Aokigahara Forest, Mount Fuji, Japan

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

This week’s “Before I Die…” location is one that I hesitate to write as it is filled with absolute hopelessness.  The Aokigahara Forest, located at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, is a 35 square Kilometer forest lush with trees and speckled with rocky ice caves, which sparkle from the glints of sunlight that filters through the tree’s canopy.  The forest’s trees are strong with exquisite moss-covered, gnarled roots.  A true ancient labyrinth of trees.   The Forest is situated where the wind doesn’t blow, so combined with the absence of wildlife the area is eerily quiet.  Tourists describe the atmosphere as still and unmoving.  However there may be a more sinister reason for that affect on the essence of the forest.  The Aokigahara Forest is also known as Japan’s Suicide Forest.

Japanese folklore depicts the Aokigahara Forest as being inhabited by demons and has become a popular location for suicides.  In 2010, there was a count of 57 successful suicides taking place within the forest.  Aokigahara Forest is the 2nd highest ranked place for suicides, just after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, USA.

Throughout the forest and along the winding hiking trails there are signs in Japanese and English urging anyone who has come to the forest with the intent of taking their own life to seek help.  Other signs make a plea to people with suicidal ideas to understand that their life is precious.

Locals who live near the forest say that they can look at a visitor and know that person’s intent.  There are three types of people who visit Aokigahara Forest: Those who are at the forest to take in the scenery and hike the vast trail systems,  those who are looking to catch a glimpse of a suicide victim’s corpse, and those who are planning to never leave the forest.

The chances of finding the body of one who has voluntarily left this plane of existence is rare due to the vastness of the forest.  The Aokigahara Forest does have a team of workers whose job is to trek through the forest and locate bodies.  Retrieved corpses are carried to a building at the edge of the forest, where the bodies are housed until they are interred.  These workers have it worse than any police officer or any other official as they are the ones handling the corpses (often decayed) and staffing the storage building 24 hours a day.  The sadness of the suicide victims hangs heavy on those working for the Aokigahara Forest department.

The forest workers make it a priority to find all bodies, as it is believed that it is bad luck for the spirit of the body (yurei) to be left alone after death.  A lone yurei is said to haunt the forest, screaming through the night.  It is even believed that some yurei reanimate their own dead body: moving an arm, twitching a leg, opening an eye.

The Aokigahara Forest is one of serene beauty, but is filled with utter despair from the vast amounts of people who decided to end their lives among the ancient trees.


Aokigahara Forest (c) Jordy Meow, CC BY-SA 3.0

Aokigahara Forest (c) Jordy Meow, CC BY-SA 3.0


Aokigahara and Saiko Lake, as viewed from Koyodai (c) Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 3.0

Aokigahara and Saiko Lake, as viewed from Koyodai (c) Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 3.0


Entrance to an ice cave (c) Guilhem Vellut, CC BY-SA 2.0

Entrance to an ice cave (c) Guilhem Vellut, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pine Barrens, New Jersey, USA

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

Happy 2015!  Thankfully I made it through 2014 somewhat alive.  I hope you did too.  If you are reading this and did not successfully live through 2014, then that means you are a Zombie and 2015 must be the year of the Apocalypse.  Freaking great.  Don’t go biting me yet – I have too many plans for this year. I am finally getting back on track  with my regular blog posts here and over at The Sarcastic Muse.  This week’s “Before I die…” is a post I have been looking forward to for writing for awhile.  Unfortunately, I had to get into the right mindset to write it because I flat out despise this Bucket List location… I could really have lived my life without visiting.  The moment you step foot within this location, you just feel like your soul is about to be ripped from your body and transported right to hell… ok, I am embellishing a bit on that.  But the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey is just a freaky, energy-sucking place.

The Pine Barrens covers about seven counties in Southern New Jersey.  It is a heavily forested area that never saw much success in any any kind of farm cultivation.  The soil is sandy and acidic… disgustingly sandy.  The majority of the forest is made up of evergreens, specifically pine (hence the name).  Orchids and other carnivorous plants can also be found in the forest (about the coolest things about the area).  For the most part, the acreage of the Pine Barrens remains undisturbed and undeveloped.  It is wild land… in New Jersey.

