Green Toad Caiman Hop

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February 22nd 2013
Published: February 22nd 2013
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The next leg of our trip we chose to do through a tour company called Green Toad. We decided after 4 months of traveling we wanted someone else to make the decisions. It's basically a hop-on-hop-off bus tour where they give you an itinerary and you can then choose how long you want to spend in each place and what activities you want to do there.

Our first stop was Campo Grande, a major launching pad for tours into the Pantanal. The Pantanal is basically a huge wetland in the rainy season, which forces a lot of the wildlife to gather on the dry areas, so wildlife spotting is pretty good. Unfortunately the area is in the middle of a drought, so it was all pretty dry, but we still saw way more animals than we did in the Amazon. On the truck ride in we saw toucans flying alongside the truck and a few capybaras (hooray!) scuttling off the road in front of us. At one point, we saw the full effect of the drought, when we pulled up beside a stagnant pond absolutely teeming with caimans, I'm talking 2-3 per square meter of water. We all jumped off the bus, and went down and stood on the bank and photographed the reptiles from only a meter or so away. There was also a group of capybaras on the water with them which we were surprised that the caimans weren't trying to eat. The most shocking part was that there were a dozen or more dead caimans in various stages of decomposition all dotted around the place. We weren't sure why they were dying, or why there were so many in one pond, but we speculated it was to do with the drought and possibly starvation.

Our accommodation inside the Pantanal was simple and comfortable, made more so by the availability of cold beer. We had an awesome group of peeps on the tour, and the addition of a deck of cards made the inevitable waiting around at base camp a little more bearable. Unfortunately the tour operator we went with left much to be desired, and there we significant gaps in between the activities, which made us wonder why we'd bothered to do a 3 day tour, when we could have done everything in 1-2 days. But as I said, the beer was cold and the people good value, so it wasn't all bad.

On day 2, we went out to a swamp in the boats, the walked through said swamp up to our thighs, looking for anacondas. It was a bit of a flop, we didn't see any of the giant snakes, but squishing through the muddy water was... interesting. After about an hour, we went back to base camp settled in to wait a ridiculous 4 hours for the next activity, and the guides come out with a bloody enormous anaconda that they'd obviously had lying around out the back somewhere. At least we got to see one, even if she was obviously a bit pissed off, but she was very beautiful.

After lunch we went piranha fishing, which wasn't nearly as fruitful as it was in the Amazon, but was still fun, mostly for watching the others who hadn't done it before getting very excited over a catch. After that we did some more sitting around, drinking beer and playing cards and then some more of that after dinner.

The last day we got up super early again, for no apparent reason, and after breakfast we left the base camp and on our way out of the Pantanal, we stopped to do a short hike through the forest. We saw some howler monkeys and some blue macaws, which was a rare treat. Macaws are so critically endangered that you rarely get to see them in the wild. That made me very happy. We continued on our way out of the Pantanal, said goodbye to our new friends who were all dispersing in different directions, and Rehgan and I arrived to the small ecotourism town of Bonito that afternoon.

Bonito itself is a lovely little town. Clean and safe and the Main Street is made up mostly of tour agencies and ice cream shops. The wonders in the surrounding area have to be seen to be believed. We had already booked one activity through Green Toad for our last day there, but that meant we had a spare day, where we decided to go to place called Rio da Prata (silver river). The tour included an amazing buffet lunch of local produce (best yet in Brazil) at a gorgeous homestead on an eco-friendly cattle ranch (they had a book explaining how they're combining eco tourism and cattle farming) and then we had a guide take us down to the river which has completely crystal clear water and huge fish lazing about in it. We put on floatation wetsuits and floated down this river that's like being in a giant aquarium. The fish are absolutely fearless and come right up to you. It was all very very cool.

On our way back to town, our driver took us to the Anhumas Abismo training centre for us to complete our training for the next day, where we were to rappel 72 metres into a cave and then scuba dive in the lake at the bottom. We were an hour early, and so were an English couple we found waiting outside, as they hadn't realised that daylight savings had ended the pervious evening. We all decided to meet back there in an hour. Rehgan and I stopped off at the local agency we had been dealing with (the one through which Green Toad books everything on our behalf) to pick up our voucher for the rappel and dive, and they sat us down and told us that Anhumas was closed down and no one was going on any tours in there because the operator had gotten in trouble for taking too many tourists in there. It would not be open again until March.

We were seriously disappointed, we had booked and paid for this 6 months ago. The guy gave us a booklet with other activities we could do instead, but nothing compared and we were stunned that no one had told us. Anyway, Rehgan decided to run down to the training centre to let the English couple know it was closed while I stayed at the agency to look at other activities. When he arrived, he found the training centre fully open and a bunch of people training on the rappel system getting ready for the next day. Turns out, Agencias AR (the agency we were dealing with) had NEVER made a booking for us with Anhumas. It was true that they had been in trouble for taking too many dives in one day as it put the dive master's safety at risk. So they decided to stop taking dives, but you could still go snorkelling in there. They had sent notification of this to all the local agencies in January. Rehgan found out from the manager that the day before, Agencias AR had called Anhumas and asked if there was any space for us as they had forgotten to book, but there was no vacancies. So instead of being honest, they chose to lie to us about the whole thing being shut down and if Rehgan hadn't gone down there, we would never have known and just booked something else. Luckily, two people had pulled out from the next days tour and we were able to get in on it. Super pissed off at the agency. We phoned Green Toad and they're just as furious.

So basically you lower yourself down a rope through a tiny crack in the ground and land on a pontoon at the bottom. The water in there is pretty cold and we had full body wetsuits on. I think I would have frozen solid on a 30 minute dive! But the subaquatic formations are incredible. Huge cones rising up from the bottom, like underwater stalacnites. The largest is 19m high and 5m across at the base. I can't imagine how cool it would have been to dive amongst them! The rappel back out was tough work, but we made it and it was awesome.

Our last stop on the tour was Iguazu Falls possibly the most impressive waterfall I've ever encountered, although I've not seen Niagra Falls, which outdoes Iguazu in terms of cubic meters per second over the cliff. Iguazu actually consists of 275 separate waterfalls. There are walkways built all over the place and no matter where you go, you're always walking across a bridge under which enormous amounts of water are dropping over a precipice. Pretty spectacular. Currently we are killing time in a hostel on the Argentinian side of the falls (yes, no more Portuguese!) until our first class overnight bus to Buenos Aires, our final destination before we go home.

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