The 8 Creepiest Places on Earth (Part 4)
We all know that horror movies are fiction, but that doesn't stop us from checking under the bed after every episode of Scooby-Doo. Fear tends to turn off the rational part of our brains, which is why even the most reasonable human beings occasionally find themselves sprinting away from little girls with wet hair hanging over their faces. But then there are some places you can take one look at and be certain -- just from a process of pure and logical deduction -- that they're home to terrible monsters. Surely, if the right combination of dopey, well-meaning everymen, sassy heroines, sex-crazy teens and arrogant jock types went to any one of these places with a few helmet cams and an ample supply of tube tops, we could all see what happens when horror stops being polite, and starts being real.
(Oh, and in case you were worried about falling asleep sometime in the next week -- like maybe you've got a big test to study for or something -- here are parts 1, 2 and 3 in the series.)
The Literal Mayan Hell
Archaeologists in the Yucatan have found something interesting: the literal entrance to hell.
Well, at least as far as the Mayans were concerned. The site archaeologists uncovered back in 2008 was a vast network of underground and underwater caves, crisscrossed with concrete roads, ominous columns and ruined temples. A group of hapless grad students stumbling upon an ancient, mysterious, buried city is more than enough to kick start the Lovecraft engine all on its own, but this story goes straight up horror cliche right abooouuuut now:
All that time spent playing "the floor is lava" would come in handy.
The Mayans believed that hell was a very specific place located in a network of underground caves beneath the jungles of the Yucatan. More specifically, they believed that the souls of the recently deceased started their journey into the afterlife being led through a pitch black, watery, subterranean maze by a mystical dog that could see perfectly in the dark. The deceased were plagued on every side by unseen creatures, harried and tortured until the death-pooch eventually brought them before a giant column, which sat on the lip of a deep pool that led to Xibalba -- their word for hell.
And that's exactly what the researchers found: an ornate system of caves, full of ancient temples and crumbling pathways that eventually led to a giant column on the edge of a deep, dark pool. Littered all throughout the site, they've found the expected remnants -- statues of priests, ceramics, human remains ...
Hey, this was the Mayans, after all: It just ain't a party until somebody stabs a virgin.
While some of the researchers believed that they'd found the inspiration behind the myth, others think that the belief predates the caves -- that the Mayans found a place that looked a lot like hell, so they just up and built themselves a hell down there. Hired some contractors, released a couple of bats, fed a bunch of carrots to a dog, and Bob's your uncle -- you got yourself a damnation. Either way, just imagine being that first Mayan expert, stumbling down a hole in the jungle and uncovering an elaborate set of ruins. As you trod down the broken concrete road, a sense of deja vu overtakes you. Haven't you heard of something like this before? Something in your studies? Folklore, maybe? When you finally come across the huge column with the human remains and black pool at its base, it clicks: This is hell. This is exactly like the hell the Mayans were talking about in their sacred book.
We don't care how rational you are, if a dog panted right then, you would pee. You would pee forever.
Antarctica is a vast and frozen continent. It's so cold and merciless that it is a natural setting for horror. At the Mountains of Madness, The Thing, Alien vs. Predator -- even the sun doesn't want to stick around that place when winter sets in, leaving it in perpetual darkness for six months out of the year. Intrepid explorers usually come armed to the teeth with GPS systems, high-tech arctic clothing and enough advanced survival gear to bring Bear Grylls to a shuddering climax. It's plenty terrifying enough, and that's before the angry ghosts show up to take their homes back. Hold up, let us explain:
Back in the olden days, a lot of people were incredibly excited at the prospect of finding the South Pole, despite explorers having a nasty habit of dying horribly in the lethal conditions down there. One such explorer was Robert Falcon Scott, a man with the kind of heroic name and tasseled shoulder pads that secured him a place in history.
A dark, cold, bitter place.
"And this medal is for heroically leading others to their death."
In the winter of 1911, Robert Scott and his men left the relative safety of their base camp, a 50-foot-by-25-foot timber and seaweed hut, and set out on a mission to reach the South Pole. Scott and four companions managed to attain the pole in January 1912, but were historically cockblocked when they discovered that another team had already beat them to it by more than a month. Scott's party dejectedly began the 800-mile journey back, but before reaching the safety of their hut, the entire group perished in the ice.
In retrospect, betting all their supplies that they'd make it there first was a poor choice.
Their tent and frozen remains were not discovered until the next winter, along with Scott's diary with the final, shakily written entry reading: "It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. For God's sake look after our people."
Holy shit, those are some ominous last words. They totally belong in a horror movie trailer; they sound like they should be frantically whispered over a montage of people running.
The hut that Scott was so desperately trying to reach was abandoned after, y'know, everybody living there died, and it was completely forgotten ... for about 40 years, until a U.S. expedition dug it back out of the snow. The building was found perfectly preserved by the cold, right down to the tomato ketchup and delicious cans of ox tongue, as though still awaiting the return of its hungry, forsaken owners. It looks like this:
"This Spam still hasn't reached its expiration date."
