A Glitch In Plans, Then Roughing It - Pantanal.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Ecological Expeditions Campsite

Flag of Brazil  , State of Mato Grosso do Sul,
Sunday, January 16, 2011

A glitch in our plans….

Now, most things go to plan when we are travelling, and just happen like they should, but sometimes a glitch causes us to have to come up with an alternative.

Saturday the 15th January was one such day.

We left our hostel (and Argentina - for the last time) in a private taxi to take us over the border and to the bus station in Foz Do Iguacu, the town on the Brazilian side of the border. The first part went to plan with the border not even being busy. When we got to the bus station, however, to buy our ticket to Campo Grande we were in for a bit of a shock. No companies had seats available for 2 days! And more mysterious the Bus Company we had nearly bought tickets with in Argentina for the trip did not appear to exist?. We only had enough days left before our flights out of Brazil to do a Pantanal tour if we started it on Sunday and now we had no bus seats.

We had not bought them earlier for 2 reasons. Firstly our experience in Argentina with buses was that we pretty much could get on a bus when, and to where, we wanted without booking too far ahead. Secondly due to the dramas we had experienced coming from Bolivia into Argentina, using an Argentina bus company, but booked in Bolivia, we thought best not to try and book a Brazilian Bus from outside the country. Now we had no bus tickets and no time to wait.

A travel agent had an office at the bus station so we went to him with our problem. He suggested flying and looked up flights for us. Turns out we could fly but we would have to do a bit of a "Cook's tour" with 3 flights, but we would arrive in Campo Grande that evening and he could book us on a 3 day 2 night Pantanal tour which was all we had time left for.  

Time was ticking away - the first of our 3 flights was due to leave soon, so we said "yes lets do it" and got the tickets, then the booking for the Pantanal tour confirmed, and before long we were in a taxi and off to the airport. In our haste we didn't really check all the details of the tour but we knew it was with a company called "Ecological Expeditions". I do remember the words "camping" and "sleeping in hammocks" now I think about it! Also 1 free night at a hostel was mentioned and getting picked up from the airport, which sounded good considering it would be 3 flights, waiting in between time, and arriving around midnight.

So we found ourselves at the Hostel Campo Grande on Saturday night which was more comfortable than the previously planned overnight locals bus and with a lovely breakfast on Sunday morning. We reduced our luggage to 1 small bag for the tour and left the rest at the hostel and were ready to travel to the Pantanal.

The Pantanal is a massive area of wetlands, some 230,000 square kilometres, and a natural ecological paradise, with more species of exotic wildlife than found anywhere else in South America. The whole area seasonally floods which limits human occupation. We were there just before the annual flooding got underway. During the drier period, cattle are grazed and then all shipped out just before the flooding.

The first stage of our journey was by minivan on good roads and we met our fellow campers, Anders and Rebecca from the UK, and Andy also from the UK. Our van had some others (including 2 from Oz) who were going to a lodge instead of camping. The minivan had a big problem though - the driver! He had huge difficulty staying awake which made for a rather traumatic journey. Then we spotted a Armadillo crossing the road and it seemed like he actually tried to hit it rather than swerve around, not sure if it managed to survive. Eventually we arrived at a crossroads where the Pantanal starts in earnest and waiting was an expedition truck (not blessed with any comforts) for us to climb into.

The road became a rough rutted dirt track with a wooden bridge (ponte) every kilometre or so,and each one numbered. Progress was slow but eventually we dropped off the guests who were taking the lodge option and arrived at a river where our driver said we were going to wait for another group to come back from a river expedition in 10 minutes. We waited and waited...... The five of us were very annoyed as we were just waiting in the sun and it had been quite a long day. Eventually, after an hour and a half, the others joined us from the boat trip, 2 Israelis,1 Dutch, 1 German, 1 Scot, 1 Czech and one other English lady living in Uruguay. We were quite a United Nations! Once they were on board, the truck travelled on and on again down the rutted road until we reached Ponte no. 25 and turned into our camp around 7pm.

Our guide showed us to the sleeping accommodation. It was a roof over a cement floor with a dozen hammocks strung up inside some ineffective insect screening for the walls.

We looked at the hammocks. We tried the hammocks out even. They were strung VERY close together. Quite a romantic notion to sleep in a hammock -  if you are in your twenties! The reality is we would probably both snore, sleeping on our backs all night, with no option to turn over. This, we know, would drive the others mad!  Our guide pointed to a little dome tent and offered us that and thankfully we accepted. If torrential rain happened though, it was not going to offer much protection so we crossed our fingers and put our bag in the tent.

We had a dinner all together in a sort of school camp style mess hall and then it was up onto the very top of the truck to go spotlighting, the two groups together. We saw some wildlife, particularly birds and caiman (like alligators) but on the way back we got a flat tyre in the truck and it was everybody out and walking home - a good 3 kms distance I think.  We crawled into our little tent, killed the mossies we could find, plastered ourselves in "Bushmans" then settled our weary bones onto our very thin foam mattress with no pillow - probably still better than the hammock option though!

It was a 6.00 am start for breakfast and then off in the truck again for more wildlife spotting and a jungle trek for our group of 5 whilst the other group went Piranha fishing. It was so hot in the jungle that sweat just poured off us but we were quite lucky with the mosquito's as they didn't seem to go for us like some of the others. In the afternoon it bucketed down with rain and we reluctantly moved our bedding into the hammock room before setting off again, up the top of the expedition truck to be bounced around while wildlife spotting and then Piranha fishing, this time adorned with plastic rain capes.

Each time we left the camp, we travelled for around an hour or so sitting on a thin bit of foam up the very top of the truck with no backrest so each rut and ditch meant we bounced and thumped around and needed to brace with our arms against the truck rails. It was fun....REALLY!

Avan was the star of the Piranha fishing! Despite heavy raining setting in, he caught the biggest and the best of both groups and enjoyed the fun and challenge of fishing with a bamboo stick. Back at camp the catch were cooked up for us and was surprisingly delicious. Luckily by bed time the rain had eased and we moved back into our little tent, hoping for no more rain.

The next morning a boat trip was planned before we started back to civilisation but we opted out, knowing that to do the boat trip we had to do 2 more hours bumping around in the truck, up and back the same track as we would take when we leave. Neither of us was feeling a 100% with bellies or backs and we also knew we had an overnight bus, then an overnight flight coming up, giving us the next 2 nights with limited sleep. After the others got back from the boat, it was time for lunch and then this time we all squashed into the back of a ute instead of the truck for the trip back to the junction where we were to catch a 5 hour public bus back to Campo Grande.

The hostel picked us and the other three up from the bus station after a phone call. Then after collecting the rest of our luggage from storage we were very pleased that they let us have a shower and towels without even charging us, so we could face the next overnight bus with the dirt of the Pantanal washed off and in clean clothes.

Travel Talk: While in our case pretty much everything we were promised from the trip was delivered, there was a lad who was given a hard time comming by bus from Foz do Iguacu via Bonito, mostly with connections to the tour. We found the tour to be good value at 300 reals each which included all meals, airport pick up and one night at the hostel in Campo Grande. Travel to Buraco das Piranhas was only provided one way with a public bus back. While we did see a good range of wildlife, the tour itself pretty much concentrated on driving up and down the long paddock (road to Corumba) with the occassional visit onto a cattle farm. The truck rides on the road were really bone breaking. Food at the campsite was pretty good. The Pantanal is promoted in travel books as a place to see giant lillies, you wont see them on this tour, I believe these can be seen by taking a tour from Cuiaba. 

Footnote: Pantanal Conservation Area is UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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