Easter Island – somewhere I really thought I’d never see.

e island 2

As a youth, I never thought I’d get to travel, but I was always inspired by James Bond and the far away places he went to.

In later life, I got the travel bug, had a reasonable job, so I could travel and see some amazing places.

But even in later life, there were some places I thought I’d never see. Easter Island (otherwise known as Rapa Nui) is one of them.

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Although it’s part of Chile, it’s 2300 miles from the capital, Santiago.

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The flight took 5 hours, and I was able to watch 3 films.

visa

As a visitor, you need to get a permit to stay (maximum of 30 days).

We decided to get one on arrival. You also have to be staying at accommodation registered with the tourist board (so no wild camping).

One of only two times (the other one being Corfu) we were able to walk from the Airport to our accommodation.

On the way we had a look around and saw this Catholic church.

breakfast

After checking into our accommodation at the Aukara b&b, we wandered down to the beach, had a swim, a few drinks and dinner.

In the morning we had breakfast then a day tour our hotel had arranged for us.

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Our guide Leonardo Pakarati, local guide and documentary director.

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The full day tour lasts from 6 to 7 hours and you can visit the main places of interest of the island: Rano Kau Volcano, Orongo Ceremonial Village, Akahanga Village, Rano Raraku Volcano and Quarry, Tongariki Altar and Anakena Beach.

horse

Its possible to tour the island by bicycle (more about that later) instead we travelled around in a 4×4 as there was so much to see and time was limited.

Wild horses wander around everywhere in Rapa Nui.

Leonardo pointed at one with a white face. He said it had been a gift to the Island from Native Americans.

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First was Anakena Beach. Right out of Hawai 50.

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Our first sight of Moa heads “in the flesh”.

Leonardo was passionate about the island and it’s history.

He said the stones are our ancestors. They would be built to face the village so people would know they were being watched over.

He argued that they are not simply statues, but religious artefacts and living things and for this reason, the one in the British museum should be returned (more about that later).

oven

A celebration of some kind was being prepared.

Something I’d read about in the SAS survival handbook, in this case, incorrectly called a Maori oven.

I’d seen one on a bushcraft course in the lakes. You heat rocks by a fire, then dig a hole. Put the stones in the hole, wrap the food in leaves to make parcels, places them on the stones, then cover it all over until the food is cooked.

You might wonder why you’d go to all that trouble. The key is, it requires no cooking utensils and you can cook for 50 or 100 people this way.

mountain

We continue on to Ahu Tongariki.

We park nearby, but before we walk over to see the other Moa, I get a quick photo of this mountain behind us with its clear blue sky.

I was sad that we wouldn’t have enough time to climb it, but it was beautiful all the same.

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The heads with their backs to the ocean, facing the ancient village.

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A shot capturing the whole vista.

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The first settlers arrived in canoes which they fashioned into this basic form of shelter.

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Our next location Rano Raruku.

From this hillside many of the Moa were carved out of the rock, so its nicknamed the head factory.

empanada

But it’s lunchtime and we decide have some lunch.

A chicken Empanada and a bottle of beer made on the Island.

Easter Island – somewhere I really thought I’d never see.

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Rano Raruku, a wide open space with trails to wander around.

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Leonardo shows us one of the heads that was half constructed lying down to get an idea of how they were made.

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Standing three feet from these amazing objects was a breathtaking experience.

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I even got to see these two guys. Featured on the front of travel guides and airport posters, they are the iconic image of Easter Island.

wetland

Rano Kau a 324m high extinct volcano.

It’s possible to walk all the way around it.

village

Orongo ceremonial village.

Soil floors and low doorways. They were reconstructed in 1974.

The main occupants were part of the Birdman cult, but more about that later.

mus

At the village, a small museum.

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Inside, this image of the 4 ton Hoa Hakananai’a one of the most spiritual of the Moa, being loaded onto HMS Topaze to be transported to the British Museum.

Leonardo had visited the British Museum while making one of his documentaries. He had spoken to the curator, who had produced a receipt and said that the Museum “owned” the statue.

It’s quite an emotional matter for the people of Rapa Nui, I found an article about it here.

island

Looking out from the village is this small island Motu Nui.

The Birdman cult was based around the Tangata Manu competition. There would be a race to the Island to retrieve a Manutara bird egg.

Many would die climbing the high cliffs or be eaten by sharks while swimming. But the winner who arrived back first with an intact egg, got to be leader of the tribe.

As I write this, here in the UK, we have an imminent general election. I have to wonder if this isn’t a better form of leader selection.

rooftop

After a fantastic day, we are dropped back at our room for a shower and change, before heading out for the evening.

A perfect steak and a glass of red wine at La Taverne du Pecheur with a table overlooking the ocean.

The end to a perfect day.

coastbike

After breakfast. We still have a full day and fly back to Santiago in the morning.

So we decide to rent some mountain bikes and explore the coast.

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Ahu Tahai overlooking Cook Bay.

