Despite the encroachment of technology, we still like to believe that there is mystery in the world. The likes of Google Images, Google Earth, Google Streetview… well, just Google have whittled away our planet’s unknown elements, leaving it all at the swipe of a touch screen.
It doesn’t stop us from wondering about the world. Mysteries remain a vital part of travel, the cornerstone of adventure, the fuel that keeps us seeing the world, so regardless of the information at our fingertips bizarre theories and conspiracies about people and places persist.
Here are some of the world’s biggest travel mysteries, and the things people believe about them.
The Bermuda Triangle
Let’s start with a classic. This region of the North Atlantic Ocean, forming a triangle between Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico, is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and has become notorious for ships and aircraft disappearing under mysterious circumstances.
The mystery: Many writers have claimed that the lost city of Atlantis lies under the area, and the disappearances are caused by leftover technology from that civilisation. Others have placed the blame on extraterrestrials.
The truth? There’s a host of possible natural reasons. Tropical cyclones can occur in the area, and the Gulf Stream can carry small boats and planes far off course. In fact, statistics show that the area has claimed no more ships than anywhere else in the world. The World Wide Fund for Nature doesn’t even include it in the top ten most dangerous shipping routes.
Houska Castle, Czech Republic
This early Gothic castle lies 47km north of Prague. Built in the 13th century, it was constructed over a hole in the ground so huge that no one had seen its bottom. It was thought to be ‘The Gateway to Hell.’
The mystery: Stories tell of half-animal-half-man creatures crawling up out of the hole, and creatures with dark wings flying above it. Apparently while construction on the castle was underway, prisoners sentenced to death were offered a pardon if they would be lowered into the hole on a rope to report their findings. The first person to try it started screaming after a few seconds, and had aged 30 years when he returned to the surface.
The truth? The story at the time was that the castle was intended as an administration centre for Bohemian ruler Ottokar II. But the castle was built with no fortifications, natural or otherwise, no nearby water or roads, and near no borders. Dozens of the windows are fake, with nothing but walls behind them. No stairs were built to connect the first floor to anything above it, any occupant using ropes that were removed after each use.
Whatever the truth, the Hell theory was certainly believed at the time.
Hoia Baciu Forest, Romania
This forest covers over 250 hectares and is often referred to as a wooded Bermuda Triangle, as it’s thought to be spectacularly haunted.
The mystery: The forest boasts strange-shaped trees and vegetation, unexplained apparitions, and ghostly faces appearing in photographs. Visitors frequently report intense feelings of anxiety, and locals have emerged covered in rashes, burns, and scratches. Electronic devices malfunction amongst the trees. There have also been UFO sightings. At the centre of the forest is a wide clearing where only scrub grass grows; this is thought to be the epicentre of the paranormal activity, perhaps even a gateway to another dimension.
The truth? Unclear. Scientists have studied the phenomena and seem convinced that they have scientific basis, but aren’t yet sure what it is. Meanwhile a biking park has been built in the forest and paintball is played there. So it’s even worse than we thought.
This pioneering pilot was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. But during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, she and her co-pilot, Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean and were never recovered.
The mystery: Theories about their disappearance vary from the plausible, such as their having flown further than expected to land on an uninhabited island, where they ultimately died of starvation, to slightly less convincing ideas positioning them as American spies shot down or captured and executed by the Japanese, or the whole thing being staged to allow Earhart to change her identity. Oh, and some people think it was aliens. For some people it’s always aliens.
The truth? We still don’t know for sure, but extensive research suggests that Earhart and Noonan missed their intended approach to Howland Island due to a series of misunderstandings or errors, ran out of fuel, ditched into the ocean, and sank.
Min Min lights, Australia
More mysterious lights! This time freaking people out down under. These fuzzy, disc-shaped lights have been spotted throughout Australia’s history, usually hovering just above the horizon. Some have reported the lights approaching them, others keeping pace with a moving car.
The mystery: You will never guess what some people think these are. Aliens! How novel. In Australian folklore it’s said that anyone who chases and successfully catches a Min Min light will never return to tell the tale.
The truth? There’s no definite explanation. It could be natural geophysical phenomena, such as marsh gas, but many reports come from areas without the necessary conditions. Another idea is that it’s an optical illusion called a Fata Morgana, whereby refraction causes lights below the horizon to appear above it. Some have hypothesized bioluminescent owls, because that makes total sense.
Crooked Forest, Poland
Forests are usually mysterious because of what lurks between the trees rather than for the trees themselves, but the Crooked Forest is an exception. It’s a grove of around 400 pine trees, all of which are drastically curved at their base and uniformly facing north.
The mystery: Aside from the usual alien involvement, some have posited that the area has a unique gravitational pull that caused the trees to grow deformed. Others theorise that snow might have piled up on the trees when they were saplings. Nazi tanks have even been blamed. If in doubt, blame the Nazis.
The truth? The above ideas seem unlikely, as the grove is surrounded by pine trees that grow entirely normally. Most likely is that the trees were deliberately manipulated into this shape to make them ideal for ship building. The activity was interrupted by the invasion of Poland during WWII, leaving these trees to blow minds for years to come.
Bielefeld does not exist. Apparently.
The mystery: Instead of actually existing, Bielefeld is merely an idea propagated by a mysterious group known only as THEM. Together with authorities, it has conspired to create the illusion of the city’s existence.
The truth? Well, um, it totally does exist. As of 2011 it had a population of 323,076 people. Basically, Bielefeld was such an insignificant city that it became an internet joke, as so few had been there or met anyone from there. The joke remains surprisingly popular, the mayor’s office receiving calls and emails every day trying to verify the city’s existence. The conspiracy was even referred to by Chancellor Angela Merkel when she paid (or didn’t pay) a visit. Even she didn’t seem too sure she had actually been there.
Who said Germans don’t have a sense of humour?