The Pantanal

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Oct 15, 2010

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Where I stayed
Salette Hotel

Flag of Brazil  , Mato Grosso do Sul,
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We have had the most fantastic three day tour of the huge Pantanal wetland. We're both exhausted but have made some great friends and have got company for our 17 hour train ride into Bolivia this evening!

We spent the last night in Bonito, in our free private room loving the feel of a bed under our backs and not just the hard grass! We woke early and had a lovely breakfast, then piled into an air conditioned mini bus to take us to the fazenda (working farm). Four hours later, after some serious cattle traffic on the road, we made it to the start of the bumpy dirt track which leads into the heart of the Pantanal.

We had to wait a little while for the pick up truck from the fazenda to meet us, so we grabbed our binoculars and started scouting for wildlife. We saw tonnes of caimen (relative of the crocodile) and birds hiding in a small swamp next to a little shack where a family lived...not sure I would be so happy living that close to the water!

Our open air truck came, there were 13 of us so it was a squeeze to get us all in. Jamie and I were at the front so we got the best views of the surrounding wetland. Hundreds of caimen, all different coloured birds and plenty of cows created a very musical background noise.

It was half an hours drive to the fazenda, we had paid quite a lot of money for it and we unsure of what to expect. Set in over 1000 hectares of forest- 10% used for farming cows and horses, the rest for tourism, they had created a little oasis of peace (except for the cacophony of parrots in the mornings) and tranquility complete with swimming pool, hammocks in the shade and clean, tidy dormitary rooms. The food was excellent- we have eaten very well, rice and beans being the main dish with extras such as mashed potato, stewed beef, chicken nuggets, boiled vegetable (my favourite) and pasta. It was worth every penny! We can reccomend it to anyone heading that way- it is Fazenda Santa Clara and our very informative and friendly  English speaking guide was Tom.

We arrived around 12pm, so after a huge tasty lunch, we had an hour to relax and unpack before our first activity- the walking safari (we were only 8 people as the others were camping and doing different activities). We started down the dirt tracks underneath the scorching sun, but soon Tom took us off into the fields and forests where we saw howler monkeys, toucans, macaws (big parrots), huge birds of prey, owls and many storks of all different varieties. Tom talked us through the medicinal value of all the different plants and trees and how the indigenous Indians who moved north some years ago used them as there is little access to medical facilities. All in all, we walked at a steady pace for 4 hours and learned a great deal about the fauna and flora of the area. The mosquitos were bad but we had plastered ourseeves in 100% DEET so they were not interested in us! We all walked back to the farm under a beautiful sunset and settled in for another great meal and an early night!

Next morning, we woke up at dawn to the screeching of the paraqueets on our window sill, the pigs snorting at our door and several goats adding to the noise. We gave up trying to get back to sleep and ventured out to enjoy the sunrise and watch the wildlife that comes to the doorstep. The fazenda have bird feed out for the parrots and they catch fish in their own pond to feed the vultures- so there is never a quiet moment! A good cup of coffee and some delicious cake (yes- it is allowed to eat cake and biscuits for breakfast here) and we were off to the river for a boat safari. It was only a small boat, but comfortable, so we spent 4 hours quietly motoring downstream admiring the fantastic array of birds and animals on the banks enjoying the morning sunshine. There were huge herons, beautiful kingfishers- we saw the local type and the Amazonian kingfisher which we were pleased about. The largest rodents in the world are found here- they lined the banks in the in their small family units and watched us go by with curiosity. We did not see a jaguar or an anaconda, but the large quantity of caimen made up for it!

We reached the limits of the farms land so turned around and power boated back to the dock where they picked up the tubes for tubing. We then boated another 2km upstream where everyone jumped into the caimen and pirahna infested water for a relaxing float back to civilization. More birds and the odd monkey lined the shoreline. We were told to stay in the middle of the river so that the caimens didn't mistake our toes for fish! An hour or so later, we pulled ourselves back onto land ready for another delicious lunch and a couple of hours in the hammock.
Late afternoon, we had a jeep safari, so we all piled into another open top truck and off we trundled in search of more wildlife and to enjoy the fantastic scenery from a good vantage point. We saw more caimen, more birds- toucans and parrots with plenty of storks to break up the colours! Rare deer darted away through the water as we passed by- watched eagerly by beady eyed caimen.

As the sun began to sink in the sky, we stopped the truck on one of many bridges for a spot of pirahna fishing with bamboo poles, wire, hook and steak as bait!!! Within minutes of dropping the line into the water, you can feel them biting, and then the line pulls really quickly and I was way too slow so my pirahnas just stripped me of my bait. We kept trying, Jamie almost caught two- as he says- he dropped them back into the water on purpous! Two others in the group caught a couple of big ones, so we all had photos and admired the many rows of viscious little teeth they have in their mouths! A huge Jabiru stork- the symbol of the Pantanal, white all over the body, with a black head and a long red neck and long black legs flew like a plane at us and landed just in front of the bridge. Standing as tall as me and with a beak as long as my arm it was quite formiddable. But it was a clever bird that only wanted to eat the pirahna that we caught. It waited around for a while to see if we caught anymore but our lack of fishing skills sent it flying away just as we caught another one which we ended up feeding to the hungry caimen.
Another animal attracted by our fishing was the giant otter, which I have always wanted to see. They make the most horrendous noise though- grunting and shrieking at an ear splittingly loud volume. They were always in pairs and they seemed to be at every bridge we crossed.

A colourful sunset lead on to the night jeep safari where we saw ant eaters, tarantulas the size of dinner plates and the eerie shining eyes of hundreds of caimen. The sky was crystal clear and with no other light, the stars were out in force with the crescent moon and milky way lighting our path. We returned to the fazenda for another amazing meal and another early night as we were shattered.

The birds were out in force the following morning so rather than attempt to get back to sleep, we set out for a horse back safari. Bearing in mind I have only ridden once before and Jamie never, it made for interesting viewing! I got the smallest horse so I didn't have to fall as far (in theory) who was very well behaved and seemed to drive himself and did not need much work from me. Jamie had a larger horse who had a bit of an attitude and kept biting all the other horses on the bum when he was walking behind them. So the other horses did not like his horse and none of them wanted to walk by him!! One of the horses had a very bad stomach and was explosively pooing and farting everywhere, so the aim of the day was not to be behind this horse and not to get pooed on! We had a go at trotting slowly, and managed to get the hang of it, eventually mastering the faster pace. We didn't see as much wildlife though as we were concentrating too hard on staying on the horse, but it was great fun and we will definitely be riding again in the future. Both of us are trying to ignore the saddle sores this morning though!

Sadly, we had to drag ourselves away from the refreshing pool and the shady hammocks to pile back into a hot and dusty truck to speed along the bumpy track back to the main road. The public bus to Corumba was waiting for us, so the five of us heading that way piled on. Air conditioned heaven for all of 1 hour! Arriving in Corumba, we were a little late for the border crossing to Bolivia, so we stayed the night in a hotel near the centre of town. Corumba seems nice, it's seriously hot but there is a pretty plaza (small park in the cente of a block) with shady trees, statues and plenty of benches to watch the world walk by.

We met an Australian girl who had just arrived from Bolivia, so all went to dinner and had a few beers. We are having a lazy morning waiting for midday when we can cross the border and buy our train ticket.
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