Tag: Dark Tourism

Looking at North Korea

Looking at North Korea

In 1945, two Americans drew a line across their map of the Korean Peninsula. Above the 38th parallel, the Soviets would demilitarise the Japanese (who had controlled Korea since 1910), whilst below the task would fall to the Americans.

72 years later, there’s still a divide, just a bit more diagonal. But now a very dangerous and sad one; for families separated, for a people divided and for millions who live with the threat of nuclear war. Plans, hopes and dreams potentially obliterated on the whim of Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump.

On a grim wet day, Roger travelled 50 miles (80 km) north of Seoul into a grim landscape – beyond the civilian exclusion zone and Freedom Bridge, down one of the North Korean tunnels and looked across the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).

This is a view that should make many world leaders, past and present, ashamed. All of them too powerful, all of them men, and all of them pathetic creatures who nurture power instead of healing.

In 1989, with the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Europe was able to move out of the shadow of WWII and the Cold War. When will Korea be able to?

On the barbed wire at Freedom Bridge, South Korean messages of hope
Roger’s view across to the border. Near the centre, just seen through the mist and rain, are the flags of North and South Korea
Built in 2002 by the South Koreans, Dorasan Station is a station without trains. A political statement

If you plan to do this Try and book the combined Joint Security Area (JSA) and DMZ tour. Because of the joint South Korean/American military exercises taking place whilst Roger was in Seoul, all tours of the JSA at Panmunjeom were cancelled.

Hiroshima: Remembering the atomic bomb

Hiroshima: Remembering the atomic bomb

We have mixed views about the two atomic bomb attacks on Japan. Both our Fathers were caught-up in the Pacific War and arguably would not have survived during a prolonged invasion of Japan.

And in defence of the decision to use the bombs, it needs to be remembered that 1945 was already a time of mass slaughter. In March, 100,000 died in a single Tokyo bombing raid. And the Battle of Okinama was ritualised killing with some 240,000 soldiers and civilians slain.

But going round the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, reading the text, the inference was clearly made that America, having developed the bomb at great expense (the Manhattan Project), and fearing the Soviet Union’s global expansion, wanted to detonate it for a bit of “shock and awe” and so delayed offering Japan acceptable surrender terms until after August 6th and August 9th.

Surely, it’s more than ironic that a weapon today justified by its deterrent factor, was launched into the world with no warning and no ultimatum. 140,000 people in Hiroshima died horrendously within four months, whilst armchair generals wrote congratulatory memos.

The vision of the museum is to call for a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, as proposed by the July 7th United Nations motion signed by 122 countries, but not the existing nuclear powers, including of course North Korea.

In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a watch stopped at the time of the explosion, 8.15am
Blitzed Darwin

Blitzed Darwin

Darwin is a city forever associated with two violent acts.

In World War Two, Darwin was the frontline against further Japanese expansion south. On 19 February 1942, 242 Japanese aircraft, in two separate raids, attacked. More bombs were dropped than at Pearl Harbour two months earlier, and unofficial research puts the death toll as high as 1,000. Certainly, after the attack, more than half of Darwin’s civilian population left the area permanently.

During the raids, Japan’s primary target were the poorly defended oil storage facilities. Afterwards, it was clear underground bomb-proof tanks were needed. In harsh conditions, five were built, two of which are open today. Inside, Hilary got quite claustrophobic

32 years later came blitz number two. In the early hours of Christmas Day 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed 80% of homes in Darwin and killed 71 people. It was Australia’s worst natural disaster ever.

At the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, we stood in the darkened sound booth listening to a real life recording of the cyclone’s destruction. It was shocking; the sound of corrugated roofing whirling around, babies crying and lives overwhelmed

Overnight, Darwin effectively ceased to exist and the city was put under martial law. But a major federal rebuilding programme ensured a new chapter for Darwin and today it’s an engaging, modern city of 127,000. Albeit one without much old architecture.

USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial

Situated on the northern point of O’ahu, the radar operators detected a strong signal, but were reassured, it was just returning American bombers. Moments later the first wave of 183 planes swarmed from the sky attacking the pride of the US Navy moored in Destroyer Row.

The “day of infamy” was Sunday December 7th 1941.

A Japanese shell explodes at the bow of the USS Arizona. Today, rusty and submerged just below the waters of Pearl Harbour, it’s a grave for nearly 1000 and a symbol of the only attack on American homeland by an enemy state.

Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, Roger learnt so much about the attack, and found looking down at the wreck extremely moving. When leaders put territorial ambition ahead of humanity, you quickly lead to 50 million lives destroyed.

If you plan to do this As long as you turn up early, you’ll be able to get one of the free tour tickets released on the day. Leaving soon after 6am, Roger got there on the number 42 bus from Waikiki. He recommends paying $7.50 for the audio tour.

Mother of all rock slides

Mother of all rock slides

Driving to Vancouver, we stopped where four people lost their lives in a massive rock slide.

