When we think of a tourist, we generally envision people wearing large hats and moving around in open-top buses with cameras hanging off their necks. Or they could just be sunbathing on the beaches in their bikinis and shorts. But there’s more to travel than just that.
As we are about to find out, there are a bunch of different types of tourism, many of which do not conform to the basic stereotype of a tourist. These forms of tourism can be controversial and even dangerous. And even if they’re not likely to cause uproar or get someone killed, there are some bona fide weird ways to travel out there.
10 Jihad Tourism
When the Syrian war was in full gear and the Islamic State (aka ISIS) controlled considerable chunks of Iraq and Syria, several Western nations faced a surge in citizens leaving to fight for Islamist groups like ISIS. These people are called jihad tourists: Muslim citizens who leave their nation to get involved in a war that is none of their business.
Interestingly, not all jihad tourists fight. Like regular travelers, most are just there for sightseeing. They serve no particular purpose other than to swell the ranks of the terrorist group and maybe brag of being terrorists. Osama bin Laden himself was a jihad tourist. He left Saudi Arabia to fight for the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The ranks of the mujahideen were filled with jihad tourists.
Most countries remain skeptical of the long-term consequences of having their citizens travel to other countries for jihad. There is the fear that some of these terrorist-tourists will return home when the war is over or when they can no longer cope with its rigors, only to carry out domestic terrorist attacks.
9 Slum Tourism
Slum, adventure, reality, or poverty tourism refers to a form of tourism by people who only want to satisfy their curiosity. Slum tourists will visit the congested, poverty-ridden slums of a country just to see what they look like. Popular destinations include Manila in the Philippines, Rio de Janerio in Brazil, and Mumbai in India.
Tour operators in the affected countries have noticed an upsurge in slum tourists and have created special tour packages to cater to these people. Nevertheless, slum tourism remains controversial. While supporters say it is a way to raise awareness of poverty, the people on the other side insist it is only an excuse to stare at the poor.
Interestingly, slum tourism used to be popular in the US. During the 19th century, rich and curious Londoners would travel to see the prostitution- and drug-ridden slums of New York and San Francisco. An entire industry sprang up around slum tourism at the time, with tour operators hiring actors to pose as drug users and gang members. Some actors took their act further by engaging in staged shoot-outs right on the streets, just to satisfy the ignorant tourists.
8 Suicide Tourism
Assisted suicide, the act of helping someone commit suicide, is illegal in some countries. But not in Switzerland. Today, Switzerland is seeing a new kind of vistor: suicide tourists. Suicide tourists are people who travel from their countries to access assisted suicide services in Switzerland.
Suicide tourism is as controversial as assisted suicide and regular suicide, if not more so. Supporters of suicide tourism will often point to the fact that the majority of the tourists are suffering and wish to die. Why else would they travel from a faraway country to Switzerland, where they have no family or relatives, just to be helped to die? Supporters also say suicide tourism can only be prevented if the tourists are allowed to commit suicide in their own countries.
7 Experimental Tourism
“Experimental tourism” is a catchall phrase for the act of trying something new. There is no hard and fast rule on what qualifies as experimental tourism, as any unusual form of excursion counts. You do not need to leave your hometown to become an experimental tourist. A trip to your city’s airport can qualify as experimental tourism.
If you do decide to leave your city, a trip to the government offices in the nearby city qualifies as experimental tourism. If you want something more unconventional, you could just get a map of a city, draw a line through its streets, and follow that line in the real world. Or you could visit a new city blindfolded and be guided throughout your trip by your friend. You leave blindfolded, too, so you do not get to see the city at all.
6 Disaster Tourism
Disaster tourists are people who travel to areas that have been destroyed by natural or man-made disasters. This form of tourism is alternatively called dark tourism. The tourists are only interested in satisfying their curiosity and seeing firsthand the effects of the disaster.
Popular disaster tourist attractions in the US include Pearl Harbor, which was bombed by the Japanese during World War II, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Gettysburg was the deadliest battlefield of the US Civil War, amounting to over 50,000 casualties in just three days. Other disaster tourist attractions include the places where Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King were assassinated.
Outside the US, there are Hiroshima, Pompeii, and concentration camps operated by the Nazis. Disaster tourists are not all about history and will readily flock to areas recently affected by disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and, maybe, wars. Lots of people visited New Orleans to see the aftereffects of the devastating Hurricane Katrina.
In 2015, a tour agency in Russia offered to take disaster tourists to Syria so that they could see the ongoing war firsthand. While most of the tour was to be focused on the rear, the agency said it planned to take people to the front lines if it got the chance. The Syrian government itself wants tourists to come into the country despite the war and continues promoting the nation as a tourist attraction.
