New Museum Will Be So Big China Needs To Build An Island For It

China recently announced it had built the biggest building in the world and now it’s set to build a massive art gallery to house its national treasures.

At more than 430,000 square feet, the Pingtan Art Museum will be the largest private art museum in Asia. In fact, the art gallery is so big that China will create an artificial island on which to place it.

The new island, known as Pingtan, will be built in China’s Fujian province and the museum will be housed in a smaller secondary island connected to the first. The museum — which looks like some sort of futuristic sea creature — will be made out of concrete and shells with the inside of the structure built to look like historic caves.China isn’t the first country to create an artificial island to give itself more space. Here are a few other man-made pieces of land that might be of interest to travelers.

Uros Islands. The Uros people live on islands in Peru’s Lake Titicaca. Their floating islands are made of reeds which need to constantly be replaced to keep the islands from disintegrating.

Mexcaltitan. This man-made island off the coast of Mexico is home to 800 people and is believed to be the birthplace of the Aztecs.

The World Islands. Dubai certainly has a high profile when it comes to creating unique artificial islands. This archipelago off the coast of Dubai was meant to look like a miniature version of a world map, although the project was never finished and the islands are slowly sinking into the sea.

Naughty Place Names You Never Noticed In Your Atlas

If geography has always seemed like a rather boring subject to you, chances are you’ve just been looking at the wrong kind of maps. Because one man has put together an online atlas that provides hours of giggle-inducing, snigger-triggering, head-scratching fun.

Londoner Gary Gale created a website where he brings together hundreds of rude place names located across the globe. Towns, villages and streets with less than polite monikers have all been collected in the online project dubbed “Vaguely Rude Place Names of the World.”

Some of the names on the map will no doubt ring a bell – “Titicaca” in Bolivia and “Brest” in France are among the more infamous of the bunch. But there are plenty of other dubiously dubbed towns that will leave you wondering, “What were they thinking?” Here are a few hard-to-believe ones in the United States:Intercourse, PA

Climax, MI (There are actually several towns across the country with this rather popular name)

Wet Beaver Creek, AZ

Virginville, PA

Horneytown, NC

We can only imagine the embarrassment when spelling out a home address in one of these towns!

[Photo credit: screenshot from Vaguely Rude Place Names of the World]

Vagabond Tales: Cellphones And Candy Bars In The Floating Islands Of Peru

There is a running joke amongst Peruvians that when it comes to Lake Titicaca, Peru got the “Titty,” and Bolivia got the “kaka.”

All anatomical and bathroom jokes aside, the world’s highest navigable lake does in fact stretch across the borders of both nations. When read from left to right on a map, it would appear that the Peruvians may have a reason on which to make their case.

My mind didn’t spend too much time dwelling on this, however, as I motored across the placid lake waters for the first time. At 12,500 feet in elevation, even the slightest amount of breeze can create a frigid wind chill, causing me to tug my alpaca wool hat a little tighter over my ears while en route to Las Islas de Uros, the Floating Islands of Peru.

The thought which most occupied my mind as we motored away from the lakeside town of Puno – the Andean version of a seedy port town full of con-artists, liquor dens and ne’er do wells – was just how these islands even float in the first place.

A collection of 44 islands not far off the coastline of Puno, Las Islas de Uros are created from intertwined sections of floating bricks of mud, which are then covered in fresh, dry totora reeds harvested from the shallow parts of the lake. Thatched together in much the same fashion as palm frond draped palapas and tiki bars, the end result are islands no larger than a football field, which provide a home for the native Uro people of the lake.

And here’s the kicker: they even have an anchor to keep them from floating away. Seriously, islands with anchors – who ever would have thought it?

%Gallery-161058%Why, you might ask, would anyone choose to live on floating islands?

The Uro people, native inhabitants of the Lake Titicaca region who were conquered by the Aymara and later the Inca, opted to create floating islands as a defense mechanism in the event their part of the lake ever came under attack. Outside forces invade, pull anchor, move the village elsewhere, problem solved.

While the Uro may have lost their language to the Aymara and were subjected to enslavement by the Inca, a few hundred Uro residents still populate the floating, reed-strewn islands. Despite managing to somewhat maintain their culture, the Uro people inhabiting the floating islands are now being subjected to a new type of invasion generally known as tourism.

