In 1968, the Koepckes moved from Lima to an abandoned patch of primary forest in the middle of the jungle. Their plan was to conduct field studies on its plants and animals for five years, exploring the rainforest without exploiting it. “I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect of being there,” Dr. Diller said. “I was 14, and I didn’t want to leave my schoolmates to sit in what I imagined would be the gloom under tall trees, whose canopy of leaves didn’t permit even a glimmer of sunlight.”
To Juliane’s surprise, her new home wasn’t dreary at all. “It was gorgeous, an idyll on the river with trees that bloomed blazing red,” she recalled in her memoir. “There were mango, guava and citrus fruits, and over everything 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 hut propped on stilts, with a roof of palm thatch. Juliane was home-schooled for two years, receiving her textbooks and homework by mail, until the educational authorities demanded that she return to Lima to finish high school.
‘A place of peace and harmony’
Dr. Diller’s parents instilled in their only child not only a love of the Amazon wilderness, but the knowledge of the inner workings of its volatile ecosystem. If you ever get lost in the rainforest, they counseled, find moving water and follow its course to a river, where human settlements are likely to be.
Their advice proved prescient. In 1971 Juliane, hiking away from the crash site, came upon a creek, which became a stream, which eventually became a river. On Day 11 of her ordeal she stumbled into the camp of a group of forest workers. They fed her cassava and poured gasoline into her open wounds to flush out the maggots that protruded “like asparagus tips,” she said. The next morning the workers took her to a village, from which she was flown to safety.
“For my parents, the rainforest station was a sanctuary, a place of peace and harmony, isolated and sublimely beautiful,” Dr. Diller said. “I feel the same way. The jungle was my real teacher. I learned to use old Indian trails as shortcuts and lay out a system of paths with a compass and 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 that remain from the plane crash.”