After 3,272 miles (5268 kilometres) of exhaustion, sunburn, delirium and piranhas, 52-year-old Slovenian Martin Strel, aka the “The Fish Man”, successfully completed a 66 days swim down the Amazon River-setting the world record for the Longest swim.
Strel averaged about 50 miles a day since beginning his odyssey at the source of the world’s second-longest river in Peru.
Strel, who lost some 26 pounds, said there were times he felt such pain in his arms, chest and legs, “that I could not get out of the water on my own.”
The Amazon is the largest river in the world by volume and through it flows two thirds of all the fresh water on Earth. It is renowned for extreme currents and dangerous wildlife, which mean the chances of swimming it safely are slim.
Strel, who hails from Slovenia, previously completed record swims in the Danube, Mississippi and Yangzte rivers and holds several Guiness World Records.
In 2000, he completed an 1,866-mile swim along the Danube. He broke that record two years later after swimming 2,360 miles down the Mississippi. In 2004 he broke it again by swimming 2,487 miles along the Yangtze river in China.
Comparing his Amazon adventure with his other record-breaking swim in Europe, the United States and China, Strel said “it was the toughest expedition by far.” “The Amazon river has no barriers like locks, so the current is constantly flowing,” he said. “I didn’t expect so many whirlpools and so many currents.”
For almost three months, Strel and his 22-person support crew battled piranhas, bandits, pirates and Colombian drug runners, not to mention crocodiles, jaguars and sharks. Filmmaker John Maringouin — one of the key creative forces behind the Jackass movies — also tagged along.
Martin says: “I had to know everything about the animals I’d encounter along the way. “I did get the odd piranha bite through my wetsuit but the support boat crew poured rancid blood overboard to distract them when we drove into a shoal.
“I was even more worried about the minute candiru fish, which can swim into the body through any orifice. “In the Amazon they are more feared than piranhas and deadly to anyone silly enough to pee while in the water.
“There were also crocodiles, stingrays, anacondas and deadly electric eels to worry about, not forgetting sunburn, tropical diseases and fatigue.
“It was undoubtedly the biggest risk of my life.”
Growing up in rural Slovenia, Martin became hooked on river swimming as a boy and hopes his achievements will raise awareness of river pollution around the globe.
His first swim was the Krka, Slovenia, in 1979 aged 24. Martin says: “People were throwing in rubbish and it was polluted with sewage and effluent. It was a similar story all over Europe. “Rivers were being ruined and no one seemed to be doing anything about it.
Martin, who has earned a living as a guitarist, supermarket worker and gambler, went on to conquer the Danube in Europe and America’s Mississippi before visiting South America – where he was shocked by the state of the Amazon. He started training hard in Slovenia with running, cross-country skiing, gymnastics and swimming – and bulked up with a diet of horse burgers and two bottles of wine a day.
He launched himself into the Amazon on February 1, 2007. He says: “That day I sat alone and thought over my situation. I felt I’d a 50/50 chance of coming back alive.
He says: “The swim wasn’t just risky, it almost destroyed my mind. Although my body is ready, it will be years before I’m mentally prepared to face another challenge. In a way the Amazon was my Everest – I don’t have anywhere else to go. My focus is spreading the environmental message and campaigning for rivers. “And for now I’m happy to keep my feet on dry land.”
“I am not going to do the Nile. It’s long but not challenging enough, it is just a small creek, he said. “The Amazon is much more mighty.”