Hazen Audel is a TV presenter, biologist, natural history guide artist and craftsman. Following the success of Survive the Tribe, his National Geographic channel series, Primal Survivor, documented his adventures living with and working alongside indigenous people in remote regions of the world. Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, Hazen is a Kootenai and Salish Native American and Greek by descent. He founded The Wild Classroom, a non-profit online web-series offering teachers and students quality, natural history educational videos for use in the classroom and home. Here he recounts his brush with the illegal oil industry of South America and a hair-raising, near-death encounter as well as inspiring story of times spent fishing and partying with a local family on a palm leaf fishing shack in Indonesia.
Hazen Audel interviewWhereís home?
Spokane, Washington, in the Great North West of the United States, right on the border of Idaho and Washington State.
What has inspired you to do what you do?
Iíve always loved nature and have always been driven to read books about it, watch movies about it, learn about it and be in it - ever since my first memories. When I graduated from high school I wanted to see the rainforest for myself so at aged 19, I saved up, sold my bikes and my aquariums, mowed lawns and bought a plane ticket with about $200 left over. I landed in Ecuador and made the journey to the rainforest, naively setting up camp on the side of a remote river. I thought I would stay there until my 50 pound bag of rice and fishing ran dry. I suspected about three weeks. But I stayed there long enough to be somewhat of a fixture in the landscape and my presence was noticed by the indigenous people. They began to shyly befriend me and teach me better methods and locations for fishing. Soon I was being invited to live with them (probably because they feared that if they didnít take me in I was going to die out there somehow). My three week experience turned into about eight months. The community that took me in became my family. And I would return back every year to be with them and continue to learn all that they wanted to share. This became my lifestyle for the rest of my life.
Whatís your first ever travel memory?
I was probably about eight years old. My dad used to take every August off of work to spend time with me and take me on long camping trips in the red suburban. He would ask me where I wanted to go. I would open up my books about reptiles and amphibians and look at the range of where, say, a specific snake lives and we would set of for there. He would take me fishing all along the way and teach me how to cook spam over the campfire. One of my first memories was him telling me to look out the back window and look at the beautiful view of the mountains behind us. But all I saw was the plume of dust from the dirt road we were on. I took a glance and since it was just dust I put my nose back into my snake book I was reading. He said that when he was a kid his dad was poor and couldn't drive so he never got a chance to see mountains like that. I knew then what he was looking at. And I never looked at dusty roads and the view of mountains ever the same.
Describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, Playful, Creative
What do you dream of for our world in the future?
To be in a world with more aware and educated people that have much more understanding of nature and science, so we can make better decisions for the world. If we knew more about it and understood how it worked, we would love it a lot more and care for it a lot more.
Whatís been the biggest challenge youíve faced on your personal journey?
I have been traveling away from home, on my own since I was 19. I have had many life changing experiences. When I would return home I always struggled with how to live back in the US. The challenge is to keep the values that I learn from the cultures that I live with and not lose sight of them when I come home to constant distractions and the - the not always sincere "modern world".
Whereís the best place youíve woken up?
I have an agenda of waking up and awaiting to be amazed by a day ahead. SO there are too many to count. But if I get woken up by the sound of birds before my worries, I make sure and appreciate how fortunate in the moment I am.
Last year I went to Sulawesi Indonesia to live and learn from the Badjau Sea Gypsies. The Badjau live on the reef on houses built on stilts. They get everything they need from the ocean. While I was there I went on a solo journey exploring more remote communities. The night was approaching and I needed a place to sleep. I found some fishing shacks and was told I could use them. I settled down in a palm leaf shack with a bamboo floor that revealed the crystal blue coral reef below me. It was an amazing place. Then right before sunset a local family came by needing a place to stay as well. Regardless of language barriers, we had a party celebrating each otherís fish and roasted sea snail catches. We all slept on the floor, sharing pillows (bags of rice) and blankets and woke up to a new found Indonesian family. We all roasted up some things for breakfast and continued to laugh and enjoy each other knowing that we came from very different places in the world. I spent the rest of the morning with the family and watched them spear stingrays and we collected urchins and sea cucumbers for our continuing journeys. With big smiles and waves, we parted ways and we knew we would never see each other again. But the memories of each other will never be forgotten.
Is there one person youíve met who you feel you were so lucky to connect with?
What I have learned from travelling is that even the most unassuming person can be the one to show you the very most. You have to be very open to appreciating the best of what any person brings to the table.
Has anyone ever told you that you wonít make it?
