Welcome to Ifrane, Africa’s Little Switzerland

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Ifrane is a small town and ski resort in Morocco, famous for its European style and its similarity to the tourist haven of Switzerland. Developed by the French in the 1930s, Ifrane is so reminiscent of the Swiss Alps that it is fondly referred to as ‘Africa’s Little Switzerland’.

The town is located at an altitude of 5,460 feet above sea level in the Middle Atlas region. Its neat red-roofed houses, blooming flower beds, lake-studded parks, and snowbound winters present a huge contrast to Morocco’s narrow, maze like streets and old, earth-colored buildings. It is truly a wonder that such lush greenery, cedar and oak forests, and pasturelands can even exist in the midst of the hot and dry climate of the region.

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World’s Largest Snake Gathering Turns Canadian Wilds into a Slithering Sea

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Every spring, the Canadian wilds of Manitoba become a sea of nightmarish writhing snakes. A tangled mass of thousands of red-sided garter snakes come together in what is considered the largest snake-gathering in the world. After spending the long winter months in hibernation, they all come out for a bit of a breather, to frolic in the sun and perform their mating rituals.

The fascinating event takes place at the Narcisse Snake Dens, a few kilometers north of Narcisse, in Manitoba province. What makes Narcisse the ultimate rock-concert equivalent of the snake world? Well, the answer to that question dates back to the Paleozoic era, when the area of Manitoba was covered by an ancient ocean. The water doesn’t exist anymore, but the ocean bed still does – layer upon layer of thick limestone rock covers the region, with thousands of natural crevices, tunnels and caves. Rainwater seeps through these cracks and when the rock gives way near the surface, the resulting collapse forms a sinkhole.

The cold-blooded snakes happen to love these sinkholes, which are perfect for hibernation during the harsh Canadian winter with temperatures reaching 50 degrees below zero. So they migrate from far and wide and settle into the sinkholes, putting a good distance between themselves and the frost line. Because there’s a limited number of sinkholes, also known as den sites, all the snakes in an area have to go to the nearest den site. So there are literally tens of thousands of snakes crowded into just one sinkhole the size of the average living room.

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Party Like a Caveman at This Cave Nightclub in Cuba

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Disco Ayala, in Trinidad, Cuba, is not your average party destination. It’s located on the outskirts of town, in a natural cave that was once the home of a notorious serial killer.

After walking down the dusty street leading up to the tiny cave mouth, revelers take the stairs leading down to the gated entrance to one of the most unique discos on earth. You pay CUC$3 for entry and a drink, and go down the stairs, and then down another flight through a tunnel. Up to this point, the place looks like a normal cave, apart from a large banner that reads ‘Disco Ayala’. But nothing can really prepare you for what lies within.

As you step out of the narrow tunnel, the sight that awaits you is nothing short of spectacular – a large marble dance floor is set up in the middle of a large cavern, the bright light from a rock-carved bar catches your eye and the colorful lights dancing on the stalagmites will leave you speechless.  Not to mention the loud latino music and the crazy performers. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

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The Santa Cruz Mystery Spot That Seems to Defy Physics

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The Mystery Spot, located in Santa Cruz, California, is sort of like a house of illusions. Here, water flows upwards, cars and balls roll uphill, short people appear to be the same height as taller ones, and people can lean forward up to 45 degrees without falling flat on their faces. It seems as though the normal laws of gravity just don’t work here.

The Spot is actually a large barn located on a 150 square-foot patch of  hillside land. Visitors are permitted to enter the shack after paying the owners an entry fee. They are shown a variety of unbelievable sights, like plumb bobs hanging almost parallel to the floors, billiards balls rolling uphill and people standing at impossible angles. The shack itself appears to be falling over, pulled down by strange forces. Adding to the mystery is the fact that people sometimes lose their balance, become disoriented and even feel ill within its four walls.

