Stranded In The Amazon: A Harrowing Story Of Survival

Yossi Ghinsberg is a 60-year-old Israeli author, entrepreneur, and adventurer, who has always yearned to discover the world’s unbeaten tracks. However, he is most famous for his incredible survival story when he set to explore the depths of the Bolivian Amazon Jungle nearly 40 years ago. Let’s learn about Ghinsberg’s unexpected and thrilling experience, and about the time when he cheated death in one of the world’s most dangerous rainforests.

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#22. The Inspiration

It all began when Yossi Ghinsberg was 22 years old. By that time, he had already decided he wanted to set off in search of new adventures and explore the world’s most recondite corners. One of his main inspirations was the French author Henri Charrière.

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Ghinsberg read Papillon, one of Charrière’s most famous novels, which narrates the author’s adventures after escaping imprisonment on a remote island of French Guyana. The novel inspired this young man to pursue adventures of his own.

#21. In Pursuit Of A Dream

During the following months, Ghinsberg traveled to Mexico and different countries in Africa. But even though he visited hundreds of fascinating and unusual sites, there was one goal that he still longed to fulfill: exploring the depths of the Amazon Forest.

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The first thing he had to do to make it to South America was to save some money. With this aim in mind, he worked in several random jobs, including construction work in Scandinavia, fishing in Alaska, and truck loading in the U.S.

#20. The Journey Begins

After working a few years, Ghinsberg saved enough amount of money to travel to South America. By that time, his role model Henri Charrière had already passed away, and he was utterly determined to follow the late author’s paths.

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First, Ghinsberg took a flight from Europe to Venezuela. The truth is that he had really limited financial resources, so he continued his long journey by hitchhiking from Venezuela to Colombia. This took him several days, but he finally made it.

#19. New Travel Mates

On his journey, Ghinsberg met Marcus Stamm, a fellow backpacker, and teacher from Switzerland. They became great friends in no time and traveled together all the way to the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. They rested there for a couple of days, and their next stop was the Bolivian Amazon.

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But a few days later, they met Karl Ruprechter, an Austrian man who claimed to be a geologist. He told Ghinsberg and Stamm that he was planning an expedition to an ancient village in the Bolivian Amazon jungle in search for gold, together with his friend Kevin Gale. Without thinking it twice, Ghinsberg and Stamm decided to join them.

#18. Welcome To The Jungle

The four men embarked on their journey to the depths of the Amazon jungle in search of gold. After all, this was just the type of adventure that Ghinsberg had been looking for. They followed Ruprechter’s paths and reached the Amazon jungle by plane and then by boat.

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The group’s first stop was at a tiny indigenous town of Asariamas at the outskirts of the Amazon. They spent a couple of nights there and stocked food, water, and supplies. But the locals warned them about the dangers of the rainforest, and they suggested them to give up on their plans.

#17. A Failed Attempt

However, the team didn’t pay attention to the villagers, and they continued their journey deep into jungle walking along the Asariamas River. However, in a matter of days, they ran out of food and supplies. They were so starved that they decided to go back to Asariamas to regain strength.

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Once they were back in the village, Ruprechter claimed he had come up with a new plan. Instead of continuing their journey by foot, he suggested sailing down on a raft until a gold quarry named Curiplaya. After that, they would return to La Paz via Rurrenabaque. But what did the others think?

#16. Strike Two

Ghinsberg and Stamm agreed with Ruprechter’s new plan, so they set on to build their own raft from scratch. Luckily, the villagers gave them a hand, and in just a few days, the raft – made out of chopped wood – was finished.

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The group decided to head out down the river towards the direction of the gold quarry, or at least this is what they thought. The truth is that neither of them was 100% sure whether they were going in the right direction. However, Ghinsberg was so thirsty for an adventure that he agreed to go forward with the new plan, despite their uncertainty of what lay ahead.

#15. Cold Feet

Even though neither Ghinsberg nor his two mates had a lot of sailing experience, nothing was going to set them back. And in fact, during the first day, they didn’t encounter any difficulties nor setbacks. However, things were about to get a little bit more complicated.

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A couple of days later, Ruprechter realized that they were heading straight for San Pedro Canyon, which is one of the most dangerous rapids in the Amazon. In fact, this stretch of rapids included steep waterfalls and enormous boulders which weren’t suitable for boating. Ruprechter confessed that he didn’t even know how to swim, so he got cold feet and refused to continue.

#14. Separate Paths

Ruprechter’s decision made the group think things over. In the end, they decided to continue their journey but to take different paths. Ghinsberg and Gale would continue rafting on the river, while Ruprechter and Stamm would take the same route but by foot.

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However, they all knew that if they took different routes, it would be impossible for them to meet at the site of the gold quarry and at the same time. Therefore, the four agreed that they would meet around Christmas back in La Paz. But little did they know that they would never see each other again.

#13. The Dangerous Fall

Ghinsberg and Gale continued rafting downstream, but as they sailed, the streams kept growing fiercer and fiercer. The truth was that neither of them was a professional rafter, so they were really struggling to keep their balance.

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Soon, they realized that they were heading towards a waterfall. They realized that there was nothing they could do to fight the force of the water and avoid the fall, so they assembled all their strengths and tried to cling to the straps of the raft, hoping they would survive the drop. Can you guess what happened next?

#12. After The Impact

The two men held tight to the raft as they plummeted over the edge of the fall. They miraculously survived the impact of the fall, but they were thrown out of the raft and had to fight their way against the perilous rapids.

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A few minutes later, Ghinsberg managed to reach the riverbank. He felt quite dizzy since he had swallowed loads of water, not to mention the bruises he had from the impact of the fall. He looked for Gale but he was nowhere to be seen. He screamed out his name tirelessly, but there were no signs of him. What now?

#11. All By Himself

Ghinsberg soon realized he was stranded in the middle of the Bolivian Amazon jungle all by himself, without any foods or supplies. He was fully aware that his prospects were grim and different unpleasant thoughts ran through his mind.

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But luck was on his side since minutes later his backpack washed up. Everything was soaking wet, of course, but inside his bag was a book his uncle had gifted him. Just like his parents, his uncle was a Holocaust survivor, and he had told Ghinsberg that the book had protected him. The truth was that Ghinsberg felt terrified, but that glimmer of hope made him burst into tears.

#10. A Ray Of Hope

Ghinsberg hoped he had inherited his parents’ and his uncle’s spirit of survival. He also hoped that the military service he had recently completed in the Israeli Navy would come in handy. Many of the skills that he learned at the military would surely be useful.

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The first few days after the accident were the toughest for Ghinsberg. It was hard for him to accept that he was totally alone, without food, and in an unknown territory at the mercy of nature. Besides, he was fully aware that the Amazon jungle was home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world. What would his fate be?

#9. Life In The Jungle

As the days passed, walking became more difficult and tiring, both physically and emotionally. Ghinsberg hoped to run into a village, but each mile only led to more jungle, and he started coming across different animals of prey.

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Luckily, during his time in the military, Ghinsberg had spent several months in the Sinai Desert area, where he befriended with the local Bedouin populations. The Bedouins had taught him about their nomadic way of life, and those lessons came in handy for Ghinsberg, especially when he faced the need to find a campsite and make himself a refuge.

#8. Fighting For Survival

What troubled Ghinsberg the most was how to find food. He had learned many useful skills in the military but never had he needed to kill an animal for survival. His level of hunger was such that no animal was appalling. He fed on practically whichever creature came across his way.

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Ghinsberg also struggled to sleep at night, as every noise he heard terrified him. His greatest fear was to be attacked by a predator, such as a snake or a jaguar. After all, he was fully aware that the Amazon jungle was deemed as one of the most dangerous places on earth.

#7. Stalked By Wild Animals

One night, he was trying to catch some sleep, when he heard the sound of steps in the nearby foliage. He had no clue what it was, but his instinct for survival made him reach out for his mosquito repellant and his lighter. Can you guess why?

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With these two objects combined, Ghinsberg fashioned a flamethrower. The animal frightened at the sight of fire, and as it retreated back into the jungle, Ghinsberg realized that it was a jaguar. Lucky that his trick worked!

#6. Heavy Rainfall

But wild animals weren’t the only threat he faced. On the second week, he had to endure heavy rainfalls. After all, let’s not forget that the Amazon jungle is one of the wettest ecosystems on earth. Ghinsberg remained with his clothes soaking wet for two days in a row, and the soil began to flood.

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Ghinsberg managed to escape the flood, but the truth is that he almost died because of the rainfall. On two occasions, he stumbled into a muddy quicksand and nearly sunk. Mother nature didn’t seem to be on his side.

#5. Out Of The Blue

Ghinsberg gradually began to panic after the first couple of weeks. Not only was he tired of hunting animals to cheat starvation, but he was also starting to feel excruciating pains in his feet. One day, he was so tired of his pains that he shook his head against a tree full of red ants, just so that their bites would distract him from his foot ache.

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But right when he was on the brink of death, Ghinsberg heard the remote sound of a motor. At first, he figured it had been a hallucination, but when he gained strength and walked towards the direction of the noise, he realized it was Gale, who had miraculously come to the rescue.

#4. Saved By A Miracle

It happens to be that Gale had been found by local villagers after being stranded in the jungle near the river for five days. The villagers helped Gale return to La Paz, where he contacted the local embassies and reported his missing friends.

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After that, Gale went back to the jungle, and some local villagers and fishermen joined him on his search mission. They searched for three whole days and there was still no track of them, but just when they were about to give up, they came across Ghinsberg. But what about the other two backpackers?

#3. Back To Civilization

Unfortunately, while Ghinsberg and Gale miraculously survived, there was no trace of Stamm and Ruprechter. Ghisnberg found out that Ruprechter as a known criminal, so rumor has it that he survived but adopted a new secret identity.

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When Ghinsberg was rescued, he was super thin and had lost 35 pounds in two weeks. He spent three months in the hospital until he fully recovered. But once he was better, can you guess what Ghisnberg did? You won’t believe it!

#2. Rescue Mission

Ghinsberg was so grateful that he had been found, that he organized another rescue mission and even made a few attempts to go back to the Bolivian Amazon jungle himself. He still hoped he would find Stamm and Ruprechter.

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Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain, and neither of the two was seen again. A few weeks later, Ghisnberg went back to his home country and settled back to his life in the city. And believe it or not, he doesn’t regret his fateful adventure. However, this is not all!

#1. A Worldwide Legend

In a matter of weeks, Ghisnberg became the talk of the town all over the world. His story appeared in most of the biggest news networks and was even featured in I Shouldn’t Be Alive, a documentary series by Discovery Channel.

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In 1993, Ghinsberg wrote his first autobiographical novel, Back from Tuichi, and 15 years later he published his second book. In 2017, his story was narrated in the psychological thriller Jungle, starring nothing less than Daniel Radcliffe. When he embarked on his journey to Bolivia, never would he have guessed that he would become the worldwide legend that he is today.

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    Hernán Tamargo

    Teacher. Political Scientist. Writer. Feminist... and much more!

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