The sinking of the Titanic, the collision of the SS Mont-Blanc, and the Hindenburg explosion are all well-known transport disasters that are always remembered and talked about. They’ve become icons, have been made into movies, and have ensured their place in history, never to be forgotten. But there are many more disasters out there that each one mattered just as much for the people involved. Each one made our world a safer place.
10 The Iolaire
On January 1, 1919, two months after the end of World War I, British sailors who’d survived the perils of both the ocean and the war were returning to their families on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, only to tragically perish within miles of reaching home.
The Iolaire (which means “eagle” in Gaelic) was built as a luxury yacht in 1881. During the war, it was equipped with guns and performed anti-submarine and patrol work. The Isle of Lewis and Harris saw a fifth of its population of 30,000 killed in World War I; the crew of the Iolaire were the lucky ones, eager to celebrate the New Year with their families.
Before anyone could celebrate, the ship struck the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm. It was only meant to carry 100 people, but there were almost 300 aboard, with only 80 life jackets and two lifeboats. It was expected to dock in Stornoway Harbour, but due to low visibility, it struck the rocks at the entrance of the harbor and quickly sank, less than 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) from shore. While 205 perished, 40 were saved by a brave man who improvised a rescuing implement from a rope, and 39 more were able to make it to shore on their own.
A naval inquiry was held in private on January 8, its results not being released to the public until 1970. It reached the conclusion that due to the fact that no officers survived, “No opinion can be given as to whether blame is attributable to anyone in the matter.” Numerous other inquiries, both official and unofficial, were held, none of which settled the matter. The weather wasn’t very bad, but those in charge should have taken safety precautions, like slowing down while approaching the harbor and having more lifeboats.
The site of the wreck is marked today by a pillar that reminds everyone who enters Stornoway Harbour of the cruel irony that befell those who survived the war and were so close to enjoying peace.
9 USS Akron
Following the example of the Hindenburg, the US built two helium-filled airships, each 239 meters (784 ft) long and carrying enough fuel to travel 16,900 kilometers (10,500 mi). One of them was named the USS Akron and was commissioned by the US Navy in 1931. Its mission was to provide long-distance scouting in support of fleet operations, and after a number of trials, the airship was equipped with reconnaissance aircraft and a system designed for in-flight launch and recovery of Sparrowhawk biplanes.
On a routine mission, disaster struck. During the early hours of April 4, 1933, off the coast of New Jersey, a storm began, which caused the airship to strike the water with its tail. The Akron quickly broke apart. What’s intriguing is that it carried no life jackets and only one rubber raft, which dramatically diminished the crew’s chances of survival. Of the 76 onboard, 73 drowned or died of hypothermia.
Although the weather was certainly a factor, Captain Frank McCord is also considered responsible, for flying too low and not taking into account the length of his ship when he tried to climb higher. It is also believed that the barometric altimeter failed due to low pressure caused by the storm.
Akron’s sister ship, the USS Macon, was also lost off the California coast in 1935. Fortunately, that time, only two people perished. These events prompted the US to end its rigid airship program.
8 Junyo Maru Tragedy
The Japanese are remembered for being extremely cruel to their captives during World War II, especially to prisoners of war, who were moved around the Pacific in rusted ships and used for forced labor. The problem with these ships was that they were not marked with a red cross in order to be identified as prison ships per the Geneva Convention, which made them vulnerable to being sunk by Allied aircraft or submarines. The largest maritime disaster in World War II occurred because of this.
On September 18, 1944, the Junyo Maru was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean by the British submarine HMS Tradewind, which couldn’t have known what cargo the ship was carrying. Of the 6,500 Dutch, British, American, Australian, and Japanese slave laborers and POWs onboard, 5,620 died as a result. The Junyo Maru was sailing up the west coast of Java from Batavia (now called Jakarta) to Padang, where its prisoners were to be taken to work on the Sumatra Railway.
Conditions onboard were indescribably bad. Many people were literally packed into bamboo cages like sardines. Those in charge put their life jackets on as soon as they left, whereas the POWs could only count on two lifeboats and a few rafts.
Even more tragically, the approximately 700 POWs who were pulled from the water were still taken to work in the Sumatra Railway construction camps. Only about 100 survived.
7 MV Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
Nazi Germany designed a state-controlled leisure organization in order to show its citizens the benefits of living in a national socialist regime. Working-class Germans were taken on tours for holidays aboard the MV Wilhelm Gustloff and the program, nicknamed Strength Through Joy, became the largest tour operator in the world in the 1930s.
This all ended when World War II began. In 1945, the Wilhelm Gustloff became part of Operation Hannibal, the German evacuation of over one million civilians and military personnel due to the advancing Red Army in Prussia. Over 10,000 people, 4,000 of whom were children, were crammed onto the ship, all of them desperate to reach safety in the West. The ship was only meant to carry 1,800 people.
The Wilhelm Gustloff set off on January 30, 1945, against the advice of military commander Wilhelm Zahn, who said it was best to sail close to shore and with no lights. Instead, Captain Friedrich Petersen decided to go for deep water. He later learned of a German minesweeper convoy which was heading their way and decided to turn on the navigation lights in order to avoid a collision in the dark. This would soon prove to be a fatal decision. The Gustloff was carrying anti-aircraft guns and military personnel but wasn’t marked as a hospital ship, which would have protected her. Soviet submarine S-13 needed no second invitation to torpedo the shiny target three times.
