In 1968, the Koepckes left Lima for an abandoned patch of primary forest in the middle of the jungle. Their plan was to conduct field studies of its plants and animals for five years, exploring the rainforest without exploiting it. “I was not really thrilled with the prospect of being there,” said Dr Diller. “I was 14 and didn’t want to let my classmates sit in what I imagined to be the twilight under tall trees, the canopy of which didn’t even allow a glow of sunlight.
To Juliane’s surprise, her new home was not sad at all. “It was magnificent, an idyll on the river with trees blooming a blazing red,” she recalls in her memories. “There was mango, guava, and citrus, and all over it a glorious 150-foot-tall lupuna tree, also known as a kapok.”
The family lived in Panguana full time with a German Shepherd, Lobo, and a parakeet, Florian, in a wooden cabin on stilts, with a palm thatched roof. Juliane was home-schooled for two years, receiving her books and homework in the mail, until education authorities demanded that she return to Lima to complete her high school education.
“A place of peace and harmony”
Dr. Diller’s parents instilled in their only child not only a love of the Amazon wilderness, but also a knowledge of the inner workings of its volatile ecosystem. If you ever get lost in the rainforest, they advised, find moving water and follow its course to a river, where human settlements are likely to be found.
Their advice turned out to be premonitory. In 1971, Juliane, moving away from the accident site, came across a stream, which became a stream, which eventually became a river. On the eleventh day of her ordeal, she ran into the camp of a group of forest workers. They gave her cassava and poured gasoline into her open wounds to remove the maggots that protruded “like asparagus tips,” she said. The next morning, the workers took her to a village, from where she was transported to safety.
“For my parents, the rainforest resort was a sanctuary, a place of peace and harmony, secluded and sublime beauty,” said Dr Diller. “I feel the same. The jungle was my real teacher. I learned to use ancient Indian trails as shortcuts and to draw a trail system with a compass and a folding ruler to orient myself in the thick bush. The jungle is as much a part of me as my love for my husband, the music of the people who live along the Amazon and its tributaries, and the scars left by the plane crash.