Arguably the lifeblood, which keeps the local economy afloat (pun intended), the hordes of tourists who flock to see these floating islands have subjected the remaining Uro people to an entirely new set of challenges.

For one, as more people come ashore to their islands and trample upon the reeds, the islands literally need to be replaced and rebuilt faster than before. Every step you take on one of the islands is accompanied by a loud crunching sound, and you actually sink about three inches into the island whenever you move. As the reeds are broken they are subjected to water and rot, and according to our local guide, the islands need to be “replaced” faster now than ever before.

Then, of course, there is the issue of begging children. Whether in the form of directly asking for money or by trying to sell you something you simply don’t want, for some reason, when a child lives on an island made out of sticks and the daily entertainment consists of a boat wake shaking the entire island, you feel a little more compelled to buy something from them, even though you know promoting child labor is wrong.

I mean, they actually live on an island made of sticks. How much can they really have? They probably take whatever money they make and occasionally venture into Puno for vital supplies such as quinoa grains or a used pair of shoes, right?

Let’s just say it would be nice if this thought were true.

From my perch on a “Uro yacht,” a two-story vessel made entirely out of totora reeds and bedecked in dragon heads like some sort of alpine, Peruvian Viking ship, I was witness to a reality-shattering event, which took place right in front of my eyes.

Having stopped for a lunch break on one of the larger islands, I had spent the last 45 minutes or so watching as traditionally dressed women sold souvenirs to camera-toting tourists and as small children demanded money for taking their photo. Pretty standard stuff, really.

From the number of tourists crunching their way around the island and the number of Nuevo Soles changing hands, it appeared the islanders were doing a pretty brisk business.

Then, in a moment I couldn’t make up if I tried, the island was approached by a wooden boat with a sputtering outboard motor and an oversized yellow sign. From the rush of children and local women headed down towards the water’s edge it was apparent this was a popular boat.

Taking a moment to tie his vessel to a metal stake wedged into the reeds, the floating merchant turned his attention back towards the women and children and indicated he was open for business.

Reaching into the deep pockets of their colorful, vibrantly flowing clothing, the traditionally dressed Uro women of the historic Islas de Uros then proceeded to grab all of their newly acquired fistfuls of cash and promptly spend all of it on …

Inca cola and candy bars!

But wait, that’s not all. Once the women had dutifully purchased no less than 14 liters of cola and about 40 candy bars for their soon-to-be-toothless children, they reached further into their pockets to grab some more money in order to …

recharge their cellphones!

Out from the depths of one of their six clothing layers came small, portable cellphones, and all the mothers proceeded to add more credit to their pre-paid accounts.

Somewhat deflated, I boarded a separate wooden boat back towards Puno, excited to have experienced such a culturally unique corner of the world, but somewhat disappointed that even here in the middle of Lake Titicaca on islands floating somewhere between ocean and sky, the far-reaching tentacles of modernity had turned it into a place eerily similar to everywhere else.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Want a beautiful night sky? Go to the Isle of Sark

Few things are as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the sky on a clear, dark night. The problem is, most of us live in cities or towns and the lights blot out all but the brightest stars and planets.

The Isle of Sark, one of the Channel Islands, has decided to become the place to go for skygazers. Early this year it was named the world’s first Dark Sky Island by the International Dark-Sky Association. The little island, with a population of only about 600, decided to put itself on the map by altering their lighting to reduce what astronomers call “light pollution”. It helped that there are no streetlights, cars, or paved roads on Sark.

The Isle of Sark hopes “astro-tourism” will bring the local economy a big boost, especially during the winter. The island has been promoting tourism for some time. Being a small and somewhat remote member of the Channel Islands, it provides an experience most visitors to Europe miss. It offers some rugged hiking, caves, and a beautiful 17th century mansion. The dark skies, however, are what will really give the Isle of Sark a chance to stand out among the tough competition for tourists.

Of course this isn’t the only remote spot with dark skies. Twelve years ago I visited Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. Like the Isle of Sark, there was no public lighting or cars. In fact, there was no electricity at all. At night it was so dark I needed a flashlight to keep from getting lost on my way to the outhouse. The starry sky was the most brilliant I’ve ever seen and I’ve never forgotten it. Has anyone out there been to Isla del Sol more recently? Is it still that dark at night?

Photo courtesy Forest Wander, which has lots of beautiful free nature photography.

