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Walking The Amazon From Source To Mouth

Ed Stafford is the first and only person to walk the length of the Amazon River, and his long, perilous journey has paved the way for new adventures, as well as a resolve to spread the skills of survival

Some journeys are simply too vast, their distances and timescales too huge, for most of us to comprehend. When Ed Stafford reached the mouth of the Amazon River (itself wider than the entire length of the River Thames) on 9 August 2010, he became the first and only person to walk from source to mouth, covering some 6,992km of swampy, jungle terrain. He had been on the move for over two years.

Along the way he encountered machete-wielding tribesmen, drug traffickers, flesh-eating insects and deadly animals. The constant threat of danger led to mental challenges, too, and Stafford has admitted to being ‘clinically depressed’ at times. But the social media following he amassed on the back of his daily vlogs gave him a purpose and the motivation to push on to success.

Stafford’s Amazon journey has led to TV survival shows – one of which involved being marooned on a remote Pacific island for 60 days without food, clothing or equipment – and a new mission: to encourage others to set off on their own adventures.

Having a sense of presence and self-awareness is vital to all situations – life-threatening or otherwise

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Q: How did you prepare physically, logistically and mentally for walking The Amazon?
A:
‘Logistics was the easy bit: get myself to the source of the Amazon River with a backpack on and a hammock inside it, and follow the river for approximately two years. I’m being slightly facetious, of course, but it wasn’t rocket science. Physically, I went off the premise that it was such a long journey that even if I did no training at all I’d be ‘match fit’ after a few weeks. So both Luke (my original walking partner) and I did no training to speak of. Mentally, again I did nothing but this was the area that has become my recent focus in life. I think it’s very hard to anticipate the strains and stresses of these long endurance expeditions, but they have ended up being catalysts to personal growth and better mental health for me.’

Q: What were the toughest moments of that exploration and how did you overcome them?
A:
‘I think it’s very hard to summarise but certainly in Peru for a year I was very depressed. I was scared for my life a lot and that underlying apprehension starts to wear you down month after month. I was in some hairy moments – held up at arrow-point by an indigenous tribe and at gunpoint by drug traffickers – but it was the monotony and the lack of communication with people I loved back home that I found the toughest.’

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Q: How important is it for modern explorers to embrace modern ideas?
A:
‘If I hadn’t broadcast my inherently old-school expedition live from the jungle via a satellite internet link I wouldn’t have completed it. The small following that I amassed ended up bailing me out when I ran out of money and they all rallied around, and donated to keep the trip afloat. I think an adventure is selfish if it’s kept just for the person doing it. If you take the trouble to tell the story to an audience then it becomes a tool for learning and so many other benefits.’

Q: Are survival skills still relevant in our modern, hyper-connected world?
A:
‘Yes. My biggest tool nowadays is meditation. I meditate in survival situations more than I do at home as it’s so easy to get tied in knots with all the pressures of surviving and filming. But if I neglect it back home then the wheels fall off, too! I think having a sense of presence and self-awareness is vital to all situations – life-threatening or otherwise.’

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Q: What motivates you more: testing your own limits, or encouraging others to test theirs?
A:
‘It’s shifted a lot in recent years to the latter. I’m now a Dad and I think that there is a kind of responsibility to use all the learnings and experience to help others make the best of their lives too. I’m an ambassador for the Youth Adventure Trust and the Scouts, and I firmly believe that outdoor activities with risk are hugely beneficial for personal development and to combat mental health issues that are rife in modern society.’

Q: What's the most dangerous survival challenge you've done?
A:
‘It’s probably about to happen. Over this Christmas I’m spending 60 days off the grid, away from my family, surviving in a whole new world to me. I can’t let on where it is or why it’s so different, but I’ve not been this scared in a long time...’

Ed Stafford's new book, Adventures for a Lifetime, is published by Collins, £18.99

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