Cerro Sarisarinama Sinkholes

Cerro Sarisarinama is a table-topped mountain called a tepui, in Jaua-Sarisariñama National Park at the far south-west of Bolívar State, in Venezuela, near the border with Brazil. The name of the mountain originates from a legend of the indigenous Ye'kuana Indians that speaks of an evil spirit living in caves up in the mountain. Sometimes the evil spirit is heard devouring human flesh and then a terrible sound "Sari... sari..." is heard.

The tepui is located in one of the most remote areas in the country, with the closest road being hundreds of miles away. Unlike other tepuis, Cerro Sarisariñama is heavily wooded with 15–25 metre-high forest fully covering the top of it. This isolated ecosystem is home to numerous endemic species of plants and animals.

The most distinctive features of Cerro Sarisariñama are its gigantic sinkholes – four in total, with the largest one, called Sima Humboldt, is up to 352 metres wide and 314 metres deep. Down below Sima Humboldt expands to 502 meters wide. The other well known sinkhole Sima Martel is equally impressive at 248 meters deep. Both sinkholes are roughly circular and are located just 700 meters away from each other. The view of these gigantic holes from up the air is quite stunning.

The sinkholes were first discovered in 1961 by pilot Harry Gibson, but the first expedition could only be organized in 1974. The team, consisting of numerous explorers and specialists, descended into the sinkhole with ropes only to realize that getting out was not easy. The sinkhole widens as it goes down making the ropes hang freely. After several days the men made a desperate attempt to cut giant trees to make an open space for the helicopter to land. Eventually they used cable ladders to get out, but who knows how many rare species of plants were unnecessarily destroyed.

The second expedition team arrived two years later and they came more prepared than the first. This team discovered the third sinkhole - Sima de la Lluvia, which was a quartzite cave. For some two decades Sima de la Lluvia remained the longest known quartzite cave (1.35 km) in the world.


The Sunken Sin City at Port Royal

Port Royal was a city situated on the end of an 18-mile long sand spit known as the Palisadoes, at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour, in south-eastern Jamaica. Founded in 1518, it rapidly grew to become the most important trading post in the Caribbean Sea due to its strategic position on the trading routes between the New World and Spain. When England officially appointed privateers to raid enemy ships in the Caribbean, as a part of its defence strategy, pirates from around the world congregated at Port Royal to legitimize their trade. Soon Port Royal became a notorious hub for pirate activity, gambling, prostitutes, and booze leading it to be branded as "the wickedest city on earth".

Port Royal’s glory days didn’t last long. At the height of its glittering wealth on June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake shook Jamaica. The sea swallowed the town killing 2,000 people and wounding 3,000 others. The local clergy ascribed the destruction of Port Royal as God's punishment on the people for their sinful ways. Today, the area is a shadow of its former self with a population of less than 2,000 and little to no commercial or political importance.

The first Europeans to land on Jamaica were the Spaniards under the leadership of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Spain maintained control over the island for 146 years, until the English invasion of 1655. As a solution to their defence concerns, the then Governor of England invited pirates to Port Royal giving them official “letters of marque” to go after Spanish ships and settlements. The strategy proved to be so successful that Spain was forced to continually defend their property. With ships frequently looted, it struggled to provide its colonies with manufactured goods on a regular basis.

Port Royal meanwhile flourished. Between 1655 and 1692, it grew faster than any town founded by the English in the New World. At its height in 1692, the town had a population of 6,500 and 2,000 buildings densely packed into 51 acres. Its free-spending inhabitants threw away their money in gambling, whoring and drinking, and the town developed a reputation as a den of wickedness and godlessness.

When Charles Leslie wrote of Port Royal in the 1660s, he included the description: “Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that... some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.”

A painting representing the 1692 earthquake that destroyed the city partially sunken it into the seas.

