You have to be a little crazy to swim the predator-filled waters of the Amazon, but Martin Strel -- a beer-guzzling, overweight, former gambler -- took on the challenge in order to draw attention to river pollution, global warming, and deforestation in the region and how they impact the planet. Having previously tackled the Yangtze, Danube, Paraná and Mississippi Rivers, Strel embarked on a mission to swim the Amazon in February 2007, and almost died several times for his trouble.

The blistered and sunburned Slovenian endurance swimmer battled exotic stomach illnesses while trying to avoid such Amazon inhabitants as piranhas, anacondas, crocodiles, river sharks, alligators and a little parasitic fish called the candiru that sports barbed spines -- and likes to find its way into the human urethra. His odyssey is chronicled in John Maringouin’s documentary Big River Man, airing as part of Planet Green’s Reel Impact series, premiering on Jan. 9 at 10 p.m. EST, with a replay Jan. 14 at 11 p.m. EST.

Strel swam 3375 miles from Atalaya, Peru to Belem, Brazil in 66 days, resting 10-12 hours each day. He was far from alone -- his entourage of nearly 30 included medical and security personnel, boat crew, Internet team (see and Maringouin’s crew. The director was one of several filmmakers who had approached Strel about documenting his next endeavor after having seen news reports of his Mississippi swim seven years ago. ”We decided on him because he’s young and it’s not so easy to be with me in the jungle for a long time,” Strel explains. 

His son Borut, also a former competitive swimmer and now Strel’s manager, also accompanied him, and his daughter Nina joined in for the last part of the journey, which was treacherous indeed. “I was bitten by piranhas and my son was bitten by a stingray and almost died. It was a very big risk,” says Strel, who doesn’t rule out a return to the Amazon, but not any time soon. “Amazon was my Everest,” he explains.

“Right now it’s important for me to speak out and raise awareness and explain to people around the world why this part of the world is so precious,” says Strel, who travels the globe to speak at seminars, pointing out the ramifications of a dwindling fresh water supply and shrinking jungle. “There are 220,000 different plants, and it’s possible they hold the cures for very dangerous diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer,” he notes. “If we destroy this part of the world, we destroy us.”

Strel, who swims 10 times weekly and spends nearly 30 hours per week training, including hiking, cross country and gymnastic exercises, participated in the annual Polar Bear Swim at New York’s Coney Island on New Year’s Day. “The water was cold,” he acknowledges. “But it was exciting. You can forget how cold it is because there are so many people around.”

(Editor's note: While the trailer above is good, it doesn't quite do the film justice. Check out this other, we think, better preview.)


Actress Aisha Tyler’s eco-living efforts go a lot further than driving a hybrid -- she just did a green renovation on her home. “Low-flow toilets, sustainable woods throughout the house, low-VOC paints and finishes,” she told MNN. “We have a heat pump instead of a regular air conditioning system, and a tankless water heater. My minor in college was environmental policy,” she notes. “My thesis was about global warming. If only they listened to me!”

The latest TV project for Tyler (CSI, Ghost Whisperer, 24, Friends) is the FX animated series Archer, a completely non-PC spy spoof premiering Jan. 14. “It’s probably one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had,” she raves. “I get to spend an hour and half saying unacceptable things in a little room and then we cackle hysterically. It’s fun to brainstorm and come up with ideas on the spot. It’s very free form and you’re able to really go crazy in the moment.” Her curvaceous character, Secret Agent Lana Kane, is the porn-loving ex-girlfriend of the titular spy. “I think she’s awesome,” says Tyler. “Lana was drawn already before I got involved, but it was nice to have been thought of as that stacked!”


Planet Green premieres several new series this week, including Operation Wild, about the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s efforts to protect the state’s ecosystem. The first episode premieres Jan. 8 at 10 p.m. EST. Chef Heston Blumenthal attempts to revive a fading British restaurant chain in Big Chef Takes on Little Chef, premiering Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. EST and Conviction Kitchen follows 24 ex-cons turned culinary trainees attempting to help chef Marc Thuet open a new restaurant in a new series beginning Jan. 6 at 10 p.m. EST.

The World’s Greenest Homes takes viewers on tour of the globe’s eco-friendliest residences, starting with two back-to-back episodes on Jan. 9 at 6 and 6:30 p.m. EST featuring a dome home in upstate New York, an off-the-grid prefab house in Chile, a Minneapolis house full of recycled finds, a Colorado mansion with an indoor fish pond, and a minimalist solar-powered place in Dusseldorf, Germany. 


Also tune In: South Park Goes Green on Jan. 12 as Comedy Central re-airs four environmentally themed episodes of the animated series from 9-11 p.m.

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Additional photo credits: Martin Strel courtesy of; Aisha Tyler by ZUMA Press.