Top Ten

TOP TEN MOST UNIQUE DESTINATIONS

Distinctive destinations call us from all over the world. In our travels, we have climbed the incredible Eiffel Tower, we have visited the welcoming ports of the Mediterranean Sea, and we have marveled at the magnificent Pyramids of Giza.

Being curious travelers, we also search out places that most people would avoid. Many times these sites are muggy, buggy, and difficult to get to. Often we are the only white, English-speaking individuals, but communication is never impossible.

We will continue our pursuit of places that are different, one-of-a-kind, and challenging. Here are what we think are tops in our Unique Destinations.

Our Top Ten List is in Alphabetical Order

Please Click on the Pictures to Enlarge

PORT LOCKROY, ANTARCTIC PENINSULA

January 2016

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One has to want to go to Antarctica - it is not a destination that is on the way to any place else. Usually travelers arrive on the continent by enduring at least two days crossing the treacherous Drake Passage.

Many cruise ships sail through the South Shetland Sea but the passengers never actually get their feet wet, taste the biting snow, or feel the cold of Antartica.

Arriving on the British Base of Port Lockroy on Wiencke Island on a sunny day was truly unique. The smells of the gentoo penguins mingled with the odor of the oil from the diesel generators welcomed us. The genuine smiles of the British Historical Trust Crew were heartwarming.

These four young researchers who were isolated on Port Lockroy for four months were thirsty for conversation and news of the rest of the world. We spent several hours exploring the island and talking to the crew.

The fact that this was the only sunny day on our Antarctica Journey and that we had such a beautiful experience with these young people made Port Lockroy a unique destination.

Port Lockroy Landing Gentoo Penguin Colony Base Camp Barracks Laura - British Researcher Gentoo Penguin & Chick

UYUNI SALT FLATS, BOLIVIA

November 2014

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Walking across the Salar de Uyuni or Uyuni Salt Flats at almost 12,000 of altitude is what it must be like to walk on the surface of the moon. The gray colors of the crusty flat surfaces that blend into the blue-gray skies of the horizon, give each visitor an eerie felling of disorientation.

Once a great sea, the Salt Flats are the largest in the world and 100 times larger than those in the United States. There are still some briny salt-water outlets that attract the famous Andean and Chilean Flamingos that feast on the brine shrimp.

Almost barren of any vegetation, we were there in the fall of 2014 and able to see the blooming giant cacti, that loom 30 to 40 feet and provide the only slim shadows of protection from the intense sun on the salt flats.

Getting to the Salt Flats one must travel from the city of Potosi, Bolivia that was once one of the richest cities in the world when silver was king. Riding in four-wheel drive Land Cruisers, we spent the next five hours covering 200 kilometers.

The town of Uyuni is a dusty barren village of adobe buildings hugging the earth to avoid being blown away by the strong winds. Our unique lodging was the Cristal Samaña Hotel, made of blocks of salt.

Everything about this destination made it unique; we saw only three other sets of visitors, the salt block hotel was almost vacant, and the Uyuni flats go on and on like nothing we have ever experienced.

Salar de Uyuni Giant Cactus Blossom Salar de Uyuni Mosaic Polygons Harvesting Salt Cristal Samaña Hotel

TA PROHM TEMPLE, CAMBODIA

November 2003

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Even though few people ever actually travel to Cambodia and Angkor Thom to the Ta Prohm Temple, many "know" this unique destination because they have seen the 2001 movie, Lora Croft - Tomb Raider.

A few miles from the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, in Siem Riep, one must journey on the back roads along with people traveling on bicycles and small carts drawn by water buffalo to reach this overgrown temple.

Although the small complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has not been restored, only stabilized for preservation and safety. Large silk-cotton trees, banyan trees, shady thitpok branches, and the roots of strangler figs have reclaimed the temple and present a truly lost civilization.

Built in the Khmer tradition during the reign of Jayavarman VII in 1186, Ta Prohm Temple was dedicated to his mother. After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 17th century, the site was abandoned and neglected. Now the tree trunks and the roots of the jungle are splitting the rocks and crumbling the structures.

As we walked through the grounds of the ruins of the temple, one could only imagine Angelina Jolie fighting off the villains and discovering the treasures that we also saw in this unique destination.

Strangler Fig Temple Entrance Bas Relief Banyan Tree 12th Century Buddhist Monastery

ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE

March 2015

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The Atacama Desert stretching along the Pacific Coast of Chile and Peru is the driest place on the earth. With an average of less than .5 inches of rain per year, some areas of the interior sectors have not had significant rain for over 400 years.

Our March 2015 trip to the Chilean portion of the great desert brought us as close to the planet of Mars as we would ever want to be. The rocky, dusty, and dry red terrain saps any moisture out of your system in minutes. Given the daytime heat, most of our adventures were early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

The Andes towering on both sides of this valley prohibit any clouds from gathering and dropping moisture in this area. There were a few springs and the original people of Atacama lived in this unforgiving ecosystem in oasis villages over 10,000 years ago.