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Two hours ride later, and were still seeing Moa and the coast.

bikes

We stop off at the Rapa Nui museum.

Crime is so rare on the Island that nobody locks up bikes, so we do the same.

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Inside, lots of interesting things to see and loads of stuff about the history of the Island.

The most interesting thing for me was this display.

I had no idea that the indigenous people of New Zealand and Hawaii are linked to the people of Rapa Nui.

Their estate is made up of this triangle, and people would have been sent out in canoes to find far away places to set up villages.

Sort of early colonisation if you think of it.

drinks

It’s thirsty work riding a bike in the sunshine, so we stop for some refreshments.

coast

One slight problem is that the salty air had corroded the gears on my bike.

I think if I was going again, I’d take some WD40.

We pedal back along the coastal trail.

misic

We pass by this music festival on our way back.

Nikki loved it, I thought it was audible vandalism but I got a drink and enjoyed myself all the same…

Hand back the bikes and walks  back to our hotel with a goodbye dinner planned by the ocean.

airport

With sadness, we head back to the airport.

I pop into the souvenir shop and buy a miniature Moa for my mantle at home.

But like Nikki said, at least we’ve been and not everyone can say that.

And…

If your going to be sat in an airport lounge for two hours, I don’t know a nicer one than this 🙂

A truly incredible place, highly recommended by everyone here at johnsunter.com (basically me).

 

Kiev on Independence day.

building

Mike and I had decided to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat.

The nearest City is Kiev, and since the place itself looked interesting we had an afternoon and an entire day exploring.

Above you can see some of the daunting old buildings in the area.

bunker

The place has a real glamour feel to it, with attractive girls everywhere and lots of sports cars sand jewellery.

We went into what we thought was a quiet bar, while we planned our exploration, when I went to visit the bathroom, it turned out, downstairs was a nightclub, modelled on a military bunker !.

main_street

The beating heart of the city is Khreshchatyk street. 1.2 kilometres long, practically everything happens on this street.

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Our first “must see” site in the city.

The Golden Gate.

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Originaly built in the 1100’s, its been “modernised” quite a lot since then.

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The Golden dome of St Michael’s monastery.

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St Sophia’s cathedral.

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Not planned at all, we realised we’d be visiting during Independence day.

As we wandered around, lots of people had donned their uniforms and medals and were marching proudly through the streets.

Ukraine declared independence on the 24th August, 1991.

Mykhailo_Hrushevsky

A statue to Mykhailo Hrushevsky, a famous academic, politician and historian.

opera_house

National opera house of Ukraine built in 1867.

underground

I normally explore new places on foot, at ground level, but time was pressing so we took the underground (I couldn’t believe just how far underground this went).

pechersk_lavra

But we emerge back into the sunshine and see the Pechersk Lavra with its series of cave monastery’s underneath.

landscape

The National Military History Museum.

The whole area is landscaped with spectacular hillside views.

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Statue’s commemorating the fallen, and an eternal flame.

stalin_organ

I grew up during the cold war, I read a lot of military stuff at the time.

One other thing, was playing a computer game at the time called Gunship. You “flew” an AH64 Apache gunship in various scenarios on the Commodore 64.

Best part was when it detected an enemy vehicle it would flash up its name.

For this reason, I instantly recognised many of the vehicles in the museum. This one, nicknamed the Stalin Organ is a multi rocket launcher (the rocket tubes being similar to the pipes in a church organ).

 

bmp

Several BTR and BMP vehicles that I recognised, some tracked, some with wheels.

I even remember the vulnerability of the BMP found by the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. If you shoot through the back wheel tire, there is little armour and the petrol tank will catch fire.

I kept wandering around looking for a T72 tank. I kept seeing what I thought were T72’s, but always seemed to get it wrong, and Mike became increasingly impatient.

t72

Interestingly, I’ve since read there is only one T72 in the whole museum. That is a type 3, which they captured and have put on display to prove that Russia is backing Ukrainian separatist (those types of tanks were never issue outside Russia).

eternal_flame

Enough about tanks. I quiet, reflective moment when I stop and think how many people have died for simple freedoms like the ability to travel to another country and meet new people.

launcher

The horrifying scene of a PSD 10 Intercontinental ballistic missile launcher.

mi24

Finally, the thing I really wanted to see.

An MI 24 Hind helicopter in the E variant. Incredible to see a real one after all these years.

But slightly bitter sweet. With children queuing to sit inside it, it took something away from the awesome helicopter I’d expected to see.

bankside

We wandered back down the hill and to the bank of the Dnieper river.

There were some amateur film makers in questionable attire, but we just gave them a wide birth.

A pontoon next to a river boat provided us with a few beers then we continued on our way.

resort

If I’d had more time I’d have like to visit the beach across the water.

This isn’t just a bit of sand next to a river, its a full beach environment with sunbathers, swimmers, the whole lot.

