Jacob’s Well – America’s Stunning-Yet-Deadly Diving Spot

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Jacob’s Well, in Wimberley, Texas, is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Named after a biblical reference, the well has claimed the lives of over eight divers, but judging by the large number of thrill seekers who choose to dive in it, that doesn’t scare many people.

On the surface, Jacob’s Well looks like a harmless spring that feeds Cypress Creek. Its mouth is just four meters wide, and looks like a calm water body, revealing very little of the dangers that lurk within. The well has four chambers extending several feet below the surface. Local dive shop owner Don Dibble puts it perfectly: “This is the horror side of it.” The first chamber is a straight drop of about 30 feet, after which it angles down to 55 feet. This chamber gets sufficient sunlight, so it is bright and populated with algae and wild life.

The second chamber is 80 feet deep, and houses a false chimney that looks like a way out of the well, but in fact traps divers. Richard Patton, a student at Southwest Texas State University lost his life in the chimney in 1983. A restricted opening from the second chamber leads into the third, which is a small room with unstable gravel. Divers must be careful not to dislodge the gravel in order to navigate this chamber successfully.

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Zalipie – Poland’s Fascinating Painted Village

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People all over the world love decorating their homes, but few are as good as the villagers of Zalipie. Home décor is a centuries-old tradition in this secluded village of southeastern Poland.

The women of Zalipie paint their homes, not with a single color, but a range of vibrant floral patterns. These patterns adorn the external walls, doors, windows and even the roof. The entire village looks pretty in a riot of colors.

It isn’t clear when the tradition began exactly. Local legend says that it originates from a time when smoke from stoves would escape through little holes in the ceilings. Women tried whitewashing  to cover up the tiny spots of soot on the walls, but that didn’t work. So they switched to paintings of beautiful flowers instead.

Zalipie-painted village

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Seeing Double – Russian Restaurant Only Hires Sets of Identical Twins as Staff

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A restaurant owner in Moscow promises you will have such a great time in his establishment that you are going to see double, not because of the strong vodka, but because the staff is made up exclusively of identical twin brothers and sisters.

Aptly called Twin Stars, the Russian restaurant employs only twin bartenders and wait staff as a gimmick to attract more customers and prides itself on being the only such restaurant in the world. Alexei Khodorovsky, the owner of Twin Stars, says he was inspired by a 1960s movie where a girl finds herself in a parallel universe and discovers there’s another version of her – her twin. The idea seems fun and both the customers and the twin staff say they’ve enjoyed the experience thus far. “We worked as barmen before this summer in a different establishment. It was an internship for us,” Artyem, who works with his identical brother Roman at the bar, says. We really liked that internship. That’s why we decided this profession suits us and we came here to work.” Finding people like Artyem and Roman was a true challenge. Identical pairs with experience working in a restaurant were very hard to track down, but the effort was worthwhile because as Nika, another member of the unique staff, says “One pair (of twins) is already fun – when there are two, it’s even more fun.”

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Stairway to Heaven: The Amazing Haiku Stairs of Hawaii

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Wars always leave behind empty monuments that serve as reminders of hard times. Although haunted by the memories of conflict and often death, these abandoned structures sometimes blend with their natural surroundings, revealing breathtaking landscapes of poetic proportions. One such place is the Haʻikū Stairs popularly known as  the“Stairway to Heaven”, in Hawaii, a 3,922-step ascent into one of the most vivid and stunning natural sceneries on Earth.

The first steps begin in the Valley of Haiku near Kaneohe, on the island of O’ahu and climb up to 2,800 feet at a 30-degree angle. The first ladder was built during World War II, out of wood, to help string antenna cables from one side of the valley to the other. Thus, the personnel at Haiku Valley Naval Radio Station, located at about 2,800 feet above sea level, was able to communicate with the US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay. In the 1950s the ladder was rebuilt out of galvanized steel and expanded in order to accommodate the activity of the Omega Navigation System station of the United States Coast Guard. A total of 3,922 18-inch wide steps were built from ship ladders, bolted together in sections of seven and secured into the rugged hills.

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The Turkish Bird Village Where People Communicate Using 400-year-Old Whistled Language

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Do you know about the ingenious Panamanian golden frog which lives near loud waterfalls and communicates by waving? The people of Kuşköy, a small Turkey village, have proven that they can be just as creative and resourceful as the little poisonous frog. Long before they even had electricity, they invented a brilliantly simple way of communicating over long distances, by whistling.