Discovered in 1939, the area around the Mystery Spot was originally supposed be the building ground for a summer cabin, but rumor has it that when surveyors tried to chart the plot, they found that their instruments acted crazy over one particular patch of land. The people who stood on this spot claimed that a mysterious force seemed to be trying to push them off balance, making them feel light-headed. The owners eventually abandoned their plan to develop the site and a year later, they opened the Mystery Spot as a tourist attraction.

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Japan’s Valley of the Dolls – Artist Repopulates Deserted Village with Creepy Dolls

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When Japanese artist Ayano Tsukimi returned to her village 11 years ago, it wasn’t the place she once knew it to be. There were hardly any people around anymore, so she decided to repopulate the place herself – with handmade dolls. These dolls can be seen strewn across the village, on benches, in the street, outside her home, working in farms, and even lounging about the abandoned school compound. Over a span of 10 years, she has sewn about 350 life-size dolls, each one representing a former villager.

Nagoro is a remote village, nestled deep in the valleys of Shikoku Island. It was once a bustling center with a dam, a big company and hundreds of inhabitants. But the residents moved to bigger cities over the years, in search of better jobs, abandoning the village permanently. Its population is dwindling as the residents left behind continue to die. Today, Nagoro has only 37 living  inhabitants, and of course, many times more dolls. And Ayano believes that a time may come when she will have outlived everyone in the village.

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Share a Coffee with Snakes and Scorpions at Vietnam’s Popular Pet Cafe

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If you love dogs, cats and cute, cuddly bunnies, then Vietnam’s Pet Café is certainly not the place for you. It exists to serve a totally different kind of animal lover. Located in the capital city of Hanoi, the café has an awesome collection of snakes, rats, lizards, tarantulas and even a few hedgehogs, stored in glass cages of various sizes. As you sit at your table and share a coffee with a friend, you can gaze upon these slow-moving reptiles in replicas of their natural habitats. And if you’re feeling a little brave, you could even ask to touch or play with them.

28-year-old Nguyen Minh Nghia, the owner of Pet Café, has a degree in mining and geology, but is now a stockbroker. He has been obsessed with animals since childhood, and that’s what prompted him to start the café. “I loved animals since I was a little boy. I began raising reptiles 5 years ago, when a friend asked me to feed his salamanders as he was too preoccupied with his own business,” Nguyen said.

He fell in love with the creatures and ended up traveling to Thailand, Singapore, Australia and China, amassing a huge collection of snakes, salamanders and other reptiles that are now his best friends. “These pets are easy to feed, but for beginners, it is not a walk in the park,” he said. “You have to read a lot of materials to learn how to raise reptiles. I’ve chosen reptiles that are suited for the environment and climate in Vietnam. To keep them alive here, I’ve got to study a lot about their living environment. My café is always dark because many reptiles do not like the light.”

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Takeda Castle Ruins – Japan’s Breathtaking Castle in the Sky

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If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, then you’re probably familiar with Durmstrang Institute – a perfectly hidden school in the mountains for dark witches and wizards. If this school were to exist in real life, I think I’ve found the perfect place for it – Japan’s Takeda Castle. This spectacular castle is located in Hyogo Prefecture in the Wadayamacho district of Asago. It was constructed centuries ago on the summit of a 1000 foot high mountain. Today, the ruins of the castle run a quarter of a mile long and over 300 foot wide.

Takeda Castle is special because of the breathtaking view it presents on autumn mornings (between sunrise and 8 am). That’s when a thick mist hangs over the sky because of a sharp drop in overnight temperatures. The effect created by the mist is truly breathtaking – like a castle in the sky, floating on clouds. The entire site is often referred to as Japan’s Machu Picchu, after the majestic mountain ruins of Peru. The castle, in all its beauty and ancient glory, attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. The number of visitors began to grow after the site was featured in a 2012 Japanese film called ‘Anata e’.

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The Hauntingly Beautiful Blue Pond of Hokkaido

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If you happen to have a Mac that runs on OSX Mountain Lion, then these images are probably familiar to you. The aptly named ‘Blue Pond’ reflects such a pristine blue color off its waters, that you just can’t take your eyes off it. The pond, located on the left bank of River Bieigawa near the town of Biei in Hokkaido Island, Japan, wasn’t very well known until recently, when the computer giant decided to make it a part of their latest operating system.