Hard to imagine that happening on the Manchester ship canal.

bridge

A slightly more modern bridge to the other side, shows just how wide this river is.

bungie

As we got into town, we passed under this bridge, and you could see some enterprising individual have set up a bungee swing under the bridge.

rooftop

With a long day coming to a close, we find a restaurant with views over the river bank (it was a national holiday after all, so loads of people were in a party mood).

chicken_kiev

I’m hungry now, but what should I eat ?

Since were in Kiev, Chicken Kiev seems to be the thing to do.

Tasted superb, I really enjoyed it.

indip_square

Wandering back into town to Independence square.

Thousands of people out celebrating.

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The march comes to a close at Independence square and at the end several people embrace.

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But the fun’s not over, and the party goes on into the night.

Santiago – first trip to Chile and the Andes.

pedro de valdivia

On the 1st leg of our South America trip, we fly into Santiago in Chile.

I’ve lead with this iconic statue of a man on a horse.

In this case, its Pedro de Valdivia, the founded the city of Santiago.

arrival

Our flight had taken 14 hours. A seat with extra leg room, was £60 extra, which I honestly consider the best investment I’ve ever made in air travel.

It’s easy on a trip to upgrade things and add on luxury’s here and there. The problem is, on a trip with so many moving parts, its easy for costs to rise and get out of hand.

So instead of a taxi from the airport, we got a bus (after 14 hours flying !).

I always love how a disaster can turn into an opportunity. Turned out, we got off the bus about a mile and a half before our correct stop.

That enabled us to walk down Bernardo O’higgins street and really get a feel for the place (and the weather was fantastic).

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One we checked into our hotel and got cleaned up, we headed out to explore.

Santiago de Compostela cathedral is right in the centre of the city near Plaza de Armas square.

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Inside, its quite spectacular (if only churches were my thing).

square

Plaza De Armas square with its palm trees.

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Wandering around the square, this classic image of 2 people playing chess outdoors.

hot_dog

There had been some unrest (although we found the place to be very safe and we were comfortable the whole time).

That being said, if this is the best they’ve got in crowd control, its just as well there aren’t a lot of demonstrations.

In the UK, this would be in a museum.

town

More wandering around the streets, we stop for coffee and get some replacement sims for our mobile phones.

municipal_theatre

A few of the classic sites.

The Municipal Theatre. I wish we’d had longer in Santiago so that we could have watched a show there.

biblioteca

The Bibleotaca public library.

iconic_building

One of the iconic rows of buildings with a more modern structure in the background.

pal

La Moneda Palace.

The former presidential palace where the infamous General Pinochet resided.

It’s here, that the incumbent president Salvadore Allende killed himself on September the 11th, 1973 as General Pinochet took over ruling the country.

He committed suicide so he could not be coerced into backing Pinochet.

under

Entering from the side, there is an amazing area underneath the palace.

It has a superb coffee shop and lots of interesting things about Chile.

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Including this archaeological museum.

We head back to our hotel and enjoy an evening of good food and wine.

van

With Santiago being so close to the Andes we didn’t want to miss out.

We had arranged a tour and were delighted when our driver and guide arrived at our hotel, and we were the only guests (so a private tour for the price of a public tour).

Our guide is from Chile and since her father is American, her English was superb.

andes

Our first stop on the tour is to a winery and our first look at the Andes mountains.

vinyard2

The San Esteban vinyard shop.

Inside we were supposed to have a wine tasting but as there were only 2 of us,  it wasn’t worth them running one.

wine

Disappointing, but Instead they gave us the 2 bottles of red wine to take away (more of which later).

hill_side

We head up the hill to relax and enjoy the view. Lots facinating plant life here and several walking trails, like so often I wish there was more time.

Our tour included complimentary Empanadas and the idea was to eat them on this beautiful hillside spot washed down with Chilean wine (unfortunately, we had no glasses, so couldn’t drink the wine, but everything else was perfect.)

stones

We were shown various Petroglyphs, drawings in stone by the Aconcagua people  in the rocks nearby.

They have all been scientifically catalogued and most are at least 10,000 years old.

road1

Now were off to the high Andes.

We drive along the highway connecting Chile and Argentina and stop near the top for a photo opportunity.

It features 29 bends and is nicknamed the snail by the locals.

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We arrive at Hotel Portillo – In winter its a ski resort (the oldest one in South America).

The staff lend us some glasses and were able to wander around outside with spectacular views of the Torres del Payne national park.

wine

After this, we sit down for lunch. In my case, its a delicious steak, and were already into our 2nd bottle.

As usual I offered to buy lunch for our guide and driver, but they declined.

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The view outside through the window, The Portillo Inca Lagoon. An image that will stay with me to the end of my days.

We head home. The guide and myself both drift off to sleep. The end of another fantastic day, and were only 3 days into our 3 week trip.

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Our last day in Santiago and we’ve got a couple of hours free.

We wander around and see this colourful street.

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Our target for the morning is Santa Lucia hill.

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The fountain in Patio Circular.

