Welcome to North Korea
The N-Korea marathon
It had been a crazy 3 weeks, after 6 months of trying to go the official route with no reply to a single mail or ph call, a break through came and the madness began. The borders to N- Korea were re opened after months of closure and we were introduced to a group in China who could get us access in to the DPRK. The next thing Andy and I were on a plane to Beijing and the crazy journey began.
After 25 hour of travel we landed in China at midnight and now had to get to our hotel somewhere in the city. We were warned about Taxi touts and not to take them, but exhorted and just wanting to sleep, we go nailed, only realising the clever con when we had to pay R 1000 for the trip to the hotel. We checked in and just crashed as the next morning at 9 was our briefing before the trip, but most importantly collect our travel documents and flight into never – never land.
We were E-Mailed an address in Chinese that we had to show to a cab, this was the Offices of Koryo travel who had arranged everything. The first 2 cabs just shook their heads and eventually a bicycle cab agreed to take us on this winding trip of the back streets of Beijing and eventually we found the building behind a massive gated fence. Ringing the bell we introduced ourselves and the door opened. We entered the offices, walls adorned with massive posters of military propaganda art and lots of other memorabilia. We asked for James our contact, but he was out so Simon took over for the quick to the point briefing on the basically endless list of don’ts. From how a newspaper with a pic of the leader should be folded as not to bend any pic’s of him.
Basically we were told in no uncertain terms that our freedom ended here for the next 6 days , do as you are told.
The Trip In
We were dropped off at the airport with another group of people going in. the security check was crazy and took forever. Next it was our turn and Andy put his bag on the belt, it it went into this massive black scanner and the shit hit the fan as every light flashed red. He was then called to the back. After unpacking his bag, 4 cigarette lighters were confiscated; these Andy had bought as gifts with pics of SA on them. Now stamped and cleared we boarded an old 1960 jet, could have been Russian or Chinese, full of guys in black suits and pins of the eternal leader on the left breast. After sitting on the runway for about 45 minutes we were given clearance and the Jet lurched off up into the morning sun. No sooner had it levelled and military music and lets say special video started and on it went for the next six days, versions of it. The music never seemed to change, nor the message. 2 hour later we suddenly began to descend with now warning, down we came at great speed, levelled of and then there was a lurch as the wheels were folded out and down we cam. Then bang we hit the runway, a severe lurch to the left and then bounced back to the right, one of the worst landings I have ever had, left and right we swerved and then brakes were applied, steel on steel the ground trying to slow the plane, then they were quickly released and again with force brakes applied – finally we ground to a halt. I looked around and there were a lot of very worried looking folk wiping sweaty brows.