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Published: February 18th 2008
In readiness for our trip to the Pantanal, we were encouraged to pack day bags full of deet, suncream and clothes to keep off the mozzies although none of us were prepared for the onslaught of mozzie bites and monsoonal rainfall that we encountered. Having driven as far as possible by truck, we all transferred to the back of 4x4 jeeps to be taken by our host to Fazenda Boa Sorte - a working farm in the Pantanal. At least that was the intention but at the first police post, we realised that there was a major problem. Although the company we had booked with ~Greentrack~operated by a guy called Murilo who is head of the guide association was supposedly reputable, it transpired that our operator had been remiss re legal paperwork and had experienced some complaints from disallusioned tourists. As a result, the police had chosen to shut down his operation until he complied with various requests and they chose the very day of our arrival to enact their plans. So, we spent our first couple of hours in a police compound listening to various heated arguments and were then taken to another lodge where they had prepared
lunch for all of us - which suggests that they knew we were coming in advance. We were then shown to a netted communal hut with hammocks upstairs and places for cooking and seating downstairs which was to be our base for the next few days. The accommodation was clearly not bug free and so some of us chose tents over the hammock option.
The Pantanal itself is a vast wetlands more than half the size of France with 230,000 sq km and most of it is privately owned. Pantano actually means swamp although it is a vast alluvial plain which is a rich feeding ground for wildlife and mosquitoes which were out in force during our brief stay. Some of the best fishing in the world is apparently found here with over 20 species of piranha as well as dourado, pacu, catfish etc. There are only two roads that penetrate into the Pantanal and we were staying along the Estrada Parque - also known as the road of integration. It consists of 117km of dirt road in variable condition passing over ~80 small poorly maintained wooden bridges and the road was full of potholes, sandbanks and corrugations made
worse by the continuous persistent rain. It was along this road that we were taken during the day and again in the nighttime, to spot various flora and fauna in the region. We did see various birds including blue kingfishers, parrakeets, macaws, ibis, white egrets, jabiru storks etc. and wildlife including capabara (large rat like rodent), otters, cayman (there are over 15 million in the Pantanal) and a burrowing armadillo. Another day, we tried to catch pirinha and were moderately successful although they kept eating my bait without getting hooked - it was my first time fishing and I certainly did not have beginners luck. Some of the piranhas were later fried (tasty but little meat and lots of bones) and made into soup (slimey texture and very salty!). The other staple food in the Pantanal seemed to be rice, spaghetti and fried meat with beans followed by small dollops of very sweet puddings.
Our horse riding activity was done in a downpour and there was no need to guide our trusty steeds - they knew the route and even their pecking order and started in lazy fashion, practically galloping their way back once they knew we were nearing
After three days of rain and biting mosquitoes, we were all glad to drive out of the Pantanal with our wet smelly clothers and move on towards Paraty, our next main destination. It continued to rain all day and instead of camping that night, our guides decided to upgrade us into a small hotel in a town called the ´three lakes´. The following night, our guides Mel and Andy had organised a truck quiz to see how much we had learned about South America, the truck itself and our truck mates after ~100 days on the road. It involved trivia questions as well as drinking and throwing games and made for a lively eventful evening. We arrived in Paraty the next day where it was still raining and had clearly been doing so for some time for the campsite was almost waterlogged. Several of the group decided to upgrade into local hotels but I decided to brave the night. Kat, Dave (truckmates) and myself decided to explore the town despite the weather and discovered a real colonial relic that was well preserved, architecturally unique with cobble stone streets and historic churches. The churches were apparently used in the
past to separate the races with one attended by slaves, the other by mixed races and the rest for the colonial white elite. Paraty prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries due to gold discoveries at Minas Gerais and its flagging fortunes were later revived by a coffee boom and now tourism. The town is set on a shoreline of peninsulas and secluded beaches and has many small islands dotting the clear waters. During the summer holidays, Paraty is a magnet for Brazilian and European vacationers and is also renowned for its excellent cachaca (sugarcane spirit) with shops completely dedicated to the drink. With 65 islands and 300 beaches, our main activity in Paraty the following day was a boat (´booze´) cruise to visit the less accessible beaches. Fortunately, the rain let up and we had blue sky and sunshine making for a very enjoyable day of swimming, sunbathing, sipping caprihinas (made with cachaca) and eating local fish. That evening was our last meal of the trip and we took the opportunity to thank our guides and express our appreciation of their hard work during our 15.5 week long tour.
As we headed into Rio the following day, we
did a major truck clean at a convenient stop en route to prepare the vehicle for her next occupants. This was also an opportunity to claim any items that had been potentially ´lost´during our travels. Then onto Rio...
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