The world’s top ten most desolate countries

most desolate


According to a Harvard study
, the earth’s population will hit seven billion humans in a few months. Earlier this summer, Gadling labs profiled the effects of increasing populations on finite land resources by showcasing the world’s most crowded islands. The earth is, in its own way, an island, and 21st century humanity will be presented with the challenge of adapting to rising population levels and static resources.

While countries like India have wrestled with the conundrum of feeding and housing booming population levels in Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, the countries on this list bear no similarities to the billion strong Indian subcontinent. These countries are the ones with open space – lots of it. Countries like Greenland and Mongolia may someday be utilized for their vast expanses of open terrain, but today they are simply great places to go when you have tired of other human beings.

So while this extraordinarily hot summer may have included elbowing your way through thronged midtown Manhattan in 100 degree heat or hesitantly inhaling the stink rising off the sweaty crowd at Bonnaroo, this list is intended to take you way away from the crowds. From riding a horse through the empty steppes of Mongolia to exploring the glacial highlands of Iceland, each of these countries offers exercises in sweet sweet solitude. None of these countries have more than ten people per square mile.

%Gallery-130119%
most desolate

10 Mauritania
Location: Northwest Africa
Population: 3,069,000
Population density: 8.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Nouakchott International Airport
Primer: Mauritania is a sand swept country offering desolation and one of the lowest GDPs on the African continent. Even the well-traveled must consult an atlas to correctly place the country on their mental map. Heavily mined in the east with empty beaches in the West, the country is one of the least visited locations on the planet. Credit cards are not readily acceptable, rain is scarce, and desert covers over half of this one time French occupation. Throw in strained African/Arab relations and you get a very challenging country to visit.

most desolate

9 Suriname
Location: Northeast South America
Population: 491,989
Population density: 7.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: The Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport
Primer: Suriname is a whisper of a nation on South America‘s north-Atlantic coast. Most Surinamese call the coastal region home, and the interior of the country is an impenetrable rain-forest, inhabited by toucans, parrots, monkeys, deer, and the elusive cock-of-the-rock. 60% of Suriname residents speak Dutch with the rest speaking a collection of fourteen other languages, including Sranan Tongo – a creole dialect. Most tourists come to Suriname for the Amazonian rain-forest, though the northern beaches are surprisingly good — and empty.

most desolate

8 Iceland
Location: North Atlantic Ocean
Population: 318,452
Population density: 7.5 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Keflavík International Airport
Primer: When multinational aluminum producer Alcoa decided to build a smelting plant in Iceland, they encountered an extraordinary problem. The Icelandic government required Alcoa to pay specialists to inspect and survey the proposed building site for elves, gnomes, trolls, and fairies – so called “hidden people.” The situation strained Alcoa’s management because paying specialists to search for “hidden people” seemed to be a bit of a boondoggle, especially from a shareholder point of view. But, Alcoa paid for the service. The intricate search process took six months. This is the type of place Iceland is – unique and folkloric, awkwardly straddling the modern and ancient worlds.

Iceland’s geographical diversity spans a wide range. From the fires of active volcanoes to glacial carved fjords, Iceland’s landscape provides a full suite of awe-inspiring natural features.

most desolate

7 Australia
Location: South Indian and Pacific Oceans
Population: 22,672,063
Population density: 7.3 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kingsford Smith Airport
Primer: Australia truly needs no introduction. Its inclusion on this list stems from the vast open quarter that consumes much of its central and western landmass. Roughly 80% of Australians live in the eastern states, and while Australia is one of the world’s largest countries geographically, the country’s entire population equals that of the Bangkok metropolitan area. This human sparseness is evident to those that venture into the country’s vast interior. As one of the most visited countries in the world, Australia boasts both open space and cosmopolitan metropolitan areas. Also: koala bears.

most desolate

6 Namibia
Location: Southern Africa
Population: 2,108,655
Population density: 6.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport
Primer: Namibia is home to an abandoned German mining town, the world’s oldest desert, lots of big cats, and an underground lake thought to be the largest on earth. The dunes of the 80 million year old Namib desert rise off of the desert floor like mountains, and cheetahs prowl the nation’s back-country, competing with lions and leopards for bush snacks. Throw in penguins, a 50 ton meteorite, and Ovambo tribesmen that oddly cling to the Lutheran religion, and it is easy to appreciate Namibia’s diverse offerings.