The first Spanish explorers lead by Diego de Almagro, arrived in 1537, but no significant settlements were ever established. The land was forgotten by the world until the 1800's when vast deposits of copper, gold, silver, sodium nitrate, and now lithium brought economic life to the Atacama Desert.

There were a few small hotels in San Pedro de Atacama that catered to adventurers. As we walked through the desert village we wondered why anyone would want to live here. The villagers smiled at us and we knew they were wondering, "Why would anyone want to visit the Atacama?" And our answer was, "Because it is one of the most unique destinations in the world"!

Llamas at Yerbas Buenas Petroglyphs at Yerbas Buenas Rainbow Valley Tatio Mallku Geyser Complex Valley of the Moon

BAY OF PIGS, CUBA

January 2013

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In perhaps three to five years Cuba will no longer be a unique destination. With the lessening of travel restrictions for Americans to travel the mere 90 miles from Miami to Havana, Cuba will be a weekend hop to drink a little rum, smoke fine cigars, and add this island nation to their "to do list".

We visited Cuba in January of 2014, well before the US and Cuban relations had thawed. We had fears of an environment hostile to Americans, rumors of the threat of jail time, or at least the loss of our passports for traveling to a forbidden land.

The people of Cuba could not have been friendlier, more welcoming, and interested in showing us the best of their country. Our Cuban guide, a 22 year old college educated woman had never used the internet but cherished her cell phone, an innovation of the past four years.

We went to a tobacco plantation, visited schools, and trekked in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve or Zapata Swamp to see the Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world and endemic to Cuba.

The most unique aspect of our visit was to the Bay of Pigs and learning about the "Victory of Socialism" at the Playa Girón Museum. Reading and learning about the other side of the story of the Battle of the Bay of Pigs was enlightening.

Since the invasion by the American troops in 1961, the cry of "Remember the Revolution" has been rekindled and the government of Cuba continues to tie the Revolution (1953-1959), the Bay of Pigs (1961), and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) together to justify the hostilities between the USA and Cuba.

Seeing the sunset on the peaceful Bay of Pigs and knowing how the people of Cuba and the United States are beginning to learn to trust and respect each other was truly one of our most heartwarming and unique adventures.

Bee Hummingbird Hawker Sea Fury F-50 Victory of Socialism Walker Bulldog Tank Downed American Aircraft

LEGOLAND, DENMARK

April 2010

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It's a small world and one can see it all in miniature in the northern part of Denmark, called the Jutland Peninsula. Billund, Denmark is the home of the original Lego factory.

In 1968, a play area was built next to the shop to promote the original Lego toy building blocks. This small park grew into the initial theme park, Legoland. There are now ten Legoland theme parks in various countries around the world.

The centerpiece of the original park is a scale model of the city of Copenhagen complete with canals, wharfs, the airport, and quaint warehouses along the waterfront. From around the globe one visits the Greek Acropolis, the Abu Simbel Temple in Egypt, the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Thailand, the Kennedy Space Station, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and Washington D.C.

Included in the park entrance fees are rides of every description but all modeled on the Lego themes. Small cafés, a large cafeteria food court, small kiosks for sweets and take away food insure that no one goes hungry. And - of course, there is a gift shop to buy everything Lego.

Legoland is a tiny glimpse of the world that was built originally for children and now caters to the child in all of us. Replicated exactly to scale, this unique theme park has something for everyone and captured our hearts and must be included in our Top Ten Unique Destinations.

Legoland, Billund, Denmark Model of Copenhagen Wat Phra Kaew Temple Mount Rushmore Lego Store

QAQORTOQ, GREENLAND

July 2003

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Tucked into the Qaqortoq Fjord, along the Labrador Sea, the town of Qaqortoq is accessible only by sea or air. We arrived on the Holland America ship, The MS Rotterdam in July of 2003.

The fourth largest village on the island of Greenland and the largest on the southern coast, Qaqortoq only has about 3,200 inhabitants. Unemployment is high and the young adults leave the village to find opportunities for work.

Although the village is a port of call for five or six cruise lines, the tourist industry has done little to change the economy or culture of the community. Brightly colored small homes dot the hillside and as we walked from the port to the city center, we did not see many residents even though it was mid July and the height of the summer.

The largely Inuit population is friendly and willing to communicate with visitors. The highlight of the visit was a stop at the local grocery store to see the limited produce and foodstuffs available. Many people had small vegetable gardens but the growing season is very short at this latitude.

We climbed the steep streets to see the famous rock sculptures on the rock outcroppings all over the area. Representative of the Arctic culture, these permanent exhibits honor generations of ancestors.

The village museum is a typical sod and stone home fully furnished as the Inuit would have it 70 years ago. The Inuit people are the cousins of the first nations found in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Erik the Red sailed here in 982 AD and called it Greenland in hopes it would attract more people to the area.

Visiting Greenland in not on most people's Bucket List. However, having traveled to the world's largest island (three-quarters covered with permanent ice and snow), we were delighted to meet the people of this unique culture and share in their artic summer. It is not a destination for the winter months!

