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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 April 2007, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Taking on the Amazon: Swimmer's diary
Martin Strel
Slovenian marathon swimmer Martin Strel became on Friday the first person to swim the entire length of the Amazon.

He has been writing a weekly diary for the BBC News website and BBCMundo.com, describing the challenges and dangers he faced as he swam the nearly 5,400km (3,375 miles) from Peru to Brazil.

Below is his latest instalment, delivered soon after he completed his journey. Click on the link to read some more of his answers to your questions.

SUNDAY, 8 APRIL, NEAR BELEM, BRAZIL

I feel like a kid when dreams come true. I am very happy. I think I haven't quite got into my head what I have achieved.

My swim is done, 5268km in 66 days, but today I am swimming to the city of Belem where there will be a big reception.

I think the Amazon took me, allowed me to be part of it, the river accepted me, protected me and allowed me to swim it, and now I am at the end and I am still alive.

Many times I talked to myself and to the river. I said: "I am a good man with a good intention. I've been talking with the Amazon river for 66 days now. The animals have been swimming with me for weeks, I think Nature allowed me to do this."

Martin Strel celebrates next to a banner that marks the point zero of the Amazon River near the city of Ponta de Pedras on Saturday.

People still ask me, why I did this.

I am a regular man, a regular common guy who just has higher goals than usual. I want to show everybody around the world that if you set a goal that is a little bit unusual or higher, you have to try to achieve it. If you keep working and don't quit right away, you will come to the end. This could be whatever. I chose to swim the Amazon.

I also want to promote a message of clean rivers, clean water and friendship, because these rivers and water have to stay clean, otherwise the world will collapse. The Amazon river is still very clean, local people use it as a natural resource and I think the Amazon should stay clean forever.

I have seen some deforestation, but it is not going to be good if we keep expanding the limit. I want to pass this message to everybody: "Do not look only for business and for money when you come closer to nature."

One of my missions is to protect the rainforest.

Physically, I have sores and pains in my whole body. I still have problems with my head, it feels like a bomb about to explode, I do not have a temperature but if feels like there is a big pressure - like fire in my head - I need to cool down a little bit.

Never give up and some day your dreams will come true
Pain has been part of my daily progress for the last couple of weeks. But I do not complain about it - it has just been part of my life.

My arms and legs feel as if I am carrying a big iron bar, they feel very heavy. I have problems eating, to move a spoon or fork, or to drink, I have problems to dress.

I was also tired at the end of other swims, but here on the Amazon the pain has lasted much longer.

We are located just before the city of Belem, I can see the big towers, the city is about 10km from me, I am going to swim to the city for the official ending point of my swim, there will be a big reception. I will swim for about two hours.

Someone asked me yesterday if I would swim on the Nile now, but even if it is longer, for me it is not a matter of swimming another 100km. The Nile is not as mighty as the Amazon.

I want to do another big swim but I still do not know where.

I will stay for a few days in Belem, and then with my team we will spend some days in Santarem, on the Tapajos river, where there is a very beautiful beach known as the "Brazilian Caribbean".

I shall spend some time with the team members before each one returns to different parts of the world.

I want to thank the readers who have been following me and supporting me all the way. I did my best.

I told myself I would try to swim the Amazon or die, because the Amazon can break a man in a second. I am a big man but the Amazon is much bigger.

So I would tell people: "Do not have fears in front of something that you do not know if you can pass, just set it up in a right and proper way, never give up and some day your dreams will come true."

FRIDAY, 30 MARCH, BETWEEN SANTAREM AND BELEM, BRAZIL

Armed guard on one of the team's boats
I've been swimming for 57 days now and am 4,820km downstream already. My team and I expect to reach Belem on 7 April, so there's only a few more days to go.

There are no towns or villages nearby right now. We are in the middle of a forest, after anchoring our boat in a small creek.

Our location is just before the fork, where the Amazon delta splits in two. One goes to the northern delta, to Macapa, and the other goes south to the city of Belem.

We now have armed men travelling with us on the boats. When we reached the city of Santarem a few days ago people warned us of the risk of bandits. They warned us not to continue without arms, and even told us we risked being killed.

