Famadihana – Dancing with the Dead in Madagascar

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The people of Madagascar have a unique ritual to celebrate family ties called Famadihana, also known as ‘turning of the bones’. It is a festival celebrated every 7 years or so, during which family crypts are opened up and the remains of dead ancestors are brought out to be wrapped in a new cloth. The Malagasy then dance with the corpses in great joy. Live music is played, animals are sacrificed and the meat is distributed to various guests and members of the family. The elders explain to their children the importance of the dead who are lying before them. Famadihana is viewed as a day to show your family just how much you love them. Extended families get together and celebrate kinship.

According to Malagasy belief, people are not made from mud, but from the bodies of the ancestors. Hence they hold their forefathers in high regard. They also believe that unless the bodies decompose completely, the dead do not leave permanently and are able to communicate with the living. So until they are gone forever, love and affection is showered on them through the Famadihana festival. It is interesting to note that the festival is not an ancient practice of Madagascar. Its origins cannot be traced beyond the seventeenth century.

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Chinese Artist Creates Transformers Theme Park

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It might look like the set of a new low-budget Transformers movie, but Mr. Iron Robot is actually a newly-inaugurated Transformers-themed park in Jiaxing City, China’s Zhejiang Province.

49-year-old artist Zhu Kefeng and his team have spent the last 10 years building giant metal robots from recycled iron and steel parts. He started out by making a realistic model of a car, then opened his own studio and began creating more intricate sculptures. He soon started doing commission work for people who liked his art, and for large orders he even set up a recycle bin where people could donate discarded metal parts. Zhu started working on Mr. Iron Robot theme park in 2010, with the money he had raised for selling his metal sculptures and his apartment in Shanghai. He and his team of collaborators worked hard and managed to turn an old abandoned factory into a modern attraction featuring over 600 Transformers-inspired sculptures.

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Holland’s Repair Cafes Breathe New Life into Broken Objects

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Got something in your home that needs fixing? Take it with you on your next trip to Holland. They have a ‘Repair Café’ there, where you can get almost anything fixed. The concept café, sponsored by the Dutch State, is the brainchild of former journalist Martine Postma. She felt that the Dutch people tend to throw away too many things, even the ones that can be easily fixed. Moreover, in modern times people have lost the ability to fix simple things, she says. So as an environmental initiative, she started the Repair Café in Amsterdam, with the intent of bringing together the people who can fix things, and those that need them fixed.

Postma basically believes that people would rather not throw away their stuff. And she sure did turn out to be right. What started off as a local initiative became an overnight success. Today, there are about 20 Repair Cafes across the Netherlands, and another 50 are being planned. A Repair Café Foundation was set up in 2010, where Postma now works full time. The foundation provides volunteers with information on how to set up their own café. The frequency of the cafes range from once a month to twice a week, and are held at a rented workspace.

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4 Places Where Dying Is Not Allowed

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When something as natural and inevitable as death is banned, it does seem a tad illogical. You would be surprised to know that there actually are quite a few places on Earth where death has been forbidden, and deemed illegal. In fact, it seems that this is actually an age-old practice; the earliest known instance of the prohibition of death was in the 5th century BC,  when dying wasn’t allowed on religious grounds at the Greek island of Delos. Each place has a reason of its own, varying from religious beliefs to environmental factors.

We’ll take a look at four places where death is forbidden in today’s world:

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Alcatraz Hotel Offers Tourists Real Prison Experience

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If you’ve ever been curious about life in prison, but your record is too clean, now you have a chance to actually buy your way in. Not into a real prison, of course, but the Hotel Alcatraz in London. It’s a four-room hotel that’s been modeled on the lines of the (in)famous Alcatraz of San Francisco Bay, the one that closed down in 1963. The hotel is only open for a week to promote the new TV series of the same name. Bookings are available until Saturday, 17th of March.

Once you’re checked in at Hotel Alcatraz, you can forget about being treated like a premium guest. At best, you’ll only be served the good food that prisoners in the 1950s were served, as prison officials believed that the best quality food would prevent violence amongst inmates. Everything else about the hotel is designed to give you a good understanding of the real deal. They’ve even roped in George Devincenzi, former USP Alcatraz Correction Officer, to oversee and authenticate the experience. So after check-in at exactly 18:30 hours, the prisoner-guests are handed uniforms and have their mugshots taken. They are then showed to their 5×9 foot cells, where they will be spending the night. The cells are sparsely furnished, with a sleeping cot and mattress (no sheets), prison-style toilet, sink and two shelves. The metal cups and serving trays have been specially sourced from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in San Francisco, to maintain authenticity. Guests will also be expected to carry out a number of tasks such as physical exercise, tailoring and model making. Sounds like the experience of a lifetime. If you don’t plan on committing any real crimes, that is.

