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Dancing with Death – The Train Surfers of Soweto

There’s no sea in Johannesburg so the poor young men from the inner city of Soweto get their kicks by surfing high-speed commuter trains. This dangerous pastime has claimed many lives throughout the years, but despite several initiatives to put a stop to it, train surfing remains pretty popular.

South Africa is considered the birth place of train surfing, with reports of people performing stunts on top of moving train cars dating back to the early 1980s. From here, the extreme hobby spread all around the world, from Brazil, to Germany and Russia, but Johannesburg remains unique through its variety of styles. The most common and least dangerous form of train surfing involves climbing on top of a car, jumping off as it starts moving and climbing back on again while it’s in motion. Then there is side surfing, with the wannabe stuntmen running alongside the train on the passenger platform as his friends keep the door open, or swinging out the door when the train passes through a tunnel and running on the walls. Another one has daredevils get under the train while it’s moving and kicking the gravel with their legs. But the most lethal of all is surfing on top of the train while trying to dodge power cables and bridges. All the different moves have names like Matrix, 2020, Gravul or Svandals.

train-surfing

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Shins of Steel – The Man Who Can Break Three Baseball Bats with a Super-Kick

For obvious reasons, most people wouldn’t even attempt to break a baseball bat with a shin kick, but Dr. Mak Yuree owes his superhuman reputation to his ability to break through three baseball bats with his thunder kicks.

Hailing from Dakha, Bangladesh, Mak Yuree is a world renown martial arts expert who has spent almost his entire life training in 40 different fighting styles, including Varma Kalai, one of the oldest and deadliest forms of pressure point martial art. He is also an international authority on meditation, mind training and motivational speaking, but most average people know him as the guy who can break baseball bats with his tibia. Yuree has set a world record for most wooden baseball bats broken with a single kick, after shattering three of them in one go, and has since then performed the amazing feat at a number of events and on television. Growing up under iron discipline in military boarding school, Thundershin Man says he trained for nearly 20 years by kicking tree trunks with rope rolled over them.

Mak-Yuree

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Death from Above – The Kite Battles of Pakistan

Did you know you could get arrested for flying a kite in Pakistan, after the pastime was banned in 2007, for safety reasons? But as long as you stay away from power lines, where is the danger in flying a paper kite, right? Believe it or not, authorities say kites kill people.

In Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan kite fighting is a very popular sport. The goal is to bring down your opponent’s kite by using an abrasive line coated with a mixture of finely crushed glass and rice glue to cut through its line or the soft paper skin. Some cultures use metallic lines or attached metal knives  to hook and cut the opponent’s line. It takes a lot of practice and expert precision to maneuver a fighting kite, but winning a battle earns the victor the respect and praise of his peers. In Pakistan, the city of Lahore was considered the center of the kite fighting community, and even hosted the grand Basant Festival, where hundreds of thousands of kite flyers battled day and night for air supremacy. The festive event brought in people from all over Pakistan and beyond, but it all ended in 2007, when officials banned it, after several people were reportedly killed and hundreds others injured.

kite-fighting-Pakistan

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The Breathtaking Flower Hill of Hokkaido

Home to nearly one million pink shibazakura flowers, spread over an area of 100,000 square meters, on a hillside overlooking the picturesqe town of Takinoue, the Higashimokoto Flower Park is a must-see attraction for flower lovers.

There are lost of impressive tourist destinations on Japan’s Hokkaido island, but the hillside flower park overlooking the town of Takinoue stands out as the most colorful. Every year, from early May to mid June, the hill is covered with a pink carpet of Moss Phlox flowers, commonly known as shibazakura. Winding paths lead visitors from the base of the hill to the very top where they are treated to a magnificent view of the surrounding sea of flowers. Higashimokoto Park was founded in 1956, with only a box full of shibazakura seeds, but a growing number of plants have been planted every year since, and today the pink flowers cover an area of over 100,000 square meters. During the month-long blooming season, the bright pink flowers fill the air with a sweet scent that complements the amazing view. At the height of the moss phlox season, locals hold an annual festival dedicated to the flowers, featuring all kinds of themed events, and stalls selling snacks and souvenirs.

