Surviving Against the Odds Earth's Natural Wonders


Surviving Against the Odds

In some natural wonders, people push themselves to the limit to survive. Survival requires skill, ingenuity and bravery.


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There are some places on Earth

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that simply take your breath away.

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Lush tropical forests...

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..spectacular islands...

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..soaring mountain ranges...

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..or frozen polar worlds.

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And for the people who call these places home...

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THEY SING IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE

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..survival requires skill...

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..ingenuity...

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..and bravery.

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HE SPEAKS IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE

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But in some of the planet's most awe-inspiring natural wonders,

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people must push themselves to the absolute limit.

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High in the ancient sandstone mountains of Ethiopia,

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a mother faces a treacherous climb to give her new baby

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the best chance in life.

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On a remote chain of volcanic islands in the North Atlantic,

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a man risks his life as he hunts for a traditional delicacy.

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And in one of the greatest river basins in the world,

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a woman searches for unexploded bombs...

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..to make her land safe.

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In these extraordinary places, people find ways to survive

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and even thrive against the odds.

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The Amazon Rainforest.

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At over two million square miles,

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it's the largest rainforest in the world.

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This vast natural wonder is known as the lungs of the planet.

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Within this huge area lies the Brazilian Mato Grosso,

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a region dotted with lakes and crisscrossed by rivers.

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These waterways are home to a unique array of aquatic life.

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They're also vital for the survival of the dozens of indigenous groups

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who still inhabit the rainforest.

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One of these is the Kamayura, a community of just over 500 people.

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Theirs is a world dominated by spirits.

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They believe that in order to survive,

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these spirits must be kept happy.

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Like his father before him,

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he is a shaman,

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a priestlike figure involved in the ancient rites of the community.

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It's his job to placate the spirits with festivals and offerings.

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In two days' time,

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he is in charge of one of the most important festivals of the year.

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If it's a success, the Kamayura believe

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the spirits will protect them in the months ahead.

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Fail, and people will get ill.

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The shaman must organise a massive fishing trip.

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The fish they catch will be fed to warriors

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who must keep dancing all day in order to appease the spirits.

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It's the day of the fishing expedition

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and the whole village is involved.

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The shaman and some of the other men

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stretch nets across the width of the lake...

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..then move forward, forcing the fish towards the shallow end,

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where everyone else is waiting.

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It looks calm, but just below the surface

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is a world of dangerous wildlife -

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electric eels,

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piranha fish

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and caiman.

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The shaman has spotted an enormous electric eel.

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It could deliver a 600 volt shock.

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Enough to badly injure someone.

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A good catch today depends on a secret weapon -

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pieces of timbo vine.

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HE CHANTS IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE

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The shaman's father blesses it.

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The timbo vine contains a powerful toxin.

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Beating it releases chemicals into the water that will poison the fish.

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Once the timbo starts to work,

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helpless fish will float to the surface.

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The young boys will be allowed in first.

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It's a good chance to practise their fishing skills.

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Suddenly, all across the lake, fish start rising to the surface.

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The shaman's four-year-old son is taking part for the first time.

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In less than an hour, they have caught hundreds of fish...

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..and no-one has been hurt.

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Now all the fish must be taken back to the village and smoked,

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ready for the ceremony tomorrow.

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THEY CHANT IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE

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It's the day of the ceremony.

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The warriors must dance long and hard

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if they are to please the bird spirit.

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THEY CHANT IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE

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It's up to the shaman and his family

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to make sure they have enough fish to eat

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so they have the energy to keep dancing in shifts all day.

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The longer and more energetically they dance,

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the happier the spirit will be.

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Well fed, the warriors dance for over eight hours.

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The shaman has done all he can to make the festival a success

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and guarantee the wellbeing of the village for another year.

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In many of the world's most extreme natural wonders,

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people believe that their best chance lies with a higher power...

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..even if getting that help puts them at an even greater risk.

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Ethiopia.

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In the highlands, the Tigray Region

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is home to the Gheralta Mountains.

