just another walk in the park......
Ed Stafford is first man to walk length of the Amazon
Walking the Amazon
'Loony idea' ... Ed Stafford walked the entire length of Amazon river
ED Stafford had a "loony idea" to do something no one had ever done - and walk the entire 4,000-mile length of the Amazon.
He reckoned the epic journey would take him 12 months... but he was a bit out.
Now, two and a quarter YEARS after setting out, the 34-year-old former Army captain is still walking - but is finally within days of his goal.
On the way Ed has been pursued by machete-wielding tribesmen and detained for murder, as well as outwitting jaguars, pit vipers and a fly that set up home in his head.
He has lived off piranhas and struck fear into local tribes who mistook him for a monster that traded in babies' body parts.
Ed told The Sun from the Brazilian jungle: "I have a week until I arrive at a network of roads around Belem and then ten days on roads.
"It's unavoidable - unfortunately I'm not slipping out of the jungle on to the beach, although there is a little road that looks out on to the Atlantic.
"It will be wonderful. I can't tell you how long it seems to have taken. I was expecting it to be a year, but it seems like a lifetime."
Ed left Britain in March 2008, starting the journey at Camana in Peru with pal Luke Collyer, though they fell out just months into the trip.
Luke came home and Ed found another hiking partner, Peruvian guide Gadiel Rivera, known as "Cho".
Their achievement of walking from the river's source to its mouth has already attracted support from legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and Ed says: "I fully acknowledge it's a loony thing to do. But no one has ever done it on foot."
The pair used inflatable pack rafts to cross and recross the river and its flooded banks and used sat nav to pinpoint their route.
Ed adds: "It's great to be so near the end. I'm not whingeing and struggling but physically I'm starting to fall apart. My joints feel funny, my elbow is ridiculously inflamed, my rucksack has been broken for two months and I've had a fly living in my head."
The gruesome insect, called a botfly, lays its eggs on mosquitos which then bite humans, depositing the eggs under the skin, where they start to grow.
In Ed's case it took superglue and a nasty-looking needle to get it out. But he reveals the most dangerous part of the trip was in Peru, where he and Cho crossed drug-trafficking territory.
Ed says: "The native people were telling me, 'You will die' every day. It can get to you after a while.
"We were in an area that for a long time had been controlled by terrorists from the Shining Path communist group and they are very wary of outsiders.
"We were using high-frequency radios to tell the villages ahead we were coming. But one told us, 'If you come through you will die.'
"We came up with a back-up plan to cross over to an island that was a long sandbank instead.
"But as we were getting back to the shore we saw behind us five canoes with Indians with bows and arrows, shotguns and machetes.
"They were furious and ready to kill us, but we were as persuasive as we could be. We were finally able to calm them down but it took over three hours."
Even so, Ed - who left the Army in 2002 after serving in Afghanistan - reckons the sheer duration of the trip has been the hardest part.
He says: "It's the mosquitos, the humidity, the biting ants, day after day. Things that weren't bothering me at first became a frustration, but I've stuck it out for nearly two and a half years."
At one point he was also detained under suspicion of murder near Contamana, in north-east Peru.
He recalls: "A person had gone missing, and as passing foreigners, people thought we may have done it. The villagers decided we couldn't go anywhere, until eventually the local authorities let us go."
Along the way there have also been dramatic encounters with wildlife and Ed says: "Electric eels were something I hadn't heard about beforehand.
"But as I now know they are dangerous and aggressive and can knock you out and even cause you to drown in the water.
"Luckily we've been through so many swamps and rivers and I think they are far more scared of us than we are of them.
"I've also seen lots of jaguar prints. The locals always say they are manhunters, but they've never been too close.
"Snakes are a real threat but only if you step on one.
"Cho had a snake fall on his shoulders but it wasn't venomous. We carry 48 hours' worth of anti-venom.
"There are loads of pit vipers, which are probably our main worry.
"Without anti-venom you would bleed from all parts of your body, including your eyes, and would be dead within three hours.
"You are more likely to see them coiled up beneath a stone. If we got bitten it would probably be a defensive strike." Ed says he can sometimes "completely switch off" during the walk but with the finish in sight he has increasingly been dreaming of home.
The food has often been extremely simple, with the pair mostly surviving on rice and beans, and while locals are usually friendly, their attitude to the pair has varied.
Ed says: "In Brazil people are more educated and more accepting, but in Peru they have had 30 years of terrorist activity and they have issues because they live in such high anxiety.
"They believe in something called a Pelacala - a gringo, or white man, who steals babies and babies' organs.
"All they have is word of mouth and lots of communities were just terrified to see me.
"I was walking with Cho and some Ama Indians who had to explain our presence, and their fear was very real.
"Maybe there have been body-parts traffickers in there in the past - it was hard to know.
"We tended to make ourselves available to communities, because otherwise they wonder why you are avoiding them.
"But I often had men standing around my hammock with guns all night to make sure I didn't steal their children."
The state of the Amazon rainforest on the trip has varied - in Peru the logging was difficult to detect but in the Para region of Brazil there are huge cattle ranches and vast areas that are now clear of trees.
Ed, from Mowsley, Leicestershire, says: "You do see that the younger generation here are growing up knowing they need to protect it.
"We should all keep the pressure on, although I think over the next ten years the amount of deforestation will decline rapidly.
"We seem to be at the beginning of a more conscientious era."
Ed says his trip has led to personal sacrifices - "like not having a girlfriend and being poor."
It has cost nearly £70,000 and was only made possible after his mum and a friend launched a flurry of fundraising and sponsorship half-way through.
Ed also admits he only decided on the epic journey after being dumped by a previous girlfriend in 2007. He adds: "It puts a pause on your love life - there just isn't any."
And he describes his ideal day once he is back in England.
He says: "My perfect day would be to wake up and have breakfast with my family and then play rugby at my club, Stoneygate.
"After that I would go out on the town and have a few beers. I can't wait."
I ask him what he feels he has learned on the trip and he says: "I thought I was one man and his rucksack against the Amazon.
"Instead I found I needed a great team around me.
"I couldn't have done it without Cho, my family or my friends."
For more information go to walkingtheamazon.com.
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