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18 June 2014
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FILM ONE: High Andes

Bruce and llamas in the High Andes

The crew began in the High Andes after a gruelling three days of flights involving many scenes of organised chaos as they sorted their luggage into a manageable filming kit. Once in Peru they set off on a journey of astounding beauty and ascended to an altitude of 5,200 metres.

Often suffering from altitude sickness, Bruce and the crew walked to the source of the Amazon - a clear spring gushing from a rockface - and filmed the opening sequence of the film. Staying with a Quechua family of llama herders, Bruce had his journey blessed with a sacrifice and a coca leaf ceremony.

The team leave the High Andes following an ancient Inca route with a llama convoy, and then travel downstream on the water, where Bruce takes on class five rapids with a Peruvian kayaker, and experiences the Day of the Dead on the banks of the Rio Apurimac.

Coca Country

The team enter the Red Zone of Peru to stay in a remote farmstead in Louisiana, which was abandoned 18 years ago due to the violence in the area. This is the coca growing area of Peru and the illegal narcotics industry means the region is lawless and not visited often. Bruce helps a family harvest coca leaf and the crew film in an illegal cocaine lab deep in the jungle.

Unexpectedly, Matt B (the director) is taken seriously ill and evacuated to Lima by helicopter. Matt's life and the series are both in jeopardy and all the team go to Lima to be with Matt and assess how the project can continue.

Fortunately, Matt makes a good recovery in intensive care and Steve, the series producer, flies out to Peru to take over Matt's role. The team return to the Red Zone to resume filming and join the military police on a cocaine raid.

Next, the crew travel up the Rio Ene to film with the Ashaninka tribe, whilst Matt B is flown home to Britain.


The team began filming with one Ashaninka community near Catunga but there was a big festival in the village, which meant that a lot of outsiders came to the community, some of whom did not want the Ashaninka to tell their story to the BBC. This made it less safe for both the team and for their host community and they left the village before schedule, to travel up the Ene to join another smaller Ashaninka community, where they finished film one by filming the more traditional aspects of Ashaninka life.

FILM TWO: Shamans and Oil

One of the Achuar elders

Film two commenced with another long journey involving tiny planes and three days on a small boat. The crew arrived in a village called Wijint, in the Peruvian Jungle, to film with the Achuar. Here Bruce experienced Achuar tribal culture for the first time, taking the hallucinogen Ayahuasca in a traditional ceremony and joining the Achuar fishing and hunting. The crew returned to the UK to spend Christmas at home, leaving Bruce in Peru before returning in the New Year. Read Bruce's blog looking back over the first few months of filming.

2008 began with three days on a tiny boat up the Rio Pastaza. The crew went to Andoas, an Achuar community at the centre of the oil extraction industry, to film the effects of the oil trade in the area - both on the environment and for the Achuar people. Next, Bruce visited an Ayahuasca retreat near Iquitos, to see if he could experience visions with a local healer.


Bruce playing drag football

A new crew arrive and join Bruce in Brazil, where they begin with the unique experience of Brazilian Carnival. Bruce kits himself up in drag and participates in a riotous football match (though nobody can remember the score) before entering the Queen of the Carnival Beauty Pageant, this time in a fetching red dress.

Once recovered, the team head into the Vale do Javari Reserve, an area of forest the size of Portugal, which is a designated reserve for indigenous tribes, including at least five uncontacted groups. The team see evidence of an uncontacted group as they fly over the reserve with a FUNAI representative.

First the crew visit the Matis in the same community with which Bruce filmed in 2006. Tragically, Bruce finds the community in the midst of a health crisis. People are dying and those that are ill find it extremely difficult to get adequate treatment.

Bruce bids farewell to the Matis

Continuing up the Rio Itui, Bruce and the crew are given an unusual welcome by the remote Marubo tribe. Soon it becomes apparent that the Marubo are suffering the same epidemics and loss. Illness further affects the team when Matt Norman, the cameraman, is evacuated with suspected malaria.

Returning towards the main artery of the Amazon, the crew take breakfast at Javari and then Bruce visits a loggers' camp on the edges of the Javari Reserve.Bruce experiences the hard physical work of the loggers whilst hearing their views on the future of logging in the Amazon Rainforest.

FILM FOUR: Amazonas Wildlife

Keith and Zubin filming from a boat

Matt Brandon, in fighting health, returned to the Amazon to direct the fourth film of the series. With Matt and a new crew, Bruce visited Mamiraua Reserve, a flooded forest haven for the unique wildlife of the Amazon. Taking public transport for the first time on his trip, Bruce travelled downriver on a passenger boat where his journey was interrupted by a scheduled cocaine raid and the subsequent arrest of three young men.

