Posts tagged “Young Pioneer Tours

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.

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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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Chernobyl – Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure

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Group picture at reactor #4, scene of the Chernobyl explosion and meltdown.

Today we toured nuclear reactors and the abandoned ghost town of Pripyat on Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure.

I’m quite behind on my blogging of the trip. Having assumed a team leader position on our Phillipines disaster relief effort, and co-leading this tour leaves me little spare time. After the Trans Siberian Express we spent one night in Moscow before spliting our group, myself leading 3 guys on an increadable visit to Belarus and rejoining the main group in Kiev.

Chernobyl was an amazing experience. We had a lot of luck with getting a local guide who was willing to streatch the rules and lead us into places not approved for general visits, such as one of the cooling towers and a countryside kindergarden.

I’m in a rush, have to take the group out tonight; will let the pics from today tell the story:

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Pripyat middle school.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Reactor #4, scene of the Chernobyl explosion and meltdown.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


YPT Typhoon Yolanda Relief – Indiegogo

Please support our Indiegogo fundraising for Philippines disaster relief. We are looking at increasing our project to two months on the ground.

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Young Pioneer Tours – Philippines Disaster Relief Team Update

In 24 hours this has gone from an idea to a full on relief operation. We are begin asked to step up larger than we ever imagined 24hr ago, to help rebuild lives.

Here is the update – our team will be meeting in Manila on the 3rd of Dec, where we will picking up gear and supplies. On the 5th we will head to a rental house in Cebu. We will use this house as our operations center and staging area for our forward base camp. We will deploy a self-sufficient base camp on a nearby island. (Ground Zero!!) We will be rebuild the homes for hundreds of families that have lost everything.

We have had some amazing people step up and donate already! 12 people have committed to join us on the ground in our efforts. But guys this is not enough we need funding!!! We need tools, tents, lights, medical supplies, food and water, money for shipping this gear to our work site. The larger our team gets the more we can do to help. But we need more donations!!! If we all work together we can really make a difference.

We know not everyone can stop what they are doing to join us, but you can donate to our efforts or help us spread the word to people that can donate. We are not some charity operation with red tape, this money will go straight to the relief efforts. I will have an update again in the next 24hrs.

Big thanks for the support of our friends, family, customers and the YPT team, we can’t do this without you guys.

Sincerely
Chris White, Capt. Joseph Ferris & Team
chris@youngpioneertours.com
Paypal: chris@youngpioneertours.com – # R4T36NB338KZW

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Trans Siberian Express

We are currently underway on Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure. Having made an epic 6 day crossing of the snow covered steppes of Mongolia and Russia on the Trans Siberian Express, I am now in Moscow after a week with no Internet or news from the outside world since Beijing.

For YPT founder, Gareth Johnson, several returning customers making the trip, and myself, the adventure started 16 days ago as we completed all the trip prep-work and obtained visas in Beijing. The YPT apartment turned into a frat house with men sleeping on every available couch and vaguely comfortable surfaces (I spent a few nights hot bunking with the intern), ordering massive amounts of pizza delivery, and getting up to general shenanigans (people who didn’t watch their backside got tasered!). We visited top end night clubs and proudly avoided all things cultural, but in the mornings we were busy working: making consular visits for visas, setting up trip logistics to unrecognized countries, and having lunches at a secret North Korean embassy restaurant.

I made 7 visits to the Belarusian Embassy, in the end sweet talking my way in and picking up my visa and passport on a day the consular was closed. The visa I finally received wont cover the time of my needed stay – I still need to visit the Belarus Embassy in Moscow to try to get the visa corrected.

Day 1

With everything close to being sorted, on the early morning of Oct 6th we brought 5 customers to the Beijing Main Station, boarding our 2nd class Chinese sleeper compartments on the K3 Trans Siberian Express. Being a group of 7 delinquents we promptly headed to the dining car and drank 5 bottles of Chinese Great Wall wine. I snuck off for an afternoon nap, returning later for more wine until we got kicked out of the dining car for being drunkards.

We reached the Chinese side of the Mongolian border around eight thirty at night. Largely due to having to change the rail gauge Chinese border formalities take about 3 hours to complete. Passengers are usually let off and herded into the station, but we remained on board, our passenger car taken to a hanger and lifted to change the wheel assembly units – a fascinating experience.

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Changing the rail gauge at the Mongolian border.

