Alone in the jungle – with the drug-runners and guerillas

August 4, 2008

Shortly after Luke Collyer sensationally quit the 18-months-long Amazon Walk benefitting the ME Association's tissue-bank appeal – after a series of differences with his trekking partner  Ed Stafford – Ed had this amazing and uproariously funny email interview with Sarah Staples, a reporter with the "Leicester Mercury".

To put you briefly in the picture, Luke flew home to Britain last month, leaving Leicestershire-lad Ed alone with a local guide to face the jungle and the rest of the 4,000-mile trek to the mouth of the Amazon. According to press reports, they finally fell out during a row over an MP3 player…


* What are you listening to on your MP3? (apologies, couldn't resist). Kate Nash at the moment. Not very rugged and explorer-like I know but I love her songs.

* There's been a lot of coverage given to you and to Luke. What led up to his departure? Luke and I are very different people. He is a clown, and performer, very off the wall and alternative. I am more straight down the line focussed on the expedition. We had very different ideas about commitment, planning and execution of the expedition and that made me (rightly or wrongly) start to resent Luke 

* how did you feel when he announced he was going? I was shocked as it has always been a 2 man exped. But he had threatened to leave before – on the slopes of Nevado Mismi – so I knew he had it as an option in his mind. – and did you know it was on the cards? When you get back to Britain, will you still meet up – and what will you say? Of course. Luke is a mate and despite our differences on this expedition he is still a good drinking buddy and will remain so.

* Where are you right now? Can you describe the scenery around you, who's with you, what time of day it is and the technology you're using? I am on the outskirts of a town called San Francisco. The valley has opened up and is now gentle sided covered in broadleaf rainforest and cash export crops such as coca, cocoa, and coffee. I am on a MacBook with a BGAN connecting me to the Internet (Broadband Global Access Network). I have four 6-foot solar rolls that  charge a 12v dry-cell battery and I run the computer and BGAN from an inverter connected to the battery. Well you did ask…!
* Day 105 (or 106/107/108) depending on when you pick up this email. Physically, what's hurting the most? And mentally, how are you feeling given the stresses and strains of the past days. I've never been one for stretching and so I have very tight muscles in my legs. I tried a bit of yoga recently to try and loosen up but started giggling at the Oomms and so gave up. Mentally I'm excited – very excited – and am loving the independence of running the expedition on my own at present. My guide Oz, who is only 24, is very jumpy at the moment and thinks we are about to walk into serious problems. There is a huge amount of drugs-processing going on here and terrorist activity that doesn't seem to have hit the world press.
* What home comforts have you found yourself missing? Girls.
* 4,000 miles, a journey that's never been accomplished before – and which even the locals say is impossible. So what makes a lad from a village near Harborough want to do it? Martin Johnson's from Harborough – the greatest England rugby captain of all time! Errmmm- I think I have always wanted to push things to the limit and I love having to deal with dangerous situations. When the electoral planning centre in Herat, Afghanistan (that I was in charge of), was being burned to the ground by angry Afghans I had a grin from ear to ear. I'm odd like that.
* What's been your most frightening moment to date on this expedition? The Guardian cites you facing everything from piranhas to Andean peaks and Maoist revolutionaries…your mum says they've blown it out of proportion. So what threats do you face over the coming months? Nothing has reached what I would call frightening yet. Day to day the expedition is not rocket science – my Mum is right – roll out of bed, scratch my arse, light a fire, and walk for a bit. But (don't tell my Mum) there are some real threats install. (in store?)  Indigenous Amerindians being a big one – many of them don't have a very high regard for gringos with video cameras…
* How many countries will you pass through? Two – Peru and Brazil. I may dip into Columbia if needed as we follow the southern border for a while. What sort of different terrain will you come across? And how many countries have you already got through? From here on in the expedition gets flatter and flatter. The Andes are mostly behind me now and the rainforest is my life for the next year and a half. Wet season is the biggest problem here. When the floods come the river bursts its banks and the forest floods up to 80km from the main channel. That's a lot of detouring.
* What's in your rucksack? And what are you eating over the course of your journey? Too much. In addition to the jungle basics (hammock, mozzie net, tarpaulin, machete) I have made commitments to people to communicate the essence of the journey so I have lots of extras. The comms were mentioned above but I also have waterproof journals, 2 HD video cameras from Sony, and a "Yellowbrick" global tracking device amongst other things. Oh and a pair of jeans for the towns – you can't not have a pair of jeans.
* When was the last time you got lost? Never. 
* At the worst times, what keeps you putting one foot in front of the other? I am planning a bigger expedition in my head at the moment which will last three years and has never been attempted. That keeps me occupied and excited about the future.
* I asked your mum where your sense of adventure came from. She said: "Haven't got a clue!" What do you think? 1st Fleckney Cub Scouts! They were a rough bunch in Fleckney, not your average Cub pack, but it introduced me to the outdoors and I am eternally grateful. 
* She also describes you as a bit of a tearaway teen…Has having that rebellious streak helped you or hindered you to get this trek up and running? Did she indeed? I got chucked out of school in Uppingham for chopping a tree down that the Queen planted. I think I was a bit bored with school and that point but didn't know how to express it. I suppose you could say that signified a desire to break free from average society and do something really different but you can sometimes read too much into these things – I was just a pain in the bum.
* When you come back, your mum (yes, we did have quite a long chat) says that your welcome home will probably be a drink in the Staff of Life. What will be in your glass? The Staff of Life has been rubbish for years. I'll be at the Bewick drinking Guiness.
* You're doing this trip to raise awareness of climate change – how do you hope it will do that? The hope is that the adventure is so exciting to follow on the Internet that kids get enthralled and become interested in the Amazon as a whole, and the changes that are happening here. I'm avoiding getting political completely – but if we can act as a medium to tell some stories from people living in the Amazon then I think that could be really interesting.  Also, the ME charity is particularly close to your heart – what effect has seeing your sister's illness had on you? Janies's had a continuous string of bad luck and has been poorly for as long as I can remember. She is now though better than I've seen her in years and has a lovely fiancee who is a good chap. I hope she continues to improve.
* You're due back in September 2009. Will you hang up the boots and retire to a cottage in the country….or are there more adventures to come…? Answered above I think. The expedition I have in mind is ridiculous, utterly so, but that makes me smile.
* How can Mercury readers help… Give a bit of dosh to one of the charities that are listed at That would be the best way of showing support.

Cheers Ed, best of luck,

With thanks to Sarah Staples and the "Leicester Mercury" for permission to reproduce the interview. It was written up as a story which can be read at the paper's website (type ‘Ed Stafford" into the search box).

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