10 craziest moments of a TV travel show host
Exotic lands, stunning landscapes, historic monuments and fascinating cultures ... getting paid to travel around the world is said to be a dream job.
But, as a longtime travel writer and co-host of "World Travels," a 40-episode TV series currently airing on National Geographic Adventure and Travel Channel, take it from me when I say that the life of a jet-setting host is not always glamorous.
Flea-ridden hostels, strange parasites, radioactive wastelands, scorpions and the occasional bout of malaria are just some the occupational hazards.
In my travels to more than 80 countries, across all seven continents, I’ve hiked with mountain gorillas in Uganda, bungee jumped in China, camped among lions in the Serengeti and eaten goat brain in Morocco.
But even those aren’t the craziest of my travel TV experiences.
Here are my top 10 all-time craziest travel moments:
10. A night of 'torture' in a former Latvian prison
Just outside Latvia’s capital city, tourists pay to be treated like prisoners at the former Karosta Prison.
I spent a night in this former active prison (which only closed in 1997) where I was subjected to a mock interrogation, yelled at, pushed around, forced to clean a dirty latrine with a toothbrush, and stand in stress positions.
Ultimately, I slept there overnight on a wooden plank in one of the cells.
Sure, the guards were just acting but, in this authentic setting, it felt very real and gave me a taste of what life must have been like for the detainees. It was a creepy, comfortless experience … and I loved every minute.
9. Polar kayaking in Antarctic waters
It’s the world’s windiest, driest, coldest, highest continent; the largest wilderness area on earth with some 90 percent of all the ice on the globe.
Antarctica. Remote, unpredictable, inhospitable with snarling winds and an unforgiving frost. Sounds like the perfect place to kayak … right?
Well, yes, as long as you don't freeze.
Weather permitting, polar kayaking is an incredible way to get up close and personal with some of the continents wildlife, from penguins to elephant seals, leopard seals and whales.
Dressed in a red Teletubby type dry suit I paddled my way past epic landscapes and skyscraper sized icebergs. Thankfully I didn't find out what it was like to swim in these icy waters, but I did come close a few wobbly times.
8. Blessed by a Satan worshipper
Mercadode Sonora, a sprawling outdoor shopping area in the heart of Mexico City, is the Walmart of the witch world.
Located on Avenida Fray Servando Teresa in the Venustiano Carranza borough, it’s a maze of alleyways stacked with hundreds of stalls.
You can find everything from antique amulets to medicinal herbs; live snakes to mysterious brews; and animal-shaped ceramic charms to powdered potions for health, wealth and romance.
Walking amongst the tribal rattlers, taxidermy rabbits and other accessories of the underworld, I met a self-proclaimed Satan worshipper who took me into a back room and promised to cleanse me of my negative energy by ceremoniously beating me with a herbal bouquet.
Oddly, the aromatic herbs actually worked wonders and I felt far more relaxed than before. Thanks, random Satan worshipper.
7. Touring Chernobyl
A visit to the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster is an unusual tourist attraction but several Kiev-based tour agencies run all-inclusive day trips to Chernobyl.
If I start glowing green, I’ll know why. Walking around the abandoned city of Prypriat, which lies three kilometers from the ill-fated reactor, the scene was post-apocalyptic.
I felt as if I was the last person on earth. A visit here is an eerie hands-on history lesson that makes you consider the future of nuclear power and humanity.
6. Drinking a human toe cocktail
It’s called the Sour Toe Cocktail. It’s a gnarly beverage served at the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel in Yukon, Canada.
US$10 will buy you a glass of whiskey complete with an unusual garnish -- a brown, shriveled, pickled, severed human toe.
The toe in my glass was actually the eighth in a line of toes -- the previous ones were either swallowed mistakenly, bitten in half, stolen or accidentally thrown out -- and was donated as a result of a lawnmower accident.
Eww right? Why the hell would anyone do this, you ask?
Apparently, the tradition was created more than 30 years ago by Captain Dick, a local entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to sell shots -- complete with an amputated, frost-bitten toe from some unfortunate miner -- to adventurous customers.
To date, more than 65,000 people have tried this drink, joined the club, received certificates and proven themselves to be “real Yukoners.” I’m proud to say that I too am now a card-carrying member of the Sour Toe Cocktail Club.
5. Joining a drinking club with a running problem
If you like to drink and run, then this club is for you. When in Beijing, I met up with the Hash House Harriers to jog the streets of the bustling Chinese capital, mingle with some folks, sightsee and pound a lot of beer.
This social movement flourishes all around the world with more than 1,700 chapters spanning all seven continents. Not everyone gets to experience an authentic Harriers naming ceremony, drink from a rubber chicken or get baptized in beer.
How lucky I am.
See the video here.
4. Eating a buffet of bugs
A visit to the Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing is an exercise in queer food. Some of the world’s strangest food items are cooked up along this strip of vendor’s snack stalls.
I chugged back silk worm, starfish, lamb’s testicles and a humongous deep-fried scorpion.
See the video here.
3. Getting botfly
I was in Belize taking a jungle survival course, hacking my way through the forest with a machete when I was targeted by a Botfly. Found in Central America, a botfly looks much like a house fly, only bigger and hairier.
It breeds by attaching its eggs to a mosquito and when the mosquito lands on its victim (be it a dog, horse or TV travel host) the botfly larvae burrows into the skin.
During a gestation period of about six weeks, the botfly grows from microscopic larvae into a plump, white worm. Yes, I had the pleasure of feeling it squirming inside of me, before I finally pulled a good-sized botfly maggot out from under my skin. Disgusting.
2. Getting malaria
I felt like I was suffering from the world’s worst Tequila hangover -- a combo of flu, menstrual cramps and post-party paralysis.
Despite taking malarial pills, I became infected with a mild case of malaria while traveling through Tanzania (one of my favorite countries).
Any guidebook or tropical disease clinic will warn you that headaches, shivers and fevers can mean a host of problems so I didn’t waste much time getting to the hospital.
With such timely medical attention and the right pills, I was up and at ‘em’ again in a few days, camping in the Serengeti.
1. Death drop in Zambia
Perhaps the scariest momen I ever had was in Zambia, teetering over the edge of a giant gorge. It’s called the Zambezi Swing experience and it’s similar to bungee jumping.
It was a 50-meter free-fall into a pit 170 meters wide, with a pendulum swing over the dry Batoka gorge. I really really hate heights, so this activity was a huge challenge for me.
It’s not natural to throw your body over the edge but, when in Zambia, it’s a popular thing to do. I sucked up my fear and slipped into the harness.
Sure, the scenery was beautiful, with orange rock-faces, lush trees and a view of the Zambezi, but the drop was even more dramatic. I think I screamed a little bit.
For more about Julia Dimon’s crazy adventures, check out her website www.traveljunkiejulia.com