Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Mount Gerizim - who is the good Samaritan?

       Everyone living in a Christian culture, regardless of the his/her actual religious background or beliefs has heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. Some traveller got robbed and beaten on the road and no one helped him except for the Samaritan passing by. It is so popular that even the word Samaritan itself has received the meaning of a good person caring for the others in need. But what is the actual meaning of the word, who are, in fact those people, where do they live and why was it so surprising that one actually helped the traveller?
       The Samaritans are an ethno-religious group living in Palestine, that still exists today, but was much more numerous in the Biblical times. Their name comes from Samaria - the locality in Israel where the capital of the Old Israelite kingdom was situated. They claim to be the heirs of that kingdom and the true followers of the Israelite religion, from which Judaism separated. The divergence of the two religions made the conflict between the tribes in Israel even greater, so  that is why the parable features a Samaritan - under the assumption that it is unlikely that a person of another faith hostile to the Judeans would offer help to his enemy.
       Samaritans' religion is like a somehow outdated version of Judaism, they have different 10 commandments; do not accept the Talmud and practice animal sacrifice. Most importantly they consider Mount Gerizim near Nablus in Palestine as the place God has chosen for his temple, so it is holy for them. They were at times probably as numerous as Jews, but following a very unsuccessful uprising against the Byzantine empire (which outlawed Samaritanism and built a church on Mount Gerizim) in the years 529-531 they got scattered and most of them changed their religion and beliefs, and slowly merged with the predominantly Muslim population around the Middle ages. Today only around 750 people n the world consider themselves Samaritans by religion and ethnicity, half of them live in the village of Kiryat Luza at their sacred hill Mount Gerizim after recent military conflicts moved them away from their homes in Nablus.Both around Israel and Palestine they are considered a distinct ethnicity with its own minority rights and both countries issue them passports.
       The hill is one of the highest mountains in Palestine, raising to 881 m (2295 ft) above sea level and is covered with shrubs. The northern side (facing Nablus) is especially steep; the Samaritan village is close to the top on the southern slope.

Coordinates: 32° 11′ 58″ N, 35° 16′ 22″ E
Google Maps 
Wikipedia Article about Mount Gerizim (in English; the image is from the Hebrew Wikipedia)
Wikipedia Article about Samaritans
Wikipedia Article about the Parable

The Dig tree - a rendezvouz gone wrong

       In 1860 two explorers - Robert O'Hara Burhe and William John Wills lead a group of 19 men to explore the inlands of Australia, by the time a big mystery for the Europeans. Their goal was to start from Mellbourne and reach the gulf of Carpentaria and then go back using camels and horses. Such an expedition was a big event by the time, there was even an award for the first person to cross the continent ordered by the government of South Australia; so a crowd of 15 000 gathered to send them away.
        Burke, a former policeman was the actual leader and the most enthusiastic member of the party; Wills, the main surveyor and only 27 was more level-headed and practical.  In the beginning everything went normal,  they had food supplies for two years and the horses and camels were fine. When they approached Cooper creek (the last place visited by previous expeditions) Burke grew impatient with the slow speed, the difficult terrain and their plan which included long rests.Then a rumour reached them, that Charles Stuart, another famous explorer, has taken the challenge to cross the continent first. So instead of waiting in their base camp at Cooper creek  for the end of the hot summer and for additional supplies to arrive as was the plan, Burke decided to start for the Gulf right in the middle of summer. He took the healthiest camels and horses and left together with Wills and 2 other people and left William Brahe in command at the base camp, instructing him to wait 3 months for them. However, Wills who had a more realistic view of what lied ahead secretly instructed Brahe to wait at least four months for their return.
       So the expedition went north through the hot stony desert. Finally in February they reached the gulf (or at least the swamps at its southern end) and started back. However dysentery and the rugged terrain slowed them down and they were not able to reach the base camp in the 4 months period.
       At the base camp William Brahe waited for 4 months and a week and then left with the others, after their supplies got scarcer (because the additional ones still had not arrived) and after one of his men injured his leg. However, conscious that his colleagues may come after all he put some supplies in a crate and buried it down at the place of the camp, carving "DIG" and some small instruction where (accounts differ of what exactly was written under the big DIG sign) on the trunk of an eucalyptus tree. Exactly 9 hours after Brahe left, Burke and Wills reached the base camp and found it deserted and from the note in the supplies they found out that Brahe had left on the morning of the very same day. However the camels were so tired that they did not have a chance of reaching the others, so Burke decided on following a different route to Melbourne and the three remaining men left the camp again. Meanwhile on his way back Brahe met with the finally arriving supplying party and together with its leader William Wright returned back to the base camp to see if Burke and Wills have returned, and again found it deserted. Since the signs on the threes were unaltered they assumed that the others had not arrived and then went home.
        Burke and Wills slowly made their way south, however the heat and starvation took their toll. Apparently Burke refused to depend on the "uncivilized" natives for food and rudely refused a gift from them so they stopped trying to help. After a 2 tragic months first Wills and then a day or so later Burke died from starvation and vitamins deficiency (because they actually ate a plant that depletd the body from vitamin B1). Tha last remaining member, John King somehow managed to convince the aboriginals of his good intentions and dying state and they helped him survive until two months later a rescuing party found him.
      Today the Dig tree is an important (although not easily reachable) monument , however the sign "DIG" is no longer visible. Close to it there is another three with the face of Burke carved into it (again a little overgrown).