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At over 2,000 metres above sea level,

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these geological giants are the last survivors

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of an immense sandstone plateau

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which stood here 25 million years ago.

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This natural wonder towers over the barren,

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semi-arid lands of the plain below.

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In their shadow lies the village of Debre Salem

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and baby Dawit is the newest arrival,

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much to his father's delight.

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But Dawit has born into one of the toughest places

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to live on the planet.

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Drought and famine are never far away.

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One out of every 15 children die before their fifth birthday.

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Dawit's parents believe that if he is to survive, he must be baptised.

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But baptism in the Gheralta Mountains

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means taking an extraordinary risk.

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Dawit's parents must take him to a church called Abuna Yemata Guh.

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This church, carved deep into the mountain face,

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is almost 400 metres above the valley floor.

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It's all about getting closer to God.

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But the only way to get there is to climb.

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Tradition has it that boys must be baptised

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on the 40th day after they are born.

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For Dawit, that day is tomorrow.

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Following a difficult birth just over five weeks ago,

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it's going to be a tough climb for Dawit's mother Ngisti.

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It's the morning of the baptism.

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At 9:00am, the family set out.

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It will take them several hours to get to the church.

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But there's no alternative.

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Tradition dictates Dawit must be baptised today.

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Ngisti doesn't feel strong enough to carry him herself

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so her mother has agreed to take him, strapped to her back.

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They aren't climbing alone.

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The whole village is coming to witness the ceremony.

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The first section is a tough 20 metre climb.

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There are tiny indentations in the rock

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to serve as hand- and footholds.

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A slip here would be fatal.

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Dawit's parents are only too aware of the risks.

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Someone died here a few years ago while climbing up to the church.

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They've been climbing for almost an hour.

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More than three hours after leaving home,

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Dawit and his family reach the baptism chapel

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just below the church.

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PRIESTS SING IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE

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Dawit's parents believe he is now under God's protection,

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but they must still take him to his first Mass.

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To reach the church, they must climb again.

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And there's a 200 metre drop on both sides.

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Once across, they face a narrow ledge that leads to the church.

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BELL RINGS

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BELL RINGS

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Once the service is over, Dawit and his parents

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must take on the last part of this dangerous journey - the descent.

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In many of Earth's natural wonders, people believe enlisting the help

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of a higher power is crucial to their chance of survival...

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..even if it means risking their lives in order to get that help.

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But in others, people face injury or death every day

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for a very different reason - to make their home safe.

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The Mekong Basin, Southeast Asia.

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A sprawling natural wonder crossing six countries.

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This vast river network carries nutrient-rich sediment

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over a 300,000 square mile area.

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One country occupies more of the Mekong Basin than any other - Laos.

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Laos is one of the most fertile places on Earth,

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part of Asia's Rice Bowl.

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But farming here is fraught with danger.

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35-year-old Lumngen was a child when her father was injured

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by an exploding bomb and remembers hearing his screams.

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Laos is littered with around 80 million unexploded bombs,

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dropped by the Americans during the Vietnam War over 40 years ago.

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300 people are still injured or killed by them every year.

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Despite the danger,

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the vast majority of the population still farm the land.

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But Lumngen has chosen a very different path.

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She is in charge of a bomb clearance team for an international charity.

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Today, Lumngen and her team are about to tackle a new area.

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It's in the heart of the Mekong Basin

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and was one of the most heavily bombed parts of the country.

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The land Lumngen is clearing today is going to be used

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for a new school, but first the team must make sure it's safe.

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SHE SPEAKS IN HER OWN LANGUAGE

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Their metal detectors must scan every inch.

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OSCILLATING TONE

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It's painstaking work.

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HIGH-PITCHED TONE

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Two hours into the shift, one of the team finds something.

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One American cluster bomb contained

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up to 600 of these small explosive devices.

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Each one can kill or maim.

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It's too dangerous to move

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so Lumngen and the team must destroy it here with a controlled explosion.

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Lumngen's colleague must carefully place

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an explosive charge on the device.

