One fine August morning, along the coast of Maruda – a small town in north Brazil – British explorer Ed Stafford rips off his backpack and runs, exhausted but elated, into the Atlantic Ocean.
Ed, 35, from Mowsley, Leicestershire, has walked the entire length of the mighty Amazon River, from source to sea, over 860 days. That’s some 6,500km of diverse jungle; from pristine rainforest to logging sites, through ancient swamps, new patches of razor grass, and river crossings as wide as a sea.
Ed and Gadiel ‘Cho’ Sanchez Rivera, 31 – his Peruvian walking partner for the final 18 months, celebrate their epic feat, while groups of photographers, reporters and Carimbo dancers crowd the beach-front. The two had walked 85km through the night, and had hardly slept all week. The evening before, Ed collapsed by the side of the road. “These last two weeks have been gruelling,” he exclaims. “I’m relieved to be here. I feel absolutely over-whelmed. I’m over the moon.” He comes close to tears when speaking to the press but quickly throws a schoolboy punch at Cho and pours champagne over his head. Everyone feels his excitement.
I was lucky enough to join the men for a week in the jungle, walking through the largest and most biologically diverse ecosystem in the world – an expanse that has captured the imagination of humankind for many centuries.
I came to understand the dark and light times of a man living his dream. In deep-er and more obscure parts of the jungle, indigenous tribes who have lived in fear of drug traffickers and exploitive farmers for years, greeted the two foreigners with hostility: they were held hostage at gun-point and even accused of murder. The men endured the immeasurable powers of mother nature; the tropical weather, insect and animal bites, sleepless nights, the head and heart that fights, and living in solitude on beans, rice or the odd can of sardines. But Ed stayed focused and now he has his place in history as the first man to walk the river from its source, a trickle atop mount Nevado Mismi in the Andes of Peru, to its mouth in Maruda at the edge of gigantic Brazil.
Importantly, during the two years and four months that he was walking, Ed has raised awareness of conserving the rainforest by speaking to school children and news channels worldwide via a satellite connection and laptop. During my time in the jungle, logging trails and the sound of chainsaws were just as natural as the frenzied mosquitos, buzzing endlessley through the forest.
“It’s easy to see why Brazilians have, for years, seen the Amazon as a limitless resource,” says Ed. “From the ground, the scale of the forest is unimaginable. And most of these people are good people trying to make money. Aside from the loss of numerous endemic plant and animal species, many still undiscovered, the loss of the Amazon has a close relationship with furthering climate change. Recent droughts have been the worst in decades, so the signs are already worrying.”
Now, more than ever, we need people like Ed, who live their dreams and believe in their ability to make a difference, over-come their fears and inspire others. By taking chances, practicing patience and connecting with nature, Ed is making a difference but, for him, this has also been a life-changing journey of self-discovery.
“The Amazon taught me it’s not weak to look for assistance in getting something achieved,” Ed tells me. “I had started my walk in the belief that self-reliance was the most important factor. In reality it was by working with the amazingly diverse people of the Amazon that enabled me to walk the entire length of the river, and I think that the future generations will be more inclined to look after their incredible natural treasure.”
Photo: Ed Stafford and his walking partner, Gadiel ‘Cho’ Sanchez Rivera, deep in the Amazon.
Photo Copyright: Keith Ducatel