I recently had to renew one of my passports and when it came back, with its top right corner permanently amputated, I had a sad flick through it, but started to smile almost straight away as memories of previous trips came flooding back. I then opened the drawer with the remainder of my passports, got them out and leafed through their much used and loved pages. I have been very very lucky in certain aspects of my life, travelling is definitely one of them. I have always thought that it came from the fact that my father was a sailor and so as kids we moved every couple of years to different countries and places and yet two of my sisters dont seem to have the same bug as me, so it cant be that.
After much deliberation, these are my five favourite stamps in my passports. Just to clarify, this isn’t a list of my favourite countries, I get no stamp for going to Italy, or for coming home to France, and the one below is a new shiny one, already rubbed and faded from overuse.
I was lucky enough to spend a year here, working in Beirut but also travelling the country on a regular basis (that’s not so grand as it sounds, Lebanon is NOT a big country). A place in a perpetual state of unease, almost a constant war footing, physical reminders of recent horrors are everywhere,
and yet the weekends (which are long) are fantastic food, drink and dancing filled bonanzas. A temperate climate at sea level, humid but never cold, its one of these mythical places where you really can ski and swim on the same day, I did it more than once, the snow was great and the sea was warm.
I saw the best of this country, I made a lot of friends and was invited to a wedding. The Baalbek music festival, taking place in a Phoenician amphitheatre was a magical night, not even ruined by two punctures on the way back to Beirut, meaning an almost five hour delay but I also saw it in less good times. I remember standing on the roof of my apartment watching the Israeli bombs rain down on the area where Hassan Nasrallah lived thinking to myself that I’d been there only the day before. The country has known and continues to know great pain, but the joy and resilience of the citizens makes it my favourite passport stamp.
Three wonderful months going from The Atacama desert in the north, relaxing next to the pool on the mountain top of St Christobel in Santiago down to Torres Del Painé in the south, and pretty much everything in between, with two of the months being spent in the most remote town I’ve ever been to.
A government experiment gone fairly wrong, high rates of alcoholism and domestic violence, coupled with very basic services in the town meant that overall standards of living were very low, but the people in this place, so small and remote that I cant remember its name nor find it anywhere on the internet were so friendly and welcoming that it was a pleasure to be there. Accessible only by boat which came twice a week from Punte Arenas to provide supplies, it never felt lonely to me as I knew I’d be going home but it certainly appeared to be depressing for those that lived there full time.
Time was spent tracking the elusive Huemul deer in and around the glacier fed river Fjordo Falcon, which was an experience I’ll never forget. Driving my rubber boat through huge chunks of ice was both terrifying and exhilerating. Being accompanied by a pod of dolphins was almost enough to make me forget the danger. But only almost.
I loved this place for a few reasons, but primarily our entry into the country. I only stayed for 24 hours in the country on my sole visit but the process of getting in to Uzghorrod will stay with me forever.
So many memories. Playing golf with my Trinidadian boss, Fazal on beautiful courses along the sea and seeing these birds everywhere, to my shame I still dont know what they’re called but I do have a few of their feathers at home.
The most ferocious rain I’ve ever known, so bad that when I drove through Karachi after having a meal, the main street leading to Clifton, the area where I was living, had disappeared and I had to park the car on higher ground and get a boat back to my house. Eating a salad so hot I had tears in my eyes. A salad?
A week in Phnom Penh, with a trip to Angkor Wat thrown in. Whats not to love? With all that I’ve seen and done in my life, I know that there are a few things that will always stay with me. I close my eyes and can remember as if it was yesterday turning the corner in the back of my tuctuc and seeing the lake in front of the temples of Angkor. I will never forget it. That, the sun coming up over Petra and my kids being born are probably the memories I will take to my grave.
Quite simply staggering. Í’d read and seen so much about them I felt I sort of knew them before I got there.
Nothing, no amount of reading and research can ever prepare you for the moment you see these magical mystical temples for the first time.
There have been many other countries and many many other sites and places in those countries that I have loved, my favourite city in the entire world is Rome, with Granada a very close second, but from every stamp in my passport, these five are the ones I remember most, for differing reasons.