Coordinates: 27°37'25"S, 141° 04'32"E
Google Maps
Wikipedia Article
The whole story at the state of Victoria library

Friday, 5 October 2012

Bir Tawil - the last unclaimed piece of land

       A small area in the middle of the desert on the border of Egypt and Sudan has the distinction of being the only piece of land on Earth outside of Antarctica that is unclaimed by any country. It has no permanent population and its area is 2060 sq km (795 sq mi) in a trapezoid shape in the easternmost parts of the Sahara close to the Red sea.
       So how come this place is unclaimed? What is wrong with it, why does no one want it? Well in truth the only reason no one claims is because both parties who border it are after a bigger piece of territory and are giving this one to each other in exchange.
       In 1899 Britain and Egypt decided in their agreement about the future of Sudan that the border between Egypt and Sudan lies on the 22nd parallel North. However in a few years it became apparent that some tribes are constantly crossing the border to reach some of their traditional grazing lands, so a new agreement was made in 1902 adapting the border. The new agreement assigned some area to the south of the 22nd parallel to Egypt as it was a grazing land of the Egyptian Ababda tribe; this area would become later known as Bir Tawil. Also, some lands to the North of the parallel were assigned to Sudan and those became known as the Hala'ib triangle. However the Hala'ib triangle is about ten times bigger than Bir Tawil, has a sea access and is generally deemed to be much more valuable and Egypt never let it go, especially since the British were not really interested in the matter. So when Sudan became independent it supported the 1902 border, claiming Hala'ib and giving Bir Tawil to Egypt. Egypt however never stopped claiming the border of 1899, claiming Halaib and leaving Bir Tawil to Sudan. So that way the paradox was born - by claiming Bir Tawil each of the two nations will relinquish its claim to Hala'ib, which both are determined not to do.
       Currently both areas are under Egyptian administration. It is not really clear whether the tribes still visit the place and what is the exact border situation, since there is no road going there.

Coordinates:21° 52′ 14″ N, 33° 44′ 14″ E
Google Maps

Wikipedia Article

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Champawat - the hunt of the legendary tiger

       Champawat is a small town in the Uttarakhand state in Northern India close to the border with Nepal. But in the thirties the town was close to extinction because of the exploits of the notorious man-eater - the Champawat tigress.
       When did the killings start is unclear; some accounts go as far back as 1890. However in 1903 the tigress was already such a great problem for the area, having allegedly killed more than 200 people, that gurkha soldiers of the Nepalese army hunted her all over Western Nepal. They somehow managed to get the tiger cross the border into India, where she became even deadlier - 234 victims in just 4 years. Nobody felt safe. Legends circulated that she was so brave that she hunted during the day, went around the streets and even did not hesitate to break into houses if she felt there is pray inside. Local authorities offered numerous rewards and militia went into the jungle to find her, but they met no success - the fear was so strong that even when confronted by the tiger most people were afraid to shoot her and hoped that they will manage to escape.
       So it was 1907 when the famous hunter Jim Corbett heard about the tiger. He was also an avid conservationist and wanted to kill tigers only when they were proven to be man-eaters, however in this case there was no doubt. He ordered the cancelling of all awards and hunting parties (in his words because no hunter hunts for awards and no hunter wants to be shot by colleagues) and went to the area, first to the town of Pali. He found the town streets empty, after the last victim 5 days ago all people were locked in their homes and the threat of starvation was imminent. Corbett's appearance was met with apathy at first, but after he survived a night outside while waiting for the tiger to show up he gained the trust of the locals and even persuaded them to harvest their crops while he stood guard nearby. He proceeded by carefully listening to all accounts and since he thought they were mostly unreliable - to visit the scenes where the tragedies happened.and concluded that the tiger has moved to the Champawat area.
       After a day or so in Champawat another victim was struck at the other end of town. Corbett was quick - he ran after the tiger mere half an hour after the incident. He followed the blood trail for about four hours until both the tigress and he managed to escape from each other; on the way he found a piece of human leg which greatly distressed him. On the next day he arranged a party of locals to make as much noise as possible on the hill with guns and drums as he waited patiently for the tigress to run away from the noise.After a series of misunderstandings with everyone he still had to run after her through the grassy fields, but finally he managed to shoot her three times with two different guns.
       While the crowds were celebrating around him Corbett discovered that the tiger's two canine teeth were broken, making her unable to hunt her regular pray and leading to her becoming a man-eater. He kept the skin and went around the area showing it to everyone so that the villagers knew they were now free. In 1944 he wrote a book giving this and various other accounts of of dangerous man-eaters. Currently, there is a plaque in the town on the place where the famous tiger was brought down for everyone to see, around a km from where she was shot. The picture of Corbett here is however most probably of another tiger (accounts of the matters are unclear).