So if you ever happen to be stuck in the howling icy wastes at the bottom of the world, with the sun about to vanish for six months and the temperature dropping rapidly, go ahead and seek shelter here. It looks like a pretty comfortable place, actually, even if there are restless dead with famously unfinished business whose last wish on earth was just to come home to it. But yeah, you settle on in. Help yourself to some uncannily preserved century-old ox tongue. Just, uh ... don't answer the door if somebody comes knocking.
This Abandoned Russian Laboratory
A group of Russian "urban explorers" were out doing their thing -- drinking "cologne" out of a giant novelty bottle and foolishly discussing the merits of single-stripe track pants over the clearly superior two-stripe variety -- when they discovered something weird: a sealed building full of disused lab equipment and strange little glass jars. When they wiped the dust off, this is what they saw:
The Soviet ending of Red Alert 2?
Yep. Brains. Pickled brains in jars, sealed up in an abandoned laboratory beneath Moscow. It was a long-forgotten relic of the Cold War, a secret Soviet installation that had been hastily abandoned for no apparent reason. There's no specific date listed, but one of their finds was a weathered image of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev gathering dust beneath a preserved, disembodied brain in a jar.
Budget cuts required improvised paperweights.
How long had it sat abandoned? Twenty, thirty years? More? There's no way to say, as the urban explorers website was pulled and deleted soon after they cataloged their find. That could mean that it's a hoax, or it could mean that the Russian police just don't appreciate people breaking into sealed government facilities ... or it could mean that they woke something terrible in the abandoned laboratory and have paid a terrible price for their hubris. Hey, we're in no position to say, so we'll just show you a few more of the pictures and let you work it out on your own.
Disembodied cat organs, or the newest adorable Disney character?
OK, that's a bit disturbing, but that's clearly just a cat brain. It's not like they were crudely butchering animals on site and-
Well, all right. This is starting to look like Leatherface's high school biology class. But there's nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that implies that this laboratory was manufacturing tiny animal-hybrid cannibals that they would set loose upon society, tearing flesh and devouring all they fi-
Clearly the work of pirahana-fleas.
Lome's Voodoo Market
Pop culture tends to treat Voodoo like "crude, evil magic," so it's easy to forget that Voodoo is an actual, legitimate religion that many people still practice seriously. It's especially popular in Western African countries like Togo, and its capital, Lome, is home to one of the largest markets of Voodoo paraphernalia in the world ...
... which, unfortunately for Voodoo's image, is just another way of saying heaps of terrifying animal skulls.
Most religions just stick to stuff like bread, but this is fine, too.
In Western African Voodoo, it's believed that animal remains hold magical powers that can be used to protect oneself from evil and diseases. However, modern, on-the-go Voodoo-ites (Voodoodes?) might not have the time to ensnare and butcher a bunch of tiny critters to grind up and rub into their wounds. That's where the Lome Market comes in: Among its many stands and stalls, you can find an impressive assortment of talismans, fetishes and oh, so many skulls: crocodiles, cats, monkeys, vultures, owls, snakes -- it's a creepy skull buffet, and everybody's invited!
Take all you can eat, but please eat all you take.
While it's certainly unsettling to look at, and there is literally no amount of money that you could pay us to walk through that place while high, none of the animals were actually killed in the market. So when you get down to it, the Lome bazaar is really just like your friendly neighborhood Walgreens, only with high-octane nightmare fuel where the aspirin should be.
"Clean up in gator heads. Another tourist shit himself."
The Largest Mass Cannibal Grave
Dr. Bruno Boulestin and his team were digging around the site of a 7,000-year-old village called Herxheim when they struck something: horror gold!
"Dammit, Greg, I told you to stop burying drifters in the dig site!"
It was a human bone. That alone might creep some of us out, but that's like archaeologist bingo -- unless Indiana Jones lied to us, the only thing an archaeologist likes to disturb more than Nazi panties is ancient human graves. But then they pulled out another bone from another set of remains, and another, and another -- 500 bodies in all. It was an absolutely giant mass grave, especially for a civilization as relatively small as Herxheim. What killed such a large percentage of the population? Disease? Disaster?
The arrival of Mork?
Then they took a closer look at the bones and found the Terror Easter Egg: bite marks. On every single body. All 500 showed "markings similar to those found on the remains of animals that have been spit roasted." They found cuts in the human bones from the meat being scraped off, and most of them broken open to dig out the marrow. Previous researchers familiar with the site say that the removal of flesh could have just been a burial ritual -- but that doesn't explain two things:
1. The mysterious and complete abandonment of Herxheim about 7,000 years ago -- you know, right around the time that 500 people died and were eaten there.
2. The friggin' bite marks.
We're not saying that there was an ancient zombie apocalypse in southwest Germany, but -- no, wait, that's exactly what we're saying. Loud and clear.
"If you'll all please assume the fetal position, you'll be slaughtered in an orderly fashion."
Everybody grab your Shaolin spades and watch those archaeologists; they could turn at any moment.
