ep. 28 - Yossi Ghinsberg: Survivor and Best-Selling Author of "Jungle"
Yossi Ghinsberg is an Israeli adventurer, author, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and motivational speaker based in Australia. Ghinsberg is most known for his survival story when he was stranded in an uncharted part of the Bolivian Amazon jungle for three weeks in 1981. Ghinsberg is a tech-entrepreneur and is the founder of Headbox, a mobile application designed to integrate all social media activity into one feed, and Blinq, a mobile application that provides social media and activity live updates.
ep. 28 - Yossi Ghinsberg: Survivor and Best-Selling Author of "Jungle"
Gail Davis: In the midst of the unchartered Amazon, after losing his three companions alone and bare to the bone, one man was tested to the extreme for three harrowing weeks of sheer survival [00:01:00] against all odds and that man, my friend Yossi Ghinsberg is here with us at GDA in studio today and will be the guest of our podcast. Welcome Yossi.
Kyle Davis: Hey Yossi.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Thank you. Thank you Gail, Kylie.
Kyle Davis: Kylie? I'll take it.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Okay.
Kyle Davis: Maybe we can get that SEO for Kylie Jenner, who knows? There's a lot of big things I think happening in your life. [00:01:30] Could we talk about it?
Yossi Ghinsberg: Absolutely.
Kyle Davis: You have a movie coming out where Daniel Radcliffe plays you and that's pretty awesome. I'd like to have a movie with somebody like me as well but to kind of give people some understanding, I know we put a little bit of color and context on there but if you could just do the dive in. How was this movie came about? More importantly, what is the story, what is the backdrop, how does it happen?
Yossi Ghinsberg: Okay. [00:02:00] It took 26 years for this movie to come to the screen first of all so there's always a story, there's always an adventure, it's never easy. It's not supposed to be easy I guess. It all revolves around the same theme of my life which is chasing my dreams. I just don't have a choice. I'm a dreamer and I'm a slave of my dreams. That's why I don't say I have a dream, I say the dream has me. It's a much better description of the situation.
The first dream [00:02:30] was I wanted to go to the Amazon, to be a great explorer, to find the tribes that never met culture before, to marry the daughter of the chief and find riches of gold of the river. This was my dream. However, I'm not just a dreamer because there's two types of dreamers; you can dream and that is called escapism. You stay at home and you have dreams but you never do anything that's because you have a life that you're not agreeable with and as compensation you escape [00:03:00] to the realm of dream. That's a sad kind of dreaming in a way because you compromise your life.
The other one is a dangerous type of dreaming because if you follow your dream that means you may fail, it will break your heart, you may succeed, it will break your heart and you may not be the same person that is the one that lives after the dream. There's a lot of danger. [00:03:30] But I'm the second type of dreamer so this is my nature. I went to the Amazon and I found my tribe. It's a long story but if I have to tell it in a very briefly I would say it starts as a joke. An Austrian, an American, an Israeli and a Swiss decide to explore the unchartered Amazon. This was our foursome. We were from four different [00:04:00] nationalities and actually we also represented four different archetypes. We were very, very different people.
I have to say something about this story it's like The Treasures of Sierra Madre. Four men leave their environment and go deep into a different environment that changes them. The jungle changed us. It showed us who we are because it broke the social masks that we're holding in normal life, that pressure and it's scary. It [00:04:30] is scary to look deep inside yourself and see who you are. It's scarier to meet the beast in you and the darkness in you than to meet the beast outside at times.
This foursome it became a misadventure for us because walking deep into the unchartered we never found that tribes that we were supposed to encounter. In the process our relationship started to go sour and our health deteriorated, [00:05:00] and in the end one of us was too weak to continue and we needed to evacuate. That evacuation we built a raft and we plan to go down river and meet civilization. When you look at the maps that we had, it was 1:250,000 so it wasn't a map you could navigate by. It was basically an area of the area. It looks easy when you look at the river and move your fingers through it and say, "Oh at the end of this river there's civilization." But once on [00:05:30] the raft that we built ourself from balsam trees that we collapsed and tied together, actually we couldn't control the raft and it brought more tension into the group because we started fighting on the raft and that brought tragedy.