With the car rail gauge changed we waited for immigration. The attractive female officials of the Mongolian side, dressed up in fur hats, military outfits, and black leather boots were far more preferable to the dudes on the Chinese side. With customs finished, the bathrooms unlocked, and with the train heading north into Mongolia, I snuck into my top bunk for a sound nights sleep.

Day 2

New day and new scenery; we are now rolling northbound across Mongolia with yurt dotted hills, pastures, and mountains passing our train windows. The temperature has dropped and shallow snow drifts cover the terrain. We still have our Chinese carriage but the food car has been changed out, now a Mongolian rig with intricately carved woodwork decorations, and an elaborate menu with only one meal available – nothing like the picture, but still tasty.

We hit Ulaanbaatar in the mid afternoon far a one hour stop. Our mission was to split up and buy bread, cheese, sausage, beer, vodka, mixers, and any other available treats. Ulaanbaatar is an ugly city with a certain charm that makes me want to return for a one week summer stay; I find the girls here attractive.

Despite warnings that Russain customs is intense and that we would need to be on our best behavior, our search for vodka was so successful that by the time we reached the 5 hour Mongolian/Russia border ordeal we were all excessively drunk. somehow they let us though without any major incident and we rolled on into Siberian Russia.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian dinner car.

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Mongolian rail car detail.

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Ulaanbaatar monument.

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Ulaanbaatar street life.

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Ulaanbaatar’s finest.

Day 3-5

Woke up early (we are now on Moscow time) to the view of Lake Baikal out our window. With dark storm clouds on the horizon, and ferocious breaking waves on the shore, the largest fresh water lake in the world is truly impressive. Our passage along its southern shore took three hours. We seem to have settled into life on the train. The smells of 7 men sharing two cabins: cigarettes, stale beer, and spilled tins of Russian sardines has turned the cabins quite rank. I use baby wet wipes to “shower” with, I don’t think the other guys even try. The two Chinese compartment attendants don’t really do much other then watch DVDs and cook their meals in the wash room – we seem to be here fending for ourselves.

New sobriety laws have been passed in Russia and buying alcohol at the various stops is difficult but possible. We make our hushed requests for pivo (beer) and vodka at the station snack kiosks, with the attendant checking to see who is watching and advising us to hide he bottles in our jacket until back on our carriage.

The days roll by; it has gotten cold! The carriages are toasty, warmed by coal burning furnaces – we find it fun to get drunk, sneak past the attendant, and feed coal into them ourselves. It’s only early November but the Siberian air mass is already frigid, making our food and booze runs at station stops a test of endurance.

I try to pass the time by reading books, but this only raises ridicule from the other travelers who want to get drunk or simply find it amusing to mess with me. We found on our new 2nd hand iPad an app called Star Girl. A game whose demographic targets prepubescent girls, Star Girl has given us hours of entertainment as we go on dates, receive gifts from virtual boyfriends, and build our wardrobe with new outfits to increase our attraction points. The fact that we spend a lot of time in the virtual underwear shop is admittedly rather creepy – but a game that teaches young girls that having lots of boyfriend whose sole purpose are to give you gifts is even more disturbing then us enjoying the game.

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Russian Siberian countryside.

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Russian Siberian countryside.

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Passing a Russian tank.

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A station stop in Siberia.

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Truck load of coal to warm the carriages.

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Truck load of coal to warm the carriages.


Spring/Summer 2014 DPRK Trips!

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Soldiers at the Pyongyang Party Foundation Monument – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Im excited to announce my tentative spring/summer 2014 DPRK guiding schedule:

May Day Tour: April 28th – May 8th

DPRK Fishing Tour: May 19th – May 28th

June Airport Tour – soon to be announced!

DPRK Hiking Tour: June 20th – June 30th

North/South Ultimate DMZ Tour: July 10th – July 19th

Mt. Paektu Tour: Aug 18th – Aug 30th

This is all tentative, largely based on when I get off my ship in the spring, and how long my summer vacation is. I don’t think I will have the vacation time to do both the May Day trip and Mt. Peaktu – my preference will be to work a little longer into May and guide Peaktu in August. These are all trips I have been penciled in for, I will certainly be guiding much more than this, but I wont know until spring time comes.