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HE COUNTS DOWN IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE

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It's taken the team several hours to find and make safe one small bomb.

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It could take weeks to clear the rest of this area.

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Next morning, an emergency call has come in

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from a village 50 miles away.

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They think they've found a large bomb.

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Lumngen joins a bomb disposal team as they head out to investigate.

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The team want to get there fast.

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In poverty-stricken Laos, bombs are often sold for scrap metal.

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It's a huge 500-pound American bomb.

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Bombs this size are regularly found in Laos.

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Despite its age, one false move

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could still trigger a massive explosion.

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They need to carefully take out the fuse before moving it.

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A bomb this size, packed with explosives,

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is often taken to a special site for a controlled detonation.

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Any detonations take place at 3:00pm

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so locals know to steer clear.

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It's already 2:50.

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The deep sandpit should absorb the bomb's blast wave.

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Before they detonate it, the team need to move

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over half a mile away to be safe from flying shrapnel.

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On the dot of three...

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Three, two, one...

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Lumngen and the charity she works for

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have destroyed over 28,000 explosive devices.

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But so far, only 1% of the country is known to be clear of bombs.

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Lumngen chooses to risk her life to help make her country safe.

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But in one natural wonder, people put their lives on the line

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for nothing more than a traditional delicacy.

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Halfway between Norway and Iceland lie the Faroe Islands.

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One of northern Europe's most dramatic natural wonders.

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The 18 islands are formed of layers of basalt lava.

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These bare and rocky outcrops were once joined together,

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part of a vast single plateau.

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But 50 million years of erosion has carved out these jagged islands.

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One of the smallest is Skuvoy.

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Measuring four square miles, it's home to just 32 people,

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including town mayor Harry Jensen.

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Skuvoy is renowned for an ancient tradition.

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On just one day a year, the men of this island scale the cliffs

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to collect a much prized delicacy -

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fulmar eggs -

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and the harvest is due in the next few days.

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Harry is the main organiser of this year's egg collection.

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He's taken part since his teens

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and is one of the island's most experienced climbers.

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They're looking for a cliff face with plenty of nesting birds.

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There's only a six-day window once a year to make this climb.

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The fulmars all lay at about the same time.

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After six days, embryos form and then the eggs can't be eaten.

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But the weather's been bad this year

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and tomorrow looks like it might be their last chance.

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Next morning, the weather's not good.

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But Harry decides the climb will go ahead.

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The climbers use traditional kit -

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harnesses and slippers made of wool,

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which they believe give them the best grip on wet rock.

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The egg harvest is THE big event on Skuvoy

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and nearly everyone turns out to help.

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It's 10:00am. The wind is getting up.

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They need to get going before it gets worse.

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Five people are climbing here today.

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Three are younger climbers,

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who are attempting it for the first time.

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It's over 75 metres down to the first ledge.

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Once there, they must take off their safety harnesses

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before they can search for eggs.

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It's Harry's turn.

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At 57, this might be his last climb and he's determined to tackle

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one of the island's most challenging descents.

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HE YELLS

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He's aiming for a ledge almost 150 metres down,

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where there should be plenty of nesting birds.

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Despite years of experience, Harry's struggling to control the descent.

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Halfway down, he passes the first ledge.

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And the fulmars don't welcome the intrusion.

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They spray foul-smelling vomit over anybody threatening their nests.

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Harry's nearly down to the lowest ledge.

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Once down on the ledge, Harry knows he must be careful.

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The weather's getting even worse. Visibility is now dangerously low.

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Time has run out.

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But heaving Harry back up isn't easy.

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The wet rope is heavy and it's catching on the ledges.

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There are now ten on the rope.

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They have got nearly 240 eggs to share between them.

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For the time being at least,

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this death-defying annual egg harvest seems set to continue.

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In many natural wonders around the world,

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people do whatever they think they must

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in order to survive and maintain their way of life.

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But in one, millions risk their lives

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for nothing more than pleasure.

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The Alps - Europe's most famous natural wonder.

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This mountain range runs for 750 miles

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and spans 11 countries.