Ample rescue efforts were made, which saved approximately 1,230 people. Over 9,000 perished in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea, the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking.
6 Gillingham Bus Disaster
On the evening of December 4, 1951, 52 Royal Marine cadets, boys between 10 and 13 years old, were marching from a barrack in Gillingham, Kent, to one in Chatham to watch a box tournament. Their military uniforms were dark clothes and had nothing on them to make the cadets visible. The entrance to the Chatham Royal Naval Dockyard had a malfunctioning light, which made it impossible for the driver of an approaching double-decker bus to see the boys. He plunged right through them before stopping.
The driver, John Samson, had 40 years of experience behind the wheel, but inexplicably for the foggy weather, he didn’t have his headlights on. He claimed to have been traveling at no more than 32 kilometers per hour (20 mph). According to the only adult who was with the boys, Lieutenant Clarence Carter, Samson was going at least twice as fast.
Regardless of the bus’s speed, 17 boys died on the spot, with seven more sent to the hospital. Never before had there been such a tragic loss of life on British streets, and the victims were given a grand military funeral at Rochester Cathedral. Thousands of locals attended. The incident was ruled an accident despite the driver not turning on the headlights or braking until he was a few meters away. Samson was later fined £20 and had his right to drive revoked for three years.
Every such disaster is followed by improvements in order to prevent further loss of life. This time, it was decided that British military marchers will wear rear-facing red lights at night.
5 Harrow Wealdstone Rail Crash
October 8, 1952, is remembered by Londoners as the day of the worst peacetime rail crash in the UK. It was only exceeded by the Gretna Green disaster during World War I in 1915, when 227 Scottish soldiers headed for the front perished. The Harrow Wealdstone rail crash involved three trains—a local passenger train from Tring, a Perth night express, which was running late because of foggy conditions, and an express train from Euston.
The driver of the Perth train passed a distant yellow signal, which means “caution,” without slowing, possibly because he couldn’t see it due to the weather. He also passed a later semaphore, which indicated “stop.” He only hit the brakes when it was already too late. Meanwhile, the train from Tring was waiting at the Harrow Wealdstone Station for its passengers to embark. The Perth train impacted at approximately 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph). The disaster wouldn’t stop there. The fast-moving express from Euston approaching on a different line hit the debris from the initial impact and derailed.
In total, 16 carriages were destroyed, 13 of which were compressed into a pile only 41 meters (134 ft) long, 16 meters (52 ft) wide, and 9 meters (30 ft) tall. The human casualties would total 112 (102 immediately after the accident and 10 more later at the hospital), and 340 were injured.
Although the exact causes and persons responsible were hard to determine, it is believed that a combination of fog, misread signals, and out-of-date equipment caused the horrific crash. All the equipment was working, and the drivers were experienced men; all they needed was an updated system to back them up. The accident sped up the process of introducing the Automated Warning System of the British Railways. The system works by giving a driver who passes a caution or danger signal automated feedback, whether he saw the signal or not, and automatically applying the brakes.
4 USS Thresher Sinking
The USS Thresher was the first in a new fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarine. It was commissioned in 1961 and went through numerous sea trials to test its new technological systems. As if foreshadowing the disaster that was to strike later on, these trials were interrupted by the failure of the generator while the reactor was shut down, which caused the temperature in the hull to spike, prompting an evacuation. Another setback occurred when the Thresher was hit by a tug and needed extensive repairs.
On April 10, 1963, the sub was conducting drills in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Cod, when it suddenly plunged to the seafloor and broke apart. All 129 passengers were killed—96 sailors, 16 officers, and 17 civilians. During the investigation into the accident, a leak in one of the joints in the engine room was discovered, which caused a short circuit in the electrical system and made it impossible to resurface the Thresher. The sub had no other choice but to sink and implode due to increasing water pressure.
The disaster mobilized the US Navy to put more effort into SUBSAFE, a program designed to rigorously control the quality of nuclear submarine construction.
3 MV Derbyshire Sinking
The MV Derbyshire is the largest British bulk carrier lost at sea. Built in 1976, it was a majestic ship built in 1976 at 281 meters (922 ft) in length, 44 meters (144 ft) in width, and 24 meters (79 ft) in depth. It had been in service for only four years when it set sail toward its doom on July 11, 1980, carrying 150,000 tons of ore.
On September 9 or 10, Typhoon Orchid struck the Derbyshire in the East China Sea, just as the ship was approaching its destination. At the time, it was carrying 44 people, all of whom perished during the journey from Canada to Japan, where the ship was meant to transport its cargo.
What sets this disaster apart from others is that the ship seemed to be lost forever, with initial searches for the wreckage turning up nothing. The absence of any mayday call or distress signal beforehand was also intriguing to the families of those lost. A formal investigation was conducted seven years later in 1987. It concluded that no structural or other failures were to blame; the weather conditions were responsible.
The grieving families were not convinced, and they decided to from the Derbyshire Families Association (DFA) to work together toward the truth. They managed to raise enough funds to finally find what remained of the Derbyshire in 1994, lying on the seabed more than 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) down in the abyss. DFA members continued to push for a number of investigations, which resulted in increased ship safety over the years. While the 1970s were plagued by bulk carrier sinkings, with 17 lost each year. The numbers are much lower today.
