Cocaine village: The incredible true story behind Netflix’s ‘Turn of the Tide’
(Credit: Netflix)

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Cocaine village: The incredible true story behind Netflix’s ‘Turn of the Tide’

Over the past year, the Portuguese-produced Netflix series Turn of the Tide has achieved global fame. With its second series now in production, millions of viewers around the world are waiting to see what happens next to young castaways Eduardo, Carlos and Silvia.

If you’re one of those who’s been gripped by the series, why not familiarise yourself with the real story on which the series is based while you wait? Because Turn of the Tide, known as Rabo de Peixe in its original language, is inspired by a true story no less remarkable than its dramatised version.

The Portuguese title actually takes its name from the real village of Rabo de Peixe, on the Azorean island of São Miguel, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The name literally means ‘fish tail’ in Portuguese, as the island is shaped like a fish when viewed from above, and Rabo de Peixe is situated at the border between its ‘body’ and its ‘tail’.

Directly south across the São Miguel from the Rabo de Peixe is its capital, the relatively affluent Ponta Delgado, and the tourist haven São Roque. But Rabo de Peixe has little in common with these places.

What washed up when the tide turned?

Its 9,000 residents are stricken by poverty, unemployment and a sense that the world has abandoned them. And still live with the pernicious effects of an event that changed the village forever over 20 years ago.

“We all tried it and most liked it,” João, a local fisherman, told the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã back in 2019. At the time he was interviewed, João was still dealing it, and was an addict himself.

He was referring to the one-and-a-half tonnes of pure cocaine that washed up on the shores of Rabo de Peixe in 2001. This enormous drug stash had arrived there via António Quinzi, a Sicilian mafioso who had been transporting it as the cargo of a tiny sailboat, of which he was the sole crew member.

When the boat was eventually found, with a small amount of the stash still aboard, and traced back to Quinzi, he was sentenced to a decade in prison. But the damage in Rabo de Peixe had already been done. Only 400 kilos of the 1500 that Quinzi had been smuggling were ever recovered. The rest found its way into the village community.

25 euros a glass

The scenes we see in Turn of the Tide of cocaine making its way into people’s lives are entirely true. Housewives really did replace the flour they used to coat fried horse mackerel, a traditional Azorean dish, with the drug. Local patrons added a spoonful to their morning coffee, and children used the powder to mark lines on a football pitch.

A market for the drug began to spread across the village, with prices heavily distorted by the vast amounts that had been recovered from sea’s edge. “A glass of beer cost 25 euros,” said João’s friend, another fisherman, in thick Rabxim, the village’s dialect of Portuguese. He was talking about the going rate for an entire 250 ml glass full of white powder.

“The objective was to make money to consume again,” he added. Addiction became not just a social problem but an epidemic across the village among all demographics. Hundreds overdosed on the drug. João’s friend describes going to hospital because he seriously injured himself jumping too hard into a bath of cold water. “But we needed to do that, to suffer a shock,” while overdosing with a racing heart.

Many others weren’t so lucky, dying from their addiction, as the village priest does in the drama series. Today, more than two decades on from the fateful shipwreck that brought this crippling addiction to Rabo de Peixe, almost half of its population are thought to be addicts.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which further series of Turn of the Tide deal with the ongoing effects the pervasive presence of cocaine addiction has had on the community of Rabo de Peixe. For now, we can simply marvel at the number of bizarre details included in the series, particularly in its initial episodes, which were actually true events.