most desolate

5 French Guiana (France)
Location: Northeast South America
Population: 217,000
People per square mile: 6.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Cayenne – Rochambeau Airport
Primer: French Guiana is a throwback to the era of European imperialism. An overseas region of France, the country is the last South American country still considered to be part of Europe. It is almost entirely unsettled wilderness, and one of the most notorious prisons in the world was once located just offshore. The foreboding-sounding Devil’s Island housed a number of prisoners, including Clement Duval and Alfred Dreyfuss. Today, half of the population lives in the capital city of Cayenne, and many also live in the unlikely space-town of Kourou. The city of Kourou is the launch site for European Space Agency satellites. Space-related business accounts for 25% of French Guiana’s GDP and has been a boost to the local economy since Charles de Gaulle opened the space-travel base in 1964.

most desolate

4 Western Sahara
Location: Northwest Africa
Population: 513,000
People per square mile: 5 per square mile
Primary Airport: Hassan I Airport
Primer: Western Sahara, a disputed region in northern Africa, is perhaps the epitome of desolation. With a long coastline lacking credible beaches, a heavily mined military zone, and the topography of a vast arid desert, it is a moonish destination for sure. The temperatures soar during the day and plummet at night. Independent travel is commonly restricted in the region. Literacy is thought to be below 50%. Not exactly selling points, but for those with a taste for sandy adventure, a hatred of tourist hordes, or an interest in political conflict, Western Sahara may just be the country for you.

most desolate

3 Mongolia
Location: Central Asia
Population: 2,754,685
People per square mile: 4.56 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Chinggis Khaan International Airport (Chinggis Khaan is the Mongolian name for Genghis Khan)
Primer: Mongolia is twice the size of Texas, but with less than three million humans and over sixty million heads of livestock. Nestled between Russia and China, Mongolia is an old kingdom of master horseman and nomadic tribes. The mongols first appear in written history as barbarians who invaded China and prompted the construction of the Great Wall. Today, Mongolians are a welcoming bunch, and the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is stationary – it used to move three times per year.

most desolate

2 Falkland Islands (U.K)
Location:
South Atlantic Ocean
Population: 3,140
People per square mile: .65 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: RAF Mount Pleasant
Primer: With 2,400 people and 700,000 sheep, the Falkland Islands boast a rather robust sheep to human ratio. A storied past includes the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, as well as a series of various European occupations. Today, the sleepy chain of 200 islands is visited by expedition cruisers en route to Antarctica. The visitors to the remote island chain are able to observe five different species of penguin, as well as seals, whales, and a rare indigenous bird of prey – the Striated Caracara.

most desolate

1 Greenland (Denmark)
Location: North Atlantic
Population: 56,615
People per square mile: .069 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kangerlussuaq Airport
Primer: The Greenland misnomer hearkens back to the age of Erik the Red – a viking known for his issues with Norse law. Having been exiled from both Norway and Iceland, Erik came upon this hulking breast of an island further west. To entice future visitors, he coined the island Greenland, and it stuck. Many Nordic settlers moved to Greenland at his urging, probably stumped by its misleading name – 85% of Greenland is covered by a thick sheet of ice. Allegedly, the southern coastal region is actually very green, especially in the summer months. Last year, Gadling labs sent an explorer to the island to comment on its greenness. His findings? It is, in fact, quite green.

While the national dish of boiled seal meat may fail to conjure up a sudden urge to visit the Arctic island, the glacial cut fjords, polar bears, and colorful houses make visiting Greenland an extraordinary experience.

top flickr image via Atli Harðarson

Al-Qaeda suspected of kidnapping aid workers in Mauritania

The Spanish government fears that three Spanish aid workers kidnapped this week in Mauritania were taken by Al-Qaeda’s North African group.

The three were taken by masked gunmen from their vehicle as it was driving in a caravan to deliver aid for the group Barcelona-Acciò Solidaria en Mauritania. They were riding in the last vehicle and were apparently stopped when the gunmen fired some shots. There is no information about whether anyone was injured. The caravan was driving on a road between the capital Nouakchott to the city of Nouadhibou, shown here.

While no group has claimed responsibility, the Spanish government suspects Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb, which recently kidnapped a French aid worker in Mali. In Mauritania they claimed responsibility for killing an American teacher in June. The spate of attacks and kidnappings are making travel in several Saharan nations increasingly dangerous.

The ultimate road trip: 12,500 miles across Africa on a motorcycle

Thomas Tomczyk is serious about motorcycles. He’s done three motorcycle trips across India, from the steamy southern tip all the way up to the frozen highlands of Ladakh. Now he’s starting his childhood dream–an epic trip 12,500 miles (20,000 km) across Africa.

