THE ODYSSEY: Review of 2009

I guess now is a good time to look back over what was the year that was, the highs and lows of life on the road. If you can't be bothered reading my blogs for the whole year (and who could blame you?) here's 2009: An Earth Odyssey in a nutshell... January 2009 Ah, January – the whizzbangshebang through South America... for the first two weeks I was on target and on schedule. But then The Caribbean reared it's ugly head and well and truly stuffed me up for the next couple of months. Countries Visited: 19 Running Total: 19 February 2009 February was a difficult month – just getting from St Vincent to Mexico required all my skill and dexterity, of which I have neither, which is probably why it took me a month, not the week I expected it to. Countries Visited: 10 Running…

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Day 365: We’re Here

31.12.09: Egypt. Ground Zero. My first backpacking adventure was in Egypt ten years ago, an adventure which introduced me to the joys of backpacking, the love of deserts and the open road and a certain Miss Amanda Newland. This is my favourite country on Earth (after Great Britain, of course rah rah rah) and it's where I was happy to sit and watch the millennium tick over from 1999 to 2000 with Mary and Paul at the Jean Michel Jarre gig at the pyramids. Yeah, Jean Michel Jarre. The penguin guy. A more perfect spot to be reunited with my erstwhile lover I could not imagine. The KFC by the Sphinx for sunset. Nice. But logistics, ah, logistics... the MV Turquoise did, to be fair, arrive in Suez before sunset. But then I had to wait – we were not coming into port, the Suez officials…

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Day 364: This Is A Drill

30.12.09: Yesterday's little incident was soon forgotten and we were now making our way pell-mell towards the Suez canal – possibly the most famous canal in the world. You know the Statue of Liberty? It was originally intended to stand at the Mediterranean entrance to the Suez canal – TRUE! I mooched around the ship, making mischief and chatting with the Cook, the Chief and the Boson. I was summoned up to see the captain at one point, and I thought oo-eck, am I in trouble for yesterday's little misunderstanding? But all was groovy – he just wanted to let me know there would be an emergency drill later today and what to do when the alarm sounds. The drill was really cool – my job was to head up to the bridge (and not take the lift). Oh yes – I may have failed to…

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Day 363: First Catch Your Jerk

29.12.09: Today we hit land in fortress Saudi, possibly the most difficult country in the world to pop in for a quick visit. It was a great sunset as we came into dock, and as I stood on the side of the ship filming our arrival it felt as if, just this once, the gods had conspired to make my reunion with Mandy run as smoothly as Africa would ever allow. However, once we pulled into Jeddah port, it was a different story. After watching a movie in the ship's mess, I stood out on deck for a bit watching operations from above. Loads of chaps in hard hats where scurrying about, and the cargo was being unloaded at record pace (remarkable when compared to the slug-slow hi-jinks that goes on in most typical African ports) but then I remembered – I'm not in Africa any…

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Days 361-362: All Aboard!

27.12.09-28.12.09: 3am phone calls are not my favourite form of wake-up call. When I picked up the phone it somehow integrated it into my dream so much that I assumed it to be part of my dream and therefore completely acceptable to ignore. The next call five minutes later was not so easy to dismiss.. It was Abdi-Chakour telling me the ship was leaving early and I had to be on it within the hour or else I'd be swimming to Egypt. Biggidybiggidybong and whoosh, before I had shook the sleep out of my eyes I whisked away from the rathole that was the Sheraton Djibouti and plonked aboard the good ship Turquoise, shown my cabin and promptly dived into the bed and fell asleep faster than you can say Coco-Pops. I simply can't thank those guys from Djibouti's CMA-CGM office enough. They made my year.…

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Day 360: Boxing Day In Somalia

26.12.09: This was it. The most critical day of The Odyssey so far – make or break, do or die, cake or death. Dino Deasha, that magnificent chap, had cadged me a lift on the MV Turquoise, a huge container ship affiliated with those good folk at CMA-CGM and bound for Suez in Egypt, due to arrive on the 31st December. But first, I had not just to get to Djibouti City, I also needed to get to Somalia and back. Yeah, Somalia. Don't panic! Somalia is perfectly safe. Well, no, it's not – it's the most dangerous country on Earth. What I mean to say is that the part which I intend to visit is perfectly safe – I'm going to Somaliland. History lesson! (Cos I know you love them soooo...) In the same way that we had British, Dutch and French Guyana and Portuguese,…

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Day 359: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

25.12.09: After a good three hours sleep, I left the Dil Hotel to go and get a ticket for Dira Dawa on the 'luxury' coach. No chance. Sold out. Although the guy really didn't need to be such a swine about it, especially at four in the morning. I pegged it back to the hotel to pick up Matt and get the hell to the main bus station before the scuzzy buses sold out as well. We got there at 5am – just in the nick of time, cadging the last two tickets on the bus. So that's how I spent Christmas Day 2009, on a bus heading across Ethiopia. Well I spent my 30th birthday on a bus heading down Central America, so I guess I better start getting used to it. Not that it's Christmas here. The Ethiopians don't celebrate the birth of that…

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Day 358: Birdstrike!

24.12.09: Another 6am bus didn't seem like a lot of fun, but the minibus up to Addis turned out to be quite an eventful one, as after just half an hour on the road we hit a massive vulture at 70mph. It totally SMASHED the windscreen to bits and gave us all a bit of a fright, to put it mildly. Silvia turns out to be one of those wonderful sheilas who are more than happy to poke a dead animal with a stick, so she jumped out of the minibus and procured a few feathers for our respective hats. The vulture however, turned into state's evidence and the minibus crew picked it up and threw it on the bus, much to my chagrin, as it was laid out a little too close to number one here for my liking. After managing to get it moved…

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Day 357: The Hard Slog

23.12.09: Any time frame you are given in Africa, remember to add a few hours, or even days. Matt and I got up at 6am, just in time to jump back on yesterday's truck and crack on towards Ethiopia. The Pixies blasting in my ears and the sun rising to our left it was possibly the best trip I've had in Africa so far. However, our man predicting that we'd be at the border at 9am was ludicrously over-optimistic and we arrived sometime after 11am. So over the border and into Nation 129: Ethiopia. A nation that has had its fair share of publicity, but for all the wrong reasons. The only African nation not to suffer the horrors of colonisation, one could argue that Ethiopia proves that Africa would be just as stuffed up as it is now whether the damn whities had bothered invading…

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Day 356: The Special Bus

22.12.09: Groan. T.I.A. strikes again! The bus we're on is equipped to ferry disabled schoolchildren around in Japan. It is not in any way shape or form designed to survive the horror that is an African highway. With a ground clearance of (let's say) two inches, we bumped, scraped and scratched our way along the road at a respectable five kilometres an hour, dripping oil, water and brake fluid, busting our exhaust, losing fair chunks of metal as we plodded along. We were supposed to get to the border at around 7pm that night. But by 9am we were still at least 24 hours away and going nowhere fast. After losing a couple of hours while the oil leak was plugged (with bubblegum no doubt) we were told that it would take us two hours to get to the next town. It took eight. You see…

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