A new species of iguana with unusual pink skin has been discovered by scientists on the island where Charles Darwin first developed his theory of evolution.
The large lizard, which is at risk of extinction, has rose-coloured scales and only lives on one volcano in the Galapagos Islands.
Darwin, whose 200th birthday will be celebrated on February 12, observed both marine and land iguanas when he visited the archipelago in 1835.
The way the creatures adapted themselves to their surroundings helped to develop his revolutionary ideas about natural selection.
But he never explored the Volcan Wolf volcano on the island of Isabela and therefore did not see the pink iguana.
The creature was first spotted in 1986 by park rangers but was dismissed as a curiosity and soon forgotten.
It is only now that scientists have discovered that the “rosada” – or pink – iguana is a species in its own right after comparing its genes with other land iguanas on the Galapagos.
There were also physical differences, besides the striking pink and black-striped colouring. Pink iguanas had flat head scales, unlike other land iguanas, and a thick fatty crest on the back of the neck with small conical scales.
Action is now needed to prevent this scientifically valuable creature becoming extinct, say the researchers writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The discovery comes as seventeen previously unknown species of reptiles and amphibians were found in the threatened rainforests of eastern Tanzania.
The new species, which include chameleons, tree frogs and snakes, were discovered by scientists from the Natural Science Museum of Trento in Italy.
The discovery shows the rich biodiversity of the area which is under threat from fire, logging, collection of wood for fuel and land clearance for cultivation.
While persons with dissociative disorders, or multiple personalities, have been known to have as many as 100 personalities, they have not been known to morph into totally different creatures — except in the movies, of course
. But one cephalopod, the Indo-Malayan octopus, totally transforms itself into at least 15 different sea animals. So far, at least, the Indo-Malayan octopus is the ultimate biomimic — life imitating life.
Here is the Indo Malayan octopus in its natural state, sitting on a burrow of sand…
Some animals, particularly certain species of birds and fish, are known to change colors to attract mates or to camouflage themselves to protect against predators. The Indo-Malayan octopus, first identified in 1998, has not had many years under man’s proverbial microscope, so much about how the octopus developed his many skins is not known. But in the meantime, it’s fascinating to study.
First observed by Mark Norman, Julian Finn, and Tom Tregenza on research dives in Indonesia, these unusual mimics were observed in many disguises during a 24 hour period. The researchers photographed the octopus in many phases, as the photos below will show.
Here the octopus is shown foraging for food, using the tips of its arms to probe down holes and the flared web-like part of their arms to trap anything trying to escape from the holes… almost like digging finger tips at the end of clasping hands.
When moving, the Indo-Malayan octopus draws its arms together into a leaf shape.
In the next photo, the octopus seems to mimic a particular kind of sole fish found abundantly in the same waters.
Here, the mimic octopus is swimming like a lion fish…
… sometimes with its “poisonous” spines flared, as below. (In the lion fish those spines are poisonous; it is not suspected that they are poisonous in the octopus, only that the octopus is mimicking the appearance and movements of the lion fish for protective purposes.)
Mark Norman and his fellow researchers have included some short videos of their octopus subjects in their study. Here is one submitted to YouTube by member Marcelnad that is a bit longer.
There are two very striking observances made of this sea character, the Indo-Malayan octopus. One is that some of the 15 species of sea life are likely never to have been observed by the octopus, and the other is that when facing a predator, the octopus will become that predator’s most fearful predator. How does the octopus know how to become something that it has never observed? How does it know what is most feared by its own predator?
The answers are not known yet. What is know is that the Indo-Malayan octopus will likely be a subject of study for a long time. What can technology learn from the observing the mysterious mimic octopus?
The sky is the part of the atmosphere or of outer space visible from the surface of any astronomical object. It is difficult to define precisely for several reasons. During daylight, the sky of Earth has the appearance of a deep blue surface because of the air‘s scattering of sunlight. The sky is sometimes defined as the denser gaseous zone of a planet’s atmosphere. At night the sky has the appearance of a black surface or region scattered with stars.