When I was young I had dyslexia and came from a hard working family that didn't come from a place where they could help me in school (although they were uncommonly amazing in so many other ways). So my reading and math were delayed and I was also quite socially awkward. I was made fun of a lot in school and I was always pulled out of class to have private studies in the library. The librarian was hired to help me. I wanted to please her and I would stay up nights and spend hours drawing her pictures to decorate her library. She told me that I should be an artist when I grow up and draw pictures. By the time I was lucky enough to go to college, I still struggled but I was always more interested in things than everyone else around me. This is what got me to graduate and certainly is responsible for what I do today.
Tell us about a time when you felt like walking away from a project?
I once headed up an expedition on a river that had never been navigated in remote Ecuador/Peru. The first day on the water we got about a quarter of a mile down river. The entire day was spent trying to cut through huge trees that had fallen across the river, making it impossible to pass. The next day was similar. Everyone was in and out of the murky water filled with electric eels, freshwater stingrays, piranhas, leeches anaconda and parasites. Skin lesions, from skin fungus and bacteria were developing from the constant tropical wet and the mud. We were at a point of no return and had no choice but to charge and limp on. On day four we heard people down river which was a complete surprise. The people we found (or they found us) was an indigenous Huaorani group that had just settled in the area. I had lived with the Huaorani over the years and some of them recognised me from previous travels. We were invited in and our surprise visit turned into a party. We shared our food and sang and danced all night long and everyone was in good spirits. The next morning I had learned that the elder Huaorani leader of the group was banished from his original tribal group because of corrupt dealings with illegal outside logging and oil company explorations and was involved with a murder in the process. Well that same fellow confronted me and told me that we had to pay seven dollars for the nightís stay. I easily gave him what he was asking for in the form of two, one dollar bills and a five dollar bill. Somehow he became furious! I was confused. He asked now for eight dollars, I gave him another one dollar bill. He was getting more and more agitated. He asked for more in small increments and I met his demands. One of the younger Huaorani that was helping me translate realised that this older guy has never known how to count! Eventually I handed over 78 dollars, in a mess of one dollar bills, fivers and tens and twenties. I was told to run by the rest of the tribe as he was coming towards me with a spear in one hand and a muzzle loaded rifle that he was packing and running with at the same time. He was going to kill me!
We had to leave most of our belongings as this man chased us on a muddy trail for an entire day, shouting at me and trying to get a clean shot. We walked day and night for three days, never knowing if he would surprise attack us at night. On day four we heard the pounding roar of giant generators from an illegal oil exploration operation. Once we got there, our adventure was not over. We were now in the middle of uncovering a highly secretive and illegal multimillion dollar oil operation involving the Ecuadorian military and an oil company.
With forms of bribery, award winning pleads and sob pity acts we were loaded into a convoy of windowless military jeeps and dropped off at the side of another larger river. We hitch-hiked from supply boat to supply boat and eventually were on our way to safety. We limped and ran for our lives.
What keeps you going if you ever feel like giving up?
I used to work for Outward Bound outdoor school in my early 20s. It was founded by Kurt Hahn - a German war officer fighting against Hitler. He observed that in battle the young and most physically capable 19 to 27 year old soldiers and sailors were the ones dying. The seasoned older 50 and 60 year olds were the ones surviving. He found that the older soldiers had endured friends and family dying, previous battles, divorces, injuries other horrific life experiences. They were surviving because they learned they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
At Outward Bound, huge, daunting treks and arduous mountains are climbed by individuals that have never done anything that difficult in their entire lives. When you reach the top of the mountain you are exhausted and freezing, and blistered and burned and have nothing else inside of you. The epiphany is that there is another mountain in the distance ahead of you, and all you want to do is climb it. Because you now know you can.
What are you most proud of?
The quality of friends I have acquired in my life.
Whatís always in your bag Ė no matter what adventure youíre on?
Tooth brush to make my Mom happy and a flashlight to look for Bugs and cool creepy crawleys that come out at night.
What do you still dream of doing that you havenít yet done?
Beginning the adventure of someday raising a family.
Where would you like to be right now?
I travel a lot... I love travelling. However, here in my home town where I am building my house, being around my family, my garden and where I am trying to apply all that I have learned from my travels to my home life and future. This is where, being present, I want to be right now. Of course though, Iím learning Portuguese and Bahasa Indonesian Language on tape right now. ;)
What does responsible tourism mean to you?
The modern world is taking. Taking logs, taking land, taking away free flowing rivers, taking away languages, taking away diversity, take, take, take. Thatís the only way to make money for this new world that only operates by taking and selling. Forget about all that. Learn and breathe in and experience the things that are un-buyable, no matter how much money you throw at it. Showing and taking action about the things you care about as well as honour are the only things worth fighting for. These are the most important things that we have in the world.
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