If you’re squeamish then you might want to click away from this now.
National Geographic’s Primal Survivor star Hazen Audel has revealed to MailOnline Travel the top ten most extreme places he’s visited, with his least savoury moments including surviving on cow’s blood in Kenya, fending off trench foot in Panama and battling severe typhoons in Vanuatu.
The 44-year-old survival guide and biologist was born and raised in the U.S. before heading out to live with a tribe in the wilds of Ecuador at the age of 19. Scroll down to find out more about the hair-raising places he’s been to since.
The remote rainforests of Ecuador, where my adventures began
From the age of 19, Hazen Audel lived with the Huaorani and Quechua tribes that lived deep in the rainforests of Ecuador
This is where it all began for me!
From the age of 19 I lived with the Huaorani and Quechua tribes that lived deep in the rainforests of Ecuador, which was where the pilot episode for my first series with National Geographic, Survive the Tribe, was filmed.
I’m lucky that the pilot series was a success which then led to more seasons of Primal Survivor on the National Geographic Channel – I mean it was sure to be a success, right? It was basically filmed in my backyard with my people!
Tribal living in north-central Kenya
Whilst filming one episode of his show in Kenya, Hazen said he ate nothing but fresh cow blood and milk for two weeks
Survival in the territory of the Samburu tribe would be impossible if it weren’t for their ability to live with their cattle.
Whilst filming this episode – Blood Warriors – I ate nothing but fresh cow blood and milk for two weeks.
Battling tropical typhoons on Vanuatu
While filming in the tropical islands of Vanuatu, Hazen and his camera team were hit by a ‘hellish’ typhoon
While filming in the tropical islands of Vanuatu, it wasn’t the crystal blue coral reefs, pearly white sandy beaches and tropical paradise everyone was expecting.
Instead a neighbouring typhoon made it hellish. The film crew got severe trench foot from the torrential conditions and even though I spent the whole shoot barefoot (as I usually do to avoid trench foot), I was still covered in cuts and festering wounds.
Fire ants and rats were biting us throughout the nights and rats ate nearly all the crew’s food rations. Eight months on from the expedition, the skin and wounds still hadn’t fully healed.
Extreme heat in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region
Hazen says he thinks the Lake Turkana region in Kenya is one of the most inhospitable places to live with ‘dry and scorching hot’ terrain
Filming with the Rendille Tribe in the Lake Turkana region in Kenya, I realised this is probably one of the most inhospitable places to live out of all my travels.
The heat was so extreme – so dry and scorching hot – and the terrain was solid rock as far as you could see.
But the Rendille tribe proved to be the toughest people imaginable to be able to call a place like this home.
Life above 14,000ft in the Mustang District of Nepal
In the first series of Primal Survivor, Hazen travelled to Nepal to join the Loba nomads in the Kingdom of Mustang
While in the Himalayas, Hazen collected yak dung as a source of kindling to make fires
In the first series of Primal Survivor, I travelled to Nepal to join the Loba nomads in the Kingdom of Mustang herding and living off yaks along the melting snowline in the Himalayas at a crazy 14,000 feet!
There is so little oxygen at this altitude with no trees for fuel so we had to get creative.
Our only source of ‘kindling’ to make a fire and keep warm was yak dung.
National Geographic’s Primal Survivor: The lowdown
Survival Instructor and biologist Hazen Audel can be seen in Primal Survivor, every Thursday at 8pm on National Geographic.
Primal Survivor documents his adventures as he travels to some of the most extreme places on the planet, taking on solo challenges that will push him to the limit of his knowledge, endurance and skills.
After first living with the locals to understand their way of life, he then tackles some of the most rigorous journeys in the world, where he must rely on natural instinct and ancient techniques honed over thousands of years to make it out alive. During each episode he will answer the killer question – how does anyone survive here?
During the latest series Hazen heads deep into the Guyana jungle in South America to find Makushi tribesmen, fighting along waters filled with hungry predators including piranha and huge cayman. Hazen is challenged to a night hunt to catch a giant fish big enough to feed an entire Makushi village.
In Kenya he battles scorching African plains to find the Rendille Warriors who are guarding their camels in the heart of the desert. He must return two of the camels to the village elders, keeping them safe from hyena and lions as he travels across the lands. Other destinations in the series include the Island of Gaua, Vanuata, the forests of Inner Mongolia, and remote tribal areas of China.
Melting in 110-degree heat in the Sahara Desert, Morocco
In another Primal Survivor episode, Hazen found himself on a five-day trek through the Sahara Desert with nothing but a camel for survival
In another Primal Survivor episode, I found myself near the Nigerian border, taking on the challenge to mirror the traditional Berber nomads’ five-day trek through the Sahara Desert with nothing but a camel for survival.
It’s just not possible to survive being outside without shade in the middle of the day with temperatures reaching over 110 degrees (43C). To make matters worse, my camel, Hemel, was not very cooperative and deserted me mid-journey.
I had to use up valuable energy and water stores in my body to track him back down or else we both would be been goners! The crew had it tough too – camera cables melted from the extreme heat and the sand destroyed one of the cameras!
Flesh-eating parasites and tropical diseases in Papua New Guinea
While in Papua New Guinea, Hazen travelled up the Sepik River in search of a remote community of ex-cannibals
On this adventure, I was travelling up the mighty Sepik River in Papua New Guinea in search of a remote community of ex-cannibals.
Papua New Guinea is thriving with life – but a lot of that life is flesh-eating parasites.
Layers of mosquitos, sand flies and horse flies were constantly biting you and the threat of contracting tropical diseases is probably the highest in the world. On the plus side, there were lots of things to find to eat, but there were also lots of things that wanted to eat you back!