2 Bihar Train Accident
Were it not for the British rule over India, which aimed to improve the transport system among other things, the Bihar train accident would have never happened. On June 6, 1981, a train with around 1,000 passengers crowed into nine coaches was traveling through the Indian state of Bihar, 400 kilometers (250 mi) away from Calcutta. It was the monsoon season in India, which meant that heavy rains made the tracks slippery, and the river below was swollen.
It is believed the tragedy that followed was caused by the driver, who saw a cow along the tracks and braked hard. Cows are sacred animals in the Hindu religion, and he was a devout follower. Due to the rain, the tracks were too slippery, and the wheels failed to grip, causing the carriages to plunge into the Baghmati River below, sinking fast. Rescue efforts were hours away, and by the time they arrived, almost 600 people had died, and another 300 remain missing.
1 Ufa Train Explosion
The 1980s were difficult times for Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was trying to hold together the Soviet Union and maintain the Communist Party’s commanding role. At the same time, a series of disasters couldn’t hide the fact that the country’s infrastructure was old and dangerous. One of these disasters happened on June 4, 1989.
Two Russian passenger trains with hundreds of people onboard were passing one another near the city of Ufa, close to the Ural Mountains, when they met an extremely flammable cloud of gas leaking from a nearby pipeline. Sparks released by their passing blew both trains to pieces. Seven carriages were reduced to dust, while 37 more were destroyed, along with the engines. More than 500 people perished, many of whom were children returning from a holiday on the Black Sea. The force of the explosion was estimated to be similar to 10 kilotons of TNT, which nearly equaled that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The fireball formed was 1.6 kilometers (1 mi) long and destroyed all trees in a 4-kilometer (2.4 mi) radius.
The pipeline going along the rail lines was full of propane, butane, and hydrocarbons, and the pressure within was high enough to keep it in a liquid state. On the morning of June 4, a drop in pressure was observed, but instead of checking it out, the people in charge increased the pressure. Consequently, clouds of heavier-than-air propane formed and left the pipe, traveling along the rails. All they needed was a spark.
As with many disasters, the Ufa train explosion happened because finishing something quickly at minimal cost was more important than long-term consequences. The pipeline had more than 50 leaks in three years, and the Soviet Ministry of Petroleum didn’t want to admit their negligence. Worse, railway traffic controllers didn’t have the authority to halt trains on the Trans-Siberian railway, even if they smelled gas.
Teo loves animals, chocolate, and constantly finding out more about this magnificent and diverse world.
10 Hidden Destinations That Just Aren’t Worth Finding
Off the beaten track is one thing, but there are places in the world that the hardiest, most intrepid adventurers would think twice about traveling to. Whether because the climate is so harsh, or the place is so remote, some destinations just don’t seem to be worth the effort.
Here, we look at ten locations you probably would not want to choose for your next holiday. That is, unless you like long trips, frostbite, and very few amenities upon arrival. These places push the adage, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” to its absolute limit.
10 Pitcairn Island
Lying halfway between New Zealand and the Americas, Pitcairn Island is one of the most remote places on Earth. Only 10 kilometers (6 mi) long and 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) wide, Pitcairn was first discovered in 1767. The island was famously settled by mutineers from the HMS Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian. The inhabitants of Pitcairn today are descendants of this crew.
Today, there are only a few islanders left, despite efforts to recruit incomers. It appears that no one wants to move to an island with one shop, where orders need to be placed three months in advance. Though the island now has electricity and even the Internet, it is so isolated and barren that its major export used to be stamps. But who uses stamps anymore?
If you fancy a visit, you can either try to hitch a ride with a passing container ship or fly to French Polynesia and then take a 30-hour boat ride. However, even if you do want to visit, you need to fill out an application, which will probably be refused. It seems that the Pitcairn residents are determined to remain cut off from the rest of the world and have adopted their own, sometimes peculiar, way of life.
Ittoqqortoormiit is the most isolated town in Greenland, a country not known for its accessibility. The area’s inhabitants are mainly reindeer, musk oxen, and walruses, with only the occasional human. It is hard to reach, being cut off from shipping by ice for nine months of the year, and the land is crisscrossed by fjords.
The 450 locals survive mainly by ice fishing and hunting, as well as some tourism during the three months that ships are able to dock. They also seem to spend a lot of time painting their homes in bright colors.
Those visitors who do make it in come for the wildlife and the scenery. Ittoqqortoormiit is surrounded by national parks and magnificent fjords.
Ittoqqortoormiit is completely dark for two months from mid-November to mid-January; the Sun does not rise at all. During this time, locals mostly sit in their homes and look through color catalogues to decide what color to paint their house next year.
8 Edinburgh Of The Seven Seas
In the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, on the volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha, you will find a settlement named Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Its nearest neighbor, Saint Helena (the island where Napoleon was imprisoned) is 2,173 kilometers (1,350 mi) away.
Getting to the island is difficult. Few ships pass that way. Visitors usually catch a lift with polar explorer vessels from Cape Town, which pass around nine or ten times a year. There are around 250 inhabitants on the island, along with a load of penguins, its very own albatross, and a nine-hole golf course that was built by a homesick British official once stationed there. However, the fierce winds and steep slopes make play somewhat tricky and are unlikely to improve your handicap.
