Santa Claus isn't the only one who has some unusual mail delivery systems. As I thought about HoHoHo mail it reminded me of all the other mail systems I've experienced as I've travelled the globe — a pirate's barrel, mail wtih "the end of the world" postage stamps, and "Gross National Happiness" mail are all part of the tales that make the traditions of postage magnificent while travelling.
A Pirate,s Tradition?
On the shore of "Postal Bay," on Floreana Island in the Galapagos, there is a wooden barrel full of postcards and letters with no stamps. They wait, amidst iguanas and cacti, for passing mariners who are willing to hand-deliver any relevant cards when they get back home. Tourists in from their cruise boats sift through the envelopes and cards for a match to continue a tradition started in 1793 and practiced at the site by pirates, whalers, and the British navy in eras long gone.
When I visited this unusual mail stop with fellow passengers from the M/Y Grace (a sleek yacht once owned by Princess Grace, and now operated by Quasar Expeditions), we called out destinations ranging from Japan to Morocco, and New York to Vancouver. One card was even addressed to Heaven. Not ready to hand-deliver a letter there, I left that assignment for someone else.
I did write some post cards (kindly provided by the cruise team) and dropped them in the latest generation of the wooden barrel. That afternoon, I collected even more experiences to write home about. We used ropes and a ladder to descend into a nearby cave, and then clambered out and headed to a beach where Galapagos penguins darted around us as we snorkelled in warm waters near the equator.
Stamps Of 'You' In Bhutan
Up in the beautiful Himalayas, between India and China, not far from Tibet and Nepal, there is a creative country called "The Kingdom of Bhutan," known to locals as Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon). There, progress is measured not by GNP, but by GNH — Gross National Happiness. Waterfalls turn Buddhist prayer wheels, and prayer flags fly from trees. There are no stoplights; traffic at a "busy" intersection is conducted by a human in white gloves. Archery is a keen sport, and giant phallic art adorns the sides of some homes. Polygamy is allowed. But these are all just bits in a rich tapestry that needs first-hand immersion for context.
Even going to the post office in Bhutan is memorable. The main office in the capital, Thimphu, displays books of past stamps of royalty, as well as beauty in nature and culture. It also boasts the world's first 3D stamps, talking stamps and reflective stamps. Years before there were "selfies," Bhutan's postal system offered outgoing customers the ability to be the subject of the postage stamps; so out-going mail was very personalized.
I posed with my Bridge-to-Bhutan guides Karma and Tshering (which translate as "long life and prosperity") dressed in their national costumes. Because of them, my time in Bhutan was also personalized. On our road trip, I didn't feel like a tourist looking in, but more like a new friend being invited in — into 9th century temples, private homes, the staging areas of the renowned Tshechu dance festivals, and into the mountain passes steeped with stupas and vistas. I was glad Karma and Tshering could be a part of my letters home, both inside and outside the envelope.
'The End of the World'
The post office at the "End of the World" is about as far as you can get from Santa's North Pole to buy stamps. The colourful shack sits on a short pier at the opposite end of the globe in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina. My husband and I had flown from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia to catch the Hurtigruten cruise to Antarctica, where we would enjoy unforgettable experiences with penguins, snow leopards, glaciers and research stations. The journey was a gift together after a wonderful Christmas with our family.
To explore a bit before boarding the FRAM ("forward" in Norwegian), we headed to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. Even from the parking lot, the scenery seemed Lord of the Rings gorgeous! My eyes were also drawn to several flags doing some wind dances above an eccentric-looking wooden structure... yes; it was the post office at the End of the World.
This one-man post office perches on the Beagle Strait, named after Darwin's ship, not the dog. I walked a short plank and the inside was full of historic pictures and colourful stamps. I forget now how much a stamp cost, or how long it took, but I remember that one day, back at home, my husband received a postcard that said, "I Love You from the End of the World and Everywhere." For many reasons, I am glad I am the one who sent it.
If you go:...
WAYS TO GOBHUTAN: Bridges to Bhutan
GALAPAGOS: Quasar Expeditions for the yacht once owned by Princess Grace, EcoVentura for sustainable
CRUISE TO ANTARCTICA: Hurtigruten