FAQ’s fall into 4 catagories. Click the links to find what you’re looking for:
Before getting inspired to travel by anything below, read the legal disclaimer
Contact me if there is anything I failed to answer
Chernobyl Questions – Still the thing I get most asked about
Afghanistan Questions – One of my more hair raising war expeditions.
Somaliland (Somalia) questions – info on one of my more interesting war torn expeditions
Personal Questions – Random crap people ask about me or this site
- Why did you go there?
- No Really, "why" would you put yourself in danger when there are much nicer places to take a holiday?
- I still think You're NUTS!
- Isn't this absurdly dangerous?
- Who are the Guys on the Video?
- What music is Yuri playing on the piano at the end of the video
- Can I ride around Chernobyl on a motorbike that that woman? (Elena Filatova AKA KiddOfSpeed)
- But what about all the contaminated food/air/soil? Isn't this going to stay in you forever?
- Why the variation in radioactivity around the area?
- I like that video, who shot/edited/produced it?
- Can just anyone visit Chernobyl?
- How do I get to Chernobyl?
- How much does it cost?
- Do i need a visa and how do i get one?
- What precautions do I need to take?
- Where can i get one of those Geiger counter/Dosimeters?
- Should I be tested for contamination after I visit?
- How close to the reactor can i get?
- Are there any photography restrictions at Chernobyl?
- The Ukraine Visa form says i must surrender all film/video for inspection. What's that about?
- Where in Kiev did you/can i stay?
- Are there any related places i can see?
- I've see on TV a reporter getting into the reactor control room. How can you do that?
- Can I use your video for my own projects? Can I get the original hi-res footage?
Why did you go there?
Chernobyl was part of a larger project i called the ill-advised tour 2006.
Basically it was a plan to go a few places it's advised in the media you don't go to and see if they are as bad as they are made out to be.
Chernobyl was the culmination of this trip. The rest of the trip is contained in posts in this category
No Really, "why" would you put yourself in danger when there are much nicer places to take a holiday?
OK, in a broader philosophical sense it boils down to this. Most people travel to forget about their petty little problems for a while. I travel to be reminded my problems are indeed petty and small.
I still think You're NUTS!
That may be the the case. You're entitled to your opinion.
Isn't this absurdly dangerous?
Not really, It's not a place to live for long periods of time or take
your children too, but a day in and around Chernobyl is really only
equivalent to the radiation you get from a few days sun baking.
Who are the Guys on the Video?
The guy in the Yellow jacket doing most of the talking is a Government
employee named Yuri Tatarchuck. The other guy with the Yellow Geiger
counter is me.
What music is Yuri playing on the piano at the end of the video
Can I ride around Chernobyl on a motorbike that that woman? (Elena Filatova AKA KiddOfSpeed)
Hoax alert! Elena has never rode around Chernobyl. no-one has one of those "all access" passes that she mentions. She did the same tour I did and just posed for pictures with a helmet in her hand. You will notice that all the photo's which have a motor bike in them are taken outside the exclusion zone. More on this has been written here and here.
Anyway, the simple answer to this question (in case you haven't guessed) is no, you cant ride around Chernobyl.
But what about all the contaminated food/air/soil? Isn't this going to stay in you forever?
Keeping that in mind i was tested for contamination the day i returned to Sydney, Australia. The test results all came up clean. You can see them Here.
In short, the answer is no. All food in the area comes from clean parts
of the country and is tested before being sold. As long as you don't go
rolling in contaminated soil or putting stuff in your mouth, its hard
for the contamination to get in.
Why the variation in radioactivity around the area?
Levels around the reactor vary dramatically. where i was standing was slightly off to the side in an area that has been cleaned up. If you were to stand directly in front the levels are 100's of times higher.
That place in the city where it was measuring high levels was also where they landed the helicopters during the emergency, thus they also
dropped a lot of extra contamination in that area.
I like that video, who shot/edited/produced it?
I shot it myself on a Sony DCR-PC109 with a wide angle lens. This combinations makes for a very small, light and unobtrusive camera. It makes it easier to turn the camera on myself for interviews and the like. The video was edited the same day while
still traveling on an Asus S6 ultra portable notebook. I use Adobe Premiere Pro for the editing. The resulting footage was uploaded to the web the following day. If any of the video looks rushed, it's because it is. I was aiming for near real time reporting without any support or help.
No-one will travel with me to the places i go so i kind of have to do everything myself.
Also see This FAQ if you are interested in obtaining the origianal footage for your own projects.
