gives us a unique insight into the incredible highs and bone-chilling lows of his latest travel adventure from Siberia to Saigon, airing on TG4 tonight.
It’s always the same buzz when we meet at Dublin Airport, Rosco my cameraman lands with two trollies packed high with equipment and flight cases, Evan the producer with one bag and his trusty laptop. It’s the laptop bag that carries all his stuff, all the planning the pre-production, the numbers, the contacts, the schedules of the next 14 weeks.
We are off again on our latest adventure, 12 months in the making, and here it is, Day 1: Dublin — Frankfurt — Moscow — Siberia.
In the back of my mind is: “Wow, we’re off to Siberia, in February, in the middle of winter.”
I check my iPhone weather icon while waiting for a coffee at Starbucks: Tomsk Oblast, minus 26. Christ! That’s cold.
And it is 3,432 miles from where I am getting my flat white in departures.
We arrive at Tomsk at 6.20am. We are the only tourists, the only foreigners in the village. We are met by our driver. He speaks no English. We leave the terminal and the cold envelopes our bodies like you feel when you open the door of a cold room and walk in.
By the time we load the bags, I am feeling it, on my hands, my face. All around me, the snow drifts are 20-foot high, the roads have inches of permafrost on them, everything is white and frozen.
However, everything is still moving, going on, no problems, no panic, this is a normal day for these people, they are used to the cold, the question is… are we?
After a week or so, you get used to the layers and layers of Arctic-standard clothing you have to put on every day. If the temperature is minus 15, it is like a summer’s day to us. We are slowly adapting. Siberia and its people are brilliant and friendly and proud.
Winter lasts from September to May, followed by a lovely summer, then back again into the frozen world.
We take the Trans-Siberian train from Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk, 28 hours, with nothing much in between, just wilderness, and snow. We travel to the border with Mongolia at a town called Ulan Ude. A jeep and a new driver wait there for us. He is cool, Mongolian, speaks English, likes Pearl Jam and plays it loud for us on the journey. Crossing the border, 100 yards between barriers, takes nearly six hours.
We are searched and grilled and asked to show all equipment and serial numbers to the Russians.
Three Irish guys in the middle of nowhere with loads of TV equipment at a small border crossing between Russia and Mongolia in the middle of winter. Soldiers and border guards with dogs inspect the jeep.
Twice they place telescopic mirrors underneath the jeep, checking and searching. We huddle inside and wait. It is freezing outside and, when I say freezing, it is bloody freezing.
Siberia to Mongolia and then into hidden China thousands of miles away from Beijing and Shanghai. Finally, the temperatures lift a bit and we can get rid of the layers.
China is a bubble, a big bubble, running a huge economy and 1.4bn people. They don’t like Facebook, so they have created their own version. No WhatsApp allowed, so they created their own. Same with Twitter. I have to download a VPN app onto my phone, a Virtual Private Network, that allows me while I am there to access my social media, etc. It works. I don’t know how, but every few days I have to reboot it.
I am filming in a city called Chongqing. It is more than a city. A local tells me they call these cities megatropolis; over 31 million people and expanding by the month.
This is the mothership of Chinese manufacturing. They make everything in this place, from cars to machines, to motorbikes, to phones. I think nearly every component needed for your Apple iPhone is made in this city.
After China, we go to Nepal, one of my favourite places on the trip. It blew me away — the people, the place, the colour, the countryside and of course their mountains. We have a great show from there.
Siberia — Mongolia — China — Bangladesh — Myanmar — Thailand — Cambodia — Saigon, all to be seen in eight weeks of hour-long shows, from minus 35 to plus 35, on TG4 from tonight.
Bainigí taitneamh as, mo chairde.