Recently in Global Awareness Category

Tulum-Seaside-2010.jpgSo the Mayans declare that the world ends on Friday and the entire world erupted into chaos. Who are these people? And why do they get to decide the fate of our planet? All fair questions we'd like to clear up and help you discover where you can learn more about this epic civilization.

Why is the World Going to End on 12/21/12?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but actually, it isn't. The Mayans just believe it's the end of an era, not a big fiery apocalypse like War of the Worlds or I am Legend would have you imagine. Will Smith will most likely not be donning his best space gear to save us from the abyss of vampires, aliens, or any other hybrid human creatures. ..that we know of.

The palindrome 12/21 is still significant though. Ancient Mayans, whose civilization thrived in southern Mexico and Central America until about 900 A.D. actually used three calendars, one of which was called the Long Count Calendar that completes a major cycle on that date (and was thought to be the last recorded milestone, as far ahead as they could plan before Christ's time). The Mayans never claimed to be able to predict the future so somewhere along the line their excellent astrological and math skills got misinterpreted. Still a good excuse as any to #yolo right?

Most Famous Mayan Ruins

Since you have some time left on earth, why not head to the source to investigate one of the most powerful civilizations in history?

Chichen Itza (Mexico)

The most famous and well restored Mayan ruins are in Mexico. This Yucatan pyramid is the most popular during Spring and Fall equinoxes, (March 21 & September 21) when the setting sun creates shadows that look like snakes winding down the sides.

Altun Ha (Belize)

An important pre-Colombian spot, Altun Ha is pretty easy to get to 30 miles outside of Belize City by the Caribbean Sea. The temple pyramids were only recently made a tourist spot in the 1960's. Buildings are used for caches, partially for public offerings and in part for family rituals.

Copan (Honduras)

Located in the Rio Copan Valley, Copan was created following a number of dynasties between the 5th and 9th centuries. The ruins are set in the far southeast region of Mesoamerica in the fertile valley and feature a number of statues and carvings depicting past rulers and their marvels.

Tulum (Mexico)

A famous port city, the Mayan ruins of Tulum are situated on a 12 foot cliff overlooking the peninsula of Quintana Roo. A favorite spot for their great coastal location, it's the perfect place to combine a beach holiday with history and a cultural infusion.

While the Seven Wonders of the World are jaw-dropping man-made creations that continuously inspire architects, artists, and creative thinkers, nature has some of its own wonders that will take your breath away. Science can explain the chemical structure and formation of such creations, but nothing can truly capture and explain the magnitude and beauty that Earth's natural phenomena have left us with than simply viewing these marvels with your own eyes.

Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska -- The Aurora Bo...

Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska -- The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Northern Lights

The Northern lights are one of nature's most breath-taking gifts. Located above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres, the lights glow red, yellow, green, blue and violet. They are also known by their scientific names, "aurora borealis" in the north, and the "aurora australis" in the south. The lights are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released between the Earth and sun's atmospheres. The differences in mystical colors are derived from the type of gas particles that are colliding. No painting or photograph can truly replicate its beauty. The Northern lights can be seen throughout Norway and other Nordic regions like Iceland and Canada, but are most frequently visible above the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway, in the late autumn and winter/early spring, when days are longer.

The Catatumbo Lightning

The Catatumbo Lightning in Venezuela is the wo...

The Catatumbo Lightning in Venezuela is the world's largest single generator of ozone. Catatumbo lightning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Catatumbo lightning over the mouth of the Catatumbo River in Venezuela is an atmospheric phenomena that has occurred for many centuries. The 5km long lightning rods are a result of heat and moisture collection across a plain located between the high mountain ridges of the Andes, the Perij√° Mountains and Merida's Cordillera. Together, the heat and moisture create electrical charges fueling the world's largest single generator of tropospheric ozone where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo. The lightning occurs 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours per day up to 280 times per hour. Though Venezuela experienced four lightning free months in 2010 due to drought, the Catatumbo lightning has reappeared and can still be seen today.

Red Tides

a red tide

a red tide (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red tides, or algal bloom, can often be seen along coastal areas. In places like San Diego, California, there is an abundance of algae containing photosynthetic pigments that produce the reddish-brown, sometimes purple and pink, visible patches seen near the water's surface. But not all algal blooms cause water discoloration. In low concentrations, where algal bloom is less dense, the appearance of their varying color pigmentation goes unnoticed. Though red tides draw a lot of attention because of their unusualness and beauty, other red tide outbreaks are avoided because they produce natural toxins, which can be environmentally hazardous.

Nacreous Clouds

Roads in Iceland

Roads in Iceland (Photo credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi)

Nacreous clouds, sometimes referred to as mother-of-pearl clouds or stratospheric clouds because of the shimmering pigment resembling that of a seashell, appear iridescent and blazing in the sky in places like Scandinavia, Iceland, Alaska and Northern Canada. Nacreous clouds can be seen at high latitudes during the winter in the polar regions of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are produced some 9-16 miles above the tropospheric clouds where miniscule ice crystals accumulate in a thin layer of cloud to form a uniform shape and size. The sun has to be perfectly aligned with the colors in order to produce the magnificent colors. It's no wonder why they are a rare treasure to behold.

by Andrea Gaggioni, Contributing Author

2012-04-25-AmusementParkPripyat.jpgNuclear explosions, radiation and a mass evacuation -- an accident happened, and a tragic one at that, 26 years ago. For those familiar with the Chernobyl disaster that devastated inhabitants of Ukraine in 1986, you are well aware of the grave consequences of the explosion. To refresh your memory, the incident is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history which spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. The battle to contain the contamination involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 555 million dollars, crippling the Soviet economy.

