Archive for December, 2013

Young Pioneer Disaster Response – Cebu

The YPT disaster response team has finally arrived in Cebu after ferry delays and a 24 hour sailing from Manila. Initial challenges, such as loading and unloading the ship (including a very heavy generator), securing gear, and setting security were met by our volunteers with enthusiasm.

This afternoon we commandeered the ship’s conference room and laid out our short term plan for our 24 hour stay in Cebu and our move to the Bantayan base camp on the 7th of December. We will meet up with more volunteers joining our group tomorrow in Cebu, as well as procure more construction equipment. We bought all the hard to find gear in Manila, in Cebu we will pick up shovels, hammers, and cooking gear.

Our short term goal is to repair 5 island schools damaged by Typhoon Yolanda, but once the schools are built we want to continue our focus on the island, developing long term disaster preparedness facilities and training, as well as get the local economy back on its feat by developing responsible tourism.

As always we need your donations to keep this project rolling!

http://igg.me/at/Typhoon-Yolanda-Relief

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Getting ready to move the generator.

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Ferry to Cebu.

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Grab a box! Hanging at the ferry terminal.

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Planning conference on the ferry ride to Cebu.

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Planning conference on the ferry ride to Cebu.

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Passing Bantayan Island, site of our relief efforts.

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Passing Bantayan Island, site of our relief efforts.


Young Pioneer Tours Disaster Response Team – Day 1

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15 volunteers for Young Pioneer Tours’ Typhoon Yolanda Bantayan Island disaster response project are currently in Manila, staging supplies, and preparing to board the overnight ferry to Cebu.

Yesterday we bought a generator and brought military solar panels through Manila airport customs. In Cebu we have 75 volunteers traveling to our base on Bantayan Island to camp out and work on our project goal to rebuild 5 schools and get kids back into classrooms after Christmas.

We have raised over 15,000 USD and need to keep the money rolling in! Donations to our 2nd fundraising campaign can be made at the following link:

http://igg.me/at/Typhoon-Yolanda-Relief

I will be blogging the project on a daily basis and sharing photos here; being a blog primarily based on North Korea I hope people don’t mind.


Transnistria

We believe Young Pioneer Tours is the only western tour company to offer trips to the unrecognized county/breakaway republic of Transnistria, highlight of our annual month long Eurasian Adventure Tour, and a destination I just led 16 tourists to.

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Building propaganda art in Tiraspol, Transnistria.

Transnistria occupies a vertical sliver of land between Moldova and the Ukraine. With its past soviet heritage still proudly on display a visit there is like stepping back in time.

Before getting to all my photos from the visit I’m going to share Gareth Johnson’s (YPT founder and three time Transnistria visitor) impressions on the self declared state.

After waking up after the hectic first night in Tiraspol it was time for actually doing some real touristy stuff, which for us this day was to consist of city tour of Tiraspol, including monuments, more monuments, and propaganda posters like you would not believe.

To give some basic back story to the country, it is not only a place that “does” not exist, it is also a place that has essentially never existed. The quasi-country happened through ethnic Russians opposing the break up of the Soviet Union, not wishing to join Moldova, and well having the balls, guns, and a big friendly neighbour to back them up. Also having a strong leader, a Mr Smirnov, clearly did not hurt with things, and since the fateful war, he is the man, or rather his family are the people that control pretty much everything. Big Smirnov is the President, little Smirnov is the owner of the one super-corporation (Sheriff) that control everything from petrol, supermarkets to even a football team, that just so happen to be the best in the country.

Therefore the city is littered with his image, his companies, his re-election posters, and from a business side “his brand” be it political, or business is all encompassing.

Bendery the second city was much the same, although with a much more independence war feel, inclusive of bullet ridden buildings.

I have heard Transnistria called many things, “Europe’s last Soviet State”, “Europe’s North Korea”, and even “The Last Outpost of the Cold War in Europe.

The fact of the matter is that it truly is none of the above, at all. Firstly it’s a very relaxed, free place, corrupt, of course, but so are some countries, even in the EU (just visit Romania, or Bulgaria), and as for the cold war stuff, whilst it is pretty tense regarding Moldova, this conflict, or wish for independence is bore solely over ethnic, linguistic, historical, and patriotic lines. To ask the question of why Kosovo deserves independence and Transnistria does not can only lead us to one answer, the same reason Iraq and Libya got military action, and Rwanda, and Syria did not. A question that quite frankly is pointless to answer, we already know.

In fact more than anything the place reminded of China, or the other “socialist states” of Asia, big wild west style ultra-capitalism, controlled by a big man from a big party, with lots of soviet/communist nostalgia, the modern heirs of the communist party doing things their way. Socialism with Transnistrian characteristics. In my mind the one thing Soviet about it was that the place reminded me of what might have actually happened had glasnost and perestroika actually worked, and the Union had been preserved, perhaps this might be what things would look like. In fact some Russian politicians even believe that Transnitria could even be the trigger and starting place of a new Soviet Union.

Whenever I have traveled it has always been fascinating to see what places really look like, to separate the myth from the fact, this place had smashed the myth to pieces, and whilst I had found it far different, and much less terrifying that people had led me to believe, I still left a massive chunk of my heart here.

Photos from Transnistria:

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