Stranded and alone, 22-year-old Benedict Allen had to fight his way through 100 miles of the Amazon Rainforest – the most inhospitable jungle on Earth. He spent over 28 days trying to find his way out of the forest, escaping deadly predators and holding on to his mind, which was slowly losing its grip on reality.
Benedict’s story made headlines when it first came out. A gaunt, young English man made it out alive! But there was one little caveat that upset the public. To survive, he did something that caused several organizations to condemn him publicly.
In truth, I think none of us are in a position to judge this adventurer. God only knows what we would have done in his position…
Benedict Allen grew up idolizing his dad, a test pilot who got to fly across continents and explore new lands. “I assumed that one day I would be an adventurer just like [him],” he told reporters from Discovery Channel (DC). Benedict longed to be like James Cook or H.M. Stanley, great explorers who feared nothing and no one.
His childhood dreams followed him into young adulthood, and, at the age of 22, he set out on his first grand adventure – a journey into the mighty Amazon Rainforest. Benedict believed that nestled in the jungle was El Dorado, a mythical land of gold he had read about in his books.
Spoiler alert – he was wrong.
In his attempt to traverse over 1,000 miles of dense rainforest, Benedict relied on two local guides to show him the way and help him survive the jungle’s harsh conditions. They taught him how to hunt and what kind of food he could pick and eat.
In addition to the two locals, Benedict had another companion with him – a stray dog he had befriended along the way. He called him Cashoe. “He was more than a dog to me,” Benedict told reporters from D.C., “He began to be my friend.”
Benedict, Cashoe, and the two locals guided, hiked, and canoed deeper into the rainforest for three months, making slow but sure progress towards what Benedict believed was El Dorado. Unfortunately, their bold crusade was about to end.
They reached an area in the Amazon River that gave way to floating rum bottles, an alarming indication that they weren’t alone. Benedict had been warned about illegal miners living in the forest. He had been told that they were dangerous people – thieves, criminals, and people accused of murder.
One afternoon, as night began to settle, Benedict and his companions walked through the trees, searching for a place to camp. There, they found more signs that they weren’t alone. They came across can openers and other tools until they finally discovered an established settlement, with tents and everything.
All of a sudden, a man emerged from within the trees. His name was Mendez, and he appeared to be the camp’s chief. “What are you doing here?” he threw Benedict a suspicious glance. Innocently enough, Benedict told him he was after El Dorado.
Mendez’s face softened, and he chuckled, “No, no, no, mi amigo, if you keep going downstream, you’ll be washed away by the rapids.” He offered to show Benedict a better track, one that would lead him right to his destination.
At this point, Benedict thought to himself that maybe, just maybe, he misjudged the gold miner. He agreed to camp there for the night and head out with them first thing tomorrow morning.
But as the night wore on, Benedict couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t right.
Benedict got up from his hammock and headed down to the river to see if his canoe and supplies were intact. On his way there, he overheard a conversation between Mendez and another gold miner named Eduardo. “Why don’t we slit his throat right now?” Mendez asked.
To Benedict’s horror, the two gold miners were discussing the possibility of getting rid of him for good. “What about his guides?” Eduardo wondered, “Would they mind?” “No, they couldn’t care less,” Mendez asserted.
Adrenaline flooded his body. He began quivering with fear, a piercing sense of dread thumping in his ears. With no time to waste, Benedict ran to his canoe, all the while whispering to himself, “run, get out of here, run, get out of here.”
With Cashoe by his side, Benedict paddled further away from the camp, leaving behind the two local guides and the crazy group of gold miners. At first, he was relieved. But as soon as he let himself breathe, it dawned on him that he was stranded in over two million square miles of rainforest, all by himself.
After about an hour of peddling away from danger, Benedict decided he should camp out for the night and wait for the sun to rise. But even the warm rays of morning light couldn’t soothe him. As the first light came up, he looked at the immense forest around him and then at himself, a teeny-tiny needle in a haystack of dense shrubbery.
Without his guides, Benedict had no way of knowing where to go. More so, the young traveler didn’t think he had it in him to survive. He spent the first few moments paralyzed with fear but finally convinced himself to get moving. “Pull yourself together,” he said.
Benedict went through his supplies to see whether he had enough to get out of the rainforest. It looked like he had enough rice and dry meat to last him for about two weeks. He also had a machete, a mosquito net, and a survival kit with him.
Benedict hopped back on the canoe and started making his way into uncharted waters. As he went further and further upstream, he began to feel a bit hopeful. Maybe he had a shot at getting out, he thought.
Benedict’s optimism was quickly flushed down by the violent rapids he encountered. He had to drag his canoe through the rough waters, spending precious time and energy fighting his way through the ruthless river.
After three exhausting days of hard work, reality began to sink in. He was heading deeper into oblivion, and he had no clue how to get out. How many rapids are there? He wondered as he looked down at his blistered hands and wounded knees.
