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The Rat who is made of Stainless Steel

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So I finished Ed Stafford's Walking the Amazon. It continued to be a good read right up to the end. One thing that amazed me about the trek was that certainly for a lot of Brazil he resorted to using Google Earth satellite images and Google Maps! (Via a satellite based Internet connection with a Mac) Apparently only the Brazilian military hold detailed maps of the Amazon, and they refused to release them to him, which seems somewhat counter-intuitive. It was probably the case though that Google Earth was more accurate, combined with some images he had from NASA on Amazon flooding. At one point his GPS failed and he resorted to using the satellite based Internet connection to give him rough positions, which at a 2km spread were sufficient for Amazon navigation.

I felt a pang of empathy for Ed when it turned out he had paid a fixer to try and sort visas for him and his companion, and the guy ended up just extending his tourist visa and nothing more. The fixer typifies Brazil, if nothing else. Ed ended up travelling for several months in Brazil with no visa, which was exactly the situation I was forced into when I ended up staying for 7-8 months illegally. I'm guessing if he couldn't solve the tourist visa issue then nobody can, despite all the second guessing I've seen on "Gringo" forums. It was also interesting how so much of his kit repeatedly failed, particularly walking boots (some of the best out there, inevitably), and GPS units, among other things. Clearly the humidity and temperature would have played a part in the latter, and clearly the former would have been under constant and severe attack. It was bemusing how he ended up swapping top of the line walking boots for wellingtons and Crocs for some of the time; wellingtons were worn by a number of guides apparently.

The number of times the trek almost failed underlines the motivation Ed had to keep it going. He spent a lot of the time running the trek from the jungle e.g. begging for funds to continue, again using his Mac and Internet connection for email. This seems both farcical and amazing, but clearly it worked.

There were a couple of quotes I liked:

"All my problems now came from an isolated, bored, stagnant brain. A lazy bored brain latches on to negativity and problems and exaggerates them until they become out of perspective and all-consuming." Ed repeatedly self analyses during his journey, because the biggest battle was a mental one, of sustaining the motivation to continue.

"He doesn't talk much, the gringo." Boy have I come across this attitude a lot, and boy is it both frustrating and tedious. There seems to be a semi-obsession with shyness in Brazil, and if you don't talk much you're often instantly written off. Whether it's down to a lack of education, nobody thinks that talking Portuguese as a second language might actually be quite difficult, particularly if you've just walked 50km through the jungle.

My only real criticism of the book is that it felt a bit repetitive after a while. Jungle, mud, thorns, mosquitoes, hardship... repeat. There are of course many unique anecdotes , but it was all underpinned by the relentless jungle, which was perhaps mirroring how it genuinely was to be there. Despite this I don't feel in a great position to judge this harshly.

Ultimately though it was a great non-fiction tale of an incredible achievement, and it's hard to fault that, particularly due to how well written it was.

I've been fairly lucky with the last couple of books, which have both been real page turners, albeit covering tough topics. I've already started my next book which is Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test. I have Jon Ronson on my Twitter feed, and he's sort of interesting (about as interesting as anyone can ever be in 140 characters) in an understated way. The book intrigued me though, although I've read next to nothing about it. Perhaps it's the title. In a way I'm glad I know nothing about it, much like watching a film knowing next to nothing it means there are surprises ahead. Clearly non-fiction books, and particularly amazing and interesting tales of human endeavour are my thing, at least for the moment. Any book recommendations along these lines would be much appreciated.

In other news...

Yesterday morning was fairly dull and depressing, mostly due to being very tired. Although I'm not doing myself any favours by not enforcing a strict sleep pattern. That is in turn not helped by insomnia and stress, or perhaps that should be insomnia caused by stress.

Anyway, it was good to get out and do something in the afternoon, despite earlier frustrating and confused plans. We got to Mum and Dad's around 3pm, with a view to going straight to Farnham. But Lu was understandably tired, and she had a nap, which meant we got down to Farnham around 5pm. On reflection that was probably better, as I'm not sure I could have walked around Gostrey Meadows for 2 hours, although I might have been able to fit in an hour of walking around Farnham's shops. The carnival was fun and cute. Inevitably it wasn't huge and amazing, but those taking part and watching were enjoying themselves. I held Amélie for half of it, and she seemed interested in it but sort of emotionless. Must be a lot to take in I suppose. Curiously she was sucking her thumb, but when I took it out of her mouth she quite happily stayed that way.

We got back to Mum and Dad's after 7pm and they kindly bought Chinese takeaway. Amélie fell asleep on the journey back, so we put her in the study asleep on a couple of duvets. We left around 8:30pm and headed back home. Amélie continued to sleep so must have been tired. I was also shattered, so did a lazy no-edit, no-title, no-tag upload of the carnival photos.

Amélie woke at 4am this morning, and although she then lay down (with me sitting in her room) she didn't sleep for the next hour, which is unusual. About 5:10am she started crying quite strongly, I suspect through hunger, so I took her to Lu, and she has settled.

Probably one of my favourite photos from the carnival...


All 92 photos are here at Flickr.

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book sounds interesting, I probably would have read it a few years back but I don't really have the time now.

Looks a very colourful carnival

You're still an avid reader though, no?

It was definitely very colourful, and pretty good for the size of town.

I am, but I read more narrowly than I used to

Thats a great pic, i love Umbrellas :)

It was so full of colour. Definitely one of the best groups.

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