MARK: The Brazilian Pantanal is big. No really, it is!
The World’s largest tropical wetland area is the size of the UK and sits “slap bang” in the heart of South America. A haven for wildlife and blessed with the largest concentration of different bird species anywhere on the planet, it is an amazing, magical place.
The stats are impressive: The Pantanal is home to 1000 different varieties of bird, 400 different fish, 300 mammals and 480 unique reptiles.
To get there though is far from easy, as we found out, finally arriving at our South American Ranch after a long, tortuous, 19 hour overland journey! In fairness, the initial 11 hour overnight bus from Santa Cruz (Bolivia) to the Brazilian border was pretty painless. We managed some sleep curled up in our front seats of the double decker bus aided by extra space as there was just three, rather than the normal four seats across the interior cabin. Furthermore, the broken upper front windscreen was hidden from our initial view behind the obligatory grubby orange bus curtain and the unsubstantiated stains on the seats remained hidden until we got off.
However, when we did manage to stumble down the bus stairs at 0726 and into the cold morning air, our ordeal was far from over. Ahead of us was a long windy queue of dishevelled, weary bodies, Adidas and Puma tracksuits predominating. We joined this human line and queued for two hours to clear Bolivian customs. Exit stamp obtained in passport, a short 300m walk through “no mans land”. And then, guess what? Yep another two hours queue, this time to navigate Brazilian customs. All sorts of confusion prevailed as fellow travellers exited the dingy customs office. Some people had entry stamps in their passport, some were without and some lucky blighters had a passport stamp and white paper exit form. This was the longest ever immigration/border crossing of my 52 years. I only had a stamp – so at time of writing, am still not sure whether the rest of my life means I will be incarcerated for time immemorial in some Brazilian hell hole.
Fortunately, there was a Mercedes Mini-Bus on the “other side”. Unfortunately, its presence heralded a further three hour trip through the Brazilian countryside. It was cold. It was wet. It should have been 30C+. It wasn’t. It was more like 16C. What is happening to the World weather????
All went reasonably well until the van pulled off the main road and then the bumping associated with a mud road started. It continued for twenty minutes. A sharp right turn on to a small track really did start to shake our bodies to the core, but fortunately this lasted for just a few minutes as we drew up alongside a “safari type” truck. Just one more leg through the wetlands. “Forty minutes and we’ll be there….” came the cry from Isaac our guide.
He was right. In 42 minutes, 30 seconds we arrived at Passo de Lontra. A few buildings in the middle of a raised green area, surrounded by water. We’d arrived in the Pantanal proper, a friendly Caiman smiled at the group as we grabbed our bags.
Sarah was pretty cold by this stage, not helped by a really bad head cold. So we took one look at the row of hammocks in the windswept communal dormitory and decided we’d prefer the relative comfort of our own room for two days. The upgrade fee of £50 was quickly paid, guaranteeing us a breeze block built “cell” with convector heated shower and 25 year old TV.
Next day the weather was better and surprisingly few degrees warmer. It was therefore time, after watching a beautiful sunrise, to saddle up and head through the marshland on horseback.
I felt sure the cowboys wouldn’t find a horse big enough for a 100kg super heavyweight – but they did. And do you know what, I’m glad they did. The experience of being on a horse for the first time in 40 years was great fun especially as the procession of nags waded through murky water up to five feet deep, wildlife all around.
My “Uncle Crisp” – who is actually Uncle Chris but the name stuck thanks to Joe – visited the Pantanal area recently and as an avid bird enthusiast came back very excited. We could see why as there were so many different varieties of feathered friends ranging from stunning kingfishers and brightly coloured woodpeckers through to unbelievable Guinness toucans and pairs of brilliant blue macaws.
But birds also share this amazing landscape with over 40,000,000 predatory caiman. Yes you did read right – 40 million of the alligator snappers, the biggest of which we saw was in excess of three metres. I was particularly thrilled to discover quite by chance when reviewing various shots, that one of the caiman had a large dragon fly perched right on the end of its nose. One of my better shots…..
We encountered many of these fascinating creatures who in the main were more frightened of us than we were of them….
Indeed we saw a lot of different animals on our three day expedition including anteaters, capybara (the largest rhodent in the World), marsh deer and peccaries (wild pigs).
We also caught some fish! About 12 of us, complete with bamboo canes, fishing wire and hooks, attempted to land some piranhas for tea, hanging off a bridge some 15 miles from our ranch base. The piranhas didn’t play ball, but some snake fish did and I’m pleased to say that yours truly caught three of the five fish the group landed!
Talking of water, a couple of days after we left the Pantanal, and en-route to the Iguassu Falls (Brazil/Argentina/Paraguay border), we had a most enjoyable experience, snorkelling in some of the clearest water anywhere in the World at a place called Bonito. Limestone filtered water surges from a spring at a rate of 10,000 litres a minute. You jump in complete with wet suit, snorkel and mask and then serenely float down the river marvelling at the clarity of vision – 60 metres no less – and the myriad of fish that are happy to share their natural aquarium.
That was pretty special, but nothing compared to the Iguassu Falls which border Brazil and Argentina. We’ll gloss over the awful 14 hour bus ride to get there which was truly horrendous. Instead, I’ll focus on the fantastic helicopter ride and walk down by these amazing waterfalls – in pictures only.
And that’s really just about it, for this blog and MASTERS20152016.COM. We may have time for another Blog before we return on 10 May – just not sure how the time will pan out between now and then. We do also have a mega blog that needs to be completed, which shares many tips, thoughts and views about our 9 months on the road, but I am not sure quite when and where this will be published….
In the meantime one final idea. If you would like to ask Sarah and me any questions about our Round the World Trip, add them to the comments section on this blog and we will endeavour to weave them in to our final posting.
Stay safe and see you very, very soon.