The first thing we want to do on this post is a quick update on our previous post with a great photo taken by Andy of the underwater scene at Rio da Prata in Bonito. It shows just how clear the waters were and how many fish we saw.
Next we made our way to The Pantanal, this is a vast wetland area, twenty times the size of the Everglades in Florida. It sits in Southern Brasil close to the border with Bolivia, and it is hot, very hot! While we were there it was 30 degrees by 6am and the mercury steadily rose past 40 degrees during the day. The Pantanal appears to be in the infancy of tourism, farms are opening up their doors, extending the accommodation and offering tours of the area. There is absolutely nothing else on offer outside of the lodge where you stay, the farms are at least 10 miles apart. One of the main reasons people come to the Pantanal is to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive jaguar.
This was our hope and we had a guide, Rodrigo, for 3 days who was going to help. We knew the jaguar were difficult to spot but when Rodrigo said he had been in the Pantanal for 10 years and had seen a jaguar only 26 times our level of expectation dropped. We’re not going to spend time building up how difficult these big cats are to spot and then at the end say how lucky we were to see one drinking by a river. We simply didn’t see one, not a glimpse not even a bush that looked like one. We walked through the trees by day and at night, we went down the river on a boat, we even went looking on horseback. No jaguar sighting for us!
In some ways we were a little disappointed until we sat down and thought about it. We saw so many other things in the Pantanal including capybara, the world’s largest rodent weighing in at 60 kg’s, thats a big rat! We saw iguana, dozens of caiman (part of the crocodile family) and an unbelievable array of birds in sizes from kingfishers to giant storks and every colour imaginable. Perhaps our favourite was the toucan, when these birds fly they look so front heavy a crash landing looks inevitable.
The other thing we found extraordinary was the night sky. We were so far from any towns or villages that there was virtually zero light pollution which made star-gazing exceptional. We have seen pictures of the milky way but to see it stretched out in front of you is a real sight. The whole thing was made even better by a light show on the ground put on courtesy of an army of fireflies. Forget the jaguar, the Pantanal is still great.
On one afternoon we went piranha fishing, yes, piranha fishing… apparently they’re not as dangerous as their reputation portrays. We were given a long bamboo rod with some line and a hook, it was just a case of hang some meat on the hook, throw the line in and hope for the best. If things had continued according to plan this could have been a relatively relaxing couple of hours, however, it didn’t. The first thing to happen was two caimans, both well over two metres long, emerged from the water onto the river bank! …. one of them right between us. “Don’t worry, if you don’t touch them they won’t harm you” was Rodrigo’s advice! We continued fishing.
Then the sky started to get dark and a few drops of rain fell. We continued fishing. Then the sky got black, the heavens opened and rain came down in sheets, rain so hard it was hurting our arms, we continued fishing. Then an almighty crack of thunder and flash of lightning. Sarah said “I’ve had enough” Steve continued fishing. The rain came down so heavy it was laughable, then Steve felt a tug on his line, he yanked it up and there was a piranha hanging on the end. “You got one” said Tristan who was fishing close by. Slowly Steve pulled his rod to the shore with the rain still hammering down and the lightning still flashing, then with the piranha almost landed, it squirmmed and wriggled and came off the hook. The one that got away! The group did catch 10 piranhas, with Sophie accounting for 5 of them! and they were barbecued that evening for dinner. Piranha fishing with caimen in a biblical storm… sign me up!
The Pantanal is remote, difficult to get to and the heat and bugs can make it hard work. Everyone was bitten by mosquitoes (some more than others). Steve managed to get away with just 5 bites and Sarah not many more. However on one evening walk Chloe, a young girl from the UK, was bitten so many times they were uncountable. There must have been close to a hundred on every part of her body. “I’ve been bitten so many times I need a blood transfusion” was her comment. It didn’t stop her though…. the next morning after an uncomfortable night with very little sleep she was back on a boat sailing down the river looking for that bloody jaguar!!
After the Pantanal we had another of those spectacularly long drives. 1700 kilometres, over 3 days in 40 degree heat. “Come on Didingo… you can do it”. Unfortunately, unlike Argentina and Chile, bush camping in Brasil is not that easy. We have to rely on service stations which also double up as truck parks for the never ending line of logging lorries. Deforestation is massive in Brasil, you can hear about it in the media but when you see it first hand it really becomes real. We don’t know much about the policy here but it seems a lot of cutting down and not much replanting.
Some of the service stations are bad and some are worse than that. On one evening we pulled in after travelling for 11 hours. It had been an incredibly hot day, probably the hottest so far. We put up our tent and Sarah pointed out a few bugs nearby, then a few more, then a few more, the place was swarming. Also around here the insects are not the smallest, at one point we had a praying mantis, a rhino beetle and an 8 inch locust all marching towards the tent!! That is until Chris came by, picked them up and moved them along!!! “I was just about to do that myself” shouted Steve from the other side of the service station (whilst Sarah was wetting herself with laughter at her macho husband….not!!!!!).
Also on one of the long drive days it was Steve’s birthday. Not the best way to spend the day but after dinner at the bush camp Nikki produced a couple of pineapple and banana upside down cakes and two candles. Everyone sang ‘happy birthday’ and Steve blew out the candles and made a wish that no monster sized insects would invade the tent that night. Nikki had also managed to get a card which everyone had signed … she is a brilliant tour leader. Sophie then attacked Steve’s beard which is starting to get a little out of control. She used Dylan’s orthodontic plastic bands to good effect. Well some people liked it!
The end of the long drive and our final stop before Rio has been in a small coastal town called Paraty. This is a lovely little place, it has an old town with cobbled streets and a great atmosphere. It is very popular amongst Brazilians and foreign tourist alike and justifiably so. Cozy restaurants, nice bars and loads of interesting shops. It is also extremely scenic and has a definite feel of some of the places we have visited in Southeast Asia, with islands full of thick green vegetation scattered throughout the large bay and beaches backed by thick jungle.
In Paraty the whole group went out on a boat trip together which stopped at several beaches and we were able to snorkel and swim at the stops, yet again there was an abundance of fish to see. As part of the trip free Caprihanas were on offer, these are the traditional Brazilian cocktail and as you can imagine quite a few people took advantage of them being free!! The results were predictable with Tristan forcing his brace involuntarily through his bottom lip in an attempt at a dive that Tom Daly would have been proud of and Dylan voluntarily eating his lunch of rice beans and chicken in 5 handfuls for a bet! That boy has financed his trip on stupid bets!! Good for him! Luckily we made it back to shore before the coastguard had to be called…. Just!
We spent our second day in Paraty sitting on the beach enjoying the sun and wandering around the old town eating ice cream and drinking coffee (we had eventually found a place that sells half decent coffee). To say they grow the stuff here, they are not that brilliant at serving up a good brew…in our opinion of course.
So tonight it’s time to pack up. Tomorrow is our last day on the truck and we arrive in Rio de Janeiro. We have a few things planned for our time there which we have arranged with other members of the group. If it all comes off it should be a good few days…….Oh did we mention its Carnival !!!!!!