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Friday, 24 February 2017

10 SECRET COUNTRIES YOU PROBABLY HAVEN’T HEARD OF


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10 Secret Countries You Probably Haven’t Heard Of
By Morris M,
Toptenz, 23 February 2017.

How many countries are there in the world? It seems like a simple question, but the answer is far more complicated than you might think. The UN, for example, lists 193 member states, but this completely excludes not only Taiwan and Kosovo, but also Vatican City. Other means of measurement are just as difficult. Were you to count only places that issue their own passports, you’d have to say Scotland and Wales are not countries, but the Knights of Malta (who own literally no territory) are. Does that make sense to you?

As a result, no one can say for certainty what really defines a country. Which means there are plenty of places out there that claim to be nation states, but are completely unrecognized by the world. Some of these secret countries, like Kosovo, you might have heard of. Others are so obscure that even their immediate neighbors might not know of them. Looking for somewhere completely unique for your next vacation? Try one of these hidden nations…

10. Somaliland

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In 1991, Somalia collapsed into a brutal, on-going, civil war. As the country’s institutions crumbled and all hell broke loose, the northwestern part of the nation hastily declared independence. Somaliland set up its own army, its own flag, its own government and its own currency. 26 years later, they’re still going strong. Yet, to date, not a single state on planet Earth has recognized the wannabe nation.

This is all sorts of surprising. While Somalia is an ungovernable basket case where half a million have died over the last quarter century, Somaliland is semi-democratic, stable, and, most-impressively of all, peaceful. The war doesn’t matter here. Terrorist atrocities are rare. Visiting Westerners can walk around on their own, even at night, and expect no more hassle than they would get in most other African Horn countries. Travel guide publisher Lonely Planet even has a section advising hopeful visitors.

That’s not to say everything is cool in Somaliland. Youth unemployment is estimated at a staggering 75%, and terrorists from Somalia proper keep trying to attack the territory. Still, finding this oasis of peace in Somalia is almost as amazing as finding a safe part of Iraq. Speaking of which…

9. Iraqi Kurdistan

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Iraq has been a byword for unmitigated chaos for well over a decade now, as a bloody civil war gave way to ISIS rampaging across the desert. But there’s another part of Iraq that rarely makes headlines. Iraqi Kurdistan has functioned as an autonomous state within Iraq since 1970. Following the collapse of Baghdad’s control and the rise of ISIS, it has essentially become an independent country that keeps adding to its territory all the time.

This is a huge improvement on the situation under Saddam. In the 1980s, Iraqi aircraft dropped sarin on Iraqi Kurdistan, killing up to 5,000 civilians. Things got so bad after Saddam’s fall that the Kurds nearly declared unilateral independence, possibly starting a war. Then ISIS exploded onto the scene. As the Iraqi army crumbled, the Kurds took up weapons. Today, they’re the most effective army fighting ISIS in the whole of the Middle East.

Despite this historical horror, Iraqi Kurdistan (away from the frontlines) is stable. How stable? So stable that the unrecognized state has its own tourism industry which actively welcomes Westerners. Throw in a national anthem, passports, an army, borders, and an elected government, and you start wondering why we don’t just call it a country already.

8. Transnistria

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Have you ever wanted to experience life in Eastern Europe at the height of the Cold War? Book yourself a flight to Transnistria right now. A tiny sliver of land along the eastern edge of Moldova (a nation few enough people have heard of already), Transnistria declared independence from Chisinau in 1990. Since then, it has existed in a time-trapped bubble of USSR nostalgia, with its own currency, passports, democratic government and security forces, but recognized by absolutely no-one.

To most visitors, it can feel as if the ‘country’ hasn’t changed at all since the day it declared independence. Hammer and sickle flags still flutter over statues of Lenin, Soviet architecture is still the national style, and the state police are still modelled on the KGB. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the few countries to give Transnistria even limited recognition is Russia, which stations 1,000 troops there, just in case Moldova sends in the tanks to reclaim the land.

Unlike some on our list, visiting Transnistria is a breeze. Just catch a flight to Moldova and take a bus over the border. There aren’t even immigration checkpoints, which is more than you can say for flying to Texas.