During the day the Sun can be seen in the sky, unless covered by clouds. In the night sky (and to some extent during the day) the moon, planets and stars are visible in the sky. Some of the natural phenomena seen in the sky are clouds, rainbows, and aurorae. Lightning and precipitation can also be seen in the sky during storms. On Earth, birds, insects, aircraft, and kites are often considered to fly in the sky. As a result of human activities, smog during the day and light radiance during the night are often seen above large cities (see also light pollution).
In the field of astronomy, the sky is also called the celestial sphere. This is an imaginary dome where the sun, stars, planets, and the moon are seen to be traveling. The celestial sphere is divided into regions called constellations.
See skies of other planets for descriptions of the skies of various planets and moons in the solar system.
Light from the sky is a result of the scattering of sunlight, which results in a blue color perceived by the human eye. On a sunny day Rayleigh Scattering gives the sky a blue gradient — dark in the zenith, light near the horizon. Light that comes in from overhead encounters 1/38th of the air mass that light coming along a horizon path encounters. So, fewer particles scatter the zenith sunbeam, and therefore the light remains a darker blue.
The sky can turn a multitude of colors such as red, orange and yellow (especially near sunset or sunrise) and black at night. Scattering effects also partially polarize light from the sky.
Sky luminance distribution models have been recommended by the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) for the design of daylighting schemes. Recent developments relate to “all sky models” for modelling sky luminance under weather conditions ranging from clear sky to overcast.
There have been volcanic eruptions thousands of times more powerful than Mt. St. Helens. Recent storms have redefined the ranking systems for wind speeds. The hottest place on Earth has hit temperatures 288 degrees hotter than the coldest place on earth.
Yep, it’s an amazing world. Here is a compilation of the most extreme conditions that add a little spice (and devastation) to the planet Earth and its inhabitants.
The Fastest Recorded Wind Speed Near Earth’s Surface
Oklahoma, United States – 318 MPH
Scientists measured the fastest wind speed ever recorded, 318 mph, in one of the tornadoes that hit the suburbs of Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999.
The record-setting wind occurred about 7 p.m. near Moore, where the tornado killed four people and destroyed about 250 houses.
Joshua Wurman of the University of Oklahoma says he and his research team were about a half-mile away when they measured the record wind. Wurman says the actual speed in the part of the tornado measured could have been nine or 10 mph slower or faster than 318 mph.
Wurman’s group used a truck-mounted Doppler radar, one of the two used in the Doppler On Wheels (DOW) project at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
The fastest speed previously measured was 286 mph clocked by a portable Doppler radar April 26, 1991, in a tornado near Red Rock, Okla.
The 318-mph speed would put the tornado only 1 mph below an F-6 on the 0-to-6 Fujita scale. No tornado has ever been classified an F-6
The Driest Place on Earth
The Dry Valleys of Antartica – Rain-free for 2 million years and counting
One interior region of the Antarctic is known as The Dry Valleys. These valleys have not seen rainfall in over two million years. With the exception of one valley, whose lakes are briefly filled with water by inland flowing rivers during the summer, the Dry Valleys contain no moisture (water, ice, or snow).
The reason why the Dry Valleys exist are the 200 mph Katabatic down winds which evaporate all moisture. The dry valleys are strange: except for a few steep rocks they are the only continental part of Antarctica devoid of ice.
Located in the Trans-Antarctic Range, they correspond to a mountain area where evaporation (or rather, sublimation) is more important than snowfall, thus all the ice disappears, leaving dry barren land.
The Hottest Recorded Temperature
Lut Desert of Iran – 159 °F
A NASA satellite recorded surface temperatures in the Lut desert of Iran as high as 71 °C (159 °F), the hottest temperature ever recorded on the surface of the Earth. This region which covers an area of about 480 kilometers is called Gandom Beriyan (the toasted wheat).