Can just anyone visit Chernobyl?
Yes. I'm nobody special. I'm just some guy who had enough interest to sort through the bureaucracy to get there.
You will be security/background checked before you go but unless you're an international spy, this shouldn't be a problem.
How do I get to Chernobyl?
There is a lot of bureaucracy involved so the easiest way is to go through a travel agent in Kiev. They will organise all the permits and paperwork.
I went through a company called cam (pronounced "Sam" in Russian). Their web site is http://www.sam.com.ua/. They now have an english page (when i booked i had to stuble through the russian). the tour page is here and you can book and ask question of their staff through this web form Even so, they can be slow to respond at times. Get used to that sort of thing from the Ex-Soviet countries. If you struggle to get hold of them Contact Me and I'll see if I can put you in contact.
Also, don't be concerned when the person who picks you up in Kiev doesn't speak English. A guide will meet you in Chernobyl itself.
Since i visited, there is now a cheaper way to go. pripyat.com organises tours in large groups once a month. Check their Online forum for the details
How much does it cost?
It doesn't come cheap. A day will cost you about 400 $USD. You will have to pay in advance by credit card or you can pay at their office in Kiev if you happen to be there at least 3-4 days in advance of the trip to Chernobyl.
You may be able to make it cheaper if you can organize more than one person. On the bright side, the $400 includes transfers to an from Chernobyl to Kiev and lunch and everything for the day.
Since i visited, there is now a cheaper way to go. pripyat.com organises tours in large groups once a month. Check their Online forum for the details
Do i need a visa and how do i get one?
Australian citizens will need an invite, a tourist voucher and a visa. The tourist voucher the travel agent I mentioned can organise.
Some hotels will supply you with an invite. An easier but more costly way is to just by an invite from www.visittorussia.com. Other countries are different.
A good source of general information is this site
What precautions do I need to take?
Not that many other than common sense. As i said on my blog, a day at Chernobyl is really only equivalent to a few days sun baking as long as you stay out of the really nasty parts. Your guide will make sure that doesn't happen. they are all government employees after all and have to stick to regulations like everyone else. Just don't go rolling in the contaminated soil and don't put anything in your mouth and your fine.
Where can i get one of those Geiger counter/Dosimeters?
Should I be tested for contamination after I visit?
It's not really necessary. None the less it may put some peoples mind at ease. Also, a full body contamination scan is an interesting experience in and of itself. They basically strip you naked and put you in a large lead box to shield out most background radiation. They then position your body around a highly sensitive radiation detector to see if anything radioactive is coming from you. I had mine done in Sydney at the Lucus heights Nuclear facility. Contact me and i can put you in touch with them to organise a test. That said it's not cheap either. A full body scan costs approx $AUD300 ($200USD).
How close to the reactor can i get?
In the video you can see i got to within about 200m of the reactor. There is an office you can see in the right of the image which you can go into for a closer look. There you are about 100m from the reactor. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures or shoot video from there.
Are there any photography restrictions at Chernobyl?
At Chernobyl itself there are supposed photo/video restrictions and you are meant to get official permission blah blah blah. Despite what is said on a number of Chernobyl brochures etc, Cameras are fine. Don't bother with the official paperwork, it'll only create more headaches for yourself. The only one's who care about that piece of bureaucracy are guards at checkpoints. Thus when you are approaching a check point, it's best to put cameras away. I had a regular looking day pack (not a camera bag) which I stuffed them in as we approached. Unfortunately I originally didn't know this and I did film at a checkpoint. You can see the guard taking the paperwork near the start
of the video. Where that video cuts is when he notices me and gets a little upset. He then threatened to take my cameras away amongst other things. The tip here is film all you like but don't try to film/take pictures at checkpoints without asking, and expect to be told no if you do ask. The other place you can't take pictures/film is in the official center next to reactor #4. They tell you not to when you walk in so you can't get in trouble as long as you take heed. If there's any other restrictions you will be told about them.
The Ukraine Visa form says i must surrender all film/video for inspection. What's that about?
The more astute of you will have noticed that the Ukraine Visa forms insist that all photography/video must be surrendered and inspected as you leave the country. A wonderful hang over from it's communist past. In reality this isn't enforced. When I crossed the border I didn't even have the right paper work to enter the country. If you get stopped by border guards asking about these things then he/she is probably angling for a bribe. First thing to do in this situation is play dumb but be very polite, calm and nice as possible. Failing that and they want to take cameras or film away, ask "is there a fee I can pay?" This is of course the nice way of offering a bribe.
