Buckets of blood readied for Slovenian's Amazon swim

Updated: 2007-01-20 09:47

LIMA, Jan 19 - Few would even dare swim the Amazon river bank to bank but Slovenian Martin Strel plans to swim 3,375 miles (5,430 km) down the world's greatest river, defying piranhas, snakes, crocodiles and even sharks.

Buckets of animal blood will be loaded onto support boats to distract flesh-eating fish and reptiles during the 52-year-old's 70-day odyssey -- which would break his own world length record for a swim.

Strel starts on February 1 in Peru's jungle town of Atalaya and hopes to finish on Brazil's Atlantic coast on April 11.

Toward the end of his journey "for world peace and environment," Strel will face another challenge -- a tidal bore, or wave, about 13 feet (4 meters) high, known as thePororoca.

"It is very dangerous. It is great for surfing but it's bad for swimmers," Strel told Reuters in a telephone interview from Slovenia, where the holder of various Guinness Book records for swimming the Danube in Europe, the Mississippi in the United States and the Yangtze in China, is preparing for his swim.

This journey down the world's most voluminous river will be nearly 1,500 km (930 miles) longer than the Yangtze swim -- his current world record set in 2004.

"Yangtze is a very dangerous river for swimmers, but the Amazon is also home to some of the most poisonous and dangerous and ferocious animals, fish and insects... I'm going to swim that river or die trying. But dying is not my intention."

He says on his Web site that he has "a dream" -- proving to the world that nothing is impossible and that the world can one day live in peace.

"I've always been swimming for peace and friendship. I decided to dedicate the Amazon swim also to the preservation of the rain forest and clean waters," he said.

Strel will keep the surrounding water as clean as possible during his journey. Urinating in the water can attract the feared candiru, or toothpick fish, that likes to swim into body orifices, erect a spine and start feeding on blood and tissue.

A wetsuit and a special cream should protect him from these, as well as electric eels and snakes. There are still fresh-water stingrays, vicious piranhas and aggressive bull sharks, which travel far up the river from the Atlantic.

"My escort boats will carry all the time buckets of fresh blood to pour in the water in case the piranhas or other fish attack me," Strel said with a thick Slovenian accent.

A team of around 20 people, including doctors and river guides from Europe, the United States and Latin America will escort Strel in three boats, including the main boat once used by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. The expedition costs over $1 million and relies on sponsors.

Strel plans to swim for 11-12 hours a day, resting on the boat at night. "I'll sleep around 3-4 hours, then it's massage, doctors working on pains and so on," Strel said.

The feat will be broadcast live over the Internet (www.amazonswim.com) and California-based firm Self Pictures will shoot a documentary called "Big River Man."

Born in the former communist Yugoslavia, Strel became a professional marathon swimmer in 1978. "As a young boy I was beaten a lot by my parents and schoolmasters. This no doubt contributed greatly to my ability to ignore pain and endure," he says on his Web site.

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