Its surface is wholly matted with black volcano lava. This dark cover absorbs excessive sunshine, which due to difference of temperature with neighboring elevations forms a wind tunnel. There are reports that no living creature lives in this region. That is why this is arguably the driest place on earth next to the Dry Valleys of Antarctica.
The Coldest Recorded Temperature
Antarctica – 129 °F below zero
The lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was -129F recorded in 1983 at the Russian Base Vostok in Antarctica. Antarctica, a continent owned by no one, covers the southern end of our globe. In addition to being the coldest place on earth, Anarctica is also the wettest and the driest place on earth. How is this possible?
Over ninety eight percent of Anarctica is covered by ice. Antactica contains seventy percent of the earth’s fresh water and ninety percent of the earth’s ice.
The Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest sheet of ice on earth, with an average depth of 7,200 feet. According to NASA’s Cold Facts, “the thickest ice found is in Wilkes Land, where it reaches a depth of 15,669 feet: about as deep as the highest of the Alps is high.” If this ice cap were to melt the sea level would rise an average of 230 feet and would inundate most coastal cities, including New York, London, and Hong Kong.
Antarctica is technically a dessert. It receives less than two inches of precipitation a year, about the same amount of precipitation as the Sahara Desert.
One interior region of the Antarctic is known as The Dry Valleys. These valleys have not seen rainfall in over two million years. With the exception of one valley, whose lakes are briefly filled with water by inland flowing rivers during the summer, the Dry Valleys contain no moisture (water, ice, or snow). The reason why the Dry Valleys exist are the 100 mph Katabatic down winds which evaporate all moisture. The freezing temperatures and the absence of water, plant life, and animal life simulate, to a degree, conditions on the Planet Mars. Consequently, the Dry Valleys are used as training grounds for astronauts who may one day make a voyage to our neighboring planet.
The Most Rainfall in 24 Hours
La Reunion Island, Indian Ocean – 6ft 2in
As you can see by the image below, this volcanic island in the middle of the Indian Ocean could use the rainfall. They just weren’t expecting to get over 6 ft in a day.
Between March 15-16th, 1952, Cilaos at the center of Réunion, received approximately 74 in (6ft.2?) of rainfall. This is the greatest 24-hour precipitation total ever recorded on earth. The island also holds the record for most rainfall in 72 hours, approximately 155 in (12ft.11?) at Commerson’s Crater in March, 2007.
The Longest Bolt of Lightning Ever Recorded
From Waco to Dallas, Texas, United States – 118 Miles Long
Positive lightning develops in the same way as typical lightning bolts, but the positive bolt draws electrons upward from the ground.
These lightning bolts tend to be much, much stronger than regular lightning, and may carry as much as a hundred times the energy of a normal flash of lightning.
These “superbolts” of lightning, thankfully, are very rare. Only about five superbolts occur for every ten million normal lightning strokes.
Superbolts can reach way beyond the normal eight to ten miles of a typical lightning stroke. The longest superbolt on record reached from Waco, Texas to Dallas, after having traveled about a 118 miles.
The Largest Volcanic Eruption
La Garita Caldera in SW Colorado, United States – 1,200 cu miles
This was chosen because of the firm evidence rather than theory. The eruption that created the La Garita Caldera was the largest known eruption since the Ordovician period, with a VEI magnitude of 8.
The scale of La Garita volcanism was far beyond anything known in human history. The resulting deposit, known as the Fish Canyon Tuff, has a volume of approximately 5,000 cubic kilometers (1,200 cu mi), enough material to fill Lake Michigan (in comparison, the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens was only 1.2 cubic kilometers (0.3 cu mi) in volume).
The area devastated by the La Garita eruption is thought to have covered a significant portion of what is now Colorado, and ash could have fallen as far as the east coast of North America and the Caribbean.