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Along its length,

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there are more than 80 peaks that tower over 4,000 metres...

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..including the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

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This pyramid-shaped peak is a magnet to holiday-makers.

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A million skiers, climbers

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and hikers pour into this region year in, year out.

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But the lure of the mountain has a price.

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People are killed or injured on its slopes every year.

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The mountains, when you know how to read their signs,

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it's a safe place to live.

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When you don't know your environment, it's dangerous.

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Robbie Andenmatten is a helicopter rescue pilot for Air Zermatt.

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He's on high alert.

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This is one of the busiest times of the summer.

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It's a Swiss national holiday

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and thousands of visitors are pouring into the area.

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The Matterhorn is a very physical mountain.

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It is exposed to different conditions

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and within half a day, can change entirely.

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Robbie is one of 11 pilots responsible for patrolling

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a 780 square mile area around the Matterhorn.

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PHONE RINGS

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HIGH-PITCHED BEEP

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It's 12:30 and Robbie is already

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on his fifth emergency call-out of the day.

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A walker has had a heart attack 2,500 metres up near the Matterhorn.

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If the patient is to stand any chance,

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Robbie must get the doctor and paramedic to him fast.

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Robbie and his team respond to more than 1,600 call-outs every year.

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In the mountains, it's much more difficult to fly

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because of the wind or because of the visibility,

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the fog, the weather.

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Should I fly close to this mountain with this speed wind,

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with this visibility? Yes or no? That's the decision making.

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That's the tough thing.

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Robbie has found the patient.

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Now he needs to get the medics on the ground.

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But the terrain's too steep for him to land.

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He hovers as close as he can

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so the doctor and the paramedic can jump out.

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A strong gust of wind could potentially bring him down.

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As the team try to help the patient, Robbie flies to flatter ground...

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..and waits.

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It's the very worst of outcomes.

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But something Robbie and the team constantly face on these mountains.

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Conditions can change so fast here

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that even experienced climbers can get into trouble.

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For me, it's very hard.

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In my career, I had to get people I know,

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mountain guides, several mountain guides

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which got killed in the last 20 years here

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and that's hard to get over, that's for sure.

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But on one of the busiest weeks of the summer,

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there's no time for Robbie to rest and reflect.

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It's not long before he's responding to another call for help.

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Two young climbers have lost their way

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hiking down a steep mountain pass and are trapped.

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When I'm going to rescue, I'm focusing on the patient's side -

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getting the doctor to the patient.

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I really push the limit.

0:46:390:46:41

They've reached the spot where the stranded women were last seen.

0:46:450:46:49

All along the sides of the valley

0:46:500:46:52

are near-vertical cliffs over 300 metres high.

0:46:520:46:58

They're a well-known black spot for inexperienced hikers.

0:46:580:47:02

They have found the hikers, but there's nowhere to land.

0:47:140:47:18

So the doctor will have to be winched down.

0:47:200:47:22

Please don't move.

0:47:300:47:32

Don't move.

0:47:320:47:34

It's not easy for Robbie to hover in the strong wind in this area.

0:47:370:47:41

-Be careful. Be careful of this.

-Yeah.

-Don't move.

-OK.

0:47:460:47:51

-RECORDED VOICE:

-100ft.

0:47:590:48:01

The women are shaken, but they aren't hurt.

0:48:130:48:18

During this week,

0:48:270:48:29

Robbie and the rest of the Air Zermatt team

0:48:290:48:31

dealt with over 50 calls.

0:48:310:48:34

But despite the many accidents that Robbie has witnessed,

0:48:420:48:45

in his spare time, he, too, heads into the mountains.

0:48:450:48:50

To live here in these mountains, you're free.

0:49:020:49:07

It's adventure, it's the thing I'm used to. That's all I can tell you.

0:49:070:49:12

SHE SPEAKS IN HER OWN LANGUAGE

0:49:130:49:16

Robbie has climbed the Matterhorn 70 times.

0:49:170:49:20

Like so many others, he can't resist the call of this natural wonder.

