Traveling is a mind-opening experience, and it can be even more rewarding when we surround ourselves in nature. Experiencing the chirping of birds, scents of trees, and views of places untouched by mankind is a great way to re-energize ourselves and find some peace of mind.
But as one particular adventurer found out, the wilderness can also be a terribly dangerous place. His survival skills were pushed to their limits when he embarked on a journey into the Amazon rainforest that took an unexpected turn…
Yosseph or “Yossi” Ghinsberg was no ordinary man. Born in Tel Aviv, 1959, he traveled the world, optimistic, yet unaware he would encounter a life-or-death situation that never seemed to end.
As a young man, he joined the Israeli military. To his delight, as a navy recruit, he not only got to travel out of the country, but he also learned many survival tips, became fit and strong and saved a lot of money.
Eventually, Yossi became inspired to travel to Venezuela by Henri Charrière’s book Papillon, an autobiography about being wrongly convicted of murder in France, being imprisoned in French Guyana, and eventually escaping to Venezuela.
So Yossi made the trip. While hitchhiking from Venezuela to Colombia to further explore South America, Yossi met a man named Marcus Stamm, a teacher from Switzerland. The two traveled together, this time to La Paz, Bolivia.
Soon after arriving in La Paz, the two new friends went hiking in the Amazon rainforest. While they planned their trip out to the details, they stumbled upon another eager explorer: Kevin Gale, an American wildlife photographer who couldn’t wait to capture the Amazon.
Before embarking into the Amazon, an Austrian man named Karl Ruprechter approached Yossi and his friends in La Paz. He claimed he was a geologist off to find a gold quarry and impressed the trio with knowledge of the terrain. They didn’t hesitate to follow him into the vast and dangerous wilderness.
They started their journey towards the gold quarry in the small village Asariamas. The locals were kind and welcoming, giving them supplies but also an ominous warning: the jungle holds great peril.
But set in their ways, the men didn’t heed the warnings; after all, Karl was an expert, and they were four healthy men with a strong wanderlust. The group trekked into the jungle, ready to battle any obstacle… well, not any obstacle.
Marcus Stramm, the Swiss teacher, began developing trench foot. As the days went on, the infection became more and more painful. He was slowing the group down — and they were running out of food.
Karl had a shotgun for hunting game, but the only thing the group could find were monkeys. Eating them felt wrong, but the hikers were starving. Eventually, they grilled their first monkey, but the already weakened Marcus refused to indulge.
As Marcus’ conditioned worsened, the group could no longer continue walking to Karl’s promised gold quarry. Instead, they built a raft and tried to float down the Tuichi river. It was then Karl began acting suspicious and scared: apparently, he couldn’t even swim. What else was he hiding?
Afraid of the water, Karl went back to the nearest village on foot, taking the weakened Marcus with him. Yossi and Kevin thought they’d be fine sailing on but soon hit a powerful current. Kevin swam to shore, but Yossi wasn’t so lucky.
After getting swept down a waterfall, Yossi hit his head on the sharp rocks on the way. For half an hour, he fought to keep his wounded head above the water, gasping for each life-saving breath.
When the water finally calmed down, Yossi swam to shore. However, the moment he stepped onto the land, he was overwhelmed with a sense of doom. He was alone in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. How would he ever survive?
Yossi’s spirits lifted when he noticed his backpack miraculously resting on the river’s shore. In addition to some helpful supplies, the bag contained a special book. It had brought Yossi’s uncle a lot of luck during the Holocaust, and now it would hopefully help keep Yossi alive.
The first danger Yossi encountered was a wild boar. Boars tend to be extremely aggressive and can rip right through the skin with their tusks. Yossi ran for his life through the jungle, eventually shaking the boar off but also wearing himself out.
Less than a week into his solitude, Yossi noticed something in the sky. As it came closer, he realized it was a plane — the same type in which he’d flown to La Paz. Desperate, he called out, waving his arms up and down, but he went unnoticed.
