Think ‘island exploration’, think guys with cutlasses and eyepatches prowling powder-white shores circa 1600, right? Well, while the edges of the map have long been filled-in, interpid explorers today can still make plenty of island discoveries: the different uses we put to ‘em are astonishing.
See our list of five weird islands below to discover booby-trapped buried treasure, shrines to dolls and a cat-obsesed community among other things…
1. Doll Island, Mexico
Like something out of a Tim Burton movie, Doll Island along the Xochimilco coastal waterways south of Mexico City looks like bad dolls’ hell. Begun as the original resident’s homage to a little girl he saw drowned in the canal, this homegrown museum houses pieces and parts of dolls of every size and shape and has grown over the years into something truly macabre.
A current caretaker admits visitors to this strange collection of disembodied dolls that hang from trees, rafters, wires, poles with some even nailed to planks by their hair, embedded in trees and half buried in the ground peering up with vacant eyes. Far from being charming, the spectacle of all of those rotting dolls seems to raise the hair on the back of visitors’ necks and they rarely linger long… and certainly not after sunset when the dolls are rumored to begin whispering to each other.
2. Cat Island, Japan
Cat Island has gained renewed attention after the Japan tsunami in March 2011, which left the cat-lovin’ east-coast island (officially known as Tashirojima) battered but still standing – and continuing to house hundreds of moggies. Cats there today are descendents of those originally brought in to control rodents, with the kitties leaping up the island social ladder from rat-catchers to demi-Gods within a generation. Residents strive to protect the cats (no dogs!), keep shrines to kitty spirits and have even built feline-shaped houses.
Residents have sent out a call to cat lovers everywhere to donate much-needed supplies because their docks and shoreline businesses were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.
3. Oak Island, Nova Scotia
Mystery-lovers flock to the otherwise nondescript Oak Island which sits amid many similar islands along the Atlantic coastline of Nova Scotia, drawn in by its legend of buried treasure. Known as the “money pit,” Oak Island’s mysterious shaft was discovered in 1795 when a 16-year-old local boy stumbled on a circular pit with a block and tackle hung on a tree branch overhead.
Original excavations uncovered evidence that the site had been accessed in the remote past, including flagstone steps with carved markers just beyond the entrance. Unfortunately, the discoverers came away empty-handed and with more questions than answers, as has everyone else – so far. The main hurdle has been overcoming Indiana Jones-style booby traps that have claimed six explorers’ lives during excavations. Another stumbling block is the recurring flooding that plagues efforts at recreating the original shaft, which has collapsed numerous times.
To date, no one has cracked the mystery of Oak Island to ascertain who left the treasure (the Templars? the Masons? the Royal Guard?) or if there really is a treasure to be found. Regardless of the failures, there are still efforts underway to unearth the secrets hidden under the trees on Oak Island.
4. Viðey Island, Iceland
There’s nothing odd about this uninhabited rocky island itself, but it does have the privilege of being home to a unique work of art. You don’t need to go to the island to see it, you just have to be in the coastal city of Reykjavík between John Lennon’s birthday (October 9th) until the anniversary of his death (December 8th). That’s when the lights go on at Viðey Island‘s Imagine Peace Tower, commissioned by Yoko Ono as a tribute to Lennon’s message of peace and hope. When illuminated, the Imagine Peace Tower is easily visible from the mainland where it sits about 15 miles out in the bay.
Tapping eco-friendly geothermal energy, the Imagine Peace Tower uses 15 spotlights arranged in a circle to make a “well for wishes”, with light beams directed upwards into the sky. Written on the base of the tower are the words “Imagine Peace” in 24 different languages. Give peace a chance indeed!
5. Disappearing Island, Florida
This is one of those places you have to know how to get to, but luckily the locals are happy to point the way to the island that’s not always there. Let us explain: just north of the Coast Guard station in Ponce Inlet in Florida’s Volusia County is a sizeable sandbar that sits above water for only a few hours during low tide. Nevertheless, the boat-loads of people who pull up to Disappearing Island find it a wonderful place to party and often stay until the water on the island is chest-deep.
A floating Ice Cream Boat regularly cruises around the island, even after it’s covered by waves. It’s often the site of weekend events and family reunions, but Disappearing Island also has a reputation for tragedies and mishaps. So don’t get tempted to party too hardy and camp out there, because at some point every 24 hours the island becomes totally submerged.
Words: Lela Lake