The World Nomads Podcast: Urban Exploration

Urbex – exploring abandoned buildings including hotels and theme parks. Creepy, fascinating and all with a story to tell.


Photo © Seph Lawless

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World Nomads Podcast: Urban Exploration

In this episode, we delve into Urban Exploration, otherwise known as Urbex. We chat with photographer Seph Lawless who has documented urban decay and abandoned spaces in the United States. We hear from one of the pioneers of Australia’s Cave Clan, who explore natural or artificial tunnels and caves. We learn about Bangkok’s Ghost Tower and ask, is Urbex covered by insurance?

What’s in the Episode

00:12 Sky News kicks us off

01:59 Seph Lawless

08:15 Seph takes on Disney World

12:38. Wait. What. Serial killers?

15:50 Ian and Adriana explore Bangkok’s Ghost Tour

22:36 Filmmaker Tyler Cave

28:43 Introducing the Cave Clan

29:43 Dougo, co-founder of the Cave Clan

33:26 Artists in the drains

35:59 Are you covered by insurance when urban exploring?

38:20 Next episode

Who is in the Episode

Seph Lawless has captured photos of abandoned developments to “inform people of the depth and failures of capitalism, consumption, globalization, and national economic policies”.

Huffington Post
 calls him “a master of the abandoned”. You can buy his book Abandoned: Hauntingly Beautiful Deserted Theme Parks here. Seph agreed to World Nomads featuring a few of his photos.

Seph Lawless
Seph Lawless
Seph Lawless

Ian Ryan and his girlfriend Adriana Ivkovic bribed their way into Bangkok’s Ghost Tower and recorded a video for their travel blog, The Other Side. You can watch it here.  And if that’s not enough, check out this one. Can Adriana do it?

Canadian adventurer and filmmaker Tyler Cave, who films some of his urban exploration exploits.

Dougie is one of the founders of the Cave Clan, a group dedicated to urban exploration, including natural or artificial tunnels and caves. They have branches in most states of Australia and contacts in many countries around the world.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads' Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

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Speaker 1: Welcome to the World Nomads podcast. Delivered by World Nomads, the travel, lifestyle and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Frazer Maude: Irresponsible and dangerous, or challenging and exciting. This is urban exploring or urbexing, where participants document their infiltrations of the man-made environment and post them on the internet for online acclaim. Usually the locations from communications towers and roller coasters to catacombs and bunkers, are restricted areas and often derelict. The fear is that those who take part are pushed to take ever greater risks to boost their following.

Speaker 3: That is Frazer Maude from Sky News who feel pretty much has given us the definition of urban exploration or urbex, the topic on this week's episode of the World Nomads podcast. We're going rogue.

Phil: There are plenty of abandoned shopping malls, hotels, zoos, theme parks, mansions and even airports around the world to explore. And these mostly forbidden places attract thousands of urban explorers every year. A few of whom we will chat to in this episode.

Speaker 3: Yeah plus we'll touch on that blurred line between exploration and daring Insta-worthy photos. What's your take on it?

Phil: They make me pucker up inside when I see some of them because I don't have that feeling of being bulletproof anymore.

Speaker 3: Yeah, no I'm totally with you. Our first guest though is Seph Lawless, an American-based photographer, artist, publisher, author, political activist, HuffPost contributor and photojournalist. He's best known for his extensive documentation, beautiful work, tour of abandoned places all over world. That's at least what Wiki says about him, I threw in the beautiful work bit.

Phil: Fair enough. He's been documenting the most forgotten places throughout America and sharing them as part of what he says is American history that needs to be heard. But does he get a buzz out of it?

Seph Lawless: Yeah, it's exciting for me to do. It all started very innocently enough years ago. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio for those of you listeners that don't know. Cleveland, Ohio is part of the Rust Belt region of America. And the Rust Belt was made up of cities like Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, Gary, Indiana, Youngstown, Ohio, Bavaria, Akron. So you have a bunch of cities that lap around the Great Lakes region of the country of the United States and these were some of the biggest cities after World War 2. In the country they were rich with jobs, a lot of people moved there, a lot of American manufacturing jobs.