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We walk up the hill (230 steps), there are forts and ramparts throughout.

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An arcade road at the top has shops and nice places to sit.

We have an ice cream and then head back down the hill.

airp_hotel

But it’s not all fun.

After this, we get the bus back to the airport.

Our room was clean, the food was nice, but no matter what they do, airport hotels are normaly quite dull (see the view out of our bedroom windows !).

Next day, we fly to Easter Island.

Chernobyl and the ghost city of Pripyat 1.

Intro

I remember reading in a self help book, out of the blue, that superglue was specifically invented for emergency first aid during the Vietnam war.

Within 7 days, I’d seen reference to it in the film Dog Soldiers and the same information at the War Museum of the North in Manchester. Something similar happened on my road to Chernobyl.

In 1986 when I was young and the world seemed too complicated, I remember seeing a reactor explosion had happened in “Russia” and a few months later, sheep in Wales and the Lake district were getting disturbing readings from the Geiger counter.

In 2013 I was playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and found myself wandering around “Chernobyl” (actually Pripyat) in a Ghillie suit with a sniper rifle.

Realising Game of Thrones was coming to an end and the monthly yacht payments might be in jeopardy, the people at HBO/Sky decided to make a series about the incident (which not suprisingly was called Chernobyl).

md

I realised:

A, it was time to finally visit this place…

B, with the TV series being so popular, loads of other people would want to visit it and that would drive the price up. The time to go was now!

I got in touch with Mike Delafield (I was going to go with Nikki, but the words “It isn’t safe” kind of wrapped that up).

bus

We arrived in Kiev and spent the day exploring.

The following day, we joined Gamma tours, piled into the minibus and headed for Chernobyl and Pripyat.

It takes 2 hours to drive there, so our first stop was at a garage to get some coffee.

To break up the journey, they showed a documentary about the massive clean up operation of the area.

stalin

Our first stop, is to see this Statue of Lenin, one of the few remaining in Ukraine.

Since declaring independence, most of these statues have been removed, yet this one remains (due to its location no doubt).

There are checkpoints at the 30 km and 10 km radius.

entrance_sign

Me standing next to the Chernobyl town sign.

angel

The monument to the 3rd Angel – The Wormwood star, created by Anatoly Haidamaka to commemorate all who died as a result of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

The reference is from the New Testament, Revelation 8:10-11:

“And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from Heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

One conspiracy theory, is reference to Wormwood in the passage. It’s been stated that Chernobyl is the Ukrainian word for Wormwood and all of this was preordained. In actual fact, Chernobyl is the word for Mugwart, which is similar but not the same as Wormwood.

vilages

When people talk about Chernobyl, they usually mean Pripyat. To explain, Chernobyl was where the nuclear reactors were located and Pripyat was a custom built town to house and entertain the workers there.

There were also a large number of villages within the 30k zone, which were dismantled and buried.

This garden has a sign for each village that no longer exists.

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Memorial to “Those who saved the world”

A strange sort of thing, but it’s dedicated to the firemen and other workers who put out the fire and decontaminated the area at immense personal cost.

mach

Another slightly odd exhibit.

Various remotely controlled robotic machines, used during cleanup

rad2

As we drive down the main road, we come a small bus stop, and a single road leading into the forest with no signs around.

We drive down several miles and then come to this. The top secret Duga radar station.

The scale of this thing, as you walk around it, is incredible. It must have taken thousands of men months to construct it.

rad1

It was reactor number 4 which exploded, but reactor 5 was half finished, with plans for a total of 8 reactors. They would provide most of the power for the Soviet Union.

The Giant radar array “DUGA-1” was an attempt at an early warning station. It never worked properly but since it required so much power, it was located near Chernobyl.

sarc1

We drive towards the Industrial site of the ChNPP.

The silver dome you can see in the background, is the reactor shelter structure.

It was only when this was fully completed that modern tours as we see them today were allowed.

The whole thing was built from steel and concrete, and manoeuvred into position on specially built railway lines.

sarc2

From a distance of 250m.

No pictures are allowed to be taken of the reactor, but ridiculously, you can take a picture of this monument, which originaly stood in Prypyat.

It didn’t take much creativity to get the Arch into the picture.

canteen

It’s time for lunch (which was included in the price).

It had a sort of factory canteen feel you’d expect.

food

Not restaurant food, but filling and I ate most of mine.

I was quite thirsty and would have loved a can of coke or something. Instead, they just had this sort of juice thing.

rooftop

We arrive in Pripyat for our walking tour (what would be the highlight of the trip for me.

We weren’t allowed to enter any buildings for safety reasons. I found this picture on the internet which shows the town from up high and gives  you an idea of the size of it (43,000 residents lived here).

route

The custom-built city of Pripyat was constructed in 1970 for the sole purpose of housing the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers and their families. For 16 years, from 1970 to 1986, it was the most expensive city in the entire Soviet Union, indicating the importance of the newly constructed nuclear power plant.