So now we have these three armed guards constantly scanning what's going on, especially at night.

A member of my team counted how many strokes I swim per day - about 30,000. I was glad he took the time to do it as I don't count the strokes myself. It's too boring!

Many of you are still very interested in how we cope with the piranhas. There are thousands of them. Often you find them closer to the shore.

Piranha
Three days ago we anchored our boat and threw meat into the river and immediately they started grabbing the meat.

So if you are bleeding or you have an open wound they will catch you right away.

Some locals told us how piranhas killed a two-year-old girl who was sitting near the shore. She was killed very quickly. This happened two years ago.

So I never swim close to the banks. I stay in the middle and I put some gasoline and cream on my wetsuit to stop the piranhas from smelling my body.

My team also can throw blood or meat on the other side of the boat to distract them

Jacares [small species of crocodile] are also very dangerous. You see them all over the place, especially when you stop the boat at night and you flash the lights in the water, you can see their eyes. So far no jacares have tried to attack me.

I have already started feeling the effects of the sea as the water levels rise and fall overnight. This is especially noticeable when the moon is full.

FRIDAY, 23 MARCH, EN ROUTE TO SANTAREM, BRAZIL

Martin playing the guitar
I broke my record of 4,003km on Wednesday.

Right now we are located 60km from Santarem, an Amazonian city in the state of Para.

It's getting very tough now. The river is very wide here, sometimes more than 10km across, and it is very windy.

The wind blows in from the east, which means I have to deal with strong headwinds and big waves splashing across my face.

Sometimes, my team and I have to wait until the wind slows down.

I also taught myself a different style of swimming. I float along and swim very smoothly like a log. I try to swim like a dolphin or a beaver, moving with the waves, which means I don't suffer so much wind and wave pressure.

People have asked me what I do about cramps. I have cramps every day, all over my body. The afternoon is the worst.

I usually don't take medicine for them. I try to control them in my head. When I have a cramp I usually stop for a little bit, stretch my muscles and extend them - the same procedure that every athlete uses - because if it hurts too much you can't continue.

Martin's friend Igor with his topaz crystal
My friend Igor has joined the team. He helps me control the pain using natural oils, extracts and special water to balance the body.

I drink all his products and it helps me a lot. He is also trying to fill me with natural energy, so my body does not get sick.

Igor also uses a blue topaz crystal that he swings on a pendulum to project energy from his mind onto others. He is a very powerful man.

Mosquitoes are not such a big problem. Some locals advised us to apply lemon juice to keep them away. Anyway, we have other more dangerous bugs here to deal with. So far we have also managed to avoid them.

A few days ago, a man came to us in tears in a small boat, screaming for help for his daughter. The 13-year-old girl had a really nasty fall from a tree and had been impaled with a stick that had caused serious internal wounds.

We are still on schedule and expect to reach the finishing line in Belem between 9 and 11 April
Our doctor, Dr Leoni Stanonik, went ashore and performed emergency surgery. The girl is doing better, but our doctor recommended she goes to a hospital.

There are few doctors or hospitals nearby, so people look for boats on the river to ask for help, and usually they have medical support on board.

Someone asked me about my family. My wife is at home, in Slovenia. She likes to stay at home.

We have a long-distance relationship at the moment. We talk on the phone often. However, sometimes when we are in remote areas this is not possible. My son is the manager of this project and he is with me all the time.

I've been playing the guitar along the way to relax myself. I have played for more than 20 years.

We are still on schedule and expect to reach the finishing line in Belem between 9 and 11 April.

FRIDAY, 16 MARCH, 75KM DOWNSTREAM FROM MANAUS, BRAZIL

Martin and a dancer
We arrived in Manaus on Wednesday and were greeted with a big reception.

I don't know exactly where we are now. It's actually in the middle of nowhere, around 75km downstream from Manaus.

We got stranded here yesterday. I left in the morning with the small boat.

My big support boat stayed behind because the crew were getting some papers and bureaucracy organised. They were supposed to leave two hours later but they didn't depart until much later.

So I stayed on the river with my two guides and my navigator. We were forced to stop overnight because it's too dangerous to swim in the dark.