Globalization sent those jobs overseas since World War 2 and so those cities slowly crumbled. They [inaudible] in a way. They used to be, like I said the largest cities then they dwindled to some of the smallest. Detroit went bankrupt. So you have a lot of empty structures, right, you have a lot of abandoned factories where people worked, a lot of abandoned neighborhoods where people lived, abandoned schools, abandoned malls, amusement parks. It was systemic. And so as a kid, seeing that growing up, living amongst that, there was a point in my young childhood I remember going outside and being able to do a 360 and look around. And in the back, if you lived out west or if you lived in the plains by mountains you could see mountains all around you, you could kind of relate to that. Where I lived you would turn around and 360 and almost see an abandoned structure hovering in the horizon in almost every place you looked. And it would stay there for years.

So over the years, it's been somewhat ... some areas have gotten better. Some have not. And so I started documenting them really, really early on. And it was pretty much for myself a lot of those images I have today just shoved underneath a shoebox still somewhere in a closet or something. That's how it started. It wasn't until after 9/11, which the terrorist attack here in the United States in 2001, was this huge kind of backlash and I was part of this anti-war movement. We were going into [inaudible] has nothing to do with 9/11. Our society was switching in a way, so politically it was very ... it was kind of a weird position to be in in the United States at that time. In terms of the political readings and how you express certain things.

And I was very much taught a good way to do things to show a different side of America with the promise of United States constantly going into other countries and telling other countries how to live and how to treat their citizens. We have a lot of things here we could fix first. We have a lot of problems here, we should not be going around and telling other countries what to do. I think [inaudible] lost a little bit of the moral authority in the world because of that kind of hypocritical view. And so I thought a good way to do it was to take images of what I was seeing and share them. And a lot of people don't know this about my body of work. My body of work if you look at some of the earlier stuff, was I was gonna use social media to show a vulnerable side of the country. And I wanted people outside of America to see America in the way that I was showing it.

Instagram started promoting those images to their popular page which was the old explore page. It was much different than today. The images were reaching a lot of people. From Australia, Brazil, Russia, people were shocked by what they were seeing. Most people thought, “No way that's not America that looks like a third world country.” They were seeing a side of American that they had never seen. So that's kind of where I really wanted my work to reach. It wasn't until I started sharing those images for a couple of years, where Americans kept writing me, “Where is this? This can't be America, this is a third world country.” They were having the same response and sometimes I would look, and it was only a couple hundred miles from where they lived. So unbeknownst to me, I was in denial. I wanted people to see my images and see the beginning of the end of the greatest economic machine that the world has ever seen in America. And I think people were seeing that, and it scared them in a way, fascinated them in another way. And the work really took off from there but that's really how it all [inaudible].

Speaker 3: Were you not frightened to use those images to affect change? What happened with Disney the theme park?

Seph Lawless: Yeah the Disney one was interesting in a way. I had went down there thinking that, not much, right. I was gonna go and document some abandoned parts of Disney. I never thought it would take off, I never thought it'd go viral more than once the way that it did. Especially over the world. And I was shocked, I was more shocked at what I saw once I was there. I remember going into the abandoned River Country water park, and I remember being in there I snuck inside, I was stuck inside for hours I couldn't get out because security was outside. And once I was inside I knew I was stuck there for a while. But I started filming and I started photographing very discreetly. I released the images to the press and then all of a sudden, the first thing that I did is I went home and I wrote my own column for The Huffington Post at that time. And I still remember it was about 11:00 at night. I said to myself, “People might think these images are interesting.” There was really no agenda behind it, I wasn't trashing Disney whatsoever.

I run this generic little column I wrote for The Huffington Post. It trends, it starts to get a lot of traction on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. By morning, Huffington Post calls me up and says, “Listen, we saw that you posted it up to the site last night. We gotta take it down. Disney is very upset at you, they're threatening legal action. We're sorry we just have to take it down.” And I was a little disenchanted by that, they didn't really have my back, I wasn't bashing Disney whatsoever. So I said, "Okay, Huffington Post doesn't want them, I'm gonna put [inaudible] all over my content. It ended up going viral. They were so livid at me for doing that. So what I did was I pretty much just hit them back.

