Tom Hart Dyke revels after giving talks about his 10-month toil in the Colombian rainforest at the hands of guerilla soldiers
PUBLISHED: 16:29 04 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:37 05 March 2014
Tom Hart Dyke thought a friend was playing a twisted practical joke when he received a phone call from a man claiming to be the Colombian ambassador, asking him to come to lunch last autumn.
Fourteen years earlier, Mr Hart Dyke – then aged 24 – had been taken prisoner in the Colombian rainforest by guerrilla soldiers for 10 months.
Along with Paul Winder, of Chelmsford, the pair were threatened daily they would lose their lives, forced to eat monkeys and armadillos and made to march 1,000 miles through the rainforest from the camp to camp.
“I thought it was a friend putting on a Colombian accent,” explained Mr Hart Dyke. “But once he had said he was not my friend, I realised it really was the Colombian ambassador.”
After inviting the ambassador and his family to World Garden at Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford, where he lives he was offered a chance to return to Colombia to give two talks.
He had not seen Colombia “apart from 10 months in the rainforest”.
The ever-positive Mr Hart Dyke insists he maintained morale throughout his ordeal in 2000 by nicknaming the guards – many of whom were teenagers – and by going on “armed orchid patrols”.
Mr Hart Dyke had initially been drawn to Colombia in search of the world’s rarest orchids when he was captured.
“Obviously in hindsight we were scared,” he said. “I should be dead, and so should Paul. We said lots of “please’s” and “thank you’s”.
“There were lots of bad times. The worst was June 16 – exactly three months after we were kidnapped.
“They told us in the morning that they were going to kill us in five hours,” said Mr Hart Dyke. “Paul had worms and he said he was going to kill himself rather than let them [take his life]. I knew I had to turn it into a positive.
“We were in a make shift hut. I was talking to him trying to convince him not kill himself. That for me was the lowest moment.”
It was this “English” reaction of trying to find humour in the darkest moments which Mr Hart Dyke’s attributes for their eventual survival, when they were left to break for freedom.
They nicknamed one of their captors “Trouble Ahead” because of the dangers they faced when he stood guard, and another received the moniker “Will Smith” after the Hollywood actor.
It was this coping method which amazed crowds at The Hay Festival in Cartagena and another festival called Hay Verde in Medellin where Mr Hart Dyke spoke of his jail in the jungle.
“Halfway through the talk people were crying, at the end they were hugging me,” the 37-year-old recalls. “I did not know who they were.
“Why did the crowd react like that? It was the way that we had survived; it was the way we nicknamed the guards; it was the way we dealt with the experience.
“Colombians are so used to stories of their best friends being kidnapped and then executed. They could not believe the way we survived - it was so emotional.”
Mr Hart Dyke heralded the trip as an opportunity to move on from his 10-month incarceration.
“It was a fantastic few days and giving those talks - they were the highlights,” he added. “It was cathartic. It’s now a closed chapter.”
Mr Hart Dyke’s sister Anya had been wary of her brother’s decision to return to South America, but his mother Sarah adopted more of a light-hearted approach to her son’s decision.
Mr Hart Dyke revealed: “She joked: “If you recognise anyone from your time 12 years ago then you get straight back on that plane, okay?”