Sharing a cup of tea with a fellow Englishman, is arguably one of the most normal things you can do. However, sharing a cup of tea with a fellow Englishman at 3 in the morning on a massive Fijian cargo ship, towering above Tuvalu, whilst watching a total lunar eclipse, I hope you agree is a little more unique.
But then it had been quite a unique sort of evening, especially considering my fellow tea drinker turned out to be no ordinary tea drinker – he was in fact the ginger, record breaking, globe-trotting Liverpudlian, otherwise known as Graham Hughes, who was in Tuvalu to tick off country number 189 on his quest to visit every country in the world – all without flying.
We had actually met Graham earlier that evening when we had literally bumped into him whilst we were on our way to the internet cafe. We almost walked right past him; it was only our matching apologetic English tones after stumbling into each other in the dark which caused us to stop and talk about home. You often meet people from the UK when travelling, but in some places we seem to be more populous than others, and for obvious reasons you are much more likely to bump into someone from Australia or New Zealand in this part of the world than you are say, a ginger guy from Liverpool – so Graham was a pleasant surprise, and the first other British person we have met since leaving home.
What was even more of a surprise was when Graham started to tell us a little more about his incredible adventure, “The Odyssey Expedition”. Originally it turns out he was planning to complete his adventure in a calendar year, but after a three week stint in a tiny Cape Verdean prison cell, he had to revise his plans, and he is now into his third year of travelling the globe ticking off countries as he goes by bus, train, cargo ship, yacht, but never by plane. At the end of his first year he was awarded a Guinness World Record for being the first person to visit 133 countries in a year without flying, and he is hoping for a second upon completion of his trip. Popping into the 192 UN member states, and 8 others “for a nice even number” Graham is now on the final leg of his incredible trip, with only a few countries in the South Pacific and Asian sub-continent to tick off before he gets to the magic 200 – he is understandably in high spirits. He wasn’t so in July 2011 however, when South Sudan became a brand new country pushing Graham’s total to 201, and meaning an arduous trip back to Africa – not a problem if you can fly, with dozens of international flight options to the neighbouring Kenyan capital of Nairobi , and then a relatively short bus journey, to the world’s newest country, but when you have to get there by boat, the logistics get a little trickier, especially with the abundance of Somali pirates plying the East coast of Africa which Graham said has made travelling in that part of the world a real challenge as no one will sail there – indeed that is the reason why he is yet to tick off the Seychelles.
We didn’t find out most of this information until we were sat in the internet cafe, after having already parted company with Graham and wishing him luck on the remainder of his journey. Reading through his website, and copying and pasting as many blogs onto my USB as possible to read later, my head filled with a million questions I wanted to ask Graham “How do you organise all your ship travel?”, “How do you edit your videos on the go?”, “Was Suriname as awesome as it is in my head?” There was nothing for it, I had to try and find him before he left for Kiribati and the Marshall Islands in the morning. Fortunately as you well know by now, Tuvalu is not a big place, and a massive Fijian cargo ship is fairly conspicuous, so we headed down to the wharf, dodging the hooligans driving the container mover, and giving the impounded Indonesian boat a wide berth (they got arrested last week for fishing illegally in Tuvaluan waters) we tentatively arrived at the foot of a massive ship loading various containers into any gaps they had left, like a massive game of Tetris, and just stared up in awe.
This ship is quite modest by shipping standards apparently, but the bridge still stood a good ten stories above the wharf, which after living in Tuvalu for a while is quite an impressive sight. After a few enquiries, we found out that Graham had checked out of the boat, but had to be back by 1am, so he shouldn’t be long – we found a quiet corner of the wharf and watched as the ship’s cranes threw the containers around with ease in the ample moonlight.
With delightfully British punctuality, Graham reappeared at the wharf on the back of a quad bike just after 1am, and seemed surprised to see us. I explained that after reading his website we couldn’t let him go without saying a proper goodbye and good luck, and we wanted to give him a token of Scouting in Tuvalu, so gave him a UK badge (we haven’t got any Tuvaluan ones yet). Being the gent he is, Graham invited us onto the ship for a look around and the potential of a cold beer, unfortunately the beer eluded us, but we settled for a cup of tea, and then spent the next four hours talking about any subject you care to mention.
Chatting with Graham is like chatting with Google, the guy can talk with good authority about almost everything, and of course, has some great travelling stories. Listening to him talk about his adventures, I couldn’t help but be inspired, here was a guy who had an idea, decided to run with it, and is now on a boat on his way to his 190th country. What a superb adventure.
By the time we left the ship, it was almost 5am, and we had covered most subjects you can possibly have a conversation about, and had witnessed a full lunar eclipse for good measure – not a bad way to spend a Saturday night. Leaving Graham in his cabin, we started the short walk home; my head was swimming with plans, ideas, concepts, and a world map. It was hard not to get home and immediately start planning an adventure of my own, but there is plenty of time for that later.
If you haven’t already done so, you should really check out Graham’s website, and see how he is getting on and what he has got up to in the past. He’s hoping to finish more or less at the same time as we finish our work in Tuvalu, which means he has at least 8 more months of adventure to go, well worth checking out:
So if you ever meet a ginger guy from Liverpool on a cargo ship somewhere and he offers you a cup of tea during a lunar eclipse, I can heartily recommend accepting it!
All the best Graham – good luck mate!