When it seemed like he had cleared the worst of the rapids, Benedict climbed back on his canoe and started paddling his way into clear water. But as it turns out, he hopped on a bit too early and found himself being dragged back into the rapids.
He tried to keep the canoe upright and his supplies from toppling over. But one thing led to another and WHAM! One harsh blow from a boulder shattered his canoe. Suddenly, he found himself in the water, gasping for air and staring in terror as Cashoe and his supplies drifted away.
Miraculously, Benedict managed to climb out of the water and crawl onto the riverbank. He tried to put together the pieces of what had just happened. The situation was this: he had lost virtually everything he needed to survive.
Losing Cashoe was devastating. Cashoe was everything to him. He was his loyal companion who slept by his side at night and tagged along during the day. He had become reliant on Cashoe and his comforting presence.
Benedict was at the mercy of malarial mosquitos zooming around the forest in search of blood with no mosquito net. And with no food, starving to death became a very plausible ending to his short life. What would kill him first? He shuddered at the thought of it.
Despite his bleak situation, Benedict felt a sense of bizarre relief. “The situation was beautifully clear in a way. If I were to stay where I was, I would die,” he recalled thinking. So, he began going through whatever supplies he still had left – a water bottle, a fishing hook line, a machete, a survival kit, and a compass. He promised himself he would do whatever he had to to get out.
Without his canoe, the river was no longer a viable route. The only way out was to walk directly into the forest and attempt to hike out of its entanglement on foot. As he walked further away from the river, the forest began to take on a different air.
It became very thick and difficult to get through. The noises of insects and other animals began to deafen him, and the moisture in the air coated his skin, clogging his pores with a cloak of muggy droplets. He soon realized that traversing the rainforest would be a monumental task.
Benedict believed that if he walked straight ahead, for approximately 100 miles, he would reach the outside world. He carried a stick around with him and made a small cut every mile or so to track his progress and see how much he had left.
He spent his days trudging along and his nights camped out in a little shelter he made with a technique he learned from his guides. But the shelter did little to keep him dry. The rain that fell from the sky wasn’t as troubling as the damp ground, which was wet and soggy and itchy.
Sweaty and cold, Benedict spent his nights contemplating his brutal reality. There was no way of keeping the dreadful thoughts away and no chance of keeping dry or warm in a jungle with 100% humidity.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, Benedict kept getting stung by mosquitoes. He ferociously scratched each bite, clawing his nails into his skin. Every morning he peeled himself up off the ground, feeling terrible.
By the 4th day, Benedict had managed to hike only four of the 100 miles he had to cover. His hunger pangs were beginning to burden him. “How could I get nourishment from this place that seems to be killing me?” he wondered.
He tried setting up a few traps to catch animals but waiting for an animal to come was even more exhausting. “I don’t belong in the forest, and the forest seems to know it,” he recalled thinking. “Every species here has learned to survive, and those who don’t know die. And I’m going to be next because I don’t know how to cope here. I can’t even make a simple trap.”
Every evening was the same routine. He lit a fire and boiled water to drink. He then lay down, exhausted, shivering, and stared out into space. He could barely see the sky as the tree branches, adorned with heavy leaves, hung high above his head.
Benedict dreaded the loneliness of night and longed for the morning. But the sun brought no relief. He felt like a hamster on a treadmill heading nowhere, or like Sisyphus, rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again.
By the 11th day, Benedict had managed to cross 25 miles of jungle. The only food he had to eat were the tips of ferns, and his body began showing the first effects of starvation. He was becoming way too frail to endure the long walks and the ravenous insects. His bug bites were beginning to ooze.
Benedict recalled running into a palm tree one day. It had berries hanging on its branches. Suddenly, he had all the energy in the world. He rushed to the tree and began mashing the berries to create a purple mush drink. He swallowed the liquid as fast as he could. It was great to feel full again.
Benedict’s body was so weak by that point that he couldn’t digest the berries. He began vomiting them all out. He lay beside the rich pulp and cried. “It was a hellish situation,” he recalled. Despite the sickness, Benedict knew he had to get up.
As the days carried on, he spotted more disturbing symptoms. His hands began to shake, and his mind, the one thing he could rely on to get him through this, was beginning to grow delusional. “This is the taste of malaria I was warned about,” he thought.
Malaria was slowly destroying Benedict’s red blood cells and starving his brain of oxygen. He knew death was near. At that moment, his thoughts turned to his family. “I had a feeling I would be a disappointment to my mom and dad,” he recalled thinking.
Reaching the so-called El Dorado turned out to be a selfish dream−one he followed carelessly without putting too much thought into the dangers he might run into on the way. His dreams of venturing across the planet were coming to a slow and painful end.
By the 13th day, it was becoming extremely difficult to put one foot in front of the other. Covering 100 miles seemed like some childish fantasy. As his fever rose, his mind was beginning to turn on him. He grew more delusional with every pitiful step.