The crew cross-decked onto a smaller boat, the Spectrum, a taste of luxury on the river, which was to be their base for filming the extraordinary ecology of the area. On arrival in the reserve they were greeted by the sound of monkeys in the trees, the pink river dolphin in the water and a multitude of bird species.

Visiting the community of Jaraua, Bruce met Tapioca, a legendary fisherman, with whom he hunted for the elusive pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish in the world. In the village the crew became familiar with other aspects of riberinho life, from the caiman-hunting priest to the laborious process of manioc processing.

After celebrating his birthday in true style, Bruce and the crew travelled to a second community where they met the scientists working in the reserve, and with them collected the magnificent black caiman. Continuing downriver, Bruce arrived at the meeting of the waters, where the two main tributaries of the Upper Amazon join to create the huge river that snakes through Brazil.

FILM FIVE: The Wealth of the Amazon

Bruce high in the tree canopy

Bruce's adventure takes him into urban Amazon, where he parties in Manaus with the exclusive Amazonian rich list. Antonio Neto (Tony), a millionaire who has made his fortune through fire extinguishers, takes Bruce on a helicopter journey over the largest city on the Amazon River and treats the crew to an experience of the elite South American lifestyle.

Equally pampered and exhausted after a whirlwind week of VIP clubs, fine dining and luxury yachts, the crew leave the city by plane for the town of Apui, where Bruce kits himself out in headgear appropriate for the blazing Brazilian heat. The team take the Transamazonica Highway out of town and head for the illegal gold mine of Grota Rica, which was discovered just two years ago and has brought thousands of hopefuls to the area in search of fortune.

Bruce gets down to business with the miners, striking gold in his search for the precious dust by panning for the metal in an open cast mine. Digging deeper in the search for gold, he joins a team of tunnelling garimpeiros to shovel his way further into the hillside.

When a dam breaks Bruce needs to find leaves in the forest for its repair, which gives him a welcome break from the din of the generators and allows him to see the pristine forest that surrounds the mine. The obvious environmental destruction leads the crew to question the real cost of the search for gold. When a miner is shot and paralysed for owing debts, Bruce and the crew decide it's time to leave.

Returning toward Manaus, Bruce visits the LBA Research Centre, a forest base where thousands of scientists come to gather vital data about the ecology of the rainforest environment. Bruce investigates the global value of the rainforest as a carbon sink and considers the cost to humans around the world if this essential ecosystem is cut down. Working with micro-metrologist Allessandro Araujo, Bruce gathers data showing oxygen and carbon dioxide emissions in different parts of the forest. In order to get accurate data over twenty-four hours, Bruce ascends up into the canopy and spends the night overlooking the treetops in a hammock slung from a 45 metre Anjelim tree.

FILM SIX: The Battle for the Amazon

Bruce takes part in a Kayapo ceremony

The final stretch of Bruce's adventure takes him into the Brazilian state of Para - the easternmost part of the Amazon. Here Bruce encounters the battle for the Amazon at its most bloody. Land ownership in Para is a complicated struggle between ranchers and tribespeople, between loggers and the government, and between the forest and the demands of industry.

Arriving at a cattle ranch near Altamira, Bruce helped muck in on the farm: vaccinating calves, wrestling cows and bravely attempting rodeo whilst hearing the stories of the ranchers and landowners. Brazil is the biggest exporter of beef in the world, and Amazonian cowboys run a lucrative and growing business. But the demand for farmland is bad news for the forest, and partly drives illegal logging and illicit land clearing.

To investigate this, Bruce and the crew joined IBAMA, the Brazilian environmental police, on a raid to seek out offenders of environmental law. In just two days they discovered trucks full of illegally logged hardwoods and witnessed logs strewn over areas of illegally cleared forest. This type of illegal activity in the Amazon is leading to families and sometimes entire villages being thrown off their land by land grabbers.

Bruce met such families who were living in a shanty town near Altamira after being violently evicted from their homes. The team also accompanied an anti-slavery unit on operations to uncover slavery in the Amazon, an illegal and abusive practice that involves keeping people in debt bondage and forcing them to clear forest for pasture.

On the final leg of the journey Bruce joined a protest against the Xingu dam, accompanying tribes such as the Kayapo who are defending the flooding of their ancestral lands. Bruce then joined the Kayapo in their homelands, where he was painted with their distinctive body paint and learnt their traditional dances.

Eventually, after nine months travelling down the world's biggest river, Bruce plunged into the Altantic Ocean. His journey, from source to sea, was complete.


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To protect the security of the crew, blogs are posted on the site three to five weeks after they are sent

Rob Sullivan says

Rob Sullivan

"We've done it. We've reached the port of Belem, the gateway of the Amazon..."

Read more

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