The tragedy was that we split in the middle of the jungle; deep, deep, deep in the midst of the uncharted Amazon. We're four men and we decided to go two different ways.
The Austrian and the Swiss followed the tributary by foot trying to evacuate. Sadly they were never [00:06:00] seen again. Kevin, the American, and myself we continued on the raft down river for three hours before we hit a waterfall rocks, rapids and we lost each other in the river. From that moment on I remained alone in the jungle for three weeks. Three weeks without food, without gun, without knife, without fire, without a previous knowledge of this environment and in the worst possible condition, the midst of the rainy [00:06:30] season, in the retrospective the worst rainy season they had in a decade. This was like the opening conditions for me. Naturally I thought I would die a very miserable death. Suddenly I realized that my lifelong dream has turned into my worst nightmare and my vanity of being the great white explorer and suddenly all this mountains above, the water raging underneath, the rocks protruding and the huge [00:07:00] trees swaying in the wind, and I felt all the elements were just mocking at me and my vanity.
I felt crushed by life yet I couldn't just lie there and feel sorry for myself. So I got up and the only thing I could do is follow the river. There was no other way for me to navigate so I just started walking down river. I was hundreds of mile away from civilization but I had no other choice so I started walking and as I started meeting day by day, I'm [00:07:30] meeting the environment which I was in, some transition happened and nothing short of a miracle. I found myself at home. I found myself to be able to deal with the circumstances and the powers that I discovered in myself, I still had vanity because this power was intoxicating. I was praying not to be saved because discovering that power that I had, I said, "Nobody interfere with that. I can survive. I will take care of myself."
It was intoxicating because all my life I thought I'm weak, I'm [00:08:00] inadequate, I'm out of place, I'm pretending, I cannot rely on myself and suddenly when there was nobody else to rely on and I realized that I actually deal with the circumstances. I'm stronger than I thought, I'm wiser and I can deal with this.
In a strange way I was empowered, in a strange way I found myself at home and I never been a victim again ever in my life. Despite that the circumstances just [00:08:30] got worse. It was the rainy season hitting, the storms coming and every day the level of punishments that I received also hurt me. My entire body was one open wound, my feet was two chunks of puss and blood, there was nothing to eat, in the end after three weeks I was just skin hanging on bones. Despite that my spirit rose above that and it kept me going. There's a lot of miracles and a lot of incidents [00:09:00] that it's too short to tell but at the end of three weeks my friend came back for me. Kevin, the American guy, was saved by indigenous people and the only indigenous people in this part of the world, in the Madidi Reserve. They saved him and they came back with him to save me three weeks later. It's such a miraculous way that is very dramatic but I'll leave that for the people to see at the movie theater.
Kyle Davis: Yeah. Go see the movie. [00:09:30] I'm curious because I don't think I was here for it but how did, what, an Austrian, a Swiss, an Israeli and an American, how did that group even form?
Yossi Ghinsberg: I tell him. I was traveling alone and in general I always like to travel on my own because I don't like to be on my own that's why I travel on my own because you attract people when you're alone. If you travel with a mate, you don't attract people. You're already a closed [00:10:00] group, you maintain your own language, you maintain you own culture and you observe others. When you travel alone you're vulnerable, you attract people, they invite you, you learn their language, learn their culture so I always traveled alone. But on the way I met in a very dramatic circumstances, the highest lake in the world Lago Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia, I met the first one.
I met Marcus, a Swiss school teacher on a sabbatical. Marcus was the most beautiful [00:10:30] person I ever met, inner and outer. He was gentle, spiritual and patient, and everybody feel in love with Marcus including me. I was so honored that Marcus became like my best friend and he convinced me to go with him and close the border to Bolivia because it was his last two weeks in the continent. Marcus and me were the first to form.