The Deepest Place on Earth
Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean – 6.77 miles
The Mariana Trench (or Marianas Trench) is the deepest part of the world’s oceans, and the deepest location on the surface of the Earth’s crust. It has a maximum depth of about 10.9 km (6.77 mi), and is located in the western North Pacific Ocean, to the east and south of the Mariana Islands, near Guam.
The bottom of the trench is farther below sea level than Mount Everest is above it (8,850m/29,035ft).
The Largest Recorded Earthquake
Valdivia earthquake, Chile – 9.5
The Valdivia earthquake or Great Chilean Earthquake of May 22, 1960 is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, rating 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. It caused localised tsunamis that severely battered the Chilean coast, with waves up to 25 meters (82 feet).
Coastal villages, such as Toltén, disappeared. Later studies argued that the earthquake actually had 37 epicenters through a 1,350 km (839 mi) north-south line that lasted from May 22 to June 6th 1960.
Elsewhere along the western coast of the United States, Crescent City, California, experienced notable tsunami waves and run-up. The tsunami travel time of the first wave to arrive at Crescent City was 15.5 hours after the occurrence of the earthquake in Chile.
At Crescent City, tsunami waves of up to 1.7 meters (appr. 5.6 feet) were observed and minor damage was reported.
One way of distracting yourself from the gloom and cold of February is to plan your vacation. I’ve got some ideas for an adventure you’ll remember for the rest of your life! Or maybe you can just enjoy them on the net. Warning: for some of these, you must be well-trained. For others, you’ll have to at least be in good shape.
Hang Gliding -Rio de Janeiro
Hang glide Rio de Janeiro!
The combination of mountains, ocean, and city make for an awesome experience!
A 15 day bike tour starting at Guilin, Guangxi will take you to altitudes of 2,000 feet and through many scenic and historical rural villages. This tour is rated one of National Geographic’s best picks.
Cliff Diving -Brontallo, Switzerland
Scuba Diving -Andrea Doria
For the best scuba diving vacation, The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world, almost 2,000 kilometers long, off the coast of Queensland in Australia. But for the most challenging dive, the wreck of the Andrea Doria off Cape Cod has been referred to as the Mount Everest of diving. At 240 feet deep, it is well below the recommended limit for scuba divers. 14 people have died attempting such a dive. Divers have retreived all kinds of treasures from the ship. The ship sank in 1956, and recent reports are that the hull is collapsing and the wreck is not as fascinating as it was in the past.
Surfing -Cortes Bank
Catch the big ones 100 miles out of San Diego at Cortes Bank. Here, a 17-mile underwater mountain range comes to a head 30 feet below the surface at a spot called Bishop Rock. The waves there are so big they show up on radar. Waves can range up to 60-70 feet when conditions are right. This surfing trip isn’t easy. You have to get there by helicopter or boat, and the waves move so fast, surfers must be towed into position with jet skis. Cortes Bank was featured in the movie Step Into Liquid.
BASE Jumping -Norway
Snowboarding in Nepal is for only the hardiest adventurers, but the thrills are huge. The first ever snowboard descent from Mount Everest was in 2001, and the industry has grown ever since. Snowboarding in Antarctica is pretty awesome, too! Find more destinations at the World Snowboard Guide.
Whitewater Rafting/Kayaking -Zambezi River
The Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe offers not only a variety of river conditions, but African wildlife and amazing scenery, including Victoria Falls.
Joshua Tree National Park in California is very popular with rock climbers. Even with 4,500 established routes, crowding can cause problems during high vacation periods. See a ton of photos at Joshua Tree Climb.
Gator Wrestling -Mosca, Colorado
The premiere -or possibly only- alligator wrestling academy is in Mosca, Colorado. Colorado Gators will begin classes for 2007 Memorial Day Weekend. Yes, you have to wrestle different sized alligators to advance to the next levels. You might even qualify for the Alligator Rodeo!
