Rurrenabaque, Bolivia: In the Bolivian Amazon, where vast rivers wind endlessly through mountainous terrain and a thick blanket of fog creeps through the trees, the locals say the jungle can swallow you in a second. Venture too far and you may never find your way back.
It doesn't happen often. Hadn't for 15 years, in fact.
Then it did.
I was with the Madidi National Park rangers when they first received word that a 25-year old Chilean man, Maykool Coroseo Acuña, had suddenly disappeared within the confines of the park. Vanished by mysterious circumstances, they were told.
A witness’ murky account, transmitted by radio, said Maykool was last seen sitting on the steps of his cabin around 8:30 pm the night before. He had been on a rainforest tour with Max Adventures, a local agency, and had seemingly disappeared from their campground, without leaving a single track behind.
This doesn't happen; people always leave a trace. So the locals suspected the worst: because Maykool had declined to participate in a ceremony thanking Mother Earth for allowing them entry into the rainforest, he had offended her, and so she allowed him to be taken by Duende, a sprite who takes his victims to another dimension. As they searched for the vanished Chilean, they called in shamans to assist in locating him.
They believed that Duende had been harnessing the energy of Mapajo, a powerful tree spirit, to hide Maykool. “He’s far away, in a place we can’t reach,” the shamans told us. But by completing payments in the form of intricate ceremonies, they explained, they would finally be able to call Maykool’s soul back into this dimension. It would be only then that he could be found in the forest.
The search continued for over a week; eight to ten hours a day. The guides, experienced trackers, were vexed by their inability to locate any trace of the missing tourist. Then their luck turned: one of them happened across a muddy sock, which was confirmed to be that of Maykool.
For the shamans, the sock changed everything; it was a window into Maykool’s soul, a way to reach him on a spiritual plane and call him back to reality.
After nine days, they found him - cut, bruised, bitten, scratched. But alive.
Maykool was laid down in a hammock and we all quietly gathered around him to listen to his story of survival. He never was able to find the river, he told us. Incredibly, he was able to instead survive by following a group of monkeys, who dropped him fruit and led him to shelter and water every day.
Maykool’s rescuers maintain the belief that Duende drove him temporarily insane and lured him into another dimension. His behavior fits all the signs, they say—the maddening thoughts, the shamans’ testimony, his strange disappearance.
He thinks it was God - and the monkeys - who saved him.
In any event, it's an interesting tale.