7. Western Sahara (SADR)

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One of the most recognized hidden countries, the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR, AKA Western Sahara) has support most nations on this list could only dream of. It is a member of the African Union. India, Mexico, South Africa and Vietnam have all backed its claims for independence. The EU gives huge export tax breaks to Western Saharan goods. So how come we’re calling it a ‘hidden country’?

We can answer that with a single word: Morocco.

When Morocco was granted independence in 1957, it laid claim to the Western Sahara region. At the time, the area was under Spanish colonial control, but when Spain pulled out, they didn’t grant the territory to the indigenous Saharawi people. Instead, they let Morocco and Mauritania duke it out for ownership. Morocco won and has claimed Western Sahara as part of its territory ever since.

Despite this, Western Saharan independence is a movement that’s popular across the globe. Although only 500,000 people live there, their cause has more adherents than perhaps any other except Tibet.

6. Abkhazia

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You’re gonna be hearing a lot about war in this article. This section on Abkhazia is no exception. A medieval kingdom that was united with Georgia in 1008 AD, Abkhazia elected to return to its 11th century boundaries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the government of Georgia, who sent tanks in to keep their new nation together. What followed was a campaign of ethnic cleansing that killed thousands and left Abkhazia beyond Tibilsi’s control.

Independence wasn’t formally declared until 1999, but Abkhazia has essentially been separate since 1993. It has its own military, government, national bank, passports, boundaries, and the recognition of four UN member states. However, that independence has come at a price: total reliance on Russia. Since ’99, Abkhazia has been pulled ever-closer into Moscow’s orbit, essentially becoming a Russian exclave. Citizens can acquire Russian passports, crossing the border is a piece of cake, and jobs are reliant on Russian industry.

Interestingly, Abkhazia isn’t the only hidden country within Georgia’s tiny 70,000 square kilometers (slightly smaller than Scotland). The Rhode Island-sized enclave of South Ossetia in the north also claims independence.

5. Seborga

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Italy is already home to two internationally-recognized micronations: the 61 square kilometer city state of San Marino, and Vatican City, a nation so small it could fit inside the Pentagon five times over. According to some legal experts, there might be another. Seborga is a tiny hilltop town that covers an area the size of Central Park in NYC. It has only 400 residents, yet maintains consuls in several nations. Oh, and it may just be one of the oldest nation states in Europe.

Seborga was founded in 954 AD as a principality in the colossal Holy Roman Empire. When the Empire collapsed in 1806, nearly all of the 300 or so states that comprised it were dismantled or absorbed into bigger neighbors. Same deal with Seborga, which became part of Sardinia, and later a unified Italy. Or did it? When the Italian Unification treaty was signed in the 19th century, Seborga’s name was accidentally left off the document. Legally, it may therefore still be an independent state (albeit accidentally).

No one has ever actually brought this claim to court, so the matter is unsettled. Nonetheless, Seborga’s residents continue to claim independence from Italy.

4. Puntland

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Remember Somaliland way, way back at #10? The unrecognized nation wasn’t the only one to break away from Somalia when everything went south. The small, ocean-facing region of Puntland declared independence, too (‘small’ here is relative. At 212,500 square kilometers, Puntland is nearly the size of the UK). Only, while Somaliland hummed towards something like stability, Puntland took a completely different direction. One involving land wars, terrorism, and an economy mostly based on piracy.

While Puntland resisted the total descent into chaos Somalia experienced, its venture into nationhood wasn’t exactly a success. A disinterested central government allowed warlords to flourish on the coast, on the basis that they were better off attacking foreign ships than Puntland officials. ISIS have since taken root in the autonomous state, meaning it’s about as safe to visit as sticking your private parts into a whirring fan.

Interestingly, Puntland has only declared independence so long as the Somali civil war continues. If peace is finally declared, the autonomous region wants to join back together with the larger Somali state.

3. Freetown Christiania

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Freetown Christiania is unique on our list. Not only is it a self-proclaimed nation, it is the only one half-recognized by the state it seceded from. A sprawling anarchist commune set up in some abandoned army barracks in Copenhagen, Christiania declared independence in 1971. For a while, Denmark gamely tried to evict the squatters. Then, at some point in the late ’70s, the government essentially said ‘ah, nuts to this,’ and declared the area a ‘social experiment’ beyond government control. The rest, as they say, is dope-addled history.

