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Published: April 3rd 2008
PantanalTony and Karen say
The view from our door, and for miles around.
After a 32 hour bus journey we finally arrived in Cuiaba, phew! It's the capital city of the Matto Grosso region. Its a decent sized city, not much going on though and its main purpose for us was to use it as a gateway to the Pantanal.
Matto Grosso is kinda split in two, the North and also Matto Gross do Sul (the South). Having done a wee bit reasearch we decided rather early on that it was the north we wanted to reach the Pantanal from, rather than the south which would have involved a visit to the city of Campo Grande. Essentially we had heard and read that Campo Grande was not a pleasant place and the tours on offer were not all that well organised in comparison to those on offer in Cuiaba. We can safely say Cuiaba certainly proved the correct choice.
After some frustrating days in the past week or so (we won't bore you with the details or blog about them) it was pleasant to find things going our way. Our hostel was fine, and Ruis, the dude in charge could not have been more friendly, a smile was
never more than a sentence away with him.
We found a company called Interativa Pantanal Expeditions, which were very professional and the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. So we booked our tour to the Pantanal and set off the next day.
Well where can we start? Please accept our sincere apologies for the length of this blog, we just want to do the experience justice and there is so much to tell. Its difficult to put the next few days into words, they were simply incredible. Nelson, our personal guide was an absolute gem. The most kind and warm hearted person we've met in Brazil. His English was perfect and his knowledge of the flora and fauna in the Pantanal was amazing. We got on like a house on fire and this certainly made our trip all the more enjoyable, in fact we feel it was a massive part, having the right guide is a must.
Nelson drove us to the Pantanal which involved a 2 hour trip to a road called the Transpantaneira. This is the start of the Pantanal area and is little more than a raised dirt track which reaches for some 145km.
It was never fully completed due to environmental concerns. As soon as we turned onto the Transpantaneira our whole experience began. The impact on us was immediate, vast, flat, wetland plains streached as far as the eye can see. We started to spot many types of birds we had never seen before and Nelson was ready to point them out, explaining all about them in great detail, with names in both Portuguese and English.
The hostel we picked was some 10km into the Pantanal, it was basically a ranch called Hostel Piuval. Many ranches in the area have now branched out into tourism and run hostels along side the regular business of farming cattle. Piuval was not as far into the Pantanal as we had initially hoped to venture, but due to the wet season still not being over much of the Pantanal was heavily flooded, meaning many activities would not be available and travel was difficult further in. To be honest it did not make a jot of difference to our experience because we frequently ventured far deeper into the Pantanal.
The hostel was perfect, it was really luxurious and peaceful compared to others we have been
We met this fellow outside our door! He was over 2 meters in length and was hungry.
staying in. The food was amazing with 3 gourmet meals included each day with a massive spread to choose from, yummy. The grounds were great with hammocks and a pool to relax in.
On arrival we settled down to lunch, as we ate we enjoyed the view of the lush green landscape and we both found it difficult to believe our luck at being here, we were awe struck at our surroundings. After lunch we had a few hours to relax before our first expedition so we sat out on the veranda to read our books. As we struggled to concentrate on our books rather than the scenery, we were visited by a huge caimen (a type of crocodile). It seemed to come out of nowhere creeping around the corner and once we got over the fright, it was really great to see one so big really close up. It lay and stared at us with its massive unblinking eyes, as we stared back at it. Little did we know then that this was the first of many we would see, as the Pantanal is home to millions of Black Caimen lurking in and around the wetlands.
A raised walkway that streaches into the pantanal
we set off for a boat trip with Nelson and one of the rancheros, Zuzinho from the farm. Every guide in the Pantanal is accompanied by a local expert for safety, just in case an elusive jaguar crossed our path! It is also part of the sustainable tourism policy which make sure locals benefit from the influx of tourists.
The boat trip is very difficult to describe, it was so beautiful and overwhelming. We think the pictures do the experience no justice at all but we hope you can enjoy them all the same. A short drive through the wetlands from the ranch there is a huge permanant lake and we set off from here in the late afternoon. We cruised over the water admiring the lillies and reeds, spotting many birds and jumping fish as we swept close to the shore. Half way through the trip we stopped at a wee island for a trek through the vegatation on a raised walkway. Apparantly this was a prime spot for anacondas, but just as we were watching our step we met a huge bull splashing in the water. At first we all thought nothing of this, but as the
bull turned toward us and started to charge through the water that opinion soon changed! He was coming right at us and did not look in the mood to stop! We sprinted as fast as our flip flops would allow in the opposite direction. Fortunately Tony had spotted a ladder up a tree to a wee look out post and it is to here we made our escape, phew. The bull was no where to be seen after we clambered back down the ladder, we were all in stiches of laughter that of all the wildlife in the Pantanal it was a cow that had scared us away!
