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EXPEDITIONS

"The age of adventure is far from dead so long as people like Benedict Allen tread the earth." 

Ian Hamilton

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N.E. AMAZON TRAVERSE

While the wider objective of his first (1983) expedition was a first crossing between the Orinoco and Amazon River mouths, crucially this meant completing for the first time a crossing of the unsurveyed NE Amazon, then threatened by the Brazilian government's Perimetral Norte' road project. Benedict Allen set out on this, his first independent adventure, aged just 22, eventually emerging from the forest only after several weeks alone, wracked by malaria - and sadly having resorted to eating his dog in order to survive. 

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'FIRST CONTACT,' WeST PAPUA

A 1984 expedition mounted with the help of a remote people known as the Momwina to make contact with an even more remote people known as the Obini- at a time of almost perpetual communal fighting, and as missionaries and loggers prepared to move in.  The lowland swamp-forest home of the Obini comprised a region that was the least documented in the whole of New Guinea. Today, the only record of the Obini's way of life remains that from this expedition of almost forty years ago.

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DEEP IMMERSION, SEPIK

Benedict Allen's approach as an 'explorer' is best exemplified by this (1984/5) expedition - which centred on his decision aged 24 to undergo a secret and sacred initiation ceremony in Papua New Guinea in order to understand something of the  world of the Niowra.
He and indigenous initiates were locked away, extensively scarified and beaten every day for six weeks. Nonetheless, the only outsider ever to have gone through the rite, he counts the experience a very great privilege. 

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TRAVERSE OF CENTRAL RANGE, PNG

A first recorded crossing of the Central Mountain Range, completed in 1987 with the help of an isolated community known as the Yaifo,  who at first mistook him for an encroaching gold miner and threatened to kill him, and Papuan companions, on arrival. Eventually, Benedict Allen continued with Torres Strait Islanders by traditional canoe to Australia, and though eventually reaching his objective, which was to spend time with an aboriginal community in the Gibson Desert, was briefly shipwrecked and resorted to eating limpets.

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CROSSING THE AMAZON BASIN

The first known crossing of the Amazon Basin at its widest – a 3,600 mile journey of seven and half months.  The 1992 expedition was beset by difficulties: near the outset, Benedict broke three ribs falling off a horse - this during an early attempt at self-filming -  and descending down the Putumayo River through Colombia was chased by hit men belonging to the drug baron Pablo Escobar. With skills taught him by the indigenous Matses community of the Peru/Brazil border he finally accomplished the journey - but only after having been robbed and left to die by illegal loggers.  

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THe SkElETON COAST, NAMIBIA

A first recorded journey along the complete length of the 1000 mile Namib ("Skeleton Coast"). No one had been permitted to travel the entire diamond-scattered and harsh, but ecologically delicate, desert. Benedict Allen was given the privilege by the Namibian government - on the basis he'd forgo the use of vehicles, even to rescue him, and instead walk with three camels. These he trained in the Kalahari and then, with help from the Namibia Conservancy and indigenous Himba, set off into the sand and rock.  

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3000 MILES OF PREPARATION, MONGOLIA

A five and half month trek by horse and camel from the forests of Siberia, across the open plains of the Mongolian steppe -  this by way of preparation for a 1000 mile lone crossing of the Gobi Desert. As usual, it was by tuning into local skills -  in this case those of Tuvan reindeer-herders, Mongols and Kazaks -  that the 1997 journey was possible. Even so, an attack by blood-sucking flies led to a delay in reaching the Gobi - which Benedict had to cross on foot at a rate of 30-40 miles a day before the winter set in. 

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THE TRUTH ABOUT FAWCETT, XINGU

The Kalapalo community have long stood accused by outsiders of the murder of the mystically-inclined Col. Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Xingu, a tributary of the Amazon, in 1925. Benedict Allen set out to record their point of view - and made the discovery that the renowned advocate of indigenous rights Orlando Villas Boas had persuaded the Kalapalo to confess to the murder in order to put a halt to the endless  speculation. Probably Fawcett died less glamorously, of disease and starvation, as he wandered on, still searching for his mysterious Lost City.    

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INTO THE BERING STRAIT, RUSSIAN FAR EAST

A 1000 km trek with dog–team and indigenous Chukchis through the Arctic in what turned out to be the "worst winter in living memory." The journey ended with an attempt at crossing the pack-ice of the Bering Strait to Alaska: without phone or GPS as usual, Benedict seized the chance of this exceptional cold snap to head off alone with his ten loyal dogs - but finally turned back, having been separated from them in a blizzard. In an ever-warming Arctic, the Strait is likely never to freeze over again in our lifetimes.    

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THE LAST 'MEDICINE MEN,' GLOBAL 

Whether immersed among the Vodou 'witchdoctors' of Haiti, the shamans of Tuva, the traditional healer-priests of the Mentawai in Indonesia or Huichol pilgrims of Mexico, Benedict travelled the world to record the first major TV documentary on so-called medicine men. (This marked his first return to Sumatra, where, a generation earlier, he unfortunately ended up having to stitch up a cut to his chest without anaesthetic and using his boot-mending kit.) 

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SECOND CROSSING, THE CENTRAL RANGE 

During a return to PNG to film birds of Paradise (with BBC Security Correspondent  Frank Gardner), Benedict heard news that the Yaifo community he'd visited as a young man had survived. In 2018 he repeated his trek into the highlands and was reunited with Korsai, a friend who'd helped him climb the formidable Range on the first occasion. However, Benedict was then trapped by communal fighting, contracted dengue (and malaria for the fifth time) - his disappearance causing headlines around the world. 

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