Trivia for travellers

To give you a taste of Lonely Planet’s wanderlust-inducing The Travel Book, we’ve rounded up an alphabet’s worth of weird and wonderful facts about some of the places you’ll discover in its pages (okay, okay, we confess: there’s no ‘x’, but it’s close enough, damn it).

Read on to find out which country inspired the phrase ‘banana republic’, where people consume vodka with gusto to cure all their ills, and what world-class museum relies on a pounce of resident cats to keep its masterpiece-clogged galleries mouse-free…

A

  • Antarctica: Antarctica’s ice sheets contain 90% of the world’s ice – 28 million cu km – holding about 70% of the world’s fresh water.
  • Azerbaijan: ‘Layla’, Eric Clapton’s classic rock song was inspired by the Azeri epic poem Layla and Majnun.

B

  • Bangladesh: The national game of Bangladesh is kabaddi, a group version of tag where players must evade the opposing team while holding a single breath of air.
  • Belarus: Many Belarusian folk-remedies involve vodka: gargle with it to cure a sore throat, wash your hair with it to alleviate dandruff and pour it in your ear to treat an earache.

C

  • Canada: Every year the British Columbian town of Nanaimo holds a bathtub race, where competitors speed across the harbour in boats formed from bathtubs.

  • Chile: The Atacama Desert has the planet’s best star-gazing potential: the Alma Observatory here is the world’s largest astronomic project.

D

  • Denmark: Denmark really does have an extraordinary inventive streak: many innovative creations including the loudspeaker, magnetic storage and Lego have Danish roots.

E

  • Ecuador & The Galápagos Islands: Tiny Ecuador is home to some 300 mammal species and over 1600 bird species – more than Europe and North America combined.
  • Ethiopia: When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front tanks rolled into Addis Ababa in 1991, they were navigating with the map in Lonely Planet’s Africa on a Shoestring.

F

  • Finland: Finns are renowned for being quiet – there’s an old joke that they invented text messaging so they wouldn’t have to speak to each other.

G

  • Gabon: High on nature – Gabon’s forest elephants are particularly fond of iboga, a shrub known for its strong hallucinogenic properties.
  • Greenland: Numbers in Greenlandic only go up to 12 – after 12 there is only amerlasoorpassuit (many); otherwise you have to use Danish numbers.

H

  • Honduras: Honduras was the original banana republic – the American writer O Henry coined the phrase in the 1890s to describe the influence American banana companies wielded over the Honduran government.