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Rob Sullivan

Boats, Bugs and Breakdowns

Posted from: Aurelio just outside of Tabatinga
Whilst the Amazon and its tributaries may flow smoothly and steadily, you can be fairly guaranteed that trying to film here won't. This place throws new problems at you every day: from illness in the crew to boats breaking down, to tricky tribal negotiations and obstructive bureaucrats, not to mention swarms of insects, torrential rain, knee-deep mud and unbearable heat. As producer/director, my job is to deal with all of these problems as they arise, try to find practical solutions and keep the production going. Every delay is extremely costly, financially and editorially as valuable filming time slips painfully away.

I'm currently sitting on the deck of yet another broken down boat, surrounded by a cloud of merciless sand-flies, listening to the tinkering of metal and the chatter of Portuguese as the boatmen try their best to get us moving again.
This time it's the steering mechanism that's not working...we're just two hours into a 20-hour long boat ride and we've been moored up by the bank now for 90 minutes getting eaten alive. It's no-one’s fault, so there's no point getting annoyed, it just seems to be the way of things in the Amazon.

Last week we had to leave our main boat behind after it broke down for the second time in as many days. Luckily we happened to be fairly near a remote missionary landing strip and we were able to use the sat phone to organise a spare part to be flown in. While the boatmen waited for the part, we managed to hire two motorised dug-out canoes so we could continue upstream, but one of these promptly broke down an hour later. The people of the Amazon rely on their natural ingenuity to get them out of trouble. In this case the string that went from the engine to the propeller had snapped on an underwater branch, and after a brief discussion the Marubo boatman ripped out the cord from the waistband of his underpants which was just the right length and we were under way again a few minutes later.

A few days later on another dugout canoe ride the engine failed completely, and we were left quite literally floating down the river without a paddle. Once again local skills saved the day when the boatman expertly used his
flip-flops to steer the boat and paddle us along. We followed suit with our own shoes, and though progress was slow we eventually made it to the safety of the next village.

I'm not sure how long we'll be sat here with the current steering problem. I'm still trying to think of a plan B but we're a very long way from anywhere and judging by the frustrated hammering and swearing in Portuguese we could
still be here for some time to come. At least the sandflies are having a good feast...


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