Mike worked out roughly the route we took.

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Prypiat ferry terminal and the riverside café

The town is named after the river its next too.

This cafe had amazing stained glass windows and you could get coffee and drinks while you waited for the ferry.

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You can see the stain glass better from inside.

You can see the place is very rundown.

vend

Next to the building, one of the first vending machines in the soviet union.

You had to bring your own glass.

river

The ferry terminal located behind the cafe.

It was possible to get a ferry from here to Kiev to visit family or for a day out.

Overall, nothing like how I imagined life would be in the Soviet Union in 1986 !.

I’d read about dilapidated boats on the Pripyat river, but these had all gone when I was there.

There was also talk about mutated fish. I didn’t see any sign of mutation, but there were lots of fish swimming around.

Chernobyl and the ghost city of Pripyat 2.

appart1

Finally wandering around Pripyat.

What a beautiful town. Considering it was the communist soviet union, it was like some sort of American idyllic town (no doubt what it was modeled on).

The Whitehouse, one of the elite buildings with extra luxury’s for party members and other senior members of staff.

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More conventional living quarters. But each one had its own kitchen and bathroom (when I’d previously visited St Petersburg, many of the Government flats involved you living with your whole family in 1 room and a kitchen and bathroom shared between 4 (although admittedly, it was rent free !)).

A common feature was a 2nd bedroom so family members could visit for the weekend. This must have felt like Utopia.

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A major selling point of the town to new “recruits”  was education (the target residents were people with young families).

We wander into the school complex.

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Dilapidated school rooms.

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From outside the school, you can see why people weren’t allowed into buildings.

In this case, one side of the building had literally fallen down.

pool

Inside, the famous swimming pool from Call of duty.

gym

Further along, the Gym, with the wall mounted wooden training racks, that I remember from my own school days.

chair

While walking around, we came across this chair, standing in the middle of the street.

The day lasted quite long, and the weather superb, which meant I was quite exhausted at time and wanted to sit down.

But then I was reminded of a comment by our guide on the way to the area. She said, DO NOT SIT DOWN in any area. Previously a girl had done this very thing, her jeans were tested and she ended up travelling home without them !.

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Pripyat hospital. The uniforms of the firemen are still in the basement and highly radioactive.

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Entrance to the Music hall.

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Lenin Square, the main square in the centre town.

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Hotel Polissia its from here that you are sniping in Call of duty.

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Another view of Lenin square.

hq

Prypiat Town Hall –after 1986 – main headquarters for military and liquidators.

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Palace of culture “Energetic”, the biggest entertainment center in Pripyat

track

As we wander through the trees and undergrowth that have taken over the town, we come to this concrete area and our guide asks us what we think it is.

After a little while, it’s clear that we have no idea. In reality, we are standing on a running track.

The track runs around a football pitch.

stadium

We’re standing in Avangard stadium. Fitness and activity were encouraged and FC Stroitel were the local side who played here.

dodge

With our tour coming to a close, we see the bumper cars in the amusement park which never opened.

wheel

The Iconic ferris wheel, the most famous spot in the entire area.

nursery

As we head home, we visit the remains of the village of Kopachi and see inside the nursery school.

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We’re told to walk very specifically on the path, this is the most radioactive area that we’ll visit.

So we test it. It’s a scary number !. One of the saddest parts of the day, is the journey home.

We see video footage of pageants, sporting tournaments and Christmas celebrations from a time when Chernobyl and Pripyat were full of life and happiness.

An absolutely amazing trip. Highly recommended.

Falklands 1 – Small Island in the middle of no-where.

 

intro

When I was 13, Britain was at war with Argentina over control of the Falkland Islands (which the Argentines call the Malvinas).

Every day when I got home from school and turned on the TV, there would be reports of bombing raids, interviews with soldiers and stuff like that.

I don’t glorify war, but it was a key moment in my “growing up”. When I found out the cruise I was on, would visit the Falklands, I was was excited about seeing some of locations I’d seen on the 6 oclock news all those years previously.

tdown

Additionally, about 2 years after the war, was a drama over 2 evenings called Tumbledown.

It told the story of the Scots guards and their attack on mount Tumbledown (which once taken would secure a victory for Britain)

So, with 1 day in the Falklands, I decided to split my day with the morning exploring Tumbledown and battle sites with a local guide, and in the afternoon, seeing a bit of the town and finding out what life is like on an isolated Island.

tender

The boat arrived at the Islands (we were visiting East Falkland, though its possible to visit West Falkland as well) around 6am in the morning.

The Falklands are really difficult to get to. The only other route I know, is on a military transport stopping at Ascension Island, and for civilians, it costs about £2000 return.

With 18 decks, our ship was to big to fit in the harbour. So we were transported ashore by tender.

shore

At the main landing point, loads of poeple were milling around (tourism is a major industry in the Falklands and lots of people had booked day trips to see Penguins and the like).

sign1

Considering the war was 37 years previous, you would think it was last year.

