Explorer Ed Stafford chronicles deadly journey of Walking the Amazon (excerpt)

Here's an exclusive excerpt from Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One Step at a Time. by Ed Stafford.

NewImageIn April 2008, Ed Stafford embarked on a journey to become the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. In what was supposed to be a year long journey, Stafford followed the Amazon River from its known source in the Peruvian Andes to its end off the coast of Brazil 860 days later, which eventually led to a two-part documentary on Discovery Channel.

In Walking the Amazon Ed Stafford recounts his thrilling, yet often dangerous, expedition across Peru and the Andes including:

- Drug trafficking trails of Colombia

- Navigating the densest parts of the rainforest in Brazil

- Near mental breakdown in the final stretches of the trek

- Threat of machete-wielding indigenous tribes

- food shortages, poisonous animals, injuries, tropical storms

Despite it all, Stafford was able to use his expedition to successfully connect with schools and raise awareness on environmental issues in result of the deforestation of the Amazon. Currently working with Discovery Channel on a new project, Stafford currently holds the Guinness World Record for completing the longest jungle expedition, named European Adventure of the Year and nominated as one of National Geographic’s “Adventurers of the Year” for what was previously thought of as an impossible feat.

Exhilarating from start to finish, Walking the Amazon is a true account of a world-first expedition that takes readers on the most daring voyage along the world’s greatest river and through the most bio-diverse habitat on Earth.

Buy Walking the Amazon


In the morning we crossed the river simply by walking through it. It was perhaps 40 metres wide, but it was shallow and the small part that we had to cross was easy. We strode out on the far side and could immediately tell that people had been in the area. Small paths turned into what appeared to be a dirt logging road which we followed in the hope that it would lead us to people. We ate only our tortoise-meat jerky throughout the morning and had not eaten any carbohydrates, save the limp palm hearts, for over three days.

At about 1 p.m. we saw a wooden shack with a tin roof on top of a hill and made straight for it. As we approached, a woman came to the door and I explained what we were doing. I have no idea what we must have looked like after thirty-seven straight days of jungle from Amatura. The woman called her husband who had been making farine and he came and spoke to us. They were amazed when we told them where we had come from; they said that, to their knowledge, no one had ever made that journey before. They were about to have lunch and invited us to eat.

We dumped our packs outside in the blistering dry heat of the cleared hill and climbed a ladder to enter the cooler wooden hut on stilts. Inside there was no furniture, just a huge pan of fish broth in the middle of the floor, a plastic tub of fresh farine that was still warm, having just been made, and a stack of glass plates. The woman dished us out a plate of soup each as we sat on the floor among the family’s children. They watched us wolf down the first plate, then the second, then the third. I know we had eaten tortoise jerky earlier that morning, but the cumulative carbohydrate rationing and overall calorie deficit meant that our bodies had still felt starved and we ate and ate this glut of farine. Looking back, I doubt the farine was any different from farine elsewhere in Brazil, but at the time Cho and I could not stop eating it. It had the most wonderful warm texture and when eaten with the broth it was the best meal I had ever tasted. It is certainly true that the best way to appreciate food is to be truly hungry before you eat. I will never forget that meal as long as I live.

The family waved goodbye to us at about 3 p.m. and pointed us in the direction of Juruá. We had 30 kilometres to cover and expected it to take four days. We bought farine from the family to last us over this time and we also bought coffee, milk powder and sugar, luxuries we hadn’t had for weeks. The next few days saw the worst jungle of the entire expedition: low, tangled rainforest, with a canopy no higher than six metres, with gnarled, black branches blocking our path. Every soggy step gave way and sank our feet up to our thighs; every branch we clung to was covered either in spines or ants. It was the height of dry season now and I dreaded to think what the forest would have been like at any other time of year; completely impassable I suspect. It bore out my decision to cut across the meander from Amaturá to Tefé.

Our progress was painfully slow. One morning we advanced no more that 400 metres. After the false dawn of a house on the hill, I had thought we were home and dry and had pretty much reached Juruá City. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

That distance took us six of the toughest days I could remember. I hated every step of it. I was no longer thriving on the thrill of adventure and no longer in survival mode. I had had enough and I just allowed myself to be miserable and pissed off all day long.

Eventually, after hearing motor boats for two days, we could see daylight ahead. The Juruá River itself was vast compared to anything we’d seen since leaving the Solimões and carved out an impressive gorge through the forest, ripping palms and hardwoods from the ground ruthlessly as it constantly altered its course. Despite our lack of money, I asked for the best hotel in Juruá City. It wasn’t luxurious by Western standards but the fact that Cho and I had a double bed each and air conditioning meant that we were in a palace after more than forty days of walking through what must have been some of the most difficult rainforest anywhere in the world.

The Juruá River marked the halfway point to Tefé. Juruá ‘City’ was a humid, sweaty jungle town with wood-built shops that sat perched on a rare mound of high ground overlooking the low, green sprawl of the Amazon Basin. If a man in a Stetson with low-slung sixshooters had trotted into town on a horse named Silver he would have fitted in perfectly. As long as he spoke a bit of Portuguese.

The contrast between stepping out of the famine of our expedition into the excess of civilisation was remarkable. I spotted one local girl who was not overweight but the rest of the town seemed like personifications of sloth and greed.

We indulged in both those sins. My inbuilt regulator that should have stopped me eating had broken down. I was riding a rollercoaster that was flipping me back and forth between hunger and sickening overeating. Our bodies wanted to build up some fat stores again as we ploughed through cream cakes and egg sandwiches as if we had just been let out of a concentration camp.



  1. I love travel literature regarding places I will never go, will check it out, esp. when “near mental breakdowns” are suggested. It will put my complaining about taking the Q train out of Brooklyn on any given weekday morning in perspective. In fact, this is what I will read when on that train : D!

    I suppose it would be too much to expect it to be as hilarious as Redmon O’Hanlon’s: “In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon (1988)”?  Actually, given the excerpts maybe not…

  2. “They watched us wolf down the first plate, then the second, then the third.”

    Because you were eating all the family’s food!  Good grief, I hope they did some work for the family or did something to give them benefit beyond buying some provisions from them.

  3. He’s not the first to walk the length of the Amazon. My schoolmate Dennison Berwick did it in the ’80’s and wrote about it in “Amazon”, published in 1990. I guess (A) he didn’t know what he was doing was all that special, and (B) he didn’t have a go0d publicist.


    “Dennison Berwick spent nine months travelling down the 4000 miles of the Amazon and this book describes, among other things, how his life was threatened by one tribal chieftain, while he was adopted by another.

    1. If Stafford describes it in anywhere near as harrowing as O’Hanlon did, there are any number of ways of eating it.

  4. First thing I thought of is “Running The Amazon” by Joe Kane. Pick it up, it’s a great read. Looking forward to the walking version here :p

  5. Stranger in the Forest: On foot across Borneo by Eric Hansen is another good first-person account of living and traveling in a tropical rainforest, this time the oldest one on the planet, the jungle of Borneo.

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