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This wilderness survival program offers a chance to live as the cavemen did

For those tired of the stresses and excesses of contemporary civilization, a survival expert in the Italian Alps offers a training program in living as the Neanderthals did. Participants endure a rough existence in the wilderness, learning to kill prey for food and build their own shelter. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant left his own modern-day comforts to experience life as a caveman.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the Italian Alps, going back to nature is taking on a whole new meaning. A survival expert is teaching men and women to learn to live like Neanderthals.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant left his own man cave to watch a couple of guys try to become cavemen.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Guido Camia used to be a pastry chef, but he has traded his kitchen for the great outdoors, teaching students how to sustain themselves in the wild.

    Survival courses exist around the world, but Guido claims he's the first to give weekend survivalists a Neanderthal twist for about 100 bucks a throw.

  • Guido Camia (through translator):

    Hunting is one of those things that can go well, but can also go bad. You might not eat anything one day and have lots the next. Every morning, you have to think, how you are going to make it to the evening?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The wanna-be cavemen belong to a generation that's becoming more environmentally conscious and possibly militant.

    Luca Bernardi labors in a tire factory, and is desperate to reconnect with nature.

  • Luca Bernardi (through translator):

    I work six days a week in a dark, gloomy, noisy place, where tension grows on you, completely opposite to these natural places.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Guido can't be certain that Neanderthals trod this ground 400,000 years ago, but traces of their existence have been found in a nearby valley. And, as they were nomads, may might have treated this very landscape as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

    Here in the Italian Alps, this real caveman territory. Now, I realize that there are some people who are going to be slightly disappointed that I haven't dressed up in an animal's skin, but not only do I want to preserve my dignity, but I also want to be historically accurate, because there was no way that a Neanderthal would reach my advanced age.

    And, also, I'm two to three times the size of the average Neanderthal, thanks to modern living.

    Neanderthals needed an abundance of protein. And the river offers one-stop shopping. Guido fashions a fishing line with a cricket on a bone hook as bait. And this is an example of primitive ingenuity, a fishing net woven from twigs and leaves.

  • Guido Camia (through translator):

    Let's look for a peaceful place to fish.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But as Guido lays the truck, chemical engineer Daniele Bernocco is not feeling so macho.

  • Daniele Bernocco (through translator):

    Going in the water is cold. I know I should go in to get my food. It's a strange feeling. I feel powerless compared to primitive man.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But when they check the lures a few hours later, Guido discovers their efforts were in vain.

  • Guido Camia (through translator):

    We no longer know animals or nature. We're scared of the woods. Mankind is afraid of this environment, as it's no longer his. Living in cities, we have lost total contact with nature.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Early man required a fusion of intelligence, muscle power and friction to generate combustion in sawdust, and then to nurture the tiniest of sparks.

    It takes a couple of attempts before Guido succeeds. The would-be Neanderthals quickly learn how vulnerable they are. They find it impossible to create fire, but there's no shame in that. Guido took months to perfect the skill.

  • Daniele Bernocco (through translator):

    It's not difficult. It is interesting.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In the Neanderthal's world, there was a clear gender distinction. Men would hunt, while women performed domestic chores. their arduous existence meant they required a similar calorie intake to that of a modern athlete.

    The eggs produced by Guido come from his farm, organic, of course. Next up, crickets and other grubs.

  • Guido Camia (through translator):

    Insects are 80 percent protein. They're easy to catch.

  • Daniele Bernocco (through translator):

    They taste like popcorn.

  • Luca Bernardi (through translator):

    Cereals and hay.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Dust signals the end of the day and the novices' endurance. The terrain has taken a toll on their bare feet, and they have put their shoes back on as they help prepare supper alfresco, a rabbit.

    This is clearly an Italian fixed menu, after bugs, bunny.

  • Daniele Bernocco (through translator):

    I have learned what my limits might be. I am now aware of what I would avoid. As most probably, I would be a failure.

  • Luca Bernardi (through translator):

    I have a lot to learn. I have had confirmation that I like this environment also as a way of having fun out of it. I feel relaxed.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Guido prepares a flatbread. He admits this particular course has been soft, and offers tougher adventures, where participants go hungry if they fail to catch supper.

  • Guido Camia (through translator):

    It's all hard work, which we're no longer used to doing, all manual jobs.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At last, the rabbit is done.

  • Guido Camia (through translator):

    My grandfather used to say, if you're starving, anything tastes good.

  • Daniele Bernocco (through translator):

    It's good, but it's missing salt.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    If nothing else, Daniele and Luca now fully appreciate the comforts of modern existence. Their deprivation didn't last long.

    After we left, they headed to the nearest bar, as cavemen are wont to do.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Piedmont, Italy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of us won't be joining them.

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