What do you do after you walk the Amazon?
Ed Stafford -- adventurer extraordinaire and Guinness World Record holder for walking the length of the Amazon River -- likes a challenge. Casting about for an adventure that would top the extraordinary feat he recounts in Walking the Amazon, Stafford decides to maroon himself on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. His mission: to survive for sixty days equipped with nothing -- no food, water, or even clothing -- except the video cameras he would use to document his time. Detailing Stafford’s jaw-dropping sojourn on the island of Olourua, Naked and Marooned is a tale of unparalleled adventure and of one man’s will to push himself to the outer limits—and survive.
I interviewed Stafford by telephone last week.
Describe the island you were dropped on.
The island was a classical sort of South Pacific island. It was uninhabited. It was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was completely covered in forest. None of it has been cleared, and if you look at it, it's sort of encircled by a golden sandy beach on one side and jagged flat rocks on the inside. Outside of that, there was a coral reef that formed a lovely lagoon all the way around the island. If you look at it, it was an absolute paradise island, and one that you would pay thousands and thousands of pounds to go and stay on. That was pretty much what it was like.
One of the things that I think people don't realize about the South Pacific -- and this is from my own experience of having spent quite a bit of time there -- is that it actually can get rather chilly at night. You were dropped off on this island completely naked. How did you deal with the cold?
No one's actually asked me that before. You're right. It was very chilly. The winds come up at night, and, obviously, I did find a cave very early on. I set myself up in the cave, but the wind would howl through that cave, and, so, yeah, initially I was just covering myself in dry grass on the premise that the horse, in its stable just sleeps on hay, and so I figure out to cover myself in grass. The wind cut straight through, and it was freezing, and I had quite a few nights where I was pretty uncomfortable.
I tried to make a blanket, again, out of grass just by weaving it together, but it was pretty ineffectual, and covered myself in all sorts of things, leaves, sand, whatever I could basically do to cut out the wind. Eventually, obviously, the key to it all was getting a fire going which took two weeks, but once I got a fire going, night was a lot more comfortable, certainly.
Once you were able to get a fire going, were you able to stay warm on both sides of your body, or did you have to turn around every once in a while to get toasty on both sides?
Actually, I would just lie with the small of my back to the fire, so the fire would be about at my waist and about a couple of feet away from me, and it would warm up the small of my back, and, therefore, I suppose, the essential parts, the essential organs, and my head and my feet would be sort of at a lower temperature, but a comfortable temperature, as well. I could just stay there all night, and I had a pile of wood in front of me that I could then just reach out and put on the fire. I'd have to wake up maybe about every hour and a half, maybe two hours, in order to reach the pile of wood, but I was fine. I probably was half awake for about two minutes each time before it died down, and it would automatically wake me up. I could feel the heat the fire drew up, and I'd wake up and put more wood on it and then I would get through the night like that. It was a bizarre sort of animalistic experience, but it was quite a nice thing, actually. It was quite a nice little routine to the whole thing.
nmbook Ed Stafford's Naked and Marooned: One Man. One Island. is available from Amazon.
You were formerly in the British military, and I think you specialized in survival skills. Did you have to learn any special survival skills to go on this island, or did you kind of purposely avoid that so you could figure out how to improvise?
The mistake a lot of people thought was that I was a survival expert. I'm not. I came out of the military and went into a job leading expeditions, but expeditions and survival are completely different things. One, I've got a rucksack full of equipment, and food, and a lighter to light a fire with, and all of the kit that I need in order to run an expedition, whereas this 60-day [inaudible] on an island actually had me completely outside my comfort zone. I deliberately stripped away all of the things that would make my life easy, like help from other people, and equipment, and food, and water, and a knife, and everything that I would normally rely on.
That's why, for me, it was interesting. That's why I did the project because it wasn't going in there with a mosquito net, and a knife, and a bag of rice, and bits and bobs like that. Of course, there's no challenge there. Of cou