"It proves you can do anything — even if people say you cannot. I've proved that if you want something enough, you can do anything!", exclaimed Ed Stafford, after he became the first man known to have walked the entire length of the Amazon river. “It is unbelievable to be here”, Stafford said. He survived 859 days, thousands of miles and “50,000 mosquito bites”.
On Monday, August 9, in Maruda beach, northern Brazil, Stafford was the personification of joy as he hugged everyone in sight, his happiness was without bounds. Though he had earlier collapsed due to fatigue, Stafford looked like he had all the energy in the world, as if walking for 2½ years were nothing.
Stafford was humble in his achievement and said that he was "no eco-warrior" and that it was simply a grand expedition of endurance but expressed the hope that his feat would raise awareness of destruction to the Amazon rain forest. "The crux of it is, if this wasn't a selfish, boy's-own adventure, I don't think it would have worked," the 34-year-old former British army captain said as he sat under the Brazilian sun near the jungle city of Belem. "I am simply doing it because no one has done it before."
There are at least six known expeditions along the course of the Amazon river, from its source high in the Peruvian Andes across Colombia and into Brazil before its waters are dumped into the ocean 4,200 miles (6,760 kilometers) away. But those used boats to advance their travel.
The long walk of grit, endurance and determination began on April 2, 2008, on the southern coast of Peru. Stafford was initially accompanied by a friend but within three months, when the going became tough, his friend left. Alone and without any companion, Stafford carried on, walking bits of the route with hundreds of locals he met along the way. Later, a Peruvian forestry worker by the name Gadiel "Cho" Sanchez Rivera, 31, decided to make the journey with Stafford to the Atlantic.
According to Stafford his journey cost $100,000 and is paid for by sponsoring companies and donations which he managed to raise. After walking the whole distance, Stafford said that it has deepened his understanding of the Amazon, its role in protecting the globe against climate change and the complex forces that are leading to its destruction. He said he has seen vast swaths of demolished jungle.
The walk was not easy. Stafford said he has lived off piranha fish he caught, rice and beans, and store-bought munitions found in local communities along the river. At night, Stafford said he has downloaded podcasts via Internet satellite phone by British comedian Ricky Gervais and episodes of the TV show "The Office".
Stafford and Rivera have encountered every conceivable danger, from 18-foot (5.5-meter) long caimans, enormous anaconda snakes, illness, food shortages and the threat of drowning.
Along the way Stafford also encountered hostile natives. In one particular stretch of the journey after they were welcomed in one Indian community in September 2008, the leaders offered to radio ahead to the next village for permission for Stafford and Rivera to walk through their territory. The response they received was not at all favorable.
"If a gringo walks into their community they will kill him," Stafford wrote on his blog at that time. Stafford planned an alternative route around the village but he was taken captive by Indians from another village. After being dressed down and having their possessions thoroughly picked over — only a machete was confiscated — Stafford and Rivera's repeated explanations of the point of their expedition won over the Indians.
They were allowed to continue on the land, but only if they hired guides from the tribe. And with the hired guides from the tribe Stafford continued the journey and eventually made it.
Stafford is not content with the two-and-half years of walk and walk and walk. He is contemplating another expedition in September 2011.
For him a single journey is surreal. He wants to be doubly sure by repeating the feat one more time.
(Story culled from Associated Press & other sources. Photo credit: www.danheller.com, Google & other sources)