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Heroes: Ed Stafford

The Amazon explorer speaks to WideWorld

by Catherine Wilkinson


? Ed Stafford

Determined, committed and above all self-motivated, Ed Stafford has been trekking the Amazon for nearly 500 days. The ex-army captain is bidding to become the first man to walk the length of the world's greatest river from its source in the Andes mountains all the way to the Atlantic Ocean - and his reasoning is selfless.

The 33-year-old British explorer and expedition leader started the walk on April 2nd 2008 and is expected to finish in May next year, with the aims being to draw people’s attention to the Amazon, whilst also walking in aid of several charities.

Stafford, who first began trekking seriously after retiring from his role as a British Army Officer in 2002, understands that not everyone is 'conservation minded' but that many are attracted by adventure: “I wanted to use a world-first expedition to drag people, kicking and screaming, into an adventure which would open their eyes to the Amazon jungle, its wonders and its inevitable problems,” he told WideWorld.

"Many believed we would die"

Like so many extreme trekkers before him, the exertions of his journey have alerted him to the fact that a positive disposition is essential on so ambitious a trip: “So many people not only said that we would not be able to complete the expedition, but that we would die, that I just started not believing them.”

The negativity was mentally draining, he reveals, and inevitably made beginning the expedition more difficult. However Stafford and his expedition partner Gadiel ‘Cho’ Sanchez insist that “the expedition is physically achievable if we approach it positively.”

The duo has had to overcome many near-fatal experiences: the most blood-curdling of all was when they were taken hostage by Ashaninkas – an indigenous people living in Peru. The clan did not accept the pair’s walker permits, seeing them as invaders: “The tribes on the upper Ucayali live in a constant state of alertness and I have no doubt had we been real aggressors or reacted aggressively that we would have been killed.”

"They were furious and ready for fighting..."

Stafford tells of how every man who came out from their community in the dugout canoes had either a bow and arrow or a shotgun, and how every woman had a machete: “They were furious and ready for fighting.” The situation was eventually defused with calm talking, the tactics of simply being genuine and polite winning over the tribespeople.

Stafford spoke some Spanish so was able to communicate with the Ashaninkas. The tribal leader, who Stafford described as “the man I’ve been most fearful of on the whole expedition to date”, then offered to become the duo's guide and trekked with them for 47 days through fairly closed areas of Peru.

Stafford’s most triumphant occasion was summiting Nevage Mismi over a year ago. Reflecting on the moment he was able to look across the entire continent, he said it was “incredible” and “the biggest rush of adrenaline”.  He hopes to end triumphantly and is adamant that he will not give up: “I will not come home if I have not completed the expedition. It would be humiliating.

"You have no option but to see it to the end"

“I think if you attempt something, and do it in the way I’m doing and shout about it to everyone who will listen; you have no option but to see it to the end.”

Luke Collyer, Stafford’s previous companion, left the expedition after three months but instead of deterring Stafford, it fuelled his motivation to complete the journey. “I felt sad that we’d not been able to compromise enough to get on with each other but I saw he was right to leave and respected him for taking himself away. His heart wasn’t in it and he’d just got engaged so he was better off leaving.”

The letters of support that Stafford received afterwards were a huge confidence boost and gave him the determination needed to succeed. Stafford believes that he is a difficult escort: “The expedition means so much to me that I’ve become a bit of a control freak and losing any of that control is hard for me.”

However, after walking with Cho for a year, Stafford is content with his partner: “We know where we stand with each other. As my Spanish has got better Cho has become the real rock of the expedition and I owe him a lot.”

"People thought I wanted to steal their body parts"

Throughout the expedition Stafford became surprised with how cut-off the people of the Amazon are: “I’ve met people who thought I would steal their babies, people who thought I would peel their faces off and people who thought I wanted to steal their body parts.”

However, after they accepted Stafford, the people became very warm and friendly towards him and offered him residence in family houses in their community. “Back home if someone knocked on my door and asked to stay in my living room I would laugh and tell him to go away!”

The further Stafford walks throughout the expedition, the less he feels as though he is putting his life at risk. The stark realisation for him is that each situation has a potentially fatal outcome. He understands that he has to behave accordingly and to reduce the risks tenfold.

"It's a journey of positive experiences"

The duo kills around two venomous snakes every week. This in itself is a dangerous activity; if they are unlucky the consequences are potentially fatal. Now that Stafford has grown in confidence, he no longer looks at the expedition as a series of dangerous hurdles: “it’s now a journey of positive experiences. And it’s much easier as a result.”

Stafford has kept in touch with friends and family using two BGANs (Broadband Global Area Network devices). Sponsored by AST, he is fortunate enough to be able to use the 800g Internet satellite units and telephones that, once plugged into a Macbook, allow him to communicate. “I can poke people on Facebook all day long if I choose to,” he laughs.

For Stafford it is all about “spreading the word”. He would like to direct any young readers to the new PRP kids’ blog:

Stafford's website is:

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