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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Rules Are Simple at Atherstone Ball Game – Just Don’t Kill Anyone

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Festival games are really fun to watch, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be in one like the Atherstone Ball Game. I’ve always followed the Spanish La Tomatina with interest, so when I heard about the Atherstone Ball Game, I had to find out more. Considered to be one of the oldest traditions of England, it is played in Atherstone, Warwickshire, as a part of Mardi Gras celebrations each year. For over 800 years, hundreds of men have gathered on the streets of the town to fight for a giant ball. The man who emerges in possession of the ball at the end of two hours of pushing, shoving and punching, is the winner.

The various traditions followed as a part of the festive day are quite interesting. The preparations for the game start early in the morning, with shop owners boarding up windows for protection. At 2.30pm, children start gathering under Barclays Bank. Pennies and sweets are showered on them from the balcony. Later, at around 3pm, the men start to assemble in anticipation of the ball game. A selected dignitary finally throws the ball into the crowd from a window above, and then all hell breaks loose.

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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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El Diablo Restaurant – Cooking Food over an Active Volcano

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What could be more natural than having a barbecue party on a volcano? Apart from the obvious health and safety hazards, that is. But such things are not a concern at the El Diablo restaurant, where chefs actually cook food over the heat produced by an active volcano.

Located on a Spanish island called Lanzarote, northwest of Morocco, El Diablo is a unique restaurant where the chefs have access to a volcano of their own. Of course, it isn’t like a lava-spewing mountain, because if that were the case there would be no question of leisurely eating. No, this volcano is more like a hole in the ground, through which volcanic heat erupts from the deeps of the Earth.

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Quick and Cheap: Divorce Hotel Opens in the Netherlands

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Couples on romantic weekend getaways tend to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to get married. And it is for this reason that several hotels, especially in places like Vegas, provide wedding chapel services. If getting married could be that easy, then why the long-drawn out process for a divorce? Well apparently, not anymore. It is now possible to get divorced over a weekend getaway too, thanks to the Divorce Hotel.

The concept of Divorce Hotel was developed by entrepreneur Jim Halfens, in the Netherlands. In a country where the average divorce settlement could be very heavy on the pocket and take months to complete, Halfens spotted a great business opportunity that could make things easier for parting couples. So all they need to do is check in at the Divorce Hotel over a weekend and all the necessary legal documentation to end their marriage is arranged for them. The service includes a mediator and a series of lawyers who help the couple split assets, arrange visitation rights and agree on alimony payments, all at a fixed fee.

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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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Iglu Dorf – Living Like an Eskimo in a Luxury Igloo Village

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Looks like Igloo hotels are becoming more and more popular these days. A few weeks ago we wrote about the Igloo Village in Finland, and now we introduce you to Iglu-Dorf, a concept hotel that offers igloo villages in seven locations in Andorra, Switzerland and Austria. What’s different about these igloos is the fact that they are rebuilt every year, using 3,000 tons of snow from the Pyrenees and the Alps.

The history of Iglu-Dorf began with one extreme skateboarder’s crazy idea to spend the night in an igloo so he could be the first on the slopes the next day. Apparently being first is a matter of great pride for skateboarders, so he decided to build himself an igloo to make sure no one beat him to that first ride down the mountain. The next day he looked like the happiest person alive, and when someone asked him why he had a big smile on his face, he just pointed at the mountain and said “You see that line over there? That was me.” More and more people followed his example and asked to sleep in his igloo. The next season he built two igloos, then three, and that’s how the Iglu-Dorf igloo villages were born. Now the company builds 12 of them every year, in different locations around Europe.

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassee – Outsider Art in Louviers, France

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassée or The Broken Crockery House, is a very special place located in Louviers, France. I took a look at a few pictures and couldn’t help being reminded of the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel. Of course, you can’t eat this one and there’s no evil witch living there.

This was the home of Robert Vasseur and his wife, who abandoned wallpaper and painstakingly decorated their home with mosaics made from broken crockery, seashells, twinkling china and glass. Born in 1908, Vasseur was a milk transporter and also worked in textiles. His strange passion for mosaic decoration started way back in 1952 when he first got the idea while doing repair work in his kitchen. He embellished an old cement kitchen sink with broken crockery mosaics and never looked back. Starting with that old sink, he expanded his idea to the interior of his house, the backyard, then the garden and later even the dog house. This went on for the next 50 years or so.

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Filipino Restaurant at the Foot of a Waterfall

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Located in the Quezon province of the Philippines, Villa Escudero is a nice hacienda-style resort with cozy rooms and an exotic atmosphere. But what brought its international fame is the waterfall restaurant that allows tourists to enjoy a nice meal right at the foot of a small waterfall.