5 Sex Tourism
As should already be obvious from its name, sex tourists are those who travel to another country for sex. Most of the time, the tourist will be traveling from a developed nation to a less developed one. It used to be the exclusive province of Western tourists, but more sex tourists are now coming from China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
Popular sex destinations include Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Sex tourism is so important to the economy of countries like Thailand that it already contributes around 12 percent of its gross domestic product. The tourists themselves want to explore sex in total freedom without having to worry about what would have happened if they were in their home country.
Sex tourism is not without controversies. It is basically prostitution, which is the leading cause of human trafficking. Prostitution and sex trafficking rings are often run by criminals. The prostitutes themselves are generally unable to speak out, since prostitution is usually still technically illegal in the destination countries.
4 Gun Tourism
Unlike the United States, not every country allows its citizens own assault and sniper rifles. In some nations, getting a pistol is almost impossible. Some citizens of Australia and countries in Asia and Europe who wish to lay their itchy fingers on firearms will travel to the US to scratch their itch.
Not every gun tourist comes to the US as a gun tourist. Some are regular travelers who become gun tourists the moment they decide to satisfy their curiosity at shooting ranges. Others are Americans who cannot afford to buy guns or are curious about shooting a particular type of gun. Hawaii and Las Vegas are popular gun tourist destinations.
Hawaii is the more popular destination. Shooting ranges will hire boys to stand by the roadside and share fliers with tourists advertising their services. Interested tourists, many of whom have never fired a gun before, are taken to the indoor shooting ranges, where they can fire up to four different weapons, depending on the package they select.
3 Atomic Tourism
As you probably guessed from the name, atomic tourism is centered around nuclear weapons. Atomic tourists will often visit nuclear museums, areas crucial to the development of nuclear weapons, or areas that have been destroyed by nuclear weapons or nuclear reactor meltdowns.
Popular destinations in the US include the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, Arizona, where nuclear missiles used to be stored. Here, curious tourists can even enter a missile silo. There is also the Trinity test site in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945. Tourists are only allowed in on selected dates twice a year and can even visit the exact spot where the bomb was detonated.
There are also the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the first nuclear reactor was built and plutonium was produced for the first atomic bomb, and the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where it was enriched. Another is the National Museum of Nuclear Science History in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where curious tourists can learn about nuclear reactors.
Outside the US, there are the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the Hiroshima Peace Site, where tourists can learn about the bombs dropped by the US during World War II. In Ukraine, tourists can visit the areas around Chernobyl, which suffered a nuclear meltdown in 1986. The tour includes a visit to the deserted town of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the meltdown.
2 Drug Tourism
Drug tourism, the act of leaving your country for another with the sole intention of doing drugs, is increasingly becoming a niche industry in drug-producing nations like Colombia. Western and Australian tourists will often travel to Colombia just to buy and use cocaine.
The niche is growing because cocaine is dirt cheap in Colombia, at least by Western standards. In Australia, a gram of cocaine is sold for $300. In Colombia, it goes for between $7 and $15. It is also easy to buy cocaine in Colombia, where it is sold on the streets.
Sellers will often hang around the areas foreigners visit. Or they could just stand by the roadside hawking sweets and chewing gum but with their hidden stash of cocaine ready for buyers who know what’s up. Police rarely disturb drug sellers, provided they are bribed. Sometimes, the police set foreign tourists up with drugs just to receive bribes as low as $1.
1 Tombstone Tourism
Tombstone tourists are travelers who love visiting cemeteries. While this usually involves cemeteries containing the remains of famous people or national heroes, absolutely any cemetery with an interesting history can be a destination. Popular cemeteries visited by tombstone tourists include Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, and Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the resting place of singer Jim Morrison. Tourists will often leave half-smoked cigarettes on his grave. Another famous resident of Pere Lachaise is writer Oscar Wilde. He obviously has a lot of female fans because they will always leave him notes and napkins stained with lipstick.
Tombstone tourism is not a new thing. It has been around since Victorian England. The Victorian Brits had a thing for cemeteries and built a good chunk of Britain’s cemeteries. However, people started staying away from cemeteries after the calamities of the World Wars I and II.
10 Insane Tours That Are Extremely Dangerous
Every year, thousands of people travel the world, booking tours that offer thrilling and exciting experiences while often completely unaware of the dangers they may present. When we think of guided tours, we imagine a fun and informative experience. What most of us do not picture is a life-threatening situation. Of course, everything in life comes with some level of risk, but when we’re in the care of experienced individuals whose job is to create a safe and exciting environment in which we can learn and experience what the world has to offer, we trust that the excursions we’re spending our hard-earned money on won’t endanger our lives.
There are so many insane tour companies offering very unique experiences, from chasing tornadoes in the United States to mining with dynamite in a mountain that has claimed a countless number of lives throughout history. All the tours featured in this list are extremely dangerous. Fortunately, many of them haven’t had fatal accidents; however, the risk of such an incident is very real in every case. Here are ten insane tours that are extremely dangerous.
