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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 22 November 2014
SATURDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2014 17 Chaser Canadian George Kourounis takes adventure and thrill-seeking to the extreme their comfort zone. "If anybody wanted to have more It was very much a James Bond kind of moment. I climbed the side of the volcano with my tuxedo on and she had her wedding dress, it was very surreal and definitely a memory that will last a lifetime. It was a very unique wedding. adventure in their life I'd strongly recommend doing things that they've never done before, that's how you get adventure in your life. You don't have to be extreme like I am and go and drive into tornadoes and into the eye of hurricanes and such, but if you're interested in weather or into any bigger adventures like that, study, there's so many resources on the internet. Don't be afraid to ask and don't be afraid to do things that you've never done before, because that's how you really grow and expand." George's adventures have brought him to Australia, where he was stung by a box jellyfish on the Great Barrier Reef, before embarking on the harsh elements of the Australian terrain. "I was chasing storms in New South Wales, there's a lot of wonderful thunderstorms there, but not a lot of roads, which makes it hard when you're out in the countryside. We spent some time in the red centre and got some wonderful lightning out there." "We did an episode of my Angry Planet television show on all the extreme things that happen in Australia, which was a tremendous amount of fun and I look forward to coming back." Despite Australia's ruthless climate, he says he has been subjected to much more punishing weather, including in his own native Canada. "In northern Canada I experienced -44°C, with -50°C wind chills ... you're not going to survive outside in that for very long unless you've got some very serious clothing. I've been inside the Naica crystal cave in Mexico, it's beautiful, the crystals are 10 metres long and 55 tonnes, they're the largest in the world. But the air temperature inside is 52 Celsius with almost 100 per cent humidity. And with humidity that high at such a high temperature, as soon as you walk inside the cave you start to die, you've got about 20 minutes. We had to wear special ice-filled suits that allowed us to stay there for 45 minutes at a time. It's just so amazingly beautiful." He has also climbed into a giant crater of fire, in Turkmenistan, known as 'the Gates of Hell'. "I did a big project for National Geographic there last year. The pit is probably about 100 feet deep and 250 feet across. It's leaking methane and has been burning for over four decades, and I stretched ropes across and wore a special heat protective suit, and became the first person to ever descend to the bottom. More people have been on the surface of the moon gathering soil samples for scientific analysis." More recently he climbed into a volcano on Vanuatu's Ambae Island. "It's overwhelming. There's this violently boiling lake of lava but it's so hard to get to, it's a very remote island, there's not much there, you have to camp at the summit, take a helicopter, and then you have to abseil about 1,200 feet (or 400 metres) to get down to the bottom of this crater. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to get down there and then you can walk right to the edge of this violently boiling lake of lava, and it's kind of like looking directly at the surface of the sun at close range. My camera started to melt - it was just a surreal experience." George explains his job doesn't give him much down time, having recently returned from Madagascar he is now on a "top secret" adventure to South America. Despite the extremities of his lifestyle, he still gets a kick out of 'extreme sports' like skydiving, which keep his fear intact, an essential element in his line of work. "I'm not without fear, a lot of people think I'm fearless but that couldn't be any further from the truth. When I'm in a scary situation of course I'm going to be afraid and it's fear that helps to keep me alive, because it keeps me sharp. If I don't have fear that's when I get complacent and start making mistakes and get careless. "Fear without control is panic and that's when your decision-making skills go completely out the window. You have to be able to acknowledge the difference between fear and panic." After South America, he plans on travelling to Iceland in December to climb a volcano, and back to Turkmenistan in the new year to reacquaint himself with 'the Gates of Hell'.
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