Stamps in my passport: marking territories and staking claims

Antarctica has no borders. It is a shared space, a place of peace and science. Those institutions which impose borders shelved them in 1957, and the first three articles of the Antarctic Treaty commit all signatories to peace, science and collaboration. It was fitting therefore that the artists Lucy and Jorge Orta made a project, the Antarctic Village, in 2013 and added to it for the Paris climate summit last year. I signed up, and have my 'no borders' Antarctic passport to show for it.


Of course it cannot be that simple. Antarctica and its islands are full of symbols and markers, nations lifting their leg to emphasise their stored claims. 'We have not forgotten', declares the huge flags of Basa Esperanza, the cruising presence of HMS Protector, the bold descriptions of Chilean Antarctica. 'If and when, we will take this land.' 

Argentina, Chile and the UK all claim the Peninsula. Much of the rest of the Continent is also under claim, except for that really hard, inaccessible bit of the Western Ice-Shelf. That area is still too challenging even for the imperialist ambitions of the global north. Maybe the artists of the world should stake their ambitions there.

Despite such Lennonesque yearnings, it is impossible not to delight in the strange new stamps in the passport. We got stamped at Puerto Williams, marking the Magellanic Antarctic region of Chile, and again at the Horn. No marker shows the crossing of 60 degrees South but Argentina, inevitably, has a nice big stamp for their station at Esperanza.

The Government of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands has a fine heraldic crest on its stamp, despite having only formally existed since 1985. (Before that it was part of the Falkland Islands for governance purposes.) Tristan de Cunha celebrates its volcanos and albatrosses, but strictly limits your landing time. Of course these last two are not covered by the treaty and are UK Overseas Territories so do need to stamp you  in and out. And at the end, there's Cape Town, a more frequent identification but my first visit to South Africa. 

Technically you aren't supposed to get such things for non-real borders, but the UK Border Agency didn't seem bothered by my array when I came home. They didn't seem particularly impressed either, but I suppose the officials are well trained in impassivity. There's no stamps but  my passport was thoroughly and electronically checked both in Amsterdam and again at Bristol. Be under no illusions that European governments knew that I had come home; UK border control is alive and well.

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