In proper Boy’s Own story fashion, Paul Rosolie’s book opens with an old man of the Amazon, Don Santiago, telling the author about ‘tribes that most people didn’t know existed and species yet to be described’.
Still in his early 20s, Rosolie had already tasted adventure: finding that a childhood spent caring for whatever creatures came his way – praying mantises, injured snakes – was more satisfying than his formal education, he blagged his way onto an Amazonian expedition as soon as the opportunity presented itself. There, his desire to have the living daylights scared out of him was easily met: dangers included the izula (a two-inch ant with ‘the most painful wallop of any insect on Earth’), murderous loggers known to tie protestors to trees and set fire to them and ‘voluntarily isolated’ tribes who fiercely defend their way of life with blowpipes and javelins.
Fostering a baby anteater called Lulu honed Rosolie’s conservationist zeal, and when the trans-Amazon highway threatened the land he had grown to love, Santiago’s tale of the ‘Western Gate’, beyond which lay unexplored territory, enticed him even further into the jungle.
This extraordinary tale of a city-dweller who found himself more at home tracking anacondas than in his New Jersey suburb is a heartfelt memoir and a thrilling addition to the travel genre.
MOTHER OF GOD by Paul Rosolie, Bantam, £20