Hazen in action in Taiwan (National Geographic)
List 22 May 2017

8 of the world’s most extreme destinations, by Hazen Audel

Survival expert and Nat Geo adventurer Hazen Audel highlights some the most extreme places on the planet, from extreme cold and hot destinations to the home of the world's toughest hunters


1: Sahara Desert, Morocco 

– for extreme heat

Camel safari in the Sahara (Dreamstime)

The Sahara truly is a baking desert. We travelled there with the Berber nomads. In the middle of the day you simply cannot be outside. It’s 120 degrees in the shade, so no one does anything in the middle of the day. 

You just have to do whatever you can to escape the sun, either in the shade of a date palm, or your camel hair tent, or a structure of some sort. It’s just impossible to be outside.

Even the animals do everything they can to get out of the sun. The camels have been bred there for generations and they can just about handle it, but even they would try to take any chance to get to shade.


2: Nunavik, Canada 

– for extreme cold

Hazen in Canada (National Geographic/Jimmy Cape)

The film crew and I travelled to the far north of Canada to film with the Inuit. As soon as you arrive, the cold hits you. It’s so cold that they can’t even keep the temperature of the airport above freezing, so it’s about 20 degrees fahrenheit in the airport buildings.

We gathered up all of our bags and headed outside. In the parking lot, a gust of wind came up and it stole our souls. It was our first introduction to real, real cold.

It’s so cold you have to be careful breathing. If you breathe too fast, you could freeze your throat.


3: Waorani area, Amazon headwaters, Ecuador 

– most dangerous place to be a hunter

Women from Waorani tribe (Dreamstime)

The Waorani live insanely dangerous lives. I’ve never lived with people that die more frequently from trauma than anything else.

Their jungle is dense and full of dangers, but they’re constantly running after pigs and other prey. They love high impact, high adventure hunting: spearing pigs, climbing trees, swimming to spear caiman, chasing after snakes… They’re constantly getting gashes and getting cut up just from what they do, then they get infections, so a lot of them die from infections too.

The rainforests are so dense and the biodiversity is so enormous that the chances of something going wrong is right around every corner.


4: Kaokoland, Namib Desert, Namibia 

– an extremely dry destination

Hazen with cattle in Namibia (National Geographic/Jimmy Cape)

When you arrive at the Himba village, there’s nothing but bare gravel plains for miles around. It looks like the surface of Mars. The heat haze coming off the rocks makes it almost impossible to see the village from far away. 

The ground temperature feels like it gets above 150. You literally can’t touch the sand and gravel, as it’s so hot.

You think, “Why the hell would someone choose to build a village here? Of all the places to live, why would you choose to live in this barren expanse of scorching heat?” But then you find out that the place used to be lush and green, but there’s been a drought there for nearly 20 years. Whatever vegetation you can find is often used by elephants for shade, so anything you build there would get destroyed.


5: Loba Nomads, Kingdom of Mustang, Nepal 

– for the toughest people

Mustang mountain landscape (Dreamstime)

These people are without doubt the toughest I’ve ever met. They spend their lives constantly on the move, chasing the snowline, living in the Himalayan foothills at between 12,000ft and 16,000ft. 

They live right at the base of where the snow melts, because that’s where the limited grazing is for their yaks. It’s freezing cold, the air is super thin, and doing anything is hard work because there’s so little oxygen.

The Loba live here all year round in tents woven with yak hair. They’re so thin you can see through them. It looks like bug screen and they’re not warm at all.

When it snows, snow falls through the weave of the tent. There’s nothing to burn up there except yak and horse dung, so they make fires with that, but their fires are tiny, no bigger than a coffee can.

I was with an old guy and I asked him “What about when a storm comes in and its 10-20 below zero? Don’t you get cold?” He laughed and said “No, we have a fire”, and he pointed to this tiny coffee can fire. But that’s all the warmth they need and they live their whole lives like that.


6: Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia 

– one of the world’s wettest destinations

Member of the Mentawai tribe (Dreamstime)

We went there in the rainy season to film with the Mentawai. The jungle is so wet and damp that the whole place is literally trying to eat you. It’s a paradise for microbes and bacteria. That’s why their umas (longhouses) are so important to them. If they didn’t have shelter and they couldn’t stay off the ground they would basically just rot.

They really try to limit the time that they go outside during the wet season, because the jungle is just an abyss of mud and swamps, teeming with disease and parasites.


7: Khone Falls, Laos

– the most dangerous place to be a fisherman

Khone Falls (Dreamstime)

The Lao Loum, the lowlanders, fish every day in the most insane waterfall. They depend on the river for its fish, so every day they’re dealing with floods and currents and raging white water. It’s an incredibly dangerous place to live, but they’ve figured out ways to thrive there.

They’ve made the most of the place, and they survive against all the odds, but even that could be taken away from them. The Chinese are planning to dam the Mekong further upstream, so what livelihood they manage to scrape could all be gone.


8: Island of Pongso no Tao (aka Lanyu, or Orchid Island), Taiwan 

– for crazy weather

Aerial shot of Hazen in a boat near Pongo no Tao (National Geographic)

On this tiny island in the Western Pacific, the weather can change in an instant and just when you least expect it. One minute its sunny, then you have thunder and lightning and powerful winds.

When the weather acts up, you really have no way of knowing how much more extreme it’s going to get. A simple storm can turn into a typhoon, so strong that it can literally pick your house up and move it somewhere else.

The Tao people who live there take to the raging ocean in tiny wooden boats. They adapted to the weather. Their homes are dug into the ground, so they’re basically underground houses. That’s the only way they can live here.


Hazen Audel is a survival expert and adventurer. Primal Survivor, starring Hazen Audel, starts on Monday May 29 at 8pm on National Geographic channel.

Hazen in action in Taiwan (National Geographic)

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