And a devil lives there.


A real demon of a devil.

In 1735, a woman by the name of Mrs. Leeds gave birth to her 13th child.  Apparently 13 is an unlucky number, so the child was cursed.  13 kids is a bit crazy… I would think she was cursed to get pregnant that many times.  Anywho, the 13th kid came out as a monster or a devil as the locals call it.  Maybe the devil with a capital “D”.  The baby is described as having a horse’s head, big old black bat wings on its back, sharp talons on its hands, and hooves for feet.  That little beastie popped right out of Mrs. Leeds, attacked her and her nurse, flew through a window, and into the Pine Barrens where it haunts the forest to this very day.  He is known as the Jersey Devil.

When he isn’t in the Pine Barrens, the Jersey Devil can be found in West Virginia playing Parcheesi with the Mothman.  Ok, I made that last part up.

The carnivorous plants and the Jersey Devil are about the extent of my tolerance for this dismal place.  I hope I never step foot in the forest again… Here is MY story of the New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

Just picture it, the year is 2009 and one of my best friends, Jen, and I signed up for the “MS City to Shore” bike ride to raise money to fund research towards Multiple Sclerosis.  On a cool late summer morning, the bike ride started in Cherry Hill, NJ and would ended at Ocean City, NJ.  Day 1 was 100 miles, day 2 was 80 miles.  Jen and I were avid cyclists, so 180 miles in 2 days was no sweat.  Especially since Southern New Jersey is flat.

All was going perfect on the ride until we reached the damn Pine Barrens forest.  The moment our wheels touched the area, it was like all the energy was zapped from us.  The road was incredibly flat, and I felt like I was climbing a 60 degree slope.  Every curse word known to man probably slipped through my lips as I slowly pedaled along.  Let me add, that this was probably around mile marker 50 – and I was used to riding 50-60 miles a day on the hilly roads of the Lehigh Valley.  So all these miles on flat-as-a-pancake roads should have been nothing!  Jen didn’t complain as much as I did am doing now.  However, I could tell that the area was having an affect on her too.  There had to be a vortex amongst the trees that existed to siphon our souls.

At every turn in the road, I eagerly anticipated a rest stop.  When we finally came upon it, I actually gave peddling past it a quick thought.  I am torn to state if the rest stop looked like it should have been a scene in the movie Deliverance or Wrong Turn.  The rest stop was in the parking lot of a small one room church where cannibalistic hillbillies were probably waiting behind each tree for a weary cyclist to ride past.  I never let my guard down for a moment.  I wasn’t in the mood to get noshed.

Thirst and hunger claimed my better judgement and we pulled in for a quick refill.

Unclipping from my pedal, I placed my foot right into pile of sand.  The damn sand!  Ever speck of land around that church was SAND.  We were several miles from the ocean, but the whole parking lot and grounds of the church was sand.  If you are a cyclist and wear cleats, then you know why I am flipping out.  It was in my shoes, cleats, pedals.  The sand made pedaling for the next 30 miles painfully gritty.

I was not happy to be there and the moment we left the church rest stop, I flew down the road like the Jersey Devil out of Mrs. Leeds womb.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.  The rest of the ride though the Pine Barrens was still exhausting.  And only in the Pine Barrens did Jen and I have flat tires – 5 between the two of us.

Yet, the moment we left that hellish forest and rode out onto the ocean plains of Southern New Jersey,  we were rejuvenated.  Our energy returned.  Neither one of us was bogged down or tired – even as we rode on to our 80th, 90th, and 100th mile.  It was only in the God-forsaken Pine Barrens when the life was zapped from us.

Lucky for us, on day 2 – the return back to Cherry Hill, NJ – the route went around the Pine Barrens.  Needless to say, I felt perfectly energetic the entire ride home.  There was never a moment where I was winded or broke a heavy sweat.

Tread to this location with caution.  We were not the only ones who had a dramatic loss of energy within New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.  Many cyclist had a similar experience.  There is something odd and upsetting about that forest.

