Do you dream of adventure? Do you crave leaving everything behind for distant places? So did Holly Fitzgerald and her husband Fitz. They decide to travel the world on a belated honeymoon trip in 1973. While in South America, they want to fly to Peru, where they would take a commercial boat down to Bolivia and hitch a ride into Brazil and hopefully reach the coast in time for Carnival.

Their plane crash lands in the middle of the jungle just hours into their journey. They are found by an inmate of a penal colony who leads them to the prison where the guards feed and house Holly, Fitz, and the other passengers, until another plane arrives a few days later to take them to their destination. Once they arrive, they discover that there are no commercial boats into Bolivia. Frustrated and not wanting to back track, they decide to raft down the Madre de Dios River.

The townspeople assure them that it’s safe and that no experience is needed. They decide to take this once in a lifetime opportunity, since it is only supposed to be a five day trip. They build a raft with the help of some locals, christen their raft The Pink Palace, and set off. Things are going well, until the fourth day of travel, when a huge storm blows them off course into a dead-end channel and they lose two boxes of food. They attempt paddling their raft back up the channel, but the current is too strong and careens them back into their prison like lagoon. They find a smaller, abandoned raft and use that for their next escape attempt. That fails too. Time and again their hopes of rescue or escape are dashed, until they give up and concentrate on finding food. As the says pass things become bleaker, much needed body weight falls off of them, muscle deteriorates as they subsist on a few berries, frogs and snails. Twenty-six days pass. No one knows they are missing. They can barely move around their raft without collapsing and Fitz no longer has the strength to leave their tiny plastic tent despite the hordes of wasps that have invaded.

Ruthless River: Love and Survival by raft on the Amazon’s relentless Madre de Dios is a gripping, true story that held my interest from the very first page. It seems almost impossible that two people could go through so much. Holly Fitzgerald was encouraged to share their story by their daughter, who signed them up for a memoir class.

Other survival books:

A Speck in the Sea by John Aldridge

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Alive: the story of the Andes survivors by Piers Paul Read

Island of the lost: shipwrecked at the edge of the world by Joan Druett

The Mapmaker’s Wife: a true tale of love, murder, and survival in the Amazon by Robert Whitaker

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