The hard evidence amounted to a grainy black and white photograph published in the Illustrated London News in 1918. Sat on a packing-case, propped up with a large stick, was what purported to be the body of a giant monkey, known variously as 'Loy's ape', 'King Monkey' and the 'Mono Rey'. It was supposed to inhabit the dense jungles of northern Bolivia. around the Madidi river, and the last westerner to attempt a sighting, the redoubtable Englishman Colonel Percy Fawcett, had disappeared without trace back in the 1920s. For the young travel writer Simon Chapman, however, the jungle is the only place to be, and the denser and more remote the better. Which is why, accompanied by an Englishman whose hobby is fighting mock mediaeval battles and an Australian who used the pages of his South American Handbook for cigarette papers in order to sample remote countries 'by exhalation', he took an all - too-collapsible canoe amid Bolivia's swamps and rainforest to try and see for himself the mythical monster of the Madidi. In the classic English tradition that sets about turning a mad idea into an utter absurdity, it was an adventure from start to finish.
Charlie, the Australian, proved much more successful at catching improbably large fish than at simply steering the canoe in a straight line. Their guides were soon adept at requiring another ration of the team's precious tinned chocolate pudding before any meaningful progress; and a daily procession of bemused tapirs, anteaters and jungle-dwelling wild turkeys only reminded them how very far they were from civilisation. Most worryingly of all, each rare encounter with a human being brought news that maybe the Mono Rey was a kind of bear, not a monkey - or even that there was no monster after all...Compelling, comic and touching, with a superb awareness of the natural world, The Monster of the Madidi introduces a new travel writing talent that every fan of Redmond O'Hanlon and Eric Newby will relish.
Simon Chapman has written travel features for BBC Wildlife, Wanderlust, Global Adventure and Birdwatch magazines. He lives in Lancaster.