Ready For A Journey
Around the time that Ghinsberg turned 22, the time was finally ripe for him to embark on his grand journey. What he didn’t know was that his dreams of adventure and exploration would ultimately turn into a nightmare that would repeatedly put his life in danger with no apparent way out.
Part of what inspired Yossi Ghinsberg to seek his own adventure was by French author Henri Charrière’s book Papillon. The autobiographical novel recounts the author’s escapades after escaping imprisonment on the South American island of French Guiana.
The Long And Winding Path
In the months to come, Ghinsberg was able to travel to Africa and Mexico. However, he still longed to fulfill his ultimate dream: exploring the Amazon rainforest. Ghinsberg couldn’t wait to immerse himself in the untouched heart of the jungle, but he faced a dilemma. Determined to make it to South America, he worked several odd jobs including construction work in Norway, fishing in Alaska and truck loading in New York.
After some time, Ghinsberg finally had enough money in his pocket to make his way to Latin America. It was 1981, but by that time, his hero Henri Charriere had already passed away. Still determined to follow in the ways of his idol, Ghinsberg recalculated his journey and hitchhiked his way from Venezuela to Colombia.
On The Way
On the way, Ghinsberg met fellow backpacker Marcus Stamm, a teacher from Switzerland. The two quickly became good friends and decided to travel together to La Paz, Bolivia and from there head to the Amazon. Little did the travelers know, but their fate would forever change after a chance encounter in the Bolivian capital.
Shortly after the two new friends arrived in La Paz, they met a mysterious Austrian man named Karl Ruprechter, who claimed to be a geologist. He told the eager young backpackers that he was planning an expedition in search of gold in a hidden, ancient village deep in the heart of Bolivia’s remote Amazon jungle.
Embarking On Adventure
The four new acquaintances didn’t wait long to set off on their Amazonian quest for gold. Feeling like the protagonists of a romanticized travel novel, the three young men followed the charismatic Austrian Karl Ruprechter by plane and then by boat to the Amazon jungle. The group first stopped in the small, indigenous village of Asariamas in the remote outskirts of the Amazon to re-stocked food and supplies. However, the locals there warned the young men were bound to encounter imminent danger along the way and encouraged them to rethink their plans.
The expedition team didn’t heed the warnings, though, and continued deeper into the jungle on foot along the Asariamas River. As they continued through the thick foliage and across mountains, however, their supplies started running out and Marcus Stamm developed trench foot, struggling to keep up.
Yossi Ghinsberg was ravenous like never before and he was overjoyed when the group finally made it back to Asariamas to regain strength. While back at the village, Karl Ruprechter said he had a new plan – to sail down on a raft to a gold quarry called Curiplaya before heading back to Laz Paz via the town of Rurrenabaque.
Help of Locals
With the help of some local villagers, the expedition team built a raft and decided to head out downriver in the direction they thought was their destination. Despite the sudden change in plans, the young Ghinsberg was eager for adventure so he agreed to keep going not knowing what lay ahead.
After several days on the water, their leader Karl Ruprechter suddenly mentioned they were headed straight for San Pedro Canyon – a dangerous stretch of rapids, waterfalls and boulders that wasn’t suitable for boating. At that point, he refused to continue also revealing that he couldn’t swim.
Going Separate Ways
Due to their close connection, Yossi agreed to join Kevin and continue rafting on the river while Karl and Marcus would go by foot . The four agreed to meet before Christmas in La Paz for closure, but they had no idea that would be the last time they’d all see each other together.
The Dangerous Drop
Ghinsberg mustered all his strength to try to cling to the scraps of the raft for dear life as he realized he was racing toward a waterfall. There was nothing he could do to fight the force of the rushing water and barely had time to think as he plummeted over the sheer edge.
Afraid And Alone
Having survived the perilous river and waterfall, Yossi Ghinsberg soon realized he was alone in the middle of the Amazon jungle without food or supplies. His prospects seemed doubtful and Ghinsberg’s mind started filling with unpleasant thoughts.
In Desperate Need
In desperate need of motivation, Ghinsberg was overwhelmed with emotion when his backpack washed up and he found a book his uncle had given inside the bag. His uncle, like his parents, had survived the Holocaust and said the book had protected him. At that point, the glimmer of hope caused Ghinsberg to burst into tears.
The book Ghinsberg found gave him the hope he would need to take on the next perilous stretch. He hoped he’d inherited his family’s spirit of survival and that his military service in the Israeli Navy that’d he finished shortly before the trip would now come in handy.
