Monday, September 15, 2014

Walking the Amazon: 860 Days, One Step at a Time by Ed Stafford

I missed learning about Walking the Amazon: 860 Days, One Step at a Time by Ed Stafford when it was first published in the U.S. in 2012. It only came out in paperback, and I am guessing that it did not get much publicity. I have already forgotten how I learned of it. I think a Chicago Tribune travel writer mentioned the book last month. I placed a reserve on the book immediately instead of putting in on my to-read list. I had to know how anyone could walk the the length of the Amazon River.

The idea of walking the Amazon is totally crazy. That is actually why some of his sponsors supported Stafford and his original partner. It had never been done before. One sponsor hinted that failure was acceptable, even probable, but the effort was worth financing. Stafford himself often seemed to question why he was pursuing such a strenuous, dangerous, miserable task. He had started with some lofty ideals, such as bring attention to the plight of the Amazon rainforest and its people, but he was also hoping for some personal glory. On an average day hacking his way through dense brush or wading chest deep in flood water for hours, he spent more time just hoping to find a comfortable place for the night and something to eat.

Like Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woods, Stafford was not really prepared or even in proper physical shape when he started. Unlike Bryson, he never left the trail completely to come back significantly later to do more. He sometimes took a boat trip ahead to choose where to walk or diverted to a city to the north or south to get supplies, but he always soon returned to the spot he marked to continue his trek.

The author was rarely alone, though his cast of companions changed through the trek. A Peruvian named Cho made most of the trip with him. Thanks to Stafford's blog and other publicity, a collection of friends, sponsors, and news reporters joined him for sections of the trip.

Stafford would not have succeeded without help from many of the poorest people in South America, who gave him shelter, food, and guidance. Though he tried to compensate some, he was at times flat broke. This raises the question of how ethical was his at times illegal quest. I would love to hear a book group debate Stafford's goals, thinking, and behaviors. Was the quest worthwhile?

Stafford, Ed. Walking the Amazon: 860 Days, One Step at a Time. Plume Books, 2012. 319p. ISBN 9780452298262.

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