Stab Magazine | Surfing #Vanlife Family Escape From Amazon River Pirates

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Surfing #Vanlife Family Escape From Amazon River Pirates

“As pirates rifled through cargo and stole what they wanted, the Harteaus grew fearful and decided to make a run for it. Over the side, into the night, with a surfboard for flotation.”

news // Nov 7, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Giving in to your wanderlust is a pretty sweet feeling. Like so many before, I once sold all my possessions and spent a year gallivanting about the globe. It was an amazing experience, full of misadventures, shouted arguments with cab drivers, backpacker girls with loose morals, sketchy drug buys in foreign locales.

It’s not something I’d want to do for the rest of my life. Being temporarily rootless is rad but eventually it’s nice to have some space to call your own. But not everyone feels that way. Spend enough time on the road and you’ll meet the semi-perma-transient types. Always a little wild-eyed, financing their gig through constantly changing methods. Typically a single male, you’d occasionally encounter a couple, often dragging a dusty road baby or two in their wake.

Emily and Adam Harteau appear to be a pair of the latter species. In 2012 they raised a little over $16K via Kickstarter to support a year long jaunt down the length of South America to Patagonia. Documenting the entire ordeal in our modern #vanlife #travellust style. They decided to keep on keeping on, plopped out a second kid at some point, and hit upon the notion of supporting themselves via 24-hour ‘Pop-up Bazaars.’ Which I take to mean they sold stuff out of their van.

Screen Shot 2017 11 06 at 11.00.58 AM

“We couldn’t be more ecstatic to say that WE ARE ALIVE! The afternoon of Sunday, October 29th marked the beginning of a gruelling and terrifying 100 hour nightmare. Armed pirates boarded the vessel we were on, taking our family hostage in the remote Brazilian Amazon. We escaped on a surfboard and were on the run for our lives until we chose to be spotted by a large passenger ferry on our 4th day in the wilds. Our ransacked van remains in Brazil, but we have returned stateside and are in the loving embrace of our family & friends. As we process these traumatic events, we will be looking inward to focus on the healing of our family. We are so grateful for all of your well wishes in these difficult times and want to relay our love for Brazil, which remains even after the hell we survived. To the Brazilian authorities and the US Embassy for their recovery efforts and assistance in our safe passage back to the USA: our deepest gratitude will not sufficiently address the mark these kindnesses have stamped in our hearts. We bow in deepest thanks.”

You can witness everything on their website,, or Instagram. It’s interesting, very picturesque. A tad wholesome for this writer’s tastes.

Five years without roots was long enough, and they recently decided to pack up and head north to Los Angeles. Provide their girls with structure, be closer to family, that sort of thing.

But they didn’t count on river pirates! And, of course, Brazil has fucking river pirates.

Last week, during their journey back to the US, their ferry was boarded and ransacked by Amazonian river pirates. It was an incident that, while undoubtedly traumatic at the time, is pretty damn cool once the adrenaline has worn off and it’s time for a story.

“Let me tell you about the time I was nearly abducted by river pirates…”

According to ABC news, “police in Brazil told reporters that the Harteaus told them after the heavily armed pirates attacked, the family was held in one of the ship’s rooms for several hours – from 3:30 p.m. to midnight – during which they heard the pirates coming on and off the boat, apparently offloading the ship’s goods.[all sic]”

What followed next is kind of funny, if you ignore the fact that it was no doubt terrifying for the poor family. As pirates rifled through cargo and stole what they wanted, the Harteaus grew fearful and decided to make a run for it.  

Over the side, into the night, with a surfboard for flotation.

The pirates left after a few hours, without hurting anyone. Meanwhile, the Harteaus spent three days hiding in the jungle, “eating insects and fruits in the forest,” before being rescued by police.

It was a harrowing ordeal, no doubt. Possibly made less-so by the knowledge they’d’ve been totally okay if they’d just hung around. But that’s a hindsight deal. There’s nothing embarrassing about making bold moves in the moment.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Do river pirates have an unfairly bloodthirsty reputation? I don’t know. Maybe this is just one of those things that happen, sometimes.


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