Stranded in the Amazon: An Interview with Yossi Ghinsberg
Storyteller, philosopher and explorer, Yossi Ghinsberg was stranded for three weeks in the Amazon. After nearly losing his life the first time around, he returned to the remote depths of the jungle to give something back to the people. Building an eco-tourism village there, alongside the indigenous Amazon tribes he has contributed to the creation of the Madidi National Park. A film starring Daniel Radcliffe is now being made about Yossi’s adventures; ahead of this, we caught up with the man himself to hear more about his unbelievable journey.
You were stranded in the uncharted territory in the Bolivian jungle for three weeks. Can you tell us how this happened and summarise what this experience was like?
It was my dream to become a great explorer, just like the ones from the adventure books that I read as a child. I can safely say that I definitely got more than I bargained for. My dream turned into the worst nightmare possible. Lost, alone and bare to the bone in the midst of the uncharted Amazon in a raging rainy season, I had to work for 3 weeks just to survive. In a strange way, for the first time in my life I could rely upon myself; indeed, in some ways, I have become the hero of my own life story. I have never felt more at home, or at peace with myself, and I have discovered what is truly the essence of survival.
Madidi National Park - Bolivia
Speaking of, what is your top survival tip?
Survival is not only natural; it's also an optimal mode to operate in, since when humans are in this mode, their faculties consolidate to maximise chances of survival.
Survival makes us superheroes; it's an innate quality. There is no need to learn it, because in real-time our instincts kick in to meet the challenges life throws at us. In a way, the wisdom and experience of our ancestors are imprinted in our genes. Survival is not about cut-throat, kill or get killed aggression. Nature is much more efficient and sophisticated. Nature is about co-existence and hence survival is about live and let live. In the Amazon, survival of the fittest means nothing - because every single species fits perfectly. For me, the secret of survival is the secret sauce of life itself - I'll be happy to reveal it...
What advice can you offer businesses wanting to reach their peak performance?
The challenges never stop and opportunities and dangers come with challenges. This process is constant, life unfolds faster and faster, and businesses need to rely on their instincts to survive. Peak performance is natural in a survival mode. So, my first piece of advice would be to welcome this state, and understand that it will make us the best versions of ourselves. Nonetheless, as in my above comments, there is no need to fight anyone in order to survive, but rather let them fight out the competition, while you focus on diversifying and innovating to create a niche, as small as it may be; a niche where competition is not necessary. This can be done by putting your best attentions on innovation, rather than competition.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Yossi in the new thriller about his life: 'Jungle'
What or who has been the greatest influence in your life?
Heroes inspire me - people with a cause and the integrity to live by it - and I have a long list of them. They are either real heroes like Alexander of Macedonia and many other figures of the classic world that I've read about. Or, they are fictional characters from the books of Ian Rand or Frank Herbert. They inspire me to be an agent of change myself, to know that an individual does matter, and they motivate me to dare to shine and be the true hero of my life’s story.
Can you tell us about your journey that took you to building a resort in the Bolivian jungle, how you achieved the investment for this, and what positive impact it had?
It was my naivety that helped me achieve what otherwise would have been deemed impossible. The Uchupiamona tribe saw the investment as a means to save their village from annihilation, as they were facing problems of the youth seeking employment in the jungle town downriver and never returning to their home. So, they thought that building a resort would offer a solution of employment to their youth.
When I appeared on the scene, I realised that no investor in their right mind would want to get involved. I decided to prove that ecotourism could be a more economically viable conservation strategy. In my naivety, I flew to Washington DC and began to call important organisations from a phone booth. Finally, the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) agreed to meet me. In that moment, I had secured my first and only meeting, and I managed to raise five times more than what I had asked.
Now, we've built the resort and transformed the entire region. No longer are they facing exploitation; instead, it is a booming sector, and a home to hospitality and business development. This was nothing short of a miracle, and I believe naivety was the secret to our success.
Yossi is inspired by Frank Herbert's adventure books
What is next for you?
Lots of different things! Now that my movie is out, I would like to take my show to a theatre on Broadway, I will be flying to New York later this month to start working towards it. I am planning to produce a movie about the life and death of Janus Korczak. I am also developing a full day seminar for corporations, to implement the insights behind my keynote speech. Alongside this, I am also working on taking people with me on a two-week jungle adventure to the middle of the Amazon, so that they can see the resort and be part of a life-changing adventure.
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