Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 19, 2010

I met the Chairman of the Pygmies in 1994. He was hard to find, but worth the effort. The town of Fort Portal is just over 300 kms from the capital of Uganda, Kampala. This is the gateway for anyone who wants to visit the pygmies, who are located a couple of hours away in the hills, close to the border of the Congo.
Very few of these tribes still exist today and most of them are centralized in Central Africa. Pygmies are defined as males whose adult height does not exceed an average of 150 cms (4″11). In 1994 there were no day trips or organized tours to the pygmies in Uganda, but my hotel had arranged a driver to pick us up, and at 7am we were underway with a super man called James, who at a height of well over 6′ was obviously not a pygmy. The drive is very rural, with lush jungle on every side and takes us far into the surrounding hills. We make a rather muddy stop at some hot springs on the way.

Then its  only a short ride down a bumpy road before we reach a little village with mud huts. Pandemonium breaks out as we approach. Two dozen people race towards our car wailing and shrieking. These are the pygmies. One little guy steps out and calls himself the Chairman of the Pygymies. He is barely the height of my son who was 10 at the time.
This doesn’t look like a major tourist destination, but we are soon discussing money and what we will get for it. For the Ugandan equivelant of $25 we are offered a dancing display and as many pictures as we want. The dancing doesn’t look like its going to be up to any standard so I counter offer with $20 for a stroll round and as many pictures as I want. They are not keen on dollars and my Ugandan money is limited till I get to a bank, of which none exist in this forest. In the end we settle for $10 and 4ooo Ugandan Shillings. I spend my last 1ooo shillings on an opium pipe. On with the show and despite not knowing exactly what I bargained for we do get some dancing and even some singing at no extra cost. The instruments are limited to some flutes and an empty plastic can which seems to serve as a drum. I am not expert critique but I think I can safely say this show probably never made it to Broadway, but it certainly had a very ethereal quality to it.

The village, if that’s what you want to call exists of nothing more than a cluster of primitive huts. The women appear almost trance like and there is very little sign of any industrial activity. The children all have distended stomachs. One must assume that their diet exists only of what they can forrage from the forest.

Some of the men carry bows and arrows. Someone asks for my pen and I have distributed a few cigarettes, having little else to give them in the way of Western spoils.

My driver James says the children have no schooling and they lead very simple lives. It seems living life at a very sub-existence level, but who am I to judge.
In a way I was happy to leave and I did so with a little sense of gloominess, as if I had somehow been an intruder. The chairman of the pygmies was happy though, he had just swapped his bow and arrow for my son’s bright red t’shirt.

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 18, 2010

Security Prison 21 started life as Chao Ponhea Yat High School. In August 1975 four months after the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia the school was converted into a prison, called Security prison 21, with the more ominous and shortened title of simply s-21. The former school was encircled with electrified barbed wire, windows were sealed with steel bars and classrooms were turned into rooms used for interrogation, usually by means of torture.
Over a four year period it is estimated that up to 20,000 people were imprisoned in S-21. At anyone time the prison held as many as 1500 prisoners.
The routine was as follows. A prisoner would be brought to the prison where they were phtographed (there are whole rooms with photos of the prisoners).

After this they had to give a full description of their life from childhood to the time of their arrest. They were then stripped and all their belongings were confiscated. They were put into cells where they were often shackled together to long pieces of iron bars. At night they were made to sleep with no bedding and no mosquito nets. Anyone who spoke was punished. They would be woken at 4.30 for roll call and guards would check that no one was hiding any sort of instrument that could later be used to commit suicide. The food was meagre and consisted of watered down leaf soup and rice porridge. Portions were minimal and anyone trying to drink water without the guards permission would also be punished severely. There were barely any trained medical personnel and disease, especially skin diseases was rampant. The prison had stiff rules.
Any disobedience was punishable by torture and the prison used many methods. These included beatings, electric shocks, pulling out fingernails and pouring alcohol on the wounds, searing with hot rods, suffocation with plastic bags, hangings and water bed torture. This torture involved lying a prisoner reclining backwards with a cloth over his face while pouring water over him. This torture was captured in a painting by Vann Nath who was one of the very few survivors of the prison.Very often female prisoners were raped, although this went against policy. Anyone who was found out was usually exectuted. The irony of the torture was not that it was intended to kill the prisoners, but rather to extract a confession.
The interrogations would usually start with prisoners talking about their early life. If they later became party members they had to describe their activities. They would then be led, usually be means of torture to describe their activities, which were often against the state.
It mattered little to the interrogators if the confessions had any truth, their main purpose was to extract more names from the prisoners. These names were usually colleagues, friends and even family members who would in turn be arrested and the whole process would start again. Some confessions ran into thousands of words.  The prison was finally liberated by the Vietnamese in 1979.Today the building is a museum- with an estmated 500 people passing through its doors everyday.

