Across the Panatanal and into Bolivia

Trip Start Jan 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The day after my last entry, I headed into the Pantanal. As most of you will know, I'm not really a big lover of all things wildlife-y, but since the Pantanal was on my way, I thought it would be rude (and rather silly) not to stop off there. I stayed at the Posada Santa Clara, about 6 hours from Campo Grande, which is basically a big farm where they supplement their income by having tourists stay over and taking part in activities.

I got off the bus with an Aussie and and English guy and we got into the back of what I can only describe as a pick-up truck to get from the main road to the Posada. Already, I'd got 2 mosquito bites, this did not bode well! The Posada was in a lovely location, and the guides there were all really friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Almost as soon as I arrived, I was taken on a boat trip on the nearby river where we saw loads of wildlife; iguanas, monkeys, these giant rodent things that look a bit like Moomins, tons of different types of birds and plenty of caymans, which are basically dwarfy alligators! We even fed one of the older caymans right beside the tiny little boat we were in. (I've got a video of it that I'll try to upload, but I'm not promising anything!)

The next day I went horse-riding, which was quite relaxing really and in the afternoon, we went on a wildlife drive / walk. We saw lots of stuff, but I couldn't get many really good photos. The tucans were particularly camera shy! I spent 2 nights at the Posada and despite covering myself from head to foot in clothing and repellant, I still got eaten alive by mosquitoes! I had to give the last activity (piranha fishing) a miss as I was having a bad reaction to the bites and my left foot and ankle had swollen up so that it was quite difficult to walk.

I left the Posada on Sunday afternoon and hoped to cross the border to Bolivia, but it seems I was given duff information by the hostel in Campo Grande, so had to spend the night in Corumba. The next morning I got my exit stamp for Brazil and headed to the border on the back of a moto-taxi (a motorbike that provides a taxi service) with my 20 kilo ruck sack, 4 kilo hand-luggage and sleeping bag. I think the word to describe it is "exhilerating". Getting into Bolivia was fine, but getting out of the town of Quijarro was more difficult than I expected. I thought I'd be able to get on the overnight train to Santa Cruz, but there were no tickets left for that day, and the only tickets for the next day were in the cheap, cramped, non-air-conditioned seats. There's not a lot to do in Quijarro apart from sweat in the 40 degree heat, and embrace the griminess; there's only 1 paved road, all the rest are dirt tracks so there's a lot of dust!

The train journey to Santa Cruz was less than pleasant, but I made it in good time and headed straight to the hostel I'd made reservations for. Unfortunately, I got into a dodgy taxi and had a run in with the fake police I'd been warned about by the Lonely Planet. I'm fine, completely unharmed and have not lost any money or belongings, but it was unsettling; here's the short version. After agreeing with the "taxi driver" a price to the hostel we left the train station. Within 2 minutes we'd pulled over on the main road and a man claiming to be a police officer wanted to check my passport. He got into the taxi and produced "identification" which looked less impressive than a library card to be frank. He said there was a big problem with drugs coming over the border from Brazil and that he wanted to see my passport, then he decided he wanted to search my belongings. I obviously rejected his requests (I clung onto my handbag and my rucksack has 3 locks on it so he wasn't going to get them without a fight!) and requested that we go to a police station if any documents were to be checked or searches to be conducted. We repeated these exchanges and didn't seem to be making any progress and that was when I really started to worry about my safety as I couldn't see how it was going to end. I was understandably frustrated and my voice started getting wobbly but I stood my ground and eventually he gave up. He left the taxi, telling me I had to report to the Immigration Office the next day. The taxi driver then drove back to the main road and dumped me by the roadside in a strange town where I had no idea where anything was. I managed to flag down a legitimate taxi and got to the hostel safe and sound.

I was tired, sticky, upset about the run in with the "police" and had a migraine coming on. I was not feeling good! But the hostel was lovely, more like a hotel. I took a painkiller, had some sleep and when I woke up, United were on the telly against Newcastle; things were on the up! And a Skype conversation with Jac put me back on track. I stayed in Santa Cruz for 2 nights while I got over my migraine and headed for Sucre where I am now. The journey here was 15 hours overnight, 12 of which were on unpaved road so there was little sleep again. But as the sun rose, you could see the landscape and it was breath-taking! Needless to say, I'm feeling back to my old self and have only got a few days before I meet up with Sam and we start our 3 week tour together. I'm past the halfway point of my time in South America, which is pretty scary, but I'm still loving it!
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