Then in the streets of La Paz, Bolivia I met an Austrian geologist that wasn't an Austrian geologist. He was a pathological liar, he was a con artist and he [00:11:00] chose me because I assume he saw the naivety written all over my face. He start talking to me in the street, sassing me out, sniffing my dreams. He started telling me that he's an Austrian geologist and there's this tribe in unchartered and he's going there to make contact with the tribe and look for gold. Basically he told me my own dream so I had to follow him. I tried to convince Marcus to join me, Marcus was very upset. He said no way he's going to do it. He brought Kevin, [00:11:30] an American photographer and a tough backpacker to convince me not to go.
Kevin came with Marcus to meet Mark Karl to protect me from him and they fell in his trap because Karl was ... He was this bigger than life like a magician, con artist on the level because when you're a pathological liar, you lie but you believe the lie yourself. He told Kevin stories that were different than the stories he told me.
He [00:12:00] talked about the distribution of [codelias 00:12:02] and he has so much knowledge, he overwhelmed Kevin not with romantic stories about gold and indigenous people but with data. When Kevin realized he's for real, Kevin had a dream. One image will take him to the National Geographic. He realized this is the man from his dream and Marcus was trapped between these two best friends and that's how the foursome was formed.
Kyle Davis: That's interesting. [00:12:30] I guess it kind of makes sense if you're traveling alone and you find somebody who kinds of looks like you and talks like you or at least you can speak a similar language, you would naturally gravitate towards them but finding a con artist that just tricks you into something, that's interesting.
Yossi Ghinsberg: I think there was destiny there. When I met Marcus actually he missed the ferry and the ferry was going into the lake and he was there on the docks waving and it was up to the motormen to decide if to go back for [00:13:00] him or continue. The person in the ferry were grumpy. It was early morning, nobody wanted to go back for sir gringo, it was late but the motormen decided to turn back. That turning back changed our life forever. I would not be the same man and Marcus died. The decision was made by a stranger. I really feel that it was destiny in that moment.
Gail Davis: Yossi, I know that were in your 20s when this happened and you wrote the book [00:13:30] immediately and now it's been over 26 years for the movie.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah. The book is very, very raw. I wasn't an author. The story was so big so the story arrived before me in my country Israel and when I arrived to Israel six months after this event, I got an offer to write. I didn't know how to write so I sat down, I started writing [00:14:00] and it just poured out of me. It poured in such a way that I didn't even control it. I didn't know I remember. I remember to the slightest detail every day and when we were together every conversation. It was more like a memoir, like a journal. Everything poured out of me. What's so good about this book is it's a written so freshly after the event because there's no perspective and there's no analysis. I feel that with perspective and analysis I would [00:14:30] have ruined the story. I story is so strong by itself and I did a great job of not interfering with the story, just telling what happened to me.
That rawness of the book made it an international bestseller. It sold millions all over the world and it's still selling and yet when I tell the story, I do not tell the story that is written in the book.
I didn't read the book in 30 years and I'm not interested in reading it because I don't want regurgitate my story again and again. [00:15:00] I bring the freshness of the man that I am today with all the perspective, all the analysis and all the life lessons that I've learned and this is the man that tells the story. The story is a container for the man that I am today instead of me regurgitating it again and again and again.
Gail Davis: I had the pleasure of having dinner with Yossi on Saturday night and that philosophical view of the universe, ecosystem, mankind, where home is, that's all such a very [00:15:30] attractive part of your personality and you can tell that you're so greatly impacted by the story. I'm curious, were you always a philosopher type person?
Yossi Ghinsberg: In a sense I was. I was always a storyteller. Storytelling is a talent that I have. I never needed to learn and I remember as I kid, kids would come to me and ask me to tell their story just because I would tell it better than them. I was always a storyteller but I found [00:16:00] my story. When a storyteller is armed with a story-
Gail Davis: It's awesome.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah. I think storytelling is extremely important because people don't like lectures and people don't like presentations and people don't listen when you try to tell them ideas because whatever is intellectual is first of all judged, evaluated, rejected. Secondly whatever is teaching turns us into students [00:16:30] and students don't listen, the mind is scattered. We're always happy if the teacher is sick and not coming even at university. We don't like people to teach us anything but give us a storyteller, we forget about everything. We forget about time, our jaws loosens, we all absorb and we're not even listening, we're experiencing. A good storyteller will make you experience the story not just listen to it. We feel the emotion rise within ourself and this is why the [00:17:00] storytelling bit is so important. Then of course if you're bringing the right messages and you have to have a lot of respect for audiences because they open their heart.