Coordinates: 29° 19′ 48″ N, 80° 6′ 0″ E
Google Maps
Corbett's Book, The Man-Eaters of Kumaon

Friday, 28 September 2012

Poyais - the land that never was

      The year was 1820. A charming Scottish adventurer by the name Gregor McGregor appeared in London from Central America. He told the story of a wondrous Central American country called Poyais, to which he was granted the rights of colonization and started calling himself with the title cazique of Poyais which was bestowed to him by George Frederick Augustus I king of the Mosquito coast. He had laid down the beginnings of a country in the hospitable and fertile land and now only needed colonists and funds for this paradise on Earth. So he opened a Poyaian legislation office in London and started issuing state documents, selling land and, more importanty producing Poyaian  bankontes. He took a loan for 200 000 pounds in the name of the state of Poyais and issued bonds. In the meantime he started granting titles to his first followers in order to attract more and more of them. In 1822 a book was published, in which a sea captain wrote about the famous land of Poyais and its majestic cacique whose humble portrait was on the cover. The author, whomever that might be, described the precious environment, abundant natural resources, friendly civilized natives and even asserted that despite its location in the Mosquito coast - there is no other land on Earth less troubled by mosquitoes... So the advertizing camopaign got more and more successful. Inherent British sentiment against Spain who at the time had sovereignty in the area helped to boost the venture and the bonds, titles and lands started selling. By 1823 Poyais had its own general, army, barons, bankers, and even a few officially appointed doctors and its cazique was getting richer
       Even the luxurious lifestyle of His Majesty the Cazique did not alert his followers and on February 23 1823 the ship Honduras Packet with captain Hill set sail for Poyais with its first 43 colonists, mostly Scottish highlanders. However a big surprise was waiting for them - the so called town of St. Joseph - the capital of the colony in the mouth of the Black river in Honduras was nowhere to be seen. The captain dropped them on the shore at the spot where 100 years ago there was a short lived Briitish colony and left them there to clear the lush jungle and  somehow settle. But the settlers were divided as to what to do, disappointed and most-importantly - had no experience whatsoever in such environment, so their actions were chaotic and ineffective, their buildings didn't last, their fight with the jungle was lost and even their few supplies were spoiled by neglect.
       A month later the second ship arrived with 160 more settlers. By this time it was already obvious that Poyais was a scam. The few more adaptive and quarrelsome settlers became thieves and pirates, while most of the others were just apathetically sitting around and waiting for their deaths. And they came quickly - deceases spread rapidly and people started dying. At this point came a proclamation from the Mosquito king George Frederick, declaring the grand of land to McGregor null and void; he also required the settlers to buy their land from him with actual currency - it appeared that the Poyaian dollars were not good enough even for fruits and vegetables. So an envoy somehow went to British Honduras (Belize) and asked for help. The British however, were somehow slow to react, wanting to investigate the case and only after the realization of captain Hill of what McGregor did to those people did they receive actual help. At the time of the resque missions all of the people in the colony except one were ill or dead. Only around 90 colonists (of more than 200) survived and only around 50 got back to Britain, the rest stayed in the British West Indies.
       But what happened to McGregor? Not only did he stay in his giant home in Britain during this ordeal, but his charisma was so strong that even some of the survivors thought that he was innocent and defended him publicly. However when an official investigation was launched, he had already left for Paris. Guess what did he do there? The same scheme with the same level of success; however the French state was more careful and did not let the ship with settlers leave the harbor of Le Havre. Later in life he tried the same thing again in Britain and finally settled in Venezuella without ever getting a verdict for his deeds.
Currently the mouth of the Sico Tinto river (Black river) is exactly as inhospitable as it was during the times of Poyais. There is almost no sign of the presence of the dying colony there and the land belongs to Honduras, part of the department of Colon.