Eurasian Adventure Tour

Young Pioneer Tour’s founder, Gareth Johnson, and I will be guiding this epic adventure:

Beijing – Moscow – Minsk – Kiev – Chernobyl – Transnistria – Chisinau – Bucharest – Sofia – Macedonia – Kosovo – Tirana

Trip runs November 6th – December 2nd -with options to join various segments a one week intervals.

Still time to join up!

Quite frankly one of our favorite tours, our third annual Eurasian Adventure Tour!

The tour starts in Beijing, with an overnight stay and optional visit to the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, before embarking on the 6 day epic that is the Trans-Mongolian, or the “party train” as it also known. We already have a number of people signed up for this part, so if you are considering taking the train anyway, why not join us fun young people?

Following our arrival in Moscow we start to fully embrace Soviet nostalgia, by visiting all of Moscow’s top sites, before taking the train to the most Soviet of all republics Belarus, and it’s capital Minsk, where we will be seeing such treasures as the former residence of Lee Harvey-Oswald, as well as staying in our own little pimping apartment.

This leads us on to group 3, our big group, where we will be visiting not only Pripyat (Chernobyl), but also doing the extreme missile base tour, as well as sampling the night time delights on a bar crawl. Accommodation? Old style Soviet Hotel, complete with rude staff, peeling wallpaper, and more corruption than you can shake a sickle at.

After group 3 leave us in Kiev, group 4 continue firstly to Odessa, then onto Tiraspol, capital of the breakaway republic of Transnistria. If you do not know anything about the place, Google it. And if you want off the beaten track this is it. There is one hostel in the whole country, and we are the first group to ever inquire about going there. A true Soviet Time-warp. Following a few nights here, we visit Moldova, the only ex-Soviet republic to vote the communists back in! Before taking the overnight bus to Bucharest, which as a flight hub, and will make it easier to arrange onward flights.

Group 5 completes the full communist chic element, with us visiting the former homes of Ceausescu, Tito, and Hoxxa, via Romania, Macedonia and Albania, as well as visiting the contemporary hot spots that are Mitrovice, and Kosovo, before finishing in Albania, which has ferry, road, and air links to aid your onward journey.

YPT are all about budget, and this tour is by no means any different, many companies, charge over 1000 Euro just for the trans-Mongolian, or 250 Euro just for a day at Pripya, we have managed to budget the whole thing, Beijing – Tirana, over 26 barmy days, to just €1898, all in. With the tour being split into 5 manageable parts, each part is completely optional, with guests having full autonomy to do any part they fancy, from just 1, to all 5.

Carriage, Trans-Siberian Railway

Trans Siberian Express – photo by Garrett Ziegler

Pricing Combined Packages:

€1548 – Beijing – Bucharest November 6th – 24th
€1898 Beijing – Tirana (Albania) November 6th – December 2nd

Individual Groups

Group 1(Beijing – Moscow) = €695
Group 2 (Moscow – Minsk – Kiev)= €255 / 950
Group 3 (Kiev – Pripyat – Kiev) = €349 / 1299
Group 4 (Kiev – Odessa – Transnistria – Moldova – Romania) = €249 /1548
Group 5 (Bucharest – Sofia – Skopje – Kosovo – Tirana) = €350 / 1898


May Day Extravaganza Tour

It’s going to be a busy spring; in addition to the two custom group trips I am planning, and the private owners/investors tour to Rason, I am also now scheduled to work as one of the guides on Young Pioneer Tour’s DPRK May Day Extravaganza Tour!

This May Day Tour is going to be a blast! It coincides with Young Pioneer Tour’s five year anniversary, and they plan to make the event a massive party!

Join us for of the most spectacular holidays to take part in North Korea, the May Day Festival. Aside from all the usual sites May Day gives us one of the best opportunities to relax meet and hang out with locals during the celebrations on Moronbong Hill. Koreans take this holiday very seriously and you will more than be expected to sing dance and play around with them. Could there be a better time to go?

This tour also marks the 5 year “birthday” of YPT taking revelers into the DPRK, and as such for a VERY limited time we are offering the tour at our very retro 2008 price. We are aiming for this tour to be massive, and are hoping for all of our guides to be present for the tour.
As with all tours we are currently offering a free upgrade to flight for the journey in, with us taking the amazing train out as standard, or a small extra charge if your preference is to fly.