Christiania today is very different from the rest of Denmark. There are no cars allowed, no guns, and no private property. Buying and selling hash is completely legal (it’s illegal in Denmark), and the main street is today home to the biggest pot market on the planet. About the only concession to normal life is a ‘no hard drugs’ rule, brought in after a heroin epidemic nearly devastated the commune.

So why does the Danish government put up with all this? Part of it may be to do with tourist dollars. Despite wanting to cut ties with Denmark, Christiania is today Copenhagen’s 2nd biggest tourist attraction, bringing the city over a million visitors annually.

2. Nagorno-Karabakh Republic

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In April 2016, fighting flared up again on the edges of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Azerbaijan. Artillery fire, helicopter gunships and snipers killed around 50 people in four days, as a long-dormant war threatened to reignite. Although Moscow managed to secure a ceasefire, the sudden escalation showed a gloomy truth about this unrecognized micronation. If things stay as they are, the region will never, ever be at peace.

Nagorno-Karabakh was an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed. Nagorno-Karabakh had long ago voted to secede, so the region’s leaders took their chance. Azerbaijan disagreed and sent in the tanks. The shocking violence that followed saw 30,000 killed, a campaign of ethnic cleaning, and hundreds of thousands turned into refugees. By the time the dust settled, Baku was no longer in control of the region, and a new republic of barely over 4,000 square kilometers had been born.

Today, Nagorno-Karabakh is home to around 150,000, all crammed into a tiny area of inhospitable mountain not much bigger than Cornwall. Not a single other nation recognizes the republic, not even Armenia.

1. Sovereign Military Order of Malta

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And so we come to the Knights of Malta. The Knights are unlike any other hidden nation, for a number of reasons. The first is that they’re actually not that unrecognized. About 100 countries have diplomatic relations with them, only a fraction less than recognize Kosovo (and about 80 more than currently recognize Taiwan). The second is that they don’t have any territory to call their own. After being kicked out of Malta by Napoleon in 1798, the Knights have simply rented an apartment block and a Villa in Rome.

Despite lacking a homeland, the Knights have never lost their official recognition as an independent country. They have their own passports, operate under their own laws, and claim over 13,500 citizens.

The only person they’re really answerable to is the Pope, who recently flexed his muscles for the first time in decades by demanding the resignation of the Knights’ leader over condom distribution charity work (it’s a long story). The reason for this deference is that the Knights are a Catholic order who, back when they genuinely held territory, swore eternal obedience to God’s representative on Earth. Today, the ‘country’ functions as little more than a vessel for Catholic charity work, albeit one with as much recognition as any number of genuine states.

Top image: Bosaso city in Puntland. Credit: warsame90/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]

Thursday, 23 February 2017

10 PLACES YOU WOULD NEVER EXPECT TO FIND BACTERIA


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10 Places You Would Never Expect To Find Bacteria
By Nick Logan,
Listverse, 23 February 2017.

Humans share the Earth with a plethora of different bacteria who inhabit a variety of different environments and perform countless functions - some of which we welcome, and some of which we fight against. It could be said, however, that it is the bacteria who are nice enough to share the Earth with us, considering there are roughly 5×10^30 bacteria on the planet - forming a total mass greater than that of all plants and animals combined.

We tend to think of them existing only in places where other life forms can be found, such as in our gut, the kitchen, forests, and ponds. However, plenty of bacteria require no such environment and can be found in some truly obscure and surprising places on this planet and beyond.

10. Inside Solid Rock

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Photo credit: University of Manchester

It was long believed that one of the requirements for life to exist was sunlight. Even organisms not directly exposed to the Sun (such as those residing in your gut) would consume organic matter that at one point was synthesized with the help of sunlight.

Recently, however, this dogma has been called into question. A team of scientists investigating a South African gold mine has discovered bacteria over 1.5 miles below the ground that seem to subsist purely off of radioactive waste.