We waited for the boat for hours. The boat finally caught up with us at 0300.

Luckily we got some food from people in the local village - some rice and beans and cereals. I didn't really know what it was at the time, but it was all I needed! The kind local residents also offered us a hammock to sleep in their small house.

Dolphin
The sounds of the Amazon are wonderful. The jungle, the birds and the animals are truly amazing
Regarding the health of my team, two of them are still in hospital with serious fever and cramps

They drank some water from the tap, which they were not supposed to do, but they were thirsty and forgot. It should take them about a week to recover and they'll be back with us.

The sounds of the Amazon at night are wonderful. The jungle, the birds and the animals are truly amazing. Most of the time we stay in remote areas. If we stay in the city, some people want to jump in the boats, so we prefer to stay in the jungle.

The only problem is we get lots of bugs on board, so we have to turn off the lights. Right now I am getting back into the water.

I didn't sleep much last night, only three or four hours, but it's enough to get me though the day.

It's a beautiful sunny day and I expect to reach the town of Itacoatiara tonight.

A very important day is coming, because I have already swam 3,800km and my Guinness world record target is 4,003km. So I'm expecting to pass this and break my record in a few days, either Monday or Tuesday.

FRIDAY, 9 MARCH, COARI, BRAZIL

Martin gets a health check from the doctor
I feel very well overall. The last couple of days we had a lot of rain so my sunburn has eased and my face is a little better.

Every day it has rained for a couple of hours. We are experiencing real rainforest conditions now - so different from Peru, where there was a lot of sun.

The rain helps me a lot. The river is slower here because it's much wider, but the conditions are better than in Peru. It's not so hot and the humidity is a little easier to cope with.

The sores on the back of my legs have improved, but are still sore.

I have pain not just in my legs, but also in my arms and neck. I put some special cream to warm up the parts of my body that hurt most, including the shoulders.

The biggest concern right now is my team, because they are getting sick with infections.

Martin swimming alongside one of the boats
It's a worry for me because I might get an infection as well. Out of the 20 people in my team there are seven or eight who are sick with pneumonia, sore throat and other infections.

The boat we sleep in is small and if someone in the room is sick, sneezing and coughing, it spreads and everybody can get sick in a day.

So it could turn out to be a big problem. I don't think it's any local disease, it's probably just a consequence of constant rain.

We have a doctor with us but once the disease starts to spread, it's hard to stop.

As for the sights along the way, we saw a jaguar on the shoreline. We couldn't get a picture of it because we were moving too fast. We also saw a giant crocodile.

Martin swimming with children
A few days ago children in one of the local towns, Foz do Jutai, gave me a huge reception.

I am very happy that local children have been following my swim.

They usually jump into the water and swim the last couple of hundred metres with me before we reach the shore.

I heard that the mayor of the town stopped school so they could come to the river to see me.

I have now swam a total of 3,303km. We just reached Coari, a famous town on the Amazon route. I am expecting to reach Manaos on 14 March.

FRIDAY, 2 MARCH, JUTAI, BRAZIL

Martin with the ever-present mask and wetsuit
I have sores and open wounds on the back of my legs.

This actually happens to me during every long-distance swim I undertake.

It happens when the muddy water and the dirt enters my wet suit and stays there for hours, rubbing against my skin.

Once it started, we used some protection creams. I also put some bandages on my legs. It should be okay but it's painful, it takes some days to recover.

Mentally, I am coping very well.

On Thursday, we reached the halfway mark in kilometres, so I have now covered 2,654km in 29 days.

The second half, which will take another 41 days, is going to be much tougher because the lower part of the Amazon is slower and the river gets wider.

There will be more waves and more headwinds, which will make it more difficult.

We expect 20% slower progress than in the upper river.

Martin raises his hands at the end of another day
In the upper river the current was fast. Because of the rains the water level was high. I was averaging about 100km a day.

However, in the lower part, I don't think I'll be able to make more than 80 or 85km a day.

At the moment we are two days ahead of schedule, but that will disappear in the second half. My energy is still at 100%, though.

I am still swimming with pink dolphins, they are great creatures. I've seen hundreds in the upper part of the river.

