Gadling Blogger Snaps Photo Of Nessie (Not Really)

Nessie
On my recent trip to Scotland, I took this shocking photo of a strange creature out in the water. Is it Nessie?

Well, no, it isn’t. I won’t tell you what it is, except that the truth is hidden in one of the answers to the poll below. Vote for your most likely candidate and I’ll post the SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT MY NESSIE PHOTO a week from now.

Sorry for shouting, I got carried away.

While I didn’t photograph the Loch Ness Monster (or did I?), a certain George Edwards did. The Inverness Courier published his photo last week and it’s been making the rounds on the Internet. It shows a fuzzy lump in the water that could be a species unknown to science or simply a fuzzy lump in the water.

Mr. Edwards says he saw the dark gray shape “slowly moving up the loch towards Urquhart Castle.” He watched it for at least five minutes but for some reason only took one photo. Edwards claims to have sent the image off to some experts in the U.S. military to have it analyzed.

Proof that Nessie exists? Maybe. Maybe not. The fact that Edwards runs Loch Ness Cruises makes me a wee bit suspicious that this is a publicity stunt. Even the popular monster hunting site Crypto Mundo cast some doubts on the story, asking why there’s no wake from a supposedly moving object and why a lifelong Nessie hunter only snapped a single photograph.

Whatever the truth behind Edwards’ photo, you’ll learn the SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT MY NESSIE PHOTO next week.

Sorry, got carried away again.

UPDATE: The correct answer wins by a slim margin! Yes, this was a seal coming up for air. He’s poking his nose out of the water and looks remarkably like a shark, which is why 22 Gadling readers were fooled into thinking it was one. I’m a bit curious as to the six people who thought I swiped a “real” Nessie photo from the Internet. Are there so many blurry photos of the beastie out there that they all begin to look the same?

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US Government Denies Existence Of Mermaids


The U.S. National Ocean Service has released a statement confirming there is no scientific evidence for mermaids.

Interesting – I didn’t realize this was a subject of debate.

Apparently it wasn’t until Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet network ran a spoof documentary titled “Mermaids: The Body Found.” The channel’s own press release labels the show “science fiction.” This wasn’t enough for some viewers and according to the BBC, the National Ocean Service received a couple of inquiries about the fishy folk. To keep the public from reviving the superstitions of illiterate 19th century sailors, they made a public denial of something they never thought they’d have to deny.

When I read this I went through the predictable range of reactions. First I laughed, then I felt smugly superior, then I said, “Hey, I need to write this up for Gadling!” Then I did something I didn’t expect.

I got very, very afraid.

The public dialogue is awash with ridiculous assertions: Obama is a Muslim, the Moon landings were faked, all foreigners hate America, aliens regularly visit Earth to anally probe drunk farmers, etc., etc. Last week we even learned that some radical ultra-Orthodox Jews believe Hitler and top Zionists plotted to create the Holocaust so the Jews could create Israel. I’m still shaking my head over that one.

This level of ignorance is the result of many factors, but one cause rules over them all: a complete lack of context. Our schools teach us so little about the world that it’s easy to believe anything. Even the most basic knowledge of history, biology, evolution, oceanography, or folklore would guarantee that someone wouldn’t believe in mermaids, yet some people who went through the educational system of the most powerful country in the world lack this knowledge.It’s easy to laugh this off when it’s about mermaids. It’s not so funny when educated people seriously ask me if I had to pack a two-month supply of food to live in Ethiopia, or if Spain still has roving gangs of bandidos.

And if you think nobody is encouraging and profiting off this rampant ignorance, think again. The Republican Party of Texas included as part of its 2012 platform that it opposes the teaching of critical thinking in schools. And no, I’m not picking on the GOP. All politicians manipulate public ignorance to further their own ends. With elections coming up, it’s time to get educated.

This is why I love travel. It gets rid of my ignorance and teaches me that I’m ignorant about things I didn’t even know I was clueless about. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, it changes unknown unknowns into known knowns. Example: five years ago I thought all of Somalia was in chaos – then I learned about Somaliland. OK, I thought, it’s safe for Somalis. I still assumed that it was too dangerous for foreigners. Then I actually went there and checked. Guess what? I’m still alive!

