Stalked...By An Alligator!

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Sunday, March 5, 2006

Yes, I was stalked by an alligator, but that´s later in this entry.....

Back in Santa Cruz Farah decided that it was time to get herself to Argentina. She`d already spent far longer in Bolivia than originally planned and left after a couple of days via Oruro, The Salar de Uyuni and then into Chile, eventually reaching Argentina.

I hung around a little longer in Santa Cruz. To be honest I just didn`t know where to go next. Eventually I plumped to head to Brazil! To The Pantanal, I had to go and see what those Evil Clowns were on about!

I had to catch the overnight train to the Brazilian border with two options of tickets, the 3.50 UK pound First Class, or 7 UK pound ´Super Pullman´. In order to try and decide I asked the guy what the difference between the two were. "The Super Pullman is better" was his reply. On the strength of this I decided to splash out for the ´Better´ carriage.

I got to Corumbá early the next day without too many problems. I met some other tourists at the passport control and tagged along with them to find a hostel. As it turned out the hostel found us and we were rounded up and hearded into their old VW Campervan, turned out to be a fairly good cheap place. They also ran the "Green Tracks" Pantanal tour and before long I was signed up for that as well. 230 Reais is about 104 US Dollars for three days, two nights. A Pretty good deal for Brazil.

Three of us left in the morning. Laurent from France, a little older than me and near the end of 1.5 years in South America, and Grace from the UK, 22, just finished university, young and you`d know it.

The drive to the camp was brilliant and we were joined by our guide, Marcelo, who pointed out a number of animals on the way to camp including Giant Otters, Caymens, and the Ubiquitous Capivara.

It turned out that the crowd already at the camp were fairly young in themselves, much more suited to Grace. Oh dear, it could be a long few days. After a short rest, which I spent sitting in my hammock reading a great Ben Elton book that I`d just swapped, we headed out for a forest walk. I loved the ants making their tracks through the forest, carrying all manners of matter.

We came across a group of Howler Monkeys and our guide called out to them using a distress call of the female. The Male Howler Monkey´s reaction to this was to go bananas! He starts shouting out and shaking his tree, he´s trying to scare off whatever is bothering his posse. It´s funny to watch but our guide did warn us that they´ve been known to deficate on tourists that pull this stunt on them, so don`t look up while underneath them!

Our guide was fearless, walking around barefoot and jumping into the water to try and catch some interesting fish. He´s a brilliant guy and I reckon he´ll be a lot of fun.

More hammock time followed before a delicious dinner and our ´night safari´! This consisted of heading down the road with everyone squeezed in the back of the jeep with a big spot light. We saw a few owls and a whole bunch of Capivara who would only get up out of the way of the jeep at the last moment, a few of us on the jeep wondered how many of them we could take on at once in a wrestling match. Then the guide told us they have really sharp teeth and all bets were off!

Back at the camp the group of juniors continued to talk a lot of nonsense so I called it a night and went to swing in my hammock. It wasn´t long before I was joined by Laurent (In the hut, not the hammock...) who also couldn´t stomach the chit chat, at least we had each other!

Our morning excursion was a horse ride, the horses were really tame and docile. My horse was a follower and was only happy once he stuck his nose into the rear end of the horse in front and followed, regardless of how I tried to cajole him. The trip was brilliant again and it wasn´t long before we were clip clopping through waist high water. Not much wildlife to see but I loved the scenery

Things got interesting in the afternoon, it was time for the Piranha fishing. We all got a rod each and a handful of raw cow. We attached the bait and then went fishing. It was possible to fish from the shore but it was perfectly safe to enter the water up to your neck and fish from there, so long as you weren´t bleeding! After the first batch of piranhas had stripped the bait from around my hook I had to return to the shore for my cache of bait. I couldn´t find it, it turned out that one of the dogs that had followed us had had his wicked way with the tempting food.

Laurant was far more successful than me, catching one in the first 5 minutes, meanwhile I was just feeding them and getting them fat for future tourists. After about half an hour one of the guys shouted out "Guys, do you see the alligator in the middle of the pond?". Oh!, yes I do now. Marcelo assured us that it was fine and we continued to fish. He, or perhaps she (Steve Irwin wasn´t around with his finger), then proceeded to head towards Laurent and I at such a slow speed. It´s quite exciting being neck deep in a pond full of Piranhas with an alligator thinking all sorts of nasty thought about you.

After a while he´d gotten quite a bit closer so I shouted to Marcelo, "He´s really close now".
He replied back, "Oh yes, perhaps you should get out!"

No perhaps about it, when the guide that´s lived his entire life in the Pantanal tells you to run away from the Alligator, you listen. We moved to another section of the pond and continued on.

He started coming back up towards us again, ever so slowly, these animals have infinite patience. When he got too close again we abandoned pond and to another section. After a while he submerged and we no longer knew where he was. At this, everyone got out of the water, nobody wanted to share his pond with him when we didn´t know where he was.

He did eventually surface again but by then it was time to call it quits. I managed to catch a total of zero fish. Laurent managed to bag three, I didn´t even get very close. I´m obviously not a fisherman. The best part was when the Piranhas were included on that night´s menu, not actually an awful lot of meat on them and heaps of bones.

There was no way to top the fishing, but the next morning we headed off on a canoe trip. It started off so well, only sinking once in the first few minutes, after that we got the hang of it. We only had one paddle and a big punting stick which made it difficuilt, neither Laurent or I had the skill necessary to stand in the boat and punt along as if we were in Venice. We had to hang around after a short period of time which a group of arguing Israelis managed to get their act together and work in the same direction. Everything was going fine until our boat split at the back. We started taking in a bit too much water. Laurent shuffled forward in the boat to readjust the weight and we had to catch up another boat to borrow their plastic container to bail out the water.

We arrived in a swimming area, and we jumped in. The water was lovely and cool as the day was scorching hot. This is where our troubles really started, we couldn´t get back in the boat. Laurent managed to skip in, but when I tried to join him I added just a little too much weight and I had to jump out again before I sank us. We then proceeded to pull the boat along which walking through the water-lillies, at least it was beautiful. The roots of the plants would get entangled around my body and I´d need to continuously rip them off me. After a little while I had a little bunch of lillies following me through the water.

we came to a section where we could use the bank to get in, managing it this time. This had all taken a few hours and we´d pretty much had enough. We just got our heads down and headed straight back. While you probably couldn´t call our canoe trip a success we did have a lot of fun together, there were others though that took it all a little more seriously and couldn´t see the funny side of it!

With this our Pantanal trip was over, just a little more time in my hammock before the truck took Laurent and I back to Corumbá. I really did enjoy it and I´m happy that I came out here just for this, really really worth it.

I had a couple of days to wait in Corumbá until I could get the train back to Bolivia, and I loved just hanging around, in a hammock of course!
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