There are signs everywhere defiantly protesting the independence of the Falklands.

People of the Falklands are called Kelpers (after the seaweed), have their own defence force (very well equipped the the Stayer AUG) and are governed by a council elected from the islanders (Britain maintains a massive military force on the Island but they largely run their own affairs).

sign2

For parity, I’ve included this sign which is on show at the harbour of Tiera del Fuego in Argentina (you can see that someone had tried to damage it).

Many of the people on our cruise ship were Argentinian as well as British. Both call the Islands by a different name and using the “wrong” name in front of the “wrong” person can call grave offens. I was very impressed by the cruise staff who refereed to our destination as Stanley (Port Stanley is the capital of the Islands) a compromise that doesn’t offend anyone.

jeep

Most of the cruise organised, battle site tours had been booked so I got in touch with a local guy Tony from Discovery Falklands.

I explained the things I wanted to see in an en email a few weeks before our arrival and he was able to assist.

He picked us up and we drove off towards the hills (and since he had a 4×4, we drove a fair way into the hills as well).

ngwalk

We head off and start seeing the area around Tumbledown Mountain (It overlooks Port Stanley)

mob_kitchen

We saw some Argentine mobile kitchens, left over from the war.

arg_pos2

You can see from this picture how bleak the terrain is.

If the weather turns bad here, there is literally no cover. In freezing wind and rain, it mus have been awful.

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Tony showed us some ammunition left over from the war.

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Some of the improvised “caves” used by the Argentine soldiers who were dug in to defend the mountain.

wire

Technology has moved on. Modern armed forces would use encrypted short wave radio, but back then they used field telephones to communicate between their positions and the wire is still there.

dugout2

We were showing the route 42 Commando took, along with other area’s like wireless ridge.

It was incredible to be standing in the places I’d seen on tv almost 40 years previously

Falklands 2 – Small Island in the middle of no-where.

ngrocks

The terain was really rocky it must have been very difficult to attacking soldiers to cross in the dark, when it was wet.

rocks

Combatants from both sides of the conflict are frequent visitors to the Island.

On some occasions, Argentine conscripts who arrived in the dark had hired our Tony to show them where they had been (at the time, they’d had no map, and were just left there with no food and told where to point their rifles).

During the attack, there was a sniper on top of these rocks. Our guide had given a tour with the Scots guards one of them had climbed up with a bayonet on the the night of the attack with a bayonet.

When he returned he’d said simply we won’t have any more trouble from him. The stark reality of war, this isn’t John Wayne.

copter

Nearby, this grassy area is where a helicopter made 5 trips ferrying injured men back to the field hospital (including Robert Lawrence featured in the BBC Drama Tumbledown).

He had no night vision equipment. At one point, the helicopter skids became tangled on a fence and the pilot had to fly backwards, 5 feet from the ground in the dark, to free the helicopter.

 

cross1

As the Scotts guards reached the top, the sun was rising and they could sea Port Stanley.

At that point the war was effectively over and Margaret Thatcher would announce “White flags flying over Stanley” in the house of commons.

It was the last time British forces used fixed bayonets in combat and the Tumbledown assault itself cost the lives of 9 Scotts Guards.

cross2

These men were made of Iron. Around the cross that marks the top of tumbledown, they’ve left pictures, small bottles of whisky and such like to fallen friends.

But that’s not all. I found out, that most military crosses setup by the ministry of defence, face north. The Scots Guards had asked for it to be moved to face Port Stanley.

Admin and bureaucracy had taken too long, so the Guards took leave, flew over and with picks and shovels, re-cemented the cross to face Stanley (and nobody seems to have complained or attempted to put it back).

gyard

Back from our sobering adventure, we wander around the town. The graveyard.

churce

Christ Church Cathedral. On the right is the whalebone arch, built in 1933.

mus1

Historic Dockyard Museum.

Inside, a re-creation of a small general store.

mus2

There were loads of interesting things in the museum. Too many to show here, so just for fun, I’ve included a commode.

bus

What could be more British than a red double decker bus.

These, days, its used for day trips. Basically, there are 2 sorts of journeys in the Falklands trips around Stanley where you can walk and travelling around the Island which can take up-to 8 hours !.

phone

The red telephone box. Not for show, these actually contain working telephones.

log

The Mizzen Mast from SS Great Britain.

prison

The Falkland Islands Police station and HM Prison Stanley.

A day earlier on the cruise, we’d been given a talk on the Island. It was joked that the prison can only hold 17 people, so if you’re the 18th person theyl just send you home 🙂

Interestingly, the police run an exchange program with the UK, and its quite common to run in a scouse, brummy or cockney bobby on the beat in the South Atlantic.

sur

On the right is the 1982 Liberation memorial. Behind it, is the Secretariat Government building and the top floor on the right is where the  Argentine surrender was signed.

thatcher

Well, the only thing I didn’t get to do, was eat fish and chips and drink a pint of beer in a “British” pub in the Falklands. All the pubs were full with diners, so we had some coffee and a nice cake instead.

