Passport: 'Everybody was pretty annoyed to find that I was alive'

My passports do not tend to live very long. They usually go rotten as a result of too much time spent in the jungle, and then somebody in some South American country refuses to handle it. I once had trouble leaving Papua New Guinea because my visa had been sucked off the page in the rainforest. It was just like a decomposing forest leaf joining the eco-system. At the time, in fact, I had been undergoing an initiation ceremony with a local tribe and I had acquired neat scars like crocodile bites all over my torso. In Papua New Guinea these are seen as seals of office, or badges of honour. In a way, I suppose, those scars were like my passport of the jungle. But I was too embarrassed to try to get out of the country with them.

"The other snag about travelling in the jungle is that there are no passport controls when you move from one country to the next. I once crossed from Peru to Brazil on foot without getting stamped. I didn't worry at the time, because the Brazilian authorities were accommodating enough when I eventually reported to them. But a couple of years later I found myself in huge trouble when trying to re-enter Peru. When they typed in my name at immigration, the computer gave a big beep. It turned out that in Peru I was supposed to be dead. The area where I had been walking was a bit of a hot spot for drug-smuggling and was considered dangerous. They had launched some huge expensive army operation to look for me, and even had my guides arrested. Understandably everybody was pretty annoyed to find that, in fact, I was alive and well.

"On the subject of drug-smuggling, I once had quite an odd experience at Heathrow when stepping on to a flight to Bogota in Colombia. I had already been through passport control but suddenly there was this man in a dark suit taking me aside. "Why did I go to Colombia so often," he asked? "Because I'm an explorer," I told him. He told me to stop taking the mickey. "I've never heard of you," he said. It was a bit scary for a while, though he let me go in the end.

"Airports are always the worst places. When I was flying to Mongolia via Moscow, a friendly man at Heathrow had helped me get all my heavy camera equipment onto the plane. Trouble was, when I got to Moscow, they refused to reload my luggage for the connecting flight. I had already paid one official a $200 bribe, when another one came and demanded $500. I had to stoop to showing him my BBC card to stop him from getting my luggage down from the plane.

"Getting into Mongolia at that time had been amazingly difficult. When I applied for permission to do my programme at the embassy in London, they said: "We don't know. You go and find out yourself." What that meant was that I had to fly to Mongolia to get the paperwork done, then fly back to present it at the embassy.

"Anyway, Mongolia was pretty fascinating, if arduous. The toughest thing was losing all my pack animals - three horses and three camels - to a swarm of biting flies. They sucked all the beasts' blood out and laid maggots in their genitals, which swelled to the size of melons. I was devastated because we had already done a thousand miles together. But the locals couldn't understand why I was being so sentimental about mere animals. In fact they found the sight of me comforting my dying horse fascinatingly bizarre.

"One funny thing that happened to me in Mongolia was that the local equivalent to the KGB gave me the top-secret co-ordinates of their wells so I could find them in the desert. Anyway I trekked out for miles only to find that the wells were all padlocked. I started looking under nearby stones for the keys. No good. I had to completely retrace my steps."

Benedict Allen is an explorer, writer and broadcaster. His latest series, 'Edge of Blue Heaven', started on BBC2 last Thursday and will continue for the next five weeks.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable