History is full of stories of adventurers and explorers who by some single misstep, end up in a situation they were completely unprepared for. Yossi Ghinsberg of Tel Aviv, Israel had hoped to travel all his life. He wanted to live on the road, to see all of the uncharted amazing places the world had to offer.
What he didn’t know was that his fated trip to the Amazon was going to turn into a nightmare, one that very nearly claimed his life and his sanity…
Yossi Ghinsberg’s parents were Holocaust survivors who moved to Tel Aviv, Israel at the end of the war. Right from the start Yossi was a survivor, just like his parents and when he was 18, he joined the Israeli Navy. It was compulsory of course, but Yossi made the best of the three year experience.
He was stationed in the Red Sea and during those years he met a number of people who came through the area. One of them, a Bedouin of the Sinai Desert, taught him a great deal about Nomad culture. It was at that moment that Yossi realized he wanted to travel, even if that meant he’d never really be stationary again. As soon as he got out in 1981, he began his lifetime journey…
Aspire to be Free
Yossi Ghinsberg was inspired by the book Papillon by Henri Charrière, a book which detailed the author’s own experiences as an escaped convict. For some reason, Yossi took this book and Charrière’s experience to heart. He became determined to find Charrière so that he could ask for his blessing and follow in his footsteps.
See the Jungle
But you need money to travel and over the course of the next few years, Yossi worked multiple jobs including construction work in Norway, fishing in Alaska, and loading and unloading trucks in New York City in order to make enough. He traveled to Africa, to Mexico, but always working towards the day he could make his way to South America and see the Amazon…
Finally Made It
He had finally made it to South America, but by the time he had, his idol, Charrière had already passed away. Still, Yossi was determined to explore the rainforest and walk the earth as the Bedouin had taught him. He made his way through South America by doing what he always did, hitchhiking.
Yossi Ghinsberg hitchhiked from Venezuela to Colombia and on the way he met a man named Marcus Stamm. Marcus was a teacher from Switzerland who had also come to see the Amazon. The two men became fast friends and soon were traveling together to La Paz, Bolivia: in the heart of the rainforest…
When the two arrived in La Paz, they met up with a man named Karl Ruprechter, a mysterious Austrian who claimed to be a geologist. Ruprechter explained to the two friends that he was planning an expedition into the uncharted Bolivian rainforest in search of gold. It was just the opportunity Yossi had been waiting for.
Join the Expedition
Now, Yossi and Stamm could explore the uncharted Amazon with the aid of an expert. It was perfect. And so, Yossi Ghinsberg, Marcus Stamm, Kevin Gale, an American photographer friend they’d picked up along the way, and Karl Ruprechter, made their way into the Amazon in search of gold and adventure…
At the time, Yossi was only 21-year-old, and was therefore still a bit unsure of the ways of the world. He and his two friends followed Ruprechter into the jungle and soon arrived in the middle of an uncharted area of the Amazon, a town called Rurrenabaque. While there, the local indigenous people warned them that there might be dangers ahead if they kept delving too deep.
Nevertheless, they continued to wander deeper into the jungle. This time they sailed along the Beni River. They were following Ruprechter’s map and stopped along the river at whatever small villages they found for supplies and food. Eventually though, they had to resort to eating monkeys for food and Stamm began to complain. Stress levels began to rise…
Lies and Roadblocks
Then it all came to a head. The group realized that Ruphrechter had been lying about the map, the gold, everything really. As it turned out, Ruprechter was not a geologist at all. He was nothing more than an Austrian criminal hunting for golden treasure. His lies had taken their toll on the group as well. With all that mistrust, there was no way they could travel back together, and they certainly couldn’t go forward.
They split up, Gale and Ghinsberg decided to build a raft to try and reach Rurrenabaque via the Tuichi River and Beni Rivers. Meanwhile, Ruprechter, who didn’t want to use a raft and could not swim, decided to walk upriver and try and reach the Tacana village. Stamm decided to go with him. They agree, after a fashion, to meet up again before Christmas in Laz Paz, if only to clear the air…
If Yossi and his friends thought the hike into the jungle was bad, they would soon find out the return trip was even worse. As Ghinsberg and Gale’s ran afoul of a waterfall along the river. The raft overturned and the two became separated. It wasn’t until four days later that Yossi Ghinsberg realized he may never see his friend or anyone else ever again. He was lost in the jungle.
Lost and Found
Around the same time that Yossi was coming to that realization that he was stranded and alone, Gale was being rescued by some local fishermen. He had been stranded for five days. Meanwhile, Stamm and Ruprechter never returned from the jungle. They disappeared forever and despite several rescue attempts, were never found. As for Yossi Ghinsberg…
Ghinsberg was now alone in the jungle with no equipment, no food, and no allies, former criminal or otherwise. To make matters worse, the area he was trapped in was completely uncharted and full of deadly animals like jaguars and red fire ants. Each day was a fight to survive.
By the second week, Yossi was starving. The small amount of food he had found in his area was terrible, so terrible that he didn’t eat for a week. He nearly sank into bogs of quicksand twice, and his foot had begun to rot thanks to a fungal infection. To top it all off, he was beginning to go mad from exhaustion…
In time, he learned to survive as best he could. He’d find berries and fruits to eat, or else wait for monkeys to drop them so he could pick them up. He also foraged for eggs in birds nests. Then, sometime during his second week, he began to hallucinate about a former lover, who would appear to him and force him to keep going despite his hardship.
There were many times during his excruciating trek that he lost hope. He prayed to God for mercy, for deliverance. All he wanted was to rest in peace, to finally die in that terrible place. Many times during his painful crusade, Ghinsberg lost hope and asked God for mercy to end his life to rest in peace. Then suddenly, when he was at the very end of his rope, he heard the sound of an engine…
Once he heard that sound, Yossi realized he had one chance. He went back to the river to find his friend Gale, who had come back along the river with an indigenous tribe to rescue him. Ghinsberg had been alone in the Amazon for three weeks and it took him a full three months in a hospital to recover.
The amazing story of Yossi Ghinsberg’s survival is actually going to be retold in the 2017 psychological thriller “Jungle” starring Harry Potter alum Daniel Radcliffe as Yossi Ghinsberg. Since his travel to the Amazon, Ghinsberg has moved to Australia and become an adventurer, author, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and motivational speaker.