A few nights later, Yossi woke up in excruciating pain. He itched and ached all over his body and couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until the sun rose that he noticed he’d slept on a termite nest!
After the first week, Yossi’s food supply was gone and so was his energy. He felt hunger like he’d never imagined. He searched for fruits and bird’s eggs and ate dead monkeys when he spotted them.
Despite his efforts to keep himself fed, Yossi quickly lost weight. To make matters worse, he was dehydrated, sleep-deprived, injured from the waterfall, and covered in termite bites. He really needed a break, but the jungle was not about to ease up on him.
Once he finally got to sleep, he was abruptly awakened by the sound of a growl. As soon as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was staring straight into the eyes of a full-grown jaguar, ready to pounce.
With his heart beating nearly out of his chest, his instincts took over. He reached for his lighter and his mosquito repellent as fast as he could, creating a flamethrower to scare off the jag. Luckily it worked, but it became nearly impossible for a paranoid Yossi to fall asleep after that.
The fauna of the jungle was an obvious threat, but the flora and climate were just as dangerous. When the foursome had begun their hike, the rain season was still two weeks away, but now? It came pouring down all day long, creating floods, and threatening to drown Yossi once again.
As Yossi was too busy trying to wade through the knee-deep water, he could no longer watch his step. Before he could correct his mistake, however, he found himself sinking into quicksand. Just when he accepted his fate, the floods moved, and he pulled himself out.
His socks and shoes had been wet and dirty for too long, and he began to develop a foot infection. To distract himself from the pain so he could keep walking, he did the only thing he could think of…
Yossi rolled around on a nest of fire ants, letting them sting him everywhere. Adrenaline shot through his body, and he found the strength to keep going. Out of nowhere, he noticed a woman beside him. He couldn’t believe his eyes. They spent the next few days in each other’s company, her presence reinforcing his will to live. But who was she?
Several days later, he woke up without the pain but also without the mystery woman. It seemed too good to be true. She had been a hallucination. Upon this realization, Yossi fell to his knees, crying, and began to pray for his misery to end.
Suddenly he heard the vague sound of an engine coming from the river. He figured it was another plane that wouldn’t notice him, but he followed the noise nonetheless. Once he reached the water, he noticed a boat in the distance.
The boat was not only real, but it was also manned by Tico Tudela, a Bolivian fisherman, along with Kevin Gale. Kevin had reached civilization in 3 days and begged the locals to help him look for his friend. Yossi was elated to see Kevin but wondered what happened to Karl and Marcus.
Yossi lost over 30 pounds during his 3 weeks on the verge of death. Meanwhile, Karl and Marcus were nowhere to be found. Yossi later learned Karl was a wanted criminal, who had taken strangers into the jungle before.
During the ensuing 3-months hospital stay, Yossi replayed the beauty and the dangers of the jungle over and over in his head. Everybody who heard his story thought he was crazy, but he felt so thankful to the local people that he wanted to return.
When Yossi revisited Bolivia, the local people were delighted to see him. He moved there for a while and helped build an eco-lodge from which the indigenous people could profit. He also worked on protecting intellectual properties of the people in that region.
Yossi also published several books, including his own autobiography called Back From Tuichi: the Harrowing Story of Survival In The Amazon Rainforest, and traveled the globe giving inspirational speeches. His idol, Henri Charrière would be proud.
In 2017, Yossi’s books were adapted into a movie called Jungle, and he was portrayed by no one other than Daniel Radcliffe. Of course, playing the part was a whole lot safer than living it. The movie, ironically, was available for streaming on Amazon.
Kevin and Yossi remained friends. After appearing on the docuseries I Shouldn’t Be Alive, Kevin was also involved with the production of Jungle. Although he continued pursuing his love for photography, he was not as eager to return to the rainforest as Yossi.
The two survivors would never forget their fateful trip to the Amazon. They didn’t understand why Karl took them into the forest, and they deeply mourned their lost friend Marcus. But their adventure changed their entire lives: neither of them would’ve changed their decision to make that hike, even if they could.