Port Royal’s extravagance came to an abrupt end on June 7, 1692 when a massive earthquake and tsunami struck causing two-thirds of the town to fall into the sea. A series of fires and hurricanes followed and the town was never restored to its former glory. Port Royal lived out its days as a British naval station and today remains as a small fishing village. However, the part of the town lying at the bottom of the shallow sea is considered the most important underwater archaeological site in the western hemisphere, yielding many 16th–and-17th-century artefacts. From UNESCO’s website:

Many of the materials found in the underwater city of Port Royal, are perfect expressions of authenticity, found just exactly as they were originally being used or where they were stored. Cast-iron skillets and pots were still in the hearth with charred wood from the fire concreted to their surfaces. Stacks of pewter plates were found as they fell from their storage space under the stairs in what is surmised to be the serving area of one building. The remains of children were found among the broken walls of their home. Also, uncovered were the remains of barrels containing the trash of the day, including the trimmings of a man's beard and hair in a yard area. Many ceramics were found intact or broken where they fell.

Many of the items recovered over the years from the bottom can be seen at the Museums of History and Ethnography at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston.

CGI artwork depicting how Port Royal may have looked like.

CGI artwork depicting how Port Royal may have looked like.

CGI artwork depicting how Port Royal may have looked like.

CGI artwork depicting how Port Royal may have looked like


Hidden Beach Formed by Military Bombing

Marieta Islands are a group of small uninhabited islands a few miles off the coast of Nayarit, in Mexico. Ever since the islands was labelled a national park, there has been an increase in marine life populations due to the islands being protected from fishing and hunting by the Mexican government. Over the last few years Marieta Islands have turned into a popular tourist destination drawn by the rich fauna that include creatures like humpback whales, dolphins and manta rays. Among the many natural wonders on the islands, one is a “Playa del Amor” or “the beach of love” but commonly referred to as the “hidden beach”. The beach is so called because it’s entirely hidden in a sinkhole-like cave, and can only be reached by swimming through a short, narrow tunnel. While the beach itself is natural, the sinkhole under which the beach lies is reportedly man-made.

The Marietas Islands were originally formed many thousands of years ago by volcanic activity. Being completely uninhabited, the Mexican government started using the islands as target practice prior to the First World War. These controlled bombings have formed numerous caves and other unique rock formations on the Marietas Islands. It is believed that the Hidden Beach was created as a result of these bombings together with natural erosion of the rocks surrounding it.

After a massive international outcry, started by scientist Jacques Cousteau in the late 1960s, the government eventually decided to label the islands a national park. Today the islands are protected from human activity and only a few tour operators are allowed to take tourists there after obtaining necessary permits.


The Lonely Castle of Mada'in Shaleh

Mada'in Saleh is an ancient city of pre-Islamic period located in northern Saudi Arabia, about 1,400 km to the north of capital Riyadh. It lies in a strategic position on one of the most important ancient trade routes, which linked the south of the Arabian peninsula to the north, as well as to the great economic and cultural centres of Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. It is considered one of the most important and oldest ancient cities in the country and the second largest city of the Nabateans who rules in the first century AD. Today, Mada'in Saleh is an archeologically important site with majestic ruins that are often compared with those of Petra. The most stunning among these ruins and the most iconic symbol of Mada’in Saleh is Qasr al-Farid, rising four stories tall not far from the center of the ancient Nabataean city of Hegra.

“Qasr al-Farid” means “the lonely castle”, so called because it stands completely isolated from the others. But despite its fanciful name, Qasr al-Farid is only a tomb. It was carved out of a single rock sometime in the first century A.D., but its facade was never finished which makes the tomb an interesting study. The heavily chiselled surface of the lower third documents how these tombs were fashioned from the top down. Qasr al-Farid is just one of ninety-odd such monumental tombs carved here during the heyday of the Nabataeans.


Mystery Ancient Thousands Caves in Nepal

Hidden within the Himalayas, 155ft from the ground, these man-made caves are one of the World's greatest archaeological mysteries.

Thousands of holes are carved into the fragile, sandy-coloured cliff in a gorge so large it dwarfs the Grand Canyon.

The astonishing number of caves, some dug into the cliffside, others tunnelled from above are thousands of years old but who built them and why remains a mystery.