The inhabitants of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas are all descendants of the original garrison, stationed on the island to prevent it from being used as a staging post in a rescue mission for Napoleon. After the garrison withdrew, a few men chose to stay behind and started a community founded on cooperation and equality.
However, the community is shrinking, and the islanders have begun to try to recruit newcomers to boost their numbers. They have recently advertised for farmers to join the community and help grow its staple crop of potatoes. Applicants must enjoy their own company and be prepared to give it a good try.
Changtang is situated on the Roof of The World. With an elevation of over 4,000 meters (13,000 ft), it covers a large area of Tibet, on the border with India. The area is vast but mostly uninhabited except for the snow leopards, brown bears, blue sheep, and wild yak.
Changtang is home to a few nomadic people who make a living from herding animals through the land. At one point, there were up to half a million people eking a living on land too barren for crops. The weather in Changtang is unpredictable at best, with short summers, bitter winters, and frequent storms, but those who brave it are rewarded with spectacular views and amazing wildlife.
Those inhabitants that there are have managed until recent times without the need for money, having established a sophisticated barter system. However, this is changing due to government regulation and taxation. Ah, progress.
Formerly known as Barrow, Utqiagvik, Alaska, is the northernmost town in the United States. It occupies 55 square kilometers (21 mi2) and is 515 kilometers (320 mi) north of the Arctic Circle. Its population totals roughly 4,000 people, mostly Inupiat Eskimos. There are few attractions for visitors who do make the trip, unless they are particularly fond of ice and snow, although there is always the possibility of catching sight of a polar bear scavenging for food around the municipal dump.
However, changes in global temperatures are affecting the region, and sightings of animals previously unknown in these areas are being reported. There are even reports of polar bears and grizzly bears mating, producing hybrid “grolar” bears. It is believed that this is not the first time that these species have interbred. Scientists have noticed similarities in the bears’ DNA structure which leads them to believe that the two species have crossbred in the past when the destruction of their habitats has threatened their continued existence.
Though the wildlife may have adapted to the changes in habitat, the Inupiat Eskimos have sometimes struggled to adjust to the growing economic development of the area, and rates of depression and suicide have increased as a result.
5 Easter Island
One of the most famous and mysterious places on Earth, Easter Island, well off the coast of Chile, is still one of the most inaccessible. It was “discovered” on Easter Sunday 1722 by a group of Dutch explorers, thus ignoring the island’s indigenous population, such as it was. The island once boasted a population of 12,000, but this had dwindled to 111 by the time the explorers arrived, and to 101 ten minutes later.
In 1722, the inhabitants of Easter Island were slowly starving to death. The population had dwindled over the last few centuries, it seems, from starvation due to the felling of the trees on the island. Some of the trees would have been cut down to transport the stones, while others would have been burned for firewood or cleared for growing crops. It is also believed that the seeds of the great palm trees were eaten by rats, which prevented further growth. Unfortunately, the explorers were not to be the islanders’ salvation. Those of the natives who were not shot as the incomers landed mostly succumbed to smallpox and syphilis, and soon, the native population was completely wiped out.
How the original settlers arrived there is a mystery, as is the reason they populated the island with stone carvings that perpetually looked out not to the sea but over the island. There are nearly 900 moai (the local name for the statues) on the island, some of them unfinished. The stones weighed up to 80 tons and were somehow moved from the quarry to their lookout posts around the island.
4 The Kerguelen Islands
Once called the Desolation Islands, the Kerguelen Islands’ rebranding doesn’t quite disguise the fact that the islands really are among the most desolate places in the world. Situated in the Southern Indian Ocean, Kerguelen is made up mostly of inhospitable peaks and active glaciers.
The islands are home to large penguin and seal populations, though not many people. Most of the residents are French scientists who are studying the weather and climate change. The islands contain no native mammals, though the marine ecosystems are teeming with life. The whaling ships that were once a common sight in the area have now been banned, and the numbers of whales and seals are increasing every year.
Unless you are a marine biologist or a meteorologist who speaks fluent French, it is unlikely that you will ever visit the Desolation Islands, but as there is little there but marine biology and weather, you probably wouldn’t miss it.
3 McMurdo Station
McMurdo Station is built on Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island. This is the most southerly piece of solid ground accessible to ships. The station was established in 1955 as a hub for the US Antarctic Program. It boasts a harbor, a landing strip, a helipad, and all the facilities needed to provide year-round support for scientists and researchers working in the area.
The inhabitants number around 250 during the winter but can rise to over 1,000 during the summer months. Ross Island itself contains a number of research stations, a large penguin population, and Mount Erebus, an active volcano.
Hut Point gets its name from the wooden hut erected by the famous explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The hut was later used by Ernest Shackleton in his 1907 Nimrod expedition. It is now protected by the Antarctic Treaty as an Area of Special Protection. The area also contains a number of memorials to Scott’s ill-fated expedition, including a cross on Observation Hill to commemorate the explorers who didn’t make it home.
Socotra lies off the coast of Yemen. The island has been isolated from its neighbors for millions of years and has developed its own unique species of flora and fauna. One of the most startling-looking plants found on the island is the dragon blood tree. It was said to have first grown on the spot where two brothers fought to the death. The blood of the two brothers was said to have nourished the tree, which explains why its sap is a crimson red color. Where dragons come into it is anyone’s guess.
