We approach the Brazilian Navy that will say “sim” or “nao” to our vessel entering their waters. I am optimistic. I think you have to be an optimist to find yourself floating on a homemade bamboo- raft down the Amazon. We go to the military base and ask permission to enter the compound. “Nao. Something-something. Siesta. Something-i-don’t-understand. Dois” says the friendly teenage marine armed with an AK47 and points to his watch. “Does dois mean twelve or two?” I ask Peycho. “I heard it as two, I think that’s what he said. Something about siesta and come back at two o’clock”. It is also painfully obvious that we need to learn some Portuguese. We have all spent more than a year in South America and now speak fairly fluent Spanish. Obsolete, almost, since Brazil speaks Portuguese as the only country in South America. Time to learn.
We return with military precision at 14.00 sharp, to conclude that the Brazilian military are not on military precision. Wait a bit. Then we enter and are equipped with a formal “Visitante” badge and pointed in the direction of a door across the military base. Then we wait a bit. A uniformed man appears. We speak to him in Spanish and he understands most of it. He leaves, we wait. Several other guys appear and we repeat our desire to enter Brazil with our own vessel and to get the necessary documents. We show our own impressive stack of documents from Port Registry and International Sailing Permit to Safety Inspections and legal Documents of Ownership. Issued by the Ecuadorian Navy, the Brazilians doesn’t have much option to deny our entry. They look through it all, say something fast in Portuguese that we didn’t understand and drift back to their back-offices. We wait. 20 minutes later a man appears with his right thumb pointing upwards. That’s a universal signal that can not be misunderstood. My optimism is being rewarded
We talk to him for 10 minutes and manage to extract enough information to understand that a) we can maybe, maybe not, probably, likely enter Brazil b) we need this-and-that-and-this documents, stamped, photocopied, 3 sets and a legal entry stamp into Brazil from the Immigration-office of Brazil and c) they want to do their own safety inspection of our raft. We produce all the formalities they require and return 2 hours later, armed with more paperwork. Then we wait. He appears with a check-list of items we need to have on our vessel. Dammit. I am sure he has some expensive, silly, useless stuff on that list that we don’t have or need. We have almost everything on the list. But, a VHF-radio, we don’t have. “Can we make an exception? We know what we are doing, I am certified to navigate vessels, we have everything else on the list, bla, bla, bla”. Nothing would have convinced this stern officer that we should deviate from the requirements and hence transfer responsibility to him in case something happened. I understand him completely. He is not making the rules, he is just making sure that we are following them. We spent 3 days scouring the tri-border for a cheap VHF-radio, it was actually fun in-between the frustrations. Talking to boat-taxi-drivers, shop-owners, pawn-shops, repair-shops, all shops really. One place had a radio. 450 USD. It has absolutely no use to us, other than putting a check in a box on the military safety form. A terribly waste of money for our small budgets.
Back at the Military Base, the guards know us by now. “We are ready, we have a radio” we say. We wait. An hour later an officer appears and ushers me to lead him to our raft. He sees it and laughs abit. I am not sure that is a good start for a safety inspection. It was, actually. The officer and his 6 marine-friends stand around laughing and cracking jokes with large machine guns slung around their shoulders. We are inside the military area and our raft is anchored to a huge, abandoned, rusty ship that carries a large sign that says “No anchoring”. One guy has a checklist and calls out various items that we need to demonstrate: GPS? Maps? Flashlight? Satelitte phone? VHF radio? Sim, Sim, Sim, Sim, Sim, we have it all. It is raining and he appears afraid to board our raft, as it involves stepping unto a wet, slippery bamboo and then jumping 1 meter. “He is a marine soldier, you can’t be serious”, I am thinking. It seemed to me that the safety inspection didn’t really involve any inspection of safety.
I walk with them back to the military base, to sign some forms and hopefully complete the last paperwork.
“Mulheres? Nao ha?” they inquired. ”Women? There are no women?”
“no, sadly we don’t carry any women” I say and laugh cautiously
“haha, very bad, you should carry some women” the officer says ,while moving his hips back and forth with his fists next to his hips.
“yes, you are right, haha, you are right. But we don’t have any, sadly”, I try
“Your country? Good women?” the officer says while bouncing his open palms in front of his chest to signal the apparent main attraction on women.
“Yes, My country good women. All over the world, good women. Brazil nice women” I say.
“Brazil women are good women. They have long hair, so you can hold her hair tight while taking her from behind”. The officer stops his stride and displays some sex positions that instantly makes everybody in the group break into deep laughter.
There is something about this continent that makes you take life a bit less serious. Armed marines that can’t really perform a safety check but much rather talk about women. I sensed it the day I arrived in South America, more than a year ago. The immigration officers at the airport were more busy tickling and flirting with each-other than inspecting my passport. Friendly, warm, funny yet slow, dis-organized and inefficient South Americans, I love them, I really do.
We could easily have transported a ton of cocaine and weapons to fuel a minor civil war across that border at daylight, no-one would’ve noticed.
“Everything is ready” an officer informs me. Really? 2 hours of patience pays off. I receive some documents, signed and stamped. An elderly officer appears who is wearing many emblems and have an aura of authority around him. He is friendly, shake my hand and wishes us good luck. “You have to be careful. There are pirates and assaults down the river to Manaus” he says. 1600km of piracy risk, that’s something to consider. They make me sign a form that releases any and all responsibility from them. I understood almost half of the form, when I signed it.
We have heard the warning before on other parts of the river and are aware of the risk that some sections of the Amazon River are not entirely safe. What can we do? Stop, go back and pack up the adventure? No. I am not doing that. The risk is simply too small to justify it. I have been warned about the dangers of the world many, many times throughout my life. I have spent more than 3 years cycling around the world through countless “dangerous” countries and regions. Nothing has happened, luckily. I am not trying to be Rambo, to be naively brave or prove anything, I just don’t believe the world is as dangerous as most people tell me. I take certain precautions, but also accept certain risks. Like you do, when you casually jump on your motorbike and ride to work.
“If there are pirates, then fuck it, let see what happens, let them rob us” seems to be the conclusion between the three of us. A simple Danish proverb sums it up for me: ”let fall, what can not stand”. I know what I am going to do: Keep most things hidden, especially passports, photos and credit card. Co-operate as necessary and don’t risk any physical harm to any of us. I have nothing on this raft that is really important, other than our lives. And it is not hostage-type pirates that hold us ransom, just poor, opportunistic, jungle-people with a hunting-rifle who wants some cash, something. It’s more like a “river robbery” and that makes it sound a bit less scary than Pirates! Some say that the pirates are mostly interested in raiding the drug-traffickers to seize their valuable goods. Dog eat dog. It’s a jungle out there, literally.
Brazil, here we come. Pirates or not.