Speaker 5: River Country, Big River Country-

Speaker 6: That's the musketeers singing the praises of River Country. Disney World's very first water park.

Speaker 5: River Country

Speaker 6: The water park opened in 1976. But the fun wouldn't last forever. River Country was shut down in 2001. And here it is today, a land without people. These dramatic pictures were taken just a few weeks ago by photographer, Seph Lawless.

Seph Lawless: The images that I took show a complete abandonment of a once thriving Disney water park where there's water slides covered in vines and plants and flowers and just walkways and places that are completely overgrown. Just completely abandoned and forgotten. I think that is creating an environment for alligators to thrive, to live peacefully and to go undetected.

Speaker 6: Did you see alligators?

Seph Lawless: Yes. But I saw several over the course of shooting. Yes, absolutely.

Speaker 3: Now that audio was from Inside Edition and Seph was actually banned from all Disney World properties after releasing those images which you can see in his book, Abandoned, Hauntingly Beautiful Deserted Theme Parks. And we'll have a link in show notes.

Phil: So we know he can stir things up. But, has he ever been arrested?

Seph Lawless: I have. I've been arrested several times. 90% of the time I get charged with criminal trespass. After I appeared on a national Fox News show here in 2014, about 24 hours after that aired, and my face was on, and I was interviewed, there was a warrant issued for my arrest. Me and my lawyer go in, we think that we're just gonna have to pay a fine, we're gonna have to bond out and then go back to court, and we'll fight it and do what we normally do. Prosecutors there wanted to make an example out of me once we were there, they upped it to a felony, they tried to say I broke and entered, which I didn't there's no evidence of anything. Thank God I had my lawyer there.

My lawyer got the prosecutor to keep it as criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor not a felony. I never been charged with a felony. [inaudible] overstepped their prosection, city officials wanting to make an example out of me and as I'm waiting for my lawyer, having that discussion with the prosecutor outside [inaudible] in the interrogation room. And they flat out told me, "Hey man, we love your stuff it's cool, but we have to deal with parents are upset, bunch of little kids, you're starting this whole urban exploring kind of new thing it's blowing up. We got a lot of kids going into these places that you're going into [inaudible], these parents are upset."

So I knew I was a scapegoat at that point. And I knew at that point forward I'm gonna have to be really, really careful. And it's happened several times after that. I remember in 2016, Thanksgiving, almost two years to the day, I went and shot an abandoned mall right outside of Chicago. Blew up, it went Facebook live, it started to trend on Facebook. Again, about 24 hours later I get a call, "You have a warrant for your arrest." Yada, yada. I handled that over the phone and then just literally two months ago, the same detective calls me up and says, "Hey Seph, is there any way I could get a signed copy of your book." I said, "Yes, absolutely." I mean, sometimes I think you have to break the law to do the right thing. And I don't encourage people to do it, but I know that the images that I'm gonna capture are gonna be very [inaudible], very powerful and very important for people to see.

Phil: Oh you don't intend it, but clearly it does encourage other people to do it.

Seph Lawless: Yeah it does. I mean, without a questionable doubt. And I can't tell you how many little kids have come up to me and said, “Hey, we went to this abandoned house in the woods near us. We wanna do this and we really wanna go there, can you help me get in there?" I don't entertain those things though. A lot of people get upset that I don't give out exact locations to a lot of my places. One of the reasons that I don't, unless there's a really good contact and there's a really good reason to do so, I really don't do it. And the reason I do that is I do my best to try to not only protect them from getting hurt, because I've been hurt, I've fallen through floors, I've had things fall on me, I've been attacked, I've been in homes where serial killers use to dismember their victims' bodies. So I mean I've been in horrible situations that kids just don't know what they're getting into.

