Two months into a planned source-to-sea expedition down the Amazon River, 24-year-old adventurer Davey du Plessis was in his kayak when the first shotgun blast hit his back

Oct 8, 2013
Outside Magazine
amazon river shot shooting survived davey du plessis gunshot

   Photo: Matt Mahurn

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.