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Master the Force at New York’s Jedi Club

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Flynn Michael calls his students a “bunch of Star Wars dorks.” But that doesn’t mean he’s any less passionate about the sci-fi series himself. Especially since he’s created a whole club on the concept of Jedi, and teaches his trainees how to use the Force to navigate the pressures of living in New York City – be it a stressful workplace, a rowdy bar or a crowded subway. His project is called the New York Jedi Club.

Born Michael Brown, the sound engineer from Brooklyn calls himself a “sci-fi, heavy metal, over-the-top geek.” During his growing-up years in Rhode Island, he watched the first Star Wars film 32 times, and when he saw Luke Skywalker learning the way of the Force, like millions of other fans he wanted to be able to do that himself. Michael’s childhood was not unlike other geeky kids’, he was bullied and beat up a lot. He says that the lightsaber helped bring out the hero inside him, and helped him stand up for himself.

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Bikini-Clad Baristas Serve One Hot Cup of Coffee at Java Girls Cafe

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At Java Girls, you don’t just get hot coffee, you get it served by hot women too. And to top it all off, they’re wearing nothing but bikinis and boots. I guess there couldn’t be a better way for men to kick-start their mornings. Java Girl’s latest franchise opened in Orlando last November, although the concept has been around since the early 2000s. Other branches are located in Oregon and Texas.

The Orlando franchise of Java Girls is co-owned by Todd and Bill Brognano, and thought to be the only bikini coffee shop located in central Florida. The shop employs only women, who come dressed to work in either bikinis or lingerie. So it’s not unusual here to spot a woman dressed in a two-piece, brewing espressos, lattes and frappucinos. And the girls don’t mind it one bit. “We like showing off what we got,” says 20-year-old Java Girl Belinda Messer. When they aren’t making coffee, the girls make it a point to stand outside the shop and entice passengers to a cup of coffee. They hold up signs like, “Now Open Extra HOT Coffee Spot.”

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Poveglia – The Venetian Island of the Dead

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When I first saw a picture of Poveglia Island, I couldn’t help but notice how pretty it is. But then I read the story behind the place and let me tell you, there’s nothing pretty about it. For centuries, the island has attracted nothing but the worst fate, with hundreds of thousands of people suffering torturous deaths. Today the island may look uninhabited, but legend suggests otherwise…

Poveglia is located in northern Italy, in the Venetian Lagoons. It has no owners and entry to the place is strictly forbidden. The only time any visits are made is to harvest vineyards. Even fisherman won’t venture intot  the waters near the island, for fear of catching human bones in their nets. For a time, it was owned by the Italian state but was sold to a private buyer in the 1960s. The poor guy lived there for a short while, but abandoned the place after a short while. More recently, a family was known to have purchased Poveglia in an attempt to convert it into a holiday home, but again, they couldn’t spend more than one night there. Rumors say that their daughter’s face was split open and 14 stitches were needed to fix it.

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Really Hang-Out at Tokyo’s Hammock Cafe

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Who needs chairs when you can just relax and have a cup of coffee or tea in a comfortable hammock, right? That was probably the idea behind Mahika Mano, a popular Tokyo venue, better known as the Hammock Cafe.

Located in the Kichijoji district of Tokyo, a place renowned for its chill-out atmosphere, Mahika Mano fits in just perfectly, with its hammocks hanging from the ceiling inviting passers-by to just sit back and enjoy a tasty drink. As soon as you walk in, the first thing that hits you is the absence of chairs, but as soon as you lay down in one of the hanging nets you start to wonder who ever got the crazy idea of using chairs, when hammocks are so much more comfy. As you can imagine, this unique cafe is pretty busy (sometimes you have to wait in a queue to grab a seat hammock) so the place has implemented a time limit of 90 to 120 minutes, so that everyone can have a chance to literally hang out. Whether this policy is enforced or not depends on the occupancy of the cafe.

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Magic Mountain Lodge – Chile’s Water Spewing Volcano Hotel

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Ever wondered what it would be like to live inside a volcano? Now you can have your chance at a hotel that’s shaped like one – Magic Mountain. There’s even stuff spewing off the top (water, not molten lava) and cascading down the walls and windows. But it doesn’t look much like a volcano, not to me at least. I think it’s got this old-world charm to it, like a tower from Medieval times. Especially with the antique doors and windows, and a shaky wooden drawbridge to let people into their rooms.

