The Pantanal

From Florianopolis we took a flight towards the border with Bolivia to an area known as the Panatanal. The journey was a little more exciting that we would have liked: we misread the flight time on the tickets and ordered a taxi for 6am rather than 6pm. Trying to explain this to the taxi driver when he arrived in our non existent Portuguese was not easy or fun. When we finally arrived in Campo Grande at 11.30pm, the guy from the hostel who was supposed to pick us up was no where to be seen. So we got a taxi to the hostel which turned out to the wrong place and the guy at reception told us to walk to another hostel (in the dead of night, in a strange city, with all our bags). Eventually we got it sorted but it wasn’t an auspicious start.

We booked a 4 day tour, staying in some rustic, ant infested huts in a tiny village called Lontra on the Rio Miranda. Each year this river (and others) floods, rising from less than 3 metres deep to more than 18 metres deep and creates the world’s largest wetlands. This year had had the worst floods since 1974 and we could see the tide marks on the houses.

On the first afternoon/evening we went piranha fishing to catch our supper although fortunately we had plenty of rice and beans too as there is surprisingly little flesh on piranhas. The next morning we went out on a boat trip and saw hundreds of birds from huge Jabiru stalks, herons, egrets and toucans. There were howler monkeys playing in the trees and capybaras (the world’s largest rodent) on the banks and, of course, 2 metre long caiman in the water.

In the evening we climbed into the back of a safari truck (which we had to push to start) and went on a night drive. This was a bit less exciting as we were restricted to the one road in the area that hadn’t been washed away but we saw 2 foxes and plenty of caiman’s eyes glinting in the water.

We also went on a couple of hikes which made us (well, me) feel like an extra in a in Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, wading through waist deep swamp water, surrounded by mosquitoes, grateful of the fact we could see the caiman in the water unlike the anacondas. It certainly got the pulse racing! We also saw loads of wildlife including herds(?) of wildboar, racoons, deer and armadillos but unfortunately not any puma or jaguars although we did see footprints of both.

Speaking to others, we were clearly incredibly lucky with the amount of wildlife we saw. We also had an guide who spoke perfect English and had phenomenal hearing, even over and above the sound of us falling over and slapping mosquitoes. From here we intended to go back to Campo Grande and fly to Bolivia. However we were persuaded by some fellow travelers that we had time to squeeze in a quick snorkel in the Rio Sucuri near a town called Bonito. Apparently they are quite militant about protecting this area and it showed. The water was amazingly clear and we drifted down river for an hour or so admiring the fish before taking a taxi back into town and jumping on a 5 hour bus back to Campo Grande. Then, a couple of hours in, the bus broke down. The driver jumped out to fix it and the minutes and then the hours ticked by, getting closer and closer to our flight’s departure time. In the end they sent another bus which provided us with a spare part and we got the airport just in time.

So we’re now in Bolivia, enjoying how cheap everything is and the fact that we can understand what people are saying! We’ll blog again soon…

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