MARAPANIM, Brazil — He fought tropical disease and deadly snakes, was held captive at one point and collapsed for a few hours just short of his goal.
Still, Ed Stafford ended his 2 1/2-year journey Monday as he planned — leaping into the sea as the first man known to walk the length of the Amazon River.
“I’ve been told I was going to be killed so many times,” the 34-year-old former British army captain said. “But I’m not dead. I’m here now and … I’ve proved that if you want something enough, you can do anything!”
Stafford had collapsed at the side of the road early Sunday, just 53 miles short of his destination. He was back on his feet after a few hours of rest, however, and looked like he had all the energy in the world as he ran into the Atlantic Ocean at Crispim beach Monday morning in northern Brazil — popping champagne and spraying Peruvian forestry worker Gadiel “Cho” Sanchez Rivera, his expedition partner.
It was the personal challenge for a man who left the military to be a stockbroker, was bored by finance and ended up leading student expeditions in Belize, then supervising the building of a BBC base camp in Guyana.
“The crux of it is, if this wasn’t a selfish, boy’s-own adventure, I don’t think it would have worked,” he said before completing his quest. “I am simply doing it because no one has done it before.”
Stafford and a British friend began the walk on April 2, 2008, on the southern coast of Peru. Within three months, his pal left. Stafford carried on, walking bits of the route with hundreds of locals he met along the way. Sanchez Rivera, 31, joined him a few months into the walk — which cost $100,000 and is paid for by sponsoring companies and donations — and completed it with him.
Stafford lived off piranha he caught, rice and beans and store-bought provisions found in local communities along the river. Stafford and Sanchez Rivera encountered 18-foot long caiman crocodiles, enormous anaconda snakes, illness, food shortages and the threat of drowning.
To relax at night, Stafford downloaded podcasts by British comedian Ricky Gervais and episodes of the TV show “The Office” via Internet satellite phone.
After they were welcomed in one Indian community in September 2008, the leaders offered to radio ahead to the next village for permission for Stafford and Sanchez Rivera to walk through their territory.
“The response came back crystal clear: If a gringo walks into their community they will kill him,” Stafford wrote on his blog at that time.
He decided on an alternate route, but still found himself in the territory of Indians who remain distrustful of outsiders after suffering extreme violence under Peru’s Shining Path terrorist movement.
They grabbed him and Sanchez Rivera and presented them to village leaders.
After being dressed down and having their possessions thoroughly picked over — only a machete was confiscated — the pair’s repeated explanations of the purpose of their expedition won over the Indians.
They were allowed to walk on the land, but only if they hired guides from the tribe.