"I belonged to the last generation of 'explorers' that might pass through terrain for months on end and not encounter a single person or item of their own culture."
Such isolation seems inconceivable today.
Benedict Allen was born in Macclesfield, UK, the son of a test pilot who was then helping develop the three R.A.F. 'V' bombers, particularly the Vulcan Mk II.
Profoundly impressed by his father's sense of mission, from the age of ten he focused on becoming some sort of 'explorer' who would launch out to investigate the world.
With this firmly in mind, he read Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia - where he undertook three expeditions (researching a volcano in Costa Rica, remote forest ridge in Brunei and a glacier in Iceland) in his final year.
There then followed a spell at the University of Aberdeen, where he juggled a Masters Degree in Ecology with a perhaps overly ambitious plan to cross the un-surveyed forests between the Orinoco and Amazon river mouths. Unable to find sponsors for such an undertaking, the twenty-two year old finally decided to go alone, working in a warehouse to earn his airfare, and thereafter trusting to the skills and generosity of indigenous people.
It was an overly simplistic and almost hopelessly naïve idea but, after manner, it actually worked - until towards the end, when he was attacked by goldminers and had to walk out of the forest for weeks alone, and further hampered by two varieties of malaria. He had completed his first mission - the first recorded crossing of the remote NE Amazon - but only just.
Having succeeded on his first independent expedition only by the skin of his teeth, Allen now determined to learn from indigenous people about the forest that had almost killed him.
This principle would became the cornerstone for all his future endeavours: instead of raising money through endorsing commercial products or through the support of organisations back home, he would travel alone, immersing himself among people who saw these unfamiliar environments not as 'wild' or threatening but as their home.
Having undergone a traditional ceremony in PNG that was said to transform boys into 'men as strong as a crocodile,' he went on to learn from other indigenous communities at first in rainforest, then desert, then Arctic.
In 1992 he also began recording his journeys through an innovation of the time, a hand-held video recorder. Able to dispense with a camera-crew, he was introducing not just a new technology - and incidentally becoming the unwitting 'Father of the Video-selfie' - but allowing millions around the world for the first time to experience the real-life ups and down of an authentic adventure.
AN ALTERNATIVE STRATEGY
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, Benedict Allen's expeditions now deliberately relied not on taking along Western companions and our alien technology but instead on the knowledge, skills and trust of indigenous people, whose landscape he was trying to understand. 'Journey with a map and all you'll ever come back with is a better version of that same map,' he once said.
Equally, by recording his journeys with a handheld video camera, he was freed from the artifice of an accompanying camera-crew - together with their copious baggage, high cultural impact and Health and Safety procedures - and re-defined not just how we see the 'remote' world, but the landscape of TV itself.
As well as sharing his experiences through books and TV programmes, Benedict Allen shares his wide-ranging experience of handling adversity in order to advise - and hopefully encourage, entertain and inspire - live audiences.
Whether talking on the need to adapt to changing circumstance (for example, having been chased and shot by assassins belonging to Pablo Escobar), or how to maintain belief in your mission (in one notable case, having been robbed and left to die by loggers in the Brazilian Amazon) or how to create a team from scratch (as he had to at minus 45 Celsius), or simply the importance of combining together to forget your differences in times of crisis (as he had to while undergoing the world's harshest male initiation ceremony), Benedict demonstrates how we might succeed in our own 'jungles' against the odds back home.
TV & BOOKS
Benedict Allen's journeys are depicted in his ten books - including two Sunday Times sellers – and six BBC television series, as well as other ground-breaking TV programmes for National Geographic, The History Channel and Channel Five. Mark Thompson, then Director General of the BBC, described him as 'part of the history of television.'