Ambushed in the Amazon
I could feel my breath shortening. I did my utmost to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply as I ran frantically through the thick vegetation of the Amazon jungle. I had counted four shots: one that had knocked me out of my kayak, two while swimming to solid ground, and a final shot as I took off running. My body was screaming for a rest, but the thought of the two men in pursuit allowed me to push on. I wanted to get as far away as possible from where I had been ambushed.
I had conjured the fantasy that upon entering the Amazon, I would have encounters with wild animals and experience the sights and sounds of the greatest jungle on Earth – yet here I was, running through the forests alone, injured and not knowing how I was going to escape. How had I ended up in this nightmarish situation?
I had been ambushed by two local men. The shooter had delivered shotgun pellets to my back, neck, face and leg, leaving me in a state of confusion and in a situation where I was fighting for my life.
I had had a moment with one of the culprits as we locked eyes briefly when he approached me in his boat, as I lay helpless and defeated on the riverbank. I had never seen such emptiness in someone’s eyes – a look that emanated fear to my bones and that catapulted me into action. I was scared of what this man may do if he reached me and I still had some life left within me.
The fear triggered a classic flight or fight response. I chose flight, and as the adrenalin kicked in, it started me running. I took off at a good pace, only then I seemed to be getting lost in the jungle; nowhere to go and no idea as to what may follow.
My pace decreased as I forced air into my failing lungs. I was beginning to reassess the situation. The deeper I went into the jungle, the more I would ultimately disappear. I had to get back to the river and use it to navigate my way out; it was the best chance of finding help. I realised that if I didn’t find help, I probably wasn’t going to make it out of there alive.
I reached a wide and open bend of the river. Slowly, I waded in ankle-deep while looking upriver to see if I could catch a glimpse of the two men. I saw no one. I was relieved that the two men might have been distracted by all my equipment and the kayak I had left behind. Perhaps they had given up the choice to pursue me and instead had settled for my belongings. They had probably thought I would eventually die and perish in the jungle.
I started jogging again and followed the river. After a while I stopped and began to fully absorb the current situation. I was alone; I had been ambushed and shot for no reason. I needed urgent medical assistance and the two men were a few kilometres upriver. I could not go deeper into the jungle for the fear of getting lost and I could not go upriver and risk being seen.
I was overwhelmed and collapsed onto the muddy riverbank. I wanted to cry at the hopelessness of the situation. I whimpered, but could not force out a tear. Perhaps it was the realisation that the lack of tears meant I could not allow myself to lie down and feel sorry for myself. I had to get up and get moving. I rose slowly and began walking further downriver.
As I gazed across to the other side of the river, to my surprise I noticed another two men emerging from the thick vegetation. Help! They would be my escape out of this hellish scenario…
The idea to paddle the Amazon from source to sea sprang into life shortly after my return from an African cross-continental cycle in 2011, from Egypt to South Africa, and representing Habitat For Humanity.
I had a fascination for the Amazon, and the taste of adventure urged me to pursue the idea of paddling this mighty river. I wished to gain some credibility as an adventurer and had realised that further experiences would provide content for my desired career as a public speaker and writer.
The Amazon adventure, named ‘World Wonderer’, would be a project that would ultimately fulfil more than just my personal ambitions, an adventure that could further punt the message for a unified and respected attitude toward the natural kingdom. I had the privilege and opportunity of teaming up with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation by agreeing to collect research for the South American Wildlands and Biodiversity project.
It was my compassion for a unified existence between all life forms that provided the impetus for the journey and a ‘take action’ initiative toward conservation and protection of all life. A solo, unaided navigation of the Amazon from source to sea was my way of inspiring and empowering fellow individuals to take action and take a stand for a reason and cause greater than the individual. By representing a cause I believed in, and by living a lifestyle that was in alignment with my beliefs, including following a plant-based diet, I hoped this adventure would provide further encouragement for others to make their own positive differences on this beautiful planet.