But is Chernobyl ready to market itself as an extreme tourist spot?

With recent horror flick Chernobyl Diaries stirring up a newfound interest in the disaster site among viewers, Chernobyl is taking extreme tourism to entirely new levels. First opened to the general public for touring in 2011, Chernobyl-goers must take extra precaution before embarking on the not-for-the-faint-of-heart tour, signing multiple waivers and even undergoing intensive radiation scans prior to entering the disaster site.

On a typical tour of Chernobyl, extreme tourists will be able to see the infamous "dead town" of Pripyat, an abandoned nuclear reactor, and the "red forest" -- a forest of pine trees that have morphed from green to a shade of rust due to unnaturally high levels of radiation. Critics of Chernobyl tourism have commented that the attractions around the disaster zone promote insensitivity toward the tragic accident and its victims. However, their resistance has yet to deter throngs of extreme tourists who are intrigued by the radiation site month after month.

Are you an extreme tourist who looking for a new challenge? Read on for a few fast facts to know before you go:

- According to government officials, the radiation exposure levels are "negligible," since the time visitors are allowed to stay within the confines of Chernobyl are carefully regulated. Regardless, visitors should remain vigilant of the nature of the area.

- No eating, drinking or smoking is allowed outdoors while in Chernobyl.

- The "dead zone" refers to the most highly-reactive area within the power plant.

- An abandoned amusement park lies in the center of Pripyat, complete with a ferris wheel. Unsettling, no?

A journey to the center of Chernobyl and back seems like the perfect adventure for those crazy enough to take "extreme" to the next level. How many other travelers could say they have entered one of the most dangerous places in the world? Would you go? 

By Lindsay Shoemake, Contributing Author

Irish step dancers from Scoil Rince na Connema...

Irish step dancers from Scoil Rince na Connemara in Wilkes-Barre PA dance at the HUB, Penn State University. Here, the dancers have their hands on their hips, with their elbows pointed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dances are an ancient form of expression and has been hugely important to cultures across the globe since prehistoric times. Dance has been (and still are) used for religious ceremonies, celebrations, (would a modern wedding be complete without the couple's first dance?) and storytelling, and are a staple at most festivals. The Native Americans danced to bring rain, and the Ancient Egyptians danced at funerals.Today, going dancing might just be a good way to blow off steam or letting loose, but feel the historical significance in your twinkle toes.


Flamenco dancers are easily spotted by their colorful, flowing dresses - usually red. The dramatic yet energetic dance form originates from the Andalusia region in southern Spain. Although often associated only with dancing, flamenco actually involves three parts - song, dance, and guitar playing. The form is thought to have influences in Gypsy and other cultures, and flamenco dancers wear Gypsy-style long dresses and shawls and sometimes have decorated fans. While flamenco is now associated with festivals, it began as a performance art in Spanish cafes around the 19th century.

Irish Step Dance

Made popular by Riverdance and characterized by fast, tapping footwork, the Irish step is an important part of Irish culture. The step dance probably evolved along with traditional Irish music and might even have roots in the Celtic tribes that arrived in Ireland before the time of Christianity. In fact, it seems that surviving Celtic artwork influenced the elaborate costumes worn by Irish dancers. The Irish step dance is all about the feet - dancers keep their upper bodies deliberately stiff, which draws the spectators' eyes to the feet.  They wear either soft or hard shoes; hard shoes make noise against a stage and are used to add rhythm. Step dances are very graceful and light, and are performed either solo or in a group. The reel, slip jig, and jig are all types of Irish step. Today, Irish step is not just reserved for the Irish - there are many step competitions throughout the world.

Another popular Irish dance is called the ceili. The tradition of ceili dancing began in the 19th century by the Gaelic League with Ireland's long history of in-line dances or couple dancing at social gatherings to Irish folk music. Ceili dancers side-step on their toes in the direction that they are facing.


"Tarantella" is closely related to the Italian word for tarantula, "tarantola." This famous Italian folk dance is said to have come from an old Italian belief about the effects of a bite from a tarantula. To prevent poisoning from a bite, one had to perform frenzied dances. The tarantella is also thought to be a dance of courtship. The dance transformed over the centuries and is now popular at festivals and weddings, particularly in southern Italy. Dancers hold hands and move in a circle to fast-paced music, rotating directions, or the males kneel while women perform the steps first in place, then in a circle. Despite its strange origin, the tarantella is widely recognized today, and can be seen in the movie The Godfather.

Greek dancing

Greek dancing, a type of folk dance, is typical of weddings, religious and birthday celebrations, and in ancient times families danced to mourn the loss and victories of family members. Dance was used to tell stories and was regarded as one of the highest forms of art, necessary to truly appreciate ones culture. There are several Greek dances, each with characteristics of the island/region from which they originated. Generally, Greek dances like folk dance are done in a circular formation and involve the linking of arms and wrists with or without a handkerchief, and a formation based on seniority of family members. Though 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' does an exceptional job of portraying the intensity and liveliness of Greek celebratory dancing, true Greek dancing can last until the break of dawn - opa!


Polska is the name given to the popular music and dance of the Nordic regions: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The traditional dance originated from the Polish courts' couple dances in the 16th century. "Polska" means "Polish" in Swedish. Though each country has its own rendition of the polska, couple-turning fiddle harmonies and pivot steps characterize all of them. The polska dance has changed from its original and oldest rendition, the 'gammal' polska, to the popularized 'hambo' polska in the 19th-century.

By Jessica Dysart and Andrea Gaggioni, Contributing Authors


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