On special thing for me was this monument.

Only a while after Margaret Thatchers death, when poeple in Manchester and Liverpool were hosting street parties and ding dong the wicked witch is dead reached number one in the UK…

I see this. A monument to Margaret Thatcher, on a road called Thatcher drive. She is a hero to the people of the Falklands. When she visited the Islands for the first time (she visited twice, the only UK prime minister to do so) security had to surround her. Not for her safety, but because the Islanders wanted to carry her down the road shoulder high !.

As our guide said. Some people might not like her but when we needed her she helped when nobody else would.

An amazing experience. I’m not sure what I’d find to do if I was there for 2 weeks, but the Falklands are a must see sight for any serious traveller.

Sorry this update has taken so long, loads on at work. Near and Far the search for adventure continues…

 

 

 

Northern Ireland 1 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster fry.

me_belfast

Although its nearby, I’d never been to Northern Ireland.

This is a picture of me in front of the Salmon of knowledge.

It is made up of pictures and symbols from Northern Ireland, contains a time capsule, and symbolises the cleaning of the river Lagan.

troubles

Although Northern Ireland is transformed from the days before the Good Friday agreement, I couldn’t help being nervous.

After all, my youth was filled with TV images of the troubles.

If you only did things that made you feel comfortable, you’d never do anything.

fer

We’d decided to travel by ferry, and the best part, the port it leaves from is near the Liver Building where I work.

So, I finished work on Friday evening, picked up my bag and set off.

fer_bar

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the ferry. Was it going to be filled with stag do’s and the like.

Nothing of the sort, they had a really nice bar/cafeteria, Wi-Fi throughout and a small cinema for Children.

The surprise was when it was time for bed. We headed for our bedroom, but lots of people produced sleeping bags and proceeded to “bed down” on the lounge floor.

fer_bunk

Out on-suit room was very comfortable. It was actually a 4 birth, but we pushed the 2 additional beds up.

The shower was piping hot, loads of room for our bags and lots of charging ports for our phones and tablets.

Now the bad news, it docks in Belfast at 6am, so no lie in bed.

city_hall

I had researched things, but for some reason I thought we’d arrive in the city centre. Not so, it took 90 minutes to walk into town, but the walk helped us to wake up.

We wander around the town, which was pretty quet at that time of the morning. This is City Hall, a very famous building in Belfast.

Straight away, I start hearing people speaking Ulster/Scotts, the local dialect.

ulster_fry

Speaking of Ulster, I was really hungry.

My guidebook said you musnt leave Belfast without trying an Ulster Fry.

It was quite delicious. One thing I notice when I travel is how people react to tipping. We put £2 into the tips jar in the cafe we visited and they looked delighted.

croad

Our first activity is a visit to Crumlin road Gaol.

The trip involves a tour of the prison, some lunch and a tour around the peace wall, one half given by a loyalist former prisoner and the 2nd half given by a republican former prisoner.

But first, were shown a short documentary outlining the history of Ireland, the troubles , the Good Friday agreement and the constitution.

tt_shank

We were told we could take as many pictures as we wanted but no video and no voice recording.

We were introduced to our first tour guide. Asked if he had been a UVA supported, he explained that he had actually been a combatant and regularly went out in the evining armed, usualy to provide security.

He said that we should ask him any question, he was keen to tell the story. I found him very open minded and well educated.

mur

She showed us the upper and lower Shankhill road where the UVA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando were roughly based.

There were Murals everywhere and lots of tours run by Black Taxi.

tt_junction

One surprisingly ironic moment was while waking near the peace all, he told us to slow down, because it was “dangerous”.

It actually turned out the road had a blind bend and he was concerned about road accidents.

tt_wall

The peacewall, is there to protect the comunities (so in reality its not really about peace) we’d been given pens to write message on the wall.

I was amazed to see how close the houses were to each other. Our guide explained that in his youth, some older family members had convinced him to join the UVA. At that age he said, many young men are more easily influenced. I thought of my own youth and I had to agree.

tt_door

There is a door in the wall we visited. He said the last person to walk through this door was the Dalhi Lama (he wont be doing it again soon, on close inspection, its now welded shut).

tt_gates

The Gates are closed remotely every night just before dark.

I asked him what would it have been like if he’d been on the “wrong” side of the wall after dark. He said simply, that never would have happened.

They would have recognised me simply because they didnt recognise me and then bad things would have happened…

We were introduced to our republican guide. I was surprised when both guides shook hands.

When I asked, the UVA chap said: We are both former combatants, we’ve been shot at and injured. We’ve both lost family, so we know what’s at stake!.

tt_bsands

He wasn’t a catholic and had been out on a peaceful human rights march when the “army” had broken his jaw with a rifle. “Thats when I joined the IRA” he said.

It has to be said that the 2nd guide, was not as open minded but he did tell his story eloquently.

