For 18 days last month, the entire world seemed to be equal parts captivated, terrified and hopeful as we waited for those 12 young soccer players and their coach to be rescued from a cave in Thailand. While Navy SEALS and dive experts tried to figure out how to reach the boys through the increasingly dangerous underground passages, a group of eight birds’ nest hunters were part of a team exploring the mountain almost 3,200 feet above, wondering if there could be a way to get to them from the top down.
Maann Thonglao was one of the men who left his regular dangerous job of collecting edible birds’ nests to travel 1,200 miles north and take part in an equally dangerous venture. “Normally we work at about 300 meters high [to collect birds nests]. But on this job, we are getting as high as 500 or 600 meters,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We found a couple of holes, we tried to get into them but they were dead ends.”
As we all held our breath, all of the boys and their coach were successfully rescued during a daring three-day operation. Thonglao and his fellow nest collectors presumably boarded a flight south and resumed their work in a different set of caves, climbing bamboo scaffolding and rickety ladders to gather swiftlet nests. Despite being made entirely of bird spit, the nests are considered a delicacy and are a crucial ingredient in birds’ nest soup. Thonglao said that his terrifying cave climbs are worth it, because the nests can sell for up to $1,200 per kilogram, depending on their quality.
Thonglao is far from being the only person who is willing to risk his life for some of the world’s most decadent, expensive or exceedingly rare foods. Here are four other edibles that require crazy risks and death-defying hunts before they end up on a menu.