Hell on Earth

Something to Think About

The Isle of Rum, Scotland

Wikipedia benignly describes midges as a sort of a ‘biting gnat’. That’s like saying Jeffrey Dahmer wasn’t such a bad guy, he just got a bit cranky when he was hungry. Hikers familiar with Scottish terrain more accurately describe midges as sadistic Highland tenants that cloud upon victims (oblivious tourists, CO²-emitting plants, children, small dogs…) with such avarice, as to leave a person trembling in the foetal position. A single midge is almost invisible to the human eye, measuring just one millimetre in length, and yet its impact is devastating. They leave itchy, swollen welts which then turn into angry, painful scabs and, occasionally, further complications. “First they aimed for my ears and then my eyelids, so I covered up as much as I could. But they persisted and once they bombarded my mouth and nose it was just too much,” bemoans one victim, a camper from Edinburgh who abandoned tent and drove home to escape them. Millions of these tiny biting bastards emerge from their hiding places on deceptively calm summer evenings and terrorise locals and visitors alike, forcing them to don any number of ridiculous-looking hooded garments and layers of foul-smelling greasy midge repellents. A swarm can inflict about 3 000 bites in an hour, while 40 000 midges can land on an unprotected arm over the same period. There are even websites that provide ‘midge forecasts’. And if a garden variety midge wasn’t bad enough, there the Rum Midge, found on the Isle of Rum, a place you should never, EVER go to, unless you want to leave with an epidermis resembling a peeled grape.

Crabs the size of Smart Cars, despotic autocrats, squadrons of vampire midges, and water so radioactive it positively vibrates. OnRoute brings you the worst places in the world!

North Korea

It’s no secret that North Korea has one of the most malignant governments on earth. Kim Jong-un feasts like a tick while his cowed people starve. If you can even get a visa, just know that you will be chaperoned at all times by official ‘guides’ aka Kim Jong-un employees, who will doggedly showcase the various lavish monuments honouring the Kim dynasty. But, as a bonus, for your due diligence, you might just score an autograph from NBA has-been Dennis Rodman – (him and Kim are new best buds). For a preposterous fee, even tourists from capitalist South Korea are allowed to visit certain scenic mountains in North Korea. Though why they would want to, is an absolute puzzle. Perhaps it’s to see if they can spot any beleaguered relatives, but even if they did, they would not be allowed to mingle, let alone talk to any North Koreans. Oh, and don’t forget to pack your long johns because Korean winters are brutal and grim, and bearing in mind that buildings in North Korea are designed to look austerely impressive rather than to serve any utilitarian purpose, the heaters in your hotel probably won’t work. Just saying. Shop shelves are as dusty as they are spartan. But, there are karaoke machines! Although you will soon realise all they play are songs about Mr Kim. Funny that.  

Pripyat, Ukraine

There are loons out there who will happily cough up for disaster tourism. It could be argued that the people who visit Pripyat, the infamous abandoned city a scant 4km from radioactive Chernobyl, are such cases. Pripyat was once home to 50 000 Soviet residents, who were evacuated following the nuclear catastrophe in 1986, when an explosion claimed about 8 000 lives. It’s still considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. Since then, the consequential fallout from the spewing radiation has been estimated at just short of a massive million potential casualties. Today it’s still not possible to live there and yet, in 2002, when it opened for tourism, people came. If Pripyat, with its freeze-frame of 1980s Soviet life (propaganda slogans still emblazon on walls and other items eerily frozen-in-time) isn’t close enough to the radioactive action for you, you can always pop in to the actual Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant itself (but not Reactor 4, where you’re in risk of sprouting another head and maybe some catfish whiskers). The power plant has a cafeteria that serves “freshly-prepared and appetising Ukrainian food”. But remember to bring your own bottled water, because tap water in the area remains unsafe for drinking or touching because of the radiation that leaked into surrounding dams. Makes you wonder what liquids they’ve used to prepare the appetising Ukranian food. And do try to avoid any rickety looking buildings – in 2012 a floor collapsed injuring several tourists. Now just sign here, and here, and here; slip into this sexy, squeaky plastic suit, try not to breathe and we’ll begin the tour…

Christmas Island, Australia

When that brainless travel agent tries to sell you a deceptively idyllic-looking package holiday to this Indian Ocean Island, you can tell her “I would rather be pecked to death by ducks,” because Christmas Island is guaranteed to give you the willies. Don’t be fooled by its cheerful name, because instead of powdered beaches this place boasts a crunchy carpet of crustaceans. There are 120 million of them, and only 1 400 people. And once a year, for 60 interminable days, they begin their sideways hell-bent march from out of the island’s interior rainforest to the ocean, to breed and lay eggs (to make even more red crabs)! The migration has become something of a phenomenon, with locals barricading roads, shutting shops and generally clearing out to make way for the territorial red crabs that are named both for their colour and their frisky response to being poked. And if a river of single-minded salacious red crabs doesn’t unnerve you, then you should probably keep a lookout for the island’s other occupant: the coconut or robber crab. These 4kg-heavy coconut-cracking beasts are the largest land-living arthropods in the world. Oh, and did we mention that its pincers are powerful enough to cause pain to a human; and, furthermore, the coconut crab will often keep its hold for extended periods of time?