The uranium, thorium, and potassium in the surrounding rock formation seem to have just the right amount of energy to break down water molecules, which leads to the production of hydrogen peroxide and sulfates. The radiation breaks down the water molecules into two atoms of hydrogen and a single atom of oxygen, which combine with other water molecules to form hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide then reacts with pyrite (fool’s gold) to produce sulfate ions, which the bacteria feast upon with great relish.

And these lonely microbes seem to be in no rush to leave their rocky fortress. Whereas much of the bacteria we encounter on a daily basis - such as E. coli - divides almost daily, this rock-dwelling bacteria is estimated to divide between once a year and once every 300 years.

9. The Cleanest Place On Earth: NASA ‘Clean Rooms’

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Photo credit: NASA

If you have ever given your kitchen or bathroom a thorough cleaning, you doubtless have walked away with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that any living microbes that once were there have been eviscerated. Now imagine you work for NASA, and your job is to make the “clean rooms” (where everyone is required to walk around in triple-layer, sterilized body suits) as clean as possible. And NASA wants them really clean.

These rooms are what “hospital operating rooms are to patients,” says Mike Weiss, Hubble’s technical deputy program manager at Goddard. “Surgeons wear sterile gowns, gloves and masks during surgery, and operating rooms must be kept free of germs to keep patients healthy. In our case, [the spacecraft] is the patient.”

Anyone who enters must pass through a series of “lobbies,” the first of which contains special adhesive to remove dirt particles from shoes, the second of which provides a high-pressure air shower, and the third of which forces you to cover yourself from head to toe in protective clothing.

This painstaking procedure made it all the more upsetting when an entirely new genus of bacteria was discovered in not one, but two NASA clean rooms. Named Tersicoccus phoenicis (“Tersi” is Latin for clean), this bacterium has earned a reputation for outwitting the most intense industrial cleaners and sterilization techniques.

Scientists at NASA make sure to keep samples of this resilient creature on hand to compare it to any potential bacteria brought back from space.

8. Sheets Of Ice

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Photo credit: U.S. Ice Drilling

When we think of ice, we inevitably think of cold, which brings with it very little movement and therefore very little life. The freezer is where we put food for long-term storage not because we necessarily want to make more room in the refrigerator but because we want to slow down the various chemical processes that will cause the food to spoil.

This is why it is all the more surprising that large populations of bacteria have found a long-term home in some of the world’s largest glaciers - with some bacterial strains lasting for millions of years.

The Transantarctic Mountains in Antarctica contain the oldest known ice on Earth and are home to microbes that have lived there for millions of years. It is estimated that the entire microbial cell population encased in the ice sheets of Antarctica outnumber the human population of Earth more than 10,000 times over.

And now that the Earth is warming and the ice is melting, these little guys may soon be liberated into the ocean, where they will have to adapt to an unfamiliar but perhaps more hospitable environment.

7. Boiling Water

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Photo credit: CDC

Every boy scout knows that if you come across a natural source of water, the water must be boiled before consumption to remove any harmful bacteria. Be careful, however, the next time you take solace in this technique, since some bacteria, such as Clostridium botulinum, can survive in boiling water.

Clostridium botulinum, which is responsible for botulism (a serious paralytic condition caused by a nerve toxin that can enter the body either through food intake or an open wound), prefers environments with relatively little oxygen, which is why it can grow and live in the most unnerving places, such as in your camp kettle or along the inside of a sealed can.

Since a botulism diagnosis often comes with aggressive antibody treatment and a trip to the hospital, it is best to use bleach, sodium hydroxide, and extreme temperatures (around 120 degrees Celsius) when trying to eradicate this pesky beast.

6. The Lowest Place On Earth

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Photo credit: Scientific American

Any ocean enthusiast knows that the Mariana Trench is the most mysterious place in the ocean and perhaps the planet. Located to the east of the Philippines and north of New Guinea, the Mariana Trench is the deepest part of any ocean on Earth, with a maximum depth of roughly 11,000 meters. The search for new forms of life at the bottom of this black, mostly inaccessible cavern has been a major goal for oceanographers for years, and now, in the Challenger Deep (the lowest point of the Mariana Trench), researchers have found heterotrophic bacteria, which can sustain themselves in part from tiny bits of organic compounds found in particles that fall from high above.

