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Travel: Christina Dodwell: How I became one of the crocodile people

When explorer Christina Dodwell travels she takes several passports. One is current, the others old passports that hold valid visas. Her old-style British passports are positively bulging with stamps, and exotic ones at that.

You won't find her snapping up a last-minute package deal to Spain; she prefers a 5,000-mile stint on horseback through Southern Africa. Over the last 20 years Christina reckons she has travelled to about 80 countries. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Russia, Siberia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, China are just a few of them.

She visited China in 1984 when it became possible for independent travellers to visit more easily. Apparently, every time she crossed a provincial border an official stamp was required, and she was issued with a special "alien's permit" to tuck into the back of her passport to accommodate all these stamps.

In her passport she also has a proliferation of Madagascan stamps. Since 1993, she has made eight visits. She has written a book about the place, and made a television film and a Radio 4 series about it. Most recently it is her charity project that takes her back to this very poor country. The charity funds a radio drama series that promotes welfare and family planning. Flicking through her passports, Christina casually recalls the occasions she has feared for her life. The bite from a hunting spider in Kenya which would have killed a child, and left her paralysed for 10 days. The time in New Guinea when her raft upturned in heavy rapids in a cold river. Another aquatic adventure in the South Pacific when Christina was swimming and her companion started pulling bits of bait out of a bag and scattering them around her. It seems her companion wanted to show her his friends, the sharks.

Then there was the time Christina was initiated into manhood by the New Guinea lowlanders known as the crocodile people. The initiation took the form of a skin-cutting ritual and Christina was scarred on the shoulder with the mark of the scale pattern you find on the forehead of the crocodile. The idea is that whenever you are in frightening and painful situations you know that you've probably been through worse already. It certainly seems to have done the trick in Christina's case because her experiences haven't dampened her wanderlust one little bit.

She says her passport is her most prized possession and she can't ever imagine calling a halt to her adventures.



1 February 1951