The Magic Mountain Hotel is located in Huilo Huilo, a private Natural Reserve in the Los Rios region of Chile. The antique appearance ends with the exterior however, as the interiors are done up in luxury. There are only 9 rooms, named after bird species found in the area. Each of them overlooks the thick forest and wildlife outside, including toucans, iguanas, pumas and lizards. Guests even get a glimpse of a real-life volcano from the hotel – the enormous Arenal Volcano. Outside the rooms the special services provided to guests are definitely worth a mention. Hot tubs made out of huge tree trunks, overlooking the forest are a major tourist attraction at Magic Mountain, as is the world’s longest zip line running through the grounds.

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Believers Rock Out at Colombia’s Heavy Metal Church

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Some may find it blasphemous, but for the members of Pantokrator Church in Bogota, Colombia, Heavy Metal is a form of pure devotional worship. I know it’s pretty hard to associate screaming and head banging with the serene image of Jesus, but somehow, the 40-member-strong church is able to make the connection.

I wouldn’t blame you if you took one look at the people gathered here and assumed it was for some kind of satanic ritual. What else could one expect, with people dressed in black clothes, army boots with metal spikes and weird body piercings. But nothing good has ever really come out of stereotyping people. So a deeper look does reveal that the church-goers at Pantokrator (Greek for ‘All Powerful’), are pretty serious about their faith. The founder of the church is 24-year-old Cristian Gonzalez, who is also a heavy metal drummer. According to Cristian, it’s perfectly normal to worship through heavy metal music, when Jesus himself got involved with people no matter what their condition – prostitutes, thieves or tax collectors.

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The Flying Men of Bolivia’s Yungas Valley

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It truly amazes me how people are able to find great shortcuts in any kind of situation. A while ago, we wrote about Bamboo Drifting , which was a means to cross rivers in China by balancing on a thin bamboo pole. Deep valleys exist in the jungles of Bolivia too, but the locals have chosen flying over rowing, and it’s much faster. On foot, the journey would take a good 1 hour, as they’d have to walk down to the bottom, cross the river and climb up the other side. But 30 seconds is all it takes for the people of Yungas Valley to fly across.

No, they haven’t mysteriously sprouted wings, nor do they use any fancy machines. Their flying equipment is simple – 20 ropes strung across the valley with old rusting pulleys, 200 meters above the river and stretching as long as 400 meters. Several of the local cocoa harvesters, the Cocaleros, use the ropes every day to travel to and fro along with their goods. They tie themselves to the pulleys using strips of fabric, and glide across effortlessly. Branches and leaves are used as brakes to stop themselves so they don’t end up crashing into the other side.

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Purga Nightclub – Where Every Night Is New Year’s Eve

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The holiday season is a truly magical time around the world. New Year’s Eve, especially, is seen as a time of hope and new beginnings, a time to forget the old and embrace the new. Most people are in high spirits, celebrating the coming of the new year with much pomp and gusto. But what if you got to celebrate it every single night of the year? Would it still be as much fun? Apparently it would, going by the success of ‘Purga’ – a nightclub in St. Petersburg, Russia, where every night is New Year’s Eve.

Everything that’s needed for a typical Russian New Year’s Eve celebration is available at the club. The Russian national anthem, the new year’s speech of Vladimir Putin on TV, fun costumes, decorations, contests, dancing and singing. Professional actors work at the club as ‘bunnies’, who are basically there to entertain people and make sure they forget all their worries. Ever since Purga was started way back in 2002, it has been popular in town, with table reservations being made at least a week in advance.

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India’s Fascinating Fortune-Telling Robots

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Indians have long since been passionate about predicting the future. Horoscopes are created with the help of an astrologer on the very day a child is born and these documents are consulted from time to time during major milestones of a person’s life. Especially when a match is made as a part of an arranged marriage, an astrologer is duly consulted to make sure the horoscopes of the bride and groom are compatible with each other.

While all this may seem very strange to an outsider, for Indians it’s a part of normal and natural life. In fact , progress in terms of fortune-telling technology has been made too. In several homes, local astrologers have been replaced by computer software that serves the same purpose. One simply needs to enter their name and time/date of birth to receive a complete report of their past, present and future.

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Maramadi – The Famous Bull Race of Kerala

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The most famous traditional game involving bulls is Spanish bullfighting, but the people of Kerala, India, have come up with a way celebration that doesn’t involve torturing and killing poor animals. It’s called Maramadi, and it’s held every year, in the post-harvest season.

Maramadi is essentially a bull racing event, only instead of a track, it takes place in flooded rice fields, which makes it infinitely more entertaining for the crowds watching from the sidelines. In preparation for the event, the freshly ploughed fields are filled with water, thus ensuring that every competing team makes a big splash for the audience. Although bulls are the main competitors in Maramadi, their human masters have the important role of guiding them during the race, making sure they don’t stray off the course before reaching the finish line. Each team consists of two bull and three guides, who have to keep up with the animals if they want a shot at wining. That of course takes good speed perfect balance.

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