Bacteria found in the ocean past the reach of sunlight (beginning around 100 meters below the surface) must break down compounds such as sulfur and ammonia for sustenance, which makes the presence of these heterotrophic bacteria all the more mysterious.

5. The Upper Atmosphere

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Photo credit: Gary Meek

Usually, when we think of bacteria, we think of them living somewhere in the animal kingdom, coexisting with and in some cases feasting off of organic matter. This is not the case, however, when it comes to a large microbe population that was recently discovered in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Although there are no life forms in our atmosphere on which to feast, there is plenty of carbon, which provides these gravity-defying bacteria with sustenance, even at altitudes of six miles or more above sea level. In fact, bacteria may make up roughly 20 percent of the small particles in the upper atmosphere at any given time.

Although it is not entirely clear how these bacteria made the unlikely journey into the atmosphere, scientists believe that high winds and alternating atmospheric pressures drove the little critters into the heavens, much like the process by which salt and dirt arrive in the same place.

4. Your Eyeball

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Photo credit: Otis Historical Archives

Although it is common knowledge that the human body contains multitudes of bacteria (in fact, a human body contains more bacterial cells than human cells), we like to think of these friendly bacteria as residing peacefully in our gut - carrying out their end of a symbiotic relationship by aiding in the digestion of food, as well as producing chemicals that help us squeeze every last drop of energy out of what we consume.

What we do not like to think about, however, is that a more sinister type of bacterium resides on our eyeball, specifically the conjunctiva - a mucus membrane covering the sclera of the eyeball. The bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeaehas seem to have an affinity for the human eyeball, and although our tears do their best to keep these little critters at bay by dispatching enzymes such as lysozyme, these defenses are not enough to rid the eyeball of them completely.

And yes, these bacteria are the same ones responsible for the chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, respectively. Best to keep those eyes clean.

3. Antarctica

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If you are a seafood lover, you have inevitably fielded warnings about eating too much fish, due to a widespread fear that you may be ingesting too much mercury. A major culprit when it comes to mercury in fish may be a recently discovered strain of Antarctic bacteria. The bacterium, named Nitrospinia, seems to have an affinity for converting mercury to methylmercury, which is far more dangerous than mercury and has been known to cause developmental problems in children. After ingesting and converting the mercury into methylmercury, these pesky bacteria are consumed by a variety of different fish, which then end up on your dinner plate.

And since many of our most beloved fish dishes come from the Southern Ocean, this could be a major problem for seafood lovers, especially since more commercial fishermen are heading south to chase after depleting fish supplies.

2. Your Glabela

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Photo credit: Eye of Science/SPL

The glabela, more commonly known as the smooth section of skin between your eyebrows and above the nose, may seem like an unlikely home for bacteria since it lacks significant protection from the environment. However, being exposed for all the world to see is no deterrent for an especially monstrous-looking bacteria named Demodex folliculorum (also known as eyelash mites), which spend their days roaming around your forehead in search of carbon-containing matter. While these and the more commonly known Propionibacteria bacteria are generally harmless, they can occasionally cause an infection that leads to acne vulgaris. So the next time you discover a pimple between your eyes, you can blame these little guys.

1. The Dead Sea

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Photo credit: Hydra Institute

Given its name, the Dead Sea is understandably one of the last places one would go in search of life. This would be misguided, however, since although the extraordinarily salty water of the Dead Sea is inhospitable to most forms of life, some bacteria have discovered a loophole: freshwater springs.

Just within the last decade, several new forms of life have been discovered at the bottom of the Dead Sea - bacterial life that has become accustomed to both extreme salinity and fresh water (a necessary prerequisite for living in the Dead Sea, since the salinity of the water fluctuates so rapidly).

These prokaryote bacteria cling to the rocks at the bottom of the Dead Sea, as giant underwater craters shoot fresh water and sulfides into the surrounding water - forming a thin white film and proving wrong the notion that bacteria can only either survive in fresh or salt water environments, not both.

Top image credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]

9 PRIVATE ISLANDS YOU CAN ACTUALLY VISIT


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9 private islands you can actually visit
By Josh Lew,
Mother Nature Network, 21 February 2017.

