I promised to write again about my most recent journey, setting out what actually did and did not occur on my most recent trip. Now that I'm a bit more lucid I think the best thing is for any future book or TV programme to tell the truth of it.
Three extracted by helicopter...
That said, here are two pics that I'd like to share – of me with Eka (an eighteen year old who was also sick with malaria, and whom we also managed to extract, along with her husband Peter who was working with me to send parties of men east, west and north, to call an aeroplane in). And Soli, an amazingly young bloke who helped carry my stuff as I grew weaker, trying to find a way to cross the Central Range.
Some of the coverage was thoughtful and sensitive, but after I was "found" not very not much. As one journalist chuckled, "you could almost hear the sound of rival editors gleefully sharpening their axes!"
And just to clarify: as those who know my work will appreciate, obviously I didn't go to discover a "lost tribe." The Yaifo were, of course, no more "lost" than I ever was and nor did I go there uninvited. And nor were they a separate "tribe" – a word, as you may know, that I generally avoid. I had been escorted by them to their small settlement back in 1987 – see The Proving Grounds – and now, simply a specialist in travelling through remote rainforest, I wanted to see (again invited and escorted in) if Korsai, Fifi and others – individuals I valued as friends – were coping all right today. Afterall, they were rather isolated - but ironically with the huge gold mine of Porgera and other potential issues right on their doorstep.
And another thing! My dear wife Lenka was naturally concerned, but never really angry about my journey, or the "risks" I took. She knows me. She knows the preparations I take. She trusts me. It's true that she did become angry – but that was about some of the more imbecilic "news" coverage.
On a lighter note, there was this:
© Peter Brookes, The Times
And this, poking gentle fun (kindly sent to amuse me during my recovery by the extraordinary adventurer Alastair Humphreys):
© Private Eye
NEW speaking appearances for early 2018
A Rainforest journey with YOU!
Do join me in the Amazon! Departing on 10th August 2018. We'll immerse ourselves as much as is sensible amongst the wildlife and peoples of the Ecuadorian forest. I promise not to get lost! (Seriously: I never have NEVER, despite what you hear, got lost).
For details, see:
Swim and kayak with pink river dolphin in the Napo River, camp out on the shores of the Amazon, encounter extraordinary wildlife in Yasuni National Park and the remote Cuyabeno wildlife reserve and meet with local Amazonian communities to understand their distinct way of life.
I'm back, safe and sound – though a little dazzled and weak.
It's not all glamour out there!
Unfortunately fighting erupted among two of the communities in the region, and after several weeks living with local people – who WITHOUT EXCEPTION were friendly and caring – I was unable to get out of the forest, and thus re-join the Outside World. I had by then contracted malaria and Dengue Fever. It was a bit of a "close run thing..."
I didn't ask or expect to be rescued, but when that chance came, thanks to a helicopter and Sam Greenhill (Chief Reporter of the Daily Mail) I was more than happy to take up the offer – and extremely grateful, if only for the sake of my wife and family. I'm glad to say we were also able to bring out a young woman with malaria called Eka – and her husband Peter too.
One of the loveliest things about this whole episode is the amount of support I've received – not just be those who do actually know me, but by complete strangers, and also many fellow writers, adventurers and explorers who have stepped in during the press maelstrom, when I couldn't respond to the more fanciful accusations – of incompetence, colossal bravery, arrogance, ignorance, heroism, imperialism etc., due to my absence and illness.
I'm still not entirely myself – but I'm getting there. Very shortly, I'll write a handy list of facts – a sort of Guide to the Perplexed. The press coverage generally has been not just silly but woefully ill-informed about PNG – and also my techniques and "philosophy." I've not read more than a word or two of the coverage, but friends, family and well-wishers have given me the gist. My chief concern is for Papua New Guinea, I country I first lived in over thirty years ago. It's not a place of cannibals, and nor is it a place of head-hunters. You wouldn't have thought so.
I may be some time...
During the making of BIRDS OF PARADISE: THE ULTIMATE QUEST I made – by chance – an extraordinary discovery. The Yaifo, a band of people I made first outside contact with some 30 years ago, are still living in the remote Central Range of PNG. Furthermore, no outsider has made the journey to visit them since the rather perilous journey I made as a young man three decades ago. This would make them the remotest people in Papua New Guinea, and one of the last people on the entire planet who are out-of-contact with our interconnected world.
In October I'm hiring a helicopter to drop me off at the abandoned mission station, Bisorio – a forlorn place that was featured briefly on the BBC programme. If – and only if – it seems ethical, I'll try to assemble a small party, as I did all those years ago, and head off up-slope into the mists to visit the Yaifo in their remote abode. The aim is to create a brief record of their lives, if possible tracking down some of those, such as Fifi (pictured playing with a makeshift pig's bladder ball) who'd remember me. Last time (see The Proving Grounds), the Yaifo "greeted" me with a terrifying show of strength, an energetic dance featuring their bows and arrows.
On THIS occasion who knows if the Yaifo will do the same, or run off, or be wearing jeans and T shirts traded eons ago from the old mission station. But of course I may not even make it there – even aged 26 it was a very hard hike up through rather treacherous terrain.
Nor do I have an obvious means of returning to the Outside World, which is somewhat worrying, especially at my advanced age. Either I must paddle down river for a week or so – or enlist the help of the Yaifo, as I did last time; together we managed to achieve the only recorded crossing of the Central Range. So, if this website or my Twitter account falls more than usually silent – I'm due back mid. Nov – it's because I am still out there somewhere.
So, don't bother to call or text! Just like the good old days, I won't be taking a sat phone, GPS or companion. Or anything else much. Because this is how I do my journeys of exploration. I grow older but no wiser, it seems...
Two dates added to the RGS Tour!
Coming to Swindon soon!
Tues 2nd May, as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature, Wyvern Theatre
BENEDICT ALLEN – with an illustrated talk on Birds of Paradise: the Ultimate Quest, my recent BBC Two programme with Security Correspondent Frank Gardner
One man had a dream, to see Birds of Paradise in a remote cloud forest in Papua New Guinea. But before he had the opportunity to do so, he was shot by terrorists, and lost the use of his legs. By chance, he met another man, who not only had full use of his legs but also knew where the fabulous fabled birds were, because he'd been there, thirty years before. But getting to the birds, over inhospitable terrain and through wooded and mountainous tribal territories with a man in a wheelchair, was not going to be easy.
Tour of the UK!
Following the success of the two-part series BIRDS OF PARADISE: The Ultimate Quest (presently on BBC iPlayer) – I'm doing a series of lectures, as part of the RGS Regional Programme for 2017:
Adventures in Paradise:
With his usual good humour and enthusiasm, Benedict reveals the full story of his dramatic return to Papua New Guinea (recently featured in an inspiring BBC Two series) – through the swamps with wheelchair-bound Frank Gardner, the distinguished Security Correspondent, in search of the island's elusive birds of Paradise.
Please contact the above theatres for further details.
Special Stage Appearance with Frank Gardner
Special Stage Appearance with Frank Gardner: at the RGS on 1st October as part of the STEPPES TRAVEL FESTIVAL weekend.
Upcoming TV Series: Fresh off the press!!!!
Announcing the broadcast of the new telly series on BBC Two, 9pm on Friday 3rd and Friday 10th Feb:
Birds of Paradise:
the Ultimate Quest
Being the adventures and Frank Gardner and myself, as we together struggled through swamp, lake and forest to seek out Birds of Paradise in PNG. It wasn't easy! Hope you enjoy the two programmes...