10 Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Tours
One of the largest and most iconic nuclear disasters happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located in Northern Ukraine, on April 26, 1986. Today, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a great place for tourists to get a taste of a post-apocalyptic world experience. However, the area has not been deemed safe, and it is unclear how long the Zone will continue to be dangerous. Over the years, levels of radiation have diminished enough for the Ukrainian government to allow guided tours. There are many prohibited activities, however, including smoking, eating, or drinking in the open air as well touching buildings, plants, and trees. Attire is restricted to clothing that covers as much skin as possible when touring.
The website of a business called Chernobyl Tours claims that the level of radiation tourists are exposed to is relatively small, less than we experience when flying. The guided tours avoid areas where radiation is in high concentration, and there is a low chance of tourists inhaling contaminated air in dangerous amounts, resulting in radiation sickness. Although the risk is low, it is not absent, and the possibility of coming into contact with a lethal amount of radiation is constantly present, especially when not following the safety precautions given by the tour guides.
9 Lightning Tours
Lightning is one of the most beautiful natural phenomena that Mother Nature has to offer. Every day, thousands of us marvel at the incredible light shows thunderstorms put on, captivated like a moth drawn to bright light. These light shows are nothing like what can be witnessed in Venezuela where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo, a mysterious place known as the unofficial lightning capital of the world and home to the “everlasting storm.” Here, magnificent tours are available that take tourists on sightseeing trips to local villages, night safaris to see alligators, snakes, and birds, a chance to see some dolphins, and, of course, the main event—lightning! It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of witnessing something special and forget the dangers that accompany such an experience.
Lightning has been known to strike from miles away, and this tour takes you right into the heart of the all the action; the town of Maracaibo can receive more than 1,000 lightning strikes an hour. However, lightning is not the only weather phenomenon that Maracaibo residents are familiar with, as hurricanes and tornadoes are known to occur as well. Tornadoes are born from thunderstorms, and with 260 stormy days a year, the chance of one forming increases dramatically. The storms are volatile and can shift direction in less than a minute. This tour is certainly as dangerous as it is beautiful.
8 Tornado Tours
With growing popularity due to the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers, tornado tours have become a booming business. Every year, extreme weather enthusiasts flock to America’s Tornado Alley in hopes of pursuing their dreams of witnessing one of Mother Nature’s most destructive works of art. Tornado Alley is an area in the center of the United States, named for the frequency of tornadoes due to dry air from the Mexican Plateau colliding with moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to make favorable conditions for the development of supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes.
Tornado tours are designed to take paying passengers on the ride of a lifetime, but this doesn’t come without a severe risk to safety. Due to the growing demand for these kinds of tours, more than a dozen companies have emerged in the last 20 years, adding to the amount of vehicles on the road, increasing congestion and putting passengers and storm chasers in very dangerous situations that worry both safety experts and law enforcement.
The tour companies have a strong emphasis on safety, but even the most experienced professionals can find themselves in life-threatening situations, such as with the case of three chasers in Oklahoma during a storm in 2013 and three more in Texas during a 2017 storm. There is no safety when tornadoes can change direction without warning. Lightning and golf ball-sized hail are also a major safety concern during severe weather. As the saying goes: When thunder roars, go indoors.
7 Lava Boat Tours
Watching lava flow is a satisfying sight to see, and the ability to see it flowing into the sea up close would catch anyone’s attention. In Hawaii, there are lava boat tours that take you close enough to hear and feel the heat of the lava as it pours into the water and cools. This tour sounds absolutely fascinating but also comes with its own risks that not everyone may be aware of.
It’s obvious that lava is dangerous, and it’s silly to be within a close distance of the melting destruction it brings. Being aboard a boat when things go wrong is not the ideal scenario, and incidents have happened in the past. In July 2018, an explosion sent molten rock raining down on a boat, injuring 23 tourists as it melted its way through the roof of the vessel. Despite the disastrous turn of events, the tour company has continued their tours while sticking to the revised policy of the Coast Guard.
6 War Zone Tours
War zone tours take thrill-seekers to a whole new battlefield of excitement with life-threatening sightseeing expeditions through destinations that are or were once war zones and extremely dangerous. Tourists are able to witness firsthand the effects of war, including live action and explosions in some places. With tours taking place in many different areas, including Iraq, Mexico, and Africa, there are many opportunities for extreme thrill-seekers to experience a dangerous adventure. A company appropriately called War Zone Tours (WZT) has conducted excursions in over 50 different countries since they were founded in 1993.
All the tours are developed and planned specifically for your desired experience and are led by high-risk environment guides who are highly trained security professionals, according to WZT’s website. However, this does little to help in the case of missiles, as with an incident in 2016 where eight tourists were nearly killed when their tour bus was hit by a rocket in Afghanistan. Most of these tours take place where travel is highly ill-advised.