I almost touched one because they come very close to me when I'm swimming. They are very friendly.

I've been told they get bigger and bigger the further I swim in the lower part of the Amazon.

Thanks to all the readers for their questions and good wishes. I hope you will all follow the swim next week, because it will get more and more exciting.

FRIDAY, 23 FEBRUARY, TABATINGA, BRAZIL

My team has made me a handy mask. It sits on my face while I swim on my back. The sun has been terribly strong in the last few weeks. I expected more rain.

We were forced to come up with something because we have creams for my face, but not the right type.

We have tried about 15 types of cream but nothing stays on my face. They are washed off in an hour or two.

Martin with his mask on
The mask is made of cloth. It works okay. It gets a little heavy when it's wet and it's a little hard to swim with it, so I only use it for one or two hours a day when the sun is strongest.

We had an unexpected meeting with the Yagua tribe in Peru. We arrived in a village called Evas and I met a famous painter, Francisco Gripa, who moved from Los Angeles to Peru.

He guided me to the Yagua, who have lived there for hundreds of years.

It was great meeting them. They had a short ceremony for me and prayed for me. They also put some red cream on my body and told me it would stay on my body until the end of my swim and bring me luck

My mental preparation has been very important. I keep repeating stories in my mind of my family, previous adventures, the teams, the crews I have worked with.

You just have to get used to the pain, or you cannot go on
I also do a kind of meditation at the end of the day. I try to feel my body and my muscles when I am in my bed. I learned that from some psychologists. It's like a mental massage, it helps me relax and forget the pain.

When I swim I have a lot of pain in my shoulders. All marathon runners, cyclists and swimmers know this pain. You just have to get used to it, or you cannot go on.

We arrived yesterday at Tabatinga at the Brazilian border. There was a reception held for me by the mayor and other local authorities.

Last week, I averaged 85km a day. The current has slowed down because the river has got wider. There are more channels and islands. I expect to do something like 90km today.

I am grateful for all the support I have already received and I want to share this experience with all the readers of this diary.

I want people to follow not only me but to see this region, the Amazon, because it's really beautiful.

FRIDAY, 16 FEBRUARY, NEAR IQUITOS, PERU

Martin Strel
Many people have asked me why I'm doing this.

I want to prove to myself that I can achieve more than others, to conquer the impossible. I want to do something that no one else has ever done.

Of course, while doing that I also want to promote an environmental message.

The Amazon has so far been quite nice to me. The biggest concern is the strong sun.

The temperatures are constantly between 35 and 37C. We are right at the equator, with a clear sky at all times, so that's why the sun is so strong.

I wear a wet suit that covers my body completely. I also need to protect my head so I use different types of caps because otherwise I would get burnt within a few days and I would not be able to continue.

I pay huge attention to this every day before I swim - I am constantly thinking about how to protect my face.

There are other concerns to consider as well, however. A real risk is the toothpick fish.

They can enter the body by swimming up the penis and can only be removed by surgery.

KEY CITIES EN ROUTE
Iquitos: Largest city in Peruvian rainforest
Manaus: Brazilian former rubber town with grand theatre
Macapa: The Brazilian city lies exactly on the Equator
I'm not going to worry about it too much now though.

We keep swimming in the main channel, in the middle of the river.

I make sure I always urinate in the wet suit. I put it on in the morning and take it off when it's dark, when I finish swimming, I just clean the wet suit when I am done

I swim about 90km a day thanks to the help of the current. You can't swim the Amazon without the current and the river's help.

I studied the conditions in the river a lot. At this time of year, the river is high and that gives me some back-up current and some push so that I can concentrate on the swim. That's how I'm able to do so many kilometres in a day.

We are currently 60km away from a very famous Peruvian city, Iquitos. We'll have a ceremony with the local navy when we arrive.

We expect to reach Tabatinga on the Brazilian border next week.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Martin Strel on his epic Amazon adventure



SEE ALSO
Slovenian completes Amazon swim
07 Apr 07 |  Americas
Marathon swimmer takes on Amazon
01 Feb 07 |  Americas
Swimmer takes on the Mississippi
27 Jun 02 |  Americas

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