Brazilian Pantanal

Trip Start Dec 28, 2007
Trip End Aug 28, 2008

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Piaui,
Sunday, August 17, 2008

An early pick up (4:30am), two flights via Sau Paulo, a two hour wait in an airport and a 4 hour minibus ride on very bumpy, dusty roads later we arrived at Refugio Ecologico Caiman and were taken to our lodge 13km away in the middle of the nowhere (the Pantanal is about half the size of France). We were greeted by our guides, Leonardo and Edson, given tea and cake and taken to our room. Ours was actually one of two new rooms in an annex a few metres from the main building but it turned out these were much bigger and served us well as there was less potential for bugs! Within half and hour we had started our first tour which was a way of meeting the other guests (fifteen in total) and getting used to the surroundings. We were escorted on a two hour walk around the lodge where we were shown many types of birds and their nests including the biggesst stork you have ever seen, called a Jabiru Stork. One interesting fact we remembered was that it's legs are actually black, but it poos on them to make them white so that they reflect the heat and keep them cooler - nice! On our return we were treated to an amazing sunset before dinner and a talk about the next few days.

The next morning we were up at six, called to breakfast by a bell and loaded onto an open truck for an hour's ride to a cattle ranch. Each time we boarded the truck we were treated to a safari and Leo pointed out all the animals and birds along the way - oh, and sore bottoms! By this point we had made a few friends including an Englishman called Alan, two French guys Philippe and Pierre and an American couple Linda and Paul (who were not with us at this point). With a little pursuasion Claire was picked first to be mounted on a horse, followed by the rest of us, for a couple of hours riding around a lake and forest. Chris seemed to be ok having ridden before but the entertainment was definitely those who had never sat on a horse, especially when the horses just follow each other in a line! Philippe must have drawn the short straw as his horse just kept on wandering off and never wanted to stop with the others! We saw a different side to the Pantanal and also saw the largest rodent in the world called a Capybara which can grow to 1.3m and be about 65kgs! Everyone enjoyed it, apart from getting very hot and Chris getting given a horse with a flatulence problem!

We returned for lunch (the food was plentiflul and we tried lots of traditional Brazilian dishes), given a couple of hours rest before heading out on our next adventure. After another hour or so in the truck spotting birds, cows, deer, crab-eating foxes (yes, foxes that eat crabs) and caimans (small crocodiles) we arrived at the main lodge and then got into canoes. Claire plonked herself in the middle with Alan at the front and Chris at the back for a gentle paddle on the water as the sun started to set where we saw more birds, bats and even the odd caiman popping it's head above the water - good job no-one fell in really. We then headed back with Leo hunting for nocturnal creatures with a search light and we were fortunate to find an armadillo and an anteater. Having never seen one before we were both amazed at how big they are and how long their tails can get. Back in the lodge it was definitely beer o'clock and time for dinner, a shower and bed.

Our second full day started with another safari drive to an area of water where a large number of caimans can be found. There is also an island in the middle appropriately named Caiman Island, bm bm. Well, we can now say we have seen crocodiles, alligators and caimans, but never did we think we would get so close to these animals. We were standing feet away from them whilst Edson kept tham at bay by poking them with a stick and pushing gently on their heads to stop them coming too close. Claire even had a chance to give one of them a poke to get an idea of what their bodies are like (note - no animals were harmed in the making of this blog, do not try this at home). We also were shown around a museum and picture gallery showing the history of Brazil and the Pantanal and some fantastic shots of the wildlife. It was also interesting to learn about the different seasons (wet, dry and the in between bits) and how different the landscape is. Finally we were given a talk about one of the most beautiful birds we found during our time, the Hyacinth Macaw. The blue bird is being studied here and looked after by a team of biologists who are very passionate about increasing their numbers. In the afternoon we took a long trek through the forest surrounding the lodge where we were told to wear long trousers and socks, insect repellant and if we don't mind looking like numpties, tucking our trousers into our socks so that we can reduce the risk of being nibbled by an creature that, well, likes nibbling. Although aprehensive, Claire and another British woman soldiered on as we walked though grassland, forests and by lakes where again, we saw the odd caiman. We spotted a few toucans along the way thanks to the alertness of Pierre, chief toucan finder, and even a couple of tortoises. We passed on the night walk after dinner as not only were some of us tired and a little full from the great food, but the bug count had probably increased ten-fold and buzzy things in the dark are not some people's idea of a good time! We did, however, venture outside to watch the lunar eclipse from the Earth and see the full moon rise into the sky.

Our last day was another long one with a drive back to Campo Grande to get our flight where we found that some changes to our itinerary had occurred without us knowing! We arrived at about 3pm for our 4pm flight only to be told we should have been there at 11am! After a moment of 'oh crap' the airline got us on two flights to Rio (via Sau Paulo, again) where we hoped the tour agency were waiting?!

We would definitaly recommend this experience and what made it memorable was the fantastic guides and great company we had during our stay.
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