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The Amazon Challenge

Photo: Heinz Plenge





Photo: Mylene D'Auriol





Photo: Heinz Plenge





Photo: Heinz Plenge





Photo: Heinz Plenge





Photo: Peter Kowalczewski






"Antimalarial tablets, tetanus, hepatitis, polio, yellow fever, cholera and so forth."

British policeman John Anthony looks unshaken as he rattles off the myriad vaccines needed for the Amazon Challenge. He adds that a "very specialist insurance company" will be available if evacuation is needed.

"It is a world first; no one has ever recorded this trip," says Anthony between sips of beer outside the British Embassy in Lima, where he has come to thank Peruvian authorities and publicize the effort.

"There's a rumor that one person may have reached Cuito, but I seriously doubt it given the boat he would have used at that time. He certainly wouldn't have been able to navigate the Manseriche pongos, fierce white-water rapids." Anthony's colleague and fellow adventurer David Haining looks disturbed when he describes what they are up against. "Apart from the electric eels, piranhas and stingrays, there is a fish we've been warned about. You have to wear two pair of pants because it does something disgusting. It is a small fish, almost microscopic, with two spikes that go downwards. It crawls up things and can't go backwards due to the spikes. Once it's there, it stays."

"This fish is so small," they emphasize in unison," that it can crawl up any orifice. Local people call it canero."

At this point, both men look a little green, but they quickly regroup with enthusiasm. Anthony, Core Team member leading the expedition, has been involved with other trips organized by the Police Expeditions Club, a group of British bobbies who trek for charity.

"In 1995 I led an expedition to Borneo that took us into the jungle. This will be substantially different, in that the Amazon is considered to be more hostile than the Borneo jungle. The advantage of the Amazon is that at least we won't be suffering from leeches."

The Borneo expedition resulted in the construction of a bridge for researchers and scientists so that they were no longer stranded. "Every time the rain fell heavily, the river rose significantly and you couldn't cross," recalls Anthony. The Expeditions Club also marked the first underwater nature trail in that fragile reef area. Then there was the mountain trek through Albania, summed up by Anthony as a cultural exchange. "We took some students with us and did basic research for the Worldwide Trust for Nature, a mild trip, he says, compared to the ice camping in Poland's Tetra Mountains - and certainly nothing compared to the Amazon.

The 32-year-old speaks as if these excursions are trips to the kitchen on a Saturday morn. His colleague David Haining looks like a 15-year-old kid, but is another experienced officer. They now take on the Amazon

Challenge, a 36-day trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Core Team will navigate through rough white-water rapids, while the Support Team, in Land Rovers, will keep them apprised of what lies ahead. The journey will raise money for the Sick Children's Trust via sponsorship of each kilometer, all 3,000 of them. The two men recently answered a few questions for RUMBOS.

Why Peru? Because the Amazon is a challenge?
JA: The Amazon is a challenge, but the real challenge is when you get to the area of the Manseriche pongos. Once we go through the Manseriche, we enter what is called the roots of the pongos. Manseriche is the first of 13 rapids we'll encounter. From that point on is where the real physical challenge and the mental demands begin.

How are you training for this?
JA: We feel that with proper preparations, we can minimize - not eliminate - the risks. We have a series of training weekends in the U.K. which will incorporate boating skills, white-water rafting, jungle survival skills, off-road driving or interior map reading and a host of others.
DH: It's the first time for some of us to experience of this type of terrain.

Is it true that you have the support of the Peruvian Navy if something should happen?
JA: We've had meetings with the navy, the military and the police, during which we've discussed various contingency plans. In the unlikely event of an incident, we have a plan in place to recover us as soon as possible.

How big are the teams?
JA: The Support Team will be composed of eight British police, and five or six for the Core Team. Three Peruvians will join us on the Core Team and a significant number will join the Support Team. Our boat will have all men, purely by coincidence. The Support Team will be led by an English woman and there will be at least one Peruvian woman.

JA: What we see now could be different from what we see in September when we come to Peru. The river could change its course; certainly some routes might suffer a landslide, so it's important that the Support Team do a reconnoiter of the route before we get to it.

Seventy percent of the diseases and illnesses of this region are water borne, so we might be weakened or suffering, and the primary role of the Support Team is one of safety and contingency.

You will be carrying supplies on the boat?
JA: Yes. Emergency food, rations, supplies, purification equipment, life flotation devices, lifesaving devices.
DH: The boat will be aluminum, approximately two by six meters, with two 40 horsepower engines.

How will you train for this trip in England?
JA: The army has given us assistance and Land Rover is giving us training in four-wheel drive. Jungle survival training has mainly got to be in theory, because the only way to practice is to go into the jungle. We've not any jungles in Europe.

Most importantly, the training will encourage people to learn to adapt to change. We will spend training weekends as if we're living in the jungle, using the equipment we'll take with us to Peru. We'll sleep in hammocks underneath mosquito netting, even though there won't be mosquitoes.
DH: I could run six miles quite easily in England; run six miles in the jungle and it'd kill you. So you have to get prepared for that. Where I work, we've a sauna and heated indoor courts where you can jog. You can change the temperature and do exercises in a hot environment so your body gets used to it.

Why do you need horses and mules?
DH: The boat trip comes to an end at the base of the foothills of the Andes and we'll have to walk across the mountains. At one point, one village is five days from the next.

JA: We'll get to the confluence of the Chachano River with the Chamaya River. From there we'll start the walk over the Andes until we reach a village near Cajamarca called Cumbil. There we'll pick up the River Chancay, on which we'll use canoes to navigate to the Pacific.

How will the Support Team tell the Core Team it is all right to proceed?
DH: The boat has a briefcase which contains a mobile satellite unit linked to a telephone. The Core Team can contact base camp in Chiclayo, and Chiclayo will radio the Land Rovers.

How long have you been planning the trip?
JA: Our first contact with the Peruvian Embassy in London was in February, 1996.

Where will you sleep every night?
DH: We'll set camp on land every night.

What is the Sick Children's Trust?
JA: It provides accommodations to a family with sick or terminally ill child to be near the hospital. If you have a family in the north of England with a sick child that has to go to a hospital in London, they won't be able to afford the transportation or housing. The charity accommodates the family within a five minute walk from the hospital. It has been proven that the children recover much more quickly and with far less (psychological) scarring than if their family is distant during that important time.

The Police Expeditions Club?
JA: It started in 1992. We do different expeditions for different charities. The Royal Geographic Society and the Travellers Club are especially interested in this trip, and are among the sponsors.

Anthony breathes a sigh of relief when he says he has never been seriously ill during a trip. Haining was "on his deathbed with cholera" the week before this RUMBOS interview, yet looked no worse for wear. He is worried about that canero, though.

By Aime Senior Nestingen
Volume II/Issue 7, Page 64
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