You have to trend very gingerly when somebody opens their heart and that's the space that I create with my audiences and it's like electrifying. For me it's the biggest joy is to have that permission of people to go to that place.
Kyle Davis: Since it's been 26 years and you've now had the opportunity to [00:17:30] write the book, well right afterwards, and share your story countless times, now that you're going into ... The movie has already been made and it will be released I'm guessing shortly soon, what was that like especially when had people like Daniel Radcliffe just going, "Hey. I want to play you."? What's that like because I know that another guy that we had on the podcast, Nanda that listened to the other day, he goes, "Now it's 26 years later, I have a different perspective on it and a different way [00:18:00] of thinking about it."
Yossi Ghinsberg: It's difficult because when it's your life story, it's very difficult to let it go and I was the obstacle for this movie for 26 years. I had offers before but the offers were really bad. I went to Hollywood and I had opportunities to have this movie done 20 years ago but Hollywood wasn't ready because Hollywood said, "Look, four guys, no woman, maybe [00:18:30] we should turn one into a woman, a. b, you have two guys that disappear in the middle of the movie and there's no explanation? You leave audience with no explanation, no way of to show what happened to them. You have to show how they die. Third Israeli. We cannot have the protagonist Israeli. We have to turn him American." There's all these issues that they didn't want to tell the story. It took for Hollywood to evolve and come to this point in time where actually the most appraised stories are real true stories and they're ready [00:19:00] to tell my story. It was an evolution. I couldn't do this movie 20 years ago because they didn't want to do it. They wanted to fictionalize it and the power of my story is being a true story. If you want to fictionalize it, what's easier than showing a few anacondas, a couple of jaguars. It's so easy to make up drama in the jungle. No. What's special about this is the human interaction.
It took a long time and I left Hollywood, and I gave up on this idea of making a movie because I saw that I [00:19:30] didn't want just to make a movie because I saw that I didn't want just to make a movie, there's a calling here. My story is important because it touches people's heart. That's what I want the movie to do. I'm happy now that I found a director and a production company that that's all they wanted to do. They wanted to tell the true real story. The movie opens and it doesn't even say based on a true story. It says a true story. They told the real story and I appreciate it. Daniel Radcliffe is a delight, he's a joyous [00:20:00] man. He's half my size but he's not a small man. He's short but he's not small. He's a very big guy with big heart and it took dressing himself in my character, he learned as much as he could about me, the books I read, the music I listen to, we spent time together and he's such a gentleman. He's so polite, well mannered, he's very deep, smart [00:20:30] and hardworking. He lost weight to make it real. Not so much to be thin on the camera but he said, "I cannot play all these suffering and then just indulge. I want to suffer in my process as well so I can identify."
It was very deep in that sense and I really enjoyed his company. The rest of the characters you just saw a snippet now. Alex Russell that plays Kevin, just amazing actor. Beautiful job he did. It was delight to see that [00:21:00] and yes there was a separation because I still made the movie and as one of them, Thomas Kretschmann that plays Karl the Austrian he grabbed me on the first day, gave me a big hug, move me aside and whispered on my ear, "Yossi, this is not a documentary," and the penny dropped. "It's not a documentary. You have to let go. Just let us do a movie now."
Kyle Davis: That's probably some sound advice.
Gail Davis: As Yossi mentioned we got to see a very small snippet of [00:21:30] how the movie ends and I love these kinds of movies because obviously this is a huge story of survival, there's so many dangerous elements but you could feel the goosebumps rising when it shows the final scene when your friend comes back and finds you. It's going to be very powerful. I cannot wait. The think the game plan if everything goes according to plan is that the film will debut in Canne at the Canne-
Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah we don't know yet so it's just an aspiration but it was submitted to Koln. It's the most important festival if we get [00:22:00] in, then we have a premiere in May, that means trailers out, that means movie art out and that means red carpet and press and all that and the movie will start rolling into the market.