5 Bungee Jumping Over Crocodile-Infested Waters
Bungee jumping is a very popular extreme sport, but it’s a whole different thing when you’re nose-diving 111 meters (364 ft) toward crocodile-infested waters with your feet bound tight. At the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, this exact experience is offered, but not without taking a very dangerous risk. Accidents can happen at any time, even when safety precautions are in place. No one wants to pay for the leap of a lifetime, only to have the bungee cord snap on the way down.
This is exactly what happened to Erin Langworthy, an Australian woman on vacation during New Year’s Eve 2011. Fortunately, she survived with minor injuries, despite having to swim with her feet tied together and having to free the cord at one point when it became caught on some rocks. This thrilling jump is absolutely as terrifying as it is dangerous.
4 Volcano Boarding
Volcanoes are brilliant and scary, and the idea of boarding down the side of an active one is terrifying and dangerous in its own right. Now considered an extreme sport, volcano boarding was invented by an Australian thrill-seeker named Daryn Webb in 2004.
Nicaragua’s Cerro Negro, Central America’s youngest volcano, last erupted in 1999 and is the world’s hot spot for this bizarre sport. This exciting adventure takes endurance; the-hour long hike through 32-degree-Celsius (90 °F) temperatures up the ash-covered side of the volcano and past sulfur-spitting craters serves as a reminder that this volcano could erupt at any time. Once you reach the top and are equipped with a metal-reinforced wooden board with ropes to steer and an orange jumpsuit for protection, you’re all set for the ride of a lifetime.
This young volcano has more than 20 eruptions under its belt since its birth in April 1850 and is considered the region’s most active volcano, featuring occasional lava flows and powerful explosions. Recently, as of October 2018, increased earthquake activity has been noted, which may only put thrill-seeking tourists at an even higher risk.
3 Death Road Tours
Bolivia’s Yungas Road, dubbed “Death Road,” is regarded as the most dangerous road in the world and has claimed numerous lives over the years. It is no surprise that it has become a hot stop for thrill-seeking tourists from all around the world for a mountain biking adventure and a “I survived my ride on the world’s most dangerous road” T-shirt.
Although the road has become safer over the years, it still holds its risk factors and is to be respected as a dangerous tour to go on. The high-elevation trip down 64 kilometers (40 mi) of mostly narrow road lacking guardrails, with the ever-present danger of passing cars and steep drops, is no bike ride through the park. Nevertheless, Death Road still serves as the mountain biking adventure of a lifetime for more than 25,000 thrill-seekers annually.
It is very important to do research on the tour companies offering Death Road tours, as many are available, and they’re far from equal. It is also imperative that you are always comfortable with the bike you’re riding in such a dangerous place.
2 Kayaking With Hippos, Crocodiles, And Bull Sharks
Everybody wants to get close to wildlife, but kayaking with animals that can kill you is something many of us might not have on our bucket list. For the ultimate thrill-seekers, however, the opportunity to kayak with hippos, crocodiles, and even bull sharks exists in the St Lucia Estuary in South Africa and is described as a fantastic way to get up close and personal with nature. You are bound to encounter some breathtaking birds and man-eating predators.
This not a tour for those who are seeking a calming experience with nature and can hardly be considered safe. The tour is not conducted in a controlled environment, and the guides aren’t hesitant to withhold information regarding the dangers of the area, including deaths that have occurred due to animal attacks. It is important to be very careful while on the tour, staying alert at all times and keeping body parts out of the water, so it’s surprising that tourists of all skill levels are permitted to kayak the potentially deadly waters of this estuary. It is not an unknown occurrence to have a hippo surface right in front of one’s kayak.
1 Mining With Dynamite In Bolivia
This tour is one that is hard to believe exists and is the perfect opportunity to experience what life in the mines is actually like. It is as dangerous as it is unbelievable. Near Potosi, Bolivia, sits Cerro Rico (“Rich Mountain”). It has been dubbed “The Mountain that Eats Men” for good reason; Cerro Rico’s silver mine has claimed the lives of many people. With a shrine to the Devil located inside that the miners give offerings to for protection, this tour is definitely not for the faint of heart, or those who value safety in general.
After everyone suits up in the provided safety equipment consisting of a hardhat, boots, and overalls, the multiple-hour tour begins with a trip to a miner’s market, where tourists are encouraged to purchase tobacco, alcohol, live dynamite, and other gifts to offer the workers they will encounter in the mine. At the entrance into the mine, the guide will list off a quick rundown of safety precautions, like not falling into holes, watching out for passing mine carts, and not lighting your dynamite, pretty self-explanatory stuff. Then the tourists venture down into the tight, winding, dark tunnels.
