08.01.2011 - 12.01.2011 32 °C
We were meeting friends from New Zealand in Campo Grande, a major regional centre close to the Pantanal. Given the need for off-road vehicles and river boats, the only effective way to see the wetlands is through a guided tour. Hannah and Tom had arrived in Campo Grande a day before us and had located and booked our three day tour by the time we arrived. Their organisation was to our benefit (much appreciated guys) as we didn't have to spend any time in Campo Grande – not a city known for its touristic charm.
We got off our overnight bus from Iguazu around 9am and jumped straight onto one of the tour operators vehicles which transferred the four of us to the Pantanal.
Soon after we arrived Tom and I were challenged to a game of backyard football by a couple of locals. You probably have a preconceived view as to the outcome of a backyard football match between two Kiwis and two Brazilians and Tom and I did nothing to disprove the cliché, going down in flames.
Our first activity was a night time river cruise with spotlights, trying to find local wildlife along the banks of the river. Lathered in litres of Deet to repel the hordes of screaming mosquitos we ventured onto the river. The nocturnal population included plenty of little alligators (cayman), whose eyes gleamed in the light of the spotlight and the worlds largest rodents, Capybarra – a strange creature about the size of a dog which looks like a cross between a beaver and a rodent.
The next morning we went on a “Jeep Safari” down a long dirt road trying to spot birds and cayman in the wetlands to either side. Even though we were supposed to be in the wet season the rains were late and while this meant fewer mosquitos it also meant the animals were less concentrated and harder to spot. Despite this we saw numerous types of parrot, storks, herons and toucans. We also passed another tour group on the side of the road who were being attacked by a swarm of bees. Despite bee attacks being quite dangerous, it was amusing to watch the other tour group running around on the road frantically waving their arms and shaking their hair,
After the jeep safari our guide took us for a walk deeper into the jungle. This was probably the highlight, as we walked past multicoloured parrots, maccaws, sun-baking alligators and armadillos. We were also able to follow the horrendous racket made by howler monkeys until we were standing right underneath their trees. Our guide, who could imitate some of their howls, was able to challenge the leader to make louder and louder grunts. The only downside of the jungle walk was that Hannah's leggings turned out not to be mosquito proof and when we got back to the hotel her legs were covered in bites – I think she stopped counting somewhere in the 60's. The potential for rain and high winds put an end to further activities that day and we headed back to our hotel.
On our third and final day we ventured out onto the river again for a spot of piranha fishing. While Jess and I both caught two Piranhas, she proved the defter hand, catching a catfish as well. As it was spawning season, we were not able to eat the Piranhas and had to release them back into the river, although we did try Piranha sashimi at the hotel.
Overall the Pantanal was not quite what I had expected, as I thought the bird life would be more concentrated and abundant in specific places. We also were not able to spot any of the illusive Puma's or Jaguars which inhabit the area. However, we did see an amazing collection of different birds and animals (of which I have included plenty of pictures in the gallery) and were extremely happy with how the tour worked out.
We parted ways with Hannah and Tom and headed back south to a little town called Bonito, which we had heard was a beautiful place, known for its crystal clear water and stunning scenery. We spent only one full day there and took a tour of a cave (expensive) with a blue lake at the bottom of it and then went to the local swimming hole in the afternoon (cheap). The local swimming hole was the highlight, the temperature was perfect, refreshing but at the same time you could spend 20 to 30 minutes snorkelling without getting cold, surrounded by fish more than a foot long.
It was so relaxing we could have happily stayed another day. However, we had already spent more time in Brazil than planned and decided to push on to the border with Bolivia.