprint to the Gautrain was in order. This is a brand new system – wasn’t here last time I was in town – but your ginger travelling monkey here had the system sussed out within seconds (I guess it helps I’ve ridden on an insane number of Mass Transit Systems) and by 2029 I was on the train, doors beeping as I boarded, almost catching my backpack as they closed.

Sat down, happy but sweaty, took out my phone to text Janine telling her I had made it: then realised the awful truth that Londoners have to live with everyday: there is no mobile signal when you’re underground. Oh well, that’s fine, methinks, I’ll text her when I arrive. Ten minutes later, I arrived, bounded up the up escalators and after waving my phone the air like I was directing a plane to the gate, I picked up some signal. I texted Janine only to receive the reply ‘ARGH! Was just driving all the way into town to pick you up!’.

So there I was with all my bags in the rape capital of the world, waiting outside a train station in the dark. I just hoped the station wouldn’t close – the security guys milling about at the entrance gave me a modicum of reassurance. And my fearsome ginger hair, obviously.

Janine took about 20 minutes to get back to me. It was great to see her again. We went for some Nandos (geniune South African / Jamacian tucker) because they make adverts like THIS:

Once back at J9’s, I barely had time to scratch my arse. Casey and I had a zillion and one things to sort out – there’s a good chance I’d have no internet contact from now until South Sudan. I’m taking care of the transport and the whole ‘not getting myself killed’ bit and Casey’s doing the rest. One way or another, this time NEXT WEEK, the Odyssey Expedition will have drawn to its inevitable and Jubalant conclusion…

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.

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