It usually takes a fortune to buy an entire island, no matter how small it might be. Luckily, you do not have to be a billionaire to spend time on a private island. Many such places, including Richard Branson's Necker Island and Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz's Laucala Island (pictured top), have accommodations that anyone can reserve (although they rarely come cheap).

Some resorts have embraced this idea by taking over an entire landmass so they can cater to guests with a "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" fantasy, and a few of these destinations take advantage of their location to offer a range of experiences that are impossible to find in more crowded destinations.

Here are nine private islands you can actually visit.

1. Necker Island

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Photo: Marc van der Chijs/Flickr

This member of the British Virgin Islands is owned by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. The 74-acre Necker Island was completely uninhabited until the late 20th century, when Branson bought it - at age 28! - reportedly for only US$180,000. He set about turning the undeveloped land into a small resort featuring Balinese style villas that could accommodate around 30 people.

In addition to the expected array of spa treatments, dining options and pools, Necker offers water sports, tennis courts and plenty of beaches and nature trails. This is certainly a destination for the jet set (renting out the entire island costs around US$65,000 per day, though single villas are also available), but it is also a good place for nature-lovers. Branson is active when it comes to nature conservation, and Necker has a population of endangered iguanas and flamingos. Even various species of sea turtles come to Necker to nest.

2. Laucala Island

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Laucala Private Island is located in Fiji. The 3,000-acre landmass was once owned by publishing mogul Malcolm Forbes. He loved the island so much that he decided to be buried there. After Forbes passed away, Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz bought the island from his heirs.

Mateschitz built a resort with 25 villas designed in the style of traditional Fijian bures (grass-roofed cottages). Like Necker, Laucala is a favorite destination for celebrities. It has a few extravagances, such as its own submarine, and it is not cheap (rates average more than US$4,000 per night). However, nature and sustainability are an important part of the Laucala experience. Fruit and vegetable farms and even a herd of cattle allow the island to produce almost all of its own food. The hinterlands are mostly undeveloped, and a favorite pastime for guests is snorkeling among hawksbill turtles just off the island's shore.

3. Song Saa

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Photo: Andrew Caw/Flickr

Song Saa is a 27-villa resort spanning two sister islands near the Cambodian city of Sihanoukville. Some accommodations are in the jungle, some on the beach and some on over-the-water platforms. Even with more than two dozen villas, nature is the dominant force here. The water and reefs around the islands are protected, and guests can tour nearby villages and mangrove forests.

Song Saa puts a premium on relaxation and spiritual rejuvenation. Its spa and wellness treatments focus on stillness and inner peacefulness as well as on the physical body. The resort owners operate a foundation that works to preserve habitats in the Koh Rong Archipelago and to better the lives of local people in the area. Song Saa is also currently developing a solar array that will provide power to the resort and neighboring villages.

4. Amanpulo, Philippines

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Photo: Yasuo Kida/Flickr

Amanpulo is the only property on 250-acre Pamalican Island in the Philippines. This region of insular Southeast Asia is known (and loved) for its white sand beaches. Pamalican has perfect examples of this kind of tropical idyll.

Amanpulo consists of 42 casitas modeled after traditional island dwellings called bahay kubo. The reefs around Pamalican are ideal for diving, especially since the resort has created a kind of self-made marine sanctuary that protects the coral and its inhabitants from fishing and excessive boat traffic. In addition to beach-side casitas, Amanpulo has tree-top units and villas that sit on the hillside to cater to guests who value panoramic views above all else.

5. Petit Saint Vincent

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Photo: Firdaushaque/Wikimedia Commons

Petit Saint Vincent, 40 miles from Saint Vincent in the Grenadine islands, is home to a single resort with 22 villas and cabins built into the bluffs above the coastline and along the beach. The island is dominated by dense forest and surrounded by approximately two miles of white sand beach. The all-inclusive resort, run by the Small Luxury Hotels of the World chain, is not as expensive as you might guess. One- and two-bedroom villas usually go for between a mere US$1,000 and US$2,000 per night, depending on the season.

