A Travellerspoint blog

The Pantanal & Bonito

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by mwalmsle 14:51 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Iguazu Falls - Brazil & Argentina

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Iguazu Falls are on the Iguazu River, a tributary of the Pirana River which divides Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The average flow of the river is 1,750 cm per second and we were there in the wet season when the river is running considerably higher than that, so it's no surprise that any waterfall that interrupts the flow would, by definition, be mind blowingly crazy. Rather than one big waterfall Iguazu is a series of 275 waterfalls within the space of 2.7km and bordered by national parks of both Brazil and Argentina. We decided to spend two days at Iguazu after being told by other travellers that to get the full picture you need to visit both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides.

We got off the overnight bus from Florianopolis at around 8:00am, dropped our bags at the hostel, took the local bus to the Brazilian national park entrance and then a second bus within the national park, to the first of a series of lookouts and pathways along the Brazilian side of the falls.

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It's a little hard to describe in words what that volume of water looks like catapulting itself off a cliff and into a roiling cauldron below but I have attached heaps of pictures in the gallery and if you are ever in South America it is a must see attraction.

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On parts of the walkways you get absolutely drenched and it's impossible to keep the lens clear all the time, so some of the photos have a few water marks. However, in all other ways the spray from the falls is a welcome relief from the 35 degree, 100% humidity jungle and associated mosquitos.

The following day the Argentinian side impressed even more. While the Brazilian side gives you a great overall view of the falls (and some close up action), the Argentinian side is just that much bigger – needing a small train to shift visitors around – and offers up close views of a number of waterfalls that are partially obscured from the Brazilian side.

The first stop on the Argentinian side was the “Gargantua del Diablo” or “Devil's Throat” viewing platform which allows you stand almost on top of the largest of the waterfalls as it plunges beneath your feet. The volume of water and the noise and spray it creates was incredible.

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We then moved further down the series of catwalks and suspended walkways to check out some of the other major falls (see photos).

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We also grabbed seats on a shotover jet style boat that gets you up close and personal. The best analogy is that the experience was like taking a bath underneath the world's biggest shower head. Jess and I were sitting on the side, at the front of the boat and in some cases were immersed into the edge of the waterfalls. We were unable to open our eyes because of the water or stop laughing – thoroughly recommend!

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If you want to get a better understanding of how the falls are laid out I found this map of the Argentinian side on Flickr which is reasonably high quality.

Our bus to the Pantanal (our last Brazilian destination before Bolivia) wasn't scheduled to leave until the following afternoon so we decided to visit Itaipu – the world's largest hydroelectric dam by annual generation. Sited on the Parana River Itaipu was built in the 1970's as part of a joint project between Brazil and Paraguay with construction destroying around 700 sq km of habitat. That said, it supplies 90% of Paraguay's electricity and 20% of Brazils so I don't really know how to balance the obvious benefits against the past environment carnage. Certainly after the video (propaganda) on the tour you leave brainwashed into thinking Itaipu is the greatest and greenest company on the planet.

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The damn is a massive structure but unfortunately the slipway was closed on the day we visited (apparently it is only open around 10% of the time) and because of that the tour itself is a little boring. If you are ever in the neighbourhood I wouldn't bother going unless you knew for certain that the slipway was open.

Next update will be from the Pantanal – a vast wetland area in Brazil's southwest on the Border with Bolivia.

Posted by mwalmsle 05:37 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Florianopolis

Bring in the New Year

all seasons in one day 32 °C
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Floripa is the major city on the island of Santa Catarina on the south coast of Brazil. The island itself is renowned for its beaches and has something like 42 of them – all covered in amazing white sand and lapped by beautiful warm, crystal clear water. We were not staying in the city of Florianopolis itself but on the shore of a nearby lagoon, a bus ride from the beaches.

After some confusion with the local bus network (getting lost) we arrived at our hostel in Floripa mid afternoon on 30 December. The hostel, Tucano House, (a great hostel) had organised for the guests to attend a New Years party at Praia de Rosa - a great beach two hours south.

The plan was to board buses at 8am the next morning, spend the day at the beach and the night at a concert set up on the sand dunes overlooking the water. The beach was amazing, white sand, blue water and great surf meant it was super relaxing and the vendors selling food, cocktails, coconuts and beer and hiring sun umbrellas and chairs, meant that Jess and I's lack of preparation was not a problem.

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After the sun went down we left the beach and headed up to the concert – Brazilians sure know how to throw a party with great music, fire breathers, acrobats etc. - although a combination of beer, Caprinhas and Red Bull meant some parts of the night are a little hazy – apparently there were fireworks, who knew?

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New Years Day was the predictable non-event with most of the hostel unable to drag themselves out of bed. The highlight of the day was probably the dinner cooked by the hostel – something they did everyday and one of the reasons we liked the place so much.

The next two days it unfortunately pelted down with rain, which in a beach town doesn't leave you with much to do. During some respite on the second day, we went on a hike alongside the nearby lagoon to a waterfall and fishing village, where we were able to sit out over the water, drink a couple of beers and devour a plate of Calamari – a pretty relaxing way to end our time here.

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A bit of a shame we didn't have more time to explore more of the beaches around Florianopolis itself but it is somewhere where I would definitely return to for a relaxing beach holiday. Although a word of warning, if possible avoid the Christmas, New Years period as traffic is a disaster - late January would be perfect!

The next stop is sure to be one of the highlights of the trip – Iguassu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina and I'll definitely put up plenty of photos after that!

Posted by mwalmsle 07:57 Archived in Brazil Comments (3)

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