Some say TV programmes perpetuate myths because television has a need for ratings and drama, and that people are portrayed as more exciting than they are. But there has been a strand of this throughout exploration going back to Christopher Columbus; people have exaggerated their findings going all the way back to Eldorado.
I think it's very hard. For me there was a wonderful window when it was enough to just do a genuine journey and record it as it happened. Now you have to have a camera crew, health and safety rules and someone who's gone ahead to check it's safe for the 'explorer' to go there. How can you prevent it? Well, what I did originally was travelling with little technology. I was the only person doing it 20 years ago. No one had ever experienced a journey not knowing is the presenter would live or die or not. But now, certainly, it wouldn't be commissioned.
My dad was a test pilot, so I was probably a bit like him, wanting to push myself. Seeing him fly a Vulcan bomber over the back garden and looking up, I thought it was possible to be something a little bit different. I struggled for money, though, and didn't want to ride on the backs of locals through sponsorship. But I saw that local people didn't have any cash either, and thought that if I could live with, say, the people in the Orinoco Delta, then I could learn from them the skills to carry on. It became my philosophy and, perhaps, a more valid way of exploring. For these people, the forest, desert or Arctic is their home; it gives shelter, medicine and food, and if I could learn from them, I'm exploring on their terms.
Yes, it was at the beginning, when staying with locals changed from financial solution to a philosophy. I lived with a family on the Sepik River and underwent the brutal initiation ceremony to become a man – a crocodile as they call it.
It was a secret ceremony – in those days especially. I knew about the scarring [participants have their flesh cut to resemble crocodile skin in order to take on the strength of a crocodile], but no one knew about the beatings. I was beaten four or five times a day for six weeks. I was only 24 and eager to give everything a go, and I was grateful they let me take part in something central to their beliefs.
It's so big. You can spot birds of paradise in the highlands; canoe the Sepik River, seeing its riverine wildlife and the cults that emulate it; and even walk the Kokoda Trail, the line of retreat taken by the Australians during the Pacific War. It has 850 languages and terrain that varies from swamps to cloud forests and jade seas.