Coordinates: 15° 58′ 0″ N, 84° 58′ 0″ W
Google Maps
Wikipedia article about McGregor
Scientific paper about the story, by Alfred Hasruck (pdf)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Bouvet island - the most remote place on Earth

       In the cold Southern Atlantic there is a lonely freezing rocky island, called Bouvet. It  has the distinction to be the most remote place on Earth. The nearest land is Gough island, part of Tristan da Cunha archipelago, 1600 kilometers (990 mi) away. The nearest continent is Antarctica, 1700 kilometers (1100 mi) away. Africa is more than 2200 km away. The island is all alone in the Southern ocean. And if that is not enough, Bouvet island has very steep coasts, no natural harbour of any kind and very inhospitable nature. It is like the island likes being all alone.
       So naturally, Bouvet island is uninhabited and has always been that way. And it took everyone until the mid 18-th century to discover it. On January 1 1739 Jean-Baoptiste Bouvet de Lozier had the first ever human glimpse at the island that would later be named after him. But landing did not occur for another century. The first confirmed landing was done by a John Norris a British captain in 1825 who named the island Liverpool. Both  Bouvet and Norris however got wrong the exact location of the island; Norris even thought he found another island 70km to the north, which appeared on the maps of the next century.  It took until 1898 for the island coordinates to be correctly determined by a German expedition. And it was in 1927 when the second landing happened - by a Norwegian expedition called Norvegia 1, which also annexed the island for Norway. Since then several Norwegian expeditions have explored the island, and several attempts were made to establish some form of a hut or a research station from ship-containers, however Bouvet island firmly refuses to accept any form of human influence and all of them except a small unmanned meteorological station have been washed into the sea. The longest period any human being spent there was in 1978 when for two months there was a manned meteorological station.
       The island has a territory of around  49 square km (19 sq mi) and is about 9.5 by 7 kilometers (5.9 by 4.3 mi) big. Almost all of the island is covered by glaciers and its permanent ice-cap is one if its most characteristic features.No plants whatsoever, but abundant sea life, many seals and penguins. However the temperatures are not actually that cold, they vary between -5 and 3 degrees Celsium with an year average around -1.

Coordinates: 54° 26′ 0″ S, 3° 24′ 0″  
Google Maps
Wikipedia Article

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Lençóis Maranhenses - the white desert of Brazil

       On the Atlantic coast in Northern Brazil in the state of Maranhao there is a big white desert-looking landscape. It is called Lençóis Maranhenses - "The linen of Maranhao". The park consists of large dunes of incredibly white sand, sometimes they are quite steep. It is widely famous as the white desert of Brazil, and indeed the landscape looks almost like a desert. Almost. All around the place there are those long lagoons of fresh water. Because the desert is surrounded by equatorial rainforests there is a lot of rainfall. So the water from the rain gathers into the lower places and produces this unique landscape.
       Since 1981 the whole desert is made into a national park. Access for tourists is permitted so although the park is very remote from all bigger population centers there are still ways to get there.

Coordinates:2° 32′ 0″ S, 43° 7′ 0″ W
Google Maps 
Wikipedia Article
The website of the national park

Monday, 24 September 2012

Hamilton Crescent - the beginning of a beautiful game

      Hamilton Crescent is a cricket ground in the Partick area of Glasgow. But this article is not about cricket. The place is where the first international associacion football game took place.
       The year is 1872. Football is already one of the important sports around both universities and working classes around the UK. The recently created Football Association was lead by  Charles Alcock. As a way to promote competitiveness he organized a few games between teams representing England and Scotland, but players of both teams were chosen only among those living in the London area. The Scottish were not happy with that, because football was already well developed in the country and they considered having better representatives. There were other problems, mainly the fact that the rules of the game were not firmly established all around the island. Then Alcock sent a challenge via the newspaper and the leading Scottish club at the time - Queens Park Glasgow accepted it.
        So, on 30 November 1872 at 14.00 it finally happened - England and Scotland met on the field of Hamilton Crescent to play  an official game. The Scottish team ended up consisting entirely of players of Queens Park, although they had hoped to field a few others - it turned out they were unavailable, after all football was all amateur at that time. They wore dark-blue shirts and shorts and the team was selected by the goalkeeper and captain (teams did not have coaches at the time) The English team was made up from players of 9 different clubs, selected by Alcock himself and wore white shirts and red caps (yes, caps!).
       The game was delayed  for 20 minutes because of fog. The quicker Scottish players dominated the first half, but got tired and in the second half the physically strong English were more active. The English goalkeeper at some point exchanged places with a field player; he just wanted some chance to score. Contemporary accounts about the style of play are almost non-existent, however judging from other games it can be assumed that the Scots were more combinative and the English style was more individualistic. As can be expected on the heavily flooded field - the match ended in a goalless draw : 0-0.
      A few years later with the growing popularity of football the Scottish national team moved to Hampden Park and the crescent was used exclusively for cricket. Currently it is the home ground of the cricket club West of Scotland.

