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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...

Dallol, Ethiopia

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?

Oymyakon, Siberia

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.

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Cherrapunjee, India

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.



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.

La Rinconada, Peru

Where is it?

Oh what an enviable joy it must be to toil in the merry gold mines of La Rinconada, high in the Andes Mountains in Peru. Actually, since you asked, it's a hellish nightmare life the likes of which you are powerless to imagine.

La Rinconada is, for starters, the highest-altitude permanent settlement on Earth. It's about 5400 meters above sea level, which means it can also be described as the lowest permanent settlement in space. The air is mighty thin up there, but at least the perpetual state of near-suffocation will take your mind off the sub-zero temperatures and the smell of human excrement. Did we mention there is no sewage system in La Rinconada? No running water, either. And no law enforcement of any kind. No wonder the population is dwindling at... oh shit, 30,000 people and growing.


In La Rinconada, you have two choices of occupation. (1) You can work the gold mines, or (2) Heh, just kidding. There is no second choice.

See, Peru is kind of a hell of unemployment, so a town with one employer is better than the average. The gold mine is what draws tens of thousands of men and their families out of the comparatively more comfortable cities and into one of the most pathetic makeshift shanty settlements this side of District 9.

Also, this is old school mining. There's no machinery and no safety precautions. You just turn up and they hand you one of those cartoony flashlight-hard-hats and a chisel.

The last possession you will ever own.

As Internet writers, we know less about mining than basically anyone else on the planet. But they tell us that there are different kinds of gold mines, and the mine in La Rinconada is, well, the undesirable kind. All the gold is locked up in tiny seams, so most of what you're actually mining is just ordinary rocks, which are probably still worth more than Peruvian currency, but not by much. Trying to mine gold here is like hitting the haystack with a hammer until the needle just flies out of it.

Better still are the employment contracts. In Peru, they don't have particularly sophisticated legislation in that area, so the miners work according to the traditional oral contract of cachorreo, probably Spanish for "bend over." Under cachorreo, everything you mine for 30 days is the property of the company. Then comes payday. The only catch is that you have to dig your paycheck out of the mine with your bare hands. That's right, on day 31, whatever you dig up is yours. Sometimes you actually find some gold, but more often than not you go home to the wife--and that hole you dug that is your toilet--empty handed. And then you still have to go out with your chisel and attack wildlife for your dinner. But shit, you earned that barrow full of rocks.

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Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Where is it?

Quick, you've got three million people who need a home and some kind of gainful employment, where is the best place to set them up? If you said "on an active volcano" then you're either an idiot, or you're from Yogyakarta.

"Honey, I'm home!"

Java is an island and 120 million Javanese people live on, or within instant obliteration distance from active volcanoes. Perhaps the most brazen are the citizens of Yogyakarta, the province around Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia, and maybe the most fucking terrifying thing that God permits to exist on Earth. The Javanese call it the Fire Mountain. We call it Sir.


Yogyakarta is an unusual place because, while it's part of the Indonesian Republic, it's still its own little kingdom with its very own Sultan. For complicated political reasons, the Indonesian government agreed to let Yogyakarta keep its traditional Hindu monarchy. We like to think they just took one look at that goddamn volcano on which the people willingly lived and bid them good day. The people of Yogyakarta are mostly hard-working villagers who deal with the day to day stresses of family, farm life, and a giant volcano that regularly explodes and kills everyone.

Business as usual.

Mount Merapi can, at any moment, dump out a shitload of ash, fart out a cloud of searing hot poison gas, or it can fall back on that faithful but reliable trope, lava. All three have impressive body counts to their names, and all three hate you, personally. Oh, and the eruptions are usually followed by devastating earthquakes, like the one that demolished much of Yogyakarta in 2006. Oh, and tsunamis. Man, fuck you, Merapi.

Ironically, the mountain is the reason the Javanese stay. The traditional Hindu villagers worship Mt Merapi as a god, and what it taketh away with one hand, it giveth with the other. It turns out that the bullshit that the volcanoes spew over Java is also the best fertiliser in the world. The farming on Java is out of this world, and it's thanks to the incredible bounty of the people of Yogyakarta and other regions that Indonesia flourishes. The Javans actually look down on the neighboring island of Borneo, where farming is poor thanks to their one pitiful volcano that hasn't even killed anyone lately.

San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

Where is it?

Here in our comfortable Western niche, we tend to take certain luxury items for granted. Water, for instance. It's something that organisms need for biological function. It seems not everybody got that memo, which is why some adventurous people decided to set up a town in the middle of the Atacama desert in Chile, the one place in the world where it never rains, ever. And that's not an exaggeration. An unusual combination of pressure systems and geological features makes cloud formation over the Atacama desert literally impossible. Some eggheads have done the math to confirm it. It's just not going to happen, ever.

The Atacama desert is actually where NASA conducts its test-runs for sending machines to Mars. The locations are virtually identical. There's no moisture and no life. If you die in the Atacama, you don't even rot. Scientists have found bodies, thousands of years old, that look as fresh as the day they keeled over. This is it. This is literally the most inhospitable place on the surface of the Earth. There are microbes in the calderas of volcanos, but there isn't a single one here.

There is, however, San Pedro de Atacama, tourist mecca of Northern Chile!

So happy! But so thirsty!


Life isn't very breezy in San Pedro. They do get their water somewhere, obviously, but the thing about Atacama water is, well, it's basically arsenic. Just another one of nature's cruel jokes, what little water there is to be found is naturally laced with up to 60 times the fatal dose of this poison. The locals just shrug their shoulders, though. It's okay - they're fucking immune. After centuries of living in the Atacama wasteland, the residents of this dustbowl nightmare have actually built up a tolerance to arsenic that makes them a medical oddity. In recent years, they've built filtration plants so that visitors can actually survive their vacation.

Oh, you didn't think people would vacation here? Well, as it turns out, the majority of San Pedro's real money comes from tourism. For some fucking reason.

If you look to your left, folks, you'll see... well...

Around 40,000 people venture into this town every year just to see the closest thing to the surface of the moon that can be found on Earth. There is so much tourism that the conservative residents have had to crack down on revellers - they have ordinances banning both binge drinking and "nocturnal dancing." Okay.

It's not Cancun. But you have to give some credit to a people who can take miles of literally nothing and turn that into a tourist empire.

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For more places to avoid visiting, check out Fun Size Countries: The Insane Histories of the World's 6 Tiniest Nations. Or find out about some some cultures you should be glad you didn't grow up in, in The 5 Most Terrifying Rites of Manhood from Around the World.

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