Takinoue-Flower-Park

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Revelers Throw Dead Rats at Each Other as Part of Bizarre Spanish Festival

Having a dead rat thrown straight in the face might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for the people of El Puig, the yearly Battle of the Rats is an eagerly awaited event. During the bizarre celebration, people pick up frozen rat corpses and throw them at each other in the name of fun.

Every year, on the last Sunday of January, the town of El Puig, north of Valencia, hosts the Batalla de Ratas, or Battle of the Rats, one of the weirdest fiestas in Spain. Locals and tourists from all over the world gather in the main square to bash cucañas, a kind of local piñada. Sounds like a fun time, only there’s a catch – the goodies in half of these colorful cucañas include dead rats. Instead of running away in disgust at the sight of rodent corpses falling to the ground, festival goers rush to pick them up and throw them at the crowd. If you’ve been hit by a dead rat, it’s customary to grab it and throw it back at your attacker. It’s a good thing we’re not in the Middle Ages anymore, and the bubonic plague is nearly extinct, but still, I can’t help but think there’s something really unhygienic about throwing rats at people. In their defense, the people of El Puig only use frozen and previously-prepared corpses of humanely-killed rats.

Battle of the rats

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Self-Taught Artist Turns Dead Trees into Urban Artworks

During the last six years the Ukrainian city of Simferopol has been transformed into an urban art gallery by a mysterious artist who carves wooden statues out of dead tree trunks. There are now dozens of these incredible works of art spread throughout the Crimean city.

Not many took notice when the first wooden masterpieces started showing up in various areas of Simferopol, but in time the city became filled with them, and people began wondering who was behind them? Was it the local authorities, a local art group or did the trees magically transform into detailed sculptures? There were all kinds of rumors going around, but local media was finally able to track down the “perpetrator”. His name is Igor Dzheknavarov, and remarkably he’s not a trained sculptor or carpenter, but a cook. “Cooking is the biggest art of all,” he jokingly told surprised reporters. “If you can fry potatoes, you can do anything.” Ten years ago Igor taught himself how to sculpt, and at one point started using his newly discovered skill to improve the look of his city. He calls himself a co-artist, as all of his works are inspired by the unique lines and twists of the trees he carves.

Simferopol-wood-sculptures

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The Amazing Orchid That Looks Like a Monkey’s Face

It’s not very hard to guess how the Monkey Orchid got its name, but ever since photos of it started circulating on the internet about a year ago, people have had a hard time believing such a flower actually exists.

As photoshoped as it may look, the Monkey Orchid actually exists, and yes, it really does match the grinning face of a very small monkey. The scientific name of this very rare flower is Dracula simia, with the first part hinting at the resemblance between its two long spurs to the fangs of Bram Stoker’s famous vampire count, and the second meaning “monkey” in Latin. It only grows in the mountainous regions of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, at an elevation of between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level, but there are a few lucky collectors who have managed to grow it in “captivity”. The Monkey orchid is not season specific, and in its natural habitat it can flower at any time. As if its striking resemblance to a monkey’s face wasn’t astounding enough, this flower actually smells a lot like a ripe orange, as well. Which is kind of ironic, because with a face like that you’d expect it to smell like bananas, right?

Monkey-orchid

 

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Live Like a Genuine Convict at Latvia’s Prison Hotel

Latvia’s Karosta Prison was used as a Nazi and Soviet military prison for most of the 20th century. Hundreds of prisoners are said to have died here, many of them shot in the head. Nowadays the nightmarish facility has been transformed in a prison-themed hotel where guests can sign an agreement to be treated like actual inmates.

Located in the city of Liepaja, Karosta Prison is one of Latvia’s most unique tourist attractions. Visitors can take tours of the old prison facility and learn the gruesome history of this place, visit the prison museum and even book a stay in one of the old cells. Karosta is certainly not the only prison converted to a hotel in the world, but it sets itself apart by allowing visitors to experience authentic prison life in Communist Era conditions. It might sound like a gimmick to attract tourists, but a stay at Karosta Prison is actually no walk in the park. To make sure there are no complaints, the hotel requires guests to sign an agreement acknowledging they are to be treated like prisoners by the trained staff. That includes sleeping in a cell on an old mattress laid over wooden boards, eating prison food served through the barred doors, getting verbally abused by the guards and following orders to the letter. Failure to comply to the strict code of conduct is punished through physical exercise and cleaning work around the prison.

