Monday, August 29, 2011
Top five: iReports from fascinating places

Editor's note: CNN's citizen journalism initiative, iReport, is celebrating its fifth birthday this month. To mark the occasion, we're taking a look at some of iReport's shining moments in a series of top five posts on a variety of topics. Today, iReport team member Daphne Sashin revisits the iReport Global Challenge.


In CNN iReport’s five-year history, our more than 900,000 contributors have brought us the world. In 2010, they helped us reach a major milestone: An iReport from every country.


The iReport Global Challenge, as we called the project to approve at least one photo or video from 194 countries, took us to places of extreme beauty, harsh poverty and corners of the planet that are rarely talked about.


Here are five of them:




The most beautiful place  on earth: that’s how many visitors describe the island of Palau, a destination for scuba divers, snorkelers and kayakers the world over. Ethan Daniels of Berkeley,  California lived there for nine years as a dive guide and biologist and  still dreams of being in the sparkling waters. The small-town feel of  the country along with its natural beauty, vibrant sea life and warm,  welcoming inhabitants keep him going back every year.




Railroad enthusiast George Hart introduced us to Eritrea’s railway (), “a technical and engineering masterpiece” built by the Italians between 1886 and 1932 through the Denkali desert, snaking along mountains and crossing 65 bridges and 36 tunnels. The railway shut down in 1975 after it was virtually destroyed during the Eritrea’s war of independence from Ethiopia. It reopened in 2003, and Hart road the train in 2009, calling it “one of the most spectacular in the world.”




Eritrea's neighbor to the south, and one of the hottest places on earth, was one stop on a long voyage in the Indian Ocean for Amalvict Oliver of Nimes, France. While in Djibouti, Oliver captured these stunning images of Lake Abhe Bad, the salt lake where the final scene of Charlton Heston's 1968 movie "Planet of the Apes" was filmed.




Andrey Shapenko of Moscow, Russia, traveled to Turkmenistan last year and came back with incredible footage of a gaping, flaming gas crater in the middle of the Karakum desert. The result of a 1971 Soviet gas exploration accident, the cavern has been burning for nearly 40 years. “You understand the power of nature and real force of Earth when you stand near it,” Shapenko said. “In simple words, it was awesome.”


Equatorial Guinea


On a trip to Equatorial Guinea in August 2010, Luisa Paquet López from Gijon, Spain, captured these haunting portraits of pain, strength and innocence. The country is one of sub-Sahara's largest oil producers. It’s also on corruption watchdog agency Transparency International’s top 12 list of the world’s most corrupt countries, and known as a destination for child trafficking. “It's hard for me to talk about a country with such a ferocious regime and dictatorship where people I love live,” López told CNN.


If you’ve been to an amazing place, share your story with CNN iReport. And, while you’re at it, check out our Destination Adventure travel special, and experience the thrill of visiting several exciting locations through iReporters’ stunning photos and travel tips.

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