Coordinates: 55° 52′ 20.69″ N, 4° 18′ 31.89″ W
Google Maps
Wikipedia article on the game

St. Stefan - the iron church

       On the right bank of the Golden Horn in Istanbul there is a small cozy church made entirely of iron. This is the Bulgarian orthodox church of St Stefan. While not the only metallic church in the world, it is definitely the biggest and it is made exclusively of cast iron, which cannot be said for any other Christian religious building anywhere, making the St Stefan church a unique architectural gem.
       So how and why was it built? In the 1840-s the influential Bulgarian Stefan Bogoridi donated a court with a few wooden buildings and one of the buildings was chosen to be a church for the many Bulgarians living in Istanbul at the time. Then, in 1870 the independence of the Bulgarian church (from the Greek one) was declared at the spot, so it became one of the most important places of the Bulgarian National Revival. Howеver a fire burnt down the wooden structure and the newly independent Bulgarian nation decided to built a much more stable structure that can withstand both fires and the tricky terrain of the Fener neighbourhood. An Armenian architect by the name of Hovsep Aznavur gave the idea of making the church from cast iron and since iron was the most stable of all materials and very suitable for the weak ground - everyone agreed. An Austrian company by the name of Waagner was chosen to cast the parts in 1893-6. They weighed more than 500 tons. and were transported to Istanbul by ship over the Danube and the Black Sea. After an year and a half work the church was inaugurated on 8.9. 1898.

       The church is built in a mixture of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque style; it is a three-domed basilica with 40m (120 ft) tall bell tower. What amazed me during my visit is that actually absolutely everything in it is made of iron - even the altar, the inside decorations, everything. The atmosphere is unique and the inside was very cool even in the blazing august sunlight outside. However, despite the constant efforts to be preserved, the church is very rusty and in pretty bad condition - it turned out iron was really not the best building material; nevertheless the church is an  unique and interesting monument

Coordinates: 41° 1′ 55″ N, 28° 56′ 59″ E
Google Maps
Wikipedia Article
The website of the Bulgarian church in Istanbul (in Bulgarian)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sukhoy Nos - the place of the giant bomb

       Sukhoy Nos  (meaning "dry cape") is the easternmost point of the north island of Novaya Zemlya (meaning "New land") archipelago in the Barentz sea north of the European part of Russia. It is a barren and inhospitable land, with freezing temperatures during the whole year. But more importantly - it was one of the places where the former Soviet Union used to test their nuclear weapons. It was also the place, where the largest and strongest bomb ever built - the Soviet hydrogen "Tsar Bomba" was detonated.
       So, in 1961 USSR and USA were pretty much trying to show each other how great their arms were. So  Khrushtchev went as far as to speculate the creation of nuclear bombs with 100 Mt yield. However, luckily for all of us, only the testing of a bomb with 50 Mt yield was finally ordered. For comparison- the yield of the nuclear bomb that ruined Hiroshima was 16 kt or 300 times less.
So, on October 30, 1960 a specially modified Tu-95V plane with removed fuel tanks and bomb-dropping doors carried the bomb to the Sukhoy Nos testing spot. The bomb weighed 27 tons and was 8 m(26 ft) long by 2 m (6.6 ft) in diameter and it was attached to 800 kg parachute. It was dropped  from an altitude of 10.5 km (6.5 mi); it was designed to detonate at around of 4 km (2.5 mi) over the surface. It detonated at 11.32.
       The explosion was so giant that the bomb produced a fireball 8km (5mi) in diameter, it was seen from a 1000 km away. The rocks around the site were melted and still can be seen on the satelite photos. The mushroom cloud  was 64 km (40 mi) high. Its shockwave was felt all around the northern shores of Russia.. It broke wooden houses, roofs, doors and glass windows as far away as Norway and Finland. Were it detonated on the ground it would have caused a 7.1 magnitude earthquake.
       The bomb was deemed impractically powerful and the USSR never built a second one. Then, in 1963 USSR and USA and UK signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban treaty prohibiting testing of nuclear weapons
except underground, because to stop the excessive release of nuclear fallout in the atmosphere. So until 1990 nuclear detonations in Novaya Zemlya were done only underground at another test sites and and in 1990 nuclear testing at the place stopped altogether.

Approximate Coordinates of the detonation spot:73° 48′ 26″ N, 54° 58′ 54″ E
Google Maps
Wikipedia Article
Video of the explosion

Crooked Forest - well, a crooked forest.

       In the northwestern corner of Poland, close to the border with Germany and the village of Pniewo there is a special forest of strangely crooked pine trees. There are around 300 trees in the grove and all of them have this weird shape resembling a sickle in their lower trunks.
       However the purpose and even the method of raising the trees is such odd shape remain unknown. The trees were planted there in 1934,when  areas was still German territory. Then, probably after they have grown to the height  of around 8 m or in other words when they were 7-8 years old they have been held down to the ground in direction North without being broken by yet unknown method. At the time there was WW2 going on all around Europe and probably the people who made it somehow got lost in the war.
       Who put all this effort in the creation of this forest and why? Special shaped trees were often needed in  boat-building and the huge Odra river, as well as the Baltic port of Szczecin are are fairly close to the location - the river is just 1 km  away to the East. However the shape of the trees does not seem to be in any way related to traditional boats. Maybe it has got something to do with architecture? Probably we will never know.