Knowledge is the great weapon of national freedom and personal liberation. If more people got out of their comfort zones and investigated their assumptions, maybe the American public would never have been convinced that one group of people were ignorant savages and needed to be pushed off their land, or another group of people were too stupid to take care of themselves and needed to be enslaved, or that another group of people had more loyalty to the old country than America and needed to be forced into internment camps for the duration of World War II.

This ignorance of “the other” is still rampant today and can turn ugly at any time. It’s in our own best interest to get out of our comfort zones. We don’t have to leave the country to travel. Our comfort zone ends at the other side of the tracks.

Always question, always be suspicious of an authority’s motives, and keep exploring.

Photo of the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana, courtesy Flickr user vsmoothe. That woman is a human actress in a mermaid suit, in case you’re wondering. And yes, I totally want to go swimming with her.

Urquhart Castle: The Other Attraction On Loch Ness

castle, Loch Ness
Today the Olympic torch is crossing Loch Ness by boat. While locals are hoping for Nessie to make an appearance, one attraction will definitely be on view: the spectacular Urquhart Castle.

This castle sits on Strone Point, a headland jutting out into the loch. It’s unclear when the castle was built. It was certainly there by the 13th century but there may have been a fort there as far back as the 6th century. It was besieged many times over the years in the countless wars with the English and between rival Scottish rulers. It survived these fights until 1692, when the walls were smashed by supporters of the English King William III so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of the rival Jacobites.

Although the castle became useless as a place for defense, much of the layout is clearly visible. You can see where the bakers made bread, where the blacksmith fixed swords and where the residents lived. You can even delve into the dungeon to see the miserable conditions of the prisoners. The most impressive and best-preserved portion is the tower, which rises five stories above the ruins.

%Gallery-157771%From the tower you get a sweeping view of the Loch. Scotland is a beautiful place for photography and its many lochs reflect the mood of its ever-changing light. On overcast days the loch looks gloomy and forbidding, and you could well imagine a monster lurking in its depths. Then the sun will break through and sparkle across the waters like a scattering of gold coins. Dawn and dusk are great times to take photos, when the sun is low and casts a rich golden hue across the water and shore. The castle is lit up at night and makes for a nice shot as well. Check out the gallery for more views of the fantastic castle.

Those wanting to see the Loch Ness Monster should be reassured that the castle is one of the main sites for spotting the mysterious beastie. Perhaps there are secret tunnels underneath the castle where the monster guards a medieval treasure, or perhaps it’s because so many people visit Urquhart castle and gaze out across the waters hoping for a glimpse of the unknown.

[Photo courtesy Baasir Gaisawat]

Video: Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal


In 1994, I hiked to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. It was one of the high points of a yearlong trip across the Middle East and Asia and my memories of that trek are still vivid today.

The Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp treks were popular even back then and although I walked alone, I met several other hikers along the way. There were few guesthouses though, and mostly I stayed in spare rooms in local villages. Now I’ve heard that there are Internet cafes along the way. I haven’t confirmed this; I don’t want to know. I love adventure travel because it takes me away from my day-to-day life. The last thing I want to do while trekking in the Himalayas is to check Facebook.

Two memories stick out the strongest. The first happened three or four days into the hike. I was at a high altitude, puffing along with a forty-pound pack and all bundled up to stave of the bitter cold. I made steady but rather slow progress thanks to the high altitude. Then a Sherpa passes me wearing only thin trousers, a shirt and flip-flops. He was carrying a roof beam over his back, secured into place with a harness and forehead strap. The Nepalese are a tough people!

I got to the base camp and stayed in a stone hut that night. The next morning I went exploring. Pretty soon I came across some mysterious tracks in the snow. They looked for all the world like the footprints of a barefoot man, except very large and strangely rounded. I followed them for a few hundred feet until I reached a part of the slope shielded from the sun by an outcropping of rock. This part of the slope hadn’t received any sunlight, and so the snow hadn’t melted at all. The tracks suddenly became much smaller and were obviously animal in origin. To me they looked like a fox’s, although I can’t say for sure.

The explanation is simple: the sun warmed the snow on the exposed part of the trail and the tracks partially melted, becoming wider and rounder. The claws became “toes” and the pads of the feet joined into one oval mass. So. . .no yeti sighting for me!

Still, that did not dampen my excitement and awe of being at the breathtaking location surrounded by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Put this video on full screen, sit back, and enjoy.