There are no vehicles on the island and most of the land remains covered with forest, so the biggest draw here is the sense of privacy that guests feel even though there are others on the island. Petit Saint Vincent also has a high degree of self-sufficiency with its own power sources and an onsite water desalination plant.

6. Guana Island

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Photo: Jean-Marc Astesana/Flickr

Most of Guana Island is covered by a nature preserve, but it also has a small resort on its 850 acres. Despite being one of the Caribbean's most pristine white sand beaches, the island's current lack of hotels and resorts fits with its history. Originally settled by Quakers in the 18th century, it was eventually purchased by an American couple who built stone cottages and invited artists and other creatives to stay for extended working vacations.

In addition to upgrading the accommodations, the island's current owners undertook restoration projects to bring back the native plant and animal species. This included reintroducing endangered iguanas and tortoises. The island also has three protected reefs just offshore. Guana Island, which was named one of the best resorts in the Caribbean by Conde Nast in 2016, has relatively reasonable rates, with shoulder-season prices below US$1,000 per night.

7. North Island


This member of the Seychelles off the coast of East Africa has a long history, but it has only recently come onto the tourism scene. The island, which has a total area of only three-quarters of a mile, was the site of the first recorded landing in the Seychelles in 1609. Following the collapse of the copra plantation, the island fell into disuse and became overrun by invasive species. In 1997, new owners began to restore the island to an earlier state.

The addition of bungalows by a South African ecotourism firm turned North Island into a sought-after nature destination. The accommodations are decidedly luxurious, and the island has become a favorite destination for celebrities. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for example, spent their honeymoon here.

8. Mnemba Island

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Photo: &Beyond

Mnemba Private Island can only accommodate 20 guests in 10 bungalows. Located just off the northeastern coast of Zanzibar, Mbemba is ideal for both a beach getaway and a dive vacation. The resort is run by &Beyond, a company that specializes in lodges and tours that fall into the adventure/safari niche.

The resort has a dive school and offers kayak and snorkel tours that take advantage of its location in the middle of the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area. The island itself is home to a number of rare bird species, including the miniature-sized suni antelope and the endangered Aders' duiker.

9. Quilalea Private Island

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Quilalea Private Island is in the middle of the Quirimbas Archipelago, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mozambique. The island has a property operated by boutique resort firm Azura, which is known for its eco-friendly practices and modern African designs. The resort features nine beachside villas. Other than these accommodations and staff quarters, Quilalea is uninhabited.

The Quirimbas Archipelago is home to a large marine sanctuary, so many of the guest activities revolve around the water and wildlife. Besides the deserted beaches, guests can kayak along mangrove forests and snorkel or dive in the reefs just offshore. Azura's spa, meanwhile, offers a unique blend of treatments based on local traditional medicine and ingredients.

Top image: Laucala Island, Fiji. Credit: Laucala Island/Facebook.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Video and some images added.]

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

8 TIMES CATS INTERRUPTED THINGS


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8 Times Cats Interrupted Things
By Kirstin Fawcett,
Mental Floss, 21 February 2017.

The only thing cats like more than napping, mice, or a healthy handful of ‘nip is making a scene. Here are eight instances where rogue felines stole the show, at the expense (or to the amusement) of humans.

1. The time cats crashed the G-20 Summit in Turkey


In November 2015, world leaders convened at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey - but their focus was briefly deterred from economic policy when three stray cats crashed the event’s main stage area. Unaware of the event's global significance, the kitties languidly walked around and sniffed a few flowers as the head organizer tried to drive them away.

2. The time a cat walked into a live German weather forecast


In January 2009, German weatherman Joerg Kachelmann had just launched into a two-minute live forecast when viewers caught sight of a tail flickering around his legs. It belonged to Lupin, a news staffer's cat; at the time, its owner was out of town.

Kachelmann noticed the brown-and-white tabby rubbing against his leg, scooped it into his arms, and continued delivering the news like nothing had happened. As for the kitty, it nibbled on Kachelmann’s beard and pointed its paw at the weather map.

"I don't know how he got into the studio," Kachelmann later told Reuters. "I noticed him when he rubbed against my leg and thought people might wonder what was happening. I figured it would be easier to control the cat by picking him up. Cats get annoyed if they feel ignored. So I made sure he didn't feel ignored."

