Sheldon Kirshner

An Israeli Backpacker Battles The Amazon

Yossi Ghinsberg’s vivid memoir, Back To Tuichi: The Harrowing Life-And-Death Story Of Survival In The Amazon Rainforest, is by far one of the most memorable books I have had the pleasure of reading. Published by Random House in 1993, it recounts the author’s near fatal trek into the jungles of Bolivia in 1981.

An Israeli backpacker, Ghinsberg was accompanied by three companions he had met in La Paz: Marcus Stamm, a Swiss teacher; Kevin Gale, an American photographer, and Kark Ruprechter, an Austrian geologist.

Ruprechter, a somewhat shady character, convinced Ghinsberg, a curious traveller, that he could show him unrivalled sights in the rainforest. Ghinsberg then persuaded Stamm and Gale to join them.

The trip started auspiciously, but soon degenerated as personality clashes and health problems took their toll on the hikers. Desperate to extricate themselves from their collective misery, they split up. Ghinsberg soon found himself utterly alone in the forboding jungle, bereft of food, clean water, a knife or a compass. He spent the next three weeks in the trackless and dangerous wilderness trying to survive the ordeal.

As I read Ghinsberg’s book, adapted from the original Hebrew version that appeared in 1985, I thought it should be made into a movie. Greg McLean, an Australian director, has done just that. His film, Jungle, was released in 2017, and is now available on the Netflix streaming network.

The British actor Daniel Radcliffe, who starred in the Harry Potter series of pictures, plays Ghinsberg. Radcliffe competently portrays him as a hardy person who’s ready for any challenge, but his supposed Hebrew accent sounds very Russian. Joel Jackson, Alex Russell and Thomas Kretschmann respectively turn in credible performances as Stamm, Gale and Ruprechter.

The foursome start their trek after being flown to Apolo, the most remote area of the rainforest accessible by plane. After a few days, Stamm develops sores on his feet and can hardly walk. Ruprechter, who’s supposedly familiar with the region, suggests they head back to La Paz by way of the Tuichi River, a tributary of the mighty Amazon River. They build a raft and embark on their voyage.

The placid waters soon give way to white water conditions, and Ruprechter decides he’s had enough. He and Gale clash, creating a poisonous atmosphere. After much heated debate, they devise a plan: Ghinsberg and Gale will continue their journey on the flimsy raft, while Ruprechter and Stamm will hike back to La Paz. From here on, the film focuses entirely on Ghinsberg and Gale.

The swift and treacherous currents slam the pair into a big rock, at which point they’re eventually separated. Gale disappears as Ghinsberg bravely battles the rough terrain, the elements, fire ants, a snake and a jaguar. He finds food in the most unlikely of places and removes parasites from his forehead. When he is most depressed, he is comforted by hallucinations and dreams of his family back home in Israel.

Gale, having been rescued, launches a hunt for his friend, certain he’s alive. Gale is told that Ghinsberg is probably dead. In fact, Ghinsberg, scrawny and caked with dirt, is barely functioning when he’s finally found.

Ably directed by McLean, Jungle is a workmanlike movie about courage, stamina and grit.



About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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