When Maykool was asked to join the ceremony alongside the group, he had refused, Feizar said. And when a guide had returned to his cabin to check on him, he was nowhere to be found. The amount of time that had passed between when Maykool was last seen and when someone went back for him was only five minutes.
They told me that here, in the lowlands of Bolivia, people view the rainforest as a powerful place, filled with mystical entities both good and evil. Disrespect Pachamama, for example, and she could let you be driven mad by Duende, a mischievous sprite who hides his victims in another dimension. Such beliefs among the locals are so palpably ingrained that even law enforcement recognizes them.
They believed that Duende had been harnessing the energy of Mapajo, a powerful tree spirit, to hide Maykool. “He’s far away, in a place we can’t reach,” the shamans told us. But by completing payments in the form of intricate ceremonies, they explained, they would finally be able to call Maykool’s soul back into this dimension. It would be only then that he could be found in the forest.
Over the next week, the rangers and guides searched for eight to ten hours a day for Maykool, each day in a different section of rainforest. Romulo and Tiburcia worked just as hard, staying up until dawn every night, making payment after payment to the Pachamama. But no one could find the slightest sign of him; it was like he was never there at all.
For the shamans, the sock changed everything; it was a window into Maykool’s soul, a way to reach him on a spiritual plane and call him back to reality. But they knew they were running out of time. Maykool had already spent a week in the rainforest with very little food or water, and they weren’t sure how much longer he would be able to survive.
After two more sleepless nights praying to the Pachamama, Romulo and Tiburcia claimed that their payments had been accepted and they were finally able to make contact with Maykool’s soul. “The sock made it much, much easier for us to reach him,” the shamans said. Maykool’s liberation had begun, they said, and swore we would start finding more signs of him in the coming days.
“I started running,” he said. “I was wearing sandals and I said no, they would slow me down. I threw away the sandals, then the cell phone and my flashlight. And after running so much, I stopped under a tree and I started thinking. What had I done, what was I doing? And when I wanted to get back it wasn’t possible.”
But Maykool insists that it didn’t happen that way. He doesn’t believe in shamanism or the cultures of the Bolivian lowlands—just in God. And though Maykool isn’t completely sure what happened to him that night he says his near-death experience in the jungle is something that he’ll never forget.