The next few days would be the toughest for Ghinsberg, as he grappled with the realization that he was totally alone, without food in uncharted territory at the mercy of some of Mother Nature’s harshest conditions and most ferocious creatures.
Over the next week, walking became increasingly difficult and disheartening with each mile that only led to more jungle. One day, the lost backpacker encountered his first run-in with one of the jungle’s various animals of prey.
During his time in the military, Yossi Ghinsberg was stationed in the Red Sea area. There he made friends with the local Bedouin population of the Sinai Desert who taught he a great deal about their nomadic lifestyle. Perhaps that experience helped when he faced the nightly need to find a makeshift campsite.
Hunting And Gathering
Luckily, he again beat the odds but his fight for survival was far from over.By that point, the lost hiker was scrounging for any food he could find. Like his group had done in their previous bout of hunger, Ghinsberg would even wait for monkeys to fall from trees to eat. Having reached a level of hunger he’d never experienced before he was willing to eat anything, nothing was too appalling.
Rustle In The Jungle
Although it was hard to sleep in the jungle, Ghinsberg had been trying to get some much-needed shut-eye one night days after he’d been stranded when all of a sudden he was stirred by the sound of rustling in the nearby foliage.
The Jaws Of Death
Ghinsberg had to think fast and perhaps his military training kicked in, or perhaps it was survivor’s instinct when he fashioned the only two things he had at hand into a makeshift weapon. With seconds to spare, he quickly reached for his mosquito repellant and a lighter and fashioned an improvised flamethrower.
Rain Of Fear
By the second week, the ruthless rainforest had present Ghinsberg with yet ANOTHER deadly scenario. As one of the wettest ecosystems on Earth, the Amazon rainforest is subject to heavy rainfall and gets between 80 and 430 inches of precipitation a year on average.
Against The Odds
Again Ghinsberg mustered his energy and narrowly escaped the flood, but he barely had time to catch his breath before he stumbled into a bog of quicksand and nearly sunk – twice! Surely, he thought, this would be the end.
The Last Straw
The pain in Ghinsberg’s feet was excruciating and just to distract himself from the unbearable anguish, he dragged himself to a tree full of fire ants and shook it on his head. The waves of pain and adrenaline distracted him from his feet. But again relief was short-lived.
Out Of Nowhere
On the brink of death, Ghinsberg was sure he had heard the sound of a motor. And this time it wasn’t a hallucination! Gathering all his strength he hobbled to the riverfront and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw his friend Kevin who’d miraculously come to rescue him.
It turned out that Kevin had been found by local fishermen after being stranded in the jungle for five days. After contacting the respective embassies of his missing friends in La Paz, Kevin returned to the jungle where some local villagers joined him on the search mission. They were three days into the expedition and about to give up when they remarkably found Ghinsberg. But what about Marcus and Karl?
Gone Without A Trace
While Yossi Ghinsberg and Kevin Gale incredibly were able to survive their traumatic experiences in the jungle, there was no trace of Marcus Stamm and Karl Ruprechter. As it turned out, Karl was actually a known criminal wanted by Interpol. Therefore, rumors swirled that he’d also survived yet went on to live under another identity.
Hunger, Infection and Disease
By the time Yossi Ghinsberg was extraordinarily found and rescued he’d lost 35 pounds from the hunger, infection and disease he suffered from in the jungle. He spent three months recovering in a hospital from his harrowing three-week ordeal. Once he was better, though, he didn’t hesitate to do the unbelievable.
Not Giving Up
Beyond grateful that he’d been found and that Kevin Gale hadn’t given up on him, Yossi Ghinsberg organized additional search and rescue teams and made several attempts to go back into the Amazon in hopes of finding Marcus Stamm and Karl Ruprechter.
Sadly, though, his efforts were ultimately fruitless and the two were never seen from or heard of again. Eventually, Ghinsberg settled back into civilized life and over the years. Looking back, he says he still doesn’t regret his fateful trip, however, he did regret losing Marcus. But Ghinsberg’s incredible story doesn’t end there.
A Living Legend
News spread of Yossi Ghinsberg’s amazing true story of survival and he became something of an iconic figure. He appeared on many of the biggest news networks and was featured in the Discovery Channel documentary series I Shouldn’t Be Alive.
Harry Potter To Play Him
In 1993, he wrote his first book, entitled Back from Tuichi, about the time he endured in the Amazon and in 2008 penned his second book. In 2017, his survival story was enacted in the psychological thriller Jungle, starring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe as Yossi Ghinsberg.