South African Adventurer Shot While Paddling Amazon

South African Davey du Plessis, who is attempting navigate from the source of the Amazon to the Atlantic, was shot today in his kayak and suffered wounds to his head, neck, spine, arms, and face, as well as losing all of his gear or having it stolen. He currently is in a hospital in Pucalpa, Peru.

It’s unclear who shot du Plessis, but just 10 days ago he reported danger in the area, with 30 drug-related kidnappings. According to his mother, the attack came early on this morning.

“He was shot at in his kayak,” she posted to his Facebook page. “He fell out. Could not move his arm. They shot at him again he swam to get away. He has bullets in his spine, face, neck skull arms. This boy then stayed in the water thinking its over, but an instinct made him run, he ran for about 5 km to get help, he had to drag his leg and his arms had lost all feeling, he found people on the other side of the river, he tried to call for help, but no sound came out cos he had been shot in the neck.

“They eventually saw him and wanted money to help him, he got some help, but further along he was left in a boat for 4 hours cos he had no money, eventually after coughing up blood , which would not stop, they got scared and helped him, they wrapped him in plastic and blankets and not sure what happened from there, all I know Davey said to be last night he thought it was all over. He said to me, he is amazed he survived and ran all that way and is safe in hospital. His face is numb, he can’t hear properly, he has bullets all over his body.”

Du Plessis launched his expedition on July 1 high above 18,000 feet on Mt. Mismi, where the headwaters of the Amazon begin, then rode some 800 kilometers through the Andes by bike, and then jumped in his folding kayak to paddle the remaining 5,700 km. The total journey would have been approximately 6,500 km.

On August 17, after his kayak cleared customs and as he was en route to Kitemi, his put-in, du Plessis met a German couple whose son had drowned on the same stretch of river he was about to paddle. They had poured their grief into an organization that provided aid to more than 100 farmers in the area.

“However inspiring it was to hear about how the couple had turned tragedy into triumph,” wrote du Plessis, “knowing that their son drowned on this section of the river was news I didn’t want to hear before I was to commence paddling. Not only was this news dampening on the spirits, they too informed me that in all the 12 years they have been visiting the Urubamba region, 2012 is the worst. Heavy military patrols and curfews on meetings and gathering were enforced due to a military and drug clash earlier in July 2012, which included the kidnapping of 30 Peruvian civilians. This was the area I was now in.

“To say I was shaken and scared before going into the paddling is an understatement, I had absolutely no experience paddling a river, especially of this scale, nor had I ever paddled in a foldable kayak. This was going to be many first for me, but I decided to do what I always do – take precautions with a pinch of salt, trust in my capabilities and remain naive to any opinions or news. At the end of the day no matter what I hear, my path has been chosen and what happens will happen, so I opt for ruminating and believing in the positive and remaining optimistic. Naivety and a lack of knowledge is sometimes the best way of remaining positive and optimistic.”

Du Plessis’s first miles in the kayak didn’t go well. He struggled to control it, spent much of his first day line-walking it, and then capsized in a rapid and barely saved the boat. It was clear the river was beyond his and his kayak’s capabilities, so he opted instead to float down the river in an inner tube, preserving his human-powered quest, and leaving the kayak upriver then returning by truck to fetch it.

The South African’s tragic drama unfolded in what seemed like real time on today as his mother, Robyn Wolff, took to Facebook asking for help. She had little more than a brief initial phone call, didn’t speak Spanish, and couldn’t find out what was happening half a world away. Responses flooded into du Plessis’s Facebook page with offers to translate, call, and assist.

Erich Schlegel, a National Geographic photographer currently shooting the Amazon Express 2012 expedition, was born in Mexico and in fluent in Spanish. “Glad to help you out here!” he wrote. “Will call Davey in 30 min. Just spoke with his doctor, Dr. Richard Uuentasi at Pucalpa Regional Hospital and said Davey is stable and resting. Sounded very calm and positive. Doctor knows of the attempt to fly Davey to Lima. Will call you after we talk to Davey himself. Know you are beside yourself, but know that Davey has fellow adventurers here in Peru that are with him in spirit and will help you and Davey all we can!”

For more on du Plessis, see his website, worldwonderer.co.za, and for updates on his condition, visit his Facebook page.

{ 6 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Jane Koenig

    Thank you for reporting Davey’s story. He is a wonderful young man. His father and my daughter, Sue Gearan, are a couple, so Davey has spent time with my family in Newport, RI and Boca Raton, Fl. He has a big heart, very caring and loving. We are praying for his speedy recovery and know he will tell the world his story when he is well again.

  • jared

    I admire and respect the sense of adventure, and wish him nothing but a speedy recovery, but you’ve really got to question this strategy: ” I had absolutely no experience paddling a river, especially of this scale, nor had I ever paddled in a foldable kayak. This was going to be many first for me, but I decided to do what I always do – take precautions with a pinch of salt, trust in my capabilities and remain naive to any opinions or news. At the end of the day no matter what I hear, my path has been chosen and what happens will happen.”

    Go on wild and crazy adventures in far flung and dangerous places, but be as prepared as possible before you leap.

    • jared

      A bulletproof PFD?

      Clearly getting shot is outside the world of risks one should prepare for while kayaking and I’m glad that none of the risks typically associated with adventure kayaking such a distance got the better of him. And I’m sure his ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, we’ll see how it turns out’ strategy belies the planning and preparation he actually put into it, but you’ve got to admit that on its face the strategy does not lend itself to success.

      Again, wish him all the best and hope he can finish the adventure.

  • Laura

    I have to agree with Jared and add another comment

    I love adventure, but preparation and skill are things that I admire in my adventure heros. you start at home in your back yard rivers, rapids, etc (or hills, boulders, what may be your choice of sport). I admire the determination and wonderful goal of Davey’s, but preparation is more than half the battle.

    In addition, while we all love a good adventure and some close calls and the stories to tell, there are times as well when one must assess the outside risks – be they guerrillas, pirates, political unrest etc. True we can not wear a bullet proof PFD, but at some point we have to step back and ask ourselves if we should be undertaking the expedition given current circumstances. It can be difficult to understand the realities of these situations from home – they can be something only seen on TV or something that only happens to someone else, but the risk of outside political unrest must not be under-estimated and must be properly evaluated.

    I do indeed admire Davey though for all that he had accomplished thus far – hopefully as speedy a recovery as possible and love to his family and friends.

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