This was a thrill to put together. I may have a volume two sometime soon! Any suggestions?
In last two years in Tonga, one of the most peaceful countries in the world, called by Captain James Cook the friendly islands, turned up an uptight atmosphere. In November 2006 pro democratic rebels set on fire the business part of the capital city. Police and army managed to calm down the situation. Australia and New Zeeland sent their troops to help them. In August 2008, George Tupou V was crowned for a king, but he got accused for spending more than 1.300.000 pounds for the celebration.
Tonga is also specific for being the only member of Commonwealth who’s got its own climate to the thrown, and not queen Elisabeth II. Modern Tonga is based on two ancient and
In strange way framed ideologies- on medieval tendency to conquer new land and on Christian missioners enthusiasm from 19th century.
Tonga started to grow a thousand years ago, which provided that Tongan culture overwhelms more than 3 millions of square miles of ocean. That is one of the most amazing colonial achievements in the human history.
For couple of centuries 3 leading noble families were fighting for dynastic rights, sometimes fighting, but mostly by arranged marriages. Actually the royal dynasty now has its origins of all 3 families. Tonga preserved Christian-missionary legacy which made big difference in religion but also stoked people to preserve political and social values. Missionary influence of Methodist in Tonga began in 19th century, while the Samoans islands belonged to Congregationalists. Missioners in Tonga helped to establish monarchy in this country.
Establishing the monarchy and fighting the colonization they managed to preserve ancient Togas customs and society. But not being colonized, Toga never managed to become a democratic society.
The main reason for mutiny in 2006 in Tonga was animosity towards China. In front of Tonga
There are 3 challenges: To become democratic republic, to preserve costumes and like a society to become independent economically and in the field of education.
The story about Shangri La actually is a modern fairytale which has been told by English writer James Hilton in his book “The lost horizon”. The story is being set in the time between two world wars, in the Tibetan monastery in the lost valley of Shangri La which has been cut out of the rest of the world. All the great wisdom was there, in the minds of people who gathered around.
The Hiltons story is touching the bottom line. In the 20th century this was very popular book, that the retreating of American president in Camp David was called for some time Shangri La. Some went even further. For example, Hitler has sent a scientifically expedition in 1939 to Himalayas, in hope to find the lost super race of people, who have similar genetic resemblance as Germans. That project remained remembered as one of the biggest error in the history of science.
By all means “The lost horizon” was at that time the real story, at time when the west civilization was on the road to self-destruction, as Carl G. Jung said: “smell of soot was felt in the air”. That’s why the thought of lost paradise, far away from eyes of public was so irresistible. Another thing also influenced to relive this myth. Tibet in the middle of 30’s was the real personification of incomprehensible and Eastern magic, one of the lat untouched and unmarked places on Earth, the real forbidden land. The chosen place even today is very interesting, since all the things which happened to Tibet after the book was published, when China has occupied Tibet and the Cultural Revolution in the 60’s.
In this novel “The lost horizon”, the group of western tourists are saving themselves with a plane from the raging war and chaos in the world, by landing in the valley of the biggest mountains in the world. Even if the valley is being made up the writer is decrypting it in details. He is telling us about the monastery whose Capuchin lama is a twenty years old man. The monastery has al the cultural fortunes in the world and theirs habitants are against the violence and materialism. The great building is situated in the valet of the big white mountain, the most beautiful in the world. Burt there must have been an older story about some kind of lost paradise on which Hilton has based his story. Did the real Shangri La ever exist? Or maybe the better question would be, why the stories about paradise occupies human mind?
The story about the lost kingdom in Himalaya has for the first time draw the attention of some people 4 centuries ago. And, as all the stories which are saying about the lost treasure, have a lost map, which was found and then lost again. It was a part of autobiography of a missioner who was on the court of Mogul king Abu Ul Fata Jelaludin Akbar, one of the biggest Indian rulers. He is best known in history as one who tried to unite different religions and to cancel slavery.
