Everything I needed to know about traveling, I could have learned from Ed Stafford’s Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One Step at a Time. He’s the first man to have walked the Amazon, a little journey that took him just over two years. I’ve spent the last several days reading the book. I’m sure Ed Stafford and I have very little in common: he’s a former military man,a former tour guide in Belize, and outdoorsy and generally camping-competent in ways I can’t even fathom. Though I’m hoping to head to the Amazon myself in the next few years, my trip there will hardly be the rugged adventure he undertook. Still, I just couldn’t put his book down.
A two-year jungle walk is one long slog even when you have the mildest of temperaments. Stafford manages to convey the mood swings attendant with an all-encompassing, potentially life-ending endeavor of this sort. But even when he was down, I was with him, carried along through worries about food supplies, the annoyances of insects, the hassles of tourist paperwork, the fear of crazed drug-trade field workers, and concern about what indigenous people might do. Albeit in a very intense way, Stafford has covered everything a prospective traveler would need to learn, such as
- the importance of picking the right traveling companion
- what to do when you’re down
- how to get past your fears about what’s going on at home while you’re away (bills coming in)
- the wisdom of being open to the foods of different cultures (in his case, monkey, turtle, piranha)
- how it’s useful to know the native language and, if you don’t, to have an interpreter
- how mundane annoyances are just that in the larger scheme of the universe
- the importance of staying away from caimans (a member of the alligator family)
The armchair adventurer will be as drawn in to the story even if there aren’t the remotest of plans to go anywhere near a jungle. Stafford doesn’t gloss over any personal shortcomings. He’s funded on a shoe string, didn’t sufficiently anticipate personality clashes, and in constant need of food, battery-charging capacity, sponsors, better maps, or of all of these. Any reader will come to admire his sheer will and persistence as he insists on walking a route he could far more easily have taken by boat.
I could have done without all of the measurements being in metric and would have liked a few more explanations of the acronyms often used. Otherwise, his adventure provided me with one good read.