The island, known as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, is home to over 700 endemic species. Nomadic Bedouin tribes still roam the island, sleeping under the stars in the summer and sheltering from the rain in the winter. However, recent influences from the United Arab Emirates have begun to change Socotra, and the once-remote island is fast becoming an outpost of the UAE.
Oymyakon is officially the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth. Situated in Siberia, temperatures at Oymyakon have been recorded as low as –67 degrees Celsius (–80 °F), the lowest temperature ever recorded outside the Antarctic. It is so cold that the town’s official thermometer, installed by some misguided official as a tourist attraction, broke when the mercury inside it froze.
Oymyakon, meaning “water that never freezes,” is home to a thermal spring, which is probably just as well. Originally built as a stopover point for reindeer herders, who watered their animals at the spring, Oymyakon now has around 500 permanent residents, a shop, and even a school, although this will close if the temperature drops below –50 degrees Celsius (–58 °F). Big softies.
If you travel to Oymyakon, and why wouldn’t you, you can expect to see a lot of snow and not much else. Except, of course, a thermometer. Slightly used.
Ward Hazell is a writer who travels, and an occasional travel writer.
10 Terrifying Bridges You Won’t Want To Cross
Some people have always been frightened of bridges. Gephyrophobia sufferers often try to avoid crossing bridges altogether, driving miles out of their way to avoid them. Of course, quite a few bridges can be rough experiences for those with acrophobia, as well.
With some bridges, however, terror seems to be the only sensible response. Here, we look at ten bridges that would turn anyone’s legs to jelly. Read on, but don’t look down.
10 Royal Gorge Bridge
The Royal Gorge Bridge, the world’s highest bridge until 2001, was built in 1929 for a paltry $350,000. The bridge spans 384 meters (1,260 ft) across Colorado’s magnificent Royal Gorge. The Arkansas River thunders by 291 meters (955 ft) below, occasionally carrying white-water rafters battling against the elements.
It took just six months to construct the bridge. The two main cables each weigh 200 tons and consist of 2,100 individual cables twisted together. 1,292 planks of wood were bolted to the base to form the deck of the bridge. As there is no vertical truss to the bridge, it has a tendency to move with the motion of the footfall, which can be disconcerting when you’re crossing a gorge with a raging river almost 300 meters (1,000 ft) below you.
If you don’t fancy taking the bridge, you could always try the aerial gondolas, which will get you to the other side without the need to panic.
9 Titlis Cliff Walk
In order to cross the Titlis Cliff Walk, you will first need to climb Mount Titlis, where you will find the bridge waiting for you at the summit. You will then walk through the glacier cave via an underground tunnel to reach it.
The Titlis Cliff Walk is around 3,000 meters (10,000 ft) above sea level and 100 meters (330 ft) long but only 1 meter (3.3 ft) wide. It stretches from one rock face to another in the Swiss Alps. The bridge crosses a roughly 500-meter-deep (1,600 ft) chasm. Walking in single file, it is said to be 150 steps to the other side. Over a chasm.
Once you get to the other side, you can then take the “Ice Flyer” chairlift to the top of the other side of glacier. We can only wonder why no one thought to just climb up the other side in the first place.
Marienbrucke (Queen Mary’s Bridge) in Bavaria is on the estate of Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle is everything that a castle should be. Perched on the top of a cliff, it looks as if it should be occupied by a princess and a couple of dragons. The bridge is no less fantastic than the castle. It passes 90 meters (295 ft) over the Pollat River and offers brilliant views of the castle.
The bridge was constructed solely for the purpose of enjoying the view. Maximillian II had had lookout posts created around the area to admire the castle, and in the 1840s, he commissioned the building of the bridge as a birthday present for his consort, Marie, who, luckily, liked mountain climbing and therefore had a head for heights.
7 Puente De Ojuela
Even the road leading up to Puente de Ojuela is difficult to traverse, but the bridge itself is terrifying. The bridge is around 300 meters (1,000 ft) long and is suspended nearly 100 meters (327 ft) above a ravine. The bridge is only 0.6 meters (2 ft) wide. Thankfully, Puente de Ojuela is now only used by pedestrians, but it was used by pack animals in the past.
The bridge was originally constructed in 1898 and was used to move gold and silver taken from the local mines and bring supplies in. The bridge sways as you walk on it, and although it has handrails, the spaces between the planks are wide, which means that you have a good view of the canyon below if you are foolish enough to look down. Traffic also moves both ways across the bridge, so you may find yourself jostled as you walk.
If you are brave enough to cross the bridge (designed, believe it or not, by the same people who designed the Brooklyn Bridge), you will be able to visit the ghost town museum and one of the abandoned mines. Hmm. Maybe not.
6 The Hanging Bridge Of Ghasa
The Hanging Bridge of Ghasa should perhaps be called the Swinging Bridge of Ghasa. Due to the altitude and the area’s susceptibility to high winds, the bridge sways precariously as it is crossed by locals, visitors, and cattle.
Though the bridge looks rather fragile, it is said to be quite sturdy. It is still used to move cattle, though the beasts are sometimes blinkered to stop them from panicking as they cross the bridge. And you can see why. If only you could blinker the people, too.
