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StrangeSights: Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast; “Ultimate” cruise passengers find minor stardom; and, Estonia’s “sweat marathon”…

DAVID ADAMS provides a round-up of some stories on the odder side of life…

Punxsutawney Phil’s handler AJ Dereume holds the famous groundhog during the 136th Groundhog Day, at Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, US, on 2nd February, 2022. PICTURE: Reuters/Alan Freed

• The celebrated groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his Pennsylvania burrow on Friday and failed to see his shadow, a sign that the warmer temperatures of spring will arrive early in North America, according to folklore. Thousands of revelers gathered at dawn in Punxsutawney, a small town northeast of Pittsburgh, to celebrate Groundhog Day and watchPhil make his way out of his tree stump to offer his annual weather forecast.  “What this weather did not provide is a shadow or reason to hide. Glad tidings on this Groundhog Day. An early spring is on the way,”Phil’s official “interpreter” read in a proclamation, as a round of cheers went up from the small crowd who witnessed the tongue-in-cheek event staged every 2nd February in the town. According to legend, if the rodent sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, frigid and blustery weather will persist for six weeks. If it is cloudy and no shadow appears, the onset of spring is near. The event evolved from an ancient ritual brought to America by German immigrants who settled in what is now the state of Pennsylvania. The first official celebration of Groundhog Day was in 1886, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Groundhog Day, famously featured in the classic 1993 film of the same name starring Bill Murray, draws visitors from around the world, even though the creature’s track record is spotty. On average, Phil has only predicted the weather correctly 30% of the time over the past 10 years, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. As Punxsutawney Phil made his prediction on Friday, California was bracing for a second atmospheric river that was due to bring more torrential rains on Sunday after a similar storm dumped heavy rains on the state earlier this week. But the Pittsburgh area can look forward to mostly mild, sunny weather until late next week, with temperatures ranging as high as 57 Fahrenheit (14 Celsius), much warmer than usual for early February. – BRENDAN O’BRIEN/Reuters



Mike and Nancy Jacobs, who are on the nine month cruise, pose for a selfie at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 31st December, 2023, in this still image obtained from social media. @livingphase2/via Reuters

• Passengers on a nine-month cruise have become unlikely stars on TikTok and Instagram, with thousands following their epic voyage and updates on daily life on board the Serenade of the Seas. Wannabe cruisers have flocked to social media to follow the passengers’ adventures on Royal Caribbean’s “Ultimate World Cruise”, lapping up footage of sightseeing on the more than 60 country trip as well as the more banal details of life on board. Nancy and Mike Jacobs, a couple from Michigan, in the United States, now have more than 63,000 followers on TikTok. Their content ranges from a rough journey through the Drake Passage between Cape Horn and Antarctica to answering questions such as “How do you get prescriptions?” “We’re micro famous, we’re not famous,” Nancy told Reuters onshore in Valparaiso, Chile. “For us it’s the trip of a lifetime, but we did not know so many other people would be interested,” Mike said. For those wondering about the prescriptions, Nancy has a nine month supply for one and a paper prescription for the other that the medical facility on board supplies. Posts like that, with the hashtag “ultimateworldcruise”, have clocked up over 360 million views on social media since it set sail from Miami on 10th December. Laura Jackson, deputy head of travel at the Times and Sunday Times, said it was the mix of exotic locations and the mundane that was compelling – plus the speed and volume of the posts, with the advent of faster internet on board. “We want to see people doing their laundry, we want to see people just sitting on deck having a nice time,” she said. “[It’s] basically no-drama drama.” While the Jacobs now have tens of thousands of followers, some passengers were already content creators. Amike Oosthuizen from South Africa, who has 285,000 followers on TikTok, posts about the places she is visiting, her make-up routine and the food. Tickets to see Machu Picchu in Peru, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China in one trip did not come cheap, with prices starting at around $US54,000. Brandee Lake, a 46-year-old from Los Angeles who is on board with her family, called the experience “priceless”. “The best part of a cruise is going to sleep and waking up in a new country,” she said. One of her videos has been viewed more than 2.7 million times so far. Although the posts have been likened to reality TV, followers looking for the next Big Brother will be disappointed, the Jacobs say. “It’s really not, it’s a group of people who love to travel, who love to meet new friends, to see the world,” Mike said. – RODRIGO GUTIERREZ, Valparaiso, Chile; additional reporting by SARAH MILLS in London/Reuters.


Participants in Estonia’s “sauna marathon”. PICTURE: Screenshot.

• Nearly 1,000 sauna lovers raced through the small Estonian town of Otepaa last Saturday afternoon trying to visit as many saunas as possible against the clock. Four-person teams received a map of saunas around the town and had to race from one to another, spending at least three minutes each, with a bonus for visiting hot tubs and icy plunge pools. Although the event, named ‘Sauna Marathon’, has rules for the competition, organiser Ago Arro said it was also about “dressing up nicely and also to be partying”. Many participants wore wacky costumes even while inside the saunas. Mihkel Marga from Estonia said people attending the event often start their plans six months in advance. The 18 saunas on offer ranged from the traditional wood-lined cabins to a converted tram, and an inflatable dome, and one sauna was suspended in the air with a crane. People from 15 countries competed in the race. “You have to love the heat and the coldness and the fun”, Swiss participant Manuel Gruber said. – Reuters TV




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