0:49:210:49:26

Formed over millions of years,

0:49:370:49:40

our natural wonders are the most spectacular places on Earth.

0:49:400:49:45

But they are also the most extreme places in the world to live.

0:49:460:49:52

There are hardly any species on the planet that have found a way

0:49:530:49:57

to survive in all of them.

0:49:570:49:58

One is the human race.

0:50:030:50:05

There is little doubt

0:50:070:50:09

that some of our natural wonders are rapidly changing.

0:50:090:50:12

And whether or not people will continue to live in them...

0:50:150:50:18

..remains to be seen.

0:50:210:50:23

The chance to film the Ethiopian baptism was a unique opportunity.

0:50:400:50:45

The climb would happen just once so there was no room for error.

0:50:480:50:54

Before the shoot, the team need to recce the climb

0:50:560:51:00

and work out just how they're going to film the family on the day.

0:51:000:51:03

It'll take a few minutes, just settle down and so on.

0:51:060:51:09

I'll just get everybody into a harness of some sort.

0:51:090:51:12

It's down to rope access specialist Tim Fogg

0:51:130:51:17

to find a way for the crew to film the 400 metre climb and stay safe.

0:51:170:51:21

And there is a whole array of climbing gear

0:51:240:51:26

to get them up the mountain.

0:51:260:51:29

The thing we should do just safety-wise

0:51:290:51:30

is not stand underneath the climb

0:51:300:51:32

cos if somebody does fall off it, it'll be like...

0:51:320:51:34

Anne Sommerfield is the director.

0:51:340:51:38

I'm just so impressed that our mum and baby do this

0:51:380:51:41

without any ropes or any safety net.

0:51:410:51:43

It's just... Yeah.

0:51:430:51:45

It's quite good to have an appreciation

0:51:450:51:47

for what they're going to do.

0:51:470:51:48

The hand- and footholds have been worn down over time

0:51:540:51:58

and it's hard to get a good grip.

0:51:580:52:00

Yeah, I think everybody else made it look like light work,

0:52:070:52:10

but it's actually...

0:52:100:52:11

It is a bit nerve-racking.

0:52:110:52:13

-That's you.

-My knees are shaking!

0:52:220:52:25

-Good stuff, well done.

-Thank you!

-Brilliant job.

0:52:250:52:28

All right, I'm glad that bit's done.

0:52:350:52:37

But there's still a long way to the top.

0:52:380:52:41

Once there, they have to face the tiny, narrow ledge

0:52:510:52:54

that leads to the church.

0:52:540:52:56

So there's about a 200 metre drop

0:52:560:52:58

and the path is only about that wide.

0:52:580:53:01

This bit, I'm not looking forward to.

0:53:010:53:03

With fierce winds,

0:53:170:53:18

it's a nerve-racking walk along the narrow ledge.

0:53:180:53:21

With Tim's help, the whole team make it safely to the entrance

0:53:370:53:41

and have a chance to see the church.

0:53:410:53:45

It's fabulous. It's quite a moving place, really.

0:53:450:53:50

With the recce done,

0:53:560:53:58

the team are now fully aware of the challenge ahead.

0:53:580:54:01

In a couple of days when we do this with Mum and Baby and Family,

0:54:010:54:05

we only get one crack at it because for us, it's got to be one take.

0:54:050:54:09

It's the day of the baptism.

0:54:160:54:18

We're going up!

0:54:180:54:20

Today is the day we see if all the practice

0:54:200:54:22

and all the planning pays off.

0:54:220:54:24

I think it will.

0:54:240:54:26

With so much of the action taking place on the cliff face...

0:54:280:54:31

..it's going to be up to aerial cameraman Peter Keith

0:54:320:54:36

to get all the big wide shots.

0:54:360:54:38

This is quite an exciting moment. The family are just below.

0:54:410:54:44

I can see Peter and he's got the drone out

0:54:440:54:47

and he's going to capture some of that walk.

0:54:470:54:49

Come on, Mum and Baby.

0:54:510:54:53

There they are.

