INTO THE WILD
LOCAL BACKDROP BRINGS STORY OF SURVIVAL TO LIFE
Lost for weeks in the depths of the Amazon jungle with rotting feet and a body that refused to carry on, young Israeli backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg did the unthinkable: he covered his body in fire ants and let them sting him into action.
With his chance of survival hovering at close to zero, it was a move that would ultimately save the young adventurer’s life, the excruciating stings of the tiny insects giving him the injection of pain and adrenaline necessary to keep going as he looked for a way out of a wilderness determined to kill him.
“I actually went and shook a tree and showered myself with them because my feet couldn’t carry me anymore and I needed to stand,” he says.
“I showered myself with the fire ants and, on the waves of pain, I managed to get up and keep on going.”
It was 1981 and Ghinsberg, who had just finished his mandatory military service, had travelled to Bolivia in search of a hidden tribe he believed was living deep within the Amazon.
With three others he met in the city of La Paz, Ghinsberg set off on the long and arduous trek into the unknown.
Two weeks into the trip, and no closer to finding the elusive tribe, tensions among the four spilt over and forced the group to split.
Ghinsberg and American photographer Mark Gale built a makeshift raft and sailed down the Beni River as the other two continued on foot. They would never be seen again.
Not long into the river ride, disaster struck as the pair hit raging rapids that tore their wooden boat apart.
Ghinsberg was thrown into the violent waters and after miraculously ending up on dry land, found himself alone and without food or the faintest idea of how to get back to civilisation.
He trekked through the jungle for weeks, his feet slowly torn apart from the constant dampness as the wet season took hold.
“Both my feet were much more than infected – I had no feet. They were two lumps,” he says. “There was no skin left on them.
“They were wet all the time and the muddy socks rubbed the skin off and then it got a fungal infection. It was really very ugly.”
Infection and illness almost killed him and with very little in the way of food he became just skin and bones.
Each day he had to fend off deadly snakes, spiders and jaguars, and if it wasn’t the animals trying to kill him, it was the earth trying to swallow him.
“There was one moment where I almost attempted to kill myself. I was drowning in a swamp and I just couldn’t get out of it,” he says.
“I had a medicine kit and there were 50 or 60 pills and I took them out and almost swallowed them.
“The thing is I thought about my mother at that moment and thought that I can’t do it after 19 days.
“If I had done it on the first or second day, OK, but after 19 days of endurance ... so I just threw the pills away and kept swimming in thick mud until I finally got out.”
Ghinsberg’s harrowing story, and the incredible determination of Gale to find and rescue his friend despite officials saying he was dead, is told in the upcoming movie, Jungle, starring Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe as the Israeli backpacker and directed by Australian Greg McLean ( Wolf Creek).
Ghinsberg says the British actor was the perfect choice to play him in the movie and was happy with the way he was portrayed in the movie.
“(Radcliffe) did a great job. I feel that it’s a privilege to be played by one of the most iconic figures in contemporary times, probably one of the most recognisable faces in the world,” he says. “He studied me; listened to the music I was listening to at the time, read the books I was reading at the time and worked with a diction coach to speak like an Israeli.”
The movie brings to life some of the horrifying experiences Ghinsberg endured in the jungle and he says things were so bad, the filmmakers didn’t need to over dramatise for effect.
“When you make the movie you have to edit out rather than look for extra drama – there was no need to dramatise the story. There was enough drama there,” he said.
Jungle is out in major cinemas across the country today
BOTH MY FEET WERE MUCH MORE THAN INFECTED – I HAD NO FEET. THERE WAS NO SKIN LEFT ON THEM
Daniel Radcliffe stars in the new thriller Jungle, a remarkable tale of survival directed by Aussie Greg McLean.