Karosta-Prison-Hotel

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Only in the Philippines: Riding on Wooden Scooters at 50 Kilometers Per Hour

The municipality of Banaue, in the Philippines, is widely known for its spectacular rice terraces, but few people know it’s also the setting of a traditional race that has daredevils riding wooden scooters downhill at speeds of up to 50 kph, without any kind of protection.

The wooden scooter has long been the preferred means of transportation for Ifugao (Philippine for “people of the hill) in Banaue, and is still used today, as a cheaper alternative to gas-powered motorcycles and scooters. They were created centuries ago to help people travel downhill faster. The men-folk had to walk up the surrounding hills almost every day to gather firewood and tend to their rice crops, and carrying the load back down was an exhausting task that took them hours to complete. People started making light scooters almost entirely out of wood, and pushed them uphill whenever they had something to transport back to their village. At the top, they would simply strap the load on both sides of the vehicle and let gravity take them back down in a matter of minutes. In time, making wooden scooters became an art form, and masters of the craft began decorating them with all kinds of designs, from local animals and birds to human heads. Today, the Ifugao still celebrate this useful invention by participating in a seven-kilometer wooden scooter race down a steep road along the famous Banaue Rice Terraces.

Banaue-wooden-scooters

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Daniel Kish – The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See

47-year-old Daniel Kish has been completely blind ever since he was just a baby, but that hasn’t stopped him from living an incredibly active life which includes riding a bicycle or hiking alone in the mountains. To do this, he has perfected a form of echolocation, the same mechanism bats use to see in the dark.

Daniel has been blind for as long as he can remember. He was born with an aggressive form of cancer called retinoblastoma, which attacks the retina, and at only 13 months, doctors had to remove both his eyes, in order to save his life. He now has prosthetic eyes. He has never seen a tree, a car, or another human being, but he is perfectly able to navigate and even describe his surroundings in close detail, using echolocation, a technique he has been practicing from a very early age. Basically Daniel uses sound to see. Every environment and surface has its own acoustic signature and he produces  brief, sharp clicks with his tongue to identify them. The sound waves he creates travel at a speed of over 1,000 feet per second, bounce off every object that surrounds him, and returns to his ears at the same rate, though vastly decreased in volume, telling him exactly what everything is, and where it’s located.

Daniel-Kish2

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Norah – Probably the World’s Most Dangerous Bicycle

“It is as MAD as it looks,” British garage inventor Colin Furze says about his crazy jet-powered bicycle, Norah. Strapping a home-made jet engine to an old bike, the nutty Brit has created what may very well be the most dangerous bicycle ever.

Looking at all the outrageous things he has created over the years, one might be tempted to think he’s an engineer with a passion for insane inventions. But he’s only a plumber who likes to create wacky-yet-fascinating things in his home workshop. He is known for building the world’s longest motorbike, the fastest mobility scooter, and a gas-powered stroller, using only “tools that proper engineers would laugh at”. But he is proof that “you don’t need an expensive lathe and huge welder to create something amazing.” His latest achievement is Norah, a jet-powered bicycle able to reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. As you can probably imagine it’s terribly unsafe, yet incredibly fun to ride. Norah is literally one hot vehicle, as the DIY engine’s exhausts get so hot they actually turn bright red at full throttle. Instead of using a heat shield and ruining the bike’s look, he oped to make it longer and put some distance between the rider’s bum and the engine. But extreme heat isn’t the only thing you should be worried about when riding Norah.

jet-powered-bicycle

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The Dancing Inmates of the Philippines

The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, in the Philippines, has become internationally famous for using choreographed dancing to rehabilitate dangerous inmates. Videos of their dance routines have registered tens of millions of views on sites like YouTube, and the prison itself is now a tourist attraction of sorts.