Five easy ways be a philanthropic traveler

Voluntourism is the newest warm fuzzy of the travel industry. Under ideal circumstances, it’s a sustainable, experiential way to see the world and give back at the same time. Whether you’re helping to build a new school or clearing a trail, a working holiday is, for some, the best possible expenditure of disposable income.

But there’s the rub. Along with multitudinous other factors that make voluntourism a dicey concept, it doesn’t come cheap. Some organized volunteer holidays cost as much as a luxury vacation or adventure trip of the same length. That’s great if you can afford both the time and expense, but many of us don’t have that option.

The good news? You can still be a philanthropic traveler regardless of your income, physical ability, educational background, or destination. Below, five easy ways to make a difference on every trip.

1. Donate.
Clothing, shoes, school supplies, basic medical supplies (Neosporin, aspirin, antidiarrheals, bandages), food (fresh fruit and dry goods such as rice, flour, or beans are often good choices, depending upon where you’re traveling; avoid processed foods and candy).

In regard to donations, I’ve found it’s best to do a bit of research beforehand (even if it just involves talking to some fellow travelers or travel operators in the region, or locals). You don’t want to inadvertently cause offense or shame by giving freebies; on the other hand, don’t be put off if you’re asked to help if you can. Some reputable outfitters may request that clients donate any unwanted items of clothing at the trip’s end. These items significantly help local communities (especially children) or the families of contracted staff such as porters or cooks. Donating gently used clothing and shoes is also a greener way to travel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Visions Service Adventures]Ask–tour operators, guides, community leaders–before donating medical items, even if they’re OTC; ditto food. Guidebooks, travel articles, and local travel literature often note what items are in short supply in specific destinations.

For example, when I did a farmstay on a remote island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, my guidebook suggested I bring fresh fruit for my host family, as residents could only purchase it on the mainland. The farm patriarch also let me know at the end of my visit that any clothing donations for his children would be greatly appreciated. Depending upon your cultural and/or economic background, such a request may appear brazen or appallingly rude. Coming from a humble man whose entire family had welcomed me into their single-room home, fed me, and treated me as one of their own (rather than just a fast source of income), it was a request I was only too happy to honor.

2.Volunteer…for free
Voluntourism is something you can do yourself, assuming you ask permission when appropriate, and act in accordance with local and cultural mores (Behave Yourself! The Essential Guide to International Etiquette is an entertaining and informative book I recommend for all travelers). Whether you pick up trash on a beach, offer to work reception at a locally-owned backpacker’s for a few hours or days, or teach useful foreign language phrases to children, you’re giving back to that community.

I realize how colonialist this may sound, but the fact is, English speakers are in great demand worldwide. Even in the most impoverished countries or regions, locals who speak English (or French, Italian, German, etc.), no matter how rudimentary, can find employment or offer their services as guides, taxi drivers, hostel employees, or translators. Fluency in a foreign language(s) gives them an advantage in a competitive market. Think about it. It’s never a bad thing to learn a language other than your own, no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make.

3. Buy local handicrafts and food
Just like shopping your farmers market back home, buying local supports a local economy, and usually eliminates the need for a middle-man. A bonus: many specific destinations all over the world are famed for their food, textiles, woodcarving, pottery, etc.. Every time I look at certain items in my home–no matter how inexpensive they may be—I’m reminded of the adventures and experiences that led to their purchase.

4. Immerse yourself
You don’t need to “go native,” but the best travel experiences usually entail a certain amount of surrender to a place or culture. Learn a few key phrases in the local language or dialect; treat the people–even if they’re urbanites in an industrialized nation–with respect and observe their rules or customs when appropriate; be a gracious traveler or guest. Your actions may not provide monetary or physical relief, but giving back isn’t always about what’s tangible.

5. Reduce your footprint.
It’s impossible not to have a carbon footprint, and as recreational travelers, that impact increases exponentially. But there’s no need to eradicate “frivolous” travel; indeed, experiencing other cultures and sharing our own helps foster tolerance and empathy. Rather, we should be mindful travelers, and do our best to conserve natural resources and preserve the integrity of the places we visit. Just as with camping, leave a place better than you found it. Even if the locals aren’t putting these philosophies into practice, there’s no reason you can’t.

[Photo credits: schoolchildren, Flickr user A.K.M.Ali hossain;vendor, Laurel Miller]