Maybe the greatest thing about human beings is if you show us the most desolate, horrible place on Earth, at least one of us will scratch his chin and say, "I bet land is really cheap there." Boom, a month later, there are apartments and a Waffle House.
We're not kidding, there are people living and working right now in places where you wouldn't think a man could survive for even a day. Places like...
Where is it?
Drive about five hours out of Ethiopia's population center until the ground gets too rugged to proceed, then get out and travel by camel-back into one of the cradles of human civilization in the Danakil Desert. If you survive somehow, you'll find a nightmare of salt flats, active volcanoes, regular ground-shattering earthquakes and a little town called Dallol--affectionately known by the local Afar people as "the Gateway to Hell."
This is the region of the world where human life began, and life has been comparatively smooth sailing for those of us who escaped this hellhole. It's officially the hottest inhabited place on Earth, with an average annual temperature of 94 degrees (Fahrenheit). If that doesn't sound as bad as you imagined, consider that it's just an average, offset by lower temperatures in winter. The summer gets up to 148 degrees (Fahrenheit), which makes 94 sound like a winter wonderland. Bring your mittens!
In the 1960s, an American company set up a mining community in the Dallol region in order to mine the mineral, potash. It is in the nature of Americans that they hear a place described as an "uninhabitable, volcanic, wasteland" and feel they can just come in and show the locals how it's done. After a couple of years of trying to mine what is basically the lava planet from Revenge of the Sith, the contractors came to the conclusion that potash, an ingredient for goddamn fertilizer, was probably easier to come by in the world.
"Hey Hank, this is fun and all but I was thinking maybe, you know, fuck it. How do you feel about that?"
The local Afar people, on the other hand, have lived and worked here for thousands of years, and through the blistering heat and ridiculously harsh conditions they've adapted to become some of the most badass people on the planet. They make a living hacking at the ground with giant axes all day long in order to backbreakingly liberate tons of one particularly valuable resource... table salt.
Yes, that's where it comes from.
When they're not risking their lives so that you can have a side of fries with your Double Cholestrol Burger, the people of Dallol have to contend with one of the Earth's most volcanic regions, producing lakes of potent acid that run underneath the ground, just waiting for you to step on a weak point and get yourself dissolved. As if that's not bad enough, the region is subject to continuous earthquakes. We're not exaggerating when we say "continuous"--Dallol lies on a fault line, where the ground is constantly moving apart, exposing surface dwellers to the molten core of the planet. Last but not least, the Afar people deal with something they call the "fire wind," a scorching sandstorm that has been likened to being inside a fan-forced oven.
But, hey. Salt, right?
Where is it?
Ah, Siberia. When land was first being handed out to, we guess, the cavemen or somebody, the Russians thought they were getting a pretty sweet deal with their colossal tract of real estate. Unfortunately, they neglected to look at the fine print and realize that almost 80 percent of their nation was goddamn Siberia, the most fucked-up retarded piece of shit landmass in the world. No wonder the Russians drink so much. Siberia is evidence that God should have worked on the seventh day, because this job ain't finished.
"Feels like I'm forgetting something... Eh, I'm sure it's not a big deal."
You might think that nobody really lives in Siberia, or goes there, or even tries to think about it very much. For the most part, you're right. And then, there's Oymyakon.
Back in the 13th Century, Genghis Khan conquered Siberia and one of the towns the Mongols founded was Oymyakon. Nobody can figure out why--maybe they just did it on a dare. The problem with Oymyakon is that it's close to what is known as the "northern pole of cold," which is a fancy way of saying it's "ball-shrinkingly freezing." Yes, Oymyakon has the record for coldest day in history with a day in 1926 that was -71.2 degrees (Celsius), or -96.2 degrees (Fahrenheit), or -HolyFuckingShit degrees.
You have to understand that when you're living somewhere like Oymyakon, words like "cold" or "warm" have no sane meaning. This is a place where people are afraid that if the temperature rises -30, they'll all explode into fireballs. Every day, the residents of Oymyakon live with basically the same normal concerns as the rest of us--the state of the economy, the nation's political welfare and the fact that if they unzip their jacket they have about 20 seconds to live. Oh, and apparently it's fairly routine for birds to freeze to death in mid-flight.
Pictured: Business as usual.
Where is it?
Cherrapunjee is the anglicized name for what the Indians call Sohra, a remote town in the mountains and jungles some 1500 meters above the tiny nation of Bangladesh. It's a bit of a tourist trap nowadays, because its unique qualities have earned it a spot in the Guinness Book of Records as the wettest town on Earth.
We don't mean it has leaky pipes. We mean it rains. A lot. Cherrapunjee is in the Indian state of Meghalaya, which translates directly into "Land of the Clouds." It's right there in the corridor where Asian monsoons blow in and ruin your picnic, which puts Cherrapunjee smack-bang in the rainiest corner of the rainiest place in the rainiest region of the world. The town earned its record for its mindblowing 22,987 millimeters of rain in a single year. By way of comparison, Southern California, where Albert Hammond famously declared "it never rains, but it pours," gets an average of 375.
"GODDAMMIT NOT AGAIN WHY THE FUCK DID WE MOVE TO CHERRAPUNJEE."
You might not find this particularly impressive. It's just rain. It's not like the ground is made of lasers. We can handle a little rain, right? Well, that's what the British thought, too. Back in the 1800s when India was the British Empire's bitch, the Brits set up a military outpost in Cherrapunjee as a handy base from which military and officials could go about their work oppressing a giant country. After a short time, the government decided to abandon the outpost, one of the stated reasons being, no kidding, too many people there were committing suicide.
The British colonials were likely suffering from a hardcore case of what's known as Seasonal Affective Disorder - quite literally, decades of non-stop rain made them sadder than hell. Thus the native population, unaffected due to probably never having seen the sun, quietly high-fived the weather. But Cherrapunjee's residents live day to day with another very serious and surprising problem.
Well, it is definitely not water shortages!
It's water shortages. It turns out that Cherrapunjee is built on a foundation of porous limestone, which means that the ridiculous quantity of water that falls from the sky every day falls right through the ground like a sieve. But it doesn't just disappear. It goes on to flood Bangladesh.
That's right. The horrific floods that demolish poor little Bangladesh each year come direct mail-order from that little Indian town overlooking it, while the residents of the world's wettest town keel over from dehydration. God has an interesting sense of humor.