The 7 Most Dangerous Travel Jobs
Here's a quick countdown of folks who are living dangerously—and taking tourists along for the ride.
Tour Guide, Chernobyl, Ukraine
For the past decade, Sergei Ivanchuk has walked visitors through the cooling towers and eerily empty corridors of Chernobyl, the Soviet nuclear power plant in Ukraine that witnessed the world's most famous—and most deadly—meltdown. It still looks as if it's frozen in 1986, and Ivanchuk often sees newspapers from that year scattered about. He doesn't wear a hazmat-like protective helmet, gloves, or gear because radiation levels are lower than they were in the late '80s. But Ivanchuk still advises tourists not to wear shorts or sandals—or drink the tap water. "You never get used to this kind of work," he says with a laugh. "It never gets boring. For me, it's about reminding people of what happened to prevent history from repeating itself." Solo East Travel, 011-380/44-406-3500, tourkiev.com/chernobyltour, day tours from $110.
Mountain Bike Guide, Bolivia's "Road of Death"
Imagine hurtling 12,000 feet down a twisting unpaved road past sheer drop-offs, nervously gripping your mountain bike's handlebars, with dirt kicking up in your face. Not without reason has this switchback (official name: Yungas Road) outside La Paz, Bolivia, the world's highest capital, been dubbed the "Road of Death." An estimated 200 people die each year, mostly when their vehicles plunge off an Andean cliff. Biking guides—four Americans and one Frenchman—give a safety primer on how to change gears and use brakes, but then you hit the road.* "As long as you can keep both of your feet on the pedals, it's safe," advises Osmar Huidobro, who works for Gravity Bolivia. "The guides will not push you to go faster than you can go." Also, a newly built alternate route means less vehicular traffic on the vertiginous 40-mile ride—and presumably fewer fatalities. Gravity Bolivia, gravitybolivia.com, all-day tours $85, tours are arranged on an individual basis throughout the year, although rainy season (mid-December through March) is the most dangerous.
Killer Whale Trainer, Orlando, Fla.
In February of this year at Orlando's SeaWorld, a six-ton orca thrashed and drowned its trainer during a live show—horrifying spectators. It's not clear if Tilikum, the killer whale, was attacking on purpose or was merely agitated. But it was not the first death that has been connected to Tilikum. In 1999, a trespasser who had apparently climbed into the orca's pool was found dead. In 1991, the born predator joined two other killer whales in drowning their trainer.
SeaWorld is reviewing its safety procedures for orca training but says it wants to return Tilikum to shows. The company keeps 25 killer whales at its marine parks and says that its animals almost never act aggressively. That may be true, but don't expect to see us climbing into a tank with an orca anytime soon.
Bull Shepherd, Pamplona, Spain
You've surely heard of San Fermín, the annual adrenaline-fueled ritual in which revelers try to outrun bulls stampeding through the narrow streets of Pamplona. But who keeps the bulls from goring onlookers and corrals them each morning during the second week of July? Meet the dozen or so pastores (shepherds) clad in green polo shirts who try to tame the animals, protecting the runners with nothing but a long cane. "This is the most dangerous job in Spain," says Francisco Glaría, a local tour guide, who remembers one of the shepherds being gored after trying to save a runner a few years back. Between 200 and 300 people are injured each year, according to the city government council, but fatalities are rare, with only 14 occurring in the past 100 years. Novotur, novotur.com, San Fermín–themed Pamplona tours (not during the event) led by Glaría.
Beer Sherpa, Slovakia's High Tatras
As if risking life and limb were not enough, the Slovak sherpas who scale the treacherous sides of rocky cliffs and hike the steep footpaths of the High Tatras at breakneck speeds are lugging beer, too. Not just a few bottles, either, but 150-pound kegs, which they strap to their backs. Rain or shine, ice or snow, the sherpas make the two-hour hike to the top several times per day to stock the bare-bones chalets scattered along 7,380-foot-high peaks. The chalets have no power, just wooden tables lined with pints of pilsner—from freshly tapped kegs, of course. Travelslovakia.sk.