Interestingly, the Blue Pond is not a natural formation. The artificial pond was created when a dam was built to protect the area from mud flows due to its proximity to a volcano on Mt. Tokachi. When the volcano erupted in December 1988, local officials decided to construct the dam upstream along the river. All the water blocked by this dam gets collected in a depression in the forest, creating the pond.

It’s not just the striking blue that sets the pond apart, but also the barren tree stumps that protrude from the surface of the water. Also, the color of the pond hardly remains constant. It keeps varying based on the season, and the viewing angle. In a certain light and angle, the electric blue pond appears to be a lovely green instead. This unusual phenomenon has no real scientific explanation. Some theories attribute it to a high concentration of aluminum hydroxide in the water. The naturally occurring mineral is known to reflect the shorter wavelength blue light, just like the earth’s atmosphere does. Of course, the water itself is colorless.

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You Can Win $1 Million Playing on the World’s Most Extreme Golf Course, But You’ll Need a Helicopter

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The Legend Golf and Safari Resort is truly, well, legendary. The one-of-a-kind golf course is located in South Africa’s north-eastern Limpopo Province, nestled within the 22,000 hectare Entabeni Game Reserve. It is the longest par 72 golf course in the world, and of course safe from all the wildlife. It is also the only one with all 19 holes individually designed by golf legends like Trevor Immelman, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, among others. There’s a tribute course too, made up of perfect replicas of nine of the best par 3’s in the world.

But the thing that makes Legend Golf and Safari Resort really special is the hole that everyone comes to play – the Xtreme 19th. It is believed to be the longest, highest and most dramatic par 3 in the world. The hole itself is 587 meters away from the tee-off box and if you manage to hit a hole-in-one, you are guaranteed a special price of US $1 million. But, truth be told, you’d probably have a better chance of winning the lottery.

To get a shot at the prize money, you first need to take a helicopter ride to the tee box, which is high up a cliff on Hanlip Mountain. Standing up there could make you feel like you really are at the edge of South Africa. The tee box is 430 meters above the green (shaped like the African continent), providing a breathtaking panoramic background and plenty of leverage as well. As soon as you reach the high ground, you are handed six balls equipped with tracking devices and then you are welcome to try your luck.

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The Eerie Melted Bricks of Fort Zverev, in Russia

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Fort Zverev, built in the 1870s by Russian engineer Konstantin Zverev, lies in complete ruins today. Nonetheless, it is as much of an attraction now as it was in its heyday. Located on an artificial island in the Baltic Sea, just north of Kronstadt, the fort is a derelict structure that can well be described as ‘hell on earth’. The rusting bunker hatches, water tubes and machine gun mounts scattered on the surface are hardly an indicator of what lies within.

Back when the fort was still in use, the Russians stored a type of fuel similar to napalm in the basement. Unfortunately, in 1970, an unexpected fire that started in the fort spread to the basement as well, causing an uncontrollable inferno. The incident was simply horrific – the burning fuel reached temperatures over 2000 degrees Celsius. It got so hot that the brick walls and ceiling literally melted and ran down like icicles.

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The Ringing Rocks of Pennsylvania – A Famous Geological Oddity

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If you strike a rock, you’d expect to hear a dull ‘thud’. Or maybe a ‘chink’. Definitely not a ringing sound. So you’d be surprised to know that ringing rocks actually do exist. Nestled in the midst of the 128-acre Ringing Rocks County Park in Pennsylvania, is a field of unique boulders. Spread out across seven to eight acres, the boulders produce a distinctive metallic ‘clang’ when struck with a hammer or another piece of rock. Native Americans have known about the rocks for centuries, and passed on their knowledge to the first White settlers in the mid-1700s.

The sound produced by the rocks is so unexpected that it could get you wondering if they are really made of stone. They actually sound hollow and metallic. The strange phenomenon has baffled scientists and geologists for years. Several experiments have been conducted on the ringing rocks, but the exact reason for the unusual sound remains unknown.