Conditions inside are less than favorable, dark, hot, and dusty, the very same unbearable conditions that African slaves and indigenous people were forced to withstand for weeks on end, with few lucky enough to return to the surface. Once the gift of dynamite is offered to the workers inside the mine, they will detonate it for the terrifying experience of watching the walls trembling and debris falling from the ceilings all around.
In recent years, the condition of the silver mine has become increasingly unstable as the site continues to degrade due to uncontrolled mining operations conducted in the past. While the risk of a collapse is lowered as long as miners conduct their work above the 4,400-meter (14,400 ft) mark in the labyrinth of tunnels, and with some safety measures put in place, the summit persistently sinks by a few centimeters each year, making the mine’s tours among the most dangerous available.
10 Strange But Wonderful Monuments From Around The World
Almost every town has monuments of some sort—war memorials, statues of people long dead, or pieces of art commissioned to celebrate a momentous national occasion, for example. Sometimes we recognize the names on them. Often we do not.
Most of these monuments have become part of the scenery; we walk past them and barely even notice them. However, there are some monuments that can never fade into the background, either because they are too big, too striking, or because they are just plain weird. Here, we take a look at just a few of them.
10 The Child-Eater Fountain At Bern
In 1545, the town council in the Swiss city of Bern commissioned Hans Gieng to create a statue to replace a 100-year-old one that had fallen into disrepair. What was there previously is not known. What Gieng created was enough to give the citizens of Bern sleepless nights ever since. The statue depicts a giant man eating a baby. He is holding another terrified infant as well as a sack also filled with babies.
It is unclear what the meaning behind the statue was intended to be, except, perhaps, don’t bring your children to Bern if they cry. The giant appears to be relishing his meal greatly as he swallows the head of a child.
The Kindlifresserbrunnen (which means “Ogre Fountain” or “Child-Eater Fountain”) is said to be cursed. According to local tradition, the fountain flows with wine on Christmas night, but if it is drank, the imbiber becomes possessed by the Devil. And perhaps develops an insatiable appetite for cherubs?
9 St. Wenceslas Riding A Dead Horse Upside Down
Wenceslas Square in Prague contains a statue of St. Wenceslas, the Good King of the popular “Good King Wenceslas” Christmas carol. The statue looks very traditional, though a little military for a saint, with Wenceslas proudly riding his horse, wearing a military uniform and helmet, and carrying a lance. It might be any statue anywhere in the world.
King Wenceslas is an important historical figure in Prague, ruling the nation in the early 10th century. He was said to be a fair king, unlike his brother Boleslaus the Cruel, who eventually murdered him. (Though with a name like that, it is little wonder he turned out to be a wrong ‘un.)
Tucked away in a corner of Wenceslas Square is another statue. Inside Lucerna Pasaz, you will find St. Wenceslas looking equally splendid, riding a horse which is not only dead but hanging upside down and suspended from the ceiling.
The artist, David Cerny, was believed to have created the piece as an attack, not on a beloved Czech icon so much as on the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus. What exactly he was trying to say is anyone’s guess.
8 Leshan Giant Buddha
There are giant Buddhas, and then there are giant Buddhas. The Buddha at Leshan is an immense 71 meters (233 ft) tall. Carved out of the sandstone cliffs in Sichuan province, China, the Buddha is said to be the largest pre-modern statue and the biggest stone Buddha in the world.
Work began on carving the statue, which overlooks the confluence of three rivers, in the eighth century. The statue remains relatively inaccessible due to the terrain, and this has helped to preserve the Buddha.
The construction was started by a monk named Haitong, who hoped that it would calm the turbulent waters where the three rivers met. When the construction was threatened by local officials, Haitong is said to have gouged out his own eyes to demonstrate his piety and sincerity. He was soon granted permission to continue, possibly because they were worried about what else he would cut off if they refused.
Unfortunately, Haitong did not live to see the completion of the statue, but he would have been pleased to know that the construction of the Buddha caused a buildup of debris in the river, which altered its course and did indeed calm the waters at the point where the Buddha’s eyes gaze.
Of course, even if he had lived to see it, he wouldn’t have been able to actually see it, so perhaps it was just as well.
7 The Alton Barnes White Horse
In 1812, a farmer named Robert Pile paid the grand sum of £20 to a man named Jack the Painter (who was, fortunately, a painter) to design and cut a horse into the hillside in Wiltshire, England. This was one of nine horses that were cut into the hills in this area during this time. No one seems to know why.
The design was carved out of the hill, with tons of soil scraped out and carted away. It was then packed with chalk so that it stood out in stark white against the green hills and could be seen from a great distance.
Jack the Painter, however, was something of a con man and subcontracted the work to another man who abandoned the job halfway through, after Jack had made off with all the money. Despite its inauspicious start, the Alton Barnes White Horse was finally completed after Robert Pile paid again for it to be constructed.
