- 9 Mar 08, 10:02 AM
Posted from: On the Tabatinga – Tefe passenger boat
Our film started on a river boat on the 8th of March. This is a passenger boat that takes some 200 people up and down the Amazon River between Tabatinga on the Brazil/Colombia border and Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. It is a four day journey to Manaus, but for us a two day journey as we were jumping off in Tefe, half way through the trip. The boat had three decks, the first and second quickly filled up with hammocks, the third one was for socialising, not sleeping. It had a bar with very loud Brazilian forro playing all the time and a huge sun deck.
On board the boat
On board there were many families travelling for work reasons or to visit relatives. There were also a few back packers including Shirley, a lovely Chinese girl to whom we all took a shine. She was travelling round South America with less than 10 kilos of luggage and a phobia for all electronics, so no MP3 player or camera. An interesting contrast to us who are travelling with half a ton of equipment, but to be fair she is not making a film.
She told us how it was difficult for her to get visas to get into any country as most governments are suspicious of Chinese tourists who usually want to stay to live. But despite her difficulties she had plans for a few more months of travel and was going to travel down Brazil into Argentina. The Argentines were giving her a two week visa but she would have to wait two weeks after her application for that.
On the first day we were stopped at 11pm by the Federal Police. They stop every boat that comes past, to search mainly for cocaine and any other kind of smuggling. We thought this could make some interesting pictures as a group of uniformed agents flashing their torches came on board and made each and every passenger open their luggage. They even checked below deck, going through all the boxes and post being carried on the boat. It wasn’t long before they found a suspect and led him off board into their floating office on the river bank.
We were given special access and allowed to follow as long as we didn’t film the suspect. In the office they opened up his suitcase and quickly uncovered about two kilos of cocaine. He was handcuffed and made to sit down, next to another two forlorn-looking boys who had just been caught on the previous boat. I felt terribly sorry for these young boys, all of them in their twenties.
Cocaine raid on the passenger boat
According to the police they will get anywhere between five to 15 years in prison, and prisons in Brazil are notoriously bad. As the police came back on board to carry on their search, the expense and futility of the whole exercise struck me, as the two kilos of apprehended cocaine makes about as much difference to the industry as one drop of rain in a flooded forest. But no doubt, for the police this is a satisfying victory but for the handcuffed boys in the bug-infested police office in the middle of the jungle, it is a tragedy.