From real-life Indiana Jones to motivational speaker
Adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg, whose story of survival is being turned into a Hollywood thriller starring Kevin Bacon, leads a life that inspires.
In 1981, three recently acquainted backpackers and one guide took off into the Bolivian rainforest in search of adventure and that most elusive of all of nature's riches: gold. The men weren't exactly prepared for the journey, nor did they carry the pedigree of seasoned explorers, but the siren call of the jungle and all of its well-guarded secrets was too hard to resist.
Only two would return to share an unbelievable story of deception, desperation and ultimate survival in one of the most beautiful and dangerous places on Earth.
Sound like the perfect plot for a thrilling film? Hollywood agrees. Late last year, studio Arclight announced the start of production on "Jungle," with Greg McLean attached to direct and actor Kevin Bacon taking on the "dangerous and alluring" role of Karl the villain. The movie is based on the international best-selling memoir "Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival" by Yossi Ghinsberg, a mere 22 years old when he entered the Amazon rainforest.
For the Israeli-born Ghinsberg, the film is yet another chapter in the incredible aftermath of an ordeal that continues to shape and define how he lives his life. Not only did he eventually return to the place he was rescued to help the indigenous people there create a world-class eco-resort, but he's also since become an acclaimed motivational speaker and tech entrepreneur; using the lessons he learned while lost to inspire, create, and dare others to reach beyond their perceived limitations.
We recently contacted Yossi to learn more about his feelings on the film, the impact it could have on eco-tourism in Bolivia, and his dual careers in motivational speaking and mobile app development.
FTGV: How does it feel to have your story being turned into a feature film with Kevin Bacon? Have you been asked to provide input during development and filming?
GHINSBERG: The movie is still in pre-production and this industry is volatile, so I am reluctant to speak about it before the cameras are actually rolling. However, I am consulting the production company and writing inputs such as character descriptions and certain scenes, as a resource to the scriptwriter. It is very moving and a great privilege, and the story is a great true story that deserves to be told to masses. It can touch many hearts and make a difference in many lives.
After being rescued by your fellow backpacker Kevin and some of the indigenous people living on the river, you later returned and stayed for several years, helping them to build an eco-resort called Chalalan in the jungle. What was that return like? Was it difficult?
These were amazing years from 1992 to 1995 that I lived with the same tribal people that saved Kevin and later helped him in his search for me. The people of San Jose De Ucupiamonas have initiated this project to save their village from the threat of cultural invasion. Down at the jungle town, progress arrived and the youth of the village were drawn to it. By launching an eco-tourism project, not only have the youth stayed, but they are now employing the people of the town and the resort, which is still going strong, has won many awards. Of course it was hard, it came at a huge effort and sacrifice, but the excitement of doing something that was never done before, an indigenous community that is powerful enough not to wait for an NGO to save them but doing it themselves, this project inspired the entire Amazon Basin and the world. I was privileged to be there and my greatest virtue was naïveté – not knowing what's impossible to make it possible. This is the story of Chalalan – a story of the power of a dream.
Whereas others might never want anything to do with nature ever again, this experience seems have deepened your attachment to it. Can you explain why?
After losing my friend and finding myself alone, initially I was shattered – realizing I'm a victim of the cruelest of circumstances, lost alone in the most hostile place on the planet, and in the midst of the worst rainy season in decades. Yet a few days later I had an awakening after killing a deadly snake and eating it. I felt vigorous, able to deal with the situation, and at my strongest. I knew I found myself, knew for the first time that I am the hero and that I can count on myself. I felt at home. Not once did I blame the jungle for my circumstances or see it as the villain. I was shocked that despite my circumstances, I was still able to admire and enjoy this great last frontier of untouched nature. I fell in love with it and always wished to return. I never had a nightmare and never was scared of nature.
Do you think the Tacana-Quechua people will benefit from this film in any way? How has eco-tourism shaped their future?
They will of course, as many people will be exposed to the story in which they have a very important part. This village is still the furthest away from the jungle town in a pristine setting that, thanks to the project, is now part of a national park. They own and fully operate the most successful resort in the Bolivian Amazon. With further exposure they will see many more visitors.
You've turned this experience into a successful career as a motivational speaker. What are the main lessons you're wanting to share with people during your presentations?
I am a natural storyteller, and I happened upon the most amazing story my own story of survival. It was only natural for me to write the book and even more so to tell the story. With the years following I had many realizations and more experiences that gave depth and perspective. Sharing the story and its insights has been one of the most rewarding careers for me, as nothing is more rewarding than touching another heart, knowing that you have been of meaning to another person, company or a cause. Moreover, I love it – love the stage, the thrill of standing in front of audiences, and love the lifestyle of traveling all over the world to meet companies and organizations. I've made new friends all over the world, learned so much from my travels, the companies I've spoken to, and from fellow speakers. I've become a cross-fertilizer and along the years my story has changed too. I feel I've never told this story twice, as I am always speaking as the man that I am today.
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