Facing swamps, scorpions and civil war on a 3,750-mile walk along the Nile

Daisy Carrington, for CNNUpdated 5th January 2015
(CNN) — In December 2013, photojournalist Levison Wood set out to become the first person to walk the length of the Nile River.
During his travels, he was robbed at gunpoint, evacuated out of a war zone and almost eaten by crocodiles. He crossed swamps, climbed mountains, cozied up to scorpions in the Sahara desert, and dined on rat stew and grasshoppers.
Those months, he says, were the best of his life.
"I've always been interested in the stories of the great Victorian explorers, like Livingstone and those guys," admits Wood.
"This was an opportunity to try and do something that nobody's ever done before, but really, it was an opportunity to explore Africa in the 21st century and see how things have changed and how they've stayed the same."
Wood's journey began in Rwanda, took nine months and spanned 3,750 miles. It was necessary to make the trip on foot, he says, because "walking is the only way you can really get under the skin of a country."
Occasionally, he was joined by a film crew from the UK's Channel 4 (the network is planning to air a four-part documentary on his travels). Sometimes he traveled with a local guide. Mainly, though, he walked it alone.
"The biggest difficult was keeping up the motivation and momentum to wake up every morning, walk 20 miles, and do it over and over again," he says.
"At times, the monotony was crushing. Khartoum (in Sudan) marked the halfway point, and the most difficult time was probably just before I reached it. I wasn't halfway there and I still had 2,000 miles left to walk. That was pretty demoralizing," he admits.
The kindness of strangers
Wood acknowledges that his survival was often dependent on the hospitality of local villagers, of which there was an abundance. The people of the Sudan, he says, were probably the most giving of all.
"It's portrayed in the Western media as this pariah state, and the government does leave a lot to be desired, but it had by far and away the most incredible hosts I've ever encountered across the world," he says.
Even sharing water, he says, demonstrated an incredible act of kindness -- given it's a 20-mile walk to the nearest source for many villagers.
Half the time he slept outdoors, while the other half he would lodge with a local. Food wasn't always a given. In Uganda, he recalled a two-day period when he went without food completely.
"My guide had a catapult," he recalls. "He would shoot pigeons. We ate what we could catch. Other times we'd eat with villagers. The local delicacies could vary, from grasshoppers to rats."
Out of harm's way (almost)
The journey wasn't without danger. Civil War in South Sudan broke out shortly after his arrival. As he ventured closer to the country, he started hearing tales of death, destruction, and a steady trail of fleeing refugees.
He made it halfway through the country, to Bor -- the front line of the war. It was there that he was arrested and brought before an army commander, who told him he was not welcome, and threatened to kill him if he crossed into the rebel side. He was evacuated to the capital, and flew to North Sudan.
"I missed out 400 miles of the journey, but it was a sensible thing to do; carrying on through would have been tantamount to suicide."
Had he made the trip uninterrupted, he would likely have achieved a Guinness World Record. Now, he's not so sure, though he says it doesn't matter.
"It was never about breaking records, it was about taking the biggest adventure in my life, and it was certainly that."
The finish line
Wood's journey ended in Egypt, where the Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea.
It was a cathartic moment, he says, and one that was bittersweet.
"When you're doing something every day for months and months, to see it end, there will be some sadness," he admits. Mainly, though, he remembers it as "one of the happiest days of my life."
"The first thing I did was run into the sea, and just enjoy the moment," he says.