• Mon
  • Sep 22, 2014
  • Updated: 2:52am

Steven Ballantyne

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am

HOLIDAY FROM HELL Ten years ago, I was trekking in Papua New Guinea when I was abducted. I was taken at gunpoint from a trail, which is now very popular but was closed at the time due to tribal warfare. I was alone but I was well organised; I had a satellite phone and all the right gear and I'd hired local porters and guides. However, they were the ones who set me up. I was in captivity for five days in a hut in a village we had walked to overnight and I had my kit taken off me, so I had no idea where we were.

I managed to escape with the help of two women, one of whom I'd befriended. She and her cousin were being abused by my captors so I promised to help them if they helped me escape. Luckily, a friend had missed my regular call home and called the British High Commission in Papua New Guinea. They investigated whether a white man had gone on the trail and they found a body, which they thought was mine.

With the help of the women we got back on the trail. We had to keep moving for days, knowing we were being pursued. Then the police arranged for a helicopter to pick us up but I refused to get on because it couldn't take the women, and I'd made a promise. It upset a lot of people but they agreed to send a second helicopter two days later and we all got out. I was brought to the High Commission but there was nothing they could do for the women.

Later, when I was in the hotel, I got a call saying there was a package in reception for me. It turned out it was one of the girls waiting to shoot me. But I know it wasn't her behind it. Unfortunately both girls were later found dead.

GOING BACK I carried on travelling after that, still alone. I hiked in New Zealand then went to Argentina to try and write about my experience. I decided the best way to deal with it was to go back to Papua New Guinea and meet my captors and find out why they did it. It was simply for money. Many people are very poor and a life is worth less than a shirt. There was never going to be an answer to why they wanted to kill me, I just wanted to have a better understanding of their lives. I was extremely well looked after when I was abducted and I took the attitude that I can get stressed about it or I can take it in my stride. I chose to do the latter. My inquisitiveness and desire to try and deal with situations I don't understand led me back.

When I returned a lot of friends and family said to me, 'Are you mad? Haven't you learnt your lesson?' I said, 'Actually, I have, and it is from a different perspective.'

A MOVING TIME I trained as a movement therapist, using contemporary dance. I worked with autistic adults and I was a dancer for a while. I then became a bereavement therapist in London, where I had a private practice until I was 30 and where I also helped set up a charity called the East London and City Bereavement Association. It was through this I got to know about bereavement rituals around the world. I decided to put my work on hold and travel to those countries. The countries I chose were all based on books I'd read as a child, including one by Benedict Allen called Into the Crocodile's Nest. In the first chapter he describes a journey through Papua New Guinea and it stuck in my mind. That's why I chose it as the first part of my great, big adventure.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS The divorce of my parents when I was 13 was like a death to me. Up until then I had only known a warm, loving family environment. It wasn't a traditional death but it was the death of my family and that took me into the therapeutic process. It was a very difficult period in my life and continues to be an issue. The divorce instilled in me a distrust of family life - which is probably why I'm still single at nearly 40 - and which has stimulated me to do what I do now. Life is exciting and the work I do is my passion. I'm still fairly close to my mother [his father died recently] but Papua New Guinea feels more home to me than the UK.

MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE Being a therapist was a very structured way of living. The dedication, time and commitment I gave to people ... being entrusted with their life stories was an amazing privilege. In a way I feel as though I'm doing that now with my work as director of The Expedition Project Management Company. It's still a way to help people and make their dreams come true. We do things like take a group of disabled adults to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and support people who live in Papua New Guinea by facilitating projects that give them an income. We also work in Outer Mongolia. We're not a big company but the money we've been able to pay our fixers and organisers over the past five years has changed their lives dramatically.

TRAVELLING RIGHT Many people now want travel to be a unique adventure that's exciting but also safe and with a feel-good factor. The future of travel is sustainable ecotourism, to help the people who live there.

I've chosen to live in Hong Kong because I'm a very sociable person and I have many friends here, and it's close enough to all the destinations I spend time working in. The apartment I rent in SoHo is the first place of my own I've had in five years.

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