We are also offering a very special extension to Rason directly following the tour that can be done as a standalone trip, or both combined for a great discount. For those not in the know Rason is the Special Economic Zone of the DPRK, and the only place where you currently receive a stamp in your passport (excluding US and Japanese passports), and can legally use Korean Won, as well as visit the local markets.
April 29th – May 5th/7th

Group 1 €795 5 days in Korea + 2 on the train + 50 to fly out
Group 2 €1195 7 days in Korea + 2 on the train + 70 to fly out (Air China)

Rason Extension
May 8th – 11th
Cost €795 3 days in Korea (Rason) 1 day in Yanji (China)

People joining both tours receive a free flight from Beijing to Yanji

Pyongyang Celebrations

North Koreans on holiday – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

We are scheduling the May 1st holiday to be a day of fun and relaxation. In the morning we will join locals for dancing and folk games at the Mt Taesong Amusement park. A BBQ lunch at Moranbong Hill and continued local festivities is scheduled for the afternoon.

This tour also includes a visit to the newly opened Pyongyang Rungna Island funfair- with rides and even a dolphin show – as well as overnight visits to Nampo and Kaesong. If interested send me off an email; I can’t offer the 5% discount as this trip is already heavily discounted as an anniversary gift to our customers, but I can arrange to have you placed in my group.

The full May Day Tour itinerary is here.

I still have some spots available on my early April and mid May custom tours, those itineraries are posted on my American in North Korea Facebook Page.


The Ghost Town of Agdam and Nagorno Karabakh

Agdam, Nagorno Karbala

Agdam Mosque – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

To make our visit to the war torn ghost town of Agdam we had to illegally enter Azerbaijan – which we did with surprising ease via Armenia and the non recognized breakaway Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. The Nagorno Karabakh visa was easy to obtain, requiring just 10 USD and a short wait at the government ministry building in their funky little capital of Stepanakert. My Nagorno Karabakh visa is coolest looking full page visa sticker in my passport, but by having it I am now forbidden to enter Azerbaijan for the life of my current passport – but don’t tell anyone, I have never had a desire to go there anyways.

Armenia, Nagorno Karbala Border

Crossing the Armenia/Nagorno Karabakh border – my illegal entry into Azerbaijan.

Agdam is a place of tragedy, a city once of 40,000 inhabitants, now completely deserted after having experienced the full hell of war and genocide. Agdam was a base for Azerbaijani forces attacking the Karabakh region during their 1993 war, captured by Armenian forces, and was utterly destroyed during the subsequent Azerbaijani siege and Armenian last stand. It now remains as a demilitarized zone with the city mosque as the only building still intact. Completely abandoned, trees grow in the middle of streets, livestock randomly graze inside bombed out buildings, and locals from nearby villages make regular visits to scavenge for usable building materials. Visits and photography there by tourists is illegal.

Google Earth View of Agdam

View of Agdam via Google Earth.

We made our visit as part of our Young Pioneer’s Iranian Tour Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh Extension research trip. Most taxi drivers flatly refused to take us to Agdam. Being illegal for us to visit, a taxi driver bringing foreign tourists there could lose his license if caught, but we finally found one who had a son high up in military command and he assured us it would be no problem. What we whitenesed on our visit was utter devastation with conditions on the ground a testament that its nickname, the Hiroshima of the Caucuses, was well deserved.

We made our way to the mosque in the city center and climbed its minarets for a 360 degree view of the destruction. From the top I could have had some amazing photos but we were quickly detected by a military patrol camped in a nearby bombed out building and forced to flee and hide. After making it back to our driver he reiterated we had nothing to fear while under his care, maybe so, but I really didn’t want to risk having my data cards confiscated and losing all my Iran pics.

Besides Agdam we also visited the quirky little village of Vank. Fixed up by a local born philanthropist, this eccentric used his foreign made riches to promote local tourism and to create such oddities as the Titanic Hotel and a special Tiger Mountain Lover’s Retreat. Vank is a perfect base for visiting amazing nearby mountains, pristine country scenery, and ancient monasteries. A visit to Agdam, a stay at the Titanic Hotel, and exploration around Vank will certainly be on the itinerary if you make next year’s trip with us!

Agdam, Nagorno Karbala

View of Agdam from atop a minaret.

Agdam, Nagorno Karbala

Destroyed building and mosaics in Agdam, Nagorno Karabakh.