Maybe somewhere deep within the woods, the Jersey Devil was trying to harvest our souls…

Creepy little one room church.  The cannibals are around here somewhere... (c) 2009, Joe Hlatky

Creepy little one room church. The cannibals are around here somewhere… (c) 2009, Joe Hlatky


Pretty sure this is where we were going to end up.  (c) 2009, Joe Hlatky

Pretty sure this is where we were going to end up. (c) 2009, Joe Hlatky


Jen (right) and I staring at the sandy ground with contempt. (c) 2009, Joe Hlatky

Jen (right) and I staring at the sandy ground with contempt.  Can you feel our hate for the Pine Barrens? (c) 2009, Joe Hlatky

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California, USA

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, USA has always fascinated me since I was a child.  And I have yet to visit it.  The entire home took 34 years to build.  If the recluse and widowed Sarah Winchester had not have died, the construction may have continued well beyond 34 years.  It is said that she was told by a psychic that she needed to build the home to quell the spirits that were killed by Winchester rifles.  She was the heiress to the Winchester fortune and all of the murdered spirits that fell by her family’s legacy would haunt her for the remainder of her life…  Supposedly those same spirits were the ones responsible for taking her husband’s and daughter’s lives.

Her enormous 160- Victorian home, started in the early 1800s, has over 2,000 stairs, 950 doors, 10,000 window, and 47 fireplaces.  It is also rumored that there are at least 3 resident ghosts.  The entire interior of the house is a labyrinth full of twisted hallways, stairways to nowhere, and even a doorway that leads to a drop eight feet below — into the kitchen.  All oddities of the house’s architecture was to confuse the ghosts from following Mrs. Winchester, especially on her nightly routine to the Séance Room.

“When Mrs. Winchester set out for her Séance Room, it might well have discouraged the ghost of the Indian or even of a bloodhound, to follow her. After traversing an interminable labyrinth of rooms and hallways, suddenly she would push a button, a panel would fly back and she would step quickly from one apartment into another, and unless the pursuing ghost was watchful and quick, he would lose her. Then she opened a window in that apartment and climbed out, not into the open air, but onto the top of a flight of steps that took her down one story only to meet another flight that brought her right back up to the same level again, all inside the house. This was supposed to be very discomforting to evil spirits who are said to be naturally suspicious of traps.”  From the Winchester Mystery House website

The nightly séances were to communicate with good spirits for assistance on the house’s building plans as well as determining protection from “bad” spirits.  Often times during the séances, she would draw up building plans and provide them to her foreman the following morning.  There were never any blueprints drafter for the house (nor any home inspections!).  Luckily for Mrs. Winchester, a budget was never a question due to her inheritance from her departed family (the entirely of the house cost $5,500,000).

The construction of the house, which was 24 hours a day / 7 days a week, continued for those 34 years of Mrs. Winchester’s residence.  Passages grew, new buildings were erected and attached to the main house, additional levels were added.  It is believed that the house had at one time 500 – 600 rooms, but the continual redesigning of the home whittled that down to 160 at the time of Mrs. Winchester’s death.  Some of these construction workers spent their lives building her home.  Some even lost their lives on the property.    Those who currently work at the Winchester Mystery House, which is now a museum, say that they can hear ghostly hammering and other construction noise on the house’s grounds — even though there are currently no construction projects in process.

The constant construction of the home was not the only thing that is believed to have warded off “bad” spirits.  The number 13 is a regular occurrence throughout the house:

  • 13 Panes on many of the windows
  • 13 bathrooms
  • 13 wall panels in the room prior to the 13th bathroom
  • 13 windows in the 13th bathroom
  • 13 stairs leading to the 13th bathroom
  • 13 cement sections on the Carriage Entrance Hall floor
  • 13 rails by the floor-level skylight in the South Conservatory
  • 13 squares on each side of the elevators
  • 13 robe hooks in the Séance Room
  • 13 gas jets on the Ballroom Chandelier (the last jet personally added by Mrs. Winchester)

The house is said to either have been built by spirits or insanity.  No one will ever know for sure.  However, what is known is that the Winchester Mystery House is the most intriguing, peculiar, and secretive houses to visit in the United States.