Gail Davis: Very, very exciting. You know, I've worked and met many different speakers who have stories of overcoming adversity. But I was thinking earlier, most people have other people around them. We mentioned Nanda earlier and [00:22:30] although he and only one other person walked out of the mountain there are 16 survivors and you were alone for such a period of time. I can't imagine what that was like when you were by yourself.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Well it was the hardest thing. This was the hardest. The single hardest thing was to be alone. This was the most difficult thing and the realization for me to know the importance of people in my life and [00:23:00] to appreciate that. When I was saved, and my book ends when I land in Lapasa and a taxi driver takes me to the hotel and all the way I am just looking outside the window and crying and he is asking me why am I crying? The reason I am crying, I just to see all these people. Just to have people and have society and have culture and be part you know. I still cry for that.
I’m moving now from Israel to Australia in one month and I cry [00:23:30] for all the friends that I have in Israel. Friendship, companionship is the first thing, actually the second. You know, food comes first but the second is companionship. That was my experience of survival. I needed food but then immediately after food was companionship before anything else.
To be alone was very very difficult. The way I dealt with it is by hallucinating other people. I would make stories and screen the stories in my head. However there was one [00:24:00] moment and it was my hardest moment because it was on the 17th day alone when an airplane passed in the sky. When this airplane passed and there was no way for me to wave, I didn’t have fire. I was under the canopy. The airplane passed very fast and oblivious to my pain and desperation. At that moment I broke down and burst into tears and I cried and cried [00:24:30] and from the relief, I started praying as well and my prayer was pure. It was, "God please let me die. I don’t want to live anymore, just let me die." I gave up on life.
That was the moment where a miracle happened and a woman appeared next to me. I suddenly hear somebody crying and when I look I see a young woman appears right there next to me. It was so strange but I just jumped on my feet and I started screaming, [00:25:00] “Get up! The airplane may come back we cannot waste time crying now.” So I pulled her from the mud and I start running with her for two entire days I was accompanied by another person that appeared in the jungle. After two days when made her a place to sleep when built a camp for her, when I called her to come closer to me and draw warmth from each other, I realized I am hugging thin air. There is nobody there. I built the camp for her but there is no other person. I cannot explain [00:25:30] but I tell you, companionship.
She saved my life because companionship also means that I couldn’t help myself anymore. I gave up on life but the moment there was somebody else that needed me, I found the power. I couldn’t help myself but when I saw her and she needed me I found the power to give her. Much more power is revealed to us, is given to us when we actually give it to other people. That's what [00:26:00] saved my life. This was an amazing experience of the importance of ...
Gail Davis: Yeah, you know, we talked about Nanda earlier and one of the things he has always said is; When you are on top of the mountain and you are dying, you don’t miss your car, you don’t miss your stereo, you don’t miss your emails, your fax machine, you miss the loving embrace of your family. That was the thing, that connection that companionship.
I have another speaker I work with. She was left for dead after a guy [00:26:30] intentionally run over her. When the police were interviewing her, she talked about all these women that ran out from their homes to help her until the paramedics came. The police thought, well I should go interview those women because maybe they can help us find this driver. He went and knocked on every door and people were like, "No no no, I wasn’t home I didn’t go out there," but She can tell you what they were wearing, these women that came out and helped her. So, who knows Yossi, the universe has a lot of unanswered questions.
Yossi Ghinsberg: [00:27:00] That's absolutely right.
Kyle Davis: Yeah I mean, I found it interesting because prior to recording this Yossi was telling his story to the entire team. One of the things that I thought was really interesting that kept coming to my mind is since you were alone and all you had was the fight for food, but then there was really just you and your thoughts. Then you said that you didn’t sleep for three weeks and even when you laid down and you covered yourself in what ever you could find on the jungle floor, all you did was go into a hallucination, [00:27:30] like a state of hallucination.
Yossi Ghinsberg: That's right because I couldn’t deal with ... Along the day I dealt with the environment. I walked all day and I dealt with whatever came. Sometimes it was danger like a pack of wild pigs and sometimes it was an opportunity like some fruit on a tree. Everyday had its own adventure. At night, I couldn’t deal with the night because I had no fire , I had no gun, not even a knife. All the nocturnal, you know, like [00:28:00] the jungle awakes actually at night. All the action is at night. All the predators and you here things screeching and moving and roars. I couldn’t just lie there.
I was consuming myself because all day I was exerting energy. I needed to replenish, I needed to rest and I couldn’t fall asleep. What saved my life was my ability to imagine. I would imagine circumstances and I made like movies and I would screen those movies in my head [00:28:30] but they all shifted on me. All my stories became stories about food and companionship, all of them. No matter what I intended to tell a story ... Like for example, if I went to, my first story was flying to Oregon to meet Kevin’s parent and tell them he died. The airplane instead, after dreaming that a couple of times, the airplane suddenly lands in Miami instead of Oregon and I am on a ground bus trying to get to Oregon and all this hallucination [00:29:00] is about every three we stop and I go down to a Mcdonalds and I fill up my tray with 30 big Macs. It all became about, every single of my hallucination turned to be about food.
Kyle Davis: I was reading something. I think it had to be like the US Army survival manual or something like that. It was talking about how when you go into these like sleep deprivation hallucination states, you start thinking about [00:29:30] the things that you want most. Having the companionship ... Because for me, I'm an introverted extrovert. So I like being around people but then I like being alone. I probably could get through like 2 or 3 days but come day 4, I’d be like, you know, no one's here to hear me complain. What's going on?
Yossi Ghinsberg: That is very powerful. That’s what happened to me. I came to a stage when I stopped complaining [00:30:00] and this is big because I had a lot to complain. I was injured all over my body and every single step because my feet were raw, was shooting so much pain. So I was complaining inside my head. It's I can’t take it it’s not fair, it's you know, it stopped. And when you stop complaining the pain don’t disappear but the complaint disappear. That's the difference between pain and suffering.
Kyle Davis: Yeah that's what I was about to ask you about was, one of the things you mentioned was like your body would ache, you'd be sore, you had basically trenchphobe because [00:30:30] it would never stop raining. Your feet were falling apart which is like the worst thing that could ever happen to anybody. You couldn't eat, you survived on a couple of eggs a day and you are getting through this. Yeah your body is in pain but then it’s the suffering that’s the mental game that you won.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah that's amazing. That was like a miracle, I'm telling you. This you cannot gain from reading a book. There is some learnings that are not intellectual you cannot just learn it. But when you go through that it's just like a miracle because the brain just collapsed on its self and then there was silence. [00:31:00] All remained was the pain but the complaining stopped and the pain was tolerable. The pain without the complaint is just pain. It’s a sensation and I can handle it but all this victim that is constantly; no it’s not fair, it actually intensifies the pain. And that is the lesson, when you resist pain the pain becomes bigger.
Kyle Davis: So listen to your body?
Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah. Listen to your body is very good advice.
Gail Davis: [00:31:30] Tell the listeners about, I think you have two primary key notes and how you bring the lessons from the Amazon and how you translate this to audiences.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Thank you. The first is the bigger than life story the very exotic story of survival against all odds in the Amazon. It is an epic story and people love hearing it. Its dramatic, it's got Amazon jungle, jaguars drama, survival, it's got all the elements and I am a good story [00:32:00] teller. I bring messages of inspiration, meeting adversity, rising above adversity.
It brings people to tears. It is like really moving and gripping in that sense, nobody actually can breeze or move. The entire audience is just ... And it allows me to touch my emotions. When I touch my emotions vicariously, the audience also can actually process their emotions. [00:32:30] So its a very emotional thing and powerful.
