ex-marine Aldo Kane on his toughest challenge yet
HE’S the Scottish adventurer the stars trust to keep them safe when filming in the most dangerous places on Earth. Former Royal Marines Commando Aldo Kane has travelled the world with A-list Hollywood celebrities as they shoot blockbuster films and TV shows.
Now the 39-year-old from Ayrshire has taken on one of his toughest challenges yet as he travelled to the tiny Indonesian province of West Papua on the Pacific island of New Guinea.
Kane travelled to the province – an area beset by conflict between the occupying Indonesian government and the indigenous people – to tackle one of the wildest rivers on the planet for a new BBC Two show with naturalist Steve Backshall.
The pair got more than they bargained for during filming for the series, which is to be broadcast tonight, including confronting machete-wielding tribesmen, facing the dangers of man-eating crocodiles and negotiating deadly white-water rapids.
The 300-mile Baliem River in West Papua boasts the world’s most extreme white-water rapids, often hemmed in on either side by steep rocks and it was Kane’s job to make sure Backshall – and the film crew – survived the perilous expedition. The former sniper is used to dodging bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he was forced to avoid arrows and spears while in West Papua. Kane said: “As far as expeditions go, it was right on the line in terms of safety. West Papua is an extremely difficult country to film in, politically. Elections were taking place when we were there and there was a huge level of civil unrest.
“The Free West Papua movement is very active. When we got there we discovered there were terrorist attacks planned. I had to make sure we were on the river in the furthest away section from humanity to make sure we were as safe as we could be.”
However, the untamed jungle is home to hundreds of tribes who were often hostile when they came across Kane and his crew.
He said: “All the way along the river the tribes were split into various anti-government organisations who are very aggressive. In living memory, these tribesmen were head-hunters and cannibals so they’re force to be reckoned with. They would come out of the jungle with bows and arrows, spears, daggers. That happened several times. It added an extra layer to an already dangerous expedition. It was scary at points.
“At one stage we were abseiling and the locals decided to cut the ropes. I frantically climbed back up and when I got to the top there were six or seven men with machetes and bows and arrows drawn. I reverted to my ‘hearts and minds’ training from when I was in Marines to de-escalate the situation and calm things down. One thing is for sure, this area is an untamed wilderness and the kudos of TV has absolutely no sway. It’s actually quite refreshing.”
The river is so treacherous that it is thought that no one has ever journeyed the length of it – from Lake Habema to the sea.
Kane said: “It is so dangerous. There are sections that are 10 miles long, with grade five and six rapids and steep gorges on either side, and no way of getting out. If we had done certain sections someone would have died, no question. Steve is a great paddler but there were quite a few occasions when he was kicked out of the kayak. I was behind in the safety raft and you just have to get to him as quickly as you can while he holds on for dear life.”
On the journey Kane also came across some of the dangerous creatures lurking in the river and surrounding jungle. He said: “When we were setting up camp we were finding scorpions and snakes. But the main problem is man-eating crocodiles, which are the biggest in the world. They were inches under the boats as we went down the river, and never far from the shore.”
Fortunately for Kane, there was some respite during the expedition when they met the Dani Tribe of Baliem Valley. He said: “They couldn’t have been more hospitable. We went into these long huts where everyone was smoking. They cooked a pig for us. I was offered the chance to try the Betel Nut, a mild narcotic grown in the area. You start sweating straight away. It makes you feel fuzzy headed and uncoordinated. It’s a bit like drinking whiskey.
“But it leaves a horrible taste in your
Clockwise from main: Former Royal Marines Commando turned adventurer Aldo Kane; with Steve Backshall; negotiating deadly river rapids on the Baliem River in West Papua; with mummified remains of a 200-year-old Dani warrior. Below: Backshall with his kayak