Lord Portsmouth

I don't believe anyone could have organised it better. We were far off the beaten track; indeed once we left Mrauk U, we didn't see another white face until we returned to Sittwe. Yet, all the arrangements seemed to go like clockwork (apart from the vehicle that took us from Kyauk Taw to Sittwe) and we accomplished 95% of our mission.

If you are wondering about the last 5%, it was our failure actually to tread the ground where my uncle died. As you may have heard, that was nothing to do with Wild Frontiers or our brilliant guide Aung Koko, aka Nicolas; force majeure had to be declared on account of the tense security situation, given the very recent inter-communal violence between the Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities. As it was, on our arrival in Rangoon we were told that we would not even be able to proceed up the Pi Chaung and that we would have to keep to the Kaladan River, in other words, we wouldn't have been able to get anywhere near. When we actually reached the confluence of the Pi Chaung and the Kaladan, Nicolas persuaded our boatman to try visiting one of the local villages to make enquiries about navigating the Pi Chaung up to the banks adjacent to where my uncle was killed. The boatman agreed and we managed to find a local schoolteacher who had taught in the Muslim villages in the area, who had friends in them and who would if necessary be able to ensure our safe passage. Accompanied by the teacher, we motored slowly as close as possible past the place we wanted to see and were able to get good photos of the river banks, as well as of the island from which the fatal shots were fired.

As you know, there was a great deal more to the trip and again, it was all executed in a most professional manner. The hotel in Mrauk U was excellent and we had a most enjoyable and interesting visit. In addition to seeing the ruins we saw monk novitiation parades, went to a tribal village where the women had extraordinary tatooed faces and attended a monk's funeral, a huge affair complete with milling crowds, giant paper pagodas and lethally dangerous fireworks. We travelled on very rough local craft up the magnificent Kaladan River but comfortable chairs were provided and the journeys passed quickly and very pleasantly. The food was wholesome and delicious throughout and significantly, none of us got sick. Our quarters in Paletwa were clean and the beds as good as could have been expected in a town with no hotel accommodation at all. Despite the heat, we never lacked for cold beer, even when we trekked up to Sipalaung, having been away from icemaking facilities for at least two days. How Nicolas managed this I just don't know; for me it was one of the mysteries of the expedition.

Nicolas was immensely empathetic. He knew what our expedition was about, he sensed how important it was to us and to Simon Sladen in particular. In addition to the Pi Chaung diversion, he did everything he possibly could to make it as fulfilling as possible, even to finding a number of old men who had lived through the wartime years as children and who could tell us of their knowledge and experience. It came as no surprise to learn that Nicolas was one of six tour guides, chosen internationally, to win a major award to be collected at a prestigious ceremony in London. Sadly it also came as no surprise that our cretinous Foreign Office denied him the visa that would have enabled him to do that.

If I have any criticism it was of our transport from Kyauk Taw to Sittwe, a dreadful old jalopy that as my mother would have said, "Couldn't have pulled the skin of a rice pudding". It couldn't go uphill and run air conditioning because it didn't have enough power to do both, and at one point we had to stop while vast quantities of water were poured over (as well as into) the engine to cool it. However, as you will have inferred, I mention this in humour rather than in anger.

To summarise, this expedition showed Wild Frontiers at the top of its game. A major part of WF's success lies in its ability to find the best people on the ground and that was certainly in evidence here. Finally, my thanks and congratulations go to you for your role at the London end and for being such a brilliant liaison officer.