They call it the “bird language” or “kuș dili” as it originated in Kuşköy, which itself means “bird village”. This fascinating means of communication was created over 400 years ago as a consequence of working in the fields of the Pontic Mountains. The terrain is irregular making travelling very difficult even on short distances, and because of this, the villagers felt the need for an alternative to speaking and shouting , one that made long distance communication easier. Inspired by the songs of birds, they started whistling the syllables of Turkish words which proved to be much more effective and less energy-consuming than yelling or walking all the way to the person they needed to speak with. Villagers notify each other about visitors, ask for help and make invitations for tea. They can even have complex, long conversations just by whistling. The songs of the bird people resonate over distances as long as 1km. If the distance is longer, the neighbors are kind enough to pass on the message to each other until it reaches its destination.

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No Bottles or Plates Allowed at Ukraine’s Unique Jar Bar

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The Jar Bar, in Kiev, Ukraine, is the only place in the world where every item on the menu is served in glass pickle jars. To make sure patrons understand the concept, there’s even a sign on the door that shows bottles, glasses, bowls, cups and any other kind of dishes are strictly forbidden.

Although there are a handful of cafés and bars that use glass jars as dishes, the founders of Kiev’s Jar Bar claim no other venue in the world has taken such a radical approach to the concept as to serve every single item on the menu in jars. From soup, to ice cream, coffee and cocktails everything at this unique venue comes in glasses of various sizes. According to the bar’s official site, eating from a jar reminds people of home, taking them back to their childhood days when they tasted the delicious pickles made by their grandmothers, straight out of the jar. The unusual dishes also make it easy for customers to order their favorite foods and drinks to-go, or take leftovers with them. All they have to do is ask waiters for a jar lid. Apart from being the only available dishes, jars are also used for decoration purposes. The light fixtures are all large glass jars, the bar is lined with pickle jars, and the wallpaper is also jar-themed.

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Man Builds 12,000 Square-Foot Castle in the Middle of a Florida Swamp

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When he moved from New York to Florida over 40 years ago, Howard Solomon took the saying “A man’s home is his castle” quite literally. The artist once known as “The DaVinci of Debris” spent a total of 12 years building a three-storey castle by hand, in the middle of a swamp.

Solomon began working on his unique castle in the 70’s, after he and his family moved to Ona, Florida. The original plan was to build a nice house on the piece of land he had bought in Hardee County, but after realizing the place was actually a big swamp, he decided to construct something high enough to resist any potential floods. He had always been fascinated with medieval castles and this proved to be the perfect opportunity to build his very own 16-century fortress, complete with a bell tower, moat and drawbridge. Howard worked on his architectural masterpiece on and off ever since 1972, and reckons he has spent over 12 years erecting the structure and covering it in aluminum plating, and an additional 4 years building a Spanish galleon in the castle moat. When he first started building his dream home, people thought he was mad, and wouldn’t even let their kids play with his, but over the last 40 years they’ve accepted him into the community, and Solomon’s Castle is now the most popular attraction in the area.

Solomon-Castle

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Dick’s Last Resort Restaurant – Would You Like Insults with That?

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Dick’s Last Resort is an American restaurant chain renowned for its obnoxious waiting staff. Patrons can expect to be insulted, made fun of and put in uncomfortable situations, all in the name of fun, of course.

If you like greasy southern grub Dick’s Last Resort is the perfect eatery for you. They specialize in juicy steaks, ribs, burgers and fried chicken, all served in extra-large portions sure to satisfy the biggest appetite. But that’s not why so many people across America come here. They come to be abused by the surly, obnoxious staff. The first ever Dick’s Last Resort restaurant opened as a fine dining establishment, 28 years ago. There were too many of those around and the venture turned out to be a failure which led to bankruptcy. Determined to make it in the restaurant business, owner Steve Schiff gave it another shot, only this time he decided to “go sloppy”. The classy decor was replaced by a wacky one, and the uber-friendly staff became obnoxious and abusive with patrons. Believe it or not, the bizarre concept proved a winner, and today Dick’s Last Resort is a successful restaurant chain with 13 different locations across the United States.

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Live Like a Genuine Convict at Latvia’s Prison Hotel

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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.

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The Dancing Inmates of the Philippines

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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…

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

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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.

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Jembatan Akar – Indonesia’s Amazing Tree Root Bridge

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For the last hundred years, the residents of two tiny Indonesian villages in West Sumatra have used a 30-meter-long bridge formed from the interconnected roots of two trees located on each side of a fast-flowing river, to reach each other and trade supplies. Today, the natural wonder known as “Jembatan Akar” has become a popular tourist attraction.

