Bonito by name, beautiful by nature

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Thursday, February 16, 2006

Some places live up to their names, and others don't. Well, this one does, quite literally. 'Bonito' means beautiful.

The beauty here, however, is aquatic. Sounds a bit bizarre for a town that's hundreds of miles from the sea. We really were not expecting to be donning wetsuits and snorkels out in the heart of cattle farming country. But here, a network of underground rivers, welling up in places to create streams of the purest water, allows one to take a unique look at freshwater plant and animal life.

The four of us (Rich and I, with Barbara and Stephan from Switzerland) arrived in Bonito well after dark on Monday 13 February. We tracked down the pleasant Pousada Sao Jorge, which Marcello, our guide in the Pantanal, had recommended to us, then went to explore the town. It's a quaint, tidy little place with good tourism infrastructure - tour agencies, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops etc. We booked our outing for the next day - a visit to the Gruta do Lago Azul (Blue Lake Cave), a snorkelling session in the Rio da Prata, and a visit to the Buraco das Araras (Macaws' Hole). All by private taxi transport. The package cost a small fortune, and we sure as hell hoped it would be worth it!

On Tuesday morning at 8am we slid into the taxi, a comfy Fiat sedan, and drove the hour or so to our first stop, the Blue Cave. Hair nets and hard hats were handed out before we walked the 200m or so to the entrance, from where the path descended into the yawning mouth of the cave, lined with stalactites like giant teeth.

At the very back of the cave, like a bright blue tongue, lies a still lake of pure, crystal-clear water. The almost unnatural blue colour of the water is apparently due to the high concentration of magnesium and calcites in the water. As we walked further down into the cave, rays of morning sun lit up the rock formations around us, and the electric colour of the lake intensified. Just beautiful.

From the cave, it was an hour and a half or so to Rio do Prata. The river snorkelling expeditions are based on a fazenda, which also provides excellent facilities and a tasty buffet lunch (the owners of the farm must be doing very nicely! The trip is costs about US$ 40).

We geared up with wetsuits, snorkels etc and went down to the river - by jeep and the last 300m or so by foot. Our first sight of the river took our breaths away... the water is crystal-clear and incredibly blue, like the Gruta Azul. Looking down from the jetty, we could see schools of enormous fish swimming lazily around. Needless to say, we didn't waste a minute getting in!

Minutes later our guide called us over to the river bank at the far side. He pointed underwater at a slowly moving shape... an anaconda!!! The beast was about four metres long, not very fat, and was slithering underwater along the river bank. We watched it for several minutes (check out the little movie clip). Amazing!

We spent the next two-and-a-half hours floating gently downriver, immersed in the world of massive dourados (golden, salmon-like), pacus (purply-black, disk-shaped) and other freshwater fish. The visibility was so perfect and the fish so calm, that it felt like we were swimming in a giant aquarium. In places the river would narrow, overhung by lush forest. Then it would widen into pools, with the white sand at the bottom 'bubbling' where underground water pushed to the surface.

The most awe-inspiring, blissful three hours imaginable. And definitely worth every penny.
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