A team of British and American adventurers were mistaken for drug-runners and narrowly escaped being chewed up by the propellers of a transatlantic container ship on the first stage of the Brazil 9000 expedition, an epic 9,000km quest to make the first crossing of Brazil from top to bottom under human power alone.
They landed in Belem at Christmas after a paddling, kayaking and hiking for 158 days, from the Amazon basin to the Atlantic Ocean.
"It’s been an epic adventure so far," said Aaron Chervenak, fresh out of hospital where he spent Christmas having parasites and worms removed. “We’re still processing that last Amazon River section, shaking our heads as to how we managed to not have a pirate encounter.”
Chervenak and his companion Gareth Jones, both 32, stepped away from their respective jobs in the LA movie business and London finance industries in September 2012.
Their journey began with a packraft descent from the source of the Rio Mau in Brazil’s remote mountainous jungle border with Venezuela and Guyana. A more sturdy 16.5-foot folding Aluminium canoe then allowed them to make their way down the Rio Branco, Rio Negro and Rio Amazonas to Belem.
But the journey has not been without its dramas.
“In Manaus we had over 25 miles of industrial ports to paddle through,” said Jones. “A severe storm was churning up big rollers but we decided to keep pushing on.
“We came within a few feet of a massive container ship at anchor but when we were 15 feet from it the blades suddenly began to turn. They were sucking us in and we had to paddle for our lives. Luckily, they stopped just in time.”
Further downriver, just outside Obidos, the team had a scary encounter with the local law enforcement agency.
“A boat speed out from nowhere with five guns pointed directly at us. The people were screaming for us to pull over,” added Chervenak. “We were shaking. We put our paddles down and raised our hands into the air.
“It was the local police and they’d had a tip-off from a community upriver that we were running cocaine down from Colombia. Obidos is a notorious smuggling point – but once they’d unpacked all our bags we convinced them of what we were doing… and exchanged Facebook contacts!”
Even the day-to-day expedition has been a challenge, with long paddles broken only by 15-minute morning and afternoon naps. Evenings are spent trying to escape the relentless blood-sucking mosquitoes.
“At the end of each day, we’d scout for a hidden patch of jungle, do a snake check, machete out an area, unload, filter water, make fire, eat, study the map, charge cameras – and then race for our hammocks,” said Chervenak.
“The rain teams down and if the hammock and tarp is not set properly, veins of water stream down. Fixing leaks is pointless in the downpour. By morning, our hammocks and clothes would turn burgundy with the rain-smeared splatters of our own mosquito-drawn blood.”
But for all the challenges, the team have had some incredible wilderness experiences.
They spent almost a month alone in the jungle, feasted with tribes and went alligator hunting to discover a 14-ft giant crocodile.
Their journey continues later this month by foot and bike. With 5,638km left to go, the team aims to arrive at the Uruguay border in 15 months time...
The Brazil 9000 Expedition is by Skeeto Lounge Productions, an adventure based film company founded by Chervenak and Jones in 2010.