Coordinates:53° 12′ 50″ N, 14° 28′ 30″ E
Google Maps:,14.475&spn=0.01,0.01&t=h&q=53.213889,14.475
Wikipedia article:
Gryfino town website about the forest (in Polish):

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Rapa Nui (Easter island) - history and mystery

         Easter Island is one of the most interesting islands on our planet. First of all, it is incredibly remote. Secondly, it has one of the most interesting and mysterious aboriginal cultures around the world, who produced numerous artifacts including the famous moai. Thirdly, this culture produced also the Rongorongo script, one of the very few still undeciphered writing systems in the world. And fourth - it brought the island to an ecological catastrophe and subsequently survived a demographic one.
So let's start with the first one - remoteness. The closest populated place is is Pitcairn island ,2,075 km (1,289 mi) away. Administratively, the island is part of Chile which is 3500 km (2000 miles) away. Its airport, the Mataveri airport is also the most remote airport in the world.
          Now, the moai. For centuries before the Europeans found the island the local Polynesian population developed a distinct culture. One of the most important rituals of the culture was the erection of giant stone figures with unproportionally large heads on platforms around the island, called moai. The moai were erected in the period between 1100 and 1660 and altogether were around 887, all of them carved from a single mining source in the middle of the volcano. Half of them however stayed in the cavern where they were built. The other half were transported to the platforms around the island, by, yet unknown means. The largest moai weighs 82 tons and is around 10 m (32 ft) tall. Since the moai erecting culture was replaced with another religion and the whole island got into a big warring mess combined with overpopulation and the ecological catastrophe even before the Europeans arrived in 1722, we don't know much about why and how those statues were erected.
           With the loss of the culture and the dying out of the population another important knowledge was lost - the knowledge how to read their ancient writing system - Rongorongo. The writing appears on around 30 objects found around the island, mostly made of wood and no one has ever been able to decode it. It consists of stylized glyphs of people, objects and animals with an unusual reading pattern and direction: the reader begins at the bottom left-hand corner of a tablet, reads a line from left to right, then rotates the tablet 180 degrees to continue on the next line. When reading one line, the lines above and below it would appear upside down. Currently all objects with Rongorongo inscriptions are in the different museums around the world, none of which is on the island.
           But how did this knowledge get lost? First of all - it was inscribed mainly on wood. And from the 17-th century on wood was really hard to find on the island; the huge statues required a lot of wood to transport and without thinking of the future the islanders slowly cut down all the forests on the island and their culture and population started a slow decline. And finally in 1860 Peruvian slave owners came to the island and took away more than half of its population. But after international institutions condemned Peru, the slavers returned the few survivors who brought with them smallpox and tuberculosis and from the whole population survived just under 100 people.
Many are the mysteries of the Easter island and many are its wonders. I strongly encourage the reader to read more about it.

Coordinates:27° 7′ 0″ S, 109° 22′ 0″ W
Google Maps:,-109.366667&spn=0.1,0.1&t=h&q=-27.116667,-109.366667

Wikipedia article about the island:
Wikipedia article about Rongorongo:

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Collyer Park - where the brothers gathered junk

       This is a nice little garden on the 5-th Avenue in Harlem, New York City, USA. What is the unusual about it, you might ask. Well, 70 years ago at this spot was the house of the Collyer brothers - the notorious reclusive hoarders. For 30 years they lived here alone without ever marrying and gathered things from all around the city.
       What made the brothers so eccentric is unclear - they were born in 1881 and 1885, respectively,  grew up in a pretty normal home, and both graduated from Columbia University. However neither of them ever got any profession. Since their parents died in the twenties the brothers got all their possessions into this house and closed themselves to the outer world. Homer, the older brother who was paralysed and blind always stayed in the house. Langley, the younger brother would go out every night, scavenging for food and gathering every little thing that got his interest and diligently bringingt it home. And what a nice collection he gathered! At the time of their death there were 14 pianos, two organs, an almost whole car made of different parts, umbrellas, unused fabrics, sewing machines, banjos and violins,guns and other weapons,  human organs in jars, a wine press,a rake, several bicycles, baby carriages, dolls, 25 000 books and thousands of newspapers in large bundles, as well as numerous other indescribable  boxes and pieces of junk. They never paid any bills or even their mortgage, but when the police tried to evict them from the premises they found that the house is impossible to enter because of the piles of garbage from the top to the bottom. Then Langley got out and produced a check to pay the whole mortgage in full and the brothers continued their recluse. Maybe because of numerous past robbery-attempts at their house, or because of the rumor that they had vast fortunes hidden inside, or just because they were pretty crazy - Langley produced numerous booby-traps around the house to catch any possible invader.
       And the cherry on the top of their story is the story of their deaths. On March 21 1947 an anonymous person called the police and insisted that there was a dead body in the house. And indeed an awful stench was coming out of it. At first the police had problems entering, because everything was closed and locked, with no doorbell or phone to call the brothers. Then an emergency squad of 7 men started pulling the junk out of the house piece by piece and throwing it onto the street. Finally a patrolmen managed to enter and after a two hours crawl found the dead body of Homer in his chair, wearing a blue bathrobe. There was no sign of Langley anywhere. The doctors determined that Homer died of malnutrition and dehydration, however his body could not possibly be the origin of the smell since he died mere 10 hours before the forced entrance by the police. The search of Langley continued both inside the house or around New York City and even New Jersey. Finally, on April 8 the real source of the stench was discovered - it was Langley's decomposed body, found in a newspaper tunnel (Yeah, I also don't know what a newspaper tunnel is.) just 10 ft (3 m) away from Homer's body. Langley was bringing food to his brother, when he got caught into one of his own booby traps and died. Several days later Homer died of starvation and that's when the police came.
        After their deaths more than 130 tons of junk was taken out of the house, almost all of it was deemed useless and thrown away. The house was found to be in very poor condition and was soon razed. Since the 60-es  the mini-park bearing their name that we can see today has been established at the place.

