6 Survival Tips from a Professional Adventurer

#3. Sometimes the Movies Get It Right

Jaros‚aw Ogrodnik/iStock/Getty Images

I often hire local guides to help me get up mountains or through rough terrain. Sometimes there will come a point where things get too rough and the guide will seriously turn to me and say, "This is where I leave you. Continue at your own peril." That's happened to me so many times, I got a "Your Own Peril" punch card. Two more and I get a free cursed fetish!

Movies also get the "cinematic wasteland" bit right, although they usually set it in the post-apocalypse. That's a mistake: Plenty of that stuff is right here on modern-day Earth. Everywhere is somebody's post-apocalypse. For example: There is what used to be a large lake between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan called the Aral Sea (I was on the Uzbek side). It's mostly dried up now, but in the middle of the former sea is a place invitingly nicknamed Anthrax Island.

Around you? Nothing. No signs of any life whatsoever, besides the rusting behemoths of beached ships in the middle of a desert.

Via Karakalpak.com
This may go without saying, but diving is strongly discouraged.

Anthrax Island is not an ironic name for a nice place that was intended to keep folks away, like Iceland or Jersey Shore. Anthrax Island got its name because Americans went there after the Cold War and found thousands of tons of weaponized anthrax and ... buried it all? Stole it? Ran away screaming? Who knows? Official records are sketchy, but right now, all of it is just sitting out there in the open, including the creepy abandoned laboratories. When I tried to go to Anthrax Island, my Russian guide told me, in movie-caliber ominous broken English, "It is not possible."

Via Wikipedia
Mostly because it's technically the Anthrax Peninsula now.

#2. On Volcanoes, And the Many Ways They Will Kill You

George Kourounis

Ask anyone what they know about volcanoes, and they'll tell you they erupt, explode, ooze lava, and generally don't make for great vacation spots. But what they don't know is that some volcanoes erupt up to once every five minutes, and they throw balls of molten rock hundreds of yards every time. Some volcanoes produce lightning strikes, absent of any thunderstorm. I experienced this at Krakatoa: During large eruptions, the billions of ash particles rub together, producing lightning within the ash cloud itself. This is known as "nature's metal album cover."

George Kourounis
It's too far to be sure, but we're assuming that lightning is striking a sword-wielding Lemmy.

Volcanoes, by their very nature, tend to have a lot of sulfur around them. You probably figured that, but you might not have considered the greater ramifications of it. See, sometimes water collects and forms a lake in the crater. I got to see this phenomenon firsthand at the Kawah Ijen Volcano. At the bottom of the crater, the sulfur leaches out into the water, creating a giant lake of sulfuric acid. This is not one of those times where it's "technically acidic," and if you swim around in it too long you might get a rash.

Olivier Grunewald, via National Geographic
I guess you might get a rash as well, but you'll be too focused on your skin melting to notice.

We measured the pH, and it was at 0.5. To put that in context, I scraped the paint off a Coke can and put it in the water, and the metal started sizzling like fried bacon. I wanted to see if the pH was the same all throughout the lake, so I took a rubber raft out to the middle, but acid started dripping in the boat and burning my legs. We had to cut my pant legs off before it soaked through and started melting my flesh.

George Kourounis
That's a natural lake, dissolving metal.

The fumes coming off the lake and out of the volcano turn the fluid in your eyes and lungs into sulfuric acid. I was there for a short period of time, and my eyes were already burning and stinging. And there's a sulfur mine right on the edge of the crater! People work there. They breathe in those fumes every day. I felt so bad that I left them my gas mask and protective gear. If your office is on a volcano, just beside the scenic lake of acid, you probably need it more than I do.

#1. Sometimes Your Instincts Give You the Worst Advice

George Kourounis

Every now and then, you find yourself faced with a dire situation where your instincts kick in and take control. The only problem is that sometimes those instincts are telling you to do the worst possible thing. For example: I was in the crater of Yasur Volcano taking readings when it started hurling "lava bombs" upwards of 300 yards, as it is wont to do.

So everything's exploding, and pieces of lava are flying overhead, and your typical gut reaction is "RUN, STUPID." But you can't: You have to stop in your tracks and watch the trajectory of the lava bombs. The last thing you should do in that scenario is turn and run blindly, because that's what gets you smacked in the back of the head with a subsonic lava cannonball. No, you have to stand your ground and watch as they fly at what you are keenly aware is your acutely meltable face. That's your best chance.

It's pretty neat once it's all over, though. Some of them were so hot that I could grab them with my gloves and twist them like taffy.

Speaking of your instincts being totally wrong, I was in Venezuela one time and I grabbed the head of a 16-foot anaconda. Anacondas have powerful jaws, but they also have extremely sharp teeth that curve backward. And of course, if an anaconda ever bites you, your instinct is going to be to jerk your arm away. Our silly human bodies often don't like the idea of being devoured by a mega-snake. But jerking back will only cause their rear-facing teeth to tear the flesh off of your arm. If an anaconda ever bites you, it's actually better to shove your arm further down and punch the bastard in the throat. It might surprise them and cause them to loosen their grip.

So there you go, there's your life tip for the day: If you find yourself being eaten alive by an anaconda, force-feed it your fist.

George Kourounis
George, pictured here just before punching an anaconda in the throat from the inside.


Kier and Evan also write for Geeknifty, available now on your local Internets.

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