His zigzag tour will take in 22 African nations including South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, the Saharawi Republic, and Morocco. . .

. . .before he ends up skinny, exhausted, and happy at my house in Spain, where my wife will fatten him up with her excellent paella.

Full disclosure: Thomas is a friend of mine. We covered the massive Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela together in 2001 and barely managed not to get trampled to death by hordes of naked holy men. But even if I didn’t know him, this trip is so thoroughly cool I would have reported on it anyway.

Thomas isn’t just going on vacation; he’ll be visiting innovative grassroots projects that are making life better for the average African. Through his website Africa Heart Beat he’ll be telling us about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, such as creating a job center for landmine victims in Mozambique, an AIDS theater group in Botswana, and a Muslim-Christian vocational center in Mali that’s bringing the two communities together.

“The idea of crossing Africa came to me when I was 10,” Thomas says.”A large map of the world hung above my bed in a small Warsaw apartment. I would study the geography of each continent, its road and railroad network. The most prominent continent would be Africa, placed in the middle of the map, right above where my head would rest on the pillow. The idea stayed in my mind for years. I would eventually learn to ride motorcycles in India and cover the Horn of Africa for publications in Poland and US. In January 2009 my grandmother passed away and I decided it was time to do the trek I’ve been thinking about for so long. Traveling for travel’s sake was past me, and I decided I needed to find a purpose as I travel, something that would give meaning to the journey and benefit others.”

While 20,000 km is a long way to ride, he’s done it before in India. His longest journey there was 20,000 km on a 1950s technology 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet. I’ve ridden that bike and it’s a monster– heavy and tough enough for the task. This time he’ll be probably picking up a KTM 640 LC Adventure, a lighter but rugged off-road bike from a dealer in South Africa when he flies there Thanksgiving Day.

He’ll be crossing some very remote areas but will keep in touch as much as possible with an array of communications equipment. There will be regular updates on his blog, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. On the day after Thanksgiving, when Thomas is safely in Johannesburg and on the first day of his eight-month journey I’ll be writing about some of the gear he’s bringing along and share some advice he has for covering your own journeys as you do them.

Know of a project Thomas should cover? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Listen to Africa expedition wants us to do just that

Back in March, two Brits, Huw WIlliams and Rebecca Sumner, set off on a proposed two year, 15,000 mile journey, across Africa by bicycle. Their intention is to explore the cultures and landscapes of more than a dozen countries, all the while making audio recordings of the things they hear along the way.

The pair have dubbed their adventure the Listen to Africa Expedition, and their goal is to record samplings not only the natural sounds of the continent, such as the abundant wildlife, but also the oral histories and music of the people that live there. They hope to share these wide variety of sounds with the rest of the world to bring a better understanding of the continent and the people that live there.

The expedition actually began in the U.K. with Huw and Rebecca catching the ferry to France before riding across that country to catch another boat to Africa. They arrived in Tangier, Morocco and began making their way down Africa’s western coast. As of this writing, they are currently in Mauritania, but with no set route, it is hard to tell where they will be going next.

The expedition’s official website offers more information about their plans and includes a blog in which they post regular updates on the team’s progress. But most interesting of all are the audio clips they have already uploaded, which includes the sound of the wind in the Sahara, a variety of birds, music from Morocco, and much more. Listening to these clips while reading their blog entries makes for a vary interesting experience, and it really underscores the goals of the project.

Be sure to check back on the Listen to Africa website for regular updates. This seems like an interesting project to follow and should be fun to keep up with.

Camel cheese – coming soon to a grocery near you

As any proper Bedouin will tell you, camels are an essential part of a nomadic desert existence. They provide a convenient method of transportation, require little water and can stand up to great extremes of temperature. We now also know that they provide the perfect compliment to your next cheese and cracker platter. I’m talking more specifically about camel cheese, the latest delicacy to make its way to grocery stores here in the U.S.

The camel cheese trend started in the African nation of Mauritania, site of the world’s first and, to the best of my knowledge, only camel dairy farm. Mauritanians consume camel milk as part of their everyday diet, but it was a local expat named Nancy Abeiderrahmane who first got the idea to turn the milk into cheese to preserve its shelf life. The idea was a hit, and Nancy has been producing camel cheese ever since.

The cheese made its debut in the New York City area this past month. Connoisseurs compare it favorably to goat cheese, citing its subtle “barnyard flavors” and the ability to spread it easily on bread or crackers. When it comes to food, nothing wins me over quicker than when I hear phrases like “barnyard flavors.” Pick up some now for your Final Four party this weekend!

[Via Buzzfeed]