The horse measures roughly 55 meters (180 ft) high and 49 meters (160 ft) long. It has been relined with chalk a number of times since it was created and can still be seen galloping across the Wiltshire Downs looking for its companions today.
6 A Giant Thumb
Cesar Baldaccini was a French sculptor and part of the Nouveau Realisme (New Realism) movement. This French art movement created pieces using unusual materials. Baldaccini crafted a number of startling statues from compacted cars and other pieces of junk. One of his most famous works, somewhat undramatically, is a thumb.
Standing six meters (20 ft) high, the cast-bronze statue of the artist’s own thumb is the second one he produced. Baldaccini famously did not discuss the meaning of his work. However, it seems clear that the meaning of this artwork is, well, thumbs up.
5 The Georgia Guidestones
The Georgia Guidestones were erected in 1980. Commissioned by a man calling himself R.C. Christian, the stones were constructed with fairly elaborate secrecy, and the real identity of R.C. Christian will, in all likelihood, never be known.
However, the stones themselves are a legacy of sorts. Constructed from six huge pieces of granite, the stones have instructions for the survival of the human race carved in eight modern languages. Among the commandments is the edict that population should be controlled, that reproduction should be “guided” to maintain the survival of the fittest, and that disputes between nations should be settled in a world court.
The stones include a few basic astronomical features, such as a hole in the rock through which the North Star can be viewed. The capstone can act as a kind of calendar, should you you need one. The reasons for these features are unspecified. However, perhaps more information is yet to come. The stones are rumored to have a time capsule hidden somewhere at their base, to be opened when Armageddon finally arrives.
So, watch these slabs.
4 Hand Of The Desert
The Atacama desert is one of the driest and most remote places on Earth. Some parts of the desert have not seen rainfall in decades. It is not the sort of place that would attract a lot of visitors. It was a strange choice of venue, therefore, for sculptor Mario Irarrazabal when choosing where to put his latest artwork—a giant hand measuring 11 meters (36 ft) high poking out of the desert.
The hand is said to represent all the victims of torture and injustice who suffered during the military regime in Chile and symbolize their indomitable spirit and the power of love to triumph over evil. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Despite its out-of-the-way location, the piece is a regular target for vandals and graffiti artists, which, we might think, also says something about the indomitable spirit of taggers.
3 The Hanging Man
If you walk down a street in the Old Town district of Prague, you might be startled to see a man suspended one-handed from a flagpole. Emergency services have received several calls from concerned bystanders who believed that they were witnessing a suicide attempt or a man in desperate trouble.
Fortunately, they were not. What they were actually looking at was a statue of Sigmund Freud created by David Cerny (who also made the previously mentioned upside down horse). The piece is said to represent Freud’s pathological fear of death. The man who spent his life interpreting the fears of others had a morbid dread of death.
Cerny is no stranger to controversy. He was the artist responsible for painting a Soviet tank pink. The tank was part of a memorial installed to celebrate the liberation of Prague after World War II. Cerny was arrested and briefly incarcerated for vandalism.
2 The Dunmore Pineapple
In 1761, the earl of Dunmore decided to build himself a summerhouse. He liked summerhouses. And he also liked fruit. So it seemed natural, to him at least, to build himself a summerhouse in the shape of a fruit.
At the time, the pineapple was the most exotic fruit ever seen in Scotland. The summerhouse’s pineapple stands 11.2 meters (37 ft) high. The structure has four “vases” at the base of the pineapple, which are, in fact, concealed chimneys used for the heating system that was put in for the hothouse below. The hothouse propagated a number of exotic fruits and vegetables, including, of course, pineapples.
All things considered, it is probably a good thing that bananas were not widely available in Britain until the end of the 19th century.
1 The Sinking Library
Outside the State Library of Victoria, you might be surprised to see what looks like a remnant of an ancient library sinking back into the ground. Constructed from Port Fairy Bluestone, the structure is 7 meters (23 ft) wide.
Created by Petrus Spronk, the piece, named Architectural Fragment, is one of several sunken pieces the artist has installed around the world and is meant to symbolize the fragile and transient nature of all that is human, which is pretty disturbing.
However, the piece is like one of those “glass is half-full” moments. You can see the sinking of the library as the destruction of civilization and the disappearance of knowledge. Or maybe it is a new civilization breaking through the barriers surrounding the old, bringing forward new vistas of learning and hope.
So, you know, you pays yer money, and you takes yer choice.
Ward Hazell is a writer who travels, and an occasional travel writer.
