13.04.2007 - 16.04.2007 35 °C
The Pantanal is not for the faint hearted. It´s damn hot, there are mosquitos everywhere (not to mention the other numerous bugs), you walk through muddy swamps, ride horses in thigh high waters (yes, sounds fine, until you see the horse in front of you do his business in the water!) swim in pirahana and alligator infested waters and have uncomfortable nights sleep in hammocks! The Pantanal is the biggest wetland in the world, situated on the Brazilian, Bolivia and Paraguayan borders. I was lured here by the promise of seeing many of the different animals and birds that call the Pantanal home - anteaters, piranaha, alligators, tucans, monkeys, anaconda, deer, armadillos and capybara. The most popular setting out point for the trips is a town called Campo Grande. I arrived there late in the evening which would have been fine if I had been picked up from the airport as promised by the tour company, Ecological Expeditions, I had booked. But alas, this is Brazil and of course no one was waiting for me when I landed so I took a cab to the hostel that the company operated from. No easy feat when you don´t speak Portuguese and your cab driver can´t distinguish the difference between, Hotel International and Hostel International!
The next day, I was supposed to head out to the park, but as there was only one Spanish speaking couple booked onto that trip, I decided to hang around a day to join a group going the following day. I met Gil and Andrew (both English, had met on a bus a couple of days before) that day and they decided to join the same tour as I had booked. They were really nice, so things were looking up! The next day, with more of our group members in tow, we headed out on a 5 hour journey to get to the park. On the way to the park we were stopped by some tourist police and it turned out that our tour company didn´t have a licence or it expired, something like that, and it is becoming apparent that I had booked the Dodgy Brothers for my trip! Although, from all accounts of other tour companies in the area, they were the best of a really bad bunch! Things didn´t improve when we got there. It appeared that the head office had overbooked, there was no guide for us and they seemed intent on sqauashing as many possible hammocks as they could into one room! Still, as I went to sleep that night, knocking into my neigbours, I was excited by the coming days activities.
We were awoken at 5:30am by the sound of the kitchen dong. We still didn´t have a guide, so we joined another group for our first activity, horse riding. I´ve never actually been horseriding before. Sure, I had been on a horse before, but riding? No. I was pleasantly suprised by how much fun it was. Although I could have done with a better horse. She was either, really old or really lazy, or both, cause she didn´t like to move that fast. She had her moments, mostly when our guide, Gabriel came to hurry up the slow coaches in the back and I really enjoyed it when she did have her occasional bursts of energy!
In the afternoon, we finally got our guide, Sandro and headed off in a boat down the river for some wildlife viewing and a swim. It was a lovely way to end the day, sunsetting on the river as we made our way back to camp. It was early to bed for most of us that night, it had been a big day and another 5:30am start awaited us.
Day two, first activity was a walk in the jungle to try and see some more animals. Hmmm, three hours of walking later and we had just seen a lot of birds, a few monkeys and some killer beatles that had attacked Gil (think of the beatles in The Mummy, on a much smaller scale and you get the picture). Afternoon activity was fishing. I think I broke some kind of record. I had put my line in for less that 5 seconds (I am not exaggerating!) and caught my very first fish! Not a piranah, but still, a fish. I was pretty proud of myself...until we got back to camp and heard of the other group catching an absured amount of fish including something like 8 piranahs! Our group did not have such luck. After my fish, there were just two others caught, both so small they ended up being used for bait!
So early to bed again and early to rise the next day for another early morning walk. Our guide said he couldn´t promise us what animals we would see, but that we would definitly see lots of cayman (alligators). This one did not disappoint. Within minutes of entering the jungle, we caught sight of a deer. And then an anteater! And then an armidillo. And then another anteater. And then black howler monkeys! Success!! I was happy, finally we had seen what we had come to see. But no cayman, the one animal Sandro had promised we would see! We had seen plenty of them before, mostly on the side of the road, so this was ok! And that was our last activity, a big group of us was heading to Corumba on the border to cross into Bolivia so we headed out in a truck for the long journey. We saw loads of cayman and capybara (worlds largest rodent) on the trip and had to cross the river Paraguay where we were treated to a beautiful sunset. A lovely way to end the trip.
So, all in all, despite the Dodgy Brothers tour group, the mosquitos, the heat, the hammocks, I had a great time. I got to see lots of animals although I think we may have been the only group to ever go through the Pantanal and not see a piranah, except served up in a soup, which doesn´t count!
Gil and I on the truck
Black Howler Monkey
Flooded footbal pitch!