Coordinates:40°48'30"N 73°56'25"W
Google Maps
Wikipedia Article

Monday, 17 September 2012

Derweze - the gate to hell

In  Northern Turkmenistan, the middle of the flat Karakum desert there is a big flaming hole in  the ground. Its fires have been burning for more than 40 years and shows no signs of ever exhausting.  Locals have called the place The Gate to Hell and its appearance truly deserves that name. The place is especially impressive during evening and night, when the flames can be seen from afar. So what is this hole? An unusal flat volcano, maybe? No, not really.
Until 20 years ago Turkmenistan was part of the Soviet Union with abundant oil and natural gas resources. So in 1971 Soviet geologists came to the area to drill for gas, however when they started drilling the whole platform collapsed  - it appeared that the natural gas was in a large cavern just below the ground. To avoid the imminent emission of methane and other poisonous gases in the atmosphere the geologists set the gas on fire, expcting it will burn out in a few days. How wrong they were!
The hole has a diameter of around 70 meters (200ft) and is around 40 (120 ft) m deep.

Coordinates: 40° 15′ 9.48″ N, 58° 26′ 21.93″ E
Google Maps
Wikipedia Article
Daily Mail Article

Friday, 14 September 2012

Kill Devil Hills - where two brothers changed the world forever

Th date is December 17, 1903, early morning, the place is Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, USA. The weather is cloudy, and very cold with a strong, freezing wind. Two brothers are there with their new flying device. Actually they have been constructing such things for the last ten years and this particular device for a few months, but this day is as special as no one at the time could have imagined: it is the first time in history anyone will fly on a controlled powered aircraft. The brothers are called Orville and Wilbur Wright and they are about to change the world with their ingenious invention. The first on the airplane is Orville. He flies for 12 seconds over 120 ft (37 m)distance. In the next few hours the airplane makes three more flights, the longest of which is 852 ft (262m) with the aircraft staying above ground for 59 seconds. The highest attitude achieved is around 30 ft (10m). For the first time man has flown on an airplane. In the later years the Wright brothers will face much skepticism, patent wars, lawsuits and numerous other problems, however what they achieved on that day and place will forever remain in history. And  the wide hilly beach of Kill Devil Hills is consecutively the birthplace of the airplane, the wondrous machine which currently transports almost everyone who wants to cover any significant distance. The place was specially chosen by the brothers for its strong winds - the airplanes even to this day prefer strong headwind for better control. In 1927 a monument was erected at the place of the first flight with Orville Wright present. Currently the monument has several exhibitions and a visitor center.

Coordinates: 36° 1′ 15.61″ N, 75° 40′ 23.63″ W
Google Maps:,-75.673232&spn=0.01,0.01&t=h&q=36.021001,-75.673232

Wikipedia article about the Wright brothers: 
Website of the Wrigght brothers monument at Kill Devil Hills:

Casiquiare river - connecting two giant river systems.

A distributary of a river is a stream that branches out of the normal flow. They are usually fairly common in river deltas, where rivers divide into smaller branches before entering the sea. However the Casiquiare river is a different story. It is a distributary of the Upper Orinoco River, many kilometers (miles) before the latter gets even close to the sea. Then the Casiquiare turns South-West (while Orinoco continues in North-Western direction)  and after around 326 km (203 miles) through the lush jungle it flows into the Rio Negro, which is itself a tributary of the great Amazon river. So the Casiquiare actually connects two of the greatest river system on our planet, a unique property among all the rivers on Earth. And it is not just a small stream - in fact it is 90m (300 ft) wide when it leaves Orinoco,and almost 500m wide(1500ft) when it reaches Rio Negro.
The mysterious supposed connection of the two river systems participated in the creation of the Eldorado legend about a mighty local chieftain who bathes in a golden lake - because it was thought that if such a connection exists a big lake serving as a source of both rivers is a much more plausible explanation than a branching out river. It was long known to the local tribes, when it was discovered by Jesuit missionaries around the 17th century; however the exact geogrphy of the region was not known until in the year 1800 the famous German explorer Alexander von Humboldt and French botanist Aime Bonpland  made the journey up the Orinoco and down the Casiquiare. Many of the wonders they discovered on the way will be featured in other articles.

