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A new venture beckons! On my very first expedition, to the northern Amazon, I found myself attacked one night by two drunken goldminers with knives. I ran off, jumped into my canoe and paddled off into the darkness - and eventually capsized, losing almost everything that I needed in order to survive. But oddly enough, though I was perhaps 75 miles from the outside world, and was only 23 years old and knew little about how to cope in the rain forest, I did survive - after some three weeks, by now having contracted two varieties of malaria, I stumbled out into the daylight.

This experience made me decide to do things differently. If I was going to carry on undertaking expeditions, be some sort of 'explorer' and a useful environmental scientist, then I should learn from people who saw the forest not as a threat but as their home. It gave them their food, medicine, shelter.

And so emerged my philosophy, as it were; I started a clean sheet, in 1984 heading off into the lowlands of West Papua - the Indonesian, western half of New Guinea. With very few resources, just lots of naivety and enthusiasm, I managed to head off through the swamplands with anyone local who was happy to accompany me. These people were the To-oo, and though I could hardly communicate with them - see picture with me trying my best with sign-language! - I think they understood I was someone who simply wanted to listen and learn. And this is what I did, over the next few days and weeks - desperately vulnerable out there, but aware that I was a witness to people and places that we in the Outside World had little understanding of.

In time, we came upon the Obini, a people then unknown to the wider world, and though there were almost constant communal wars in those days, and my companions, the To-oo, were regarded with great suspicion, the Obini were good enough to invite me into their settlement. We didn't stay long, but they were kind enough to tell me all they could about their lives.

And now, all these years on, I wonder what has happened to this isolated settlement, and indeed what has befallen the To-oo, Momwina and others who helped me on my way.

Forty years later, are they still passing on precious life skills to their children? Are their forests safe - indeed, are they there at all?

In mid November I'm heading back to find out. As usual, I'll travel without a sat. phone and GPS but instead will trust to the skills of the indigenous people. Some will think this foolish, but this is, in the end, my skill set. The technique has served me well over the course of no less than four decades, since that very first expedition to the Amazon.

Back then, it struck me that if I truly wish to 'listen and learn' I should be prepared to do this on terms dictated by the locals, and not trust to the technology of my world. And time and again the trust I have shown in indigenous people has been deeply rewarded, and in turn I've been allowed to witness so many great wonders on our planet, while being kept safe.

Do keep up-to-date as I prepare, and as the expedition unfolds, via my accounts on Twitter - @benedictallen - and Instagram - benedictallenexplorer .


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