Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition, An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (revised & updated) by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras & Ella Morton, 472 pp, RL: 4

 

Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition
Revised and Updated
An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders 
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
Founded in 2009 by Thuras and Foer, Atlas Obscura began as an online catalog of obscure and unusual travel destinations, made unique by the fact that, as with all hidden local gems, these destinations are shared by people in the know. At Atlas Obscura, a global community of users continue to help to build a comprehensive database of the world's most wondrous places and foods, with 23,310 of them contributing so far. Beyond user contributions, Atlas Obscura is a publisher of "best-in-class journalism about hidden places, incredible history, scientific marvels, and gastronomical wonders." And, as it evolved over the years, Atlas Obscura has gone on to now organizes events, host a podcast, offer courses and "lead the world's most unusual trips to the world's most remarkable places."

First published in 2016, the second edition, which includes 100 new, far-flung destinations and images, twelve new city guides and a full-color foldout map for an around-the-world trip, was published in 2019. Beginning life as an online community and considering the extensive wealth of growing and changing information it encompasses, one might wonder why create a static, physical version of it? Lifting the dust jacket of the book reveals the superb motto, "Let curiosity be your compass," which, to me, is also a reason to create printed books - curiosity is sated in myriad forms. Atlas Obscura, the book, is for the curious readers who love the feel of a book in their hands, are armchair travelers, or just love a beautifully designed reference book. And, as Foer and Thuras acknowledge in their introduction, there is, "an Atlas Obscura yet to be written that is as comprehensive as the world itself, for wonder can be found wherever we are open to searching for it."

Divided into regions (Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, Canada, USA and Latin America) that in turn are divided into smaller regions, Atlas Obscura, is encyclopedic in design. Cream colored pages present chunks of information, maps, drawings, the occasional diagram and photos. "More to Explore" City Guides add to an already rich resouce. The design invites readers to flip through the pages, stopping when something grabs your attention (which, admittedly, is basically every page). It's daunting to even try to give you a mere taste of all that is included between the covers of this marvelous book. And my attempts to find the five most amazing things to share with you were thwarted every time I turned a page and discovered something new. With that in mind, I am going to open the book at random and share . . .

BRAZIL
Santarém, Para - FORDLÂNDIA (or Pleasantville dropped in the middle of a rain forest) Henry Ford's $20 million jungle utopia was built in the 1920s to serve as a direct source of rubber for his cars. Staffed with employees from Michigan who couldn't adjust to the climate and marlaria, and local Brazilians who, forced to live by Ford's strict, teetotaling rules, didn't appreciate "having to wear nametags, eat hamburgers, and learn square dancing," strikes, knife fights and mayhem became the rule. Oh, also, apparently Ford didn't bother to bring in a botanist and the rubber saplings (those that actually took root) were hit by a catastrophic leaf blight. Ford spent over $200 million (in today's money) without producing a single piece of rubber to use on his cars.


CANADA
Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat - a site dedicated to caring for captive polar bears where Ganuk, currently the sole ursine resident of the habitat, roams free and occasionally paints pictures for visitors. There is also a wading pool for humans right next to the bear pool (separated by a 2 inch wall of glass) that allows visitors the chance (from May to September) to swim with the polar bears! Or at least next to them . . .

INDIA
Cherrapunji, Meghalaya - The Root Bridges of Cherrapunji. Accessible via a six mile walk each way gets you to some stunning "Arbortecture." These root bridges are the result of a little human guidance and a lot of patcience on the part of the local Khasi tribe. There is even a double-decker bridge spanning 60 feet!

PALAU
Eil Malk - Jellyfish Lake - Swim with a million, golden, softly pulsating, harmless, jellyfish! Need I say more?

GERMANY
Munich, Bavaria - The Jeweled Skeleton of Saint Munditia. Visit Alter Peter (St. Peter's Church), Munich's oldest church, and see the skeleton of a saint who was beheaded in 310 CE. She was fully adorned and put on display in 1883, with glass eyes staring out from her skull.

KENYA
Mount Elgon National Park, Western Province -Kitum Cave. Extending 600 feet into an extinct volcano, the walls of this cave have been carved out by the tusks of sodium-seeking elephants who crush and lick the chunks of salt they dislodge. But be careful - the entrance of the cave is swarming with Egyptian fruit bats, a carrier of Marburg hemorrhagic fever, a disease similar to Ebola.

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