Coordinates (where Casiquiare leaves Orinoco) : 3° 8′ 17″ N, 65° 52′ 49″ W
Google Maps at the same point:,-65.880278&spn=0.1,0.1&t=h&q=3.138056,-65.880278

Wikipedia article:
An interesting Article about Humboldt's journey:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch - the town with the longest name

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the name of a big village (around 3000 people)  on the island of Anglesey in Wales; it has the longest name of any populated place in the world.  The name of the village literally means "St. Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave" . But how did the village get this name? Was it through some ancient legend about a whirlpool? Or some local tradition? Or do they have a lot of places close to this church or the hazel or the whirlpool?
Actually the truth is much less impressive. The village got its name as a publicity stunt (as we can see even from this article - a rather successful one) in the late 1860-s, when, with the arrival of the train line to Anglesey the village council decided to give their place the honour of having the longest train-station name in Britain. So somehow they got this name (legends differ as to whether the actual inventor was a local cobbler or tailor) and put it around on some official places. However the place is usually referred to simply as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which is accidentally also the centuries-old name of the village. Currently the long name stands around only on the train station and some official documents, but it actually managed to help the tourism; otherwise noone would have ever heard of the place.

Coordinates: 53° 13′ 12″ N, 4° 12′ 0″ W
Google Maps:,-4.2&spn=0.1,0.1&t=h&q=53.22,-4.2
Wikipedia article:

Village webiite:

Kadykchan - Ghost town in Siberia.

Kadykchan was a small thriving mining town until 1996. Now it is one of the bizarre ghost towns reminding of the times of the Soviet Union (there will be more coming:). It looks much like Pripyat (desolated after the Chernobyl distaster) however here the reason for the depopulation is much less creepy. The town was built in the 50-s by prisoneers of GULAG camps with the explicit purposes of exploiting the vast coal resources of the Soviet Far East. However, the economic realities after the dissolution of the Soviet Union did not require so much coal and the existance of mines at such inhospitable places far from any economic activity was deemed unnecessary.. Finally, in 1996 after a mining explosion killing 6 people the mines were closed and all the people left. Nowadays getting there is so hard, that Kadykchan's apocalyptic atmosphere remains completely unspoiled by the occasional tourist.
Coordinates:  63° 8′ 0″ N, 147° 1′ 0″ E
Its website:

Good pictures of the place:

Pico Cão Grande - needle-shaped rock on the Equator

Pico Cao Grande is a breath-taking needle-shaped peak in the Southern part of the island of Sao Tome, right next to the coast of Africa near the Equator. The peak is a volcanic plug, 663m (2,175 ft)  high, considerably higher than the surrounding jungle. The name literally means :"Big Dog peak" and the slightly lower Little Dog Peak is situated nearby. Climbing of both is extremely difficult and is done only with suitable rock-climbing equipment; however the view from the top is magnificent. It is one of the main places of interest in the small nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
0° 7′ 4.64″ N, 6° 33′ 58.83″ E
Google Maps:,6.566342&spn=0.01,0.01&t=h&q=0.117956,6.566342
An interesting website about climbing to the top (in Portuguese)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Colletto Fava - the pink rabbit on the mountain.

Go to the following coordinates on Googlemaps or any other satellite-image platform: 44.244167,7.769758. Now zoom in. Do you see it?

It looks like a giant pink rabbit crash-landed on the earth surface. Even some of its entrails are coming out. So what is this rabbit doing on a hill near the Italian ski-resort of Artesina in Southern Piedmont?
It turns out that the 55-meter long stuffed pink rabbit is an art-piece by the Austrian art-collective Gelitin, which specializes in Relational art. They erected the rabbit in 2005 and expect it to survive until around 2025, when the weather will take its toll on the pink creature, stuffed with straw. The sculpture is called "Hase" (German for Rabbit) and the hill is called Colletto Fava. The rabbit is 6m tall and people are encouraged to climb and explore it, feel their own insignificance in relation to this unexplainable wondrous creature. The whole idea of the piece is explained by the words of its creators:
"The things one finds wandering in a landscape: familiar things and utterly unknown, like a flower one has never seen before, or, as Columbus discovered, an inexplicable continent; and then, behind a hill, as if knitted by giant grandmothers, lies this vast rabbit, to make you feel as small as a daisy. The toilet-paper-pink creature lies on its back: a rabbit-mountain like Gulliver in Lilliput." Got it? Me neither.
Coordinates: 44° 14′ 39″ N, 7° 46′ 11.13″ E
Google maps:,7.769758&spn=0.01,0.01&t=h&q=44.244167,7.769758
Website of the artists:
Wikipedia article:
Another article about the piece: