February 9, 2007 / 11:10 PM / in 12 years

Blistering sun main threat so far for Amazon swimmer

LIMA (Reuters) - Blistering sun and river debris, not the Amazon’s crocodiles or piranhas, have been the main adversaries of Slovenian Martin Strel so far in his 3,375-mile (5,430-km) swim down the world’s greatest river.

Strel, 52, began the swim on February 1 in the Peruvian jungle town of Atalaya, planning to emerge from the river within 70 days on Brazil’s Atlantic coast and break his own record for the world’s longest swim.

He was prepared for just about any threat the Amazon could throw at him, including its piranhas, snakes, electric eels, crocodiles and even the feared toothpick fish that swims into body orifices, erects a spine and feeds on blood and tissue.

The sun was not his biggest concern, but now it is.

“I pray for three days of rain and I will be a new man again,” a sunburnt Strel told Reuters on Friday by e-mail.

Expedition manager Borut Strel said his father was having to alter his swimming timetable to avoid the sun as much as possible.

Strel’s team, which includes doctors and river guides, cut up a T-shirt to cover his face as he swims.

“So far the biggest problem has been the sun. We have not even had two days of rain, all day its just sun. Martin’s face is burned, his lips are burned. He has blisters, big blisters,” Borut Strel said by satellite phone.

Martin Strel holds Guinness Book records for swimming the Danube in Europe, the Mississippi in the United States and the Yangtze in China.

The $1 million swim down the Amazon, the world’s most voluminous river, is paid for by sponsors in the name of world peace and environment and will be nearly 930 miles (1,500 km)longer than the record-holding Yangtze swim in 2004.

Another major obstacle has been river debris.

“There’s a lot of trees, logs, debris on the river. The river is very muddy. We have to be very careful to guide Martin because he can’t see anything in front of him,” his son said.

Strel rises at 5 a.m. every day and starts swimming within an hour. He swims until noon, has lunch, a 20-minute nap, and then its back into the water until dusk.

He is moving faster than expected, covering about 62 miles

a day, at an average speed of 6 miles per hour aided by the rushing current. His team thinks he could finish the trek to the Atlantic several days ahead of schedule.

Ahead of Strel, who has dropped 11 lb (5 kg) in a week, still lies Iquitos, notorious for waters infested by ferocious, flesh-eating piranha.

His team has prepared buckets of animal blood, loaded onto support boats to distract the fish and reptiles.

Near the end of his journey he will face a tidal bore, or wave, about 13 feet high, known as the Pororoca.

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