Thursday, September 25, 2008


A couple of years ago, I went to a National Geographic Society lecture by a survivor of the plane crash of Uruguayan rugby players in the Andes in 1972. The story has been told in books and the movie Alive!, but surfaced again in 2006 when the owner and guide of Alpine Expeditions Ricardo Peña retraced the survivors' route out of the Valle de las Lágrimas (Valley of Tears). On the initial expedition, Peña found the identification papers of Eduardo Strauch in a jacket in the snow. He tracked him down and now Strauch (below right) accompanies Peña (left) and his clients on expeditions including to the site of the crash in the Andes. When I heard them speak, Peña translated for Strauch, who told the story--best known for its cannabilistic element--plainly and eloquently. He spoke of the cannibalism as an agreed upon sacrament, without which they all would have died. Instead, the dead saved the lives of the 16 survivors. To put it loftily, I heard a firsthand account of a harrowing story of survival. To put it bluntly, I shook the hand of a cannibal.

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