Dark tourism involves people travelling to places that are historically associated with death, pain and suffering. Many of us will probably not want to travel to such places for fear of our lives.
But that is not the case for this English builder, Andrew Drury. According to CNN, for more than 20 years now, Drury has led a double life. The double life he has led is attending to his family and job, and at the same time, traveling around the world for an adventure. Drury owns a successful construction company in rural Surrey, a short drive from London.
He is 50 years, and has spent almost half of his years traveling to war zones around the world. From Somalia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Syria and Iraq where the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has established their so-called Islamic Caliphate, Drury has visited all these areas.
In Iraq, Drury has a route traced out across the Kurdish-held territories, which runs close to the frontline with ISIS. When ISIS seized territories in Iraq, it started persecuting the Yazidi minority group. But in a previous travel before the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Drury was treated with the best of hospitality by the Yazidis. This made him fell in love with the Yazidis. And he cannot stop going there for vacations despite the volatile security situation in the area, with ISIS keen on beheading Western hostages.
“It’s a difficult question — how much risk to take? You can go right up with the Kurdish troops fighting beyond Mosul. I want to see the Yazidis again… to see if the tribe I met are still alive”, Drury told CNNin an interview.
The first time Drury visited Africa nearly cost him his life. Drury had embarked on a safari trip to Uganda, a country in East Africa. But accidentally, he crossed the border into the then war-torn DRC. As he decided to take a tour of the area inside the DRC, he was forced to flee by a machete-wielding farmer, who nearly killed him.
After escaping this, he did not give up. He continued his journey to another war-torn country in the same East African region, Somalia. Somalia has been in a state of turmoil since 1991, with the outbreak of a bloody Civil War. The Civil War claimed up to 500,000 lives, and almost entirely destabilized the country. It also created an environment for al Qaeda affiliates, and other jihadist groups to grow. A multi-ethnic jihadist group known as Al Shabaab is active in the country.
But again, this will not deter Drury from exploring Somalia. He has even gone as far as sponsoring a basketball team in the capital city, Mogadishu. He regularly visits the country to watch the team play.
“It’s risk and reward. The reward is that you see more, and you learn more. We’re not born to do nine to five jobs. You have to explore a little bit and try to understand the world you’re living in. People in England think Somalis are all gang members and drug dealers… not the people I know. They are loving people who do their best and put their life on the line for you”, Drury boldly testified about the people he met in Somalia.
Drury has also visited relative remote areas such as the Russian region of Chechnya, where small number of militants operate, North Korea and Myanmar.
Several of Drury’s trips have been arranged through Untamed Borders, an operator with a record of notable firsts. Untamed Borders was the first to offer skiing vacations to Afghanistan, and the first British company to tour Chechnya.
The company draws on a global network of guides and security experts to enable vacations in danger zones. Each trip requires months of planning, leaving nothing to chance. In emergencies, the company office becomes a control center to direct rescue operations, with staff gathering information for local partners or relevant authorities.
And Drury himself is always on high alert on his personal safety. He will never entirely trust all the people he meets during his vacations.
“Don’t tell people where you’re going the next day, even if you trust them. If people want to meet again I say I’m catching a flight tomorrow”, Drury advised people who might want to embark on similar journey.