He explained that Catholics had been persecuted by the police and the army, and struggled to find work and propper housing due to prejudice.

He said he felt that many of the problems had been resolved, but that the IRA had disarmed and disbanded yet the Red Hand Commando were still active.

We saw this Mural to Bobby Sands who we’d hear more about later in the Crumlin Prison tour.

tt_psni

Interesting sticker.

There are still strong feeling about the local people and the police.

tt_church

We walk pass the Clonard Monastry where the peace talks were held.

tt_fallsroad

I’ve stood on the Great Wall of China, and I’ve watched the sun set over the Pyramids at Giza, but I honestly never thought I would stand on the Falls road.

I had read of so many terrible things happening on the Falls road. Over 3600 people died in the troubles, a quarter of them in a small area around where I’m standing.

Yet, it was like any other street, people were walking to the pub and carrying shopping home.

cuffs_lunch

With the outdoor part of the tour complete, we head back to Crumlin road gaol and the Cuffs restaurant there.

Lunch was no suprise. Irish stew, and actualy reallygood. We got a free drink, but I declined Guiness and instead had lager.

tt_cr_stairs

We might our tour guide, a charming lady who walked us all around the prison and exercise yard telling us stories of things that had happened.

We even got to see the governers office. She said that Bobby Sands was married there, with only a few sandwiches and a prison guards for witnesses.

tt_cr_tunnel

Across the road, rather run down, was the courthouse. So many people were arrested at the time, that an underground tunnel underneath the road, connected the 2 buildings.

Our tour finishes and our guide asks if we’d like to sign the visitors book. She had been slightly nervous throughout, and it was only then hat we found out. For 14 years she’d been one of a handfull female prion guards who had worked at the Prison. She had retired and a few years later (a week earlier) had taken a job as a tour guide.

Perhaps some skills are transferable.

Northern Ireland 2 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster fry.

europa

The next day, our trip moves onto a completely different track.

Game of Thrones (one of my favourite TV programes) is produced mostly in Northern Ireland and there’s a chance to see some of the significant places from the series.

It would also enable us to see the Antrim coast and some of the amazing countryside there.

On our way to the starting point, we pass the Europa hotel. At one time, the most bombed hotel in Europe.

got_mel

We board the coach, and head off.

Our first stop, is the cave where Melisandre gives birth to the Shadow assassin.

antrim_coast

The tour continues and we see the beautiful scenery of the Antrim coast.

castle

Dunluce Castle, 17th century ruins used as the exterior of the House of Greyjoy.

scotland

Mull of Kintyre, only 12 miles away.

g_causeway

Although its not featured in Game of Thrones, the The Giants Causeway is a must see sight and we spent almost 2 hours here.

car_bridge

Further along, the Carrick-a- rede ropebridge and a chance to stretch out legs.

got_kingsroad

Dark Hedge, know to every fan of GOT as the The Kings Road.

Not as romantic as it seems in the series, hundreds of people there, so many that they won’t allow you to drive down it now.

henry_cooke

Back to Belfast and a quick wander around the city before dinner.

The Green/Black statue of Dr Henry Cook.

Described as an “Anti libertarian” (I don’t know what that means) is featured in front of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

titanic_quarter

With a whole day left, we wander over to the docks and the Titanic quarter.

hw

One of the 2 large cranes (named Samson and Goliath) at one time, the largest cranes in the world.

H & W stands for Harland and Wolf, but the folk of Belfast say it means hello & welcome.

The dry dock they stand next to, is the largest in the world.

titanic_studios

Titanic studios.

Located in a building which was the original paint shed, where the Titanic was painted.

This is where all the indoor scenes from game of thrones are shot.

If you enjoyed a scene in a cave or a palace, they were probably in here.

The back lot outside had an entire Wildling village.

hor_boat

The ugliest boat in the world

titanic

Titanic museum.

We had wanted to go and see it, but it was 20 quid.

Nikki had seen a museum of Naval ships and I had seen a Game of Thrones exhibition, so we took leave of each other and went to these instead.

got_tour

The Game of Thrones touring exhibition is set to show around the world.

Since most of the items come straight from the Belfast studio, it made sense that the TEC exhibition hall in the Titanic quarter would be its first stop.

Luckily I’m there at just the right time.

jl_cost

Jamie Lanister’s costume.

got_

A re-creation of the crypt at Winterfell.

got_mfg1

The original Hall of Faces.

got_mfg2

A modern visual representation of the many faced god.

Recognise the guy on the top row, 2nd from the right.

got_ww

The leader of the the white walkers.

needle

On the right Arya Stark’s sword, Needle.

20190506_155310

After such an amazing trip, we head for some food and another really friendly bar.

Some more excellent food, then back to the port, to get our overnight ferry back to Liverpool and straight into work for 7:30am

I can talk about what’s gone in Northern Ireland before, as I just don’t know enough about it.

But as a travel destination today, its one of the friendliest, most interesting and easily accessed destinations I can think off.