At one point, he had a feeling there was something out there in the trees. It felt like someone was stalking him. He heard a rustle, a soft movement he believed was a lurking jaguar. He stood there, frozen, waiting for it to spring at him.
Benedict grew too impatient just standing there, waiting for his death, so he decided to fire a couple of distress flares, all the while yelling and thrusting his body around in a crazy dance. Bang, bang, bang… but nothing.
All of a sudden, he heard a whimpering sound. It was his dog, Cashoe. Incredibly, Cashoe had managed to track Benedict down through 40 miles of rainforest. In a matter of seconds, all the dread and horror melted away. Benedict felt like he had been given a miracle.
Having Cashoe by his side again felt like a sign sent to him from above that everything would be okay. “Suddenly, there’s someone else who knows what I’m going through, and that restored a lot of me that I’d lost, that had been taken away by the brutality of the forest,” Benedict recalled.
Cashoe’s reappearance lifted Benedict’s spirits, but not enough to combat the severe malnutrition and malarial infection. His time was still running out. By the 19th day, Benedict was in the advanced stages of starvation, and so was his dog.
Cashoe seemed to be lagging more and more behind. And Benedict began thinking about moving on without him. But as thoughts of leaving him appeared, he turned to face his dog for a moment and thought – hold on, there’s all this flesh on you.
He shook the thought away that very instant. “It was inconceivable that he could ever be my food,” Benedict explained. Apart from the hunger, Benedict was also extremely thirsty. He began licking leaves and stones just to get a bit of water in his body.
One day, Benedict found himself kneeling beside Cashoe and lapping water from a puddle. Just like a dog. Desperate and frail, the animal in him was coming out to survive. He had reached the 21-day mark, and he knew that he had reached his final days.
Mentally, Benedict was longer able to get a grip on what was going on. He had no idea where he was, whether it was day or night or what was real, and what was the fruit of his imagination. His ego began to dissolve, and he no longer remembered who he was.
As his clarity gradually diminished, Benedict knew death was near. He understood that he had only a few meager hours until his sanity was lost for good. He opened his notebook and wrote and wrote and wrote the words – NO NEED TO DIE.
Benedict realized that unless he had something to eat, this would probably be his final day. He glanced over at Cashoe and thought to himself, “This is the day. This is the day when I get myself together, pick up the machete and kill the dog.”
In truth, if Benedict wanted to survive, he had no other choice but to kill him. He later reported that he remembered a “terrible cowardice walking up behind it and knowing I couldn’t face killing the dog in front.”
He struck it a blow on the head from behind and began to weep. Benedict made a fire and roasted his flesh. He focused on the most nutritious parts like the kidney, the liver, and the heart. He threw them in the fire and waited patiently as they cooked.
Benedict sat in silence as he ate his companion. But shortly after his first bites, he began to vomit. His body couldn’t digest the meat. He lay down on the damp ground and shut his eyes, trembling, aching, and afraid.
“When I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did get,” Benedict explained. “I lay on the forest floor wracked by pain. My liver and kidney were being attacked. I was fighting to keep myself sane.” His malaria was reaching the final stage.
Benedict had less than 24 hours to live. In those final moments, he felt a rising sense of panic. He forced himself to get up one final time. He began walking, crawling, tripping, trudging. He moved in whichever way would get him a bit closer to the outside world.
His eyes were blurry. He couldn’t see his compass. His hands were sweaty. He couldn’t hold on to anything.
But then, in some truly miraculous turn of events, he came across a cut branch. It looked like a human had cut it.
Benedict spotted several cut branches, one after the other. They led to a trail. As he made his first step onto the trail, he was blinded by daylight— sharp, yellow rays of pure daylight with no dense shrubbery blocking them.
He looked up and saw a little hut and a man standing in the field, with a look of horror on his face. That was Benedict’s final memory. He finally allowed himself to collapse. The farmer, who recognized the symptoms of malaria, treated Benedict for three days before getting him to a hospital nearby.
Benedict Allen made a full recovery. A week after his hospitalization, he flew back to England to reunite with his family. “My life was never the same again,” he told interviewers from the Discovery Channel.
One would expect Benedict to ditch the idea of ever setting out on a dangerous endeavor like that again, right? Well, the man has been acknowledged as one of the top ten British explorers of all time. He’s explored the Gobi Desert, met Voodoo priests in Haiti, sat with shamans in Siberia, and gone on a three-week expedition to the forests of Papa New Guinea, where he found himself stuck in the midst of a local war.
Benedict told The Guardian: “[When] the local paper asked me about the trip, I let slip about the dog, and before I knew it, the nationals were on to it; my sorry tale became a two-page spread in the Daily Mail. The RSPCA came round with a sack of hate mail.”
Benedict admitted that he often wonders whether eating his dog was a mistake or not. It kept him alive, but it haunted him for a long time. “In a way,” he explained, “It has driven me in my career, fuelling my desire to understand why I had survived.”