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Ed Stafford: Explorer

By Christia Madacsi

In August 2010, explorer Ed Stafford became the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. The trek took him two years and four months to complete. Stafford’s account of the journey, Walking the Amazon, was just released in June.

How did the idea for a walking expedition of the Amazon come about?
I’ve always led conservation expeditions and thought it would be nice to do an expedition that drew people’s attention to the Amazon. As much as there was that element to it, the initial urge was a far more selfish one: I thought I had the experience I needed to do something massive, something that I potentially might fail at. [When] I realized that no one had ever done it, I thought, “Fantastic, that’s got my name written all over it.” Following the river was the most obvious course, but I’m rubbish at kayaking, so I decided to walk it.

The trek took you a full 18 months longer to complete than you had anticipated. What happened?
With machete in hand, chopping away through the jungle, we only averaged about four miles a day. I’d originally hoped that we’d be able to make up to 10 or 11, but it just wasn’t feasible. I’d committed to it, so we just had to be a bit more patient.

What evidence of deforestation did you encounter?
It was constant. Over two years and four months, we never once came in contact with any organization that was regulating deforestation restrictions. All of the logging we saw was going on unchecked. Anyone could go in with a chainsaw and chop down a tree and sell it. That was one of the most shocking things to me. There wasn’t much time on the expedition where you couldn’t hear the whine of a chainsaw.

You bought food en route from local communities. What did you do when your supplies ran out?
On occasion, we ran out of food and had to forage from the jungle. I preferred that, to be honest. I think that was a far more challenging part of the expedition and far more exciting.

What survival techniques did you learn from the local guides you hired?
We learned huge amounts about how to fish, different methods of how to light fires and that sort of thing. We hired, over the course of the whole expedition, 300–400 guides. Every single one of those guys did something slightly differently. Had I not been so exhausted, I would be an absolute jungle master by now. But in terms of attitude, that was more the thing for me. Rather than the bush craft, it was an attitude toward life that had the biggest impact.

Walking the Amazon is currently available through Amazon UK. Find out more at edstafford.org and walkingtheamazon.com.

Photo by Keith Ducatel