Meet the man who inspired Daniel Radcliffe’s “Jungle” movie

Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg tells his harrowing tale of survival in the Amazon.
Yossi Ghinsberg's tale of surviving the harsh wilds of the Amazonian rainforest is now a movie. (Photo: Courtesy)
Yossi Ghinsberg's tale of surviving the harsh wilds of the Amazonian rainforest is now a movie. (Photo: Courtesy)

In 1981, Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg was lost in the Bolivian jungle for three weeks, miraculously survived, and wrote a book about his harrowing experience. Twenty-six years later, the story came to the screen in the film “Jungle,” starring actor Daniel Radcliffe as Ghinsberg.

“I think he did a tremendous job. I’ve seen the movie four or five times at festivals and seen people at the edge of their seat, fully experiencing it. You don’t see Harry Potter when you watch it,” Ghinsberg said.

Once he made a deal with producer and fellow Israeli Dana Lustig, it took 12 years to get “Jungle” made. “But everything has its time and I’m happy with how it’s depicted on screen. They did a very respectful job of staying true to the story. Many movies are inspired by a true story. This is a true story,” Ghinsberg emphasized. “Of course there is some artistic [license] here or there – it’s not a documentary.”

For example, the butterflies that appear at the beginning and end of the film are an invention, and Ghinsberg actually excised 14 burrowing worms from his forehead, not one. But self-surgery wasn’t the worst part of his ordeal. “It’s not in the movie, but I had an entire nest of termites attacking me by night. They almost chewed me alive,” he revealed.

When he got stuck in the swamp, “I felt I was going to die there,” he says. “I thought about killing myself.” Another tough moment was when an airplane passed overhead. “That was a tough moment. That broke my spirit.” Then there was the hunger and solitude. “I longed for food and companionship,” he said.

But Ghinsberg discovered he was stronger than he thought – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. “Your faculties kick in. Survival is about efficiency because energy is scarce. I discovered that I am much stronger, smarter and more able than I believed myself to be.”

Daniel Radcliffe portrays real-life adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg in the film ‘Jungle.’ (Courtesy)

He gives credit to Kevin Gale, the traveling companion from whom he was separated, for never giving up the search for his friend. “It’s inspiring the way Kevin came back for me, risking his own life. He was a true hero.”Ghinsberg bears no scars from his jungle experience, literally or figuratively. “The only trauma I suffered was existential. I had no physical trauma. I healed very fast. I had no emotional trauma. I didn’t have one nightmare. I never felt fear,” he said. “I didn’t think of the jungle as my enemy.” Which is why he didn’t hesitate to return.

Following a possible lead on the whereabouts of missing traveling companion Marcus Stamm, Ghinsberg went to Peru, and when it didn’t pan out, he returned to Bolivia to seek out tribesmen who helped Gale rescue him. He ended up staying for three years and returns often. He built an eco-lodge there called Chalalan, “and it’s thriving, 20 years since we opened it. I’m a proud member of the tribe.”

But peripatetic traveler Ghinsberg doesn’t call one place home. “In the last couple of months I haven’t slept more than two nights in one place. For me home is where I sleep tonight,” he says. He’s frequently in Australia and in Israel, visiitng family and friends in his hometown of Tel Aviv.

“There’s something special about Israel,” he says. “People live life fully. It becomes addictive.”