That impossible ship graveyard up above, located dead smack in the middle of what looks like a freaking desert, is all that's left of Muynak, a city in western Uzbekistan. Many years ago, hundreds of ships would dock at the bustling fishing port by the Aral Sea, but over time the water there ... just sort of up and vanished.
Didn't even pay its room service bill.
All in all, the sea (actually a giant lake) has shrunk down to 10 percent of its original size. That's because, starting in the 1960s, the Aral's waters have been continuously diverted for irrigation purposes by the Soviet government. Its shoreline receded again and again, eventually retreating hundreds of miles from the once prosperous fishing village. The town slowly died, and the remaining Muynak fishing vessels became stranded, with nowhere to go, and that's when the camels came.
"Heard y'all needed a tow?"
People still live in Muynak, the post-apocalyptic fishmonger's settlement, but not many. Maybe that's due to it being a port town in a friggin' desert, or maybe it's due to the toxic heavy metals in the water that are slowly poisoning the inhabitants, or maybe it's just that people got sick of Scoob and the gang hollering at all hours of the night as they're chased through the wrecks by a ghost pirate that, let's face it, is obviously just Old Man Winters in a mask.
"And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those pesky mercury-induced psychotic episodes."
Anything is creepy if you put it underwater. A gravestone on land? Sad. Underwater? Terror. Baby stroller on land? Cute. Baby stroller underwater? Suddenly you're checking for tiny baby hands reaching out of the mud to clutch at your swim fins. So when you start off with something already terrifying, like, say, a mass grave of thousands of people, and plant that shit in the bottom of the ocean, you've got some pretty high quality terror porn. It's called the Chuuk Lagoon, and, well, see for yourself:
"No, no, this was a great choice for our honeymoon."
The Chuuk (or Truk) Lagoon is a large atoll north of New Guinea. Back in February of 1944, the U.S. Navy launched an attack on the Imperial Japanese Army called Operation Hailstone. It was one of the most spectacular battles of the Pacific theater. By the end of it, thousands of soldiers on both sides were dead, their corpses forever entombed at the bottom of the Pacific. And they are still there, left untouched, just as they were nearly 70 years ago.
And, more recently, Borderlands kills.
The Chuuk is the biggest ship graveyard in the world, but obviously, it's not just ships: tanks, artillery, human remains -- there are all sorts of corpses down there. So clearly it's a total hit with divers! Stupid, reckless, incredibly ballsy divers who are free to explore the husks of the old battleships, warplanes and the occasional skeleton, just as long as they don't try to remove any of it from its dark, watery grave. Oh, not for any paranormal reasons or anything: It's just that there's a lot of live ammunition, and most everything is covered in highly caustic aviation fluid -- which sure sounds like PC talk for "cursed" to us.
That's not just us fear-mongering, by the way: It really is kind of cursed. It's estimated that among all the machines of death at the bottom of Chuuk, there are a few million gallons of crude oil that threaten to spill out and utterly destroy the local ecosystem at any time. So no, there's no old gypsy lady pointing a chicken foot at you and shouting vile gibberish -- but let's call a spade a spade here. Or rather, let's call a mass grave of people killed in horrific ways that could one day release a black cloud of death that will destroy everything in its path "a little bit cursed."
The Kabayan Burial Caves
Located in the northern Philippines, the Kabayan Burial Caves were first discovered accidentally by a logging crew clearing a local mountain slope. Once they checked inside, the loggers (who obviously didn't listen to the audience at home shouting "Don't go in there!") found hundreds of skulls and strange little walnut-shell-like coffins. Cracking open the coffins (Jesus Christ, loggers -- you're just begging to be disemboweled by ancient corpses, aren't you?) revealed scores of mummified remains of the Ibaloi people, all tucked inside the containers like soul-scarring little Poke Balls of the dead.
"Didn't I say make sure you poke air holes? What did I say?"
Fifteen identical caves were later found nearby, presumably after the loggers "split up" and two of them started making out on top of a bloody tomb. But hey, maybe you're jaded by this point in the article -- maybe the subaquatic skulls and cannibal graves have left your soul hardened to such pedestrian sights as creepy little wooden eggs filled with corpses. If that's the case, maybe you should take a closer look at one of the mummies:
It's like a Rob Zombie Coppertone ad.
And maybe you could also use a little context: The Ibaloi mummify their dead because they believe that members of their tribe will "live again," so they "preserve the body for the owner to use when he comes back to life." So if you put all the world's religions in a big deck, shuffle them up, and pick one that'll come true, all those little wooden eggs will crack open and release thousands of tiny, desiccated, screaming mummies if you pull the Ibaloi card.
Oh, but remember, that's not their idea of hell; that's their best case scenario. Because the Ibaloi are a terrifying people, and somebody just started raiding their damn cemeteries.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance English-Japanese-Polish translator, tour guide and writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
For more places that are probably haunted, check out 5 Amazing Abandoned Wastelands ... Within Walking Distance and The 6 Most Mind-Blowing Modern Ghost Towns.
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