Backpackers traverse the globe looking for unique experiences and adventures, often to the edge of danger. If extreme weather is your kick, or if the thought of another sunny, pleasant day that doesn’t try to kill you bores you to tears, check out these weird and wonderful (if slightly daunting) destinations.
Oymyakon in Russia is so cold that birds have been known to freeze to death mid-flight. It’s the coldest inhabited place on earth with temperatures averaging -47 degrees Fahrenheit in January (having hit a record ridiculous -90F in 1933); the 500 residents have long been resigned to eating frozen meat. Cars have to be left running as long as they are outside of specially heated garages or else the fuel freezes inside the engine. They even have to burn fires for days to warm the ground enough to bury their dead. To top it off, there are only 3 hours of light a day in December.
‘The gateway to hell’, as Dallol in Ethiopia is ‘warmly’ called by those who live there, daily temperatures routinely reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The area is rife with active volcanoes and endless, barren salt flats. The local people have survived there for thousands of years, toiling away on what is essentially the surface of the sun, using pick axes and back breaking labour to extract table salt. Something to remember next time you’re sprinkling away on those chips. They do this while dodging fissures full of molten lava that open up during earthquakes, and underground acid pools waiting to be broken into. Even worse, the entire area smells like rotten egg thanks to the beautiful yellow sulphur deposits. Great.
Cherrapunji, or Sohra, in India is noted as the wettest city on Earth, experiencing a yearly average of 1,270 centimetres. Compare this to our rainiest city Cardiff, which has a meagre 115 cm (a fact that still doesn’t take away from the annoyance of stepping out of a car, square into a dirty puddle). To add insult to soggy-injury Cherrapunji regularly suffers from severe droughts. The entire area is on a porous limestone rock bed that sucks away all the floods of water, and conveniently dumps it further below on poor waterlogged Bangladesh. All that rain does mean the Khasi, the local people, can grow their own bridges, a technique that takes over a decade to complete with the structures lasting for hundreds of years.
San Pedro De Atacama, Chile
This Chilean city makes the cut due to the fact that it just never rains here. The average rainfall is 0.761 mm a year and some weather stations have never recorded any at all. It’s so arid that even the tall mountain ranges have no snow caps as there is not enough moisture to freeze. In fact between the 16th and 20th centuries it didn’t rain at all. Not one drop. So if your idea of a good time is a mouth as dry as Gandhi’s flipflop take a trip to the sunny Atacama desert. Although not able to contribute to this list as no-one is quite stupid enough to live there, a quick shout out must go to the ‘Dry Valleys’ of Antarctica, which last saw rain around 2 million years ago, a dry patch that would make even a nun jealous.
In Venezuela the people live beneath “rib-a-ha” or ‘river of fire in the sky’, which is only mildly less terrifying when you realize this is a series of colossal lightning storms that occur nearly every other night just after dusk. The electrifying (sorry) activity occurs over the Lake Maracaibo where it is joined by the Catatumbo River and produces near continuous hits, striking for up to ten hours a day and 280 times an hour. The electrical charges have been appearing in the skies above Venezuela for centuries.
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
For many people seeing an active volcano is high on the ‘to do’ list, but living in the red-hot shadow of one might be a step too far. Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo does just that. The very active Nyirangongo volcano which sits a mere 13km away has frequently attacked the city with spews of lava a kilometre across. 40% of the city was destroyed. It also has a tendency to kill the residents with undetectable clouds of poisonous carbon dioxide gas, known as ‘mazuka’ (Swahili for ‘evil wind’) that seep up through the ground. If this didn’t put you off enough, the local scenic Lake Kivu contains a massive amount of dissolved murderous gas which it constantly threatens to release. Recently, the airport was cleared of lava from the last eruption and now Goma is happily open to tourists.