In Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias, Alastair Bonnett takes readers to a number of unusual locations around the globe, proving that even in the age of Google Earth, many places defy mapping, and that defiance reveals much about how humanity both influences and is influenced by its natural and man-made surroundings. Here are 10 of the strange locations found in the book.
1. Garbage City, Cairo
Garbage City is a village on a craggy hillside above Cairo. Here live the Zabaleen, Arabic for "garbage pickers." In the narrow lanes and out of almost every window bulge weighty sacks of trash, waiting to be sorted and recycled. It is estimated that the Zabaleen handle up to one half of the thousands of tons of garbage created, every day, by Africa’s largest city. And they recycle 85% of what they find. This is a Coptic enclave: white crucifixes are painted on many walls, statues of Mary and Jesus fill niches otherwise occupied by refuse. Above the village the Zabaleen have dug out a huge church from the rock. With sweeping views over the hazy, car-honking city, it is claimed to be the largest church in the Arab world.
2. City of Helicopters
The Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo is the closest we have got, so far, to Helicopter City. At least four helicopters land or take off in São Paulo every five minutes. The city has 50% more helipads than Britain. In 2016 Uber began to roll out a helicopter service for the city. The city’s helicopter route map is a tangle of 200 meter wide lanes, most of which sit directly above rivers, railroads and the largest highways. The reason why helicopters are so much in demand is obvious at street-level. The city’s traffic-jams are legendary and it takes hours for ordinary commuters to get into and away from work. To add to the misery, once they are stuck in traffic they become sitting ducks for nifty thieves. If you can afford it, the helicopter allows you to bypass the chaos down below.
3. The New Spratly Islands
Spread over 164,000 square miles the tiny coral islands and reefs of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea support little plant life and have no fresh water. Today they have been transmuted into an army of geographical Frankensteins. The Spratlys have been bulked out, squared off, covered in concrete and turned into offensive military bases by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and, above all, China. The military has shaped these disputed islands in its own image. The before and after satellite photographs of Fiery Cross Reef show the conversion of a natural reef, full of color and enclosing a large blue lagoon, to a bleached white rectangular airfield with a gaping square jaw, a new harbor dotted with the black teeth of destroyers and other naval vessels.
4. Les Minquiers
The sovereignty of the most southerly part of the British Isles was only finally secured in 2004. Fourteen miles south of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands that lie between England and France, are a galaxy of sharp crags. Les Minquiers, which people on Jersey call "the Minkies," stretch across an area considerably larger than Jersey itself, and at low tide expose 77 square miles of sand and rock (Jersey is 46 square miles). A row of small one-story stone houses is crammed along the single ridge of the largest island, La Maîtresse Île, along with the island’s outside toilet. It stands boldly out on its own and is the most southerly building in Britain, a plaque on its flapping door proudly proclaiming this unique distinction.
5. Conshelf Underwater Station
The most radical, plentiful and determined efforts to build undersea villages were clustered within the 1960s and 1970s. Jacques Cousteau’s Conshelf Underwater Stations were talismans of what, for a decade or two, seemed like a bold aquatic dawn. After the success of the first Conshelf, submerged off Marseilles in 1962, Cousteau built a larger complex in the Red Sea. Although the main residential unit is no longer there, the underwater hanger remains intact. Other surviving remnants of what once was hailed as the arrival of Homo Aquaticus, include shark cages and a tool shed. When in operation the outside surfaces were cleaned every day to stop the build up of seaweed. Today the whole scene resembles a coral garden and is populated by reef fish and a multitude of grey reef, silky and hammerhead sharks.
6. The Saharan Sand Wall
The Saharan Sand Wall is the longest active military barrier in the world. At 1,367 miles, it is longer than the distance between London and Saint Petersburg. On its eastern side is land under the control of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a country that has full member status at the African Union and that has been recognized, at one time or another, by nearly half of the world’s governments. The Sahrawi Republic’s claimed territory is the whole of the Western Sahara but most of that is firmly behind the wall and under the control of Morocco. Guarded by 90,000 troops, the surrounding land is riddled with an estimated 7 million landmines.
7. The Phantom Tunnels of Shinjuku Station
About four million people a day pass through the countless levels, 200 exits and 36 platforms of Shinjuku Station in the heart of Tokyo. It is a temple of efficiency and signage, but there is a legend attached to it; a modern legend that reflects the fears and fantasies that come to life in an overwhelming metropolis. Sometimes called the Bermuda Triangle of Tokyo, the story goes that some commuters never make it home. They take a wrong turn, then another, get flustered, run down the wrong stairs and end up in the wrong elevator, until they find themselves quite alone in a quiet corridor, the soft boom of a distant underground train sounding somewhere far above them. They are never seen again.
8. Bothnia’s New Islands
The Gulf of Bothnia, which lies between Sweden and Finland, has thousands of small islands, and every year it gets some new ones. Because of post-glacial "bounce-back," about half a square mile of land is created annually. The rate of rise has meant that the towns and villages in the area have had to keep shifting their harbors. After new land first emerges, it takes about fifty years for it to grow large enough and to dry out enough to become usable for house building.
9. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta
Perhaps the smallest country in the world can be found at 68 Via Condotti in Rome. The Magisterial Palace of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, is a mere 6000 square meters but has diplomatic relations with 106 countries and maintains dozens of embassies around the world. But is it really a country of 6000 square meters? It does not claim to have any territory at all. It does, however, claim to be a sovereign entity and a "sovereign subject of international law.’" To put it another way, the Order proclaims that it is an independent state but it does not claim to be a country. Whatever we call it, in geo-political terms, 68 Via Condotti is unique.
10. The New Arctic
The top of the world is disclosing secrets that have lain hidden for hundreds of thousands of years. New imaging techniques are allowing us to peer beneath the ice and map out the Arctic’s buried landscapes. The most spectacular example is from the Arctic’s largest island: a 460 mile mega-canyon, longer than the Grand Canyon and of a similar depth, has been found below the ice, cleaving the heart of Greenland. The Arctic is opening-up in other ways. New shipping routes and the discovery of numerous new islands have been made possible by the retreating ice. When it finally arrives, the Transpolar Route will revolutionize world transport. Travel times for goods taken between East Asia and the Atlantic will plummet.