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Ruthless River    by Holly FitzGerald order for
Ruthless River
by Holly FitzGerald
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2017 (2017)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Holly Fitzgerald's Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon's Relentless Madre de Dio is not your usual travelogue, but rather a gut wrenching account of two adventurous young travelers pushed to, and beyond, their limits as they work together, fighting for survival in a treacherous wilderness. And it's a very close call indeed.

It's intended to be the adventure of a lifetime (an extended dream honeymoon) when Holly FitzGerald and her husband, Fitz set out on a year's journey through South America. The trouble starts in Peru, after they board a small plane flying to Puerto Maldonado, where they expect to 'catch a commercial riverboat across Bolivia to Riberalta and then hitch a ride into Brazil.' The plane crashes - into a penal colony!

Several days later, another small plane arrives and takes them to Puerto Maldonado, a frontier town, where they plan to book passage to Riberalta. There are no boats heading that way and it's also not possible to fly there. Facing a long delay in their travels, they're told by a local that it's an easy trip by raft, and that he's often done it himself. So they build one, christening it their Pink Palace, and set off.

Nothing is as they expected it to be. The current is very strong. There's no way to re-supply. And they're shot at by Peruvian border guards who think they're smugglers and also steal their machete. They continue on and into a terrifying storm that takes them out of the main river and into a swampy area. A tree knocks their food overboard. They're stuck and, no matter what they try, they can't get back to the main river.

They're bitten by fire ants and swarms of bees, and slowly starve for twenty-six days. Then (on what they now celebrate as Raft Day) a dugout canoe appears. Those in it were hunting turtles and arrived in this spot chasing a monkey. They take the emaciated Holly and Fitz to a village, where folk 'who had so little, gave so much.' And they finally reached Riberalta.

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