Top ten lake monsters (besides Nessie)

lake monstersHere at Gadling we’ve reported a lot of news about the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie gets so much media attention that one might think its Scottish loch is the only body of water haunted by a mysterious and almost certainly fictitious creature.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Lake monsters are everywhere. Here are ten of the most interesting, most of which inhabit lakes that are easy to get to, so you can start your own investigation.

The Lough Ness Monster. A young English upstart in Loughborough, Leicestershire, recently tried to steal the limelight from its Scottish cousin by eating some ducks.

Nahuelito. This critter lives in Nahuel Huapi Lake, Patagonia, Argentina. As you can see from this alleged photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, it looks a bit like Nessie. Cryptozoologists, the people who study such things, say both may be plesiosaurs. These swimming dinosaurs supposedly died out 65 million years ago. Interestingly, a plesiosaur fossil was discovered at Loch Ness in 2003.

Isshii. Japan’s most famous lake monster lives in Lake Ikeda, where it has been spotted numerous times in the past thirty years. According to the website Pink Tentacle, it’s a super-fast swimmer and once had a run-in with the U.S. military. The story goes that in 1961, an American jet crashed in the vicinity of the lake. The military used sonar to look for it and spotted a large object moving under the water. Divers on the lake floor spotted the creature and said it nearly attacked them. Or so the story goes. Sounds to me like someone was drinking too much saké.

The Lake Tianchi Monster. In an alpine lake straddling the border of China and North Korea there supposedly lives a community of up to 20 lake monsters. The first recorded sighting dates to 1903, when something resembling a giant buffalo threatened three people by the lakeside. One guy shot it six times before it gave out a ear-splitting roar and returned to the water.

%Gallery-141876%The Brosno Dragon. This beastie lives in Lake Brosno, near Andreapol in western Russia. Some people dismiss the idea of a monster living in the lake and say it’s really a giant mutant beaver, as if this make more sense. Whatever it is, it’s a patriot. It once gobbled up an invasion force of Mongols, and in World War Two snatched a Luftwaffe plane right out of the air. Pravda wrote a long article about the Brosno Dragon, so it must exist.

The Varberg Fortress Moat Monster. The 13th century castle at Varberg reportedly has a monster in its moat. It hasn’t been seen much, despite the castle being a major tourist attraction and home to a youth hostel. Some lucky visitors did get to see it in 2006, however, and described it as brown, furless, and with a 16-inch tail. It was summertime, so perhaps it came out of hibernation to check out the sights at the nearby nudist beach.

The Lagarfljóts Worm. Iceland is a land filled with legends. Many Icelanders still believe in trolls and other supernatural creatures, so it’s no surprise they have a lake monster too. In the glacial lake of Lagarfljót dwells a strange creature said to be more than 300 feet long. According to the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, the worm was first mentioned in the Icelandic Annals of 1345 and sighting its hump rising out of the water was a sign that good news was sure to follow.

Chipekwe or Emela-ntouka. Called by many names in many African languages, this monster of Central Africa is known as the “killer of elephants” by the pygmies, who are the people who have the most legends about it. The creature dwells in swamps, lakes, and rivers, anywhere the water is shallow, and looks a bit like a rhino. Several pith-helmeted white explorers have gone out to hunt for it, but never found anything. Some say it’s really a spirit instead of a monster, but until someone blasts it with an elephant gun, we’ll never know.

Bunyip. The Australian Aborigines say the bunyip can be found all over Australia. It dwells in all types of water, not just lakes, so you better be careful. Unlike most of the critters on our list, the bunyip can be downright aggressive. Descriptions of the bunyip vary from a big canine to a giant starfish. Like the Chipekwe, it seems to be more of a spirit than an actual living monster, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Its booming voice is a signal to run, lest you get eaten like the poor fellow shown in the image gallery.

Ogopogo. Native Americans say this “lake demon” has been around a long time. It lives in Lake Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada, and looks much like Nessie. Like the Scottish monster, it’s created an entire tourism industry around it, along with groups that study it. Your typical serpent with wavy humps coming out of the water, it’s said to be about 50 feet long. A recent video of the creature went viral on the Internet and can be seen here. To me it looks like a pair of logs stuck close to shore. Perhaps Ogopogo likes to play fetch.

And yes, I didn’t mention the Lake Champlain Monster. I wanted to focus on the less famous critters. Heck, I once saw someone wearing a Lake Champlain Monster t-shirt in Ethiopia.