Ed Stafford has been walking beside the Amazon River for 524 days, but he’s still a long way from reaching the end and his goal of becoming the first person to walk the length of the world’s largest river.
A 33-year-old former British Army captain who looks the part - tall with a stocky build and determined focus - Ed began his journey in Camana, Peru on April 2, 2008. He started with a fellow Brit, but their partnership didn’t flourish and after a few months he found himself continuing forward alone. Fortunately he found a replacement in Cho Sanchez, a 28 year old Peruvian he met in Saputu, Peru and has been travelling with ever since.
They are now in Brazil, 400 km east of the Peruvian border, trekking through dense jungle and swampland. The terrain is virtually impassable, and that’s before factoring in thriving populations of fire ants, pit vipers, electric eels and caimans, fatal illnesses like dengue and yellow fever, and encounters with hostile native tribes or drug traffickers protecting their coca plantations.
If you plot their most recent coordinates (lat: -3.27336, long: -66.81149) on Google satellite maps an olive-green shag-carpet landscape is revealed. There is nothing but unblemished jungle and a meandering river nearby. According to their blog the last time they passed through a community was twelve days ago but it was too small to support a store and they don’t expect to see another village for a week or so, which means they are precariously low on food. As of five days ago (their last blog post before their batteries died) all they had left was four cups of manioc flour, which Ed describes as a carbohydrate made from the yucca root, and 1 kg of salt. They are fishing and foraging, but their meals of piranha and boiled roots are inadequate and in their last blog Ed admitted that “energy levels are rock bottom and this next week will be a real test for us both”.
Their current hunger is just one in a long list of ordeals already endured. In Nuevo Poz, Peru they were surrounded by five canoes full of irate locals brandishing bow and arrows, machetes, and shotguns. A short time later, Ed was mistaken for an Argentinean oil company representative and had concrete shoved into his mouth by a mob of angry natives. Then there was an attack by a swarm of wasps, venomous snakes falling from the trees, endless infections caused by dampness, and previous bouts of near starvation.
Despite the dangers and difficulties, the journey has its rewards, and their blog postings makes it clear just how much they cherish the Amazon’s intricate beauty and how important it is to share that with a broader audience. They are raising money for a selection of environmental and humanitarian charities, and through a series titled “Voices” are interviewing local people about the issues they face.
Even though the team is in the middle of the deep jungle, without a film crew or support team, we can follow the expedition from the comfort of our couch through consistent tweets, blog posts, and video updates. There’s also a great article in the June issue of Men’s Journal.
If all goes according to plan the team expects to reach the Amazon basin in May 2010. Stay tuned to this adventure - it promises to be an exciting one.