From Andes to Amazon: trekking through the Bolivian jungle

Branches came crashing down and leaves tumbled. Overhead, a howler monkey was putting on a display, standing upright, chest puffed out, pelting me with whatever was at hand. Eventually, realizing that this grinning biped wasn’t going anywhere, he gave up, sat astride his lofty branch and went back to eating fruit.

That was just one of many captivating encounters in Madidi national park, a vast swath of pristine wilderness in the Bolivian Amazon. To get there, fly north from La Paz to the sweltering jungle town of Rurrenabaque. Then it was a six-hour journey in a wooden motorboat, chugging gently along the Beni and Tuichi rivers, through sky-high gorges and gallery forest, spotting kingfishers, herons and caiman.

In 1981, Israeli-Australian backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg had a very different experience. At the age of 22, he went off the trail and deep into uncharted Madidi in search of lost tribes and hidden treasure. His dream turned into a nightmare when he was separated from his three companions – two of whom disappeared without trace.

For three weeks, he survived on his wits, willpower and, he believes, sheer providence. Sleep-deprived and starving, he took on the elements, fire ants, venomous snakes and a marauding jaguar, before being rescued against all the odds by his friend Kevin Gale and the hunter-gatherer community of San José de Uchupiamonas, who are Madidi’s ancestral landowners.

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