The Antarctica One Is Really Cool
We asked readers of BudgetTravel.com to show off a little and send us photos of their exotic passport stamps. Here's a slide show of our favorites, plus the stories behind them.
Our other favorite destination was Srimangal, in the region of Sylhet, which is the heart of tea country. Tea is one of Bangladesh's largest exports, and the landscape where it's grown is magical. The tea plants are chest high and lush, and they're interspersed with shade trees that extend their branches to offer just the right amount of shade to the tea plants. Not so great are the conditions under which many of the tea pickers work--it's a hard job, and I understand that the pay is abysmal. For an outsider, however, the region looks simply idyllic. What's more, there are no tourists as far as the eye can see.
The stamp: Suriname
The backstory: Richard J. Pazara of Arlington, Tex., visited Suriname in 2004.
The first-person account: Since it is the only country in South America to require an advance visa for Americans, Suriname is not highly visited. So it's very laid-back, and because of its history, it is a mix of cultures. I really got a sense of getting along and tolerance there. For example, the mosque and the synagogue are right next door in Paramaribo, and they don't even have a fence between them. I really enjoyed my time there.
The stamp: Mozambique
The backstory: Richard J. Pazara visited Mozambique in 2004.
The first-person account: I flew into Maputo, spent two nights, then took an eight-hour bus ride to Pretoria, South Africa, where I rented a car to see a Durban, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Johannesburg before flying to see Victoria Falls. A visa was required, and I obtained it at the airport on arrival.
Maputo is a normal developing city with a few nice hotels and lots of grungy seen-better-days areas. I spent the second day flying to Inhaca Island and back. Since I had no bags, I took the local jitney, which stops a block from the airport--you know the deal Taxis from the big hotel costs US $20 and the local transportation costs 20¢.
On the return jitney ride, I jumped out 10 or so blocks from my hotel to do a little walking and happened upon a beautiful new building, which really stood out from the surrounding seediness. I quickly saw that it was a mosque, and knowing that non-Muslims are not allowed in some parts of the world, I just peered thru the fence. It was Friday and about time for the main prayer service, so mosque atendees filed past. One greeted me (in English) and invited me in, where he presented me to the imam. The imam was dour and certainly looked the part with his robes and beard.
He asked me what I wanted and I thought What have I gotten into? I told him the building was quite impressive, so he asked if I wanted a tour and assigned his son, who was about 20, to show me around. The son spoke very good English and spent 15 minutes explaining the mosque's history and the recent building program, funded mainly by the Muslim community in South Africa. He asked about me and had no reaction to my being from Texas. He spent another 15 minutes showing me the school and then begged off since the prayer service was about to start. I left totally impressed and uplifted at the hospitality and lack of hostility.
The stamp: Port Lockroy, British Antarctic Territory
The backstory: Billy Hancock of St. Petersburg, Fla., visited Antarctica with his wife in January and February of 2005 as part of a Grand Circle Travel group.
The first-person account: Getting to Antarctica is difficult, so we traveled in stages--first to Buenos Aires by plane, then flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, then across the Drake Passage by ship to the Antarctic Peninsula (600 miles from Cape Horn). We spent a week in Antarctic waters and made a total of 11 landings by boat. One of places we landed was Port Lockroy, a British research station that mainly monitors penguin colonies. The station, as a courtesy to visitors, will stamp their passports. There are no towns or commercial airports in Antarctica.
Antarctica in different from any other place on the planet because of its remoteness and isolation. We enjoyed the spectacular ice formations, the wonderful wildlife--penguins, seals, and whales--and the temporary isolation from civilization.