EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Primal Survivor’s Hazen Audel talks incredible new series
Survive the Tribe‘s Hazen Audel is back with another unbelievable series about survival in the harshest of settings this Thursday, January 21.
In Primal Survivor, wilderness guide and survival instructor Hazen takes on some of the world’s most treacherous locations, including the crocodile-infested rainforests of Papa New Guinea, the blistering heat of the Sahara and the dizzying heights of the Himalayas.
Hazen must do battle with the environments armed with the skills of local tribes who have survived thousands of years living in some of the world’s harshest climates. His struggles aim to answer the question: how does anyone survive here?
We spoke to Hazen about his incredible adventures and the first series of Primal Survivor.
How did you become a nature show host?
I’ve always been super crazy fascinated about wildlife. I think I was just a kid that never grew up. I always thought my dream job would be a nature host, but I thought the chances of being a nature show host were pretty remote. I thought I was gonna be a topical biologist.
After I graduated from high school I went to Ecuador to go see all these animals I’d always been fascinated by and read about in books. I tried to get as remote as I possibly could to see the animals I wanted to see. Once I finally got to those remote areas, I found that there were these people living alongside these animals that I was really interested in.
Long story short, I was taken in by the Huaorani people. I think they recognised that I love nature and loved being there and I started to develop a real fascination for how they lived their lives. That little trip that was gonna be a month and a half experience would up being two years of my life. To this day those people who took me in I consider my family. I go back to visit them almost every year and that’s been going on for 25 years now.
How did I get to be a nature show host? I wanted to share my interests with nature so I wound up being a science teacher. I shared videos with my students about different animals that I would see on my travels. They went on Youtube and started getting noticed and then I was getting invited to wildlife film festivals. Then National Geographic just said “well we’re not doing very many nature shows but you live a pretty interesting life and you have such close ties with indigenous people and interest in traditional skills. Why don’t we do a show of the things you’re doing when the cameras not there?” and I said, “gosh, that’s pretty much a dream come true.”
And it has really been a dream come true since then. I’m in the most fascinating places in the world with some of the most incredible people I could ever imagine.
Are there any skills that you’ve acquired on your travels that you now use every day?
I’m building a house right now and that’s one thing that keeps me really busy when I come back home. The entire house is built with recycled items and I’m building it with some consideration for the animals living there. I really want to bring as many animals around me as I can. I plant a lot of trees that attract certain wildlife. I made a pond. I made a garden so I can get my food that way. I’m doing the best I can to avoid paying some sort of electricity bill because what makes electricity is building a dam, and if you have dams there no animals can go up the river. I just try to be conscious about the things I do with the overall agenda of being respectful to the natural environment.
Have you ever had any embarrassing misunderstandings while meeting people of other cultures on your travels?
One of the biggest and possibly detrimental misunderstandings that ever happened was one time I was in Ecuador and I was with a tribal member I had never met before and I owed him $7. All I had were two dollar bills and a fiver. When I gave him the money he didn’t have any concept of counting and looked at me giving him only three dollar bills like I was shorting him. I’m trying to explain myself but I totally don’t know what’s going on and then he asks for more money so I gave him another dollar bill. He now has four bills, and he’s getting more and more furious.
A lot of these places deal with conflict by just killing the other person. They’re very short tempered in this particular region, so as I’m trying to explain myself and this $8 turns into $12 turns into $18 and then $30 – and I can remember the very end amount of money was $78 so I gave him a combination of dollar bills – and he was absolutely furious by this time. The people who understood his language were telling me I needed to run and get out of there as soon as I can because this man was going to kill me. He was running into his house, he was loading his shotgun and he had a spear in the other hand and he came out running towards me as fast as he could. I had to run into the forest and run for my life and hide from this guy who wanted to kill me.
Is that the most scared you have ever been on your travels?
It was definitely a scary event. [The most scary was] when I was in Ecuador and I got lost for five days. I was only 19 at the time. I was out fishing on my own and living on the land. I’d spear fish at night using my flashlight.
I was going out on a hunting trip and it started raining and the water I was following was rising, so the area I was in started to flood, and I lost my trail. It was the middle of the night and my flashlight went out. All I had was my spear and a pair of shorts and this flashlight that didn’t work.
I was in a place in the world where nobody knew where I was, nobody would have ever known that I was in danger, and I was in one of the most remote places in the world. I went through an experience of thinking about the importance of my family and everything that goes through your mind during five days of sheer terror. I did finally find a river and I found some people who were able to help me.
It’s those sorts of experiences that I carry with me and that help me for next challenge ahead of me. It does seem like I’m always getting myself into some sort of predicament!
What was the most physically demanding environment you’ve visited?
One of the most physically demanding trips on this series was up in Nepal. I was with the Mustang nomads that live right at the base of the Himalayas. During this trip I was herding the yaks, which is a traditional thing that the locals do, and I had to navigate all these different canyons and mountain ranges and carry a lot of distance at about 14000 feet. Every single breath I took I was working through more and more oxygen, and even when I would go to sleep and get rest I would wake up gasping for air sometimes because I just wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The entire time your heart is pounding, your head is pounding, you’re really confused almost the whole time. I think that was what made it really really physically challenging for me.
What home comfort do you miss the most when you’re travelling?
I could easily live without electricity. I could organise my life in such a way that I would never have to go to the grocery store. I can grow my own food and get my own food. I think I could get pretty comfortable with that. But there is one thing I absolutely love… I love a hot shower. I think it’s one of life’s luxuries. No matter where I’m at I’m going to try and invent some way I can have a hot shower.
Where are your favourite places to visit in the world?
I love to travel to see amazing animals and amazing plants, and hopefully while I visit those places I’m looking for people who live alongside the things I’m so fascinated by. Usually my first places of choice are tropical rainforest animals – anywhere around the equator that’s wet – whether it’s the Congo, or South or Central America, or South-East Asia. Those are places that I’m endlessly fascinated by, so I try to get as much time in my life in those areas as I can.
Is there somewhere you’d like to go next series?
I’ve always been intimidated by Brazil because it’s so huge. If I can do some research on specific locations in Brazil I would be really interested. I would love to have access to go to the Congo, it’s just a difficult place to reach and be safe. The wildlife that exists there just boggles my mind, I would love to be there.
What was the strangest tribal tradition that you’ve ever encountered?
I think what I’ve learned is we’ve been born with the things that we’re being told are normal. One thing that really changed my perspective was spending so much time in Africa with the Samburu in Kenya. A male circumcision is a really really important aspect of their culture. You tend to squeal a little bit when you think about male circumcision, but [after] spending more and more time there, I began to really understand the importance of it – how that brings communities together and strengthens villages. When boys enter manhood it’s one of their proudest moments in life.
It’s so easy to just put your own perspective on things, but once you get out of your own little reality and enter their array of circumstances you realise it actually makes a lot of sense. From face value they seem so incredibly unusual but a lot of these practices have been going on for thousands of years and there’s a definite reason as to why. I tell you what, they look at our practices and think we are absolutely bizarre. And I’d have to agree with them most of the time!
What tips do you have for the average television fan who wants to start adventuring?
If it requires a different language, just doing the best you can to learn just a few words will give you some serious mileage in really experiencing the place and having an idea of what it’s like for these other people to live their lives. If you don’t have the luxury of doing that, a smile will take you a million miles. It’s all about body language. If you’re there with sincere interest and respect, you’re gonna have an amazing experience wherever you go in the world.
Primal Survivor starts Thursday 21st January at 8pm on National Geographic Channel.