The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once said, "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back."
We've had foolhardy grins on our faces since we began production back in the summer of 2011, but fortunately have thus far evaded the Reaper's ory scythe. Had we met our demise on a handful of occasions the headlines may have looked like this:
TV Crew / Travel Show Host.....
Found Dead in the Desert
In a rush to grab the final shot of our Nevada episode we raced out across open desert at sunset. When our rig got stuck on a dune and the sky tuned pitch dark it occurred to us how much trouble we were in. The SUV contained no water, there were no signals on our phones, and the walk out would be far and uncertain. Luckily we managed to dig the Toyota out of its sandy grave... an experience which I blogged about here.
Killed by Cobra in Vietnam
After eating a cobra dinner in Hanoi I decided to track down the source of my meal: A town completely dedicated to farming snakes for the Vietnamese and Chinese market. Arriving in the village we had some trouble getting permission to film from the suspicious locals, but money eventually talked. A motley gang of snake farmers (some with missing fingers) led us into a large room with rows upon rows of little wooden trapdoors on the floor, under each a gaggle of snakes. Without warning one guy took a metal rod and flips open several doors and real deal cobras spilled out. In Southern California we have some concern for rattlesnakes, who's bite probably won't kill you (but could destroy your finances); but cobra venom would drop me dead in 30 minutes. The locals repeatedly scooped up snakes with their special metal rods and shoved them in my direction admonishing me to handle them with my bare hands. I unwisely took the bait to a degree which you can witness in the episode. Before we left I asked to see their stash of anti-venom. After a small pow-wow the handlers said they would show it to me for 200$, which led me to believe the price would have been much higher had I been bitten (and perhaps had something to do with their carefree approach to my safety).
Lynched in Kashmir
A last minute discovery in Kashmir lead us to Roza Bal Shine in Srinagar, where a legend suggests that Jesus of Nazareth was buried after he survived the crucifixion and fled to India. My enthusiasm for this story was not shared by the locals in neighborhood who promptly surrounded us as we began to film. The energy in the air, as more and more men arrived on the scene, reminds me now of the bees which began to swarm on us when we opened their hive in Belgium. In both incidents I detected an immediate and foreboding vibration change in the air. In Belgium the result was all crew members getting stung. In Kashmir it almost tuned into something far more deadly. As the men around us were riling each other up into a lynch mob frenzy our rickshaw driver came to the rescue. He leapt in front of us, pleaded with the crowd by quoting peaceful Quran verses, and quickly glanced over his shoulder to say, "get in the ricksaw," as dead serious as you could deliver that line. My hands were shaking as he sped off under a wave of yells and threats.
Plastered by Bus in the Philippines
The crew and I were engrossed in conversation as we moved towards a bus terminal in Manila. Walking smack in the middle of a zebra crosswalk leading to the main doors I did not see a bus approaching on a collision course. According to the crew the driver had his eyes firmly trained on me but was not slowing down, defiantly playing chicken with the heedless westerner daring his bus to stop. As the crew barked my name in warning I came to a halt and the behemoth passed no more than a single pace in front of me. One more step and I'd have been roadkill. My mistake was violating these street-crossing rules for travel:
1. Anticipate vehicles to come from any direction
2. Assume they will not stop for you
3. Give no value to crosswalks
There are some exceptions to these rules. Occasionally the matrix hand and a strong resolve will stop a car in India. A consistent walk across a street in Vietnam will allow the multitude of 125cc motorcycles to flow around you. However one should never assume safe passage before learning the custom.
Terminal Head Trauma in Perth
We finished up season 3 of Road Less Traveled with the crew of the Maersk Peary, a massive tanker carrying a year's supply of fuel to America's Antarctic bases. We met up with the ship in Perth, Australia; taking a smaller boat out to the bay where the Peary was waiting. The crew on that small boat may have mentioned the hazards of transferring from ship to ship, but nonetheless, as we bobbed up and down in the shadow of the oil tanker, I momentarily lost my situational awareness. Suddenly I heard, "Look out!" hollered from above me, and I turned around to see the edge of a ladder shoot 6 inches from my head as our small boat rose up a wave. I still have not forgotten how tragically the Jonathan Legg story could have ended because I was not paying attention at a critical moment.
Bonus: TV Crew Crashes Paraglider in Leh!
We arrived in Leh, nestled in the Himalayas of Northern India, with less footage than anticipated. There was nothing ideal about paragliding in Leh, but we needed the roll time. Why wasn't it ideal? For one, there were no official flying sites and I could find no record of anyone flying there. But what concerned me the most was the terrain. Leh sits in a fat, dry valley 3,500 meters (11,500ft) above sea level. Into this valley dump the unstable winds of multiple canyons snaking their way through the mountains. I anticipated the airborne conditions to be as rowdy as a fierce rodeo bull.
We spend a long time hunting for a launch, finally finding one off a curve on "the world's highest motorable road." Our taxi brought us up early to avoid the strong mid day conditions that occur when the sun bakes the land. I handed the driver a camera, instructed him to meet us promptly at the bottom, and began to set up the glider, meticulously laying lines around rocks strewn on the mountainside. It was a terrible setup. There were multiple stones in our path that got bigger the farther you descended (better launch fast), the landing was crosswind onto a dirt road (hopefully no cars passing as we land), and the wind was barely puffing at a gusty 2mph (better pull up that glider fast and clean).
As I clipped the producer/cameraman into the passenger harness we heard a rumble approaching. On the road 5 military trucks carrying Indian soldiers were chugging down the mountain. All of these guys fixed us with looks of bewilderment as they passed. This particular corner of the country is heavily guarded due to past conflicts with Pakistan and China. Two foreigners in a flying contraption with no permission might be violated some air restrictions. The trucks were headed for a base down in the valley below us. Before the commander heard about us, we had to be gone.
As the last truck passed I felt a small puff of wind, pulled the glider up, tuned around and screamed "Run!" We sprinted down the rock field but I did not feel the immediate pull of the wing in flight. A set of huge rocks were directly in our path and we were rocketing towards them. In the footage you can witness the moment panic lights up my face like the christmas tree. A second later "CRACK" the glider grabs an up-current and we whoosh off the hill. We then slid into our landing on that dirt road, threw our gear in the cab, and boogied over to the tourist quarter where we would disappear with our big bags. You can watch the whole unadvisable flight here