If it does come to this it probably won't cost you much more than $10 - $20 USD. That said, Ukraine is less corrupt than its neighbors so most likely you will just slide strait through.
Where in Kiev did you/can i stay?
I stayed at a couple of places in Kiev. Neither of them I can really recommend. I'd recommend to go looking on the net for places to stay. The places I stayed had their pro's and cons (mostly cons) so for what it's worth here's where I stayed:
i) Hostel Kiev - one of Kiev's few backpacker places
If you need an invitation to get a Ukraine visa they will do it for you cheaply and really quickly. A very handy service.
Damn near impossible to find.
When I was there (September 2006) it was under major reconstruction. Thus the place looked like it had been bombed. When they finish it may be good.
ii) Hotel Tourist
Comfortable. Close to a metro station on one of the main lines.
Damn fast internet.
It's has a dead tourist feel with even more dead staff. More than what I normally pay for accommodation but still cheap by European standards.
Are there any related places i can see?
Most of the damage of Chernobyl did not happen in the Ukraine where the reactor is. Most of the fallout fell on neighboring Belarus. Thus I'd highly recommend a visit to there as well. I personally stayed with a family outside Gomel near some of the contaminated towns in the south east of Belarus. Contact me and i could probably hook you up with some contacts.
I've see on TV a reporter getting into the reactor control room. How can you do that?
The late Australian TV reporter Richard Carleton went inside the reactor in 2006 a few months before his death (his death was unrelated to his time at Chernobyl) you can see his Chernobyl story and video here.
I've been asked a few times but i have no idea what strings were pulled to allow the entry into the reactor control room. I'd recommend you ask on the pripyat.com forums and see what you come up with.
Can I use your video for my own projects? Can I get the original hi-res footage?
Unless otherwise specified, everything i produce is Creative commons. This means you can use my footage as long as you credit me.
I have also uploaded the original unedited raw footage. Contact me and I'll send you a link to download it.
- Why did you go there?
- Isn't Afghanistan absurdly dangerous?
- How do I get to Afghanistan?
- Kabul. Is it safe to just walk about?
- How do i get about Kabul?
- Where can I stay in Kabul that is at least vaugly safe?
- Is it possible to cross the Khyber Pass?
Why did you go there?
Afghanistan was the first leg in my 2008 Ill-advised adventure (Sri Lanka's war-torn north and thePakistan Frontier were the other two legs)
For years I had been asked Gee Carl, why don't you just go to (inset name of high profile American led war)?. This was the year I finally gave in.
For the more general question of why go to such seeminly dangerous places have a look in my Personal FAQ
Isn't Afghanistan absurdly dangerous?
When I was there in Late 2008 the north was still do-able without riding aropund in a tank. that said the situation was getting worse. Wether that trend will continue is anyones guess.
How do I get to Afghanistan?
Before following my footsteps into this minefield, read the the legal disclaimer.
That out of the way, Visa'a are still easy to get. You must get them before you leave. as far as i know it is not possible to get a visa on arrival.
Kabul is still the easiest point of entry. Flying from New Dehli, India is probaly the easiest route in but a number of airlines fly there.
Kabul. Is it safe to just walk about?
The city is vaguely safe to just wander about although yes, foreigners are targets. killings and kidnappings happen and were increasing while I was there. That said it was still doable. vary routes to places, keep an eye out. Also, time of year is a factor. Going in spring or autum is the nicest time of year to visit but still fairly violent. Apparently winter is the off season for killing but it's also damn freezing.
How do i get about Kabul?
If you want safe and reliable Afghan Logistics run a reliable taxi service.
Considering the above security concerns, anything over a few km walk I generally got a taxi. Afghan logistic drivers are really good and will speak at least some English. Afghan logistics can also supply translators/guides/tours etc.
The other option is yellow taxi's on the street which are cheaper although a little dodger. I used them a lot and I was OK. Keep in mind though they almost never speak any English. Also they are very often illiterate so pointing them at maps/guide books/scraps of paper is an exercise in frustration.
Where can I stay in Kabul that is at least vaugly safe?
Mustafa hotel is safe and fairly cheap. About $25USD plus.
Use this URL for them http://kabulmustafahotel.com/ use this address. don’t Google them, Google points you to the old site before the previous manager died.
They are also a good source of Local conditions. You can book through the web site but you dont really need to. the hotel has hundreds of rooms and rarly any more than a dozen guests. Just rock up and the guys will take care of you.
