Days 544 & 545: Another Mad Scheme

28.06.10-29.06.10: I was a little iniquitous last time I left Africa, and for that I am truly sorry. Africa is many things, but it’s definitely not rubbish. Infuriating perhaps, but not crap. Eritrea, or rather Massawa, really warmed the cockles of my heart, and it’s hard to stay mad at an entire continent, even if it did throw you in jail twice. So for the good bits – Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Rwanda, Egypt and Eritrea – Africa I salute you and hereby take back all the nasty things I may have said. Africa - you’re all right. You just need leaders who aren’t more evil than Dr. Evil’s Evil Petting Zoo. Monday passed as Mondays on cargo ships on the Red Sea often do, without incident or report. I worked hard on my scribblings and watched…

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Day 542: Eritrea Uncovered

26.06.10: This morning I was invited around to a local girl’s place for some traditional Eritrean breakfast. Saba and I sat in the back yard of her single room shack as her mum expertly roasted and ground coffee beans before funnelling them into a traditional spherical pot, added water and then placed on the fire. Breakfast was a yummy meat, potato and onion stew that wasn’t far from being scouse, served with bread and the freshest coffee I’ve ever tasted. You just can’t beat home cooking, can you? Eritrea pretty much closes down from noon until 5pm, so after thanking Saba and her mum, I headed back to the ship for a little siesta. As you can no doubt guess, it gets rather hot here in the afternoon. After grabbing forty winks I headed out of the port to try and hunt down some wild internets…

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Day 541: Africa’s Final Fortress

25.06.10: We arrived in Massawa Port, Eritrea just after noon. As I sauntered down the gangplank my head, usually filled with logistics and gibberish, felt surprisingly clear: all I could imagine was the little strip of white running down the right of Africa finally being coloured in. The final sticker in my collection, my last Pokémon, the Kenner toy that completes the set. When I finally touched down it was as good as landing on the moon. Africa. Done. At last. Arriving in Tunisia at the start of May 2009, I would have never envisaged it taking so long and I guess I can say that I’ve been to all the countries in the Middle East as well, but thirteen months is a long, long time to spend cracking one (albeit vast) continent. South America took me two weeks, Europe just 21 days. I honestly thought…

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Days 539 & 540: Back In The Red

23.06.10-24.06.10: We had to be at Baaboud Shipping for 7.30am, and, once again, Turki took time away from the office to take me there.  The level of hospitality and sheer generosity I’ve received from Turki has really knocked me for six.  I owe this guy BIG.  Like many other Odyssey Heroes I really have no idea how I can possibly repay him short of declaring a Wookiee Life-Debt.  The only thing I can do is spread the love and do everything in my power to help my fellow wayfarers along the way after I finish this adventure.  And you can hold me to that. We presented Ahmed with his dates and he responded with a pot of authentic Sudanese green bean coffee.  The ship would be leaving this afternoon and we had to be at the port for 10am.  Ahmed gave Turki the phone number of…

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Day 538: The Old Jeddah Mind Trick

22.06.10: Turki had tried in vain all yesterday to get in touch with Baaboud Shipping and arrange a meeting with Ahmed.  But this morning we had better luck.  By 9.01am we had a meeting arranged.  Turki donned his traditional Saudi garp (to enhance his already consummate Jedi skills) and by 10am we were in Ahmed Ibn-Ishaq’s office drinking green coffee and talking ships to Eritrea. After Turki introduced me and explained that we had been told to come here by Abdullah, I explained my mission.  Turki then smoothly fought my corner in Arabic, I can’t tell you how important the power of introduction is to The Odyssey: whenever I just ruck up and tell people what I’m doing they generally a) don’t believe me or b) think I’m a nut.  It’s kinda embarrassing.  Once that obstacle is out of the way, it makes things SO much…

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Day 537: OK, Where’s The Catch?

21.06.10: Turki gets up at some horrendously early hour of the morning, but I was allowed to sleep in until 8am, and then we both headed over to the Eritrean Consulate. Again, Turki took a day off work to help me out (miles above and light years beyond the call of duty). A little man dressed in red with horns, a pointy tail and a pitchfork hovered over my left shoulder whispering it can’t be this easy, it can’t be this easy… But it was. I didn’t even need to fill out a form, they did it for me. And when they told me I could pick the visa up later that day, I almost broke into cartwheels. So can I pay for it in Saudi money? Of course! Do I have to pay it into a bank that’s on the other side of town? Don’t…

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Day 536: And All That Hejaz

20.06.10: Turki’s apartment in the north of Jeddah was as sweet as sweet can be. Not only did I get my own room (and bathroom), his fridge was stocked and there was a nice hot cup of tea with real milk whenever I fancied it. Turki himself is a remarkably interesting chap – a jack of many trades – a building planner/surveyor in his day job, in his spare time he has just put together the first of his ‘Arabic Trails’ guidebooks, a full colour 4x4 guide with the amazing stuff you can find in the desert, if you know where to look. The pdf version on his computer looked seven shades of awesome – even more awesome when you realised he did most of the research, took the photos, created the maps and set the design. This guide just covered the Hijaz area, which is…

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Days 534 & 535: The Sands Of Time

18.06.10-19.06.10: So after a good night’s kip I had a the best part of a day to shake off my hangover.  The bus for Riyadh, the Saudi capital, left at 5pm.  I spent the day shuffling about, wondering why the sun had to be so bright and skimming all the superfluous items out of my bag.  At 3pm I left my coat behind in the The Greens as I departed for the Saudi Arabia Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) bus ‘station’ in Deira, but returning ten minutes later as I had also left my mobile phone.  Which I needed. Damien rolled his eyes. When I finally got to the SAPTCO office they told me to come back in half an hour.  I used this time to go out in the baking heat and check my pores were still working properly.  As my soaking wet t-shirt could no…

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Day 532: The Cunning Plan

16.06.10: After again saying my farewells to Luke and Dave, our mate Alasdair gave me a lift to the bus depot. After AGAIN being told the bus to Dubai was full by the grumpy man behind the counter, Alasdair got a little suss. Is there another bus? Oh yeah – the bus company down the road, behind the fish market. D’oh! Why didn’t I ask that yesterday?! And so after heartily shaking Alasdair’s hand and jumping on the (pretty empty) 3pm bus to Dubai I found myself gazing out of the window over the flat barren flatness of Arabia’s empty quarter, full of djinns and demons and things that go bump in the night. As I mulled over the situation in my head and the wonderful suggestions made by contributors to this website (gavinmac and Socleman, take a bow) a cunning plan began to take form…

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