On his court lived in unity and in respect all the religions and all the people from all over the kingdom, as well as the missioners from the west.
One Jesuit priest collected all the miraculous stories which he had heard on Akbars court, and after that he had made a drawing. On his map the space of Tibet was represented as a big blank space, except one place which carried a name Manasarvovar lacus- the lake Manasa Sarovar, and there was writing: here live Christians. This priest was old and he was not able to go across the big mountains in search for Christians, but much younger priest Antonio Andrade was so charmed by this story and decided to make his move and cross the mountains. Armed with faith and a little map he took of from Akbars castle and at the beginning on the mountain he was passing over some monks who were praying, but after a while the place became unpleasant. Some bad things started to happen and he was starting to curse himself and the mountains. But some kind of a miracle has happened to him. He managed to find a very wealthy kingdom even if there were no Christians as the map was saying. His journey was found in Calcutta in 19th century, and in 1926 was published as “Finding Tibet”. The resemblance of “The lost horizon” and this book is more than obvious.
The thought about lost kingdom on Himalaya was well known even in Buddhist stories, and there is a possibility that this story was mentioned on Akbars court. Name “Shambala” has firs appeared in text known as “kalachakra tantra” or “The weal of time which is teaching”. The teaching kalachakra belongs to the highest class of Buddhist teaching, and the followers can reach the lighting only in several years not as the practice is several decades. The place Shambala is a mystic and not a geographic place, but getting there is represented as a travel across the mountains that look like lotus flowers.
The story about Shangri La is a modern story with a powerful lure for the world as we know it today. One of stories is about evermore misunderstanding the East and its mysticism and their stories which are rising spirituality and freedom of the mind and liberating from material goods and dogmas. It is true that we live in time when we think that bad things are going to brake us, but the things are the same from as well as the mankind exists. The hope would not exist without the fear.
The story about Shangri La is a masterpiece in telling stories. As the times are tougher and the treat is bigger, the need for believing in better tomorrow and next day is bigger. The sad thing is that Shangri La exists only in our imagination. And imagination can sometimes be so strong.
Cannas not only feature pretty blossoms, but also beautiful leaves (often likened to that of the banana plant) that come in a variety of stunning colors. Popularized in Victorian times, Cannas are popular garden plants.
The unofficial flower of Japan, the spectacular display of blossoms that arrive in the spring are celebrated by festivals both in Japan and the U.S. The most popular colors are white and pink. They are beautiful while on the trees and remain a stunning sight even after carpeting the ground.
Growing high in the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Columbine is a welcome reward for the enterprising climbers of Colorado’s 14,000-foot high mountains. Picking one in the wild carries a fine ($5-$50 depending on the Ranger who catches you)!
Magical snowball puffs in fall: gorgeous. The clusters of star-shaped blossoms, often found in delicate pastel hues, embody innocence. They are popular in wedding bouquets and as garden flowers.
Lily of the Valley
A delicate and fragrant sign of spring, the Lily of the Valley has inspired a number of legends. One such Christian legend explains that the tears that Mary shed at the cross turned to Lilies of the Valley, prompting the flower to sometimes be referred to as “Our Lady’s Tears.” Another legend tells of Lilies of the Valley springing from the blood of St. George during his battle with the dragon.
While visually stunning and elegant, this beautiful flower is actually a member the poisonous species, Zantedeschia. All parts of the plant are highly toxic, with the capability to kill livestock and children if ingested.
Black Eyed Susan
The black eyed susan, a cheerful wildflower, is a perennial that serves as a beautiful back drop in any garden. The contrast of the bright gold yellow petals and dark middle makes it any easy one to spot and recognize. This official drink of the Preakness stakes horse race is named after this flower, consisting of 2 parts Bourbon whiskey, 1 part citrus vodka, 3 parts sweet & sour mix, one part orange juice and garnished with orange and a cocktail cherry.
