BELEM, Brazil--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
After nine weeks, Martin Strel arrived
near the city of Belem, the capital of the jungle state of
Para, ending a swim almost as long as the drive from Miami
to Seattle. (enlarge
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
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
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."