5 smells from around the world
Last year, we wrote about five of the world’s smelliest places. Well, our planet has become no less pungent since then, so here are five more whiffy wonders.
It’s said that, because there’s so much of it around, Eskimos have fifty words for snow. Presumably it’s for a similar reason that English has so many words for bad smells. Pong, stench and stink can all describe an unpleasant odour, whereas we are limited to saying something “smells nice” on the rare occasions when it does.
Stink is in the nose of the beholder so, while most of the following are likely to cause olfactory offense, there may be some people who enjoy them. If you’re a lunatic who finds the smell of cows or rotten eggs strangely appealing, please do let us know.
Cows | Uruguay
Cows stink; everyone knows that. Some creatures (such as the famously-pongy skunk) create an unpleasant smell on purpose, as a warning or to mark territory, but cows have no such master plan; they’ve just got BO.
The average cow can produce up to 500 litres of methane per day. Although methane itself doesn’t smell, a cow’s digestive system produces plenty of other stinks that slip out at the same time. They swallow their food, then regurgitate it, then swallow it again as it passes through the four chambers of their stomach. It’s this process, and the bacteria in their gut, that produces such a gross stench.
Uruguay has more cows per person than any other country – roughly four cows to every normal (human) citizen. This means that every Uruguayan is entitled to sniff over 700,000 litres of cow-produced methane every single year. You may think that sounds like a whole lot of bovine blow-offs, but you’d be wrong – cows expel most of their gut gasses through burping.
Kiviak | Greenland
One of last year’s smelliest places was Seal Island, South Africa, where 60,000 seals gather together, mess around, and generally stink the place up. The inhabitants of Greenland, however, have found a way to make just a single seal smell almost as bad – by stuffing it full of dead birds and burying it for several months.
This may sound like a psychopath’s weird experiment, but in fact it’s how Greenlanders prepare the dish kiviak. Up to 500 auks (imagine a lovely little flying penguin) are stuffed into a hollowed-out seal, which is then sewn up and either buried or just left under a rock (it doesn’t matter which – it’s disgusting either way). This monstrosity is then left to ferment, during which time the birds begin to tenderise and the whole thing really starts to reek. Between three and 18 months later, the rotten seal is opened up (somewhere outside) and the birds are eaten raw.
Kiviak began as a way of preserving food and allowing Greenlanders to survive through the harsh winter. Such measures are no longer necessary, so now they just do it for fun – the rotten birds are considered a delicacy and are often eaten at weddings and birthdays. If anyone is thinking of feeding me one on my birthday though, they better think again – if the first bite is with the eyes, the second bite is with the nose, and that’s as close as anyone should get to this stinking dinner.
Bread | Portugal
Smell is very subjective. For example, people often cite freshly cut grass as one of their favourite smells, but I don’t like it at all. A psychologist might tell me that this demonstrates some unresolved resentment towards my father’s lawnmower, when the truth is I just think cut grass stinks (and it makes me inexplicably sad). Anyway, if people were able to agree on just one pleasant odour, there’s a good chance that freshly baked bread would be it.
In 1984, a Canadian baker baked the world’s longest loaf of bread measuring 3.98 metres. Things move quickly in competitive bakery though, and by 2005 the record stood at a massive 1,211.6 metres. This lengthy loaf was baked in Vagos municipality, Portugal, filling the streets with a delicious bready aroma for almost 60 hours. It’s not clear who decided that length would be a good measure of bread, but the pointlessness of the record doesn’t make the achievement any less impressive.
There must not be much to do in Portugal, because 35,000 people turned up to watch the bread baking. Sadly, most of them went home hungry – once finished, the loaf was cut up and distributed to just 15,000 people (which is still three times the number Jesus managed to feed with five loaves).
Stinkbird | Guyana
The stinkbird (official named hoatzin) is common around much of South America, but it’s the people of Guyana who’ve really taken this sky skunk to their hearts – they’ve chosen the nasally-offensive species as their national bird.
Uniquely among birds, the hoatzin has a multi-chambered stomach (similar to that of a cow) and this, combined with its leafy diet, gives the poor creature an unpleasant, manure-like odour. This unusual digestive system isn’t the only curious thing about stinkbirds – they’re so strange that they’ve been given their own biological family group and experts disagree on how the bird evolved.
Adult stinkbirds look like big punk chickens and are not very scary. Baby stinkbirds, however, look like furry little dinosaurs and are absolutely terrifying. When the youngsters hatch, they have pterodactyl-style claws on their wings which they use to climb trees (and to attack people, probably). They can also swim. Please don’t have nightmares.
The fact that, despite all its unique characteristics, the hoatzin is still called “stinkbird” can only mean one thing – it must smell really, really bad. Still, it would be nice if the species wasn’t burdened with such a pejorative name so perhaps it should be changed to “frighteningly under-evolved cow-stomach bird.” If anyone knows how to make an official avian name-change request, please get in touch.
Rotorua | New Zealand
Nicknamed “Rotten-rua” by hilarious locals, Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity. The city, on New Zealand’s North Island, is surrounded by geysers, hot mud pools and dense sulphur deposits. While the geysers and mud pools are nice things, attracting tourists to the area, the sulphur deposits are less appealing – they cover the city in a thick eggy funk. This smell ranges from faint to overpowering depending on the weather so, taking this into account, Rotorua gets an 8 on my unofficial egg-stink scale (where 1 is the smell of a normal egg and 10 is our office kitchen).
Bizarrely, the city’s website opens with “Welcome to Rotorua – where catching a trout is almost guaranteed.” It seems very strange that, given the area’s natural wonders and Maori history, the tourist board has instead focussed on this half-hearted fishing promise. That said, it would’ve been a challenge to come up with a slogan based on Rotorua’s hydrogen sulphide emissions and I can understand them wanting to avoid the topic. Sadly for both tourists and residents though, the eggy whiff is inseparable from the geothermal features that define the city; sulphur deposits are a common occurrence at sites of volcanic activity around the world, and provide strong evidence that the inside of our planet is just as stinky as the outside.
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About Nick Heady
My favourite holiday souvenir is a shower cap I brought home from the Luxor casino in Las Vegas. I’ve never used it, though. I’m saving it for a special occasion.
At the Luxor, all the casino games are inside a pyramid. The hotel rooms are also inside a pyramid. And their shower caps come in little pyramid-shaped boxes. It’s fantastic.
Once you’ve been to Vegas, there’s no need to go to Egypt. The Luxor’s pyramid has a giant lamp on top and, from the hotel windows, you can see a medieval castle – the same can’t be said for Egypt’s pyramids. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a model of the Sphinx that’s bigger than the one in Giza. It’s made of plastic, sure, but at least its nose is still intact.
Nick works in our marketing team