These whimsical, almost fairy-like blossoms are a traditional favorite in shady gardens. The flowers are either red, pink or white and appear in April-June.
In spring, many European woods are covered by dense carpets of this flower; these are commonly referred to as “bluebell woods”. It is thought that they were named by the romantic poets of the 19th century, who felt they symbolized solitude and regret.
These delicate flowers, with their pink and yellow petals, are butterfly magnets. The bush can grow to be quite large and the color of the petals change as the plant ages. Beware – Lantana is considered a weed by many that is quite difficult to get rid of.
Roses are one of the most romantic and wonderfully scented of flowers. The giving of roses is steeped in tradition and cultural meaning, from the yellow rose of friendship to the deep red rose of true love.
This perennial poppy has a delicate and striking color. After flowering in the spring, their foliage dies back entirely, only to grow new leaves once again with the autumn rains. The Oriental Poppy is the flower of The Wizard of Oz.
Mussaenda erythrophylla (Ashanti Blood, Red Flag Bush, Tropical Dogwood)
These plants are native to the Old World tropics, from West Africa through the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia and into southern China. The beautiful red and yellow petals are a real showstopper. A favorite of not only of gardeners, but also butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
The first Begonia was introduced into England in 1777. Now one of the most popular flowers grown in the United States, Begonias are prized for their flowers as well as their leaves. This versatile plant can be grown either inside or out.
Ixora flowers, also commonly called West Indian Jasmine, are often used in Hindu worship, as well as in Indian folk medicine. This plant has traditionally been associated with enhanced sexuality and the re-kindling of passion. Who wouldn’t want that as a gift!
Dendrobium is a large genus of tropical orchids that include over a thousand species. The sprays of flowers are so delicate and yet so perfectly formed, they appear magical.
Mount Kumgang, Kumgangsan Tourist Region
Location: North Korea’s east coast
Why you should go: It’s an unspoiled spiritual retreat. Mount Kumgang and the surrounding area feature exquisite natural beauty, a famous Zen monastery, and challenging trails for hiking enthusiasts. Nearby Kuryong Falls plunges 242 feet before crashing into a series of lagoons below. A pavilion allows easy viewing of the falls, and mountain paths take travelers more than 5,000 feet up for a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding valleys and the white-sand beaches of the Korean coastline. Enjoy the latter while you can, as electric and barbed-wire fences make access to these beaches rather difficult.
Why you can’t: Because it’s almost impossible. Americans can acquire visas for North Korea, but the only access points are through China and South Korea. Tony Poe, a travel agent based in Little Rock, Arkansas, says that although the North Korean regime has begun to allow U.S. tour groups entry, “you’re basically under quarantine” the entire time. American tourists (of which there have been fewer than 500 since the Korean War ended in 1953) are generally restricted to Pyongyang and the surrounding areas, with Kumgangsan essentially off limits.* Straying too far from the tour group is strictly forbidden, and the nonexistent U.S. Embassy and Consulate aren’t going to be of much help if you get into trouble with the Stalinist regime’s notorious secret police.
Location: Cuba’s eastern tip
Why you should go: Baracoa is Cuba’s oldest settlement, founded in 1511 by Spanish conquistadors, and is believed to be near where Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492. Important archaeological sites dot the area, and nearby caves provide visitors an opportunity to view pictographs and ceramic remains of Native American tribes that inhabited the island when Europeans first arrived. Large forts, built in the 18th century to repel pirate attacks, provide breathtaking views of the bay and surrounding forests. The area is also full of sandy beaches, lush vegetation, and waterfalls, not to mention a healthy array of musical, artistic, and cultural happenings.
