Published: September 26th 2007September 8th 2007
When those caimen get nattering, there´s no stopping them
It is amazing how different two places can be; leaving Bolivia for Brazil was like going to a different country. Brazil is nothing like what we have seen of the rest of South America; it has more money for a start, the streets are filled with kids playing football and sound systems blast out music on every street corner. Everything is so, well, Brazilian! The food is also a welcome change and somewhat quirky. Most main courses actually serve 2 people (meaning you and your dinner companion have to eat the same thing) or if you want different stuff you can indulge in the pay per weight buffet. Yup, you got it, just help yourself to what ever you like and the more it weighs the more it costs! The real gem however is the rodizio. This is basically another buffet, but at a set cost this time, and to supplement it a succession of men walk around with skewers filled with all kinds of barbecued meat. This can range from shoulders of lamb, hocks of wild boar, rumps of steak as well as sausages and chicken hearts. Of which you can eat and eat to your hearts content. Marissa and
I are both very fond of a place in London that serves Rodizo, so when we sat down for a snack on our first day here and I realised what was actually on offer I got a little over excited. I´m told I started speaking as if I was on fast forward and didn´t finish any of my sentences as I kept getting distracted by the skewers of meat floating by - it was hard not to, I was in heaven! Needless to say, it was a great feed and the sort of Sunday lunch we are looking forward to eating a lot more of in the coming month.
Our reason for entering Brazil from the Bolivian border was to visit the Pantanal. This is the worlds largest wetland area, approximately the size of France. It is formed by the Paraguay river and its tributaries flooding the land every wet season. It is also an excellent spot for seeing Amazonian wildlife as the landscape is much more open than the rainforest. This trip was also to make up for missing out on a visit to the Bolivian Pampas. We found ourselves a basic lodge on the banks of the
Miranda River which was to be our base for four days. It was a pretty sweet set up, as not only did they feed us three decent meals a day but they also arranged all sorts of activities to keep us busy. We both got to ride horses for the first time, although they took one look at me and gave me a mule. He was definitely built for strength rather than speed! We swam in the river as well as riding an inner tube down it. Then we got to fish piranhas out of it! Yes, in the same river we had just been swimming in - they could have told us. Apparently they don´t bite humans unless there is blood present, so that´s ok then. They certainly liked the steak we were feeding them and the crafty little buggers were managing to get it off our hooks far too easily. We caught a few though, but I can´t say it was a good return for all the steak that went in. My fishing skills continued I where I left off in Australia, by catching things so small they had to either be returned to the river, or used
as bate. For the record though, piranha tastes pretty damn good.
The amount of wildlife on show was incredible, especially birdlife. We had two days out in the bush and we probably saw more wildlife in the first hour than we did in an entire week in the Peruvian jungle. The first day was a jeep safari split up with some long walks. Apart from some excellent sightings of Howler monkeys and some Marsh Deer, it was really all about seeing birds. From the giant Jabiru Stork (endemic to the Pantanal), to the kingfishers and more vultures, macaws and parakeets. I also finally got to see some proper toucans. The second day was spent in a boat on the Miranda River (yes the same one we swam in) and to say it was teaming with caiman is the understatement of the century. Once out on the boat, the more you looked at the river banks the more of them you saw. They were there, literally in their hundreds. The caiman is a relative of the alligator and the species present here is thankfully much smaller - only growing to 2 or 3 meters in length. We were reliably informed
James finally finds a toucan! Rather larger than expected.
that these caiman mainly eat fish and small rodents, and rather than attack humans they are actually scared of them. Sure enough as we approached they either took to the water or climbed further up the river bank, which made us feel a bit better about sharing their water for a swim. Further down stream we were treated to yet more bird sightings, some green iguanas
and a family of giant otters
playing in the water. The latter we were particularly happy with as we had been on the look out for these fellas for a while now. They did not disappoint as they ducked and dived under the boat. They are pretty nimble chaps despite their size (they can be nearly 2m in length) and are so agile that they are known to hunt the caiman. Therein lies some good advice - they might look cute and playful, but don´t mess with a giant otter.
The best bit about it was that it felt like we were in an eco system that was really working. Here were all these endangered species thriving in their natural habitat, where the only real human intervention was through ecologically minded lodges which
were putting cash into the area. We really loved our time in the Pantanal. Living in such close proximity to such abundance of wildlife was one of the highlights of our time in South America. Portuguese Word of the Week:
"Oi" meaning hello. Given its English meaning it seems like a weird thing to say to greet someone. At at first we wondered why people were being so rude when we walked into places!
This Week Likes:
- Brazil means Caiparinias, and really good ones for just over a pound a pop.
- During the stay at the lodge I was invited join a game of football with the cooks and guides. A kickabout with a bunch of Brazilians was just too good an opportunity to miss. I don´t think I showed myself up too badly and on a field full of Ronaldinhos I showed them all a bit of Eric Young
- Toucan spotting. I finally spotted some of the Toco variety and after all the hype they didn´t disappoint. Their big yellow bills give them such a cheeky look that I was a very happy man each time we saw one.
This Weeks Dislikes:
- Our car to the Bolivian border had obviously been modified on the cheap. It was actually a right hand drive that had been switched to a left. Trouble was the dashboard was still on the right along with holes where the pedals and column used to be!
- A lot of the area we went animal spotting in was occupied by cows. A side affect of this is that you can catch ticks from them. They are only tiny and don´t hurt but it did mean that checking each other for the little bloodsuckers had to become a new nighttime ritual.
- The language. It might be a great country but it would really help if they spoke Spanish like all their neighbours. We can´t understand a word people say over here, and unlike Spanish we can´t even pronounce Portuguese words right. One week in and we are still struggling with how to say "two" and "no". Eeeek.
There are more photos below