In 1981, after completing his service in the Israeli Navy, Ghinsberg, inspired by the book Papillon by Henri Charrière, which detailed the author's own experiences as an escaped convict, became determined to find Charrière and ask for his blessing to follow in his footsteps. Ghinsberg had briefly returned from a trip from Africa to Mexico and longed for the rainforest immersion experience. Ghinsberg worked several jobs to save money in order to travel to South America and dreamed of exploring the uninhabited heart of the Amazon jungle. Ghinsberg was finally able to travel to South America, but by which time Charrière had already passed away, and the tribes Ghinsberg was interested in discovering were already civilized. He hitchhiked from Venezuela to Colombia, where he met Marcus Stamm, a teacher from Switzerland, in the midst of his expeditions, and the pair became good friends and traveled together to La Paz, Bolivia. When Ghinsberg was in La Paz, he met Karl Ruprechter, a mysterious Austrian who claimed to be a geologist. Ruprechter told Ghinsberg that he was planning an expedition into the uncharted Amazon in Bolivia in search of gold in a remote, indigenous Tacana village. Ghinsberg, who sought out the opportunity to explore the unexplored areas of the Amazon, immediately joined Ruprechter in his journey, along with two of Ghinsberg's new acquaintances, Marcus Stamm, and Kevin Gale, an American photographer. The four of them, never having had prior contact with each other, delved into a Bolivian adventure for gold.
21-year-old Yossi Ghinsberg and his two friends followed Ruprechter
by plane to the Amazon and arrived in the middle of an uncharted area in
the Amazonian town of Rurrenabaque.
The local indigenous people warned them of the dangers of the path they
were taking. Nevertheless, they continued to delve deeper into the
jungle by sailing along the Beni River. Led by Ruprechter's map, they traveled to small villages and communities where they restocked food and supplies.
Eventually, due to being low on supplies, they had to eat monkeys;
Stamm refused to eat monkeys and inevitably grew physically weaker. After traveling through the rainforest for several days, they realized
that Ruprechter was lying about knowing where to find the gold and the
indigenous village, and that he was actually an Austrian criminal who
was hunting for gold
for his own selfish purposes, rather than as a geologist. Ruprechter's
deceit and betrayal led to distrust within the group ended with them
going separate ways. Gale and Ghinsberg decided to build a raft
to reach Rurrenabaque via the Tuichi River and then the Beni River.
However, Ruprechter could not swim and did not want to use a raft.
Ruprechter and Stamm decided to walk upriver to continue on the journey
to the Tacana village. The four men resolved to meet up again before Christmas in La Paz.
As Ghinsberg and Gale's raft neared a waterfall,
they lost control and became separated. Gale made it to shore but
Ghinsberg floated downstream and over the waterfall. Ghinsberg spent
four days traveling upriver in order to find Gale and finally came to
the realization that he was stranded alone in the jungle, despite
believing it to be the adventure he wanted at first. Gale was rescued by
local fishermen after being stranded for five days. Ruprechter and
Stamm disappeared in the forest forever and were never found or heard
from again, despite attempts by several rescue missions.
Ghinsberg spent the next three weeks lost and separated from his
friends, without supplies and equipment, in an uncharted part of the
Amazon. He survived completely alone in nature and was on the edge of
his life as he was almost eaten alive by beasts of prey and had giant
red ants walk over and bite into his body, as his body began to
In the second week, there was a horrible flood in the area and
Ghinsberg almost drowned. He sank into a bog twice. For the subsequent
five days, Ghinsberg did not have anything to eat, was completely
exhausted, and his foot began to rot from fungi.
He would occasionally find berries and fruits in the forest, foraged
for eggs from nests, and even waited for a monkey to fall to eat, as it
meant life or death for Ghinsberg. According to Ghinsberg, he would have hallucinations of a woman with
whom he slept each night while he was stranded, and did everything for
her sake. Many times during his painful crusade, Ghinsberg lost hope and asked
God for mercy to end his life to rest in peace. Upon hearing the sound
of an engine, Ghinsberg went back to the nearby river and met Gale,
along with indigenous people who had organized a search rescue led by
Abelardo 'Tico' Tudela. They found Ghinsberg three days into their
search rescue mission, three weeks after Ghinsberg was first declared
missing, right when the search mission was about to give up. Following his rescue, Ghinsberg spent the next three months recovering in a hospital.