Move over Mr Attenbourough

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of Brazil  , Mato Grosso do Sul,
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hello again!

It feels like we've been to another planet and back since I last wrote to you. The Pantenal surpassed all our expectation’s.  With some excellent guides, a lot of luck and a lot of memory cards we were able to really test out our wildlife spotting skills.  I know I’m not known for my love of wildlife usually but it is impossible to not be in awe of the variety and abundance of life in this unique place.

(I’ll mainly be uploading photos of some of the animals we were able to see to accompany this blog for two reasons, firstly to try and get across how surrounded we were by so many species and secondly because we are now both so fat that I don’t think we’ll ever be in front of the camera’s for the rest of the trip!)

For those who don’t know much about the Pantenal it’s the largest wetland area in the world, approximately the size of France.  It’s got over 600 bird species which you can see in every direction you look, more animals than I can describe and lots and lots of Caimen (fresh water alligators).   We arrived in the early evening just before sunset at the entrance and transferred from out truck onto an open air trailer to take us the final hour into the farm we were staying at.  Just on the way in we were treated to a beautiful sunset and many animals hanging around the road at dusk so we thought we were in luck from the start.

The farm we stayed in was an hour from the Bolivian border and we were spending two nights there in hammocks, which proved to be more comfortable than you might think.  While dinner was cooking for us Paulo and Max, our two guides, took us on a nature night walk.  It was an exhilarating experience following two men with machetes into the darkness in search of alligators!  It’s fair to say that even before we saw any animals, just walking across the plains in the pitch black with the stars from horizon to horizon was something I’ll never forget and unfortunately couldn’t photograph to pass on to you all to enjoy.  It was the sense of being more 'outdoors’ than I’ve ever been in my life!  We walked past the dirt road that we came in on and I made the mistake of shining a torch onto it only to see the entire road was alive with insects of all shapes and sizes going about their business.  Paulo showed us one particular ant that you can eat but I personally didn’t take up the challenge as it was still wriggling at the time.  Eventually we got to the lake and the only creatures we could see were mosquito’s, and they were in abundance, until Paulo shone his torch across the lake.  All of a sudden the whole group seemed to take a step backwards as a hundred pairs of eyes all glinted at us across the lake, there were plenty of Caimen around!!  It was pretty breathtaking to see and even more so when Max waded in and grabbed a small one out of the water with his hands to tell us more about them.

Not long after this we saw an armadillo dart under a bush and somehow managed to catch up with in the dark for a quick photo shoot.  The other animals who were subtly watching us from the lake were Capiburahs (no idea on the spelling again!) which are the worlds largest rodents and are affectionately known as water pigs.  They’re like giant guinea pigs the size of regular pigs and very cute – we saw lots of these throughout the trip.

In good spirits we went back to the farm and had a slap up Brazilian carbohydrate and salt packed dinner of beans, potatoes, pasta and meat.  All really good food but with the amount of beans we all got through our room had some rather jet propelled hammocks swinging away during the night!  We wound down for the evening with a fire and were graced with the presence of an elephant beetle (I can’t describe this guy, you just have to see the photo!) and then we went to bed fairly early as I planned to set the alarm for 5am for the sunrise.

And it was worth it!

No one else was up and it was like I had the entire Pantenal to myself as I saw the first sunlight start to creep across the horizon.  Stage by stage you could hear all the different birds wake up which must have been the howler monkeys alarm clock who then earned their name by making enough noise to ensure the rest of Brazil was aware morning had broken too.  At this time in the morning, and at this point Steve had rolled out his hammock to come and join me, we were lucky to see the rarest macaw in Brazil.  The Hyacinth Macaw, purple with yellow rings around it’s eyes, very beautiful and we got to see four in one tree – although I’m still not convinced it was enough to convince Steve of the early mornings!

That day we went around seeing the Pantenal by hiking and on horseback.  Paulo was very knowledgeable and we saw dozens of different types of hawks, eagles, vultures, parrakets, macaws, storks, herons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, deer, fox’s, water pigs, caimen and so many more things that I only know the Portuguese name for so haven’t got much hope in passing on to you.  We also collected some palm leaves and seeds to make jewelry which I’ll try to put a picture up of as they were very labor intensive but very pretty.  Surprisingly I survived the horse ride without an asthma attack but had to be pretty drugged up to do it and for the final stretch across the plains to the farm we let our horses go into a canter which was very exhilarating, especially as we were riding one handed like the horses are trained in Brazil.  Gained a fair few bruises in the process but no pain no gain.

That evening we were relaxing in the hammocks outdoors with our feet dangling over the side when Paulo spotted a viper loitering underneath one of the girls hammocks.  We’d been watching a lightning storm on the horizon so it had obviously decided to take shelter under the rotunda with us.  It was pretty scary, especially as we got a brief power cut moments later and lost all light but it came back quickly and we put out boots back on and got a 15 minute storm before it blew over.

For our final day and night we relocated by an hour south to the side of a river and stayed in beautiful wooden cabins in actual beds!  Pretty exciting as we haven’t seen a bed since England!  The lodge had its own wooden walkway that you could walk around to see the wildlife and we were treated to some more excellent sightings including four howler monkeys up close in the trees by our cabin.  In the morning the rest of the group went Piranha fishing and I went Piranha feeding as all I could achieve was getting them to eat my bait and swim off!  Steve caught two yellow fin piranha’s which were later cooked up for us to eat in two forms, a lovely baked version and a rather ‘fishy’ soup version which was more like just putting it in a blender.  We were offered a chance to then swim in the river with the piranhas and caiman but our traditional British sense of health and safety kept us away from that one.

Our final activity was a boat ride on the river which meant we got a very rare animal sighting indeed.  We went past a small fishing boat with some locals in who were grinning a lot and once they had our attention one of them stood up and held up the biggest catfish you are ever likely to see in your life (even more reason to be glad we didn’t got for a swim!) I can’t do it justice you’ll have to see the photo to believe it…

So while the rest of the group settled down with a beer in the bar I dragged Steve off for one more nature walk in search of the one thing that I didn’t have a photo of, a Tucan.  Unbelievably just as the sun was setting one swooped down into the tree next to us and posed for all of 10 seconds before taking flight again.  We both stood open mouthed at each other that we were so lucky, as they are very elusive, and I’ll treasure that picture more than any other as it’s a sign of absolute persistence (and complete luck) that we pulled it off in our last few minutes of daylight in the Pantenal.

So we were up at 5am this morning again and back on the road for a long drive and another ‘free camp’ which we hope will be more successful than the last – but unlikely to be as epic!  Then next stop tomorrow lunchtime at Foz, the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls.  We’re going to pop over into Paraguay for a look at the black market too but tune in next time to hear how that turns out…

Thanks for reading!


Amy and Sun-rise Steve
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