Pitching a tent and fishing for Pirahnas

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Mato Grosso do Sul,
Saturday, February 27, 2010

With the Carnaval festivities drawing to an end, we said our farewells to the Goldsteins and met up with our Dragoman group. Most of the logistics of our Carnaval week were run by Dragoman and we were due to start our overland trip with them out of Rio and onto the rest of South America. Dragoman have been doing overland trips around the world for ages and they've been in South America since 1983.

So what exactly is overlanding? Until I started this trip, I had no idea. Basically we’re going to travel overland across South American on a truck with our two tour leaders who also double as drivers and we travel the land as a group without the use of public transport. The truck is set up so that we can be quite self sufficient. We have plenty of drinking water, tents, stoves for cooking, stools, firewood and the inside is decked out with things to pass the time like a library, sound system, tables for card games and comfy seats for plenty of sleeping. The trip is broken up into a few legs where people can leave and join the group but for the most of the group are doing multiple legs like we are. Thankfully most of the people on the trip are pretty cool and all indications point to us having a pretty good time in their company. Of course things might change if we’re stuck in the middle of Patagonia, freezing our butts off and have to eat one another (the move "Alive" was about an Argentinean rugby team, however I think their plane crashed in the Andes). Fingers crossed that there’s plenty of beef around and it doesn’t get to that.

So we departed Rio de Janeiro with Carnaval still in our minds and plenty of sweat everywhere. For males, the truck attire quickly became board shorts sans shirt. Our tour leaders (Juan and Sam) are really cool guys and the next few months are shaping up to be fun ones. They do way more than just drive the truck, they are also the mechanics who have to perform regular services on the truck while we are out having fun and have to worry about things like getting us through police stops and border crossings without us having to pay extortionate bribes. Juan’s a born and bred Argentinian so he’d better hook us up with the beef.

Our first stop was Paraty, the beachside town 3 hours away from Rio. We stopped by a petrol station for lunch and had a tour around the truck, where everything was and how it all worked. Elle (the name of our truck) was going to be our home for the next few months and we had better look after her. Paraty has a nice town centre which has a colonial feel and is also Brazil’s diving capital. We got a few dives in and also got to see some Flying Gurnards. If you want to see a weird looking fish, look it up on Google Images. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of our own because we don’t have an underwater casing for our camera. We would rectify this situation a little later on down the track but that’s a subject for another blog entry.

We hit the road after Paraty and made our way over to Brotas. This was to be the location for the maiden event of us setting up a tent. After a quick demo from our tour leaders, we set one up and were pretty proud of our effort. Until we went to sleep in it and woke up nearly curled in one corner. Our tent was on a slight slope. Laugh all you want but we fared better than some of the other tents around. It stuns me how a camp ground can have areas designated for camping that are clearly NOT flat. There’s another lesson here. It pays to get to a camp site nice and early so that our truck doesn’t get stuck with a crappy slope for a camp site. We found a nice flat spot the next day and promptly relocated. I think we were the only ones to move house. Still amazed at how the rest of our group got any shut eye.

The overland adventure has well and truly begun. We started to settle into the truck life. Things like packing our tents, entertaining ourselves on the truck, cooking in rotating cook groups, holding our bladders until the next petrol station, it all started to become second nature. Nics’ Sony Ebook Reader started to get a workout, a trend that she keeps on most truck days while the back of my eyelids get a workout as I fall asleep at the drop of a hat. That is sadly a trend that is also continuing which I am trying to break.

On a side note, one of the guys on our truck (Tim Makins) has a GPS receiver and is tracking our progress through South America and uploading the maps onto his website and overlaying them onto GoogleMaps. If you would like to see where we have been and how we got there, go here http://www.mapability.com/blogs/gps/ The maps start in Rio de Janeiro and should follow us all the way to Quito. Tim’s been more studious than me with updating his site so you’ll see more routes than I have written about on this blog. It’s really cool, you can see exactly where we are, everything down to our speed profile. He even has some of the hikes that we have been on. You can spend some serious time on his site tracking our progress.

After Brotas, we made our way to the Pantanal where we would get the chance to stay on a real life fazenda (working ranch) which also doubles as a private wildlife reserve. The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland area and is teeming with all sorts of wildlife. Nearly 80% of the Pantanal’s lower lands are flooded during the rainy season. While staying there, we go to see all sorts of amazing animals like the Hyacinth Macaw, Capybaras (the world’s largest rodent which looks like a large hairy guinea pig), 2 pairs of Tapirs (which are extremely rare), Anteaters (also rare), Pirahnas, frogs and plenty of birds. We also regularly saw Caimans (they’re like crocodiles but a little smaller) and they would normally be about 2-3m away from us. During our time here, we got to do plenty of cool things like fish for Pirahnas, feed the Pirahnas that we caught to the Caimans (Nic caught one, I couldn't even catch a cold), go on night safaris, day safaris, see some competitive cattle lasoo-ing, had a traditional Brazillian ranch BBQ (I think I introduced a new carnivorous animal to the Pantanal that evening called Appetitus Maximus, colloquially known as Colin “The Black Hole for a Stomach” Tan).

With heavy hearts (and stomach’s) we bid farewell to the Pantanal and our hosts at the Fazenda on the bumpiest stretch of road I have ever been on. I’m happy to say that the truck survived the ordeal extremely well, while some of the passengers found it hard to fall asleep (I managed a quick nap in there to kill some time). We arrived in Bonito, where we got to check out some freshwater caves with amazing blue water and had another Brazillian BBQ at the hostel we stayed at.

Join us on our next blog when we go on a helicopter ride and get drenched in one of the most beautiful waterfall systems on the planet and brave a trip to Paraguay to buy cheap electronic equipment. The things I’ll do for duty free electronics.
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Kylie on

I love the buildings and streets in these places...so picturesque!
And that cave looks absolutely amazing!!!

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