Winchester Mystery House (c) ridingsilky

Winchester Mystery House (c) ridingsilky


Stairway to Nowhere (c) InSapphoWeTrust

Stairway to Nowhere (c) InSapphoWeTrust



Capela dos Ossos, Evora, Portugal

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

In Evora, Portugal exists the Chapel of Bones (or Capela dos Ossos).  The Chapel of Bones is located next to the entrance of the Church of St. Francis.  Upon entering the chapel, it is easy to see why it is called as such:  the interior is decorated with human skulls and bones!

The Chapel of Bones was built in the 16th century during the Countrer-Reformation era by a Franciscan monk.  The monk’s goal of the chapel was to bring light to contemplation that life is a transition from one plane to another.  At the entrance of the cave, above the door, the monk carved: Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos (We bones that here await for yours).

There are over 5,000 corpses inside the 18.7 meter long by 11 meter wide chapel.  The remains were brought in from several nearby church cemeteries.  The most haunting corpses within the chapel are that of an intact child and an adult that dangle from ropes as if hung and died on the wall.  Above them is carved:  Melior est die mortis die nativitatis (Better is the day of death than the day of birth)” (Ecclesiastes, 7, 1).

Wall of the Chapel with the two hanging corpses (c) Rotatebot

Wall of the Chapel with the two hanging corpses (c) Rotatebot

On a pillar, inside the chapel, in an old wooden frame hanged a poem in attribution to Fr. Antonion Da Ascencao Tele, the parish priest of the St. Francis Church and Chapel of Bones from 1845 – 1848.

(This has been translated by Fr. Carlos A Martins, CC)

Where are you going in such a hurry traveler?

Stop … do not proceed;

You have no greater concern,

Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.

Recall how many have passed from this world,

Reflect on your similar end,

There is good reason to reflect

If only all did the same.

Ponder, you so influenced by fate,

Among the many concerns of the world,

So little do you reflect on death;

If by chance you glance at this place,

Stop … for the sake of your journey,

The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.

The Chapel of Bones is truly a haunting and macabre place to visit.  However, at the same time it exudes beauty in honoring the transition that occurs between the planes of life and death.

"We bones that here await for yours" (c) Nsandre

“We bones that here await for yours” (c) Nsandre


Skulls embedded in the Chapel's walls (c) JoJan

Skulls embedded in the Chapel’s walls (c) JoJan

Akodessewa Fetish Market, Togo

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

Now this place looks like an adventure — of the oddity kind.  The Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lomé, Togo, nicknamed “Africa’s Voodoo Supermarket”,  is the location where a Voodoo practitioner can find anything and everything for his or her rituals.

Voodoo (known locally as Vodun) originated in West Africa and countries like Togo, Nigeria, and Ghana still actively practice the religion.  The religion and its rituals have spread across the world, where the second most practiced non-Africa cluster is in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Akodessewa Fetish Market is lined with wooden tables filled with statues, herbs, and animal parts, and has an air of putridness from decaying flesh.  It is not uncommon to find dog heads, monkey paws, jaguar skulls, or elephant feet among the various merchant stalls.  All of these talismans are the basis of healing and protection, infused with the blessings of the divine.

Tourists are welcome to roam through the market and are even permitted to visit healers.  If you should choose to visit with the healer for a treatment, you must first to describe your problem in detail.  The healer will then speak with the Gods for a ritual to remedy your ailment.  Once the prescription is determined, selected animal parts will be ground up with herbs and heated over the fire, producing a black powder.  Then the healer will make three cuts in your chest and rub the black powder into your wound.  And with that, your ailment is cured!

If you want to forgo the cuts to the chest, it is acceptable to just rub the powder on unbroken skin.  However, I doubt that will be very effective.

No doubt about it, the Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lomé, Togo is the best place to stock up on all of your Voodoo ritual and healing needs.


(c) jrwebbe

(c) jrwebbe


(c) jrwebbe

(c) jrwebbe