My paddling experience was limited to none, and the initial stage of the adventure took me into dangerous whitewater sections with huge rapids that were channelled into steep and winding canyons. “Once you’re in it, you’re stuck in it”, was Tim Biggs’ best description of the initial tributaries of the Amazon which he had previously paddled.
My lack of experience resulted in my decision to structure the navigation into three stages that would ultimately play to my strengths: a hike to the mountain source of the Amazon; a cycle along the rapids section of the river; and then a straight paddle to the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Brazil – a journey from just under 7 000km from the high altitude of the Peruvian Andes, dropping into the thick and isolated jungle terrain that makes up the Amazon rainforest. What I lacked in experience, I made up in enthusiasm and a passion for doing something with a purpose greater than myself.
Once in the jungle, my disappointment grew as I began to notice man’s manipulation and destruction of the perfect natural bio systems of the jungle. I witnessed numerous forest fires that signalled the clearing of land to be substituted for agricultural plantation. I paddled alongside huge floating barges of harvested trees that would eventually be sold and make their way into someone’s home as furniture. Man’s impact on the jungle was easy to spot once I knew what to look out for.
Initially, I thought the green of the jungle meant it was a thriving metropolis of plant and animal life – until it was pointed out to me that the green I was seeing was actually planted by man to gain a profit. Eventually it made sense: the indigenous vegetation had been wiped out and substituted for agriculture. In wiping out indigenous vegetation, the natural and functioning biospheres were wiped out as well.
The ripple effect of clearing nature’s systems with man’s manipulated systems resulted in a lack of flourishing life. I was shocked that in all my time in the jungle, I had seen only two snakes, several bird species and very little other animal life. Seeing what man had done to the supposedly wild jungle further increased the need to inspire a conscious movement toward protecting and conserving the remaining life of all biospheres.
I had traversed just over 2 000km and had been travelling for two out of the expected five-month journey. I felt comfortable in my new surroundings and grew in confidence day by day. I was managing the projected concerns I had prior to the adventure, and my endurance was increasing, paddling just over 50km a day. I was focused on admiring and absorbing the sights and sounds of one of the most remote and isolated parts of the planet. I was sharing an existence with some of the most unique, largely undiscovered and most endangered species and creatures known to man. It was a privilege to be able to be in the Amazon and experience a life in the jungle.
I was shot just after midday on Saturday, 25 August 2012. The two men had seen me upriver, hopped into their boat and set up an ambush that I was to paddle straight into, unsuspecting and unknowing. One of the men had run into the jungle and had remained hidden behind the trees while the accomplice waited further downriver in the boat.
Without warning or provocation, I was shot – and twice more until I lay lifeless on the riverbank. It was when the accomplice came from downriver to assess the situation that we locked eyes and I eventually took off running, when I was fired at again. I never saw the man who shot me; during the first three shots I was in a complete daze.
After escaping from my assailants, and running for a number of kilometres, seeing help across the river was a huge relief. When I eventually managed to get the men’s attention, they took me into their village and devised the plan to transport me to a hospital through the night by hopping from village to village.
I had been shot with a shotgun and the numerous pellets lodged within my body had scattered all over my neck, back, leg and face. The shots had punctured my heart, lung and carotid artery. The injuries had caused the restricted breath as I had taken off running into the jungle. I also had severe internal bleeding and much discomfort from the dispersed pellets. Once I reached the hospital, I spent a month in and out of the intensive-care unit and was eventually flown home at the end of September 2012.
I had failed to achieve my goal of navigating the Amazon from source to sea. Despite this, I was happy to be alive and breathing. From this escapade I have a new story to share and a firmer desire to continue utilising adventure for promoting worthy causes and as a means of testing oneself against the elements.
I will continue to share any experiences to inspire a movement of a greater existence and to stand for the call of a unified life for all living creatures.
Visit Davey’s website at www.daveyduplessis.com, or contact his manager Anthony Posemann:
E-mail: [email protected]
Cell: 083 574 4609
Source: The Intrepid Explorer