#5. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park — Madagascar
The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is a protected UNESCO world heritage site, but this park doesn’t need any tollbooths, rangers or even a tall, spiked fence. Why? Because it’s literally nothing but spiked fence. Tsingy is a 250-square-mile tiger trap made up of massive limestone obelisks riddled with jagged spears. And yes, they will cut your pretty face. And no, they won’t not cut your pretty face, no matter how much you cooperate.
Sometimes the Earth gives a freebie to the World of Warcraft design team.
Biologists call the area a bio-fortress. The park is so impassable and uncharted, in fact, that every time a team goes on an expedition there, they find approximately five new species. They’re literally tripping over entirely unseen life-forms — a photographer for National Geographic documented these creatures, presumably while picking crocodile-headed lizards out of his canteen and shaking bizarre, dancing crimson bugs out of his sleeping bag.
Sometimes a forest of daggers just isn’t enough.
It shouldn’t be surprising: 90 percent of all species found on Madagascar are endemic, so if we go vaulting over the Earth’s barbed-wire fence on the Island of Extremely Rare Shit, we’re probably going to see some new things. And yet despite all of that sweet groundbreaking science temptation, the vast majority of the park remains completely unexplored to this day.
So yeah. There are definitely dinosaurs in there.
That’s really a testament to how inhospitable it is: We weren’t just talking about “spikes” and “cutting” earlier because the area looks “spiky” from a helicopter. Those things really are razor-sharp. “Tsingy” is actually the Malagasy word for “where you cannot walk barefoot.” When one expedition visited, they couldn’t navigate with ordinary rock-climbing gear because (and these are actual quotes from an actual scientist) “Tsingy chewed equipment and flesh with equal ease. At times it was like climbing amid giant skewers, the consequences of a fall suggested in the mutilated trunks of toppled trees below.”
Sometimes the formations produce Yes album covers just to mess with you.
Maybe we should amend our analogy a little: It’s less like nature’s junkyard fence and more like the Earth’s teeth, where it stabs and grinds you into a fleshy pulp for easy digestion.
And just in case you still think we’re exaggerating, here’s how Steven Goodman (the quoted scientist above) ended his trip: He and his team were walking on a normal, plain, flat path, when he turned his ankle just a little bit and stumbled. That’s all — he didn’t even fall all the way; just took a brief knee.
We can’t say this would be our preferred method of climbing.
It took them two days to hobble back to a hospital to remove the limestone spike from his kneecap.
#4. The Boiling Lake — Dominica
The Boiling Lake in Dominica is remotely located, 200 feet deep and straight-up boiling, 24/7. No, it’s not “kind of warm” and “really bubbly, so it looks like it’s boiling,” like a natural hot spring. If you take a therapeutic dip in the Boiling Lake, you’ll come out poached. The water temperature at the edge of the Boiling Lake sits at 197 degrees Fahrenheit on average. That’s on the shore; no measurements at all have been taken at the center, where the water is perpetually roiling, because, well, would you want to kayak out into a giant cookpot with a thermometer?
Those who’ve braved the intense heat have fused with their boats. “Boataurs,” we call them.
Tourist sites mention that the rocks are slippery at the lake’s edge, so you should exercise extreme caution while visiting. Even more prudent: Just don’t go. There’s no cause for “clocking a few weeks out of the office” to “take the ol’ fam” down to the fucking lake that cooks human beings.
Although, hey, maybe we’re being too close-minded here. This guy went for a visit and had a pretty good time.
We hear steaming food before consumption is healthier.
He even slung up a zipline to mosey over the center of the lake. Once there, he took a water sample and boiled some eggs for lunch. You know — fun times. They “turned jet black” when submerged in the water, and nobody’s quite sure why that is, but that didn’t dissuade him; he says “they still made a pretty decent lunch.”
“Want in on these bad boys?”
#3. The Bolton Strid — Yorkshire
This is the Bolton Strid, and we have to admit, it’s a pretty innocuous-looking thing to be on a list of nature’s most dangerous booby traps. It appears to be no more than a quaint country brook.
Now, this is what the Strid looks like a bit upstream, where it’s called the River Wharfe:
All British guidebooks use “quaint” and “picturesque” at least four times a page.
That’s … a really big friggin’ river. So what happened between there and the Strid? Did the river split, or flow into a lake or something? Nope, the Strid is still the whole Wharfe; it’s just been flipped onto its side. That means that while it’s only about 6 feet across, and appears to be no more than a few feet at its deepest (as we tend to assume of all cutesy little forest streams), nobody actually knows how deep the Strid goes. We simply cannot measure it, because there’s a powerful undercurrent sweeping down into the vast, unseen caverns and massive underwater pockets that hold all of the rest of the river’s water. Though if there happens to be a bout of particularly dry weather, the waterline does start to drop, and you can just see the tops of the giant formations below.
