Maho Beach – Where People Get Literally Blown Away by Airplanes

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Located right next to the Princess Juliana International Airport, on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, Maho Beach is a unique destination where tourist experience what it’s like to have jumbo jets flying just a few meters above their heads and get blown into the sea by their powerful jet engines.

Fine white sand and crystal clear water is not what makes Maho Beach such a popular tourist destination. There are hundreds of other such beautiful beaches in the Caribbean which aren’t located right next to a busy and noisy airport like Princess Juliana. But it’s precisely this little detail that makes this piece of paradise so remarkably unique. In order to land safely on the unusually short Runway 10, aircraft pilots have to make their final approach at minimal altitude, and that means flying just a few meters above the heads of thrill-seeking beach-goers. And we’re not talking light airplanes either, but jumbo jets like Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. Plane spotting has become so popular at Maho Beach that local entrepreneurs have built an entire business around it. Beach bar owners have put up boards of airplane arrivals and departures so people can plan their visit, and some even broadcast radio transmissions between the airport’s control tower and and the aircraft.

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The Bushman of San Francisco – Making a Living by Scaring People

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The world famous Bushman of San Francisco, real name David Johnson, has been entertaining passers-by in Fisherman’s Wharf for over 30 years by hiding behind two Eucalyptus branches and jumping out at unsuspecting tourists as they walk by.

The Bushman of San Francisco is an alleged homeless man who rakes in a reported $60,000 a year from his original street performance, with just two Eucalyptus branches and the cardboard box he sits on. David Johnson was born in Indiana, where he worked as a crane operator crane operator, steel mill worker and truck driver before moving to San Francisco. Here he opened one of the first shoeshine stands on Market Street, but arthritis and growing competition from the busy Financial District forced him to look for a new way to make a living. After discovering some fallen branches under a tree, Johnson was inspired to use them in a street act that would eventually make him famous all around the world. Sitting on a makeshift stool, the Bushman hides behind the Eucalyptus branches waiting for tourists to walk by. When they get close enough, he jumps from behind the greenery or waves it in their direction scaring the daylights out of them, to the amusement of nearby spectators, many of whom reward his performance by throwing a quarter or a dollar into his jug.

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Greensburg’s Famous Tree Growing Out of the Roof of the Courthouse Tower

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The town of Greensburg, Indiana, is known as the “Tree City” for the over a dozen trees that have been growing out of the roof of the Decatur County Courthouse ever since 1870. They are believed to have sprouted from seeds in bird droppings.

In the year 1870, the citizens of Greensburg began to notice what looked like a small sprig growing on the northwest corner of the courthouse tower. No one paid much attention to it at first, but as the shrub grew into a young tree, it became the talk of the town. A few years later, five new sprouts were spotted on the tower roof, threatening to form a small grove atop the 110-foot-tall tower. Authorities were worried the tree roots might cause irreparable damage to the roof, so in 1888 a steeplejack was hired to cut down the smaller trees, leaving just one, which in time grew to about fifteen feet with a diameter of almost five inches at its base. It continued to brave the storms for many years, until it finally died, and was removed to a place in the Decatur County Historical Society Museum. But that was not the end of the now famous courthouse tower tree. In the meantime, another tree appeared on the southeast corner of the tower, and grew to a considerable height in just a few years time.

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The Amazing Stone Jumpers of Nias Island

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Hombo Batu or Stone Jumping is an ancient ritual of Nias Island, North Sumatra, with young men leaping over stone walls over two-meters tall. The tradition was born out of inter-tribal conflicts and was once potentially deadly as the walls were covered with spikes and sharpened bamboo sticks.

Centuries ago, Nias Island was divided into several regions ruled by landlords or warlords. It was not a hereditary position, nor was it gained by force, but rather through entertainment of the masses. Whoever threw more parties known as “owasa” gained the favor of local communities and became their leader. But organizing these festive events didn’t come cheap, and the island’s landlords would constantly fight each other and use the spoils of war as funding. To start a war, they needed able brave men who had to prove their worth at drafting challenges. Becoming a soldier was a big honor for the young men of Nias and earned them a higher social status in the community, but physical attributes and weapon mastery were not enough to convince their leaders. They also had to jump over a 2.3-meter-tall stone wall without touching it. To make things even harder for candidates, the top of the obstacle was covered with spikes and sharp bamboo sticks, and the jumps often resulted in serious injuries and even deaths. According to some sources, Hombo Batu was also a way of training soldiers to jump over walls during a siege and light the enemy’s camp ablaze with torches.

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Riding a Swing on the Edge of a Cliff in Ecuador

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It’s called the Swing at the End of the World and it could literally be the end of you, as this extreme attraction in the mountains of Ecuador lets thrill-seekers swing over an abyss without any safety measures whatsoever.

Hiking up the path to Bellavista from the edge of Baños, Ecuador, you reach a viewpoint and a seismic monitoring station named La Casa del Árbol (The Treehouse). As the name suggests it’s a small house built in a tree, at the edge of a canyon. The view from up here alone is worth the trip, but for adrenalin junkies, La Casa del Árbol offers a unique bonus – a swing hanging over the precipice. Believe it or not many of the people who come here actually use it just to see what it’s like to swing into the void, and the internet is full of scary photos of them hanging over the abyss. It’s reportedly a great way to keep yourself entertained when the clouds block the view of Ecuador’s rumbling Tungurahua volcano, but just I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of one of the lines, or the thin metal beam supporting it breaking which would most likely cause the rider to fall to his death. I know, I’m a coward, no need to rub it in.

 

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Chickens Don’t Fly? They Do at This Unique Thai Restaurant

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At the Ka Tron Restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand, food is handled like heavy artillery. Its famous fried chickens are set ablaze and launched from a massive catapult at unicycle-riding waiters who catch them on metal skewers. How is that for dinner and a show?

Popularly known as the “Flying Chicken Restaurant”, Ka Tron proves a great gimmick really can make up for average food. Hardly any of the dishes served here are prepared in a truly unique way, they are just your run of the mill Thai recipes, but it’s the way they are served that sets this place apart from all the other eateries not only in Thailand, but the whole world. The chicken is carried out on a silver platter not to the diners, but to a long platform raised a couple of feet above the ground in the middle of the outdoor dining area, and set on one of the several metal catapults. A waiter riding a unicycle makes his way to the platform and stops a few feet away of the loaded catapult. As he struggles to keep his balance and concentrate on what comes next, the edible projectile is set on fire and launched from the medieval artillery device. The chicken soars through the air and most often than not lands on metal skewers the waiter holds in both his hands, in his mouth and on his head.

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Japan’s Hand Canon Fireworks Look Insanely Dangerous

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Out of all the impressive fireworks celebrations held annually all around Japan, Tezutsu Hanabi is by far the most eye-catching. Experienced masters hold large bamboo tubes filled with black powder in their arms as flames gush out towards the sky. Did I mention they explode at the end?

Tezutsu hand cannons are believed to have originated as a form of long-distance communication smoke devices called Noroshi. With the introduction of smokeless gun powder, these Civil War era tools started being used as fireworks and later as a form of prayer at Yoshida Shrine, in Toyohashi. The Tezutsu Hanabi fireworks display has been carried out for the last 300 years, as part of the Gion Festival, attracting tourists from all over Japan and beyond with columns of flames up to 20 meters-high piercing the night sky. Seeing dozens of men walking around nonchalantly with 80-cm-long, 10-cm-wide bamboo cylinders filled with over three kilograms of ignited black powder is indeed quite the spectacle.

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Become Spartacus at the World’s Only Traditional School for Gladiators

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Roman Gladatorial games may have been banned almost two millennia ago, but you can still train to become a modern-day Spartacus at Italy’s Scuola Gladiatori Roma, the only genuine school for gladiators in the world.

Following the success of box-office hits like Gladiator, starring Russel Crowe, or HBO’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand series, the popularity of ancient gladiators has reached record highs. But few fans of these ancient warriors know they can do more than build their own gladiator armor and read-up on their history on obscure websites. At the Scuola Gladiatori Roma, in Rome, they can actually train to fight in the arena like their lives depended on it. Students have to go through rigorous physical training that tests their agility, coordination, speed and strength, before moving on to the actual weapons training and finally facing their experienced instructor in the arena. True wannabe gladiators attend courses for several months, even years, and become specialized in certain weapons and combat techniques, according to their physique. But for those with less free-time on their hands, the Scuola Gladiatori Roma offers a “Gladiator for a Day” experience that puts participants through a crash course on gladiator training in ancient Rome.

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The World’s Scariest Airport Is a Real Heart-Stopper

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As if being situated at 10,000 feet above sea level, in the Himalayas, didn’t make it hard enough for pilots trying to land on or take off from Tenzing-Hillary Airport, in Lukla, Nepal, the short and  narrow runway ends at the edge of a precipice, making it one of the most dangerous airports in the world, and definitely the scariest.

Lukla is the gateway to the Himalayas, so despite its reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous airports, it’s actually one of the busiest in Nepal. Mountain climbers trying to conquer the world’s highest mountains have to land here before beginning their journey on foot, so small airplanes and helicopters land here every day. For most mountaineers, the landing on Tenzing-Hillary Airport is a lot more scarier than climbing Everest, and taking into account its extreme location and difficult weather condition, that’s perfectly understandable. Even on its best days, the airport is only available for takeoffs and landings for only a few hours, before the fog sets in or strong winds start to blow. And even then, a miscalculation of just a meter or two on landing can cause a plane to either hit the side of the mountain, or go through a fence and hit a rock wall.  Taking off is no walk in the park either, as failure to build enough speed before the end of the runway can lead to a crash in the abyss below.

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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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Death from Above – The Kite Battles of Pakistan

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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.

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The Breathtaking Flower Hill of Hokkaido

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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.

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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.

Karosta-Prison-Hotel

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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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