In each installment of the Uproxx Travel Guide, we ask some of our favorite professional travelers to answer one travel question — then share their best advice with you. From informational, to inspirational, to entertaining, our aim is to incite your wanderlust and provide bite-size takeaways you can put to use on your own adventures.
This Week’s Question: What is the most dangerous destination you’ve been to? What was it like?
Danger is relative. Are we safe in a city like Chicago, St, Louis, or New Orleans where literally thousands of people are shot yearly? There are plenty of very smart people in the world who would never set foot in those cities because of their unchecked violence. As someone who often gets mistaken for Central Asian (I’m Native American, and bearded), I get racially checked by police in the USA and the UK all the time. Working class blokes have tried to beat me up in Northern England until they realized I was Native American and not Pakistani. Racism is so weird. Other times I sought danger: Northwest Territories of Pakistan, Badakhshan, Virunga, Congo. Sometimes it sought me. When you come from a place where violence already lurks around every corner because you’re not white enough, going into a war zone doesn’t really ring as all that dangerous.
The most danger I’ve ever put myself in was in the mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Only 1/4 of that country’s name rings true. After an hour-long flight into the jungle, and a four hour hike up a canyon, we arrived at a coltan mine. It was being run by Rwandan rebels (funded by UK banks) and mostly worked by doped up child slaves. Spoiler alert: I still have very bad dreams about this place. My body guard/fixer and I weren’t welcome. My camera’s film was destroyed. A dude in a suit (sans tie) appeared out of no where, claimed to be secret police (more likely a bank goon), and arrested us. Not surprisingly they had a jail on site. After six hours of negotiations and many, many fresh 100-dollar-bills, we were allowed to leave. I’ve never been closer to being shot and fed to dogs by my own hubris and wanderlust. But I survived. Travel at times can be a unstable balancing act of insane trust in humans and crazy luck. Now I’m figuring out how to go to Damascus and make a short film about the Assad loyalist keeping their bars and clubs open in the face of an extremist Islamic rebellion. Wish me luck.