Phil: Houses where serial killers have dismembered bodies?

Seph Lawless: Yes. Where I live in East Cleveland, there's a city that's adjoined to me and over the last two years, 2014, 15, there were a couple of serial killers that acted independently of one another. Anthony Sowell and Michael Madison were using abandoned houses and structures to rape and dismember their victims' bodies. And I was in those homes either before or right around the same time. I get chills, or I even wake up sometimes in the middle of the night just jaunted by that experience because I can't imagine what I would do if I walked in on such a thing, right?

And you'd be shocked about what happens in some of these places. I went into an abandoned house and one of the rooms was set up as a sex dungeon. It was the creepiest thing I've ever seen. And these are instances where I get the authorities involved. They wouldn't know otherwise. And so again, I'm walking in on things that are just ... these are places that are used, that are not just for people that are going in there urban exploring, or taking pictures. These are places that criminals use, drug dealers use, these are places that derelicts live.

You'll walk in on someone living in one of the rooms in a hotel. You could have a 100-room abandoned hotel and you walk in on a homeless guy and that's his home. And you literally walk into his home. I mean, imagine how awkward and dangerous that could be. And it can be. And so I deal with those things quite a bit. It's daunting and kids really don't know any better. They see the images and they're glamorized through my images and work, then they're looking at it in a superficial way and they don't really know the backstory to a lot of it.

Phil: But do you think that's also part of the reason why urban exploration is such a buzz that you might come across that sort of thing?

Seph Lawless: I don't know if it's so much that. I think a lot of people have that fear and I think a lot of people ... people love a patrolled space and patrolled environment to experience their fear, right? But I think more so, I think the draw is when you go into these places it's very theatrical like a movie set. I worked as a location scout for Hollywood movies, a lot of these places that I've shot have been used in movies like Transformers, Avengers. There's this draw to it once you're in this it's like you're in a whole other planet. I want Americans to see what's happening to their country from the comfort of their suburban homes and their smartphones. That's exactly why I started taking pictures.

Speaker 3: So great to have Seph on this episod, in fact,t he said to us, remember if you're doing urban exploration, “I have to be part of this episode.” Really excited, too, that he's given us a heap of his pics to share.

Phil: Fantastic. Look there's 185 meter tall skyscraper abandoned in Bangkok. It was about 75% complete when construction was stopped during the Asian financial crisis back in 1997. And urban explorers can't get enough of what's now called The Ghost Tower. Including Ian and his girlfriend Adriana. Ian has in fact been up twice.

Ian: The first time I went alone because Adriana was in Cambodia alone. Because I still had school and a test. We went to study abroad over there, we're in college right now. And that weekend I just decided to go alone because I had nothing else to do. So I was like, “All right, this needs to happen.” I have always wanted to go up this tower ever since I saw a video on it and we're in Bangkok so it was the time to do it.

So I put in Sathorn Unique Tower, that's the real name of the ghost tower. And I told my taxi driver and he knew exactly where to take me. It took about 40 minutes from where we were from. And it's right in the middle of Bangkok. And I got out right into this alleyway. And I saw these big steel fences and they had warning signs all over them saying, “Dangerous. Keep out. Illegal.” And all these different words. A lot of Thai words that I did not understand of course. And it also had pictures of previous tourists and people that liked to adventure and got caught and got arrested going up and they were posted on the wall. So that made me a little bit nervous. But I decided to knock on the steel door and hopefully a guard would come by. So I kept doing it for a little bit and a guard looked over the fence and said, “Bangkok police.” Or he would call the police and get me in trouble. And then I spoke a little bit of Thai I said [Thai]. Which means hello.

Adriana: [Thai]

Ian: Yeah [Thai] is hello. And he kind of respected me a little bit more. And then we started talking and he said, “No I don't have the key the right now. The other guard has it.” He didn't speak that great of English but I could understand him a little bit. And so he went back over the fence and I didn't see him so I kept knocking. And at that point he didn't look over so I was kind of walking around the ghost tower looking up and trying to figure out different ways to get in. And when I couldn't find a different way I decided, “All right. If I'm gonna get in trouble, I might as well go all out.” So I started knocking on the steel doors again. And, without a doubt, this guy came over and was saying, “Go away.” And then I was like, “Please just let me in the first floor.” So he let me in the first floor for 100 baht.

