"Truly extraordinary....in the top league of Expeditions in past and present."
Those are the words that Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a legendary explorer in Britain, describes Ed Stafford´s Expedition. Ed walked the length of the Amazon River in South America. From the source to the sea. He walked for 860 days and started on 2nd April 2008 and finished on 9th August 2010.
When ExWeb´s Mikael Strandberg tries to get an interview with him, it takes time to get an answer from a very busy Ed. He´s travelling all over the UK lecturing, he is playing rugby with old mates, appearing on talk shows, filming in Soho and worrying about why his great partner on the Expedition, Cho, has been denied a visa to come to the UK.
ExplorersWeb: Did you expect this amount of attention coming back?
Ed: Not in my wildest dreams. It was a phenomenal welcoming at the mouth of the Atlantic. A band playing and Brazilian dancers on the beach. All the world's media too. Part of it is down to my amazing publicist Vikki Rimmer who did all my PR for free! But to get that sort of recognition, from the older explorers in the UK too like Sir Ranulph Fiennes was mind-blowing.
ExWeb: Seriously, what does it feel like coming back?
Ed: Coming back has been exciting. The challenges are new: speaking in front of large audiences and writing a book. Both are things I have thrown myself into and hope to be successful. Sure it´s been hard at times to adapt back to the emotional draws of modern day life but again it´s another challenge and I'm not going to sit in a dark room getting depressed.
ExWeb: What was your motivation when things where very difficult?
Ed: Sheer stubborness. My Dad always used to say to me, "If you say you're going to do something, you have to see it through to the end." It is this value of responsibility and commitment that kept me going.
ExWeb: What part was the most difficult?
Ed: I think the Peruvian Amazon, when my Spanish was still poor and most people spoke indigenous languages anyway, was the most isolated soul-searching time. People feared me as a "Pela Cara" (face peeler or human body part trafficker) and having to pour so much energy into convincing people I was not bad was draining.
ExWeb: How have you changed as a person after this trip?
Ed: I think I'm less cocky and arrogant, but more confident based on realities rather than what people think of me. My self-worth had to come from within when I became so isolated, I couldn't look to others to gee me up or bolster me. That is a good thing and I've taken that with me and am less susceptible to things outside my control now.
ExWeb:Can you tell me a very positive story about a person you met along the way which made your life a joy?
Ed: It would have to be Cho. Cho (real name Gadiel Snachez Rivera) kindly offered to walk with me through the lower part of the Red Zone (the drugs trafficking area) when no one else would. He was a devout Christian and, although I am not religious myself, he brought with him a confidence that was contagious and he helped me lift myself out of being wrapped up in self worry. Cho would sing Christian songs in Spanish at the top of his voice whilst we walked. I found it bloody annoying actually but it did mean I wasn't focusing on getting killed!
ExWeb:Physically, what kind of damage did you take?
Ed: I have back problems now that I didn't have before and it is giving me problems training and regaining my fitness. But I have some close friends who are trainers and experts on this type of thing and they will get me back in shape.
ExWeb:How do you go on from this? Next challenge?
Ed: I have options. A TV series is on the cards and I have a number of expeditions in the pipeline, both big and small. For now I've just got to keep my head down and finish the book.
ExWeb:Do you look differently at Britain after this? If, how?
Ed: No, I don't think so. Life it is the same as it always was except when I'm talking or doing something public. I suppose I acknowledge now that we're not the friendliest of nations. In Brazil Cho and I would arrive in a community and there would be a plate of hot food put in front of us within minutes and an offer of a place to string out hammocks in a family's front room. You wouldn't get us Brits doing that for two travelling foreigners here would you? Unless they were Brazilian ladies I suppose...
ExWeb: Do you have anyone who you see as a role model of your life?
Ed: Sir Ranulph Fiennes without a doubt. He's achieved huge amounts and never "sold out". He's kept his reputation over decades and he's an utter inspiration.
Ed Stafford (UK) has crossed the whole of South America from Camana (on the Pacific coast of Peru) to the mouth of the Amazon River (on the Atlantic coast of Brazil) via the course of the longest source of the Amazon River. He started on 2nd April 2008. A transient team of teammates and indigenous guides accompany him.
According to Eds website the following people have done Amazon expeditions:
Since 1970 there have been five expeditions that have successfully navigated the Amazon from source to sea using a combination of rafts, kayaks and boats:
1. The first was British explorer John Ridgways journey in 1970. This expedition used cargo boats and other vessels to complete the latter portion of the river.
2. The first expedition to run the Amazon in kayaks was completed by Piotr Chmielinski (Poland) and Joe Kane (USA) in 1985/6.
3. The first unsupported and solo attempt was successfully navigated on a hydro-speed by South African Mike Horn in 1997/8.
4. In 1999 Scott Angus (Canada), Ben Kozel (Australia) and Scott Borthwick (South Africa) became the first to raft the entire river.
5. In 2007 Slovenian marathon swimmer Martin Strel set a new record swim by being the first person to swim a large proportion of the Amazon.
6. In March 2008 Mark Kalch and Nath Welche trekked and paddled the entire route. They are the fourth team in history to complete the entire journey manpowered. (Martin Strel didnt start at the source)
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