At last, a swashbuckling tale of South America

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Nov 09, 2010

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Where I stayed
hostel portal do pantanal

Flag of Brazil  , State of Mato Grosso,
Friday, April 2, 2010

5:30 am, covered in toxic mosquito repellent from head to toe, full of anti-malarial medicine and ready to see some wildlife. By 6am, we are knee deep in piranha and alligator infested waters in the Brazilian Pantanal. But not to worry- our incompetent guide (Julio) tells us the piranhas are “only” babies (I saw one, looked big enough to gnaw off a leg to me), and the alligators are “only” a maximum of 6 feet long. We trudge through the swamplands to get to a look-out tower. We are looking for jaguars, giant anteaters, foxes, tapirs, macaws. We got 2 parakeets and trench foot. We climb down the 70 foot tower as the lightening started coming closer (how can that be safe I wonder to myself as the guide is playing on his cell phone). Then we head back to have breakfast as the rain starts. We look on with envy as another family has a guide who is singing and playing guitar and showering them with knowledge about the birds and animals of the area. Our guide sits and texts on his cell phone.

I guess our misery in knee deep water (did I mention the piranhas??) was somehow not apparent to our clueless Julio. Because after breakfast, he decides that we don’t need a boat and we head back into the swamp. This time, we do manage to see the World‘s Largest Rodent, a toucan and the butt of a capuchin monkey as he scampers off in the trees. We stay on dry land for about 15 minutes, but then we are back in the water. Julio breaks away and we are so far behind I cannot judge where he is stepping to make sure I don’t fall into a massive hole. We ask him to slow down. He is very annoyed by this. I ask Julio if we are heading back. He acts like this may be the stupidest question he has ever heard. Jeff notices we are going in circles and points this out to Julio. He gets very defensive. I almost trip over a log that I thought was an alligator. Twice. After 3 hours, we finally just head straight for the telephone wires that indicate the road. Why can’t Julio just admit we are lost??? As we are hiking back, a guy in a tractor comes to rescue us, because we are about to miss lunch. We arrive back to the “hotel”, march right up to the other family who we know are heading back to Cuiaba and ask for a ride back. They agree, and you have never seen two people pack their bags so fast!!

A little about expectations-- I mean, if we had been sold the tour as a knee deep, mud slushing, cactus covered in water adventure in a ramshackle farm in the middle of the Pantanal, fine (we were given a piece of foam to put against the bottom of the door to keep the frogs out). But we were sold something completely different. The price we paid was exorbitant, so shame on us for doing that, but it was a holiday weekend, and we were promised something rather different so decided to splurge on this event. We were shown photos of a resort with a swim up bar pool, horseback riding, fishing for piranhas and boating down the river. After we had already paid, as we were getting into the car (no a/c, no seatbelts, no padding on the back seat, should have been a clue of things to come), Ruy, the hostel owner/tour operator mentions that the resort he showed us didn’t have any space so he got us “the best room” at a comparable place. The place is a working farm that happens to have rooms for people to stay in. There are roaming pigs, cow shit on every inch of the place and billions upon billions of mosquitoes.

Jeff spoke to Ruy on the phone to tell him we were heading back to Cuiaba and he promised to meet us at the hostel. We arrived and he was not there. Not only was he not there, but our bags were locked in his office and the key had broken off. The receptionist (who, by the way, spoke perfect Spanish the day we arrived but now only spoke Portuguese) tells us we can get our bags back tomorrow. Our hair stands up on end because now we think this guy is going to keep our bags for retribution or ransom for the other half of the money for the other tours we booked with him for the coming week. We decide to make things very uncomfortable for the receptionist. She is playing on the computer (there are NO other guests at the hostel, should have been another clue), so we park ourselves on the bench next to her, and even though we are hot and sweaty, and still reeking of swamp stink, we do not move. We sense her discomfort, and eventually we get the desired result-a call to Ruy to say we are waiting for him. 5 hours later, he arrives with a toolkit. 1minute later, Jeff has the door to the office opened with the Swiss Army knife. Jeff asks him how he is going to make this right with the money we have paid and he of course whines that he has already paid everybody, blah blah, but don’t worry, he’ll see us in the morning and “work something out”. As expected, he does not show up in the morning, but has a much tougher new receptionist (I think the first one may be being treated for a nervous breakdown) show us the math on the money he will refund us. I point out an $80 mistake in her math, and then she indicates that we will have to wait for Ruy because he only gave her the other amount. She wasn’t too bright, because I could see a pile of bills under her other hand, tell her we need to get to the airport and insist she give us the money (this is all using sign language and stern faces). She finally relents. Then we ask her to call a cab, she says no, so we start to head down the road. We still don’t know why, but then she chases after us and says ok, she will call a cab.

1 hour later, we were able to change our flight to Rio and so were waiting for our flight in the airport. Bye bye, Cuiaba! Don’t stay at Portal do Pantanal hostel! Crooks!
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Hair on Fire on

I am just glad you are such a tough team and didn't have a gun!

DAD on

Your blog is great... sad you had such a bad experience towards the end of your stay in SA.
IF you paid by credit card...(not??), you can challenge the charge and your CC company would/could/should reverse the charges. I have done this several times when i felt used and abused, and virtually every time it was wiped off my account. Love, Dad

shamalama on

As I read the commentary, I can just hear Tamara's voice - with attitude.
Can you look back on it and laugh yet?
Keep 'em coming. The pictures are great!!

bakpaknbizclass on

Still a bit too raw to laugh yet... but ask me again in a couple of days :)

Ben White on

Wow !! and all i have to worry about is reelection........ Blessings..... Ben

bakpaknbizclass on

oh Ben, I"m sure there are plenty of political piranhas lying in wait :)

mackie on

........and I don't even have to worry about opponent..::-) ....but the piranhas story will be more exciting around the camp fire :-)

CTang on

Hopefully no more experiences like that again soon -- but you've been lucky so far i guess. are you guys off to another continent yet?

Bo on

Bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch. Can't you just enjoyt it. Jeez
LMAO on sign language and stern looks

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