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 16, 2010



A basic ticket into the Kremlin complex will set you back a little over $10.00. It’s worth every penny.The Kremlin is a simply amazing complex of buildings, some of them dating back historically to the 11th century. This was during the time of Kievan Rus, when regional princes reigned supreme. It contined its rise, until the reign of Peter the Great who shifted the seat of power to St. Petersburg in the early 18th century. Moscow and the Kremlin came back to prominence following the Bolshevik revolution of 1918, when the Soviets restored the Kremlin back to the center of power. Both Lenin and Stalin selected the Kremlin as their official residence and the mounted eagles which had once represented the Tsars were replaced with Kremlin stars.The glass building which is one of the first buildings you will come across close to the entrance was built under the personal guidance

of Nikita Kruschev to host communist party meetings. It was completed in 1961 and despite its architecural imbalance with the suurounding buildings the architects were awarded the Lenin Prize. It has over 800 rooms, with 17 meters submerged underground. Its main hall could host 6000 guests and during the time of the Soviet Union it was used for party congresses.

Today it is used by the Bolsoi while their theatre is being renovated. One of the main squares in the Kremlin is Cathedral square which houses some magnificent cathedrals including the Cathedrals of Dormiton, Annunciation and the Archangel Michael. These date back to the 15th Century. From the same period but lacking none of the lustre of the cathedrals is the Churches of the 12 apostles and dating a little later is the Church of the Denunciation.

A couple of the more curious landmarks in the Kremlin is the Tsar’s Bell. Weighing in at an impressive 200 tons, it bears the insignia of

Empress Anna and Tsar Alexei who commissioned both this bell and its predecessor, who was shattered and later destroyed in a fire. This bell was made in parts from the shattered bell, but it also fell foul to a fire while it was cooling off from its cast. Water was thrown over the bell causing a chunk weighing 11 tons to fall off. The bell lay for a hundred years until a pedestal was commissioned and the bell was placed on it next to the broken piece. Another impressive artifact is the Tsar Canon. Cast in 1586 it was to be used for the defense of the Saviour Gate of the Kremlin which led to Red Square. It ended up never being used and today it lies in the grounds of the Kremlin as a fine example of workmanship. The cannons by the side are for show only.

Don’t overlook a look at the view from the closeby river over Moscow. It’s simply stunning…

Or miss some attractions in the vicinity like the tomb of the unknown soldier located by the walls of the Kremlin.

The inscription on the side reads ” 1941 To those who have fallen for the motherland 1945″ And if you are quick try and catch the changing of the guard.

And if you are lucky you may even catch a wedding. It is tradition for couples to lay flower at the tomb and to thank the dead for their opportunity to wed.

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 16, 2010

It’s like a time gone by. If you sit in the very elegant Edwardian era styled tea rooms at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louis you can sip tea, eat a plate of assorted sandwiches, look at the view and listen to this super lady play the harp. The whole ambience is one of elegance and a feeling of a world long gone. This amazing hotel sits in one of the most stunning areas of the world, in the center of Banff National Park, on the shore of the equally stunning Lake Louis.
Lake Louis in the Canadian Rockies is famous for it hiking and walking trails in the summer, and offers skiers some of the finest skiing in North America. But, beware it has another resident so if you go down to the woods today…..
it may be the day the teddy bears have their picnic…

Posted by: worldsgreatesttravelblog | January 16, 2010

Shhhhhhhhhhhh if you go down to the lake today you may disturb the spirits.

This stunning lake in Banff National Park has hosted hunters for more than a hundred centuries. The sign by the lake tells us it was feared by the Stoney people who called it “Minnewanka” (Lake of the Spirits) who believed the lake was full of spirits. Early Europeans called it the “Devils Lake”.
Archaeologists have discovered stone tools near the lake dating back 10,000 years. (I go back a bit less than that).
They believe the mountainous regions close to the lake, with its abundance of rocks and its rich source of food from deer and elk encouraged the craft among the people who inhabited the lake thousands of years ago.  
The lake is situated is about 5 kms from the town of Banff. At 28km long and a deepest depth of 142 meters that makes it the longest lake in the park. Today the lake is a popular spot for hiking, biking and boat tours.

OMG what ever happened to them……….Are the spirits alive and well after all………

Older Posts »