10. Outlaw prison in La Paz, Bolivia (solo, 1999)
Inmates in the San Pedro prison were using, manufacturing and selling cocaine inside the prison. Guards were bribed to do nothing. Inmates with money could pay for better class accommodation and food. Most famous inmate was “Barba Blanco” – white beard – who had been busted with a plane full of drugs. He built his own luxury house inside the prison and had lots of friend and ladies visiting him from the outside.
9. The bush negroes of Albina, Surinam (solo, 2000)
Crossed the border from French Guyana into the eastern Albina region in Surinam in 2000. Region was then given up by the government and controlled by the lawless bush negroes. A drunk driver took me to a fortified house deep in the jungle guarded by a child soldier. I was told to go inside. Everything was in ruins and I thought “now they will shoot me”. Instead a guy in plainclothes took out a stamp and put my entrance stamp in my passport.
8: Mt. Yasur volcano and the tribal people of Vanuatu (family trip, 2012)
A very old Norman-Britton Islander 10 seater took me and my family – kids then aged 3 and 5 – to Tanna island in Vanuatu. We stayed for four days at the foot of Mt Yasur Volcano. Climbing it by night to see the “display of fireworks” where lava bombs are sometimes landing outside the crater. By day we visited tribal people including the original Yakel Tribe. The Yakel-men wear “Nambas” covering their penises, grow and smoke their own marihuana and the chief has a tree house 20 meter above ground.
7: Visiting a brothel in Damascus, Syria (with Charlotte, 2002)
In the Martyrs Square at one of the very few Damascus bars serving alcohol we met a Lebanese businessman and his Saudi friend. They invited me, Charlotte and our two friends from the Al-Haramein hostel – Omar (from UK but had an Iraqi father hence spoke Arabic) and Gordon – to go see “Belly-dancing”. “Belly-dancing” turned out to be a brothel. When Charlotte needed a toilet there was no such thing for women customers. In the bathroom for the prostitutes she met a very young girl having her debut. She tried to give her money for her to postpone her debut – but the Lebanese businessman (who insisted on paying for everything) found out and the situation got somewhat awkward. After consuming a bottle of whiskey Omar threw up on himself, but our Lebanese friend, a strong candidate of being the worlds most hospitable man – took of his own shirt and dressed Omar in that.
6: Family stay with the horse nomads in Bokonbaevo, Kyrgyzstan (family trip, 2014)
In the Kyrgyz summers horse nomads go on Jailoo – “summer camp” in the mountains. They move their yurts up at around 3.000 meters altitude where they find fresh grass for their horses and cattle. With our kids – then aged 4 and 7 – we stayed for a couple of days with the 6 nomadic families. No-one spoke a word of English so we could only communicate via my very limited Russian (+ Russian app on smartphone) and even more limited Kyrgyz. We had our own “sleeping yurt” and shared all meals with the nomads in the “eating yurt”. For the kids it was like a farmhouse holiday learning how the nomads produced Cheese, Yoghurt and fermented milk after milking their horses and cows.
5: Family travel in Somaliland (family trip, 2015)
Went to Hargeisa the capital of the Somali autonomous region of Somaliland. Local government required the hiring of armed guard when venturing outside of Hargeisa. With our guard and driver we went to the coastal city of Berbera – to see the ruined buildings and the shipwrecks lying just of the shore.
4: Meeting the “Sapeurs” in Kinshasa, DR Congo (solo, 2016)
I had read about the “Sapeurs” – (Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes) – poor Congo locals who dress up elegantly – and wanted to meet them and document their existence. But they are not easy to find. I drove around looking for them three full days in diabolic Kinshasa traffic. I finally met a guy who could fix me up with 3 Sapeurs. We did a 3 hour photo shoot on different locations in Kinshasa. Last shoot was in the Gombé Cemetery where the founder of The “Sape”-movement is buried. By chance a TV crew was there and i was allowed in to watch a Sapeur Ceremony. Later the same day I had a random meeting with more than 100 Sapeurs walking in the middle of a road in the outskirts of Kinshasa. Later I discovered that my incredible luck meeting so many sapeurs was due to the fact that i coincidentally had arranged the photo shoot to take place on the same date as the founder died – hence on the (only, I believe) day of Sapeur-ceremonies.
3: Camping with the Mursi tribe, Omo Valley, Ethiopia (family trip, 2015)
Stayed with Charlotte and the kids (then aged 8 and 5) a week in a remote Mursi village in the Omo valley of southern Ethiopia. We camped next to their thatched huts. By day we played with the mursi children (bringing western toys such as frisbees and water guns) and talked to the women while the shepherd men are in the field with the cattle. We witnessed four ceremonies: wedding, name giving, jugular vein (a bull is shot in the neck with an arrow to take some of it’s blood – and a boy then has to drink the warm blood) and the “Donga”. Donga is the secret and illegal stick fighting ceremony between different Mursi tribes. We found this deep in the bush after 3 days of searching for it. After about an hour we ended up being chased away from it by angry Mursi men who demanded (more) money.
2: Taking the kids to Afghanistan (family trip, 2014)
Family trip to Afghanistans third largest city – Mazar-e-Sharif – at the same time as presidential elections were held and the country was in a state of turmoil. Entered over land from Termiz, Usbekistan via the Hairatan border and from there went to Mazar. Photographed a funeral and the friday prayer at one of the holiest mosques in the world. Locals were truly friendly and welcoming – except for not letting Charlotte pay for her shopping, only males were allowed to handle money.
1: Poro Ceremony Ivory Coast (solo, 2014)
The Poro is a secret satanic brotherhood that operates only in Sierra Leone, Liberaia and Ivory Coast. They are presided over by the Poro devil and come in different grades; chiefs, fetish priests, warriors and the crowd. They sometimes wear death masks and women and children are not allowed to see the warriors, priests or the devil. They only show themselves to the public at their initiation ceremonies held at a non-disclosed date approximately every 7 years. I attended this ceremony and was fortunate to see both the general ceremony and the warrior/fetisch priest/devil part (hidden inside the dark of a small shop peaking out from under the armpit of my young fixer Sanu).