Living solo with 200 reindeer in the Arctic Circle
In northern Scandinavia, Hazen took on a solo mission to deliver 200 reindeer to their spring breeding grounds
I nearly lost two toes to frostbite from walking for miles day after day in the frozen tundra
In Northern Scandinavia, 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle where temperatures reach as low as -40 degrees, I took on a solo mission to deliver 200 reindeer to their spring breeding grounds.
Keeping up with the reindeer and looking after them in the deep snow didn’t allow me to be able to look after myself.
I nearly lost two toes to frostbite from walking for miles day after day in the frozen tundra, sleeping in survival snow caves at night and not being able to keep dry and warm.
Trench foot and one cup of food for dinner at Panama’s Darien Gap
Hazen says the Darien Gap in Panama has a reputation of being one of the most challenging jungles in the Americas
While navigating the Darien Gap, Hazen’s crew were stricken by debilitating trench foot as they trekked through rivers
This one’s for the crew! The Darien Gap in Panama has always had a reputation of being one of the most impassable and challenging jungles in the Americas.
Because of the remoteness, the relentless terrain and constant river crossings, the crew were stricken with debilitating trench foot and after a gruelling day of filming, they had to set up camp in jungle hammocks and were restricted to just one cup of water and one cup of dehydrated food each night for dinner.
For the crew, this goes down as the most arduous and difficult film expedition of their careers.
The deep waters east of Borneo
Hazen says his experience with the Badjau Sea Gypsies in the deep waters east of Borneo stills leaves him in disbelief
My experience with the Badjau Sea Gypsies stills leaves me in disbelief.
Before I met these guys, I thought it was humanly impossible for people to swim and hunt at such depths in the ocean on a single breath hold but the athleticism of the Badjau is almost superhuman.
Everyday I am thankful that I didn’t drown
From a fascination with bugs as a child to living in the jungle: How Hazen Audel became an intrepid explorer
So this big adventure started some time ago. It started with a child-like fascination with bugs and snakes that I never grew out of. And since my fixation about looking for more bugs never wore off it was the direction I would take for the rest of my life. I went to college to become a biologist.
The end game was to be an Ichthyologist and look for new species of freshwater tropical fish that were deep in the Amazon. I visualized a life of getting stuck in windshield-deep mud in a land cruiser and long expeditionary boat rides up unnamed rivers in the name of scientific discovery, frogs, snakes and bugs. Basically, I wanted to be part Dr Herbert R. Axelrod (my childhood hero), Sir David Attenborough and Tarzan!
I was the first in my family to pursue post-high school education so quite literally I was thrown in the river – I soon found out it wasn’t the Amazon. Instead it was horrible classrooms, and biology education was more about quantitative chemistry and boring things like what grows in petri dishes – nothing I felt that was pertinent to my passion for the real-life natural world and certainly it had nothing to do with adventure. So I dropped out and decided to run away…
I had a coffee kettle full of cash that I made from mowing lawns in high school and my artwork – painting. My plane ticket to Ecuador was $680. That left me with about $75 left over – this would be the determining factor to how long I would be able to stay.
I already had all my camping gear and tent and I figured about $20 for a 25lb bag of rice that I could live off. I could also fish in the rivers and the rest of the money would go into getting some sort of ride from the capital city, Quito (Ecuador), to ‘the end of the road’ – to the deepest jungle closest to the Amazon. Naivety was my greatest asset!
A two-day bus ride through the Andes landed me to the end of the road to Rio Misahualli, a tributary to the Amazon, which was still two countries away. There I set up camp and spent my time gawking at the bugs, looking for snakes and feebly fishing every day. It was in the middle of nowhere. The only other people were indigenous Quechua that were living alongside the river in thatched huts and with dugout canoes.
I had no language abilities and was shy so I could only watch the tribal children fishing on the other side of the river. I was wondering what they were using to catch so many fish. They were wondering why a random kid was in the middle of the jungle untangling fishing line for the past few weeks.
The rumors about me must have turned into pity as more introductions were made by the locals. Then after a dinner invite one evening, I soon became their newest son. I watched the children (my newest brothers and sisters) picking leaves off plants to take home for medicine. Their houses were made with a machete and rock and with all the different kinds of trees and palms and bamboos from the forest. I watched and learned. They knew where big snakes lived and everyone in the community found great enjoyment showing me where to find all the animals and creepy-crawlies that made me light up.
The 25lb bag of rice was no longer my limiting life line and now being a cared-for family member in this community, it allowed me to stay for another eight months. This then was my routine for the next five years – every summer I was going deeper and deeper with more and more drive to find out more and experience as wild as wild gets. I knew I had to go pursue even more education if I was to get the good jobs abroad so I kept charging on with academia when I could.
With such unique experiences, I was awarded a scholarship to the University of Hawaii that had a graduate degree in tropical ecology and ethnobotany. Living in the islands of Hawaii and with refined studies I was able to travel in my learned style of travel to the remote islands in the South Pacific and south-east Asia. So this was the lifestyle that shaped me.
After ten years of this I made the decision to not continue my life in the trenches of academia. I wanted a family and still have the ability to keep exploring in the summer, so I became a high school science and art teacher.
Another ten years passed. Fixated on adventuring, learning from my tribal friends around the world and sharing my experiences with my students when I got back to teaching, I made science education videos for my students based on my summer travels and, well, long story short, the videos got better and now I am working for National Geographic making videos for the world to see what I love!
Hazen Audel can be seen in Primal Survivor, every Thursday at 8pm on National Geographic.