Continuing our journey along the walkway we reached a high tower constructed to allow panoramic views of the area and for bird spotting. This provided a first hand encounter with some lovely green parakeets whose nest was in a nearby tree. It was amazing to stand at this height ovelooking the trees, not only was the view incredible, but it was beautiful to listen to the many birds flying around us. For a brief moment we also thought we could hear a jaguar panting (they make loud heavy breathing noises) Nelson
could not be sure and I suppose we will never know... needless to say we stayed up the tower until the noise had passed!
The boat trip continued with more views of the shoreline scenery and as the sun started to set we were treated to one of the most stunning displays of colour ever as the sky changed slowly from blues through to pinks, reds and golds. It was spectacular and very romantic, we could not stop smiling. Being out on the tranquil water, silent and serene, with such a wonderous sunset it was especially moving and we felt very close to mother nature. Unforgetable.
Nelson was an extremely considerate guide and rather than stick to the usual schedule on offer he advised us that a pre-dawn ecological trek into the Pantanal would offer far greater opertunities to spot wildlife and would also be a lot cooler than walking in the mid-day sun. We set off about 5:30am before sun rise, while it was quiet and peaceful. As the trek progressed there were numerous views of many species of birds, more caimen and more cows, though thankfully far more docile this time! Eventually we entered a forest
which we were told would offer the slim chance to spot a monkey, which had been Karen's ambition from the outset. As we wandered under the dim lit canopy we crept through the undergrowth with as much stealth as we could muster and were rewarded with one of the Pantanal's more rare sights. High up over our heads a small flock of Hyacinth Macaws had settled into the treetops. These large bright blue birds can take birdspotters weeks to spot, so this was a real treat for us and we fully appreciated our time with them. We also managed to spot a delightful little rodent called an Agouti which are fast and aviod humans where possible. We were alerted to its presence by Nelson exclaiming "Loooooook, a little Agouti!" I think he was more excited than us by much of the wildelife! The highlight of the trek was undoubtedly our encounter with a brown Capuchin monkey, you can see the wee fellow in one of the pictures. He ignored us completely, safe up in the trees munching on fruit happy as could be. We had sore necks from looking up but that was the least of our worries, or should
The Symbol of the Pantanal
I say Karen's worries. Little did we know as we stood marvelling at being so close to the Capuchin, we had stopped right in a nest of fire ants, the name says it all, one nip from these blighters is severely painful. Karen somehow managed to get them right up her trousers and quite literally ended up with ants in her pants! Karen hopping around trying to get the ants out her trousers was just as amusing as the cheeky monkey's antics! After this intimate encounter with the lovely Capuchin (and ants) we actually had to stop and allow Karen to derobe and individually pick the fire ants from her pants, such was their persistance, ouch. All in all the trail was great and managed to yeild two of the Pantanal's more rare sights so we were well chuffed.
In between all the wildlife spotting, we also loved having some time in the Pantanal to chillax. The hostel was perfect for relaxing, whether it be hanging out reading a book on the hammocks or having a dip in the pool, while all the time enjoying the surroundings of lush green wetlands covered in wild flowers. It was so serene
and we felt completely relaxed.
Next up was a safari deep into the Pantanal with Nelson at the wheel of our 4x4. This long trip offered yet more views of the abundant bird life and yet more caimen. However we finally managed to see the symbol of the Pantanal, the massive Jabaru stork, which you can see in flight in one of our photos. We also found many Capibara, the largest rodent in the world, its about the size of a labrador dog. These dopey creatures can be found grazing much like sheep in some parts of the Pantanal. As we returned to the ranch dusk turned to night and we broke out the powerful torches to begin the night safari! As you can imagine it was difficult to actually see the animals, but their eyes glinting in the torch light gave them away. Mammals eyes were yellow, birds were white, and caimen were red. We have mentioned the number of caimen in the pantanal, but nothing prepared us for the amount of red eyes shining back at us through the darkness. Also when you shone the light into trees in the distance it looked like a sea of
Cow Boy Tonester
Tony rides home as the clouds darken
glittering sparkles as the birds eyes twinkled back at us. A rewarding way to finish the day.
On our last day we went on a horse trek through the wet plains. As with all the other trips it was just the two of us, Neson and Zuzhino. The horses were lovely and we both got real cowboy hats so we looked and felt the part. Although we saw less wildlife on this trek it was lovely to sit back and let the horse do all the work as they splashed through the water and we once again admired the views. Part of the fun was trying to take photos and not drop the camera in the water as we trotted along. The sore bums after were a small price to pay.
Unfortunately our time in the Pantanal came to an end all to quickly. Being here has made us even more interested and appreciative of wildlife, and in particular birds, we both reckon we might become avid twitchers on our return! It was an unbelievable experience and we will never forget it. Ever.
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