Is it possible to cross the Khyber Pass?
At the time I was there the Kyber pass border was closed on the Pakistan Side. However it is stil open on the Afghanistan side so it is theoretically possible to cross. However the last part of Afghanistan to the border is a bit dodgy and not recomended. If you really want to try it though there are some poeple in Pakistan that come across the border and guide you through the more hairly parts. Contact me and I'll put you in touch
Somaliland (Somalia) FAQ
- Why did you go to Somaliland?
- My Government web site says not to go to any part of Somalia. Aren't you nuts?
- How do I get into Somaliland?
- Do I need a Visa? How do you get a visa for a country that doesn't exist and has no recognised government?
- How long did you stay?
- Where is it safe enough to sleep?
- Security again: What kind of security measures did you take? (You mention guards, anything else?)
- The guards you hired, how did you arrange it?
- Did you leave Hargeisa? If yes, where did you go - and was it safe?
- I've read something like it's recommended to carry body armour in Somalia. Wouldn't that be provocation?
Why did you go to Somaliland?
Somaliland was part of a larger project i called the War torn tour 2007.
Basically it was a plan to go a few of the worlds forgotten war zones and see if they are as bad as they are made out to be.
Somaliland was the culmination of this trip. The rest of the trip is contained in posts in this category
In a broader philosophical sense, Somaliland fits into a more general travel Philosophy which i explain at more length in my personal FAQ.
Put simply it boils down to this: Most people travel to forget about their petty little problems for a while. I travel to be reminded my problems are indeed petty and small
My Government web site says not to go to any part of Somalia. Aren't you nuts?
Pretty much any traverlers advise site carries some pretty dire warnins against traveling to any part of Somalia. My own government recommends you don't even fly over Somalia, let alone land there.
That said, Somaliland in the nations north, is probably the safest of a bad bunch. Enough precautions and it's perfectly possible to get in and out of Somaliland in one piece. Still, it's not for the faint of heart and not somewhere for a family holiday.
As for if I'm nuts. Well this is a question I get a lot and admittedly there is mounting evidence to support the hypothesis. On the other hand, I have been doing this sort of thing a while and I have never been injured or ran into any major problems I couldn't solve. Hell, I've never even had a childhood disease. It could be luck or good management, I claim the latter.
How do I get into Somaliland?
Before following in my footsteps into any war torn mess (or anywhere else for that matter) read my disclaimer
That out of the way, there are a few routs in. the easiest being flying into Hargeisa from either Addis Ababa in Ethiopia (thats how I did it) or from Nairobi, Kenya. Ethiopian airlines flies there regularly. The largest private Somali airline Daallo also has regular flights in and around Somalia. They are probably a good bet for domestic flights but they are serious third world so don't expect to be overwhelmed by there comfort or safety.
Do I need a Visa? How do you get a visa for a country that doesn't exist and has no recognised government?
Have you ever tried to get a visa for a country that doesn't exist? I have and it's fun in and of itself.
Yes you need a visa. Surprisingly it's not too hard to get, a lack of government tends to translate into a lack of bureaucracy.
You can get it before you go from the Somaliland Embassy in London. Download the visa form from the Somaliland Government Website and take it or post it to them. Best to email them first and see what costs etc are involved. Email address is on the visa form.
If you are flying into Hargeisa, some of the hotels will arrange a visa for you to pick up at the airport. The Ambassador Hotel and the Maan Soor Hotel Both provide this visa service.
How long did you stay?
I stayed about a week
Where is it safe enough to sleep?
Most of the larger hotels ($40USD and up) have there own security. i.e big walls and guys with AK47's.
Where is stayed in Hargeisa (The Ambassador Hotel) had all this as well as wireless internet.
When I traveled outside Hargeisa I took a guide, a driver and two AK47 wielding guards with me. Any guide will have experience with the area and know a secured place to put you up for the night.
Security again: What kind of security measures did you take? (You mention guards, anything else?)
Don't piss people off! if you absolutely have to piss people off, make sure you have more guns than they do. Considering the amount of weapons in the country it's generally safer to follow the first rule and don't piss people off! (bears repeating).
Somalia is generally a fairly conservative country. Keep that in mind as you travel, you are in their country and follow their rules whether or not you agree with them. Classic example, signs in most hotel reception areas will remind you not to bring in your guns (sensible) as well as not bringing in alcohol (surprising to some westerners, Alcohol is frowned upon) and no unmarried couples to share a room (don't question this). If you are traveling as a couple, wear basic wedding rings and claim to be Mr and Mrs.
