Day 428: A Parting Shot

04.03.10: The town of El Kala was undoubtedly a rather pleasant one, a sleepy fishing village that would have gone down will with the tourists before the civil war of the 1990s that ripped Algeria apart and set the tourists packing, presumably for Morocco instead. In the centre is a dilapidated old cathedral, beautiful in it’s worn, craggy features and down in the water are hundreds of little wooden fishing boats, much as it would have been in the past and yet still is today. I filmed some kids playing football (they demanded!) in the streets and grabbed myself a cup of coffee before jumping a taxi back to the border. No Algerian Security Services this time, just a clear run back to Tunisia. A boat would be leaving from Tunis for Italy at 8pm tonight and it had my name on it. At the border…

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Day 427: Africa, Cracked

03.03.10: You can’t do a lap of Africa. It’s impossible, I think. You could try to, as you can try to get across the Darien Gap that separates Central and South America, but you’d be very lucky to make it. You see you can go like this (off the top of my head): Morocco > Western Sahara > Maurtania > Senegal > Gambia > Senegal > Guinea-Bissau > Guinea > Sierra Leone> Liberia > Cote d’Ivoire > Ghana > Togo > Benin > Nigeria > Cameroon > Gabon > Congo > DR Congo > Angola > Namibia > South Africa > Swaziland > Mozambique > Malawi > Tanzania > Kenya > Ethiopia > Sudan > Egypt > Libya > Tunisia > Algeria… But then you’d get stuck in Algeria… the border between it and Morocco is closed, has been for years, and is very unlikely to…

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Day 426: Floods and Ruins

02.03.10: Dja recommended that I try at the Algerian Embassy here in Tunis. I wasn’t optimistic, but any port in a storm and all that. The guys on the border reckoned I could ‘easily’ extend the visa for free. I believed that as far as I could spit. I spent a good hour in a taxi fighting through the traffic going to the wrong place (the Algerian consulate moved last month!) and eventually, at 10.30am, I was at the embassy waving my passport about and pleading for an extension. It expired on my birthday, for heaven’s sake… my birthday!! I was left waiting for an hour or so, and then I was told I needed a hotel booking, so I headed over to the café across the road and prayed that they had wireless. To my immense relief, they did. Lindsey Bennett, my most excellent chum…

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Day 425: Passing My Sell-By Date

01.03.10: You know those moments when you realise you’ve made a MASSIVE mistake and your stomach drops away? Like when you text someone that the text message was about, or you find you missed two pages of the exam as they were stuck together, or discover that she’s actually a ladyboy? I had one of those moments yesterday. When I was stamped into Libya, I flicked excitedly through my passport only to discover the awful truth – my visa for Algeria expired that day, 28th February, yesterday. I have never had a visa where the validity period lasted less than a month before – this one lasted just two and a half weeks. It never even occurred to me to look. I slapped my forehead like a Keystone Cop and muttered that this was another fine mess I’ve got me into. WHY DIDN’T I GO TO…

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Day 424: Gaddafi’s Sandbox Adventure

28.02.10: Rising at 6am to crack on to the border, it is with tremendous chagrin that I must report the minibus to Ben Guerdane did not leave until just after 8am. But to cheer me up on the way to the ‘Gare Routiere’, a gentlemen who was setting up his market stall at the side of the road came running over to me saying that he knew me. This is a typical ploy in this part of the world (especially Egypt), but no, he did actually recognise me – “you’re the guy who’s been to 142 countries!” he said as he shook my hand. But, er, how….? “You were on television yesterday, on the news, I saw you!” The interview I did for the French news agency last Monday must have got around. Well, that put a spring in my step. I sat waiting for the…

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Day 423: The Lonely Pilgrim

27.02.10: Tunisia is undoubtedly the most accessible Muslim country in the world. Morocco’s borders with Algeria are closed, and there’s a checkpoint every ten minutes through Western Sahara. Egypt requires a visa (humph) and although the Jordanian visa is free for Brits on arrival from Egypt, good luck with trying to near its borders with Saudi or Iraq. Even Turkey’s borders aren’t all open, the Armenian one has been shut to Westerners since forever. Meanwhile, plucky little Tunisia, sandwiched between unhappy giants Libya and Algeria offers a window on the culture of the area that could lead people to believe that it was almost liberal or permissive, which I’m sorry to report it isn’t. Human rights here are a joke, and women (especially western women) are still regarded as nasty little creatures which only exist to torment the otherwise pious and pure minds of the menfolk.…

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Day 422: To Err Is Human

26.02.10: I’ve made some big boo-boos in The Odyssey so far. Going to Cape Verde with a bunch of Senegalese fishermen, for one. Not just taking the DAL Madagscar on its route around the Indian Ocean for another. Of course, turning up in Tunisia without visas for Algeria and Libya last May cost me massively in terms of time and money, but the boos just keep coming. Today, I was planning to head to Algeria for the day, cross the border, tick the place off the list. Easy. But instead, I spent the entire morning fighting with my damn iPod Touch in a vain attempt to get my Lonely Planet pdfs onto the damn thing so I wouldn’t have to take my laptop with me. In the end (and after losing all of my other apps that I had on there), I gave up and e-mailed…

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Day 421: Africa Calling

25.02.10: This infernal continent. If I was following the original plan, I would have picked up my visas in Istanbul and continued on to Central Asia a month ago. But there were two nagging countries, two of the largest in Africa in fact, that had barred my entry, even by an inch. They were Libya and Algeria. I had tried to get into Algeria once before and Libya twice, only to find that they were not to be trifled with. And so it would add an extra month onto The Odyssey and cost me over £1000, but I had to do it their way, and (putting it mildly) neither of them like tourists very much. Why would they? They have OIL! And the oil will last forever and ever and ever and there will never be a day when it runs out. And while the governments…

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Day 420: Lie To Me

24.02.10: I thought I would have a few hours to mooch around Rome in the morning, but I found myself unable to prise my worthless body from my bed until after 10am. By the time I had breakfast and tried (and failed) to find a free wi-fi zone, it was time for me to take the train to Civitavecchia, Rome’s port and the place where the boat to Tunisia left from. Urk. The boat to and from Tunisia was horrifically horrific last time, and this time it was no better. Same boat, same company, same unholy rip-off. For a start, the boat was two hours late boarding, which meant that I was left standing in the car-park like an unsuccessful prostitute for longer than would otherwise be sensible. Once (finally) on board, the horribly familiar interior of the Sorrento loomed into view. I had a 'deck'…

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Day 419: Roman Holiday

23.02.10: At some disastrously early hour, I was roused from my slumber by our rather impertinent arrival in Milan, which necessitated a change of buses. Didn’t get to see too much of the place, but there’s something about just the name of these places – Verona, Genoa, Venice, Napoli that gets my pulse racing… old school, you know? It’s the same thing that affects me exhausted, bladdered and half-awake watching the sun rise after the last night of Glastonbury – a sense of history, that damned feeling of belonging to a world that’s gone that’s nagged me for years now. All these countries I visit, most of them are shiny and new (comparatively), they don’t have the weight of millennia baring down on them, there are no layers to dig down through. Yes, I find the Kingdom of Benin interesting, Manchu Picchu is sweet-as, and you…

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