My other topic is called, bringing Amazon Survivor Skills to Business. So the Amazon survival is the big story but the skills to business is actually insights that are very very relevant. They are relevant because the Amazon ... I should mention that I went back. After my 3 weeks of survival I went back and I made the Amazon my home. I lived [00:33:00] on the same river that almost claimed my life. I lived there for 3 years. I lived with the indigenous people that saved Kevin and saved me. By being part of the Amazon not as the youth that was lost there but actually ten years later, more mature, I learned from the Amazon and from the indigenous people. It brought me to an enlightenment. Enlightenment not in a spiritual sense, enlightenment of understanding the world as it should be.
In a very [00:33:30] simple way. Nature is simple but very efficient. Its about all of us. The Amazon its all about codependency. Being the busiest and densest place on the planet it's still so abundant. Everybody survives and everybody ... It's all about symbiosis and synergy. There is no competition, no species goes down, no species loses. They all live together because that’s the secret, because if one hurts it's because of symbiotic synergy co-system coexistence. [00:34:00] There is innate wisdom in the Amazon and it comes from the densest place on the planet where would you think competition on resources is at its most.
50% of the population is condensed in 4% of the planet. It teaches us the opposite. It teaches us that we live in conditions of abundance and not scarcity. It teaches us that competing against each other is actually the most inefficient survival strategy. [00:34:30] That’s not what species in the Amazon do. They actually invest in innovation on developing a niche where they don’t need to compete. As much as they have so much biodiversity in the Amazon, each one is curving its own niche and that actually creates harmony because there's innovation.
It's this harmony is what we should learn from it and bring also to our business environment. So this is the deep teaching of the Amazon and definitely [00:35:00] my calling to go to the corporate world, share my story but also share the insights.
Kyle Davis: You mentioned that you went back to the Amazon and you’ve even lived there for 3 years. Then also to us you also to us you also mentioned that you also opened like a resort and hotel. Do you want to tell people quickly how that kind of came about? Because that was kind of a fun story?
Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah, that’s the biggest story for me because the indigenous people that live in this remote part of the world. There is only one single tribe that lives there. Very [00:35:30] isolated. Ten years after, they saved Kevin and they came back with Kevin and saved me. So ten years later I went to thank them for saving my life and they asked me, “Will you help us save our life, because we are dying. Can you do something for us?” and I said, “what can I do?” They said, “Our youths are leaving because they don’t want the ancestral life that we have. They want progress. And there is progress in the jungle towns. They go they [00:36:00] scrub floors, they wash dishes, anything to earn some money. And we want to save our village."
So what we decided is we were going to build a resort. But this is so isolated and so remote and so impossible, but they didn’t know it's impossible. They said, “We'll build a resort and thousands of people from all over the world will come to see our resort because there is no more beautiful place than our place. ” so I said, “Okay I will try and help you.” Since I was in that position that [00:36:30] I couldn’t say no and the moment I started working on it, their dream became my dream and the moment I have a dream, the dream has me.
I completely got absorbed and I moved there and I lived there for 3 years and we’ve build the resort. The resort was opened in 1995. It is still thriving 20 years later. These indigenous people gave example to many other communities about attitude. Not to wait for somebody to save you but take the initiative and save [00:37:00] yourself. It is a game changer in the entire indigenous world of the Amazon where only in Bolivia we have 120 other tribes, sorry, other projects that followed the model of Chalalan of going directly to the financing organization and saving themselves without the help of NGOs or organizations et cetera.
Kyle Davis: I like the story about how you got money [00:37:30] for it. That was kind of [crosstalk 00:37:31]
Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah. Looks like, you know, it's unbelievable, unbelievable. Every time I tell this story I have so much joy because this is so unbelievable, I’d love to tell you. Look I had no clue of what I'm doing, I had no clue whatsoever. But what's good about me, I am not afraid to learn. I call myself, similarly to you, my definition of myself, I call myself, I am a professional unprofessional. [00:38:00] Which means I can learn.
So I learnt and as I was learning I read this article that basically showed that renewable resources of greater economic value than non renewable resources. When I realized that, because what it means is that a living Amazon will make more money than an exploited Amazon. This actually shocked me and I wrote a 3 pager based on this idea, that the [00:38:30] best way to conserve the Amazon is actually sustainable development. Sustainable development in the early 90's was a new concept. I flew to Washington DC. I had no contacts whatsoever. I had no money, I went to a phone booth and I started making calls from the yellow pages, putting quarter after quarter in the machine and just not knowing who I am calling just from yellow pages.
