I was having my best day tracking wildlife. I’d seen a manatee, a river dolphin, and a couple of new birds. When two guys in their twenties motored past in a pirogue, I didn’t pay them much attention. Ten minutes later, something slammed into my back and knocked me into the water. My arms were frozen stiff. I didn’t know what was going on. I kicked to the surface but didn’t see anyone. Then something hit my face. I used my head to push my kayak to the riverbank. I sat down and got hit again—someone was shooting at me from the jungle. I looked down and saw a pool of blood. I thought, This is where you are going to die. I lay down and closed my eyes.
When I opened them moments later, I saw one of the guys in the pirogue motoring toward me. I stood up and put my hands together like I was praying. “Please leave me alone,” I said, then kicked my kayak toward him. “Take it.” He just stared and headed upriver.
I ran. I got shot again, in the leg, but kept going. After five minutes, I saw two men on the opposite side of the river. I tried to yell, but nothing came out—the shots had damaged my neck and lungs. Eventually, they saw me and took me to their village, where everyone gathered around and whispered. I couldn’t feel the right side of my face or hear out of my right ear. My thoughts went all over. Then this old lady came up to me with a bucket of water and started cleaning the mud off my legs. That brought me back to the moment.
I asked to be taken downriver to a city called Pucallpa. The villagers made a wooden stretcher, wrapped me in blankets, and hauled me to a boat. A couple of hours later, we reached another village. It was night, and the only light came from torches and candles. The people there said to me, “Pobre, pobre”—poor, poor. I took the blankets off and said, “I have nothing to give you.” After about an hour, I started to throw up blood. They put me in a different boat. Throughout the night, I was passed along like this, from village to village. Late the next morning, I saw port cranes over the top of the canopy—Pucallpa. At the hospital, I reached my mom by phone, and she helped me get a flight to Lima.
I had 22 pellets in my body and punctures in my lung and carotid artery. I still can’t feel the right side of my jaw. Initially, I thought my survival was a testament to my strength, but lately I’ve realized it was because of the compassionate villagers who passed me down the river like a baton.