Richard Faas, a geologist from Pennsylvania, tested a few of the rocks in his lab in 1965. He discovered that when struck, each individual rock produced low frequency tones that aren’t audible to the human ear. The tones from multiple rocks interact with each other and it’s the collective sound that we get to hear.

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Solvay Hut – The World’s Most Precariously Placed Mountain Hut

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The Solvay Hut may be quite humble in its construction, but the view it offers its residents is priceless. This tiny hut is perched right on the narrow north-eastern ridge of Matterhorn, in the Canton of Valais, Switzerland. It is the highest mountain hut in the region, at over 13,000 foot above ground level.

The emergency refuge is owned by the Swiss Alpine club, and is intended to provide food and shelter to mountaineers, hikers and climbers. At about 1,500 foot below the summit and two-thirds up the mountain, it provides respite to many Matterhorn climbers and rewards them with the breathtaking view of all the Monte Rosa summits. It is only meant to be used during emergencies, but climbers do stop there to rest and click photographs.

The hut, which can accommodate about 10 people, is not a recent construction. It was actually built way back in 1915 and took only five days to complete. All the building materials were brought up to Hornli Hut, just 2,500 foot below, with the help of animals. A small temp cable car was used to haul up the materials from there. It was rebuilt in 1966 and an emergency telephone was installed in 1976.

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The Dark Hedges – Ireland’s Real-Life Fantasy Setting

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Along Bregagh Road, near the village of Armoy in Northern Ireland, lies a tranquil byroad called The Dark Hedges. For the past three centuries, a stretch of Beech trees have been guarding either side of this road. They have reached up and intertwined with each other, creating an ethereal tunnel of trees with shadow and light playing through the entwined branches. The effect is nothing short of spectacular.

The trees were planted in the 1750s by the Stuart family, on the grounds of Gracehill House, James Stuart’s Gregorian mansion. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion. Needless to say, the Stuarts managed to achieve the desired effect. Even today, the Dark Hedges attracts locals and tourists alike.

Up until fifteen years ago, only locals knew about the Dark Hedges. In 1998, Northern Ireland’s national tourist board began to use the setting to promote tourism. Visitors have been pouring in ever since. It is one of the most photographed places in the world, and has become a desktop wallpaper cliché. Several scenes of the hit series ‘Game of Thrones’ have been filmed here and it is also a popular location for wedding photography.

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Dutch Town Has Street Names Inspired by Lord of the Rings

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Geldrop is a small town in the southern part of The Netherlands, with a population of 28,000. Not much information on this place is available online, but it seems like a perfectly ordinary Dutch town. But there is something special about it (apart from the fact that ‘Geldrop’ sounds like some kind of candy).

The names of all the streets in one of the neighborhoods of Geldrop are actually taken out of J.R.R Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. We have absolutely no idea why, or whose genius idea it was, but it’s one of the few places in the world with such bizarre street names. I’d understand if it were just one or two streets, but the entire neighborhood consists of Lord of the Rings references.

At the heart of the city is Laan von Tolkien (Tolkien Avenue). Then the streets branch out into names of hobbits, elves, dwarves and even a few ents (the talking trees). If you want to see for yourself, go to Google Maps and search for Geldrop. Or, you could just follow this link.

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Fadiouth – A Unique Island Made Almost Entirely of Clam Shells

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Joal-Fadiouth is a small fishing village located at the far end of Petite Côte – a stretch of coast in Senegal. Joal is situated on the mainland and Fadiouth is an island just off the coast.  A narrow, 400-meter wooden bridge links the two areas. Fadiouth is special – it is almost entirely covered with clam shells.

For centuries, the inhabitants of Fadiouth have been harvesting molluscs. They scoop out the meat and use the shells to construct almost everything, even the island itself. The millions of seashells accumulated over the years have been held strong by the roots of mangroves, reeds and giant baobabs. Empty shells litter the streets; you can hardly step anywhere on Fadiouth Island without hearing a cracking sound from under your feet.

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