In most cases, getting too close to a waterfall can prove deadly, but not at this particular restaurant, at Villa Escudero. Here, people are actually encouraged to take off their shoes and get as close to the falls as possible. Set right at the foot of Labasin Falls, this special place invites customers to taste popular Filipino dishes, while fresh spring water from the falls flows under and over their feet, making this an unforgettable experience. As you can imagine, it’s nowhere near as impressive as Niagara, but visitors who don’t mind getting their clothes wet can sit right under the rushing waterfall and get their pictures taken. Words just don’t do this fantastic tourist attraction justice, so I’ll let the photos and video do the talking.

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Italy’s Natural Cathedral Is Made of Growing Trees

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Located on the outskirts of Bergamo, at the foot of Monte Arena, the tree cathedral created by Italian artist Giuliano Mauri is one of the world’s most impressive example of organic architecture.

Giuliano Mauri created “natural architecture” by blending organic materials like trunks and branches with classic architectural elements, creating impressive large-scale edifices. In 2001, his love for nature inspired him to draw up the plans for a project that took his art to a whole new level and left the people of Bergamo stunned – a cathedral made only of trees. The artist envisioned a unique organic building desinged in such a way that the branches of the trees forming its pillars would extend and arch to become its roof and walls. Unfortunately, Mauri died unexpectedly in 2009, and never got to see his grand plan come to life, but as a homage to his life’s work, the project was initiated in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.

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Chara Sands – The Miniature Desert of Siberia

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If I showed you an image of desert sands set up against a background of snow-capped mountain peaks, your first word would probably be ‘Photoshoped’. That’s what I thought too, but such a place really does exist and it’s called Chara Sands.

There is really no end to nature’s mysteries and Chara Sands, in Siberia, is just one of them. Located in the Trans-Baikal, about  25 miles from the Kodar Glaciers and right next to the mountains, ice fields and blue lakes, the bright and yellow sand dune is hard to miss. At 10 km long and 5 km wide, the dunes are of varying heights. Some of the tallest ones are 15 to 30 meters high. Given the large volume of the loose and shifting sands, the place actually looks like a desert, although it is not. Spotting a desert-like terrain in the tundra region is nothing short of a miracle and a well-recognized one around the world. According to the Russian Geographical Society, “The contrasts seem impossible: as if an incredible open-air museum was set up, displaying natural curiosities of the north and the south next to each other.” They couldn’t have put it better.

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The Focara of Novoli – A Truly Epic Bonfire

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Imagine a giant bonfire, 25 meters high, 20 meters in diameter, and viewed by over 60,000 people. This is exactly the spectacle that will meet your eyes if you happen to be in the town of Novoli, in south-eastern Italy, during this time of the year.

This ‘festival of fire’ is known as the Focara, held every year between the 7th and 18th of January. The actual Focara, or bonfire is lit on the 16th, when the festival reaches its crescendo. The tradition has its origins in the pre-Christian era, when it was celebrated to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Today, however, it is dedicated to the memory of St. Anthony, who is the Patron Saint and protector of Novoli. The preparations for the Focara begin as early as mid December. On the 7th of January, the construction of the fuel assembled for the bonfire commences. It consists of bundles of vines that have been set aside by farmers after cutting back vineyards, once the grape harvesting is done the previous autumn. About 90,000 bundles are used, each one consisting of 200 vines. The construction of the structure is supported by wooden beams, and it is erected in Novoli’s Piazza Tito Schipa.

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China’s Magical City of Ice

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Ice sculptures are common in wedding parties and other occasions, but nothing you’ve seen before can compare to the ones displayed every year in the city of Harbin in China. While the place is cursed with terrible winters, the tough locals have managed to make the most of it.

A typical winter in Harbin, northern China, would see temperatures go as low as 2°F (that’s –19°C). Strong, cold winds blow in from Siberia, making almost everything freeze over. But the residents of the city keep themselves busy for several weeks during the winter season, hosting the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. The sculptures made as a part of this festival aren’t anything like your typical faries and unicorns. Artists and engineers get together to build massive structures out of ice – a small town if you will, consisting of churches, pyramids, pagodas and palaces. The structures are filled with modern amenities like elevators and escalators. Multicolored lights are installed inside the sculptures, making them look very beautiful in the dark, after sunset.

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Taiwan’s Musical Garbage Trucks

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Taiwan is a small and densely populated island. Many years ago, their waste disposal system was faced with a huge issue – the public garbage collection spots were overflowing, smelly and infested with rats and insects. The Taiwanese government rose to the occasion, coming up with a unique solution – musical garbage trucks.

Instead of having people dump their household waste at designated spots, a policy was created so garbage never touched the ground. In the new system, garbage trucks would pass through every street and people had to bring out their trash bags personally, to dump into the trucks. How would they know when the trucks arrived? Through music of course. For several years, the trucks have played the tune of “Für Elise” by Beethoven and “A Maiden’s Prayer” by Polish composer Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska. The sound of these tunes had city-dwellers emerge from their homes almost every night, with blue plastic bags filled with trash and another bag of recyclable waste, to dump into the truck.

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