According to locals the amazing tree root bridge was built in 1890, by Pakih Sohan, a Muslim teacher from Lubuak Glare, disappointed by the fact that students from Pulut-pulut couldn’t attend his classes on Islam and Quran recitations due to the Batang Bayang river that separated the two settlements. He planted two small Jawi-jawi – a type of  broad-leaf banyan tree – and started stringing their roots around a stem bridge made of bamboo. In just a few years time the two trees reached each other over the river, but the bridge wouldn’t be able to support the passing villagers’ weight for another two decades. It took approximately 26 years for Jembatan Akar to become the sturdy bridge it is today, and with each passing year, it becomes even stronger, as the banyan tree roots continue to grow.

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All Aboard the Controversy Inn’s Tram Apartments

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Viewed as one of the most unusual hotels in the world, the Controversy Inn gives the term “room and board” a whole new meaning by repurposing old tramcars  as luxurious accommodations for guests.

Located in Holland’s Hoogwoud village, the Controversy Inn is run by two kooky Prince fans and offers visitors the unique opportunity of sleeping in fully reconditioned tramcars that used to run in Germany and Amsterdam years ago. It might not sound like the most comfortable stay, but the owners of this wacky establishment have gone out of their way to make the trams as cozy as possible. All the “rooms” feature double beds, showers and toilet facilities, a well-supplied kitchenette, and lovely decorations made from old-traffic lights, discarded furniture, car parts and other recycled objects. The three tramcars and the full-sized railway car have all been themed around different cultures around the world – America, Italy, France and Mexico – and come with their own matching type of breakfast. Frank and Irma Appel, the two motoring enthusiasts behind the Controversy Inn, sleep in an English-style Double-Decker bus they’ve somehow managed to insert right in the living-room of their picturesque farmhouse. How crazy is that?

Controversy-Inn

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Playa del Amor – The Hidden Beach of Marieta Islands

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If it weren’t for the sound of the waves gently washing up on its fine sand beach, people would probably walk right past Playa del Amor without even knowing it was there. Located several meters inland on one of the Marieta Islands, the Hidden Beach is one of those unique natural wonders you definitely don’t want to miss.

The Marieta Islands archipelago, located off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico are believed to have formed centuries ago due to volcanic activity in the area. During the early 1900s, the Mexican Government took advantage of the fact they were completely uninhabited and used the islands to conduct military tests. After years of research and efforts to legally protect the archipelago, scientists led by the famous Jacques Cousteau managed to convince Mexican authorities to declare the Marietas a national park protected against fishing, hunting and any other harmful human activities. To this day, the islands remain uninhabited and only authorized boat service providers can take tourists to see their natural wonders up-close. Although the large explosions and bombings carried out for decades have greatly damaged the flora and fauna of this tropical paradise, some say they’re also responsible for the creation of one of its most amazing attractions – Playa del Amor, also known as the Hidden Beach of Mexico.

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On the Wings of a Prayer – India’s Unique Airplane Temple Fuels Devotees’ Traveling Dreams

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It’s not unusual at Indian temples for devotees to make huge offerings of money and food, in exchange for their prayers to answered. But the case of this particular Sikh temple in Punjab is quite strange, even for Indian standards. The narrow, dusty alleyway leading up to the Sant Baba Nihal Singh Gurudwara in Punjab’s Doaba region, near the city of Jalandhar, is lined with a host of shops selling toy aircrafts of various sizes and colors. Although they sell like hot cakes, they are not meant to be travel souvenirs, but offerings to the temple. At the Sant Baba Nihal Singh Gurudwara, devotees make toy plane offerings in the hopes that their dreams of traveling abroad and starting a new life will come true.

It’s hard to say how the trend started. But the offering of the toy plane is quite befitting, since the thing most people pray for at this temple is to settle down in another country. According to one local shopkeeper, “Surely it must have been someone’s wish to go abroad coming true that must have started it all. It’s now become a tradition. For us it’s business.” So the sight of scores of devotees flocking at the century-old gurudwara gates, holding colorful toy planes might be a strange one to you but quite normal to the locals. They line up patiently, waiting for their turn to access the inner sanctum on the first floor, where several decorative model planes are placed in neat rows. The devotees place their rainbow-colored offerings in the demarcated enclosure, paying their obeisance to the Gurus of the Sikh tradition and to Baba Nihal Singh, a simple farmer of the nearby Doaba region after whom the gurudwara was named. After the offering is made, they then proceed to ask for their wish to be granted – to be sent abroad as soon as possible.

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