South America’s Amazon Jungle is a vast, wild, unforgiving place. A place of dangerous animals and poisonous insects, of thick impenetrable scrub and foliage, of winding rivers and estuaries, but also a place where spirits, both good and evil, permeate the heated atmosphere like the thick, constant, fog-like humidity. I did my first trek there in 2014 and in the process, was severely bitten by piranhas, plagued by a tarantula that had crawled up my back (thank God for my fixer who spotted it and swatted it off), encountered a snorting animal of unknown origin in my hut in the middle of the night, and finally, suffered a hairline fracture in my foot during an impromptu post-lunch soccer match with a group of native guides.

But none of my adventures and misadventures in the jungle compare to a 25 year old Chilean tourist, Maykool Coroseo Acuna who, after going missing recently in a thick area of Bolivian rain forest, managed to survive a harrowing nine day ordeal with the help of monkeys. According to a report from National Geographic, the monkeys dropped him fruit and also successfully led him to both shelter and clean water every day.

Mother Earth’s Karma Enacted?

Madidi National Park

Witnesses said that the night before Acuna mysteriously disappeared, he refused to participate in a traditional ceremony honoring Pachamama or Mother Earth. The traditional ceremony is performed as a thank you for her allowing visitors access to the rain forest home. Local custom dictates that coca leaves, candles, and cigarettes be offered to her. Why Acuna refused to participate in the ceremony is still unclear, but what is clear is his having gone missing from his Max Adventures tour group which had established its camp deep inside Bolivia’s Madidi National Park.

The owner of Max Adventures, Feizar Nava, said that it was because he offended the Pachamama, that Acuna went missing. A native Bolivian, Nava, believes the rain forest to be a sacred place. If the Gods like Pachamama become offended, a spirit called Duende will come and get you. Duende, it is said, has the power to hide a man in another dimension. Witnesses claimed that between the time Acuna was last seen sitting on his cabin steps and when one of the tour group members went to check on him, was only about five minutes, which means there could be some serious truth to the Duende legend. Acuna testified that he didn’t just walk off into the dense jungle in the impenetrable darkness on his own. He felt that he had been brought there by another force.

Renderings of Duende                    Image Via: Wikipedia and Verreaux Artist

Madidi Park Director Marcos Uzquiano was quoted as saying, “For myself and the rangers, this is our culture. We believe that Duende is real. And we think it’s possible that Maykool was taken by him.”

When local Shamans were called in to assist a hastily assembled search party, they attested that Acuna was far away in a place that could not be reached on foot right away. But that didn’t deter the rescuers who searched for days on end in the relentless heat and humidity. They were just about to give up on the hunt when a single muddy sock was discovered. This humble clue to Acuna’s whereabouts was shown to his stepmother who had just flown in from Chile. She confirmed that it did indeed belong to her stepson.

Pachamama
Image Via: Everythingsoulful.com

Rangers and guides systematically combed multiple kilometers of the rain forest that surrounded the camp. They also forded the rivers in canoes. Not only did they work eight to 10 hours days making a section by section sweep of the area, they performed nightly sacrificial rituals asking Pachamama for her assistance in locating Acuna. While fatalities occur every year in the Madidi rainforest, no one has gone missing in more than 15 years. Oddly enough, Acuna’s disappearance closely mimicked the 1981 disappearance of Israeli tourist, Yossi Ghinsberg, who disappeared in the same area of rain forest for more than three weeks. His travails were recounted in the bestselling book, Back from Tuichi, and a soon to be released movie called, Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

While the search continued, Acuna was doing his best to stay alive. Every day the monkeys would provide him life-sustaining fruit and lead him to a fresh water source. They would also lead him to shelter so that he could survive the night—that dangerous time when all things in the jungle, good and bad, come alive. But that didn’t stop the never-ending onslaught of ants, mosquitoes, gnats, spiders and other insects from their relentless swarming, stinging, and biting. At one point, Acuna claimed that he went mad, having tossed away his cell phone and flashlight along with his sandals. He began sprinting through the jungle barefoot, until he was sapped of energy.

Image Via: National Geographic

“And after running so much, I stopped under a tree and I started thinking,” Acuna told rescuers later on, “what had I done, what was I doing? And when I wanted to get back, it wasn’t possible.”

When he was finally located on day nine, dehydrated and covered in insect bites, it was determined that Acuna hadn’t strayed more than a mile away from the Max Adventure campground. Although he didn’t know what kind of monkeys were responsible for saving his life (Rosillo, Lucachi, Titi among other monkeys are indigenous to the area), he credited them with his survival. Or perhaps Pachamama believed he’d suffered enough for his sins and allowed him to be rescued.

Whatever was responsible for saving Acuna from a slow, agonizing death inside the unforgiving jungle, in the end, he was just glad to be alive.