Other than that, I take the usual security precautions i take in any backwater country. Keep valuables safe. Keep some cash hidden on your person for the worst case scenario. Personally I keep a small amount of cash in my shoe as well as some in fake pockets I sew into my jeans.
The guards you hired, how did you arrange it?
I arranged a 4WD, a driver, a guide and two guards armed with AK47's through my Hotel (The Ambassador Hotel). In hind site this was a easy although more expensive way of doing it. Most hotels will charge you around $300USD per day for the service.
If you have time you can do it cheaper yourself in Hargiesia. Hargiesia is safe enough to wander around so you can just get a taxi into town and sort it out. There is a ministry of tourism which should be able to help you out with these things. You really only need the guards if you leave Hargiesia.
Did you leave Hargeisa? If yes, where did you go - and was it safe?
Yes, I went to Las Geel, Berbera and a few other citys and towns around Somaliland.
People generally react with curiosity rather than hostility so i would say it's vaguely safe. That said, there is the risk of banditry around Somailand thus this is why you take guards. Basically they insist on it. As you travel out of Hargiesa you encounter checkpoints which will make sure westerners have enough security and turn you back if you don't
I've read something like it's recommended to carry body armour in Somalia. Wouldn't that be provocation?
Somaliland is not Mogadishu or even southern Somlaia. Somaliland is the relatively safe part of Somalia. Even some of the Mogadishu warlords live in Hargesia specifically to get away from the violence of Mogadishu.
Personally I didn't bother with ballistic vests for Somaliland. Generally they are bulky and attract attention. That said if you feel you really want a ballistic vest, you may want to consider some of the more discreet (and even stylish) ones sold by Colombian firm Miguel Caballero.
- What is this site about?
- Why go to all these wacky/obscure/dangerous places?
- Are you Nuts?
- Who pays for all this stuff?
- Why don’t you just go to (insert name of high profile American led war)?
- Come to my Country/Some place I like/Some place I've heard about in the news
What is this site about?
Originally this site was just my personal dumping ground for travel photos and (more often) pic from drunken nights out plus any other random stuff i decided to post. It was originally just intended for a few friends and family. That changed a few yeas ago when this site started to get some attention due my habit of traveling to some of the worlds more obscure or sometimes dangerous locations. Due to this I dropped all the personal stuff and it's now solely an archive of odd adventures. The only legacy is it has my name on it CarlMontgomery.com instead of something like WhatSillyPlaceHasCarlBeenToNow.com (if you can think of a better domain name that isn't taken contact me and I may register it.)
If you're someone looking for the drunken photos and boring personal stuff you should friend me on Facebook
Why go to all these wacky/obscure/dangerous places?
The short story:
To quote myself "Most people travel to forget about their petty little problems for a while. I travel to be reminded my problems are indeed petty and small." As soon as you adopt a travel philosophy such as this you are automatically obligated to hit some fairly nasty places.
The Longer story:
I have for a long time found myself in the occasional dodgy situation (Argentina during the 2002 financial meldown and Venezulea around it's Military coup are two good examples). However the turning point probably came in 2005 when I ran out of money while traveling Zimbabwe. Not long after that trip Forbes published it's yearly Most dangerous destinations list, had Zimbabwe on it. Although from my experience of Zimbabwe i would agree it's a shit hole, I would be reluctant to say it's absurdly dangerous. This harsh critisim of the country lead me to ask the question "Where else has gotten a bad rap" which led me to the 2006 Ill-advised adventure, Chernobyl being the highlight. encouraged by that success, that lead me to the 2007 War-torn tour.
What 2008 and beyond hold I don't know. Subscribe and you'll be first to know
Are you Nuts?
I've been doing this a while and yet to suffer any major injuries. That could be Luck or good management. I claim the latter.
That said, I may be nuts, there is mounting evidence to support such a hypothesis.
Who pays for all this stuff?
I do! I have a regular day job, save up, and hit the road once a year. Thus this site sits idle most of the time.
If you are some organisation that wants to pay me to do these things, contact me, I'd be happy to hear your ideas.
Why don’t you just go to (insert name of high profile American led war)?
When has any of this been High profile.
That said, It's always possible I'll bend on this one day
Come to my Country/Some place I like/Some place I've heard about in the news
I'd love to. Unfortunately there is about 200 countries in the world and I only have so much time. Thus I end up having to be a little selective. Only the other hand, If you want to pay me I'll go anywhere.