We’ve reached the end of a fantastic year in 2019 (unless you happen to be British) and before moving onto what we’re sure will be an awesome 2020, we’re gonna cast an eye back over this year. Alien islands, unclaimed territories and the world’s longest uninterrupted train journey: we broke a lot of new ground in 2019, and it’s our solemn vow that we’ll continue to do so in 2020 and beyond!
Without further ado, let’s take a look at our favourite moments of 2019!
Visiting the alien paradise of Socotra
One of our biggest 2019 coups was our inaugural tour to the exotic Yemeni island of Socotra, and it went so well that we’re heading back twice in 2020!
Socotra had been on YPT’s bucket list for a long time, and although we’d done unofficial visits in the past, we’d never run a tour there. All that changed in October of 2019, when YPT vet Pier led a group to this exotic alien paradise. From its stunning natural vistas to the iconic “dragon’s blood” trees indelibly associated with the island, Socotra was a fantastic first and something that’s sure to become a YPT mainstay!
Our attempted conquering of the world’s only unclaimed territory
OK, so that title is a bit misleadingly clickbaity. But you’re here now, so you might as well read on.
In autumn of this year we checked another item off the bucket list: visiting the world’s only “terra nullius” — or no man’s land — of Bir Tawil. Being unclaimed naturally leads to plenty of people trying to claim it, including a whole bunch of micronations. It just so happens that YPT founder Gareth has been involved in the birth of a brand-new micronation, and so it only seemed right to plant a flag upon arrival at Bir Tawil!
Alas, Bir Tawil is not quite as unclaimed as the internet would have you believe, and our intrepid pioneers ran into a group of miners who’d established a town in the territory. After establishing that we weren’t really trying to poach their land, much merriment was had by all and guns were appropriated for badass poses!
Exploring the ashen mists of South Sudan’s Mundari tribe
On our last tour to the world’s youngest country we encountered perhaps the most photogenic indigenous tribe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting — South Sudan’s Mundari tribe and their beloved bovine companions. The eerie clouds of ash that blanket everything over their lands — the product of burning mounds of cow dung — isn’t just there to lend an unsettling, hauntingly beautiful natural filter for your photos. It’s the key to driving away South Sudan’s fearsome insectoid population, including the omnipresent mosquitoes. Also it lends an unsettling, hauntingly beautiful natural filter to your photos.
If you fancy seeing the Mundari for yourself, check out our next tour there!
Visiting what could soon be the world’s newest country
We try not to rest on our laurels at YPT, and so even though we pioneered group tours to PNG, we obviously needed to expand our exploration of the country. This year we did just that with a trip to the current province and future country of Bougainville!
Colonised by the French in the 18th century, Bougainville features a wealth of history and an abundance of natural beauty, and is well worth a visit either before or after it becomes a country of its own!
Our first tour to Greenland
We strive to explore new frontiers every year at YPT, and 2019 was no exception. Boarding a deluxe ship after a few days in Iceland, we headed north to explore the secluded, frosty shores of eastern Greenland.
We documented our trip thoroughly, from the correct use of the rubber away boats called ‘zodiacs’ (not to be confused with the serial killer) to life aboard the ship and visiting the Scrabble-winning town of Ittoqqortoormiit.
Watch this space for future tours to Greenland!
Our Soviet Europe research trips
Our Soviet Europe office strives to add at least a few new locations each year, but we obviously need to make sure things are fit for our customers before we start running tours there. That’s where research trips come in — our guides (and, occasionally, a few veteran pioneers who don’t mind an unpolished test-run tour) plumb the depths of brand-new locations.
This year we had some great picks for research trips. We’ve run tours to Chernobyl for many years, but this year we went to a previously unexplored portion of the Exclusion Zone — the Belorussian side! We also fitted in trips to the breakaway state of South Ossetia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
We made history with our Moscow-Pyongyang by train tour
The world’s longest uninterrupted train ride had, up until this year, never been completed by a tour group. This year, YPT changed that.
Starting in the vibrant capital city of Russia, we spent seven days on a train, spent some time in the Far East city of Ussuriysk, crossed into Rason, and finally arrived in Pyongyang after another two or so days on the train. Along the way we saw parts of rural North Korea almost never glimpsed by foreign eyes.
The triumphant return of the Mass Games
2018 saw the return of the Mass Games after a long, long hiatus; in 2019 the DPRK took them to another level, running all the way from June to October!
The air above Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium was alive with choregraphed drone performances and fireworks, and the ground below was hidden from view by colourful, athletic displays of mass gymnastics. There’s quite simply no show on earth like it.
The Mass Games have not been confirmed for 2020 yet, but the second they are, we’ll be the first to know! Watch this space!
To the adventures of the past and the many, many more coming up…