The Amazon winds 6992 kilometers (4345 miles) through the South American rainforest, connecting Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and of course Brazil with its massive flow and endless network of tributaries. Though the length of the great river is contested—purists say it’s only 6400km (3976mi), making it a bit shorter than the Nile—following it is a long hike indeed.
Thanks to Ed Stafford, who completed the journey from Camana, Peru, to the mouth of the Brazilian Amazon, in August 2010, we know that it takes 860 days—almost 2-1/2 years—to walk the great river’s banks 2000-mile detour thanks to illegal deforestation and resulting flooding.
Few thought that the 34-year-old former British army captain, nicknamed “Spice Girl” in the military for his stylish clothes, could face the deadly tropical diseases, piranhas, narcotraffickers, hostile indigenous groups,botflies, and other venomous creepy crawlies that inhabit the still little-explored region.
“People telling me that it was impossible to walk the entire length of the Amazon that spurred me on even more,” Stafford told ABC News‘ Bill Weir, who visited him in Brazil. “As soon as they said ‘that’s impossible,’ it made me want to prove them wrong.”
Arctic Explorer Sir Ranulph Fienne was among those who thought it couldn’t be done, but donated £10,000 to the expedition anyway. Sure enough, Stafford’s partner, Luke Collyer, quit three months in, though a Peruvian guide hired for five tough days of the trek, committed to the entire journey.
Though he began his trek as a pampered first worlder, the journey changed him; for instance, his “no-hunting” policy fell by the wayside as funding from recession-strained donors dried up. Journalists who joined them for a few days at a time, such as the Daily Mail’s Mark Borrowcliffe, reported that it was “the hardest exercise I’ve ever had in my life” —and that was before being held hostage by locals, without adequate food or water.
Last month, Stafford’s book was finally published to an outpouring of great reviews: Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. The Impossible Task. The Incredible Journey.
The tome tells the tale that tens of thousands followed online, via his website Walking the Amazon, for adults, with lots of great video; and his blog for British students, published by The Prince’s Rainforest Project for the Schools.
Stafford certainly learned a great deal. For instance, he learned that indigenous tribes fear travelers of European descent because of problems with kidnapping organ harvesting. Once Stafford was able to prove he wasn’t in that business, however, even chiefs were eager to accompany him through the forests.
The adventurer—who claims to have never been an “ardent” environmentalist—also saw first-hand the devastation wrought by illegal logging and mining operations hidden throughout the Amazon. Though the adventurous aspect of his journey still takes center stage, an undercurrent of conservation now permeates his work, including the two-part Discovery Channel special about the trek, Walking the Amazon, that began airing in February.
Though Stafford has earned all sorts of accolades after his journey, such as being named the Adventurer of the Year, there’s apparently more to come. Keep up with the adventurer on his newest website, where he’ll announce another expedition in September.