The Pantanal

Trip Start Feb 01, 2003
Trip End May 02, 2003

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Saturday, April 26, 2003

We are now back where we started our holiday in Rio de Janeiro. But before we arrived we went on our last big adventure: three days in the Pantanal. The Pantanal is with 280.000 square kilometers the worldīs largest wetlands. It is also home to some 10-35 million alligators! Altogether the Pantanal supports 650 bird species and 80 mammal species, including jaguars, pumas, maned wolf, deer, anteaters, armadillos, monkeys and tapirs. It is also home to worldīs biggest rodent, the capybara.

We left Corumba sitting in the back of a sort of army truck shared with eight more people. The trip there took four hours and was extremely beautiful. The area is a sort of mixture between jungle and meadow landscape and while driving we saw our first alligators and capybaras.

We arrived at our camp for the next three days which consisted of a plot of land dotted with around seven buildings. We found out that our beds where actually hammocks, which would be a first for both of us. After having lunch we went on a walk trying to catch a glimp of some local wildlife. Our guide for the next three days would be a skinny guy called Max. During the walk he showed us some blue Macaws (which are big aras), a howler monkey (called that way because it howls in the morning, a tucan and a huge tarantula, which frightened the girls and excited the boys.

Our guide turned out to be a quiet one as in that he didnīt offer any information about his surroundings. Only through asking questions did we learn something. We arrived back at the camp hungry and soon enough dinner was served. The food was the same as lunch: rice with meatpieces, beans, spaghetti and salad. We would find out that we would get this every meal time (except breakfast) over the next three days. The evening was spent playing cards, sharing stories and drinking some precious beer which we had bought on the way to the camp. At 21:00h already we went to bed, as at 18:30h it is already pitch-dark and we had to do with a few candles. We also had to wake up at 5:00h because we were going to witness sunrise in the Pantanal.

But before we could make our move to our hammocks our guides dragged us out to the road because they wanted us to show us alligators at dark. This was really exciting (not!) as you could see two small red eyes light up in the distance when a light was directed at it. We were more intruiged by the beautiful Milky Way which was stretched out above us. Sensing our disappointment our guides, probably because they and all the staff had been drinking heavily all night, decided they would get into the water and catch a alligator. They spent the next twenty minutes looking for a alligator, although we didnīt have any trouble spotting them ourselves, but then a lot scream went up. Excited we wanted to find out if one of our guides had been dragged under by a croc, but it turned out that Max had actually caught a croc instead of the other way around. He dragged ashore and we all had a good look at it. The alligators here are not that big as in Australia, these ones are probably about 1,5 meter long. It is still a real alligator though, so we had to admit we were quite impressed. When we had satisfied our curiousity it was set free again. Max told us these alligators only attack when stepped on or when they feel threatened.

After a really good sleep in the hammock (Roel getting up at five to watch an amazing sunrise, Betty claiming she had seen it as well from her hammock) we turned up for breakfast, except there was no breakfast. Well, there were little tiny biscuits with honey and watermelon, but that didnīt even come close to satisfying our hunger. We were told that the food delivery had not turned up the previous day. After the ībreakfastī we were scheduled in for a trip on a boat and having a go ourselves in canoos. Max rowed us to a little island where we walked around on for about half an hour. The scenery was absolutely amazing. We walked through a foresty bit and as the top leaves of the trees block out the sunlight, there is hardly any vegetation on the ground. This is quite weird to see as you would expect this sort of enviroment to be really lushly vegetated. It is, just not on forest floors. We then came to the canoos in which we go into the water ourselves. We rowed happily for the next hour seeing quite some birds in the surroundings of the river.

When we came back to the camp we were absolutely starving but we still had to wait two hours for lunch which we wolved down. After lunch the boss, Murillo, showed up (as he had promised before we left) and suddenly noticed all the staff going to work in the field or kitchen. Shortly after there was some commotion and we quickly found out what it was: Murillo had fired all the staff save for the guides. They had not done any work the day before (which was why we had not got any breakfast!) and he found some of the staff drunk already at 13:00h. He explained the situation to us and apologised. His wife was going to be our cook now, so the sitation wouldnīt affect us at all.

Fortunately for us it meant that we were still going horseriding that afternoon. We mounted our horses and set off on what turned out to be quite beautiful ride through the wetlands. We even so, what we called a īcrocosnakeī as it seemed to be right in between a crocodile and a snake. After 1,5 hour we returned to our camp, where we had some free time until dinner was served.

At was then that somebody had spotted an anaconda, ofcourse our guide picked it up and we were able to have a good look at it and even touch it. Later on another anaconda (the place seems to be crawling with these things) was found later in the grass and dogs were loudly barking at it. The anaconda started getting pissed off and lunged itself at one of the dogs and bit it right in the nose, that sort of off scared the dogs of a bit and us as well really (later when we were going to sleep we heard the chickens in the chickencoop going mad and we found out the next day that an anaconda had feasted on one of the chickens).

The last activity which was scheduled for the morning of our last day was piranha-fishing. This sounds quite dangerous so we were eager to get on with it. We drove to a nearby river where we were transported by boat to a little beach at a curve of the river. Here we threw out our lines and waited patiently for piranhas to start taking the bait. After catching some catfish somebody finally caught the first piranha, ofcourse we all had a good look at the razor sharp teeth of the little critter. After 1,5 hour we had caught about seven catfish and two piranhas. Unfortunately Roel didnīt catch anything and Betty caught three fish but they all fell off the hook when she tried to pull them from the water.

After lunch it was time to say goodbye and after a one-hour drive we were dropped off at a busstop where we would catch the bus to Campo Grande. We had to wait a while but then finally a van showed up and transported us to the city. Having booked in at our hotel we immediately had a nice shower as we were really starting to smell by now.
We then went out to get some dinner with an english couple we had befriended in the Pantanal and, after some searching, we found a pizzeria. The waiters here were quite young and one was quite incompetent. That didnīt mean they were not friendly, they even started to tell us their favorite bands and that they were saving up to visit Disney World in America. One even started to sing Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 for us! We had a good laugh and a reasonable pizza though.

The next day we explored the city a bit before boarding a bus to Rio. We set a new record on the way, we spent 23,5 hours on the bus before we arrived. Fortunately the bus was really comfortable so we felt suprisingly fit when we arrived.

For the rest of our holiday we are just going to lie on the beach and Roel will attend some matches at the famous Maracana stadium. We are also planning to go to Paraty, an idyllic, colonial-style village with 300 beaches nearby. So our next update will probably be from paradise itself.
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