And on the first floor it's very, of course, it's barren and there's a lot of graffiti. But I kept begging him to go up to the top floor and I would pay him more. “I don't have the key, I don't have the key.” So I was like, “All right. Today might not be the day.” And them out of nowhere when I was just walking around alone, aimlessly looking at crazy things in there, holes and voids, he came over with a notepad which this wasn't in the article actually. I forgot to tell the person that made the article this.

Adriana: [inaudible]

Ian: So he came over with a notepad and he starts writing down these numbers. And I was like, “All right I have no idea what this means.” And it said 12 and then he put 2 on the other side of the notepad. So I was like, “All right 12, 2.” I went around 12 in the afternoon so I was like, “All right it's right now.” And then he wrote a date which was three days later or two days later and so I basically put it together that he wanted me to come back so I could pay him the money and the key would be there. It was funny, he was writing like a sun so I would know that it was in the afternoon on the paper. And so then I was like, “All right, I'll come back in a couple days for sure.” So it was kind of like an appointment like you're going to the doctor's office.

So that brought me back a couple days later and I got in right away because the guard remembered me. And I paid him 500 baht which is about $15 to $20. And he unlocked the padlocks to the second floor. And from there we just went up and, or I just went up I was alone and I went up 50 flights of stairs. And it was the most unreal experience because you get a 360 view of Bangkok. You're all alone and you have heard horror stories of this building. And crazy stories so it was a crazy adrenaline rush I never felt. And it was the excitement of being where not a lot of people have been before.

Speaker 3: So what are some of the crazy stories that you'd heard about the ghost tower?

Adriana: Well first of all, to clarify, I'm pretty sure back in the day a couple years ago it was open to the public. From my understanding, I had read earlier that it was considered to be an indoor hike. And it wasn't illegal to go up there. And then we heard ... we don't know if it's true, but we had heard that there had been druggies who would go there at night and then people were committing suicides in there and so the government shut it down because they figured it wasn't really a safe place for the public. And then it became really illegal where they would have a security guard and whatever. But we had seen YouTube videos where it didn't seem to be hard to get up there. What do you think, three years ago?

Ian: Yeah about three years ago that's when we first watched the video on it.

Adriana: And then it became more unapproachable which, I don't know, I think we need to check our facts a little more on that. But from our understanding that's kind of like the vibe we got.

Speaker 3: Was it precarious climbing ... did you say it was 47 levels?

Ian: Yeah 47 to 50 levels.

Speaker 3: What were the dangers?

Adriana: The staircase the whole way was uneven. And then at one point in the first or the second video we show this at level 33 you actually have to switch staircases. So it doesn't go straight up. And that was kind of scary because you have to walk down a hall and you see how-

Ian: You see holes everywhere. You see just bathtubs laying around, toilets, clothes from past people that either lived there or left.

Adriana: Yeah. Who knows what went on in there so it's kind of spooky the whole time from stories we heard or whatever.

Ian: Yeah so walking up, it was dangerous. You're definitely able to do it pretty easily but it's still scary that you could fall through holes or not be able to see something that's why it's a good time to go during daylight hours.

Adriana: Yeah I couldn't have done it alone. So I'm surprised that Ian went up by himself. I would've been really scared by myself.

Speaker 3: We'll share their blog, The Other Side. Which includes video of their visit to the ghost tower. Now Tyler Cave is a filmmaker and he's also explored the ghost tower among other abandoned places.

Tyler Cave: Yeah so for my job, traveling around different countries I like to check out things to do in different areas and I came across this ghost tower. My brother actually, he lives in Thailand, he's been there about four years now. And he was the one who ... he told me about it and he said, “Oh you should go check this out when you're here.” And I did a bit of research and I found some stories of people going up there and checking it out. I just heard mixed reviews of how it's been now locked down and hard to get into you can't get into it anymore and I kind of just went to check it out and after a few attempts, I finally ended up making it up and checking it out.

