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Simon Chapman


Searching for the Giant Ape of the Bolivian Jungle

Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2001).

Simon Chapman is a self-confessed jungle addict, who has made a number of previous expeditions in various parts of the world when on holiday from his work as a school physics teacher. Little was known about the regions he intended to travel in, the main description being due to Colonel Fawcett, who disappeared when searching for a lost city in the Brazilian jungle in 1925. The pretext for the adventure described in this book was a search for an ape, the Mono Rey or King Monkey, reputed to live in the Bolivian jungle. The chief evidence for its existence was a photograph of an animal shot in 1920 by an expedition led by a Swiss geologist called Francis de Loys. This creature was allegedly one of two that attacked the expedition, but the picture might be a fake or might show merely a large spider monkey; it was impossible to know.

Chapman was accompanied on his journey by Julian, another Englishman with jungle experience. Julian invited an Australian called Charlie to join them, which proved to be a mistake. Charlie was a keen but not wholly successful angler, who smoked large amounts of hashish and consequently kept forgetting his kit and having to go back for it; he later dropped out when his feet became infected. The party was initially led by a local guide who kept demanding chocolate pudding before he would continue; later he was replaced by another guide who seemed to be more reliable. Chapman had a collapsible canoe to which he was attached and which, not surprisingly, failed to stand up completely to the rigours of the journey.

The book is rather low-key to begin with but improves once the actual journey gets underway. Chapman's writing evokes a vivid impression of life in the jungle and his word pictures are supplemented with some nice line drawings of his own. There are plenty of incidents. Charlie gets lost at one time and so does Chapman himself; this sounds like a genuinely terrifying experience. A number of close encounters with animals occur, including tapirs, giant otters, and snakes, not to mention swarms of stinging and biting insects, though the most frightening creature was a small fish that has the unpleasant habit of inserting itself into body orifices such as the urethra and lodging itself there by expanding its spines.

I don't think I am giving away any secret by saying that the mystery of the King Monkey isn't definitely solved. The party does encounter some large and aggressive spider monkeys, which may perhaps be a different species or subspecies, and conceivably this was the King Monkey. On the other hand, this elusive creature could also have been a bear, which is the view that Chapman tends to favour.

This being the twenty-first century, there is a good deal of logging going on in the jungle and the forest is clearly under threat; but Chapman thinks that parts, at least, are sufficiently remote and inaccessible to ensure they will survive. Let's hope he is right.

This is a very English kind of travel book: humorous and self-deprecating. The blurb invites comparison with Eric Newby, which I think is over-ambitious, but it is an agreeable enough read in its own right.

%T The Monster of the Madidi
%S Searching for the Giant Ape of the Bolivian Jungle
%A Simon Chapman
%I Aurum Press
%C London
%D 2001
%G ISBN 1-85410-749-6
%P 242 pp
%K Travel
%O Illustrated
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