Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Pantanal (The Swamp) Brasil

An alligator that Max (our guide) pointed out, otherwise I would have just passed by it without noticing.
Black vultures, with giant rodents (which I currently forget the name of) on the side of the road

Never thought I'd do it...but yes I jumped into the river with the snakes, alligators & big deal.

A king fisher, among the hundreds of birds that I saw while we went out by foot and by boat.

If you look closely you can see the "squiggle" marks left by the alligator.

From Bonito I definately stumbled upon a gem hidden in the Pantanal. The "Lontra Pantanal Hotel" (lodge) where I was staying included 3 square meals a day and all day excursions either by foot, boat or truck and our guide Max was increadible.
The first day that I arrived I found the bridge to the Park National Pantanal to be washed out, no matter though as there was a convenient ferry waiting to charge 10 reals to get you across. I love ferrys so it was a treat, however, there is only one way on and off the ferry so getting the bike turned around down here is always a pain because of the planks they use for the boat bottom.
I didn't really know where I was going once I off loaded so I looked around and decided that the most expensive looking lodge of the 3 close by the ferry dock was where I'd go. It happed to be the most expensive as well, and it turned out to be a great choice. The difference in price meant that there was one guide for 2 people and the chances of seeing wildlife was much greater. As for the accomidations, I had a shared room for 6 people, however they stuck me in with only one other fellow named Lauriano from southern Brasil.
I happend to get there just in the nick of time, as soon as my gear was off loaded from the bike we were off in a 20 foot aluminum boat heading up stream into the Pantanal. Almost immediately we began seeing birds. Some of the birds we saw (I'll never remember all their names) included the Cackarachi, 4 species of King Fishers, some type of hawk, night hawks, Toucans Etc. The trees were filled with animals and birds and we were delighted to see howler monkeys and some other species of monkey hidden way up in the towering trees of the Pantanal which grow in the drier areas.
We came back to the lodge in the darkness and had a buffet style dinner and headed to bed early in the 38 degree 100% humidity heat. I was sweating in the shower and went to bed without toweling off so that I could enjoy being cool for 10 more minutes. I was sweating so perfusely that my eye sockets were filling up like two small ponds, so I was forced to tilt my head for drainage.
Lauriano and I were up at the crack of dawn. You see, Brasil is different, people get up early here. I walked outside at 0530am and I think that I was the last one up. Breakfast was already on the table, buffet style and fruit filled the plates.
Our plan for the day included a "Safari", essentially we hopped into the back of a pick-up that had a shaded bench in the box and headed some 37 bridges up the road further into the Pantanal. There were some farms that dotted the land in this area and the road provided the only access into the park and dead-ended at 110km from the park entrance.
We were equipped with fishing poles and steak bits as bait because, first we were apparently going Pirhana fishing! I tossed the monofilament line which was tied to a 9 foot bamboo pole baited with raw meat into the water with wild visions of boiling water and fish jumping onto shore to drag my body into the depths. No so......after about an hour I was done. It was now about 1000am and again 38 degrees with not even a bite. The walk to the fishing spot was an adventure in itself however. I would never walk bare footed through dark water and ankle deep sludge anywhere in Canada. But, here, where there are worms, snakes and alligators...I had no choice, I had to follow the guide. Besides, I'm not used to the terrain and I was completely lost in the jungle. I tried to guess which way to go and asked the guide Max if I was correct. He simply said No...with a confused look on his face like he was thinking how utterly helpless I was.
We returned back to where the truck had dropped us off and stopped for lunch at a farm. The meal was simple but good and tasty,of beans, meat, tomatoes, salad. We took a break for about an hour...a seista. I shared a mate with Max and the other two people who were at the farm. It was a different kind of mate than what I was used to however. It is usually served hot, but, here in the 38 degree heat we sipped it ice cold.
Max rounded Lauriano and me up and into the back of the truck again. Our driver took the 3 of us to a jungle spot where we hopped out of the back of the truck and ducked under a fence and into the darkness of the palm tree canopy. The photo's did no justice, however, there were several animals, including, white tailed deer (tiny ones compared to Canada), Armadillos, Moncoons ( As Pete Wedge calls them), Alligators, & Some type of Stork etc...etc... There was one disturbing thing that made me wonder. While we were walking we came upon a dead horse that was still warm, it had struggled to the end, apparent by the arcs left in the dirt from its hoofs as if it was galloping while laying down on its side. Its eyes were still clear and wet. Max said that it most likely died from a snake bite because they tend to step on them while grazing and the snake bites them on the nose. After that I watched where I stepped more closely.
We toured around the jungle for more than two hours, I sweated off all my mosquito repellent and I was getting eaten alive mostly on my back and shoulders, bitten right through my T-shirt. I have thousands of tiny pin holes...looks like I layed down on a bed of fine nails.
Soaking wet with sweat and severly bitten, we loaded back into the truck and encounted the largest rodents in the world, they were huge, as big as pony's. Max informed Lauriano and I that after dark we'd go for a nigt boat tour. I was pretty tired and the thought of a night boat tour almost seemed too much. I wasn't going to miss the tour however so I took a nap for 1 hour before heading out. Max fired up the outboard and equipped with a million candle watt lantern we sailed up the river. It was easy spotting and we got very close to many alligators, birds and monkeys that had all settled in for the night. I had my little flashlight and was shining it into the eyes of a Night Hawk. He didn't like it and came right for the light. I ducked and forced myself not to scream, luckily he landed right back on a branch that I illuminated for him back on shore. At one point Max killed the motor and the lights and we just floated down the river listening to all the insects, birds and animals while looking up at the star filled sky which was reflected off the water. It was a complete surreal experience. It was time to head it back and time to eat again before heading to bed early.
This morning I was up at 0600 and sipping some coffee when Max came into the lodge and announced that we were going tubing. I was thinking that I'd just pass and get on the road early. Thank goodness that I didn't however. We took the boat up river again to a fast flowing section and tossed the tube into the drink. I leaped from the boat onto the tube in the silty red/brown river trying not to get too deep in the water where I imagined the nasty critters live. It tured out that the tubing was quite a highlight of the trip. Max kept off at a distance and I was left alone in the water to drift silently near the shore to view wildlife up close without them even noticing that I was there. I saw monkeys, Toucans, and a variety of other bird species that typically flew away when we came near with the boat. The tubing was a great experience, and the water was bathtub warm.
We returned for lunch and I packed my gear. I considered staying for one more night, but time was of the essence and I had to get going. I was sad to leave as it was the best place that I found this whole trip for experiencing animal viewing. Alas I left and paid my bill only to find myself 350km down the road in Campo Grande in a hotel that charged 2/3 the price for the 3 nights and 7 meals that I had at the lodge.....doh...can't have my cake and eat it too I guess.
Making my way to Belem to catch the boat to Manaus along the Rio Amazonia.