I watched ‘Big River Man’ last night, an interesting, entertaining and impressive documentary about a man named Martin Strel. Martin is a legend, basically. He is:
– A big drinker (virtually alcoholic)
– 52 (at the time of filming).
– A former professional gambler.
– A flamenco guitar player and teacher
– Seemingly partly mad.
– Capable of swimming the world’s largest rivers from end to end.
You may agree that the last of those does not seem to fit with the other 7. And yet Martin Strel has swum the Yangtze, the Mississippi, and the Danube, all from start to finish, taking about 50 days for each. These rivers are of course highly polluted, but this is apparently part of the idea; he wants to raise awareness about the dirtiness of rivers. “Swimming for peace, friendship and clean waters” is his motto. This documentary focuses on Martin’s swimming of (arguably) the longest river in the world, the Amazon, which took him 66 days. The Amazon is almost 4000 miles long, which is apparently longer than the Atlantic ocean is wide. Basically, he swam a fucking long way!
The great thing about Martin Strel is that he very much does not fit the bill of the kind of athlete you would expect to accomplish these feats. He is not slim, toned and young, and does not stick to a rigid health regime. Instead, he drinks beer all night to counterbalance his terrible sunburn, and drinks red wine and whiskey whilst swimming, as in literally in the water. When his doctor orders him to stop swimming, for fear that he could have a heart attack at any moment, he sneaks off in the middle of the night to swim secretly. And he doesn’t seem in the least concerned about the crocodiles, snakes, and diseases that he is swimming amongst; not even the fish that is described as “it swims up your penis, and if that happens, no more penis). Strel does things his own way; ‘deal with it bitches’ seems to be the message. LAD.
The film is very good at entertaining us with this man (for he is very funny), while still appreciating the drama of the times when he is over-reckless. We also travel with his son, who does the narration and helps his father, and his american navigator (amateur of course) who becomes more and more crazy as we go on; the jungle seems to get to him. Likewise Martin; not totally sane to begin with, by the later parts of his swim he is electrocuting himself in the head to kill the bug that has infected him, and walking totally naked around a sandbank in the middle of the river, staring wildly at the trees. He apparently ends up in a ‘4th dimension’, where he does not want to expend any energy doing anything that isn’t swimming (including eating).
I take my (hypothetical) hat off to Martin Strel. He is apparently legendarily famous in Slovenia, and he deserves to be so. Because to swim vast rivers is an incredible feat, but to do it without compromising, to do it the way he feels like doing it, not following the traditional wisdom, is even more incredible. Mad yes, but brilliant. truly, Strel is a Lad; go watch this film to see for yourself.