He is 57, he is brilliant, interesting, pleasant, and when he speaks you hang on his every word.
His name is Benedict Allen and the incredible adventures he had are even difficult to imagine: a writer who literally devoted his life to discovery. He became famous for his minimalist travel style, his survival techniques in hostile territories, and the innate ability to immerse himself among indigenous peoples that had remained isolated for centuries.
We have often the impression that on the Earth there is nothing left to be discover. We think we know every corner of the planet and somehow we believe explorers are no longer needed.
Yet, in addition to researchers, there are some adventurous travelers who make experiences that nobody had done before, sometimes coming back with information important enough for the scientific community to deserve the title of explorers..
'I'm a cat who's used up six of his nine lives'
Aged 22, he crossed the Amazon basin by foot and canoe for 600 miles, almost dying of starvation and malaria. Few years later, he was the first known to cross the Amazon Basin at its widest, travelling for 3,600 miles in seven and a half months and being nearly shot dead by Pablo Escobar’s drug dealers.
He was the first to document his 1000-mile crossing of the Namib Desert, the first to cross alone the Gobi desert by foot for 1000 miles, the first to come into contact with the Obini (Papua New Guinea) and the Yaifo (New Guinea) tribes.
He was the only outsider allowed by the Niowra tribe to go through the male ceremony that made him into a ‘man as strong as crocodile’, that also meant being permanently scared and beaten each day for six weeks.
Allen went through all his travels with little equipment: maps, a basic survival kit, sometimes a small video camera and no GPS or telephone. He believes in fact that the GPS tends to limit exposure to the environment he wants to feel and understand deeply, preventing him from completely tuning himself with the people he meets.
"For me personally, exploration isn't about conquering nature, planting flags or leaving your mark. It's about the opposite: opening yourself up and allowing the place to leave its mark on you"
Travelling alone, without commercial sponsors and back-up are the cornerstones of his story: the genuineness of the experiences, the authenticity of the travel, the exploration with only their own resources, they all conquered.
"I belonged to the last generation that might pass through a wilderness for months on end and not encounter a single person of my own culture. It's poignant, looking back: never in all those years whilst actually embarked on a trek can I remember coming across another foreigner."
For 10 years he funded his adventures with temporary jobs, just to cover the flight fares. Only after the fifth (amazing) book, the BBC asked him to try to bring at least a small video camera with him and see what the outcome would be. For the TV this was the revolutionary beginning of an era.
'I truly wanted to be an explorer since I was 10. I was extremely driven, I couldn’t see any other choice. This meant living in uncertainty, by the age of thirty I still didn't have what my mum fondly called a Proper Job. I was, even within my profession, regarded as a maverick - or not even believed. I was prepared to face these obstacles and do without girlfriends, much of a social life or money. Ilived with my parents till I was 27. I took huge risks but in time my track record did begin to speak for itself.
if it was easy, everyone would do it!"
Discover more on his website: www.benedictallen.com