Monday, September 25, 2017

Emma Kelty's Search for Herself

A deluded adventure junky named Emma Kelty set out to find herself by kayaking solo down the 4,000 mile long Amazon river. She was told that it was dangerous. She was told that she would probably be killed. She was impervious to advice. She did it anyway.

Don’t we all know that we can only find ourselves by testing our limits? Don’t we know that we are all alone in the world and that we must learn how to subsist as independent, autonomous individuals? Isn’t it the most therapeutic exercise imaginable… being a woman who conquered the Amazon?

Daily Mail writer Rachel Johnson has a few salient thoughts on Emma Kelty:

I have become mildly obsessed by the horrible fate of Emma Kelty – the 43-year-old former headmistress murdered by river pirates on the Amazon – for reasons that will soon become clear.

I can’t decide: is she a great British heroine cut off in her prime, who wanted to add ‘longest solo kayaking journey ever undertaken by a woman’ to her impressive list of lifetime achievements?

Or was she a selfish nutter on a suicide mission, addicted to the adrenaline and attention generated by a life dedicated to one thing: adventure?

No challenge had ever defeated this daredevil ex-soldier, who relaxed by kickboxing, abseiling, running up mountains, turning round schools, skiing to the South Pole, or hiking across America.

I am slightly more confident than Johnson. Kelty was a fool and she paid for her foolishness.

The late Emma Kelty was clearly made of sterner stuff. But still. Everyone told her she was doomed, even though she already knew. ‘It’s stupid, it’s too dangerous, it’s too risky and I will die,’ she admitted.

On the trip, she blogged: ‘The world is huge and so much more to explore. I wish that others would join me on this way of life.’

No thanks. Especially not after what happened to Emma: attacked by a gang with machetes, tortured, and thrown into the river.

There is a fine line between brave and foolhardy.

I’m afraid she crossed it on this epic and tragic journey in search of herself.

What happened to Emma Kelty? The Telegraph has the story:

Prior to her death she stopped in the village of Sao Joao de Catua on the Solimoes river before embarking on the feared stretch of river after Coari, 100km upstream.

Resident Miliane Vincente told Mailonline they had warned her of the dangers.

"We saw her passing by and called her into the community. I told her it was very dangerous, that it was full of drug trafficking and terrorists," she said.

"I took her to my house and gave her water to drink, and we talked as she showed me her photos. I told her to go with us in our boat to Coari so she wouldn't be in danger.

"I still remember her last words: I can't stay, the more time I stay here the more time I'm losing. For me to succeed I have to do this route. Your hearts are very kind, but I have to carry on."

The Telegraph tells what happened to Emma Kelty:

The man, who didn't want to be named, said: "He said he was one of four men. The woman had put up her tent on the beach in exactly the area where the Colombia drug traffickers go through, and which is crawling with pirates who wait for them to arrive to attack.

"These men aren't pirates though, they are just drug users. We are all shocked that these men from our community did such a terrible thing to this woman.

"When the men saw her tent they thought it belonged to a Colombian with drugs, so they started firing from about 50 metres away. The woman was hit in the arm. She started waving frantically and screaming for help."

He said that when the four men saw that she was a woman they attacked her and, still believing she was carrying drugs, cut off her hair with a knife while demanding to know where the drugs were.

According to the man, one of the group then slit her through with the knife, before all four men "sexually abused her".

He said they then dragged her body to the river and dumped it in the fast-moving water.

He said: "The men fled into the forest after we all found out what they had done. We provided the police with the details and their identities. We're all disgusted by what they have done."

As of now they haven’t found her body. Authorities fear that it was eaten by the piranhas. 


9 comments:

JPL17 said...

What an incredibly sad case. It brings to mind the great dialogue from My Dinner With Andre, particularly where Wally tells Andre:

“I mean, really, tell me, why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality, I mean...I mean, is Mount Everest more ‘real’ than New York, I mean, isn't New York ‘real’? I mean, you see, I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out, I mean...I mean, isn't there just as much ‘reality’ to be perceived in a cigar store as there is on Mount Everest, I mean, what do you think, you see, I think that not only is there nothing more real about Mount Everest, I think there's nothing that different, in a certain way, I mean, because reality is...is uniform, in a way, so that if your...if your perceptions are, I mean, if your own mechanism is...is operating correctly, it would become irrelevant to go to Mount Everest, and sort of absurd ….”

If only Emma had taken such thoughts to heart.

Sam L. said...

It wasn't the men who killed her; it was her idee fixe and her unwillingness to change it when given good local advice. Pirahnas were just the clean-up crew.

