Benedict Allen: Mad White Giant
A quick dash through some of the works of a travel writer with a difference.
Benedict Allen... been meaning to read his works for years, then I stumbled across a Hunting the Gugu and Mad White Giant while rummaging through secondhand bookshops in Galway. Then I got my hands on Into the Crocodiles Nest...
In Mad White Giant, at the age of 22, Allen set off for Venezuela, after saving by packing boxes in a warehouse in England. Within days, he was sliding naked around the mudflats, being taught how to hunt Pelicans with bow and arrow by a bunch of six-year-olds. He had been taken in by their village, a collection of hunts on stilts, above the mouth of the Orinoco.
From there, he tramped the whole way to the mouth of the Amazon, a perilous journey. He escapes death at the hands of Indians and gold miners, and has to eat one of his friends. He comes to become almost part of a remote but fragile tribe. Allen is not there to observe and take notes... he goes for the *immersive* experience. He tries to become one with the environment.
In Into the Crocodiles Nest, he tramps around Papua New Guinea... not really knowing what he's looking for until he's found it...a gruelling six week initiation ritual which involves intense scarification and beatings at the hands of tribal elders.
Hunting the Gugu has it's dangerous moments, but also doubles up with all kinds of hilarious misadventures, as he roams Sumatra in search of the Orang Pendek, the alleged ape-man that roams the jungle in the upright position!
For all his experiences, there's something of the Tarot Fool in Allen... he knows he has a habit of getting himself into trouble, and this is what endears the reader to him. He's tall - well over 6 feet, and blonde, yet is somehow deemed harmless by most of the people he meets, probably due to his honest naivety.
Forget Bill Bryson, this is real travel writing.
Benedict Allen's website
daev at January 5, 2004 5:20 PM