Iranian Suits

Iranian suit shops; there was an entire street of them just meters from our Tehran hotel. In their display windows mannequins show off the most hideously fantastic men’s wear I have ever seen (although the shops in the mariachi district of Mexico City are stiff competition). Haberdasheries of bling and of the cheesiest swag, these suits are Gangnam Iran style and I wanted one! Unfortunately our group quickly moved on from Tehran leaving me with an intense longing to return for a fitting.

On the final day of the tour we returned to Tehran where we had a very special dinner planned at the Armenian Club, the one place in Iran where non Muslims can drink. I didn’t have much time but I let Gareth Johnson, owner of Young Pioneer Tours and trip leader, and Marko Moudrak, “the Russian”, in on my plan; with just 45min before our dinner reservation we would get fitted for ridiculous suits (and I should be careful calling them that, I’m told they are wedding groom suits), surprise our group, and crash the Armenian Club with our new fabulous bling……and that’s exactly what we did.

But it was the following day when things really got ridiculous. Most of the group split up, many flying home, but the three of us with suits were traveling overland to cross the border into Armenia on our Young Pioneer Tours research trip for next year’s Armenia/Nagorno Karabach Iran trip extension. We did 11 hours in a mini bus to the Armenian border in our suits, crashing dusty truck stops and leaving locals slack jawed in disbelief in our wake. A dare had been put out there that we wouldn’t have the balls to cross the Iranian border in our suits, of course we did, although there were plenty of dirty looks shown our way by the police and customs officials – they kept us waiting a good hour giving us plenty of time to consider our stupidity, but in the end our exit stamps were issued.

The Iranian soldiers at the final check point had a better sense of humor and just laughed at us during their document check and we were finally released to make the cold and lonely walk over the bridge into Armenia. The Armenians greeted us kindly, and despite some problems with our electronic visas, professionally worked to sort everything out. After an hour wait our passports were handed over to us and the young border official offered us a “welcome to Europe” and then with a sly smile, “so…. what the hell is up with those suits?”

Iran Suits in Tehran

At the Armenian Club in our suits.

Buying Iranian Suits

In my Tehran suit shop.


American in Iran

Iran

At the tomb of the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

I haven’t been posting here for some time, not due to disinterest, but because I have been on a tour of Iran and independently traveling Armenia and the semi independent breakaway republic of Nagorno Karabakh, all without my laptop.

Making a trip to Iran has always been high up on my bucket list, but due to visa complexities for Americans, and dealing with remote and unresponsive Iranian tour companies, I have always believed a trip would be virtually impossible to setup.  Luckily I met the owner of Young Pioneer Tours last spring, and over tasty North Korean draft beers at the Paradise Microbrewery, Gareth invited me to join up with his company’s second trip to Iran.

With Young Pioneer Tours getting into Iran as an American was not a problem at all.  The visa process was effortless and they even accommodated my crazy request to pick up the visa at the Iranian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary.

Young Pioneers provided an extremely affordable tour that not only specialized in the all the must see historical sites and cities such as Shiraz, Isfahan, and Persepolis, but also hit the sites not normally visited by tourists such as the old US embassy, the Iran Iraq War Museum, Martyrs Cemetery, and the tomb of the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Old US Embassy Tehran, Iran

Driving by the old US Embassy – photos not allowed!

And don’t be afraid if you think you can’t handle a week in Iran without a drink, we were allowed access to the Armenia Club, the only place where you can legally get a vodka or bottle of wine as a foreigner – well actually it’s a gray area so it’s not exactly on the menu but booze is certainly available.  Local moonshine is available too if you discretely ask the right people….but of course I can’t officially condone such behavior on this site.

Young Pioneers brought in 9 people on this trip, just the right size in my opinion, and they plan to continue with up to 2 or 3 trips a year.  There were some slight restrictions for being an American but nothing like North Korea. Our local Iranian guide was required to escort me during our daily tours but in the evening after being officially dropped off at our hotel for the night I was allowed free time in the city.

Hanging With Locals in Iran

Hanging out with locals in Shiraz.

This Iran trip was a huge success and a ton of fun.  Currently I am traveling privately with Gareth, the owner of Young Pioneers on a research trip to develop an Iran extension option trip to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh – more on that part of this adventure on a post to come.  Right now I’m excited to announce that if anyone is interested in traveling to Iran with Young Pioneer Tours, through my referral I can get you 5% off on the trip.  I can also get this discount for any YPT North Korea tour, or any other custom trip you would want to develop with them, so please write and let me help with your travel plans.