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Touring radiation fallout zones or secretive communist states isn’t what most people would think of as a holiday.
But Dylan Harris enjoys taking people out of their comfort zones. Dylan, nicknamed “Wolf” by friends, used his gonzo backpacking expertise to found Wigan-based tour company Lupine Travel in 2007.
He arranges tours to places that not for the faint of heart: North Korea, Iran, Turkmenistan and Chernobyl.
He said the idea first came to him in Eastern Europe.
“I remember when I was in my twenties getting the train across Europe and getting into Berlin. Everything just changed, all the scenery felt completely grey and dull, graffiti everywhere. I think that’s what kicked everything off.”
His first trip to the secretive North Korea was fraught with difficulties: he was forced to blag his way across the Chinese border with the help of a friend who had good contacts with the North Korean consulate.
Things have become easier.
“Nowadays the application can be done in just over a week. Makes me wonder why I went to so much effort.”
I asked about his impressions. “What really stands out the first time you go there is that things kind of seem staged. Nothing quite seems real. When I went into North Korea by train, from the border, it’s bizarre. You’re going through these little villages, the military getting on and off, you’ve got the loud revolutionary music playing through these stations that you’re stopping off in. It feels like stepping back into 1940s Soviet Russia.”
Although the background checks on tourists have become more thorough, the official tour hasn’t changed in ten years, said Dylan.
I asked if he’s ever asked for a customized tour.
“I tried to encourage them to open up other things, you know just normal things. Things like just going to a bar or going to the fairground: something where you can interact with the general public.”
How did this go down?
“Not well. They don’t understand it if I say: ‘Can my group go to a bar and just sit with locals?’
They’re like: ‘Why would you want to do that? You can go and look at this big statue. It’s much better!’’
I asked Dylan about his tours of Chernobyl.
“I mean no matter how much you read about it in advance, it just doesn’t sink in until you’re actually there and you see this entire town that’s completely abandoned as it was. There are newspapers on the floor from 1986. And if you go in the school there are registers open, half filled in.”
Does the radiation not worry him?
“It’s a bit dangerous, so you’ve got to be a bit careful. We go right to reactor number 4 where the explosion was, but you can’t go inside or you’d be killed in about 5 minutes,” he says calmly.
I asked Dylan whether he ever feels in danger during his work.
“To be honest, I’ve been mugged three times in Manchester and had my skull fractured. In North Korea and Iran I don’t have any problems at all.”
If you fancy a tour of North Korea or just want more information click here
words Oliver Rahman