The bridge is said to have been built to ease congestion across other bridges and is used daily by locals driving their animals across it, which makes the idea of traffic jams interesting.
5 Iya Kazurabashi
One of the more unusual-looking bridges, Iya Kazurabashi is found in Japan’s Iya Valley among mountains and hot springs. The vine bridge is 45 meters (148 ft) long and only 14 meters (46 ft) above the Iyagawa River, but what it lacks in scariness, it makes up for in weirdness.
It is constructed from a plant called Hardy Kiwi, which, though relatively strong, is not really suitable for bridge-building because it is not durable and is prone to rotting. Not a good quality in a bridge.
However, the Hardy Kiwi was used, it is said, deliberately so that the bridge could be cut down quickly in case of invaders, thus preventing the invading army from crossing the gorge.
The bridge is rebuilt every three years, and the vines are lashed to tall cedar trees at either side of the gorge. In these days of health and safety, the vines also hide steel ropes inside them, just in case. However, the wide gaps between the steps of the bridge, giving a vertical view of the river below, and the wild swinging as you pass along it are still enough to frighten the life out of most visitors.
4 Q’eswachaka Bridge
The Q’eswachaka Bridge, sitting on the Great Inca Road through the Andes, is the finest remaining example of an Inca suspension bridge. The bridges were of vital importance in connecting and consolidating the Inca Empire, and they continued to be used as ordinary parts of the road system for centuries afterward.
Again, in times of conflict, the bridges were cut down to protect the inhabitants from intruders. When the Spanish invaded, many of the bridges were burned.
Inca bridges are made by braiding natural fibers to make the floor, handrails, and vertical ties between the base and the handrails for protection. Stone pillars anchor the cables on either side of the bridge. Crossing the bridge is not a smooth experience, it has to be said, and the “loose” nature of the construction allows walkers to get a good view of the river below.
Local communities replace the bridge each year, harvesting the grass and weaving it into cables. The inhabitants of each side of the bridge then work together to pull the ropes across. They do not demolish the old bridge until the new one has been built alongside it. Each community begins work at their own end and meet in the middle of the bridge. The whole bridge can be rebuilt in three days, after which the communities gather for a celebration, which seems only right.
3 Kuandinsky Bridge
The Kuandinsky Bridge stretches for 570 meters (1,870 ft) over the Vitim River in Siberia. Originally a railway bridge, this is now an unofficial vehicle bridge. The term “bridge” is used extremely loosely. It is just over 2 meters (6.6 ft) wide, and it has no railings or safety precautions of any sort to prevent cars from toppling into the frozen waters below. It is rusted, and the wooden sleepers have rotted in the harsh conditions. No major repairs have ever been carried out on the bridge, since the railway company that built it never used it, and no one else will take responsibility for it.
The locals, who’ve perhaps had their brains addled by the constant cold, began to use the bridge as a shortcut across the river. Heavy cars are apt to break the sleepers, and holes are covered with any spare planks or bits of wood that can be found lying around. This means getting out of the vehicle and fixing the bridge en route. And, just to make it more fun, the wood is known to be extremely slippery when wet, which is all the time. There is, it seems, much to be said for the long way around.
2 Hongyagu Bridge
Sometimes, it seems that bridge designers are twisted, sadistic people. Take the designers of Hebei’s Hongyagu Bridge, which opened in the end of 2017. They have constructed a bridge which spans 488 meters (1,601 ft) over a vertical drop of 220 meters (722 ft), which is nerve-wracking enough for most people. But the designers decided to add a glass floor so that users could have a great view of the valley below them and trick their minds into believing that there is nothing holding them up. And as if that isn’t enough, they decided to give the bridge added “sway.”
The glass panels are 4 centimeters (1.6 in) thick, which doesn’t seem like a lot when it sits between you and certain death. The bridge is capable of accommodating 2,000 people at a time, but only 600 are allowed to walk on it, just in case. Visitors have to wear “shoe gloves” to protect the glass from scratching or breaking. (This is apparently a thing with glass bridges. Who could have known?)
The bridge authority has stationed staff members at points along the bridge to assist those who feel faint. Still, it could be worse. The creators of the glass suspension bridge have designed it with added sound effects. As you take each step along the glass bridge, it sounds as if the glass is cracking beneath your feet. Nope.
1 Hussaini Hanging Bridge
The Hussaini Hanging Bridge in Pakistan hardly deserves the name “bridge.” The current bridge is the new, improved, version, the first (even scarier) version having been destroyed by the weather. The bridge is made of rope and planks. There is a constant icy wind blowing, too, which makes the bridge sway violently. At least ten people have died while crossing the bridge, according to locals.
If you were to fall, you would be plunged into the river below. Many tourists come to the bridge, often taking two steps onto it, taking a picture, and jumping hastily back. For the local people, however, it is not so easy. They still regularly make use of the crossing, even carrying large packs on their backs as they walk across.
Ward Hazell is a writer who travels, and an occasional travel writer.
10 Strange Cemeteries You’ll Be Dying To Visit
Most people do not like to think too much about cemeteries. We tend to visit them only as often as we need to and then leave as quickly as is decently possible. This is a shame, because there are some cemeteries that are well worth closer inspection.
Though in modern times, we tend to be somewhat squeamish about the process of death and mortal decay, it has often been celebrated in ways that are endearing, interesting, or, sometimes, downright strange. Here, we look at a few of them.
10 Merry Cemetery
The Church of the Assumption in Sapanta, Northern Romania, serves a small town of only around 3,000 people. Life there is often hard, and the townspeople are mostly poor. Though they may not have much wealth in life, they are guaranteed a lavish and rather unique final resting place.
Since 1935, the buried dead have been interred in Merry Cemetery. Each grave is given a hand-carved headstone, colorfully decorated in, shall we say, a naive style and adorned with a bespoke poem that celebrates their life.
If your Romanian is good, you can wander around the cemetery reading the inscriptions, written in the first person from the dead person to you. Some poems are funny, such as Ioan Toaderu’s, which reads:
One more thing I loved very much,
To sit at a table in a bar
Next to someone else’s wife
And some are sad or even angry, like this one from a three-year-old girl, which is directed at the taxi driver who ran her over:
Burn in hell, you damn taxi
That came from Sibiu.
As large as Romania is
You couldn’t find another place to stop,
Only in front of my house to kill me?
If your Romanian is not so good, you might just enjoy looking at the colorful carvings which sometimes depict the manner of their subject’s dying in a disturbingly comic fashion.
9 The Hanging Cemetery
For centuries, the people of the mountainous region of Sagada in the Philippines have chosen not so much to bury their dead as to hang them out to dry. The period from death to interment is a relatively long one. The deceased is first placed in a “death chair” inside their home, and the chair is positioned facing the front door so that they can “welcome” visitors. The corpse is covered with rattan leaves and smoked, which serves to preserve the body and also to help rid the home of that just-dead smell.
The corpse remains in the chair for several days before it begins the next stage of its final journey. Traditionally, it is placed in the fetal position, with legs tucked under the chin. Limbs will be broken to accomplish this if necessary, though in more recent times, fewer families are willing to do so. The body is then wrapped in fresh rattan leaves and a blanket and carried by mourners to the cemetery. There is often a large number of people willing to act as pallbearers, since it is considered lucky if any of the bodily fluids leak through the leaves and drip on the mourners.
Once at the cliffside cemetery, the body is fitted inside a coffin, usually only 1 meter (3.3 ft) wide. The coffin is then nailed to the side of the cliff. The higher the coffin is placed, the greater the person’s position in the tribe was in life. It is believed that the elevated coffins will bring them closer to their ancestral spirits.
The privilege of a hanging coffin is not open to everyone. It is reserved mostly for tribe elders, as it is believed that the corpses of those who died young are considered bad luck.
8 The Underwater Cemetery
An interment at the Neptune Memorial Reef gives a whole new meaning to the saying, “He sleeps with the fishes.”
Found about 5 kilometers (3 mi) off the coast of Florida, the Neptune Memorial Reef has been artificially created in around 12 meters (40 ft) of water. It has several classical-style statues to give it an Atlantis feel and would be a paradise for scuba divers. However, not only has the reef been built to encourage marine life, but it has also been specifically made to hold the cremated remains of those who want to be buried at sea.
It is hoped that the remains will help to feed the coral and expand the reef. Although the burial of uncremated remains would be more nutrient-rich, they are currently not permitted.
7 Cross Bones
The Southwark area of London, where Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre once stood, was always a rather seedy place. There were a large number of taverns and a large amount of prostitution. During the 12th century, the bishop of Winchester had the right to license and tax prostitutes, who were known as the “Winchester Geese” because of their habit of exposing their white breasts to passersby. The phrase “bitten by a Winchester Goose” meant “contracted a sexually transmitted disease.”
The brothels, known as “stews,” thrived despite periodic attempts to close them down, so they were brought under the control of the Church, and regulations were drawn up requiring that prostitutes be registered, did not work on religious holidays, and did not sleep with anyone for free (presumably so that no one would feel hard done by).
Although the bishop was content to tax the working girls, he was not prepared to bury them in holy soil. A plot of unconsecrated land, officially called the Single Woman’s Churchyard but unofficially known as the Cross Bones Cemetery, was set aside for their remains.
In the 17th century, Cross Bones became a graveyard for paupers and those without the means to pay for their burial. As a final indignity, their corpses were often stolen by body snatchers.
In 1992, the Museum of London carried out an excavation at Cross Bones. They found bodies crammed in on top of each other and, most surprisingly, discovered that over half of the bodies were from those aged under five years old at the time of their deaths.
6 Napoleon’s Cemetery
The island of San Michele stands in the Venetian Lagoon, and its cemetery is hidden by high walls, although it is open to visitors. The island was inhabited by monks from the 15th century until comparatively recently. Their monastery boasts a domed roof and a magnificent statue of an angel over the entrance.
When Napoleon invaded Venice, he decreed that, because of Venice’s tendency toward flooding, it was unhygienic to bury the dead on the main island. (You can see his point.) San Michele was designated as the official Venetian cemetery, and it is still in use today. The island offers fabulous views in a prestigious location, sitting as it does between Venice and Murano.
The dead may have expected to be able to rest in peace there, but since 1995, overcrowding at San Michele has meant that “inhabitants” can only be granted a ten- or 20-year lease, after which their remains are evicted to make way for new tenants.