We’re pretty sure you need someone like Gollum to navigate through here.
All of that adds up to one simple, terrifying fact: Nobody who has ever fallen into the Strid — that harmless-looking brook up there — has lived to tell about it. Swimming in the Strid has a 100 percent mortality rate. Though there are signs and placards warning about the dangerous water hazard, they’re not always seen: Here’s a news report about a couple that went for a walk near the Strid on their honeymoon and went missing.
“And yet, I’m still hungry.”
It’s relatively common for people to assume they can jump the creek, walk across its stones or even wade through it (again, just looking at it, the Strid really seems to be only knee-deep in places, and certainly not the instant, precipitous drop into a watery grave that it is). Most of the time, they never even find the body. Which means there are just dozens of corpses down there, pinned to the walls of the underground chasms, waiting for you to join them …
It’s exactly how water works in a video game: It looks all stupid and harmless, but the second your foot touches the surface, you get some bullshit drowning animation and die instantly.
“That’s it, kids, a little farther back … haha, oh, I’m such a card!”
#2. The Afar Triangle — Africa
In 2005, geologist Dereje Ayalew and his colleagues went for a nice helicopter ride, because college lied to you and being a geologist is actually all fun and games. When they landed to take a look at, like, probably some stupid rocks (buzzkill), the very Earth split open. And we don’t mean that how you think — that a little fissure started to appear. It happened like earthquakes do in movies: A yawning void suddenly broke open and ripped toward them, hungry for their bones.
And then the Earth grumbled about pant sizes being smaller nowadays.
Objectively speaking, what they witnessed was the dramatic tectonic initiation of the African continent splitting from its horn. Subjectively speaking, they saw the Earth turn into Pac-Man, and they were the little white dots.
“Quick, stop it with the power of geology!”
Since that time in 2005, the Afar Triangle has been possibly the most unstable area on the planet, with huge, gaping cracks splitting open at seemingly complete random. But if you fall in, it’s not just the drop that will kill you: The cracks are not only frighteningly deep and dark, but also fire out blasts of superheated air (around 750 degrees Fahrenheit). The sound of bubbling magma can be heard from the depths of some cracks, and plumes of sulfurous gas erupt from others. If the Tsingy park is Mother Nature’s tiger trap, the Afar Triangle is its Bond-villain-esque trapdoor of doom.
And these wiggly lines are the wavering loyalties of the Bond girl. Metaphors.
So if you ever find yourself having to visit the Afar Triangle, just make sure that you’re the absolute best at whatever you’re doing. The Afar Triangle does not tolerate … disappointment.
#1. The Corryvreckan Maelstrom — Scotland
We know that whirlpools are a thing. But we tend to think that, in the real world, they’re either relatively small-scale phenomena or, at worst, a temporary hazard — something caused by a shift in tides, or a sinking mass — that’ll eventually just go away on its own. Whatever the case, it’s certainly not like in video games or pirate movies, right? There’s no permanent watery vortex waiting to gobble you up. But nobody told that to the Corryvreckan Maelstrom: It’s a massive, eternal whirlpool off the coast of Scotland. The vortex is caused by a dramatic underwater pinnacle that rises to within about 100 feet of the ocean’s surface, and it’s directly adjacent to a large depression. Complex tidal forces and the unique geological formation combine to create an incredibly powerful, perpetually spinning whirlpool of death.
This isn’t like quicksand, which can’t actually suck you down like it does in the movies. The maelstrom behaves just as ominously as its fictional counterparts. For example, a documentary team once equipped a mannequin with a life jacket and a depth gauge, and then tossed it into the Corryvreckan. When it was eventually found, the depth gauge had a maximum reading of over 650 feet. The maelstrom hungrily grabbed that thing like an inert, water-bound Boba Fett and swallowed it straight down. The mannequin was also severely damaged, showing signs that it had either been forcefully dragged along the ocean floor or else partially digested by the sea beast that lives at its center.
Use the hero bow, Link. The hero bow!
In calm weather conditions, a local boatman can take you near the vortex for your viewing pleasure, because hey — you’ve cooked lunch on a boiling lake, summited a limestone spear forest, landed a helicopter in the planet’s gaping maw and jumped the Pleasant Brook of Death — you might as well complete the set. But remember: If a windstorm kicks up while you’re out there, the maelstrom can produce standing waves 15 feet high. And if you capsize anywhere near that thing, everybody in the water is going right down the ocean’s throat.
Everyone turn around and say “human turd!”
Wait, holy shit: The Tsingy forest chews you up, the Boiling Lake cooks you alive and the triangle, Strid and maelstrom all swallow you whole …
We knew it! The Earth is too trying to eat us. Take that, schizophrenia meds!
Budd Erickson is a freelance philosopher and writer, although he does most of his philosophy pro bono.