Why you can’t: Because it is impossible. For a host of reasons—some of which have the last name Castro—U.S. tourist travel to Cuba is thoroughly restricted. Even travel to Cuba through a third country, such as Mexico or Canada, is technically illegal, and violators can face prosecution and a hefty fine of up to $65,000 upon return to the United States. So, although the U.S Guantánamo Bay Naval Base is located in the same province as Baracoa, American travelers who run into problems probably won’t find much sympathy.
Location: Somalia’s east coast
Why you should go: The beaches that separate Mogadishu from the Indian Ocean rank among the most beautiful stretches of sand in the world, say many of the very few Western travelers who ever venture there. Coral reefs teeming with fish are easily accessible from the shore (although tourists pursuing aquatic leisure should leave all valuables at home in case their boat is hijacked by pirates). Back in Mogadishu, visitors can find virtually anything in the city’s outdoor markets—except peace of mind. A 2004 Economist article noted that hand grenades go for a mere $10, and other popular items include antiaircraft guns and mortars.
Why you can’t: Because a good day in Somalia is the worst day of your life almost anywhere else. The constant state of anarchy, lawlessness, and piracy is usually enough to deter most folks from traveling to Somalia, the world’s third most failed state, according to the 2007 Failed States Index. Michael Sailor of intrepid travel agency Abercrombie & Kent perhaps puts it best when he says that Somalia is “not exactly a top-of-mind recognition for a travel destination.” The U.S. government does not maintain any consular presence in Mogadishu, so an American in trouble is likely to stay there. Most troubling is the fact that with little recognized, governing authority in Somalia, simply identifying which of the seemingly endless string of warlords and criminals has just kidnapped you is an important first step in negotiating your release. Still, the water is lovely.
Location: southern Iran
Why you should go: Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Persepolis is a vast collection of ruins of columns, palaces, and tombs built by Darius the Great and his son Xerxes I, among other rulers of the Persian Empire. Located 400 miles south of Tehran, Persepolis dates to roughly 517 B.C., when construction began on a city conceived to exhibit the grandeur and power of the Persians. Today, travelers can still see traces of such splendor: The Apadana Palace, the Throne Hall, and the Gate of Xerxes are all popular destinations in this desert city.
Why you can’t: Because, as the U.S. State Department points out in a recent travel warning, “some elements of the Iranian regime remain hostile to the United States.” Visas are hard to come by, as Americans wishing to travel to the theocratic state must have a sponsoring Iranian travel company that first gets approval with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This hurdle makes independent travel essentially impossible, and the wait for a visa can take months. Some U.S. travel agencies can help you make arrangements, but it’s generally up to the individual traveler to trudge through the red tape. Westerners traveling in the southeastern regions of the country, moreover, are susceptible to the armed gangs and contraband smugglers that operate in those areas. Persepolis is somewhat removed from these problem areas, but with relations between the United States and Iran at historic lows, a visit to the Islamic Republic could be a risky move.
Why you should go: Located far from cyclone-damaged coastal areas, Mandalay’s impressive central palace, Buddhist pagodas, monastery, and other architectural wonders recall the opulence of 19th-century Burma. Mandalay Hill is home to a number of beautifully constructed religious buildings, as well as spectacular views at sunset and sunrise. Best of all, traveling in Burma is incredibly cheap. Tourists can expect to find luxurious lodging in Mandalay’s city center for as little as $40 a night.
Why you can’t: See: Xenophobic, repressive military junta. Although there is a U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Western travelers still face a litany of dangers in Burma. Because the ruling junta has banned gatherings of more than five people and has recently suppressed peaceful demonstrations with bullets and tear gas, the State Department has advised Americans to stay away from anything that looks political. And with the recent cyclone, even aid workers have had trouble getting visas. Until late May—a full three weeks after Nargis struck the coastal regions—foreign aid workers were denied entry. Indeed, for travel agents, “Burma is pretty much off the radar,” according to Poe. Also, Mandalay’s reputation as the drug trafficking headquarters of Burma might sour some travelers on its charms.
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