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‘I decided it was a preparation for me as an explorer.’His exploration took him for the first time to the remote Yaifo tribe — thought to be one of the last people on Earth to have no contact with the outside world.‘I was travelling through Papua New Guinea, documenting things, and ended up in this area called Bisorio.
I’m looking forward to seeing you at home.”‘His voice was part memory of things he’d said, part fantasy of things he might say — and the third part was a sort of rather haunting, delusional thing: Freddie out there somewhere calling me.‘That was the worst. But Mum always said, “Your day will come” — and that sustained me.’He had his first encounter with the tribes of Papua New Guinea at the age of 24, undergoing a lengthy and brutal initiation ceremony with the Niowra tribe to become ‘as strong as a crocodile’. They circle each of his nipples and trail down his back and stomach.‘The initiation ceremony was hell — total hell,’ he tells me.‘Our heads were shaven and we were put into little grass skirts and led into a bamboo enclosure around the spirit hut. ‘There was lots of crying and wailing in pain.‘But after a week or ten days you didn’t want to do anything but stay because you cared so deeply for your fellow initiates.‘When I returned to England with my crocodile marks, I thought, “I don’t belong”. It was very hard for my mother.’ He returned to Papua New Guinea but found he didn’t belong there either. He spent five months trekking across the north-eastern Brazilian rainforest where he twice suffered malaria, almost died from starvation and only survived by eating a dog he’d befriended. ‘It was pretty awful.‘By that stage I was going in and out of deliria, and I was crying quite often because I thought I was going to die.’When he told his story later, there were those who disbelieved him, in part due to his inexperience and also because of the speed with which he’d trekked through the rainforest.‘That did niggle,’ he says. You couldn’t stand up afterwards.’Then there were daily beatings, which continued for six weeks. ‘If you’re not believed, what’s the point of your life? ‘For the first week or so I was in shock, thinking, “My God, what have I put myself through,”’ says Benedict.