Author of real-life survival tale visits Mattapoisett Library

Sep 28, 2017

Bees, monsoons, the Amazon River, a plane crash – everyone has a story, but few have one quite like Holly FitzGerald.

FitzGerald and her husband Fitz were on a year-long honeymoon adventure around the world in 1973 when their plane crash-landed in a penal colony in Peru, and they ended up stranded on a raft on the Madre de Dios, a tributary to the Amazon River.

“Sounds like every honeymoon…or marriage,” Mattapoisett Library Director Susan Pizzolato joked.

FitzGerald, a Dartmouth resident, was on hand at Mattapoisett Library on Wednesday night to talk about the book she wrote about her real-life survival story called “Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon's Relentless Madre de Dios.”

As newlyweds, the couple decided not to do a typical honeymoon after their wedding.

“I got the brilliant idea of traveling the world,” FitzGerald laughed. “We didn’t have any commitments, so we started researching how to do it cheaply.”

The couple worked multiple jobs and spent about nine months saving up for their trip. They began in New York, and drove to Florida. There, they caught a flight to Colombia.

“It was kind of scary,” she said. “There were no paved roads, open sewer systems…We saw men with machine guns…I looked over and Fitz just looked horrified.”

However, things turned around as they continued to travel through South America. They met a young couple in Peru who had been studying an indigenous tribe. The couple persuaded FitzGerald and her husband to alter their route to Rio de Janeiro to visit the tribe. From there, they were on a tight schedule to catch the last boat up the Amazon River during the rainy season.

“We had to fly to the single boat that was running,” FitzGerald said. “We knew we only had a few days.”

FitzGerald and her husband never made it to the boat.

Their plane crash-landed in a penal colony, where “the worst criminals in Peru” were sent.

“I asked why there were no fences or anything to keep them in,” FitzGerald said. “The man told me, ‘It’s the jungle, nobody is going to get out.’ Then I realized, neither were we.”

Eventually another plane came, but by that time the boat they were planning to catch was gone.

“We didn’t know what to do,” FitzGerald said. “It was going to be three months until the next boat.”

A man the couple met in the small village they were in suggested taking a raft, like the locals do.

“I thought the raft was a great idea,” FitzGerald laughed.

After securing a raft and making preparations, FitzGerald and her husband took off on the Madre de Dios.

“We had a wonderful time for those first four days,” she said. “It was paradise. The sun was out, we didn’t have to do anything. We just sat and read.”

Things quickly changed when a storm hit, trashing the raft and sending it down a dead end branch of the river.

It took 26 days before FitzGerald and her husband hit land again.

“They said we were two days from starvation,” she said. “Just being on land was amazing, but getting home was even better.”

The entire time on their trip, FitzGerald kept a detailed journal.

“It helped us keep track of the days, and it kept us sane,” she said. “I also used it like a captain’s log on a boat.”

The journal would go on to serve as the primary source for accurate information as FitzGerald wrote her book.

The book is available on