5 The Cemetery Of 200,000 (And 1)
Okunoin Cemetery in Japan contains almost a quarter of a million graves but is the focus of only one. It is the final resting place of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism and one of the most important people in Japanese religious history. He is said to be resting in eternal meditation while he awaits the coming of the Buddha of the Future.
While he waits, Kobo Daishi is said to provide help to those pilgrims who ask for it. Visitors must bow before crossing a bridge into the cemetery, which contains 200,000 tombstones, all of which are set out to line the way to his mausoleum. Many prominent people and religious monks chose to be buried here in the hope that being close to his remains will bring them closer to salvation when the Buddha of the Future arrives.
In front of the mausoleum itself is the Hall of Lamps, which contains 10,000 lanterns, which are always lit, and 50,000 tiny statues, all of the great man. Visitors are able to leave Kobo Daishi offerings in the aptly named Offering Hall, though, word to the wise, he is probably okay for a while when it comes lamps and statues.
4 Dracula’s Cemetery
St Mary’s Church at Whitby was built in 1110, and its churchyard dates from around the same time.
The graveyard must have always held a certain amount of Gothic fascination, because it was the inspiration for a scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the novel, the vampire lands at Whitby and leaps from his ship (whose crew is mysteriously dead) and hides himself in an abandoned crypt in a church that very much resembles St Mary’s. Stoker stayed in the town while writing his novel, and he was said to have been very much taken with the atmospheric surroundings.
Current visitors may find more gore than they were hoping for, however. The pounding of the sea has caused erosion along the cliffs, and subsequent landslides have exposed a number of corpses, though none so far have been sporting elongated teeth and a theatrical dress sense. Work is ongoing to try to prevent the churchyard, and its contents, from slipping into the sea.
3 The Cemetery Of Shame
The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France is a military burial ground dedicated to those killed in action during World War I. There are 6,012 soldiers whose graves are proudly marked in four plots, marked A to D.
However, there is another plot at the cemetery, separate from the others. Plot E can only be accessed through the office of the superintendent. This plot contains 96 unmarked graves belonging to American soldiers who were dishonorably discharged and executed for crimes committed during World War II. None of these graves are mentioned by the American Battle Monuments Commission’s website for Oise-Aisne.
Between them, these men are alleged to have murdered 26 American soldiers. They are also alleged to have raped and/or murdered 71 civilians of other nationalities. The plot was designated as a place of burial for the “dishonorable dead.” The graves are identified only by number, and the dead are set with their backs to the rest of the fallen. The American flag is not permitted to fly over Plot E.
The only inhabitant of the plot not convicted of rape or murder was Private Eddie Slovik, who was executed for desertion on January 31, 1945, the only man to be executed for this crime since the Civil War. His remains were removed in 1987, and he was reburied next to his wife after his family petitioned President Reagan for a pardon.
2 The Cemetery Of A Million Mummies
In an Egyptian cemetery whose name means, for reasons unknown, “The Way of the Water Buffalo,” archaeologists have discovered a million mummies. Literally.
The burial ground dates from the first to the seventh centuries, and most of its dead were buried without coffins or grave goods of any kind, so those hoping for a Tutankhamen-style treasure trove are likely to be disappointed. The cemetery was used by poor, low-status citizens of Egypt while it was controlled by the Roman Empire.
Although they couldn’t afford the lavish funeral rituals of the pharaohs, great care was taken by mourners in the burying of the dead. Scientists have yet to discover the reason for the incredibly large number of bodies, since it is unlikely that they were all local inhabitants.
The archaeological dig has uncovered some surprising specimens, including one mummy that was over 213 centimeters (7′) tall and had to be bent in half to fit inside the grave as well as a number of blond and redheaded mummies. It may be that the cemetery authority buried people according to hair color, as clusters of redheaded and blond mummies have been discovered throughout the site. Then again, of course, they may have just buried families together.
1 The Plague Cemetery
In 1665, a tailor in the small parish of Eyam ordered a bale of cloth from London. When it arrived, the cloth seemed somewhat damp, so he put it in front of the fire to dry. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Eyam, the cloth contained a number of fleas. And even more unfortunately, the fleas were carrying bubonic plague.
Within two months, the tailor was dead, along with 42 other souls. The church rector, believing that he had a duty to prevent the disease from spreading to neighboring villages, decided that the entire village should quarantine itself. He told his parishioners that if they agreed to stay, he would remain with them and do everything in his power to relieve their suffering.
Knowing that he may well have been signing all their death warrants, he set up a “cordon sanitaire” around the village. Almost no one tried to escape, even as the death toll mounted. Some people lost almost their entire families to the disease. A woman named Elizabeth Hancock buried her husband and six children in only eight days. She had to dig the graves herself, since none of the villagers wanted to go near her.
The task of burying the dead was a dangerous one. Marshall Howe, who had been infected early on but survived, volunteered for the task, believing that he was now immune. He often helped himself to the deceased’s possessions by way of payment, and it is believed that his wife and two-year-old son probably caught the disease from the stolen items. They were not as lucky as Mr. Howe, and he soon had the job of interring them, too.
The graves of the plague victims can still be seen in Eyam Parish Churchyard. Marshall Howe survived the plague, as did the church rector, though the rector’s wife succumbed after prolonged contact due to nursing the dying. By November 1666, with half the village dead, the plague was eradicated, and the neighboring villages were saved.
Ward Hazell is a writer who travels, and an occasional travel writer.
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