3. The time a cat spontaneously audited a college class in Malaysia

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Image credit: Eagle Pro/Twitter

In September 2016, a brown tabby with a thirst for knowledge sauntered into a classroom at the International Islamic University in Malaysia and took a seat at a table. Proving that students aren’t the only ones prone to falling asleep during long lectures, the feline slipped into slumber during the second half of the class.

“The other students and teachers found it really amusing…but we just left the cat,” Nur Elynna Binti Mohammad Shaharul Hashri told BuzzFeed News. “It did not disturb the flow of our lesson.”

4. The time a cat thwarted a Texas cop trying to write a speeding ticket


In November 2009, a black feline in Taylor, Texas had a furry brush with the law when it accosted a local police officer on duty. Officer Keith Urban had pulled over a driver in a rural area of town and was writing him a speeding ticket when the kitty came over from a neighboring farm and crawled up his legs and onto his shoulders.

"I think the driver of that vehicle was laughing a little bit," Urban later told the Taylor Daily Press. "And the driver even offered to get out of the vehicle and remove the cat."

Urban shrugged the cat off him, and nudged it away with his foot, but the persistent kitty managed to scale him again. Eventually, the officer had to gently kick the cat away - an action he apologized for after the video went viral.

"(Urban) came in and said, 'Hey, you know, I kind of kicked this cat away from me, and I'm sorry,' " Taylor's police chief, Jeff Straub, told the Taylor Daily Press. "He was trying to get it away from him and kind of launched it. Of course the cat thought it was great fun and wanted to come back."

5. The time a cat guest-starred on a Turkish television program


While filming a live broadcast in October 2016, Kudret Çelebioğlu, host of the Turkish television program Good Morning Denizli, was upstaged by a furry co-anchor: a white-and-brown tabby stray who wandered on set, hopped onto his desk, and - in classic cat fashion - sat on his warm laptop.

Instead of shooing the kitty away, Çelebioğlu kept his cool, and joked that there was a “surprise guest” in the studio. He also took the opportunity to make a public service announcement, informing viewers that stray cats were getting hungry as winter approached, and to feed and look after them.

6. The time a cat walked on-stage during a Lebanese folk music concert


In August 2015, a culture-seeking kitty sauntered on-stage during a folk music concert at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. The band played on, the audience remained respectfully silent, and the cat eventually hopped off-stage and disappeared. Later, as the band began playing more upbeat tunes, the feline returned - this time, with extra speed and spring to its step.

7. The time a cat stole the show at an Australian rugby game


In July 2016, the Penrith Panthers, a professional rugby league in Penrith, Australia, inadvertently got a new feline mascot for a day. During the second half of a match against rival team Cronulla Sharks, a fluffy black cat galloped across the field and leapt over a wall and into the bleacher area.

The Panthers ended up losing 26-10 to the Sharks. Some fans may have blamed the black cat for the team’s bad luck, but others loved it (social media users even voted to name the kitty "Ryan Purrdler,” after former Australian rugby star Ryan Girdler). The feline was never seen again, but the Panthers paid homage to their furry fan by selling likenesses of the cat at a match.

8. The time a cat stole the hearts of California hockey fans


Meanwhile, in California, yet another black cat crashed a sporting event in April 2016. The San Jose Sharks were all set to compete against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their second round playoff series. But during warm-ups, a female kitten mysteriously appeared out of nowhere and skidded across the ice.

After making its cameo, the cat hid underneath the SAP Center’s bleachers. The center’s engineering staff eventually located the scared kitty, and the Sharks found her a temporary home at the Humane Society Silicon Valley.

The cat - which the Sharks named “Jo PAW-velski,” after Sharks captain Joe Pavelski - ended up being a good luck charm: The team defeated the Predators 5-2. Jo PAW-velski became so famous that fans sitting in the stands at Game 2 wore cat ears, someone made her a parody Twitter account, and the Humane Society Silicon Valley set up a live webcam in her room.

No one claimed Jo PAW-velski, so San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau and his family ended up adopting her from the shelter, along with another cat they named Stanley.

Top image credit: herman yahaya/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

[Source: Mental Floss. Edited. Top image added.]