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Walking the Amazon – book review

Ed Stafford’s 860 day expedition to walk the length of the Amazon is an old-school epic. (If you don’t know the story get a 400 second summary of it here).
It was infuriating to see his excellent documentary languishing on Channel 5 whilst primetime BBC channels feature endless streams of celebrities whingeing up Kilimanjaro for a week and total idiots top the travel book charts.
It is yet another hammer blow in my questioning as to whether I actually want to be making my living by chasing the adventurer’s dollar, or whether I should just bugger off and do good stuff on my own terms.

Anyway, this is a book review, not a rant. So here’s a quick summary of Ed’s book, ‘Walking the Amazon‘:

It’s bloody good. Buy it now, aptly, from Amazon.

If you want to know a bit more, here’s a few other thoughts I had as I read the book.

It’s not exactly Shakespeare, though I imagine Ed would be a bit horrified if it was. It’s a light, honest account of a journey that few people could have succeeded at. I know that I could not have hacked spending so long in the jungle or being regularly threatened with guns and violence by angry tribes.

There are a few things that I could not bear on my round the world bike ride. These included complicated logistical planning, bureaucratic faff, money worries, and having the same tedious conversation with drunk villagers every single day. Ed faced all of this in bucket-loads.

Another aspect that resonated with me was Ed’s mental deterioration throughout the trek: the boredom, the loneliness, the scary oscillations between whooping for joy and bawling yourself to sleep. He’s admirably honest about his weaknesses and negativity.

Once you take on a journey that will last years rather than mere months you have to face the fact that this is not just a trip: it’s your life. And it sucks. Hard days, sweaty nights, crap food, no mates, constant negativity from everyone telling you it’s impossible… It gets you down after a year or two.

Like many big trips Ed’s begins with enthusiasm, naivety and a hangover. The dawning realisation of what you have got yourself in for was something that Ed relished as he realised that, for the next year or two, he was free to do exactly what he wanted. This is the positive, liberating flip side of the grinding monotony mentioned above.
“Living like nomads, carrying what we needed, and living off our wits for up to two years, I felt as if I was the luckiest man on earth.”
I think that sentence sums up the book.

If you are planning an expedition, or if you’re calling yourself an ‘Adventurer’ or ‘Explorer’, you need to read this book and measure yourself against it. It’s a great bulwark against the groaning weight of new literature from distinctly average expeditions.

Here is a good benchmark for all of us planning expeditions of our own to measure ourselves by:

– Is what you’re doing so hard that even Sir Ranulph Fiennes is moved to drop you an email gently suggesting that you have done bloody well and nobody will think any the less of you if you call it a day and come home?

– If you were to receive that email, far from home, struggling and miserable, would your response be,
“Am I going to give up? Am I fuck!”

Walking the Amazon is available here. Buy it.

While I’mm at it you should also read these books. Each one will make your life a little bit better.

Oh, what the heck, I might as well link to my own books too

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  1. An incredible journey…and surely deserving of more than just 2 hour long shows on channel 5. I’m not a fan of jungles in the slightest, too hot, too many insects and too many creepy crawlies. I’ll definately be picking up a copy of the book.

    I would mention that the reason for the popularity of the Karl Pilkington book/series is that it is very very funny stuff. The writing is witty and entertaining and provides a fresh perspective that gently mocks the usual travel writing that tends to gush about how wonderful everything is, be overly serious and more often than not leaves you bored to tears…

  2. Raph Taylor Posted

    Your two books would be on my Desert Island list for sure – since reading them I have procured a rather large pile of cycle-tour books: josie Dew, Ann Mustoe, Rob Lilwall, and plenty more.
    One of the best is ‘Pedals and Petticoats’ about four women who cycle and camp through Europe just after WW2.
    But none have yet matched yours – perhaps if you have little planned over the next four years, you might consider another brief trip somewhere and give us something cracking to read (shame we’d be waiting another 4 years)…

  3. Nice review Al,

    This is on my reading list for during my little trip.

    This really was a classic expedition, that is a. almost impossible to find nowadays and b. pretty much impossible to achieve.

    When I grow up I want to be Ed Stafford.

  4. Rob Chambers Posted

    If anyone missed the documentary, it’s still on…

    Worth a watch.



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