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Amazon Swimmer to Brave Piranhas, Snakes
Adventure chats with Martin Strel, the man who could become the first person to swim the length of the Amazon.

Text by Ryan Bradley   Photograph courtesy of Martin Strel

Photo: Martin Strel

FROM SOURCE TO SEA: Expedition swimmer Martin Strel is attempting to become the first person to swim the length of the Amazon, the world's second longest river.

Martin Strel, 52, is swimming the Amazon River—all 3,745 miles (5,430 kilometers) of it—in, if all goes according to plan, only 70 days.
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An experienced expedition swimmer, Strel is taking precautions. He will have, for example, a support boat with doctors and scientists on hand regularly checking his health and administering emergency aid, such as tossing buckets of chum into the river to distract swarming schools of piranhas. This should allow Strel to focus on what he does best—swim an incredible distance down the world's great waterways.

Over the past seven years, Strel has knocked off the Danube (1,867 miles, or 3,005 kilometers), the Mississippi (2,359 miles, or 3,796 kilometers), and the Yangtze (2,487 miles, or 4,002 kilometers). The Amazon, however, presents a whole new range of challenges: torrential rains, whirlpools, tidal bores, waterborne diseases … to say nothing of the candiru, a tiny, needle-like fish that swims up bodily orifices and feeds on blood and tissue. If he is successful, he will become the first person to swim the world's second longest river from source to sea.

Adventure spoke with Strel hours before he left his native Slovenia. He begins this daunting journey on February 1 from Atalaya, Peru, and plans to finish in Belém, Brazil.

How did you prepare for such an undertaking?
That is a very simple and very big question. I spend three to five hours every day in the water and do special regimens for cold-water swims—but the Amazon will not be cold. I also hike and do gymnastics. I've been to the Amazon three times now, before I return tomorrow morning. I spent about 14 weeks scouting it from start to finish. Now, I know a lot about the Amazon.

Is this just another long swim for you?
The Amazon is a very special river. It is dangrous because it is very wide and very high. I have spent a lot of time talking with doctors and biologists who know the river, as well as boat captains and local people. The Amazon is very dangerous below the surface of the water. Alligators, snakes, anacondas, piranhas … it's not so simple.

What sorts of precautions will you take in the water?
Maybe God and the moon will protect me from the many risks? I'll have to swim from six in the morning to six in the evening. During the night, the alligators and snakes will be out … it's not a good time to be in the water.

You'll have a support boat …
Yes, with navigators, logistics coordinators, doctors … it's a big crew.

What kind of toll does 70 days in the water take on your body?
Right now, I'm about 250 pounds [113 kilograms]. At the finish I will have lost about 50 to 60 pounds [23 to 27 kilograms]. My skin is the greatest concern—the sun is very strong. With my face exposed to the sun all day, I'll use special creams I will buy in Brazil.

What concerns you the most, leading up to this journey?
Strong rain is a big problem. Sometimes it rains 24 or even 48 hours nonstop. It's impossible to see more than two or three feet [.5 to 1 meter] ahead. Plus there are infections, diseases, huge tidal shifts, and waves caused by rain. The river picks up speed about 500 miles [805 kilometers] before the Atlantic.
Plus there will be tidal bores in the flats, starting at about 200 miles [322 kilometers] before the finish.

You're swimming for a variety of different causes. What are they?
I dedicated this swim to the protection of the rain forest, but also to finding the cure to Alzheimer's. My slogan is swimming for peace, but also achieving the impossible. It's a big risk for me, but every day I get messages from around the world telling me, "Martin, you are the right man for this. We wish you the best luck."

What's next, the Nile?
Yeah, in my head there's a new project … but the Amazon is a very big project for me. I've worked on it for more than three years. Once I am finished, I will feel very lucky.

Cover: Adventure magazine

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