After like 20 calls, one organization called The Inter American Development [00:39:00] Bank said, “It sounds interesting we are open to receive you for an interview. Come tomorrow.” So I go for my first meeting in Washington DC and in that first meeting ten minutes into the meeting I am told Mr. Ghinsberg stop. I said , “Yes.” They said, “Look, we have to ask you a couple of things now. We understand what you offer.” He said, “You have to promise us you will not talk to any other organization.” And I said, “Sir I don’t understand [00:39:30] what it means.” He said, “What it means is that we will give what you need but you cannot talk to anybody else.”
You know, they wanted the project badly and they were afraid somebody else would take it. So he said, “Don’t talk to anybody.” I said, “Okay I get it I will not talk to anybody.” There is the second issue. The money that you are asking we cannot give you. I was disappointed. What do you mean? They said, “You are asking for $250,000 but we had a small loan project, the minimum we can give is a million and a half.” Can [00:40:00] you believe it? They gave me a million and a half. This was the one and only meeting that I had in Washington DC.
What I'm saying about that is that a professional would have never done it. You have to be naïve sometimes to achieve. Because naivete doesn’t know that it’s impossible. A professional will not stand in the cold and open yellow pages and make calls. The power of a naïve dreamer shouldn’t be underestimated.
Kyle Davis: [00:40:30] I'm a firm believer in naivete. I mean, like there are so many situations that people can get themselves into where just not knowing what the potential outcome could be really like kind of saves their lives. One of the things that you mentioned though was like if you asked a professional survivalist or adventurer to kind of re-create what you did, everybody would probably say no.
Yossi Ghinsberg: That’s right.
Kyle Davis: No one would want to do it. I think just to kind of wrap up; what is it that you are doing these days aside [00:41:00] from being an Israeli that lives in Australia. I think you are running social media and online banking or online everything for your resort? Yossi Ghinsberg: Yeah I'm still part of Chalalan. I'm helping Chalalan and I'm going back to the Amazon in this late September to do another project in the village. I am very connected and involved in the Amazon. I love it. I've done many things in my life [00:41:30] as a professional unprofessional and as a naïve dreamer. So every time something comes and it takes me. I was in Silicon Valley for 3 years, developed a mobile application that would change the world. Before that I had an art gallery.
I just let my dreams come and I follow them. I speak in conferences, its something that I love because that story teller cannot express itself, unless there are audiences. Its like such a great feeling for me. I [00:42:00] really believe in the calling. I leave my message, I am afraid to say anything that I cannot wear and carry myself am afraid. Because on the stage if I will say a message that is bigger than my own life, life will come very quickly at me, so all my messages are really, as small as they are they are real in my life. I respect ... Also as I say, I'm here to serve and that's [00:42:30] not a simple thing to achieve in life. It took a lot of beating, a lot of beating to come to a place where I can truly say and humbly say that I am here to serve and by the way this humility has made me much bigger.
The moment you are not self serving actually you grow, you don't you know, because now you know that you are not self serving you can actually grow so much more. I came to this place and I'm in peace with it and I love what I am doing and I am still open for whatever life will bring.
Kyle Davis: [00:43:00] Fun stuff, I like it, cool. Well I think that is a good place for us to wrap up. If you guys are interested for booking Yossi Ghinsberg for a speaking engagement, you can do so by getting into contact with GDA speakers and calling 214-420-1999 or visiting gdaspeakers.com. Also, if you would like to read today’s transcript you can do so by going to gdapodcast.com and the finally go see the movie Jungle’ with Daniel Radcliffe [00:43:30] coming out sometime soon. Its going to be awesome, go buy your tickets and buy the book too.
Gail Davis: And book Yossi.
Kyle Davis: Book Yossi, there you go. Fun stuff. Thank you so much.
Gail Davis: Thank you Yossi, It was great to have you.
Yossi Ghinsberg: Thank you Gail, Kyle.
Gail Davis: Thanks.