We are just outside Hope, imagining the events of January 9th 1965. Within seconds of an earthquake, 46 million cubic metres of earth, rock and snow engulfs the Nicolum Valley and Lake Outram, violently pushing soft clay from the lake’s bed up the opposite side which then slides back and buries the four people in their three cars.

This reminds us of the terrible Welsh Aberfan distaster which happened a year later. Then 40,000 cubic meters of debris buried and killed 118 children and 28 adults in their primary school. But that wasn’t caused by an earthquake – it was avoidable. The guilty party, the National Coal Board.



JFK killing – still a mystery?

JFK killing – still a mystery?

There are two X’s on Elm Street, Dallas. They show where the bullets hit President Kennedy 53 years ago.

What’s less certain is where they were both fired from. The official line is that Lee Harvey Oswald, positioned in the Book Depository at the circled window, was the sole gunman.

IMG_3013Here’s the view from the reverse angle but a floor above. (You can’t take pictures within the excellent and respectful Sixth Floor Museum itself)


The museum discusses the various theories and it’s hard not to be drawn into all the conflicting evidence: inc Kennedy’s head movement, smoke on the Grassy Knoll, the pristine bullet, Oswald’s marriage break-up. We discussed it at length for the rest of the day. One of us feels there were two shooters. One of us doesn’t.

The scientific evidence is today “conclusive” (there was no second gunman) but still the mystery continues.

Near the Grassy Knoll, Robert J Groden (seated) makes the case for a two shooter conspiracy – and sells his DVDs
Inside the Lorraine Motel, Memphis

Inside the Lorraine Motel, Memphis

Paving stones show the path of a bullet. At one end stands a man in a bathtub. At the other an orator of dreams and promised lands falls to the ground.

The Memphis scene of Martin Luther King’s assassination is now the National Civil Rights Museum and we spent six hours there absorbing the compelling, shocking and ultimately inspiring stories of suffering, defiance, sacrifice and campaigning.

But there is a tension within the museum. It tells the story of slavery, constitutional amendments, disinterested Presidents, Jim Crow Laws, freedom riders, Edmund Pettus Bridge, Birmingham, etc etc superbly but then loses the plot by focusing too much on James Earl Ray and the conspiracy theories. In that respect Jacqueline Smith (see picture below) has a point.

But importantly the museum challenges us to reflect on segregation today. The signs above the doors have gone, but not the separating walls. Think of the increasing division in British schools caused by religious/cultural/economic factors, and the neighbourhood ghettoes in American towns and cities.

This is Jacqueline Smith’s protest site outside the Lorraine Motel where she used to work. She’s been here everyday for the last 29 years calling the museum The James Earl Ray Memorial and campaigning for the building to be turned into something that helps the homeless and poor. Roger spoke to her and just wishes she could be given a building elsewhere (and some $$$$) to channel her undoubted drive and sincerity

The bleak side of Calabria


It was cold and damp in our AirBnB; we went out to the car to get our sleeping-bags to keep us warm in bed.

But this felt right – here in Papasidero – a bleak ancient hill-town 40 minutes from the sea up a dark forest valley.

We purposely wanted a stop that was different. And the unexpected funeral preocession through the steep alleyways set the tone. Everywhere was empty, derelict and grim. As we wandered around we only had two stray dogs for company.

In the poorest region of Italy this is life for many – a far cry from the fashion malls of Milan or the beaches of the Amalfi Coast.

Matera – poverty porn?

Matera – poverty porn?

Matera is a place that gets you to question what we want from historic towns; life and rejuvenation or preserved storytelling.

When we were born Matera was the byword for squalor in Italy – a national disgrace a bit like the Gorbals in Glasgow. Families lived in cave dwellings, malaria was common and infant mortality levels (44%) shocked Western Europe. Action followed of course – thousands were forcibly evicted and the slum areas – known as the Sassi – were closed down.

And it’s this recent, emotional history that attracted us. We went to the viewpoint on the other side of the gorge at first light to look across at the cave dwellings and felt transported to biblical times. We walked around the oldest and poorest of the Sassi – Sasso Caveoso – and were still able to enter many of the deserted cave dwellings.

But elsewhere the Sassi are being rejuvenated; restaurants, wine bars and cool hotels are opening in time for the 2019 celebration of the European City of Culture. Of course, we applaud the rebirth of these areas but do we want the physical evidence of the 20th Century story of Matera to be completely erased and for Matera to become just like every other freshly preserved Italian tourist town.

What’s the balance here?

Discovered in a local cave


She was pregnant. She died. She was discovered on 24th October 1991.

She is Delia, over 25,000 years old – the most “famous” exhibit at the museum in Ostuni.

There’s a slightly tacky model of what she looked like and how she was buried, but the real lump-in-the-throat moment came from seeing the laid out skeleton of Delia’s unborn baby. Preserved in a glass container, photographed by people like us, this baby never breathed, never cried, never laughed.

We took a pic of Hilary lying down next to Delia. Interesting how tall she was; we always thought our ancestors were fairly short.