10 Small Towns In The United States Known For Weird Things
Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has set your eyes on the world’s largest ball of twine, located in Kansas. Maybe you’ve even seen aliens on the highway as you’ve passed through Roswell, New Mexico, at night. Could it be that you can even brag to your friends about attending the world’s largest spinach festival in Alma, Arkansas? Or perhaps it’s always been your dream to see the world’s largest ketchup (catsup?) bottle in Illinois.
Whatever strange, silly, or (in)famous things you have seen on your travels throughout the United States, you cannot possibly see every wacky thing in every wacky town across this wacky country often simply referred to as “America.” That’s why this list of small towns famous for weird things is here for you. From the weird to the spooky, from the pointless to the dangerous, from the historic to the futuristic, this list of ten strange towns below might just make you want to go on a road trip in search of them all!
10 The Flavor Graveyard
Everybody loves ice cream, especially Ben Jerry’s ice cream. If you stop in Waterbury, Vermont, and take a tour of the Ben Jerry’s Ice Cream factory, you’re sure to get a sweet and fun experience. However, a more gruesome part of the tour leads you to a hill in the back of the factory surrounded by white picket fencing and some ghostly trees. But don’t worry, it’s just the Ben Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard, where ice cream flavors go to die!
The Flavor Graveyard is there because of the company’s constant experimentation with weird and wacky ice cream flavors. However, some flavors are just too strange, which ultimately means they did not turn a profit. Every year, around ten or so flavors are eliminated due to low sales and become unfortunate inductees into the Flavor Graveyard. While the sweet cemetery makes for a serene setting for some of the oddest ice cream flavors to rest, only 34 graves have been dug so far out of the over 200 flavors that have been killed off as of this writing. If you can’t find your favorite ice cream flavor in your local supermarket, maybe it’s time to pay your respects at the Flavor Graveyard in Vermont.
9 The Lost Luggage Capital
Alabama may be famous for college football, Southern food, and Forrest Gump, but if you’ve ever wondered where unclaimed airline baggage ends up, and you happen to be in the northeastern part of the state, make a stop in Scottsboro. When an airline cannot track down the owner of a lost item or piece of luggage, it is sent to the Unclaimed Baggage Center there. At the center, you can browse through and purchase a myriad of lost luggage items.
Strange items have been found in this bizarre retirement community for suitcases. Ancient Egyptian artifacts, secret documents, and even a 5.8-carat diamond ring have been reportedly been discovered. The Unclaimed Baggage Center has even been given awards for retailer of the year.
8 Birthplace Of Captain Kirk
Riverside, a small town in Central Iowa, once had a town slogan saying “Where the best begins,” honoring its laid-back lifestyle and small-town Midwestern values. However, the town’s slogan is now “Where the trek begins,” as it is the self-described future birthplace of James T. Kirk, captain of Star Trek ‘s USS Enterprise.
While Kirk has not yet been born, the town celebrates his future birth date of March 22, 2228, with a festival called Trek Fest (formerly River Fest). Note that Kirk’s birth year was established as 2233 in the Star Trek series. The 2228 date is from a book, The Making of Star Trek, published in 1968. While no Star Trek novels, television series, or movies have made clear what Iowa town Kirk was (will be?) born in, Riverside, during the mid-1980s, said, “Why not us?” Perhaps this small town truly has gone where no small town in Iowa has gone before!
7 The Devil’s Crossroads
According to lore, when blues legend Robert Johnson was a young man, he sold his soul to the Devil himself in the small town of Clarksdale, Mississippi. As the pioneering state of American blues music, Mississippi has been the home of blues greats such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters, to name but a few. However, Robert Johnson was said, in exchange for playing wicked blues, to have made a wicked deal with the Devil himself at what is now known as the Crossroads, where US highways 61 and 49 converge in Clarksdale.
As a young man, Johnson wanted desperately to be a blues guitarist. “Voices” told Johnson to take a guitar to nearby Dockery Plantation at midnight and wait. He did, and a tall, dark man emerged, took Johnson’s guitar, played it, and then handed it back to Johnson. Immediately, Johnson was able to play blues guitar like no other ever had. If you desperately need to make a pact with the Devil anytime soon, perhaps a trip to the small town in Central Mississippi is what you need.
6 World’s Largest Time Capsule
In the small town of Seward, Nebraska, a man named Harold Davisson liked the year 1975 so much that he made sure to preserve everything he could in the world’s largest time capsule. Today, his time capsule, which is largely underground, is a tourist attraction for those passing through. With a pyramid built on top, the 45-ton vault holds more than 5,000 items from the 1970s!
The large vault made Davisson somewhat of a local celebrity in Seward, and his time capsule was sealed on July 4, 1975. Two years later, The Guinness Book of World Records certified that his time capsule was the largest in the world. However, Seward’s most famous resident received backlash from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, which argued that their “Crypt of Civilization,” sealed in 1940, was the world’s largest time capsule. Controversy followed, but Davisson was granted the title. His capsule is due to be opened on July 4, 2025.