Prison life is tough everywhere – well, maybe except Norway – and the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center is no exception. Inmates sleep on hard pallets, share their cells with around a dozen other roommates and have a very strict schedule of work. But at least they get to dance. The truth is they don’t have a choice, because apart from the elderly and the sick, every one of the almost 2,000 prisoners is required to take part in the jail’s now-famous dance routines. Most of them enjoy doing it, because it takes their minds off their problems, keeps them away from drugs and violence, and teaches them discipline. In fact, two former inmates went on to become professional dancers when they got out. Introducing dancing as a rehabilitation technique was the idea of security consultant Byron Garcia. He was brought in to Cebu Prison in 2004, to deal with the constant riots. He moved the prisoners from an ancient stockade to a larger, more modern facility, fired dozens of corrupt guards, broke up gangs, banned the use of cash and introduced dancing. That last measure made the biggest difference. Violence subsided and the inmates health and behavior improved dramatically. Yet no one took notice…

dancing-inmates

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Houtong Cat Village – How a Few Purring Felines Saved a Dying Community

This is the story of how a few dozen cats managed to save an entire community just by purring and looking pretty. Houtong was just another dilapidated mining town in the mountains of eastern New Taipei City, but everything changed when the felines came and livened up the place.

Houtong used to be one of Taiwan’s most important coal extraction sites, up until the 1970s. Then, oil and electricity took the place of coal, and the town suffered a steady decline. At one point it was reduced to a train stop along the Yilan line, one that most travelers ignored, and that forced many of its younger residents search for better opportunities elsewhere. The population of this defunct mining town dwindled from around six thousand inhabitants to a couple  of hundred, who struggled to survive. But their fortunes changed in 2008, when a cat lover who goes by the name “Palin88” organized a series of cat photography events in the mountain town. He and his friends posted the photos online, and got an overwhelming response from fellow feline enthusiasts. As they shared the photos on forums and social media sites, Houtong welcomed more and more tourists eager to photograph the cats themselves, or simply watch them roaming through the town. Nowadays, Houtong is known as the Cat Village, or Taiwan’s Cat Mecca.

Houtong-Cat-Village

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World’s Fastest Clapper Can Smack His Hands Together 13 Times a Second

Everyone, put your hands together for Bryan Bednarek, allegedly the fastest clapper in the world. In a YouTube video that recently went viral, he was able to clap 802 times in just 60 seconds,thus  setting a new record.

How fast can you clap your hands? You probably think you’re pretty good at it, but try keeping your fastest rhythm up for a whole minute. I tried it and I almost pulled a muscle in the process. And it’s all Bryan Bednarek’s fault for making it look so easy on camera. A friend of his filmed him pulverizing the current official record for most claps in one minute, and posted it on the internet, just to make the rest of us feel bad. According to the video counter, Bryan managed to smack his hands together 802 times, a whopping 81 times more than what Guinness record holder Kent French managed back in 2003. I don’t know if the count is right, but just the way he manages to keep up the insane clapping pace is unbelievable. This guy is like The Flash of clapping.

fastest-clapper

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Japanese Man Completes 40,000Km Walk Around the World

Masahito Yoshida, 32, recently returned to Shanghai, the city where he started his epic walk around the world, four and a half years ago. He walked a total of 40,000 kilometers across four continents carrying with him a two-wheeled cart full of baggage.

On New Year’s Eve, in 2009, Masahito Yoshida, an average Joe from the city of Tottori, Japan, set out from Shanghai to explore the world on foot. He had always wanted to travel and see all the wonders of the globe, but knew that doing it by plane or train, he would miss the small, sometimes isolated towns of the world, and the people that live in them. So he decided to walk instead. His first destination was Cape Roca, on the Portuguese coast, where he arrived in August of 2010, after covering 16,000 kilometers through central Asia and Europe. He then hopped on a plane to America, where he spent another year walking 6,000 km from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Vancouver, Canada. By the end of 2011 he exhausted most of his travel funds, so he started taking part-time jobs to finance the rest of his trip. From Canada, he flew to Melbourne, Southern Australia, and made his way north, to Darwin, then Singapore and back to Shanghai, China. During his memorable journey, Masahito worn off seven pairs of walking shoes.

Masahito-Yoshida

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