That Adam and Emily Harteau and their young girls were on a barge that was attacked by pirates in a river in the Brazilian Amazon is clear; so, too, is the fact they were ultimately rescued. What happened in the middle has been murkier (when did they flee the barge? why?), and though the California couple didn't grant the Wall Street Journal an interview, the newspaper was able to piece together much of their story via police and witness accounts. After five years of life on the road, the Harteaus were headed upriver with 6-year-old Colette and 3-year-old Sierra on their return journey to California on Oct. 29. Roughly six armed pirates came upon the barge using a wooden canoe, breached it, directed it to shore, moved the family and crew into a tugboat, and occasionally threatened them at gunpoint.
Alarmed by the situation, Adam Harteau got a survival kit and surfboard from the family's Volkswagen Westfalia during the middle of the night while the hijackers were taking the cargo off the barge. The Harteaus and their surfboard traversed the Jacaré Grande River, a distance of about 1.5 miles. They then spent three days trudging through six miles of jungle, and inhospitable jungle at that. The Journal describes it as "racked by fierce thunderstorms and teeming with jaguars, anacondas, caimans, and a host of venomous spiders and snakes." On the fourth day, they entered a river and were recovered by a ferry manager who describes them as "very, very scared." A local understands that. "I thought they were dead," she says. "Nobody swims in these waters."