Speaker 3: I can only imagine how fascinating it is to be in an abandoned building. How did you feel?

Tyler Cave: Yeah I mean it's really cool. For when I first arrived there it was all gated up and I ended up meeting another guy, he's a German guy, and we were both kind of walking around outside. We didn't know each other or anything like that. He was backpacking as well throughout Asia. And we started chatting and he mentioned that he was kind of doing the same thing and he was trying to get up as well and so we kind of teamed up together and we started knocking on the tin that was surrounded by the building and waited about 10 minutes, no answer and so we were about to leave and we decided to give it one more chance and we knocked a bit and we saw a guy coming through the little hallway, you could see a guy. And he comes over to the gate and he says ... he starts talking in Thai and he said like, “No, no, no, no.” And we're like, “We can give you money.” Basically, we ended up giving him roughly $10 US to get access to it. And he opened the gate and we went in and he had the keys, I guess he was one of the guards there and he opened the gate to the ghost tower.

From there we just basically walked up the staircase, stopping around in each floor checking things out on the way up.

Speaker 3: It's not your first experience in an abandoned place. You also ventured somewhere in Bali?

Tyler Cave: Yeah I've done a bit of stuff in Bali. There's an abandoned hotel there we checked out as well and I was with a few other friends which is pretty interesting as well.

Speaker 3: Was the adrenaline there? Was it exciting?

Tyler Cave: Yeah I think the thing is with finding these places it's just I mean obviously they're places that people don't see often. And it's like a new perspective of something that people don't see much of just because of now social media blowing it up and everything. All these spots are getting exposed and all these tourist destinations that once years ago were really hidden and people didn't know about, are being found and now finding these abandoned areas that are locked up and hidden it feels kind of like more of an adrenaline rush and excitement to see these places and actually get access to these places because it's more of an accomplishment to get access to these locations that you're not actually being able to get access to on a regular basis.

Speaker 3: So you're Canadian. What sort of gems have you got there?

Tyler Cave: Yeah so I'm from Vancouver Island in British Columbia. And there's a few different things, not too many abandoned buildings there, I live in a small city actually. And we have a few different things, there's actually one little place on Vancouver Island, it's an old abandoned hotel as well that back in the day never ended up getting built. So it's just a concrete foundation. And it's all graffitied up and it's looking over a little waterfall and a river in [inaudible] near my hometown and that's the place I like to check out and kind of bring friends to. It's nothing like the ghost tower or anything up in Asia and those abandoned buildings there but it's pretty cool just to show some people around that area in my hometown.

Speaker 3: There seems to be some blurred lines though between what you're doing and what Seph is doing. And then the people that are going for the ultimate selfie, the ones that post on Instagram and often get sponsorship out of it, but it can come at a high cost in fact here have been some deaths. Is that urban exploration is kind of what I wanna know.

Tyler Cave: Yeah, I mean, I see these photos and videos that people are taking in these crazy locations and I mean personally, I'm not gonna be risking my life to be doing anything like that. I'm not gonna be hanging off any buildings, I'm not gonna be taking selfies off the side of buildings or anything like that. If I'm gonna be going up anywhere urban exploring I'm gonna make sure it's like a safe area and making sure it's done properly. Even though sometimes obviously going into these locations it's locked or maybe not legal a lot of times, I'm not gonna be risking my life or doing something just for a photo it's not worth it in the end.

And I know that you're saying these people are getting sponsored posts and they're getting these brands with people, they're like, “Oh you're going to these areas and taking these photos.” But personally it's not an objective for me at all. I just like to explore certain areas and see different perspectives of things. But yeah I'm not gonna be going up to these areas and dangling and walking on edges and stuff like that. I'll make sure everything is safe before I attempt anything like that.

