Jacek Palkiewicz


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Profile of Jacek Palkiewicz II

Man and a person

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Work was another story and involved patrolling a terrain of 400 km2 by jeep to drive off trespassers, which necessitated a constant series of shootouts. But this wasn't the worst. Everyone was subject to a claustrophobic atmosphere of paranoia and obsessive suspicion, similar to the logic that prevails within the intelligence community – trust no one. Soon he left and returned home to Bassano del Grappa, near Venice.

In order to receive a daily dose of adrenaline, in 1983 he founded the first survival academy on the European continent. All of the cards were in his hand. Eight years earlier he conquered the Atlantic alone in a life raft, completed a survival course in Arizona and underwent training in the famous Leo Gleser Israeli school of counter-terrorism. In Japan he observed methods of educating managers, a true school of character and test of spirit that unleashes the growth of dynamism, faith in oneself, team spirit and risk awareness – in other words, exactly the skills needed by a modern leader.

Jacek's initiative met with unquestionable success. His week-long courses were attended by representatives of various professions, including state employees, students, military pilots and even missionaries – all of whom were eager to learn how to cope with extreme situations. Si vis pacem, para bellum — prepare for war if you want peace. The master frequently reminded his students "in order to counteract evil, one must know and foresee its negative consequences".

Extreme physical exertion, pain and suffering are the daily bread of Palkiewicz's school, but these are precisely the tools that reinforce the psyche and guarantee the ability to access greater determination in life. A certificate from the school has for many become a prestigious calling card and a status symbol. Once well-known Italian actor Enrico Montesano and his producer attended the classes with the intent of creating a sensational film about Palkiewicz and his school. One year later Uomini duri (Three Tough Guys) became the biggest box office hit of the year.

With time Jacek turned his attention to ambitious scientific-research exploration. In 1992 he received permission from Vietnamese authorities to live among the isolated local Jaraj community, which maintained a one-thousand-year tradition and continues to live in the heart of the jungle.

Two years later he found a small group of Yanomami in the river basin of the Upper Orinoko that had no contact with our civilization. In that same year, he made contact with the Bausi tribe on the Mamberamo River in West Irian, a prehistoric enclave, where headhunting and cannibalism are practiced. What others can only dream about, he experiences in the waking world.

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In 1996 Jacek led a scientific expedition to establish conclusively the source of the Amazon, later officially confirmed by the Geographic Society in Lima. In Poland a few envious individuals engaged in a distasteful intrigue. The explorer, whose find was questioned, reacted to this insinuations and dishonest manipulations calmly. As usual he disregarded those who did not like him, deriding their stupidity and meanness. I suppose he had cause for pride when the discovery became a frequent topic for Master's theses and doctoral dissertations, particularly when Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi honored him in a decree issued June 2, 2003 for "a significant contribution in the field of geography" with the highest distinction – the Order of Knighthood of the Republic.

He has a knack for handling media relations, which more than once has caused petty envy. "I don't have my own public relations agent", he says. "I have to make sure that I 'sell' successfully. It is not enough to be deserving – someone has to notice and 'buy'." He is sensitive concerning his own authority and does not give in to outside influences of any kind. An uncompromising and ruthless approach to life narrows his network of friends considerably.

Here I would like to describe one particular episode. Jacek has made his own small contribution to space exploration. His lonely trip across the Atlantic in 1975 on a life boat, the first such trip in the history of navigation, was also a kind of cosmic psychological laboratory. The success of long-term missions in orbit depends to a large extent on deeper knowledge of how man functions over longer periods in stressful situations with limited stimuli. American scientists working for NASA were interested in the problem of deprivation during his 44-day trip. The experiences accumulated by this volunteer castaway and the notes taken during his adventures under conditions of extreme isolation from reality and constant danger, were scrupulously used in scientific research.

Someone once wrote with sarcasm that Palkiewicz refused to take part in a mission led by Jacques Yves Cousteau because he doesn't like to stand in the shadows of others. "It wasn't exactly like that", he claims many years later. "In 1982 the 'Commandant' actually invited me to travel to the Amazon, but I did not go because I was already leaving on an expedition to Vietnam." Jacek also enjoys the esteem of Thor Heyerdahl, who wrote in the dedication of his last book: "I have enormous respect for Palkiewicz because of his professionalism and unusual explorational achievements." It was Heyerdahl who in 1994 recommended Palkiewicz to the highly elite group of Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society of London, which affiliates talented figures who have contributed to the growth and popularization of the geographic sciences. At the time he emphasized Jacek's work in expanding the borders of human endurance in extreme situations and life-threatening climates as well as the variety of expeditions led by Palkiewicz in the search for lost civilizations, unusual phenomenon and people.

Jacek's stand on environmental protection is well known. In 1978 in Monaco, Princess Grace Kelly awarded him a prestigious distinction for his fight on behalf of the purity of the Mediterranean Sea. It was a campaign organized by WWF, the World Organization of Nature Conservation, in honor of the International Year of the Sea and was designed to spread public awareness concerning the moral obligation of making real effort to protect seawaters.

1989 Sting offered to collaborate with Palkiewicz in his campaign to protect the rights of Amazon Indians and a few years later Jacek led an ecological expedition of cosmonauts to Siberia under the patronage of President Boris Yeltsin. All press agencies and media representatives covered this international mission, involved in saving our planet. For three days it was the subject of a wide range of discussions. Later the world soon forgot about the message of these space heroes. Deprived of his illusions, Palkiewicz comments on those times: "I believed in utopia and didn't want to believe that the realism of the industrial age would suffocate the interests of mankind."

I have known Jacek for one-quarter of a century and participated in some of his expeditions, which cost me a great deal of self-discipline. He is a demanding boss, extremely hard and exacting. More than once I was unable to swallow his categorical nature, lack of tolerance for weakness in any form and ruthless condemnation of insubordination, but later in a moment of cool reflection, I always had to admit that he was right.


See where Jacek Palkiewicz travelled in his long years of journeys and expeditions.

Learn in what places he has been and what he discovered.

See expeditions
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