The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels

I’m at the Cu Chi Tunnels museum outside Saigon. This area was a Viet Cong stronghold during the “American War” with a network of over 200km of low-tech tunnels.

Most tunnels entrances are tiny and well hidden. And the tunnels themselves extremely narrow.  But my guide showed me one tunnel entrance that was poorly hidden and relatively large.  Why large?  Because it was a trap.  Unfortunate GIs faced with a choice of tiny tunnels or this lucky large one would often opt for the easier choice.   Which generally did not end well.

The situation was pretty ghastly for both sides.  The Viet Cong (and local villagers) faced saturation bombing and gas attacks.  The incoming GIs faced elusive disappearing defenders and a wide variety of low-tech but very effective traps.

After dutifully and painfully crouch-walking down a 120 yard section of very cramped tunnel, I celebrated my escape by paying for ten rounds with an AK47. I’m not really into guns, but I couldn’t resist the chance to fire such an iconic weapon at such a historic site.

Addis Ababa: Red Remnants

From 1974 to 1987, Ethiopia was ruled by a ruthless Marxist-Leninist regime known as the “Derg”. They renamed themselves in 1987, but were only finally overthrown in 1991. There are still odd traces of them in Addis Ababa.

The statue of Lenin is long gone, toppled in 1991. But a striking Soviet-style obelisk, known informally as the Derg Monument, still survives. It towers 50 meters tall, decorated with a hammer and sickle, and topped by a giant Red Star. It’s quite impressive. At the moment it is augmented by some placards mourning the death of Fidel Castro.

A few hundred meters away is the other side of the story, the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum, which commemorates the several hundred thousand victims of the “Red Terror”, a lethal rampage primarily aimed at rival Marxist-Leninist groups. It’s a good small museum, outlining the rise of the Derg and then the horrors of the Red Terror itself.


Sudan: Pyramids!

Nuri Pyramids

Greetings from the Pyramids! No, no, not the Egyptian pyramids, the Nubian pyramids!

I’m in Karima, in Northern Sudan. I’ve been visiting various Nubian archaeological sites, including three sets of pyramids. They are much younger (7th – 3rd c bc), much steeper and much smaller (40 to 60ft tall) than their Giza brothers, but they are still pretty cool. They were build as memorials atop the tombs of Nubian Kings.

Jebel Barkal Royal Necropolis

I’ve been overlanding it from Egypt, along the Nile and across the desert. I am traveling solo, except of course for my guide, my driver, my cook and our loyal Toyota Land Cruiser. Ahem.

This part of Sudan was heavily influenced by Ancient Egypt, with many temples built by Egyptian occupiers. But my Nubian guide puts much greater emphasis on the glorious 25th Dynasty, when the Nubian Kings conquered all of Egypt and ruled as Pharaohs. Ha!

Tomorrow I’m off to Meroe and yet more pyramids…

Hawaii: Kilauea Lava Lake

For the last few weeks the level of the lava lake at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has been unusually high, meaning it’s visible from the Jaggar Museum viewpoint, 1.1 miles away.  This is as close as the Park Service will let you get. So I seized the moment and visited. Unlike Nyiragongo, Kilauea was merciful and did not eat my camera.

During the day, the lake surface was mostly a dull gray, with only faint hints of red cracks at the edges. But there were also two lava fountains, frothing up lava and flinging it up to 30 ft in the air. Through a good lens, this was extremely striking and very cool. dsc09202b
By night the lava lake is much more striking, with the cracks in the lake now bright red and the glow from the fountains reflecting off the smoke and crater edge. dsc08900
I also hiked out to near where the flow from the Pu’u O’o vent is entering the ocean. Lots of steam, but also some bright red lava. A tour boat captain came in, cutting in very close to the lava.  Clearly a fine lunatic, so I took that boat ride next day! dsc07886


Last year in the Masai Mara, I managed to see 1 (one) wildebeest swim the Mara River. So this time I was back on the Tanzanian side, hoping to get a better view of the Great Migration.
The wildebeest came through for me. The rains have been late, so wildebeest herds were crossing both ways across the Mara, hoping for greener grass on the other side.
I was happy to watch all wildebeest, all day, every day, but for some reason my guide kept wanting to take me off to see leopards, or lions, or black rhinos. “Yes, yes, that’s a very nice lion, but could we go and see some more wildebeest now?” dsc05208

Moscow’s Gulag Museum

Moscow Gulag MuseumMoscow’s Gulag History Museum has moved to a new, larger, building with new exhibits and a new narrative.

The building’s exterior is deliberately stark and austere, even forbidding. The interior exhibition space has been given a distinctly prison-like style. It is mostly one large multi-level hall, with many side rooms for specific topics.

Gulag Museum.2The Museum covers the history of the Gulag, describing the transition from the revolutionary optimism of 1917 to the harsh realities of the 1920s and 1930s, and then on through to Stalin’s death in 1953. There is a reasonable amount of English signage, although for some detailed topics there is only Russian. The exhibits start with a collection of cell doors and include various gulag artifacts and prisoner’s possessions. A side room shows videos (with English sub-titles) of now-elderly victims describing their arrests and trials.

Gulag Museum.3I had been concerned that as part of the move to new quarters the Museum’s messages might have been softened, as has happened at Perm. But, no, the signage is very clear and crisp in describing the use of the Gulag system not merely for common criminals but as an instrument of political repression. Unusually for today’s Russia, there is a willingness to confront some of the harsher realities of the Soviet past. For example, the description of the Great Purge of 1937-1938 speaks freely of 1.5 million arrests and 700,000 executions.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around, reading the signs, watching the videos, and reflecting.

If you are interested in Soviet history, or in the impact of the past on today’s Russia, it is definitely worth a visit.

Practicalities: Here’s a link to the Gulag Museum Website. The Museum is at 1st Samotechny per., 9, bld. 1, Moscow. The nearest metro is Dostoyevskaya.