Speaker 3: A great idea, Tyler, as ... look there have been fatalities, a newspaper exec fell to his death from a top floor of a London hotel while taking pictures.

Phil: Yeah and Rebecca Bunting, some consider the queen of urbex photography. She was swept away in a storm water drain while also taking pictures.

Speaker 3: And then there was the Chinese climber, which I so can't believe that vision is still available of him falling to his death. He died after falling 60 odd stories. Just Google urbex fatalities and there are headlines everywhere and it happens in our backyard here in Australia. As we're about to find out. The Cave Clan, considered the pioneers of urban exploration here and it was over three decades ago, Woody, Duggo and Sloth, all very Australian names.

Phil: That's their real names?

Speaker 3: Yes, yes exactly. They ventured out to explore Diamond Creek and they now have members from around the world.

Speaker 10: As we sleep in the dead of night, they come. A secret society that descends deep into the underworld beneath our cities. Their faces as hidden as the labyrinth of highways, tunnels and caves they explore. The Cave Clan, around the world, beneath cities, like Paris and New York. Whole communities exist underground. They call it urbex, urban exploring. And the closest you may ever get to them is here on the internet where they post many of their discoveries.

Phil: We have one of those Cave Clan founders with us. Duggo, do you consider yourselves pioneers?

Duggo: Well, we were definitely, I think anyway, the first group to sort of move beyond their own city. As in, we sort of started in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. And then we went to other parts of Melbourne and then yeah [inaudible] branch is sort of in most cities and members around the world. I think we're the, probably to this day I guess, as far as physical when we go over there and explore we're probably one of the only groups that have done that. There's a lot that are online we've got friend that are overseas. So I guess from that aspect we probably are the pioneers but we're definitely not the first. There's people exploring in the catacombs of Paris hundreds of years ago. And even in Melbourne there was a group called The Drainiacs around in the 40s and 50s. Yeah I guess pioneers is a fair enough description.

Speaker 3: I believe also Berlin's great for some underground exploration.

Duggo: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually one of the old school Cave Clan guys is moving over there, Andy Days. He's actually was born in England been here his whole life and he's moving back before [inaudible]. I haven't really done much in Europe. I've been in the catacombs of Paris and I've done the I did the Harry Lime from The Third Man movie from Orson Welles was in [inaudible] but anyway that basically is Orson Welles' character get chases through these really cool tunnels under Vienna. Quite surreal walking along the same place that someone was 50 years ago in a movie but we've got a video on YouTube where we sort of compare it from the movie and us being there. Or Russia is supposed to be really good, too. They've got some tunnels but they've just got all this crazy stuff. Stuff that we can only dream of here because we're just a baby as far as structures. We've still got some cool old prisons and hospitals and things like that but nothing like they have in Europe.

Speaker 3: So it's not just drains, because when I think of going underground I just kind of get this image of ... and I'm sure this is what most people think ... it's a little bit of water, smelly, rats, stuff from sewers. Am I painting a picture that's entirely false?

Duggo: You are but it's an accurate false picture because that's the ... and when I say accurate, as in everyone that hasn't been down there pretty much says what you said but there are blue stone ones and sand stone, red brick. And then there's waterfalls and stairways and a variety of different shapes.

Speaker 3: Have you every discovered anything in terms of history?

Duggo: Stuff has been found. But not physically by us. I mean, when I went digging in Melbourne I found these tunnels which have a good backstory that ran from Parliament house to what was then the Red Light District. And in American it was basically how the politicians to get to the Red Light District without being seen.

Speaker 3: That makes sense. Is there any link between this kind of urban exploration and the out world?

Duggo: Definitely is. There's a lot of people in The Cave Clan, I guess we sort of attract that kind of people. There's a lot of aerosol artists in the group and then just artists in general and musicians and a lot of people that know about The Cave Clan and all about [inaudible]. He's a guy that records music and sounds down in the drains and tunnels and inside bridges. A lot of the big bridges are hollow so we sort of get into them and some of it's pretty cool. And there are days, probably 90% of people that do it are photographers.