Mystery: Thousands of man-made caves 155ft from the ground lie hidden within the Himilayas in a gorge so large it dwarfs the Grand Canyon

Bizarre: With dozens of holes carved into the fragile, sandy-coloured cliff face this unusual 'neighbourhood in the sky' looks like a giant sandcastle

Dangerous: Climber Cedar Wright explores the series of caves near the village of Tsele

It is also not known how people climbed into the caves which are dug into a cliff 155-foot above the valley floor.

An estimated 10,000 of these mysterious human-built caves have been found in the former Kingdom of Mustang in North, Central Nepal. Those who have seen the mysterious caves say the effect of them on the cliff face makes it look like a giant sandcastle.

Adventure photographer, Cory Richards joined climber Pete Athans, archaeologist Mark Aldenderfer and a team of explorers to unearth the hidden relics of the ancient and remote caves.

astonishing number of caves, some dug into the cliffside, others tunnelled from above, are thousands of years old but who built them and why remains a mystery. A scientist scales a fragile rock face to reach the 800-year-old caves, right, while the team hike below some of the entrances, left

Adventure: Climbers and scientists follow a trail above the Kali Gandaki River

High up: Climber Pete Athans looks inside a cave found near Chuksang. It is not known how people climbed into the caves which are dug into a cliff 155foot above the valley floor

'He started telling me about this place where we were going. The words he was using conjured these images of a place I couldn't really imagine.

'Quite honestly when I got there it was even bigger and more grand than anything I ever could ever have imagined.

'We're talking about somewhere that reminds us of the Grand Canyon, the desert south west but then has this incredible history to it. You see these caves carved into the rock and now they're completely inaccessible.

'As we started getting deeper into it, I started to see the magic of what we were approaching, the culture in practice, a 12th century village underneath the caves they used to live in, caves that are now forgotten.

'We started asking questions about how did people get into them?

Impressive: This image shows eroded murals on the walls of the Ritseling Cave in Upper Mustang. The astonishing number of caves are thousands of years old

Exploration: Members of the team do a preliminary survey of a cave

'I started wondering how do I light up people's imagination to make them think what it would have looked like thousands of years ago, that was my final challenge, how do I give people that imagination.

'One of the ways we did that was lighting up the caves, going them into them a night, spending the night in caves, using lights to light them up and strobes.

'Trying to give people the feeling this is a very ancient place, this is a place that has so many stories to tell us so much more than we can even really imagine in our lifetime.'

Climbing into the sky caves was no easy feat, the rock was unstable and posed a real danger to the team of explorers.

In fact climbing into the caves was so dangerous, Mr Richards lost his footing, fell and broke his back. On another assignment to Mustang the following year, videographer Lincoln Else was hit by a falling rock, fracturing his skull.

He said: 'This was real exploration. It's dangerous it's loose rock it's scary. Everything is loose, everything around you feels like it's crumbling. You feel like when you're climbing everything is going to collapse.'

'One of the things I think we forget when we're talking about adventure, science and exploration is it gets dangerous at times one of the reasons its so exciting is because there are consequences and big consequences.

'On my first trip there I was trying to climb in and a foothold broke and I fell about 12-20 feet, I landed on my butt and I broke my back.

'It was an eye-opener because yes it this was really exciting, really engaging, I want to tell this big story but I just broke my back, maybe this isn't as important as I thought.

'The next year we came back to try again. I took this shot and my friend Lincoln Else was filming right next to me.

'Next thing I heard was Pete's wife scream, she said "oh my god, oh my god" Lincoln was lying on the ground with blood pouring from his head and convulsing.

'A rock had fallen from above, hit him and given him a 21cm skull fracture, it completely depressed his skull.

'Again it was a point of realisation that yes what you are doing is very important but it's also very dangerous and when you talk about adventure there are sides to it that are unpleasant.

'Lincoln made a full recovery, I thought for certain I think we all thought at the point that Lincoln was going to die.

'Essentially at the end of the experience, what was illuminated to me the marriage of science and exploration and culture is the ultimate in how we bring the world to everyone.

'We have to make it exciting, digestible but we also have to give the knowledge of what's out there to everyone else.'