More wild life, this time in the Pantanal

Trip Start Apr 05, 2008
Trip End Mar 20, 2009

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Mato Grosso,
Sunday, January 18, 2009

Words fail to describe our Pantanal experience. Definitely a highlight of not only our travels in Brazil but also South America. Although it got off to a rocky start as we had forgotten to send important details to Ailton our guide, such as our arrival date and flight details, we soon managed to get it all back on track. Our tour was over three nights and four days with only one other couple from Italy. We all cram packed ourselves into the small Fiat tight as sardines in a can with not an inch of space left including on the roof racks. As we had arrived the night prior, Ailton took GT and I on a tour of the Chapada area. This is known as the Savannah area where the forests and animals have adapted themselves to be fire-resistant after experiencing frequent fires over many centuries. Complete with amazingly picturesque and refreshing waterfalls as the temperature was sky rocketing to 35 degrees it was a short and welcomed reprieve from the heat. After collecting the Italians from the airport our journey began setting out on a straight road that seemed endless. After 2 hours of driving we stopped for lunch at a traditional Churrascaria (BBQ). Luckily no-one in our group was a vegetarian, it would have proved to be a challenging four days otherwise. Some of the tastiest meat we had was from the hump of the cow. Again fascinatingly these animals have adapted to the sweltering heat and all their fat is stored in this hump to help keep the rest of their bodies cool. Fueled and ready to carry on our adventures we soon hit the Transpantaneira, the infamous road which is only 160km long & mostly red gravel, as someone had the foresight to consider how wise building a road that was under water for most of the year actually would be. Thanks to this dirt trail given relatively easy access, it's dotted with Estancias and Posadas as the Pantanal is predominantly privately owned land. Our first night accommodation was on a rustic Estancia complete with it's own hoard of mossies. Not your typical mossies either, these were vicious and even had the ability to chew on you through your clothes. With the temperature reaching close to 40 degrees it left us feeling constantly dehydrated and dreaming of a large swimming pool filled with ice cold glacial water. There were moments of slight reprieve as we rowed along the river which caused a slight breeze and later in the form of ice cold beer and Caipirinhas made with lots of ice. Our guide Ailton is an extremely talented guy. Completely self taught not only in English, of which he's fluent as well as many other languages, he also knows the call of most birds and animals in the Pantanal and best of all is great on the guitar (also self taught). So our pre-meal time ritual would be Ailton on the guitar trying to coax the rest of us into singing along. On our first night after dinner we set out on a night walk and were lucky to come across a Crab Eating Fox, Capybaras, and to Gareth's delight a Tarantula. Complete with a star filled sky and the company of the resident cat named Jaguar, GT further enjoyed the night walk by tormenting me into thinking I had spiders crawling over me!

Unlike our tour in the Amazon where there was a lot of hammock time, Ailton had our tour jam packed making the most of the weather while it lasted and trying to give us the best experience of the Pantanal possible. Most mornings our day began at 5am with bird watching from an elevated tower to taking a boat journey down the river, always being able to enjoy watching the sunrise. Following breakfast we would then either go out on a walk, take the boat or go horse riding. For us the horse riding was a highlight and I eventually got my horse Pampa into a gallop which was so much fun, although the butt felt it for a long time afterwards. I could tell GT was also enjoying himself on his horse, Shardon, as occasionally he would lean back in the saddle with one hand holding the rope in true cowboy style, whilst the other looked like he was pretending he had a lasso (later I learned he was also humming the song 'Home On The Range' to himself). The afternoons were a mix of boating or safari, completed with sunsets and night walks or spotlighting finishing up with music and dancing and on our final night sitting round an open fire. We saw a completely diverse range of animals and birds to that which we experienced in the Amazon. What was special for us were the Toucans, Hyacinth Macaws and Large River Otters just to name a few. We're both surprised at how our interest in birds has gone from zero to a complete new appreciation. We got the chance to go Piranha fishing again, (a different type to the ferocious red ones in the Amazon) and we almost ended up in the river after Patricia caught a Piranha and got a bit too close to it and then panicking caused the boat to rock wildly. Fishing score in the Pantanal: GT 3 Piranhas, Alanna 0. We fed the resident Caiman, Zico, who was found 12 years ago on the verge of death, so now he's given fish daily to ensure he's still ticking along. Zico was more like a dog than a Caiman, coming by calling his name and jumping for his fish but still we weren't game enough to pat him!

Finishing our trip on a complete high, exhausted and with my legs covered in mossie bites looking more like welts, our unforgettably fantastic experience is thanks to Ailton. With his dream to own his own piece of paradise in the Pantanal I hope he achieves this. He is an incredible guide who has eye sight like a hawk and hearing like Superman and an incredible amount of knowledge, he truly made this tour special. We will return to the Pantanal in years to come to experience his Jaguar tour as the photos of the Jaguars he's seen in his years of a guide are magnificent. If you're going to the Pantanal then there's only one way I would recommend seeing it and that's with Ailton (website attached).
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