Speaker 3: A couple of final questions. Safety. Do you recommend anyone jumping into a drain to have a look around?

Duggo: Now that I'm older and I have my own kids, I wouldn't suggest that people just ... which is sort of what's happening because the social media side of it has gotten so popular. Where there might've been a couple hundred people exploring drains in Australia, there might be a couple thousand now. And you hear a lot more about people getting washed out and living luckily. But there are a lot more accidents happening and people have died doing it.

I once had a lady ... it was a pretty sad story ... but Brian McHugh was this kid who died a couple of days before Christmas, this was like 20 years ago. He got washed through my local drain. The drain that I used to sort of used to explore when I was a kid. And he actually tried contacting me, he got my phone number and called me at home on my home phone number. And I sort of basically said, "You're too young." He was only 14 at the time. And he said, "As soon as I'm 18 I'm gonna join the clan." And he made his own Cave Clan shirt and him and his friends would go and they were sort of exploring drains anyway.

But we sort of had a you had to be over 18 policy. Anyway, he ended up drowning, they got caught in a flash flood and while he was missing his friend managed to climb out. They got washed out into the creek and then he climbed up the bank but Brian didn't make it and they were searching for him for a few days and I just got this phone call and I sort of picked up the phone. I said, "Hello?" And I just heard this old lady with a strong Scottish accent and it was Brian's mom. And she was crying, she was upset and she was basically begging me if I could go out to the tunnel, find somewhere that he might've crawled up but I sort of knew where they were and how bad the storm was. I knew that he was dead. So maybe in hindsight, if we had've taken him under our wing maybe it wouldn't have happened.

Phil: As fascinating as this topic is, can we make it absolutely clear that World Nomads does not condone the activity. Nor do we insure it. Trespassing, breaking and entering, they're all illegal activities and we can't insure anything that's illegal. Plus many of these structures are obviously in decay and they pose a danger of injury to you. You know this when you enter, right? And part of your contract with us as a travel insurer, or with any travel insurer, is that you agree you will not put yourself at unnecessary risk or do anything that exposes your insurer to a claim. That's the deal. If you don't keep your side of the deal, we don't have to keep ours. We can't keep ours. If you're hurt of if you're arrested, if you become trapped, it's on you. I strongly suggest that you take urban exploration as something you enjoy vicariously. In other words, let someone else, preferably someone with the skills and the training and the right equipment, let them take all the risks and you sit back in safety and look at the pictures and listen to the stories.

Speaker 3: Yeah good advice. Having said that though, Spree park, been in there, and narrowly missed out on going into the abandoned water park in Vietnam. Didn't realize they accepted the bribes, Phil.

Phil: Look, it happens. But we're not endorsing it if you're doing it, you're on your own is what I'm saying. Don't misunderstand this episode of the podcast as an encouragement to do it or an endorsement of it or as any way that we may insure you whilst you doing it. That is just not true. But as World Nomads, as people who love travel, I think it's a fascinating topic to talk about.

Speaker 3: I couldn't agree with you any more. Now because we mentioned insurance, you know what you have to play.

Phil: Here it is.

Speaker 12: The information provided by our travel insurance is a brief summary only. It does not take into account your personal needs and does not include all terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions and termination provisions other travel insurance plans describe. Coverage may not be available for residents of all countries, states or provinces. Please carefully read the policy of origin available at For a full description of coverage.

Speaker 3: When's that album coming out?

Phil: Love it.

Speaker 3: We will have links to our guests and Seph's pics in show notes. But where are we off to next, Phil?

Phil: We're going to Portugal. I'm really looking forward to that one. Look, if you've got any feedback on the episode or suggestions for future topics that you want to hear in the podcast then please email us at

Speaker 3: Now you can get the World Nomads podcast on iTunes or download the Google Podcast app, make sure you subscribe, too and you can also ask Alexa in Google Home to play the World Nomads podcast.

Phil: And they will. Bye.

Speaker 3: Bye.

Speaker 12: The World Nomads podcast. It's per your boundaries.

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