Qaqortoq, Greenland Inuit Children Stone & Man Rock Art Qaqortoq Native Museum Inuit Elder

HILL OF CROSSES, LITHUANIA

October 2008

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Once a small stop on a Christian Pilgrimage Trail, the Hill of Crosses near Siauliai, Lithuania was one of the most unique destinations in our travels. In the 14th Century a single cross was placed on the hill, but historians are not sure of the reason.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, during the Lithuanian uprisings against the Russian Empire, families would honor their loved ones who went missing with a cross on this remote hillside.

A quiet place for prayers for peace and family remembrances, the site became a political symbol when in the 1944 Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Christians erected crosses in defiance of the Communist authorities.

To punish the Lithuanians for their disobedience, the crosses on the hillside were destroyed. In a show of solidarity and rebelliousness, more crosses were erected. Again and again the hillside and the crosses were bulldozed by the Soviets. The government defied anyone under penalty of death to worship there or place crosses.

Night after night more crosses would appear as a sign of resistance. After the fall of the Soviet Union worshipers from all over the world came to bring a cross to add to the millions already here.

We walked up to the top of the hill only to see another hill behind it also covered with crosses. In 1993, Pope Paul II came to worship and dedicate the site. We watched as several families placed crosses, photos, and held tributes to their loved ones.

Quiet, somber, and serene, this unique destination left us with a peaceful feeling of the triumph of goodness over oppression.

Siauliai, Lithuania Entrance to Hill of Crosses Stairway of Crosses Honoring Pope Paul II Leave a Cross

SOWETO, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

October 2009

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Our journey to SOWETO in Johannesburg, South Africa was one of the most depressing and at the same time encouraging unique destinations in our travels.

SOWETO is an acronym for South Western Township. The British government moved the Black people into compounds with less than minimal living conditions in the early 1900's. Having come to work in the gold mines in nearby Johannesburg, these people worked in unbelievable conditions and lived in worse!

After the National Party gained power in 1948, the policy of Apartheid, meaning "a part" or the separation of Whites and Blacks was initiated. SOWETO was one of the largest impoverished, sprawling slums or ghettos in the world, housing over 1.3 million people.

We visited the Orlando District home to the historical 1976 massacre of students who were peacefully protesting the inequality of educational opportunities. The Hector Pieterson Museum contains actual photographs, videos, and testimonials of the June 16th, 1976. Over 200 people were killed including Hector whose picture was in the national headlines bringing attention to the realities of the wrongs in South Africa.

Only one street in the world is home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners. We saw the home of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, both on the same block. We also visited the Regina Mundi - Queen of the World, the Catholic Church that served as safe haven during the Uprising where Bishop Tutu preached. There was a concert in the church and we were able to stop and listen to the music.

It is difficult to understand how a depressed people could peacefully overcome the wrongs of society for so many years and go on to become one of the most thriving Democratic countries of Africa. Education is on the rise, poverty is declining, and health issues are a priority for the government in spite of the controversy surrounding their current president, Jacob Zuma. The spirit of Nelson Mandela lives on.

Monument to Hector Pieterson Regina Mundi-Bishop Desmund Tutu Church Heroes of the Fight Against Apartheid South Western Township - SOWETO Home to 1.3 Million People

MOS ESPA, STAR WARS SET, TUNISIA

March 2009

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In a desert far, far away, near the city of Tozeur, Tunisia, we visited Mos Espa, the Star Wars movie set in March of 2009.

The Sahara Desert is not kind to visitors. Mos Espa was chosen to be on our list of Unique Destinations because experts say that in four to six years it will not survive the winds and punishing sands that will erode the fragile and temporary buildings.

Mos Espa was the desert home of Anakin and Luke Skywalker and The Hutt Clan, on the remote planet of Tatooine in the Outer Rim Territories. Built in the 1970's, the set brings back memories of the Star Wars series that we watched in our youth.

Our pilgrimage to the movie set in Southern Tunisia took us on back roads of compressed sand, past black Bedouin tents that looked like raisins dotting the distant horizon. Eking out a living in this inhospitable environment is difficult. A young girl was standing by the road with a small desert fox kit. Her responsibility was to stop tourists on the way to Mos Espa for an opportunity to take her photo for a coin or two.

Most of the buildings of the movie set were rundown, beaten by the sun and sand. Walking behind the doorways one could see the temporary structures, as the facades were just frames of plywood held up by two-by-fours and braced against the wind.

The moisture vaporators stood as tall sentinels guarding over the abandoned village. These were portrayed as devices used to capture water from the air on moisture farms on desert planets such as Tatooine.

As unforgettable as this unique destination was to us, we look back on the fortunate timing of our visit to Tunisia. In December of 2010 the Arab Spring revolution has discouraged most travelers to even visit Tunisia, let alone venture to the remote village of Mos Espa.

Desert Fox Landscape of Tatooine Set of Mos Espa Behind the Scenes Luke Skywalker's Home

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