Ares Olympus said...

I visited Mexico city and Zihuatanejo a number of years ago, and noticed the school in Mexico city had 15 foot concrete walls, with barbed wire and glass embedded in the concrete at the top of the wall, and security guards at the entrance. And the teacher's home we stayed at, she said it was dangerous to walk outside alone at night. And in Zihuatanejo I saw some beautiful hills and trails on the map, and asked about hiking up there and I was told "There are bandits up there".

So in both cases on the fine line between brave and foolhardy, I decided not to be brave. It wasn't worth the risk, especially since my Spanish vocabulary was extremely limited.

My mom was braver or more foolhardy than me. She took trips alone to Europe and Egypt in her 20s, and told one story of getting trapped in a room with a tour guide who locked the door, and she was scared and told him "Jesus is sitting in that chair", and somehow this invoked his conscience, and he let her go unharmed.

There seem to be unlimited cases where staying safe is preferable, and yet I do think when we take calculated risks again unknown dangers, including in the potential presence of rapists and murders, such incidents can help us "find ourselves by testing our limits."

And there's that phrase "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", which I generally disapprove of, especially if it encourages foolhardiness, but I could name a half dozen experiences I faced that I'd never choose, but surviving them I did discover parts of myself that never come out when things are safe. We have deep survival genes from our heritage, and we probably also have rapists and murders in our ancestry. We have the power to be just as devious and horrible as the worst of us, and we don't know who we'd be, if our life had been different. We can still see the humanity in others, even our own imminent killers, whether or not that makes any difference.

My biggest defense for foolhardiness is that there are 7 billion of us, so we can collective afford fatal errors. However I would wish the universe had something like Jung's "Collective unconscious" that remembers everything, and so we may all have access to wisdom of those who came before us, even if we don't know its there until that moment we need it.

James said...

AO is on to something there. It's the old story of the cavemen in their cave at night with the elders warning everyone "there are Saber Tooth Tigers outside that will eat anyone who ventures forth" Of some thought that was nonsense (mostly the young) and went forth anyway and found a whole wonderful world. Of course 9 out of ten who ventured forth were eaten by Saber Tooth Tigers.

Ares Olympus said...

James said... Of course 9 out of ten who ventured forth were eaten by Saber Tooth Tigers.

Of course the story Stuart shares shows that humans are the most dangerous creatures on earth. The bible has very few stories of deaths by wild animals. Animals will kill for food, and will fight to protect their young, but only humans imagine exterminating entire species (or tribes) and can rationalize this past their own conscience as a necessary defensive act. And we all can be convinced that executing rapists and murders is the right thing to do, even if it is a good looking rapist and murderer who is provoking the convenient mob with lies to kill the last otherwise innocent but unattractive witnesses to his crimes.

Unknown said...

I travelled by foot and thumb and biker, and train and foot over a lot of the world. Well, along a few strands of it, anyway.

During the first Reagan administration I was hitch hiking through Central America. I wanted to visit every nation in that region. I was told that they were shooting white guys out of hand in Salvador. I believed the locals and did not go.

I have had a dozen such opportunities to go against local advice. As a rule, if I even suspected that they knew what they were talking about I listened and did as advised.

I've explored a subterranean river in the Amazon and climbed and rappelled Devils Tower in a hard December with British fellas I met in the oil patch. I've been lashed to the deck of a sailing vessel to stand my watch fought my way out of an Australian saloon with a bar stool. I could go on.

To belabor the point and to quote some writer for Clint Eastwood, a man's got to know his limitations. If you don't think you could handle it if the thing goes south, do not do it.

James said...

A good read, Unknown you'd like it.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Coryat

Anonymous said...

A normal response to the warning she received in the village, and to the offer to carry her with her kayak past the danger, would have been to thank the villagers sincerely, and accept their offer. Traveling a relatively small distance of the river on a riverboat or canoe, rather than under her own steam, wouldn't have detracted from the adventure at all. She would have lost nothing by accepting the people's generous and thoughtful offer. Instead, she lost her life.

For what? So she could say she kayaked the entire Amazon on her own? What does it matter? If her motive for the trip truly were to "feel more alive" and challenge herself, she still would have accomplished that.

It would be helpful in trying to understand her self-destructive choice, to get some insight regarding why she made that choice. Could the blog author perhaps offer an explanation, an assessment of her psychology? Anyone?

James said...

Anon,
Some people are just hard headed. Regardless of warnings, advice, even prior bad personal experience hey will just go ahead and do it anyway. It has been that way throughout history and just like you people have wondered why, throughout history.