Wednesday, 30 April 2014 12:29

Ed Stafford's Walking the Amazon Tour ...Live at the Lowry

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The lights dimmed, a voice announced the name that had packed the three semi-circles of Lowry's Quay Theatre and onto stage erupted Ed Stafford. No preamble, no setting the scene, there was barely enough time to settle back into your comfy seat before you were back on the seat edge again as Ed told tales of Spider Monkey BBQs, Anacondas like tractor tyres and flesh eating bugs. The strange thing was that by the end of the evening, over 2 hours later, it wasn't the amazing natural splendour of the Amazon that left the biggest impression, and surprisingly it wasn't the feeling that here was a man who'd overcome the impossible through sheer willpower. I came away from the Lowry having heard the story of a remarkable friendship and how in a world so divided by differences when it comes down to it we're actually remarkably the same.

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In terms of the sheer achievement of Ed's journey from the desert bounded Pacific coast of Peru to the Atlantic coast of Brazil is up there with Scott, Shakleton, Stanley and Livingstone and the great explorers of a bygone age, but there's not a cat in hell's chance that you'll get Ed to accept that. From the moment he hit the stage Ed did his utmost to deflect attention away from himself, choosing instead to put the spotlight on the indigenous people along his 4000 mile, 860 day epic. That he became the first and only person to walk the length of the Amazon was and is something for the history books but what Ed Stafford did along the way was very much looking at the future. This one expedition finally demonstrated that there's nowhere left on the face of our planet that man can go and still remain inaccessible. It wasn't just a man who unravelled the Amazon but Facebook, Twitter and the internet went with him and along the way made the world a smaller place. As Ed progressed along the length of the world's largest and most complex river he used technology to communicate in real time with children and schools around the world along with the regular blog and news updates.

In true legend making style this expedition was impossible, everyone said so. The Amazon had already been kayaked but no matter who you asked the very nature of the river made walking it impossible and that's without considering the drug traffickers, hostile tribes and terrorist legacies involved, but a single NASA image changed all that. From one satellite image showing the existence of dry enough land within easy reach of the river the idea was born, but you get the impression from Ed's talk that the preparation didn't get much further than that. OK when he set off with Luke Collier from the Pacific coast the pair had satellite phones, laptops and rucksacks holding 40k of kit each - but they didn't even realise the first few weeks involved crossing the great desert of western Peru! That Ed completed the adventure 2 1/2 years later was certainly not down to planning, they ran out of money completely at one stage and had to install a PayPal donate link on the webiste, but it did show what one man with determination and ambition can achieve.

 

Ed Stafford Book SigningBy the mid way interval Ed had crossed Peru and along the way he'd lost Luke as a fellow traveller and gone through a series of short term guides progressing him from one tribal territory to the next until he met Cho, a 24 year old Peruvian who was to stay the length of the epic walk - despite initially only signing up to a few days. The second half of the show saw the pair develop a friendship like brothers as they crossed into Columbia then western Brazil. Along the way sponsors hit by the financial crash left them without the money to even pay their insurance premiums, they ran out food and lived on Piranha and turtle and they encountered the legacy of the notorious Shining Path. They faced potential death after inadvertently straying into tribal lands without asking permission and met tribes who saw Ed as a traditional mythical white man who would peel their skin back and steal their internal organs. Along the way, however, Ed showed us something very special - that people have an enormous capacity to overcome. Over hundreds of days and thousands of miles two complete strangers from different lands, speaking different languages, formed a bond that saw them across a continent - and eventually saw Cho in England up to a few days ago. That bond highlighted how similar people are when you strip away all the trappings of the western world and get down to basics, and was ultimately the strength that got them through.

Still symbolically just a couple of metres onto the stage, he never did make it to the centre, Ed finished the evening with a questions and answers session - sometimes a dodgy move as audiences can be reluctant to ask. The quality and breadth of questions from the audience was superb, as it turned out, and covered everything from readjusting to society to future plans and nutrition to technology. We heard of Amazonian tribes gathered round generators, TVs and satellite dishes to watch TV and the last few days that saw the pair surrounded by TV crews and journalists before them run hand in hand into the Atlantic on the eastern coast of Brazil.

Ed Stafford's Walking the Amazon is inspirational on levels you just didn't expect, leaving you with a smile on your face and a renewed sense of "Yes I can". Such a journey of discovery, the last great challenge on Earth, is enough to inspire but as Ed more than ably demonstrated this was an expedition that any moderately fit person could complete it all depends on the "top two inches" of your mental strength. Walking the Amazon showed the future of integrating technology with exploration for educating our young people and simultaneously taught us as an audience that sometimes accepting what we've got is all that's needed to get you through. In Victorian times Ed Stafford would probably have got a knighthood and along with Sir Ranulph Fiennes he must surely rank as possibly the greatest explorer of modern times - but on stage he's still a bundle of childlike enthusiasm that infects and inspires.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 November 2016 21:48