0:54:590:55:01

There's Mum and Mum's mum, Granny, with Baby on the back.

0:55:010:55:04

But there's a problem.

0:55:120:55:14

The drone is running out of battery.

0:55:230:55:25

Anne has to make a decision whether to try and get the family to wait.

0:55:270:55:31

Yeah, let's hold them.

0:55:340:55:36

She's going, she's going, she's going, she's going.

0:55:390:55:42

Stay with it, stay with it.

0:55:440:55:46

It's fine. No, it's fine.

0:55:500:55:53

The decision is taken out of her hands.

0:55:540:55:57

Peter will have to get what he can.

0:55:570:55:59

When the dad is up, then they stop.

0:56:010:56:04

With just moments of life left in his battery,

0:56:100:56:12

Peter manages to capture the amazing first images of the cliff climb.

0:56:120:56:18

That's stage one done, yep.

0:56:200:56:22

Onwards and upwards.

0:56:220:56:24

BELL RINGS

0:56:240:56:26

Next, the crew need to film in the tiny baptism chapel.

0:56:260:56:30

-WHISPERS:

-So we've got Alastair inside

0:56:320:56:35

getting some shots of the baptism.

0:56:350:56:37

Above, we've got Peter flying the drone

0:56:390:56:41

so that's why we've all had to hide under some shelter

0:56:410:56:44

so that we're not in shot.

0:56:440:56:45

With baby Dawit baptised, it's on to the church.

0:56:500:56:53

Now we will try

0:56:550:56:57

and have just the two mothers coming out along the ledge.

0:56:570:57:01

That's all we're going to try and do!

0:57:010:57:02

The team's planning pays off.

0:57:120:57:14

They manage to capture this unique celebration

0:57:150:57:18

from both ground and air.

0:57:180:57:21

It was good! It was really good.

0:57:220:57:24

Guess what? We got it!

0:57:240:57:27

In some of the world's most spectacular natural wonders, people push themselves to the limit in order to survive. For the people who call these extraordinary places home, survival requires skill, ingenuity and bravery.

In Brazil, the Kamayura people of the Xingu Indigenous Park believe they must appease the spirits if they are to remain in good health. Fail to make the spirit happy, and ill health could follow. At one key festival, an offering is made to a 'bird spirit'. The villagers must dance to please him. The longer and harder the dance, the happier the spirit will be. To make the festival a success, it is down to Perri and his family to organise a massive fishing expedition. The villagers must catch basketloads of fish to sustain the warrior in their hours of dancing. But catching the fish means venturing into the nearby lake, also home to caiman, electric eels and piranha.

In Ethiopia, belief in a higher power leads villagers in the Tigray region to climb a huge, vertiginous mountainside to reach their church. They believe it's vital and beneficial for their children to be baptised here, despite the obvious dangers. Just 40 days after giving birth, Ngisti must climb 400 metres to have her new son Dawit baptised.

Laos is one of the most fertile places on earth. Despite this, life is dangerous for the rice farmers in this beautiful country. During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped an estimated 270 million bombs on this small country and approximately 80 million of them failed to explode, remaining in the ground to this day. Every year, 300 people are killed or injured by them. A group of bomb-disposal experts, led by 35-year-old Lumngen, clear fields for a new school. It is painstaking work, and a job that comes with obvious risks.

In the North Atlantic, between Scotland, Iceland and Norway, lie the Faroe Islands. Once a year, islanders on one island, Skuvoy, scale the sheer-sided cliffs to obtain a traditional delicacy, fulmar eggs. The birds nest hundreds of feet up the cliffs, and islanders reach them using traditional climbing equipment, including woollen slippers and harnesses. It's a death-defying feat, all for the sake of a traditional delicacy.

In Switzerland, millions of people come to the Alps every year, and take risks for nothing more than pleasure. The hikers, climbers and skiers who come here are drawn by the mountains, but many of them are injured or killed in the pursuit of fun. The programme joins the Zermatt air rescue team on their helicopters as they patrol the area and attempt to save lives.


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