In the heart of America’s wild west lies a realm unlike any other – Slab City. It’s here that Ben Fogle chooses to begin his new series, “Ben Fogle’s Lost Worlds.” Slab City, situated in California, earned its name from the concrete foundations that once held up military camp troop huts. Now, these slabs form the foundation for an entirely different kind of community.
The “city” paints an intriguing, post-apocalyptic picture. Weathered trailers, SUVs, caravans, and even burger vans seem as though they’ve emerged from a scene in the Mad Max movies. This place, however, isn’t a cinematic fantasy; it’s a sanctuary for residents who’ve consciously chosen to operate outside the regular bounds of society. Their governance system is refreshingly straightforward: they police themselves, making external interventions, especially by uniformed personnel, a rarity.
The initial backdrop of Slab City and its perceived lawlessness might suggest caution for the uninitiated. Fogle admittedly steps into this “Lost City” with hesitation, half-expecting the notorious Hells Angels to come roaring his way. Instead, he meets “slabbers” or long-term residents who have opted for this unique life. Many are “off-gridders”, individuals who felt alienated by societal constraints, whether due to personal issues like drug dependency or societal ones like an overt focus on incarceration or intolerance for those who dare to be different. In this slice of the Sonoran Desert, they’ve found a home, albeit one without basic amenities. But what stands out to Fogle, apart from the genuine nature of the community, is the residents’ innovative spirit. Amidst the sandy wilderness, there’s a blend of artistry and entrepreneurship that’s commendable.
One resident’s statement encapsulates the Slab City ethos: “Nobody is in charge.” In this place of freedom and self-reliance, the responsibility falls on everyone. The same, however, cannot be said about Fogle’s next stop – Montserrat in the Caribbean. Once a sought-after holiday destination, Montserrat’s allure changed drastically due to volcanic eruptions between 1995 and 2010. These natural disasters transformed parts of it into “the world’s only natural-disaster exclusion zone.” Today, some of its inhabitants liken it to Pompeii, drawing parallels to the buried Roman city.
From the warmer climes of the Caribbean, Fogle ventures to the stark beauty of St Kilda. Part of his deserted Scottish islands journey, St Kilda is an archipelago situated about 180km away from the mainland. Notoriously hard to access, it stands as a silent testament to human endurance. While its history dates back four millennia, it’s been devoid of permanent residents since 1930. Yet, the memories of a challenging but fulfilling life linger, with descendants of St Kilda and Fogle himself, exhibiting a nostalgic yearning for a time long past.
Through “Ben Fogle’s Lost Worlds”, the explorer doesn’t just present places; he introduces us to lesser-known facets of human existence. From the defiant independence of Slab City’s residents to the resilient spirit of Montserrat’s inhabitants and the haunting solitude of St Kilda, Fogle captures the essence of life “out there”, beyond conventional realms.