5 The Last Sideshow Town
Gibsonton, Florida, with a population of around 14,000, is America’s one true “Carny Town.” During the early 20th century, when roaming carnivals traveled the land, many carnival workers, also known as carnies, took the summer holiday in the small town of Gibsonton, about 19 kilometers (12 mi) north of Tampa. Gibsonton is fabled for a large portion of its population having been former carnival workers and so-called “sideshow” human attractions. Gibsonton was known as a place for many such people to retire or spend the off season in a warm locale.
Many “carnies” called the place town Gibtown. In the past, the local police chief was a dwarf, and the fire chief was a 244-centimeter-tall (8′) carnival performer. As one can imagine, the carnie population in Gibtown was a closely connected community, and over time, the former carnival workers even developed their own secret language called (yes, you guessed it) carny. Additionally, the International Independent Showmen’s Association runs a very specific welfare system for retired and out-of-work carnies. These days, however, the number of former carnies in Gibsonton has greatly dwindled, and the town is more or less like any other.
4 On Fire for Decades
Centralia, Pennsylvania, has been on fire since the 1960s. In the early 1980s, around 1,000 people lived in this small Pennsylvanian town about 100 kilometers (60 mi) north of Harrisburg. Centralia is more of a ghost town now; by 2010, less than a dozen inhabitants called it home.
Why is Centralia on fire, you might ask? Since 1962, there has been an intense coal mine fire burning not above but below the tiny town. Toxic smoke venting from the cracked ground, sinkholes, and underground gas explosions are pretty good reasons to avoid living in Centralia at all costs. Nevertheless, a few (brave?) residents still hang on.
In 1992, the Pennsylvania government seized all properties in Centralia and condemned them. However, the handful of inhabitants in and around the town are currently allowed to stay. However, once they pass, the town of Centralia will officially be no more. In fact, some scientists believe the fire underground will go on for at least another 250 years!
3 Meet ‘The Slabs’
Residents of Slab City, California, are creatively known as “the Slabs.” This tiny town is popular for recreational vehicling in the Sonoran Desert, but, situated 240 kilometers (150 mi) northeast of San Diego, the bizarre Slab City remains a self-described city without laws. The residents, or “Slabs” as we should refer to them, share one communal shower in this dusty part of the California badlands. As many as 4,000 people may live there in the winter, when it’s cooler, but it gets quite hot in the summer.
Often occupied by hippies, the homeless, drifters, drug addicts, artists, adventurers, and local weirdos, Slab City’s residents brag about their “town” being “the last free place in America.” In this lawless land, a city with no rules, some arguments have resulted in absolute chaos, with tents and RVs set ablaze and even shoot-outs and duels.
Today, Slab City is managed by the state of California, but in the past, the site was known as Camp Dunlap, a former World War II base. But why is it called Slab City? The name comes from the large concrete slabs that remained after the Army abandoned the area. The site was returned to the state of California in 1961. The state eventually destroyed the remaining slabs.
2 The Bell Witch Cave
What makes this small town of Adams, Tennessee, so scary? Well, during the 19th century, the area was said to be haunted by a demon-like witch!
The legend goes that the Bell Witch’s original name was Kate Bates (or Batts). As rumor has it, Kate entered a poorly planned land deal with the neighboring family, whose name was the Bells. Kate promised to haunt the Bell family after learning she had been tricked. She seemed to keep her scary promise after one of the Bells’ daughters appeared to show signs of possession and strange aggression toward spirituality during the time. Some rumors hold that even former US president Andrew Jackson encountered the Bell Witch after investigating the cave that Kate’s spirit now seems to inhabit as she terrifies all who go near.
For roughly two centuries, people in the area have told of experiencing strange feelings when they go anywhere near the cave. Despite her being known locally as a not very kind spirit, a major dare is to repeat the Bell Witch’s original name in a mirror three times. No thanks!
1 A Town Under One Roof
In Whittier, Alaska, nearly the entire population of 218 people resides in a single building! This 14-story condominium was originally designed as an Army barracks during the 1950s and was made a residence in 1969, about five years after the Army moved out. The building, now known as Begich Towers, doesn’t just have people living in it but is nearly a fully functional tiny town under one roof. The building also serves as a church, the police station, a convenience store, and the post office for the town, 100 kilometers (60 mi) south of Anchorage.
In this so-called “town under one roof,” keeping secrets is much more difficult than in other small towns. However, since Whittier is situated between mountains and the sea, the town, or rather building, can mostly only be accessed by boat from long distances. Or, you can take a very long one-lane tunnel that runs one way underneath the mountains for certain portions of the day. While this setup might look strange, isolated, and perhaps even uncomfortable, Whittier’s residents seem to get along quite well and are a very close-knit community.
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