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Matt Brandon

Fenix from the Flames

Posted from: Mamiraua nr Jaraua
Four months ago today was a big day for me, but I don't remember too much about it. I was being evacuated from our filming location in a remote Peruvian valley. A few days later I woke up in an intensive care unit in Lima - my wife Zoe was there and my parents were on their way. Everyone had feared the worst. The doctors discovered that I'd developed a brain abscess.

Today I'm back on the Amazon and happy doesn't quite describe how I'm feeling.

From Tabatinga we've travelled on the Fenix passenger boat, 200 people lounging in colourful hammocks slung centimeters apart swinging in unison for the last two days. Between meals there wasn't all that much to do on the Fenix apart from visit the bar on the top deck - if you could cope with the music pumped out at full volume through massive superclub-size speakers. Speakers rivalled only by the one that Bruce has picked up somewhere along the way and is insisting is an essential piece of production kit.

Matt Brandon rejoins the team, four months after his emergency evacuation

There have only been a couple of stops on the way. The first in the middle of the night at a Federal Police Post. I'm not sure what we expected, if anything at all, but we got up to film anyway. In random fashion the police inspected the boat. Up, down, through, over and under the rows of hammocks. Opening bags, patting suitcases and exploring sacks of goods bound for the biggest city in Amazonas State - Manaus. And then somehow without drawing any attention to anything at all, they handcuffed a couple of guys and marched them off the boat, their suitcases in tow.

They invited us into the low-tech office - a shack protected from the thousands of bugs with green mesh. In there sat the men we'd seen taken from the boat along with a third who had apparently been arrested on the boat that had passed through minutes before ours. On the table sat one of the suitcases. An officer whose face we had been instructed not to film cut open the fabric on the lid of the case, and out spilled a white powder. He dripped a chemical on it to test if was cocaine paste, telling us that if it turned blue, there was no doubt. Just before he finished his sentence it turned blue.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the three prisoners in the shack who were presumably not big players in the cocaine trade. They kept their heads bowed and their eyes firmly fixed on the floor. I'm sure that being caught smuggling is bad enough, and having a film crew there to witness it can only have made it worse for them. Still, running drugs is illegal, and they would have been whether we were there or not.

We're not going the whole way to Manaus on the Fenix. Instead we're going to visit a couple of Ribeirhino communities in the Mamiraua (Sustainable Development) Reserve. Ribeirhinos are people who live along the river, their entire life is informed by it. And in Mamiraua 90% of the forest is flooded for a large part of the year and the people are incredibly adaptable as well as hugely knowledgeable.

To get around the reserve we need our own boat, and we've just met up with the Spectrum - a boat that will be our home and transport for the next month. I think we're set for a good month. Steve, I read your blogs about long boat journeys and I can't see what all the fuss is about.

It's good to be back.

Find out more about Amazonas wildlife.


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